The Essential Aspects of Faith - #2

Dr. Brian Allison

Imagine that it is Monday morning; you have set aside some time to draw near to the Lord. You spend a few minutes meditating on His Word and then you turn your heart to prayer. As you are worshipping God, He 'speaks' to you. There is no question in your mind that He is spiritually speaking to you. You hear the clear tones of His voice reverberating in your spirit; that is, you experience illumination and a deep sense of conviction, peace, and joy. Your faith acknowledges the reality of the divine address. There you sit before Him in fear and trembling, and He says to you, "I want you to quit your job. I want you to sell your possessions. I want you to close all your bank accounts. I want you to leave your relatives; and I want you to go to some distant, destitute place." That is all the Lord says. What will you do?

We read in Hebrews 11:8-10, "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Much of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews concerns Abraham who is called the father of faith; and thus (second only to the Lord Jesus) is also the prime example of faith. As we consider this account of Abraham, we learn of some essential aspects of faith.

The obedience of faith

Obedience is essential to faith. Faith not only results in obedience, it entails obedience – "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance." Abraham grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans, or at least he had made his home there with his family. Apparently Ur was a pagan place. Abraham's father was an idolater while living there (Josh. 24:2); and most likely Abraham was an idolater as well. And out of this pagan, idolatrous setting, God called Abraham. We read in Genesis 12:1, "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you.'"

God called, and Abraham immediately responded. The Biblical record does not indicate, nor suggest, that Abraham hesitated, or that he asked any questions, or that he doubted the voice that he heard. No, God called and Abraham obeyed. That was an act of faith. The act of faith is the act of obedience. Faith is revealed and confirmed by the demonstration of obedience. Only by, and in, faith can someone, or will someone, sincerely obey the voice of God. His calling, His commands, have little effect apart from hearing and receiving them in and by faith.

Are you responding to the voice of God? I am not talking about receiving some kind of strange or paranormal communiqué, hearing some distinct, audible utterance; I am talking about that which pertains to vital Christianity. Are you responding to the voice and call of God? Jesus Christ is continually calling His people. He is pleased to call His people to different places and lands in order to fulfil a particular service. He is pleased to call His people to different commitments in order that they might strengthen the Church and be a blessing. He is pleased to call His people to different expressions of devotion and consecration in order that He Himself might reveal more of His power and His presence.

So, God is continually calling His people, just like He called Abraham. Are you responding to His call? You respond only in an act of faith. Those who do not respond lack faith. Abraham responded immediately, no questions asked – no ifs, buts, or ands. God had spoken, and that was sufficient. Again, the only acceptable response to God's call is that of obedience – the obedience of faith. Maybe God has been calling you to watch less TV, knowing that TV distracts you from more important matters and numbs your spirit to the things of Christ. Maybe you have been hearing His call, saying, in effect: "You are watching too much TV. You are filling your mind with too much 'garbage' from it. You know it's wrong if it is taking you away from time with Me." Now, I am not condemning watching TV. I am not saying that it is the tool of the devil, though it can be used as a tool of the devil. The average Canadian watches TV about 23 or 24 hours a week. Now, of these Canadians, how many are Christians, and how much time are they giving to prayer, meditation, and fasting? So, is God calling you to watch less TV? Maybe God is calling you to minister to children? You have felt the nudge of the Spirit and you have tried to shrug it off, but you know that He is calling you to minister in this way. Or maybe God is calling you to go to another city to begin a new career. Whatever the call, are you immediately responding? My brothers and sisters, we walk by faith, not by sight. Are you walking by faith or are you expecting visible signs? Are you saying: "Well, I am not sure, Lord. I am going to put out this fleece, and expect You to answer, and then I will really know." At that point, you may have denied the faith. God says that His Word alone should be sufficient for you. Do you believe that? Now, God sometimes accommodates our weak faith and allows for the fleece to be laid out, but that is not to be the common practice, because then we are not walking by faith. If you do not respond to His call when it comes, knowing indeed that it is God speaking, it may be a long time, if ever, that He calls in that way again. God called, Abraham obeyed, no questions asked.

The trust of faith

Trust is another essential aspect of faith – "And he went out [leaving fatherland and many family members behind], not knowing where he was going." God simply said, "Abraham [at that time, Abram], go to the distant land of Canaan." Abraham did not have a clue where he was to go specifically. He ventured out by faith. Would you do the same? Or would you say, "I have a good job. I am carrying three RRSP's. I have developed a great social network. I have a comfortable setting." Would you go?

God did not disclose the details of His call to Abraham. He gave no information about the specifics. Abraham did not know what to expect, what was involved, how to prepare, where to stay, how to serve. He was simply called and he went. Isn't that God's way? Recall the Gospel accounts. Jesus simply addressed certain ones, those who were to become His disciples, saying, "Follow Me." That is it. And some left their businesses behind, and some left their families behind, and some left their homes behind. That was faith.

What we are really talking about here is trust. Abraham had to trust God in order to be able to forsake all. Faith does not simply result in trust, it entails trust. What is trust? Trust is having confidence or assurance that one will make good on his or her word, or on his or her commitment, and not let you down or disappoint you. Trust is to take one's word at face value and to rest your whole self on it. Abraham received and rested on God's word. He trusted that God knew what He was doing. He trusted that God would provide. He trusted that God would give more understanding and direction at the appointed time. God does not often show you what tomorrow is going to bring, much less next week; and maybe He has spoken a simple, direct word to you. And maybe your response has been, "Lord, I need more light." God would typically say, "No more light will be forthcoming now. You do what I told you to do now." And at this point, you must trust.

So, Abraham did not know where he was going. That is a scary thing, isn't it? Could God really say to you next week, next month, "Sell it all, everything?" Yes, He can, and may. And if you are walking in faith, you will trust Him, though the future is unknown. I tell you my brothers and sisters, He is supremely worthy to be trusted because He is faithful. Very rarely does God provide all the information that we would desire; but it is our nature to want all the information and all the facts beforehand because we are creatures who often live in quiet fear and uneasy insecurity, which is the opposite of trust. You need to accept and trust in His Word, knowing that God is faithful and that He truly knows what He is doing. He is worthy of trust.

Many Christians have trouble trusting. Again, the biggest culprit and enemy that prevents us from trusting is fear; it is deadly. It bleeds us of that confidence and assurance in God. Fear swallows up and disallows trust. Do you know what you need to do if you are fearful? You need to surrender that fear to God. It is a volitional act. You can surrender an emotion to God. It is possible. In the context of prayer, as you come in faith, you must say, "Lord, I am afraid, but I choose to surrender that fear to You. In an act of faith, I am giving it to You." This does not mean that there will not be continued physiological reactions in the face of danger, but you will have a different state of mind, a different attitude. In faith you will be able to say, "God has my fear. I have given it to Him. I have chosen to trust Him, come what may." My friend, surrender your fear to God in an act of faith.

The perseverance of faith

Perseverance or patience is another essential aspect of faith – "By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." In responding to God's call, Abraham sacrificed much. Responding to God's call often carries a price. It is typically costly. What did it cost Abraham? He went from a state of security, a developed social network, familiar surroundings, and physical comfort to a state of perpetual transience, economic uncertainty, personal inconvenience, and social isolation. He and his family lived in tents and wandered about for his whole life. They were migrants. It seems that he left everything behind and gained nothing in exchange. But "he was looking for the city which has foundations." Isn't that exciting? He was waiting for God's city, of which he was a citizen.

Now, remember that God had said to him, "And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gn. 12:2,3). Yet Abraham did not see the fulfilment of these promises in his day. He was a foreigner and sojourner his whole life.

Now, consider the following. It is an important point. Some hesitate to respond to the call of God because the decision one makes often involves others, particularly one's family. Abraham's decision to follow God resulted in subjecting his family to the same conditions to which he was subjected by that obedient act. Abraham's family had no choice; they had to follow. Abraham, as well as his family, were tent-dwellers and wanderers. Sometimes men and women have to make difficult decisions, decisions that will deeply touch, and even disturb, their families, because they are being obedient to the call of God. Every year, many people quit their jobs, sell their homes, and leave their countries to go away to train for the Gospel ministry. They go to seminary, taking their families with them, often living in residence under less than ideal conditions. These men, and women, persevere in faith.

God made a promise to Abraham, and Abraham waited; for years he waited. He tasted the promises, but he never fully possessed them. He had to be patient. True faith entails patience. In faith, my brothers and sisters, you will press on. You will press on regardless of the challenges, or the difficulties, or the opposition. Why? Faith embraces the realities of the future, as though they were the realities of the present. Again, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hb. 11:1). If you are walking in faith, you have already received God's future blessings. They are yours. Abraham saw the promise fulfilled beforehand; he had already experienced the blessing. In essence, he was not looking for a physical blessing or city, but a spiritual one; not an earthly one, but a heavenly one; not a human construction but a divine creation – "he was looking for the city...whose architect and builder is God." And thus he persevered. Faith allowed him to endure, and to embrace it, before it actually came to its realization. And, no doubt, in the perseverance of faith, already possessing the promise, he rejoiced. We read, in a similar connection, the words of Jesus to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). Are you enduring in your faith?

Some of you, no doubt, who are reading this message, are having a difficult week. Maybe some of you have become discouraged or upset; maybe you are ready to 'throw in the towel'. Think of father Abraham. How long did Abraham wander about in the land of Canaan? Years. He did not personally receive what was promised, but he possessed the certainty that he would. You need to persevere, you need to hang in there because God is faithful. "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised... Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Hb. 10:36; 12:1,2). God will help you. He will deliver you. None of His promises will fail. "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Th. 5:24). Do you believe this? Father Abraham did, whose children we are by faith.