The every day word "faith" has a variety of meanings for us in America. "Mrs. Inouye is a member of the Buddhist faith" we might hear someone say. A worried father may remark, "Son, I have faith in you. Make sure you don't drink and drive--and please get the car home by midnight." A neighbor lady may be overheard to comment, "I am sure Mrs. Sylvester will recover if she just has enough faith." Perhaps your boss may announce, "John I am putting my faith in you to get the project done on time and under budget." Obviously our ordinary everyday use of the word "faith" can mean nothing more than that we "hope" for the best.
In Hebrew the usual word for "faith" (emun) primarily means "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness;" emuna normally refers to the faithfulness of God. It is of course wonderful to know that God keeps His promises, that He is reliable and never changes. God has given us hundreds of wonderful promises in Scripture which are there for our benefit and blessing, but only if we grasp the true nature of believing faith.
"His divine power has [already] granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and become partakers of the divine nature."
The all important operative New Testament word for every follower of Christ is indeed "faith." In the Bible the usual translation of the Greek word pistis means to "believe," but carrying the weight of "firm persuasion" or "conviction." The underlying idea in the word pistis is also that of trust or reliance upon. Someone has described Biblical faith as "leaning one's whole weight upon Jesus." The content, the substance of what we believe is immensely important. It is not merely a certain body of written truth we are to trust, but we are always called to trust a Person. My faith in William Shakespeare or in Albert Einstein does me little good in daily life. I can pray all night to Buddha and yet I will receive no response, no comfort, no assurance. I can even follow the teachings of Jesus but not be living in a relationship with the One who uttered them. I can not expect God to hear and to answer if I try to bypass God's mediator, our great high priest Jesus.
It is the testimony of millions of Christians down through the centuries that placing one's total trust in Jesus Christ invariably brings very real responses from a living person--from Jesus risen from the dead--the same Jesus one reads about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In the gospels it can be seen that while He was on earth living among men, Jesus always operated by faith in the Word of God and in total reliance upon His heavenly Father. Thus the example of faith set by Jesus is the gold standard for us to emulate. We have no right to hold to a view of the Scriptures which differs from the clear interpretations Jesus, or His representatives the Apostles and Prophets, adhered to.
A conditional promise of God which I fall back on often is found in Philippians,
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6-7).
Obviously people who do not read the Bible will not know specifically what God has promised in the first place and they may ask for all sorts of things which God has already said no to. God hears and is able to answer the prayers of outsiders, otherwise non-believers would never become believers. But non-believers can not expect to enjoy the benefits available to the members of God's family who have been born--as well as adopted--into His family. Ultimately all true faith rests upon the character of God Himself.
Jesus said, "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)
God does some things for His people immediately when we simply ask--yet people sometimes labor in long-winded prayers asking for things they already have been given by God. In some areas of life we will receive immediately if, in simple trust, we simply "ask." On other matters God tells us to "seek" and to persist in prayer and trust--plus patient waiting. In a third category of prayer Jesus asks us to knock persistently and repeatedly. How badly do we really want something from Him? How serious are we about our requests? What are our motives? Have we thought through what we are asking Him for? Are we asking selfishly--asking "amiss" as James puts it, "You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss to spend it on your own pleasures." (4:3)
Christian faith must be personal! Formal, intellectual faith or nominal consent to a prescribed belief system will not move the heart of God on our behalf. In some traditional churches, children memorize a creed or a catechism statement and then are baptized and declared to be Christians. But is there proof that the "faith" drilled into those young minds has gone deep enough--that is, from the mind into the heart? In some cases the young do indeed enter into a real relationship with God when the gospel is explained to them early in life. For many others, their childhood profession of faith may remain forever after empty and useless. In 1924 A.J. Gossip said,
We have all been inoculated with Christianity, and are never likely to take it seriously now! You put some of the virus of some dreadful illness into a man's arm, and there is a little itchiness, some scratchiness, a slight discomfort -- disagreeable, no doubt, but not the fever of the real disease, the turning and the tossing, and the ebbing strength. And we have all been inoculated with Christianity, more or less. We are on Christ's side, we wish him well, we hope that He will win, and we are even prepared to do something for Him, provided, of course, that He is reasonable, and does not make too much of an upset among our cozy comforts and our customary ways. But there is not the passion of zeal, and the burning enthusiasm, and the eagerness of self-sacrifice, of the real faith that changes character and wins the world.
One default mode of nominal, professing Christians is to assume that faith in God means we should adjust our life style so that our actions line-up as nearly as possible with the Ten Commandments. Perhaps we should attend church or make an effort to help others, or teach Sunday school? This kind of faith does not satisfy God at all and is based on a misunderstanding of the covenants God makes with man. The Law of Moses (with its associated 613 assorted laws and regulations) was not given in order to bring us to a life of attempting good behavior by our own efforts--with merit badges awarded at the end of our lives for our relatively good behavior. The Law informs us of the holy and perfect character of God. The Law is intended to let us know clearly that we can not, by any kind of self-effort, attain to God's impossibly high standards.
"Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in any point of it is guilty of all," says James the brother of Jesus.
Paul is even more direct,
"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:19-26)
In Galatians Paul writes,
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:16-19)
Saving faith, faith that "justifies" us before God, is not merely our intellectual assent to something. However, most people come into this stage of genuine faith in steps. Abraham, for example, responded to God's calls to trust, to obey and to act, for about 16 years before the Lord announced to him that he had been made righteous by his faith (Genesis 15:6). Even sudden "road to Damascus conversions" are not necessarily examples of true faith. Many people have moving "religious experiences" but never go further with God.
The Sermon of the Mount, a favorite of many, is actually an intensification of the demands of the law by Jesus who said, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20). The beautiful and inspiring works of the Sermon on the Mount close with a series of powerful warnings to all hearers:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:13-29)
Here, as in the rest of the Bible, it is clear that God is a personal God and that all who would follow Him must know Him personally and individually and enter into an intimate, life-long (and life-changing) relationship with Him. "Knowing" God, as the Bible uses the word, means "intimate personal, experiential knowledge" not mere head knowledge.
"I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." (John 10:14, 15; 28-30)
Habakkuk lived in the dark and dismal days preceding the raids and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar beginning in 605 BC. The prophet agonized over two issues before him: How could God leave so much national evil unpunished in Judah, and how could God use peoples much more wicked than the Jews to bring ruin upon them.
God gave his prophet a great vision of His long-term plans for His people which would be grand and glorious, though the immediate future would involve great suffering and hardship. The prophet resolved to tough it out and to continue trusting God the rest of his life.
"I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the LORD answered me: 'Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.'" (Habakkuk 2:1-4)
Strengthened by God's assurance, Habakkuk expressed His gratitude to the great God of Israel (Chapter 3) for the vision of the coming of the Lord he received and for the immediate sense of hope God gave him.
"O LORD, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years renew it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds' feet, he makes me tread upon my high places." (3:1; 17-19)
Three times the New Testament extracts the second half of Habakkuk verse 2:4 and uses it in the New Testament to show us three different aspects of believing faith.
It is said that Martin Luther was set free from Old Covenant legalism and fruitless attempts to earn God's favor by penance, contrition, or works. Luther was reading Romans when he came across Paul's references to the words of Habakkuk,
"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." (3:19-31)
As if to make his point crystal clear, Paul continues in Chapter 4 of Romans by showing that saving faith has always been like the simple trust-plus-obedience exhibited by Abraham long before the Law was given. Since the beginning of our race, God has always welcomed any and all into His family if they will simply entrust their lives to Him--from the heart--and follow Him thereafter.
Paul continues in Romans developing what we now call "justification by faith alone"--apart from works and apart from the Law. In simple terms, when a person trusts in Jesus as Lord all of that person's sins are taken from the individual and charged ("imputed") to the account of Jesus. Simultaneously, true righteousness from God (as opposed to self-righteousness)--which we all lack to begin with--is credited to our account. Miraculously God actually thereafter treats us as if we had never sinned in the first place. All charges against us in the courts of heaven are dropped.
"And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2:13-14)
There are many people today who say they "believe in God" but have never committed their lives to Jesus as a definitive choice of the will. Such persons, however sincere, remain outsiders looking in. Real Christian life begins with spiritual regeneration, and spiritual rebirth only occurs when there is a genuine personal commitment to Jesus as Lord. (John 3).
In Galatians Paul against quotes Habakkuk 2:4b but this time with a different slant on the meaning as can be seen from the context.
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for 'He who through faith is righteous shall live'; but the law does not rest on faith, for 'He who does them shall live by them.'"
Here the clear meaning is that those who trust in Jesus--and as a result have been made righteous--shall live. Put another way, only the righteous shall live forever in God's kingdom, and the only way to attain to righteousness is through faith in Jesus Christ.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us yet a third spin on Habakkuk's words:
"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day [of the Lord] drawing near.But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. 'For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls." (10:19-39)
Hebrews 10:38 tells us that if we have been made righteous by faith, if we have full access to God because of our original believing faith, if we have been made righteous by faith--then we are to live our daily lives by faith as well.
In experience the church has always observed that many people show a keen initial interest in following Christ, but later drop out. Billy Graham Crusade leaders provide support and follow-up for every one who goes forward when the invitation to receive Christ is given. But only a small fraction of those who appear to have made such decision for Christ go on to follow Jesus the rest of their lives. Some real Christians have merely "backslidden" and are living compromised lives. Others who fall away would appear to have never been born again in the first place. (Hebrews 6:1-1-9) But, finishing, not merely starting the race, is all important. "He who endures to the end will be saved," said Jesus. (Matthew 24:13)
Because a profession of faith is easy to make, because the "road to hell is paved with good intentions," because many mistake a temporary religious experience with salvation, the Bible gives us many warnings to the effect that "faith without works is dead." The point is that true, saving faith, real trust in Jesus, allows God to accomplish good works through us. Where there is no fruit in someone's life (over a reasonable period of time) there probably has been no real saving faith exercised in the first place.
...faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:17-26)
The gospel is "old news" for many in our country. In contrast when the gospel reaches a people for the first time, as we see, for example, in the book of Acts, response is usually immediate and clear-cut:
"...about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one's fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:25-34)
Biblical faith involves trust and risk.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by faith the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:1-6)
Because faith is not merely intellectual belief, we must act on the truth we have been given in order for our beliefs to count. Ray Stedman notes,
"For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 13:12 RSV)
That is a basic, fundamental law of life. That is the great principle upon which God operates to govern human lives and human history. "To him who has will more be given ... but from him who has not, even what he has [or, as Luke says, 'even what he thinks he has'] will be taken away." Now, what does that mean? It is so fundamental that it applies to everything in life, to every realm of existence. It is true on the physical level. You have muscles in your body. Suppose you deliberately refuse to use one? You will find that soon it will begin to weaken and atrophy, and that what you have is taken away. All you need do to render your arm paralyzed is simply to tie it up and not use it for a few months. Soon you will find you have lost the ability to use it. Life is built this way.
Reduced to its simplest statement, the principle means this: Truth must be acted upon in order to be retained.
Truth rejected or unused is lost. God is constantly confronting men with truth about everything, at every level of life. Man is so constructed that he is made to act upon truth. But if he doesn't he loses the truth which has already been given to him. That is a very vital and important principle in understanding human life. That is the basis upon which God determines advance or regression either in individuals or in nations.
This is a fantastically important statement that Jesus makes here! It explains, for example, why the disciples were called. When the Lord saw them -- simple fishermen, tax collectors, etc. -- he saw in the heart of each one a willingness to act on truth. When they saw the truth, and knew it to be truth, they acted on it. The proof of that is the way they responded when he called them. The moment he said to them, "Come, follow me," they rose, and followed him. They acted on truth. He had perceived that in them. That is why to them it was given to know the secrets while to others it was hidden. Their willingness to act on the truth they knew qualified them for more truth. (http://raystedman.org/behind/0452.html)
Faith acts by trusting God, and His promises, and His character even when all external circumstances in our lives seem to contradict our decision to trust God. Faith lays hold of the resources of God to accomplish things which we can not accomplish. To put it even more strongly, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23b)
Throughout the entire Bible walking by "faith" versus walking by "sight" are juxtaposed against one another:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Here is where yet another obstacle to true faith occurs. All of us think that because of education, training, or experience we are quite capable of managing some areas of our lives by ourselves, without help from God, thank you. But, we will agree to ask God for help if and when we need it. The problem with this reasoning is that our not trusting God for everything is actually sin! In any area of our lives if we don't walk by faith, the automatic default mode is walking by sight. In effect when we "walk by sight" we are following the ways of the world. When we are not trusting God we are also actually living in the strength of the flesh--that old natural life energy inherited from Adam. But God has declared everything done in the flesh to be null and void resulting in nothing of lasting value in our lives that will persist into eternity.
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Seen in this light, faith can be seen to be an all-important principle applicable and relevant to everything we do in life--the key to our eternal future with God.
When a person walks by faith--the kind of faith that is normative for Christians as outlined in the Bible--we will often find ourselves appearing foolish to the rest of the world. We will be seen a rigid, stubborn, and thought to be out of touch with reality. Many of our actions will cut across the grain of the daily lifestyle patterns of a pagan world. We will earn not the admiration and respect of the world, but its animosity. However, we will also soon see God surprising us with many wonderful experiences! He catches us up in the Spirit and puts us right in the mainstream of what He is currently doing in the world. There is no higher privilege anywhere than to be used by God.
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'" (John 15:18-25)
Faith must be tested! Sports cars builders test drive their new models well beyond their normal range of design parameters, under all conceivable road conditions, and through a barrage of safety standards. Hidden flaws otherwise might not show up. We'd like the car to perform well for a long time under normal road conditions and to be capable of a lot more if needed. Gold and silver are separated from inferior, base metals by the intense heat of the refiner's fire. God does all sorts of testing and refining in His people, it is part of the package of our salvation.
The testing of Job's faith was so severe he wished he had never been born, yet he endured saying "though he slays me, yet I will keep on trusting Him." Job passed the test with flying colors, hidden flaws in his life were exposed and healed, and God was then able to bless Job with twice as much as he had before.
God's discipline of all of his kids is not pleasant at the time it is happening to us but it is purposeful and not arbitrary. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11). God's goal in testing our faith and obedience is that we should end up "approved."
"Be diligent to present yourself approved unto God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
God is 100% trustworthy but His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55). Many of us can relate situations where we have suggested to the Lord half-a-dozen perfectly fine ways He could solve a given problem we had. God always ignores these suggestions and has His own better solution we had not thought of. Paul says "His ways are beyond finding out," which sometimes seems to me to be a gross understatement.
What may seem a very urgent request on our part may be low on God's priority list, so He often appears to be ignoring us when in fact he never takes his eyes of us for a nanosecond. When He has something He wants us to do (or to stop doing) He is persistent until He has our obedience, but He never makes broadside charges against us (these come from the enemy). The solution to our problem may be linked wit a dozen other problems He is working on in the lives of others.
Actually, it is quite OK to ask God for all sorts of things. Often He does not say "no" but merely has us wait a few years. He answers old prayers sometimes after we have completely forgotten them! The Lord does not give briefings or explain Himself so it is best to wait and to trust knowing that the answers, when they do come, will be more than satisfactory.
"The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all." (Psalm 34:15-19)
Many Christians keep a journal of their prayer requests and daily lives. In most cases when re-reading their journals later on they report answer after answer to many prayers great and small.
It goes without saying that we can not expect God's ready help and response if we are not giving Him our full attention and obedience. James says,
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. (1:2-7)
We begin our Christian life with only a little faith. But each time we trust God we experience God's response (His ways are not our ways, remember). We see that He is trustworthy and reliable and so the next time we can trust Him for more difficult answers. Romans 1:17 says, "[In the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." Any Christian can develop strong faith simply by obeying God daily--acting on new truth, new insights when they becomes evident to the mind and heart. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," applies to each one of us. James lets us know that we are no different on the inside from the miracle-working prophet Elijah:
"Elijah was a man of like passions as ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit." (James 5:17)
Living life by faith moment by moment one day at a time does not mean we have to constantly stop and pray and ask God for wisdom--it means merely that we expect Him to work through us at all times and we invite Him to do just that! This brand new way of life is what is often called "the exchanged life." It is also known as "living in God's Sabbath rest."
"So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:9-11)
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21)
Romans 6 tells us that we all have but two choices in life: either we are slaves of sin which leads to death, or we choose to be slaves of Jesus which leads to life and liberty. Thus the call of Jesus is to become yoked to Him, the senior ox, who will teach us, the junior oxen, step by step, the straight ways of the servant of God.
Jesus declared, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-30)
When all these factors concerning faith are added up, we who follow Jesus Christ as Lord are asked to pay attention to the matter of trusting in Him all the time. "Nothing coming from me, everything coming from Him" is how founding elder Bob Smith at my home church used to put it. Paul says "Christ is our life." Living in Christ by faith is living in reality--seeing things the way they really are.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
(William Cowper 1774)
New Book: Ray Stedman's long awaited commentary on Leviticus, The Way to Wholeness is off the press. Copies may be obtained from Amazon.com, or Discovery House Publishers, or the PBC book room. Available online.
3/21/05. Revised 10/24/05.