The Essential Aspects of Faith - #1

Dr. Brian Allison

Last week someone told me that a recent graduate of Ontario Bible College committed suicide. Apparently, he could handle his personal struggles no longer. Tragic news of this sort often raises searching questions. Some people ask, "Well, was he really a Christian? Did he really have faith? If he really had faith, then could he have been overwhelmed to the point of taking his life?" Usually during times of crisis, we may question the reality of our faith, whether it can hold us. Maybe you are asking yourself that question now, "Do I really have faith – faith to believe God, faith to hang on to God, faith to know His power and blessing? How can I know whether I have real faith?" I want to suggest to you that the question whether you have real faith is not a difficult question to answer. Sometimes we create spiritual problems for ourselves, and a tremendous amount of inner unrest, because we look for too much and we try to explore too deeply when we ask such a question as, "Do I really have faith?"

The response of faith

So, what does true faith look like? Hebrews 11:7 is very helpful in this regard. Recall that the writer in this chapter begins with a practical definition of faith, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (v. 1). Having given this practical definition of faith, he proceeds to give both illustrations and demonstrations of faith. Hebrews 11:7 comprises such an illustration and demonstration of faith, "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith."

First, faith is a response to the revelation of God; it is accepting the truth of God – "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen...prepared an ark." According to the Scriptures, there is no Biblical faith apart from the Word of God. Now, the reason for this is that the Word of God gives birth to faith and sustains it. It is the Word of God that provides faith with its substance or content, and thus its very reality. Faith is simply making divine truth, personal truth. That is, when someone actually receives or appropriates the Word of God – when the Word of God is proclaimed or even read – that divine truth, in becoming personal truth, is the reality and expression of faith.

God spoke to Noah. Genesis 6:13,14 reads, "Then God said to Noah, 'The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. [Noah] make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.'" Noah was warned by God through a revelation that a universal deluge was coming upon the earth; and being warned by God through a revelation, he, by faith, personally embraced it, and thus built an ark, a massive structure – 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

The Word of God must define and shape our faith, which means that faith must not be construed in terms of an emotional experience; nor does a dramatic event give rise to it. Faith cannot survive with these kinds of roots. Faith only survives as it is rooted in, and sustained by, the Word of God. When Israel left the land of Egypt, they saw many miracles. God displayed His power. They witnessed dramatic events. If true faith is rooted in dramatic events, then Israel should have had true faith. If real faith were to be connected with an emotional experience, then Israel should have had real faith. However, the indictment against Israel is, "For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief" (Hb. 3:16-19). Israel failed to enter the promised land because they did not accept the Word of God; "the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hb. 4:2b). My Christian friend, only the Word of God can sustain your faith, not the emotional experiences of the past, not the dramatic events that have occurred in your life, not even the wonderful answers to prayer. If your faith is resting on these things, it is only a matter of time before you will fall.

Faith responds to a Person

So, the Word of God has priority, it is the foundation for faith; but more specifically, the Word of God, if it is going to give birth to faith and sustain it, must be a personal Word. This point is critical. Many read their Bibles, many have listened to hundreds of sermons, and yet have experienced no reality or strengthening of faith. Many have turned away unchanged. It is not simply hearing or reading the Word of God, in its objective form, that will give rise to faith. You must hear a personal word from God, through His objective Word. Only God's own address gives rise to faith. God Himself must speak into your heart. While you read His Word, or while you listen to a sermon, God Himself must encounter you; you need to be confronted by the living God, and then there will be faith. It is only His personal Word, His personal address, that gives faith reality and strength. Why is it that some of God's people have a deep faith? They have heard the voice of God or Christ. Why is it some have a weak faith? They have not heard the voice of God or Christ.

Now, the personal speaking of God is simply an expression of His grace. Genesis 6:8 reads, "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." As a result of divine grace, God spoke a personal word to Noah. God is pleased to speak His personal Word; and He determines and chooses the times in which He will speak that Word. And when He does speak, you cannot help but believe. The speaking of God is simultaneous with the hearing of faith. In hearing God, you must, at the same time, believe God, because hearing Him presupposes that He is speaking. And unless God personally speaks, you have no faith. God personally spoke to Noah, and Noah believed.

Some may ask, "How can I ensure or guarantee that God will speak to me, if He must first speak in order for me to have faith?" Well, you can't, my friend. Again, God chooses when He will speak. He decides the moments of personal encounter. But having said this, let me also say that, from the human side, we are to seek God with our whole heart for it may be that we will find grace in His sight so that He will speak. But you must seek, because it may be, my friend, that you will find grace in His eyes, even as Noah did. Let us not be discouraged because God must take the initiative; and let us not become despondent or inactive because all depends upon Him. Let us not be concerned about God's part; let us simply be concerned about our part. And it is our part to seek Him with our whole heart because we may find Him.

The result of faith

With the response of faith to the revelation of God, there must be a necessary result – "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen...prepared an ark for the salvation of his household." The faith of Noah moved him to act; he built a huge boat. True faith always translates into action or deeds. Hurricane Hazel ravaged Toronto about 45 years ago, claiming 80 lives. Now, if you heard a weather forecast warning you that a hurricane was heading towards the city again, much more destructive than Hurricane Hazel, and you were warned to stay inside and to take cover in the basement, and you really believed the report, what would you do? I think you would stay inside and take cover in the basement. That particular action would demonstrate that you really believed what you had heard.

We said that faith is a response to God's Word, but not simply an intellectual response, but rather a personal, and thus a behavioural, response. To really believe God's Word is to be affected and impacted by it. Jonah the prophet went to Nineveh and preached the Word of God to them to repent. We read, "Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them" (Jon. 3:5). They really believed God's Word which was delivered by the prophet because they acted on the basis of it – they repented. There was action that demonstrated the reality of the belief. That must be the case. You do not have faith unless there is action; faith is synonymous with action. To really believe is to respond in obedience. True faith is always demonstrable.

Notice what is said about the effect of Noah's action. His action was an indictment and a judgement against the world – "[He] prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world." The building of an ark, by faith, was a preachment to sinners that God's wrath and punishment were coming, and thus the world stood condemned. The building of the ark was a demonstration that God's Word was true, for faith acknowledges the truth. Do you have faith? You may say, "O yes, I have faith. I believe Christ died for me. I believe Christ is Lord." Do you really believe? The reality of your faith will be demonstrated by the quality of your fruit. You cannot have faith and yet habitually deceive, lie, connive, and misrepresent. That is bad fruit. A good tree produces good fruit. You cannot have faith, and yet habitually be angry, irritable, and impatient. That is bad fruit, and a good tree produces good fruit. You cannot have real faith and yet incessantly allow your mind to be filled with evil, sensual thoughts. That is bad fruit, and a good tree produces good fruit. The critical matter is not whether you profess Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but whether you have the action and deeds that ratify your faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. So, I ask you again, do you really have faith? There is no faith unless there is action...deeds...works...fruit. You believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord, my friend. How is that belief demonstrated in your life each day? You believe that God is sovereign, that He controls everything. Do you really believe that? Well, then, how is that belief demonstrated in your life each day? You believe that God is faithful and that He answers prayers. Do you believe that? Then, how is that belief demonstrated in your life each day? You have no faith unless there is fruit that confirms it. Faith is always demonstrable. Wishful thinking is not.

The revealing of faith

True faith is revealed in different ways, but particularly in a certain disposition. True faith reveals itself in a godly fear – "In reverence Noah prepared an ark." Hearing the Word of God had a certain effect on Noah's attitude or disposition. He put faith in God's Word because he showed fear towards God's person. Noah had some understanding of the power, wonder, and greatness of God, and he therefore realized that God's Word must be true. He realized that God would do what He said He would do. How is your level of godly fear?

Generally speaking, there is an absence of godly fear amongst Christians. We know that by their lifestyles; by their lack of devotion, dedication, and consecration. A friend of mine said that he was glad that he had a fear of policemen while growing up because that fear kept him out of trouble. All he would have to do is see the men in blue and he would tremble. Do you see what fear does? Now, if that is true of fearing a policeman, how much more should be the result and affect of fearing God? "By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil" (Pr. 16:6). Fear of the Lord causes us to tremble and to walk softly before Him. The fear of the Lord causes us to be humble and meek. Do you fear God?

If there is no fear of God in your heart, you do not have a healthy, God-honouring faith. Faith reveals itself in reverence, godly fear. Deep faith in God necessitates a healthy fear of God. When God personally speaks to you and you are confronted with the living God, my friend, you must fear. You cannot be encountered by God and remain indifferent. It is this fear that feeds the faith; the fear of God gives power to the faith in God. God spoke, Noah feared and built the ark.

The reward of faith

Faith has its reward – "By faith Noah...prepared an ark...and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." God is pleased to honour faith. Noah showed faith, and God vouchsafed him the gift of righteousness. Faith is a response to God's Word, and God is pleased to respond by imputing a special status, a particular position – acceptance with Him and access to Him. Through faith one acquires right standing before God, justification from sin. Through faith Noah entered that godly line, the family of the redeemed. He became an heir of righteousness which God has promised to those who believe in Him.

Notice that this righteousness is according to faith. You can have a righteousness which is according to the law, or according to personal works, or according to tradition. The only righteousness which God recognizes (for He gives it) is that which is according to faith. It is faith that secures it because it is faith that pleases God, and God responds by honouring it. Romans 1:16,17 reads, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.'"

Through faith, we also become the heirs of righteousness; and it is only righteousness that makes us acceptable to God and able to enjoy His fellowship. Do you have faith? We began by raising the question, "How does one know that he or she has real faith?" Have you asked that question? The Word of God says, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test!" (2 Cor. 13:5). How do you know whether you have faith? There has to be a response to God's Word; it must result in action or good deeds/works; it must reveal itself in godly fear; and its reward is God's righteousness.

My non-Christian friend, maybe much of what I have said has been confusing to you. Maybe you have understood very little. Let me say something very simple. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world. You have sinned. Your sins invite and incur the wrath of God. Because of your sins, you are destined for a lost eternity. Jesus Christ died for sins. I offer Him to you now, if you will have Him. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and your personal Saviour, you shall be saved. You will know His righteousness, and thus His peace. Won't you believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord? My friend, why do you delay? You come, the Saviour is waiting.