The Life of Faith

Dr. Brian Allison

~ 1 ~

The Necessity of Faith

There is nothing apart from faith, there is nothing beyond faith, which will guarantee and secure the experience of the reality and the blessing of God. Faith is 'everything' (from the human side) with respect to entering in, and enjoying, the fullness of God. To be sure, God must give grace even to express faith, but faith is the necessary human response by which one may experience the depths of God. Only faith can bring us to God and allow us to court His pleasure. Hebrews 11:6 reads, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

The possibility of pleasing God

The presence and expression of faith are necessary in order to please God – "And without faith it is impossible to please Him." Two observations may be made concerning this statement. First, some things can please God. Second, and more specifically, it is possible for us personally to please God. Consider, first, the observation that there are some things that can please God. For instance, financially giving to the physical or material needs of the brethren pleases God. Philippians 4:18 reads, "But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you [believers] have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God." Children obeying their parents is something that pleases God. Colossians 3:20 reads, "Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord." So, there are some things that can please God; but the incredible fact (as these previous verses infer) is that it is possible for us personally to please the Lord God. In fact, the Scriptures instruct us to make the pleasing of God a major concern and goal. Accordingly, we read in 2 Corinthians 5:9, "Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to [the Lord]." We find the same language in Ephesians 5:9f., "(For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."

Further, we can know what exactly is pleasing to the Lord. Simply put, God is pleased with us when we do His will. Hence we read the doxology of Hebrews 13:20f., "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." In this same chapter, the author also clearly indicates how we may specifically please God. He writes, "Through Him then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hb. 13:15f.). That is, we please God specifically when we worship Him (i.e., praise and offer thanksgiving) and when we engage in benevolent service (i.e., do good and share). In other words, God is pleased when we, first, love Him; and, second, love fellow believers and fellow human beings. These are the spiritual sacrifices that delight God's heart. Is it your aim or goal to be pleasing to God? Is that your concern? Can you say with all sincerity, and with all assurance, that your goal, your ambition in life is to please Him? It ought to be.

The impossibility of pleasing God without faith

According to our text, Hebrews 11:6, faith also pleases God. But notice, that something is said here about faith that is not said about the other things to which we have referred above. It is impossible to please God without faith. Faith is necessary to satisfy God. What this clearly suggests is that all the other things which please God presuppose faith, or must result from faith. Faith renders all our acts of service and conduct acceptable to God. You can live without a gall bladder. You can live without an appendix. But you cannot live without a liver or a heart. These latter organs are absolutely necessary for life. Similarly, faith is absolutely necessary for spiritual life with God, in all its dimensions. Everything else that is pleasing to God must find its spiritual efficacy and roots in faith, or it cannot be pleasing to Him.

The author of this epistle uses very strong language – "It is impossible" (11:6a). That term 'impossible' simply means that it allows or admits no exceptions. It is interesting that in the New Testament, this term 'impossible' is most often found in the book of Hebrews. Consider a few examples. Hebrews 6:4ff. reads, "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." Again, Hebrews 6:17f. reads, "In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope we have as an anchor of the soul." And again, Hebrews 10:3f. reads, "But in those [animal] sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." And so it is with respect to faith when it comes to pleasing God.

There is absolutely no way you can please God without faith. You may put in 40 hours of church service per week; you may fast and pray for days; you may incessantly read your Bible; you may have been a Christian for 20, 30, or 40 years; but if you do not have faith, all that you may have religiously acquired or accomplished means absolutely nothing in the sight of God. This fact was equally true of the Old Testament people. God's ways have not changed. He is the same God; He required and expected faith from Israel, just as He requires and expects faith from us. Notice, for example, Hebrews 4:2f., a text referring to Israel, "For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they [Israel] also; but the word they heard did not profit them [it did not produce spiritual fruit, it did them absolutely no spiritual good. Why?], because it was not united by faith in those who heard." Those who had no faith experienced no blessing. The absence of faith is our downfall and destruction, even as it was for Israel.

Only a living, active faith pleases God

Biblical faith may be viewed both as a gift from God (i.e., the faith of grace) and as a human response (i.e., the faith of reason). We may define the 'human response' aspect of Biblical faith as personally accepting God's Word as true and endeavouring to carry it out (i.e., obey it). Accordingly, compare the following Scriptures. Hebrews 3:19 reads, "And so we see that they [Israel] were not able to enter [God's rest] because of unbelief [i.e., a lack of faith]." And Hebrews 4:11 reads, "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience." Do you see the parallelism? Israel failed to enter because of the absence of faith; which is to say, they failed to enter because of disobedience. In this sense, the act of faith is the act of obedience.

There are some who may read this chapter and draw the conclusion: "All I need to do is believe that Jesus has saved me, that He died for me; that He is Lord; and that is all that is required. Now I can go and 'do my own thing'. As long as I have this belief in my mind, everything is fine. I shall be saved in the end." But everything is not fine because this is not a true portrayal of Biblical faith. Biblical faith is not just an intellectual assent to truth. Biblical faith involves all that you are: your thinking, your will, your feelings, and your actions. The faith that is simply confined to your intellect will not save; that is not the faith that pleases God. You demonstrate the reality of your faith by how you live and what you do. You do not simply have faith, you are your faith. Practically speaking, the assurance of salvation is directly proportional to the obedience of life. You can have no true assurance of salvation unless you are endeavouring to be obedient to God's Word.

You may ask, "How does one know that he has this kind of faith?" Well, the question could be phrased this way: "What is your attitude towards God's Word? Are you obedient to God's Word?" Again, faith is personally accepting God's Word and endeavouring to carry it out. Do you highly esteem God's Word? Do you rejoice over it? Does your life conform to it? Again, if you are not obedient to God's Word, if you have no desire to honour it, then you do not have Biblical faith. It does not matter how warmly you feel towards God's people or how warmly you feel towards spiritual matters. Your warm feelings will not get you into heaven. Your warm feelings could damn you to hell. It is not your warm feelings that save you; it is faith alone, but not faith that is alone. True faith entails obedience. Again, if you do not have a faith that rejoices in, and loves, God's Word, and is obedient to that Word, then do not fool yourself – you are not saved.

Faith approaches and seeks God

The question is: Why is faith necessary in order to please God? We have a twofold reason given in our text – "for He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (11:6a). Here we have a logical connection, rather than a moral obligation. First, it is impossible to please God without faith because he who spiritually comes to God must believe that He exists. The term 'to come', is a common term in this particular book, being used 7 times. It simply means 'to draw near' or 'to approach'. The term clearly denotes the act of worship or consecration. For example, Hebrews 4:16 reads, "Let us therefore draw near [same term in the original] with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." So, we can 'come to God' through prayer. Hebrews 7:25 reads, "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near [same term] to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for us." Again, Hebrews 10:22 reads, "Let us draw near [same term] with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." It is self-evident, to be sure, that you will not, you cannot, draw near to God, without faith. That is, you will not, you cannot, come to God, unless you actually believe that He exists.

Second, it is impossible to please God without faith because he who spiritually seeks God must believe that He will graciously bless. The term 'to seek', simply means, 'to pursue' or 'to endeavour to obtain'. It is used twice in this particular book. The other reference is found in 12:17 – "For you know that even afterwards, when he [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it [same term] with tears." Again, it is self-evident that you cannot, you will not, seek God without faith; more specifically, you cannot, you will not, seek God unless you believe that He is faithful and good. For instance, if children do not have the belief that Mom or Dad will show some kindness and give them gifts, then they will not seek to receive anything from them. Similarly, if you do not believe in the faithfulness and goodness of God, that He can and will graciously give something to you, then you will not seek Him. There would be no point.

Approaching and seeking pleases God

Belief in the person of God – that He exists – and belief in the beneficence of God – that He is a rewarder – are motivators, respectively, of coming to Him and seeking Him. Now we come more directly to the answer to why it is impossible to please God without faith. First, it is only in our coming to God and seeking Him that He is pleased. Second, God is pleased because in our coming and in our seeking, we are therein acknowledging Him to be Creator, Provider, Sustainer, and Lord; that in Him we "live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28a). In coming to God and in seeking Him, in effect, you are declaring that He is worthy of worship, of homage, of obeisance, and of reverence. You are demonstrating that He indeed is God, and that you are the dependent creature; and thus He is glorified. So, it is right and acceptable in God's sight to draw near to Him, for in doing so, you give Him due honour. Third, as argued, we can and will come to God and seek Him, only if we have faith – believing that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. In summary, only in faith can and will you come to Him and seek Him, and only in coming to Him and seeking Him can and will you please Him; and therefore, only by faith can and will you please Him – the necessity of faith.

How is your faith? Be honest now. There is nothing apart from faith, there is nothing beyond faith, that will guarantee and secure the experience of the reality and blessing of God. Do you believe that God exists? If you do not, then you will not draw near to Him. Maybe that is the reason why you have not yet come to Him, because deep down inside you do not believe that God exists and, perhaps, you have been riding on the coat-tails of the faith of your parents, or your friends, or your spouse; or even on the coat-tails of tradition or a church. Further, do you believe that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him? Are you seeking God? If you are not, I want to suggest that you really do not believe that He will reward or bless you, or pour out His goodness upon you. Those who seek God must believe that they will find a blessing in the end. I want to encourage you (because it will make all the difference in your spiritual experience) to come to grips with this particular point, and settle it in your own heart, whether you really believe that God will reward you, if you seek Him. If you adopt this anticipatory attitude in prayer – that you really believe that God will bless you, if you seek Him – it will change the dynamic of your prayers. It will add power and drive to your prayer life. It will strengthen your spiritual resolve. God desires that you come to Him and seek Him. Do not delay. He is waiting.

~ 2 ~

The Nature of Faith

There is nothing more spiritually foundational, more central, more necessary than this matter of faith. From the human side, it is the key and the means of spiritual reality and fullness, as well as of spiritual victory in the Christian life. As the apostle John affirmed, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4). Do you see faith as a matter of life and death, that everything hinges on it, spiritually speaking, from the human side? The reality and depth of faith is proportional to the reality and depth of your Christian life and experience in Christ. As goes faith, so will go your fellowship with God. Many of the problems, difficulties, and struggles that Christians experience in their lives can be traced back to a shallowness, a weakness, or a lack of faith. An immature faith results in instability, lukewarmness, powerlessness, fruitlessness, disobedience, a lack of holiness, etc. All spiritual graces, virtues, and blessings (from the human side) spring from, and grow out of, the soil of faith.

Faith and perseverance

How would you define faith? Perhaps the more pressing question is this: Do you know whether you have faith? Hebrews 11:1 reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Here we have a general statement on the nature of faith. This is not simply a definition of saving or justifying faith. Here we have neither a technical nor comprehensive definition of faith, but rather a practical and narrow one. Here we have presented a certain understanding of, and perspective on, faith, in keeping with the main message of this epistle, which is that of perseverance. This practical definition of faith apparently suited the author's purpose in articulating his pastoral concerns for Jewish believers who were on the verge of abandoning their faith and reverting to Judaism.

What we should know, by way of background (so that we may understand and appreciate the teaching of Hebrews 11:1) is that faith is the means by which one perseveres as a Christian. Faith is necessary because by faith one patiently endures and will eventually receive what is promised. Hence the writer encouraged these believers, "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hb. 6:11,12). Patience, and thus perseverance, is the fruit of real faith.

Now, notice Hebrews 10:35ff., which introduces Hebrews 11:1, "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence [your assurance], which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [And by what means will one endure and receive what was promised?] FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. BUT [in the meantime] MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; BUT IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." Again, through faith, Christians persevere in order that they might receive, inherit, what God has promised; and, according to the epistle to the Hebrews, God has simply promised salvation and spiritual perfection (see Hb. 1:14; 11:39,40). Thus, we come to Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for [that which was promised], the conviction of things not seen." In this 11th chapter, the author gives an exposition on faith; and his goal is to provide an understanding concerning faith, as well as to actually strengthen and inspire the faltering faith of these believers. He first states the nature of faith, and then he proceeds to outline the demonstrations and illustrations of faith.

The experiential nature of faith

The author presents a twofold statement concerning the nature of faith. He presents two essential aspects of the nature of faith, practically and experientially understood. First, faith is that which gives hope its force and its strength – "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for" (11:1a). To have faith is to be absolutely sure that something will definitely happen. Second, faith is that which makes the invisible world personally real and meaningful – "Now faith is...the conviction of things unseen" (11:1b). Faith offers, by its very nature, indisputable evidence that certain unobserved things exist. Notice that the essential character of faith (according to this text) is that of certainty. For the author, by its very nature, faith is intolerant to doubt; by its very nature faith, brooks all, and any, incertitude; by its very nature, faith is absolutely sure of the object in which it acquiesces and rests. So, by faith, on the one hand, one embraces and knows the future as if it were the present; and, on the other hand, one perceives and touches the invisible as if it were concrete and observable.

The account of the martyrdom of Stephen aptly illustrates and highlights the essence of Biblical faith. After uttering stinging and accusatory words against the Jews, Stephen became the target of hatred and anger. We read, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'" (Acts 7:54 – 56). Now, I suppose that you could argue that Stephen saw a vision, but I want to suggest that Stephen's experience was a demonstration of his faith.

Here is a sufficient Biblical image that captures the essence of faith simply, plainly, and forcefully. There is nothing abstract or abstruse about this. Here we have what faith 'looks like'. Faith is the spiritual eyes of the soul. What our physical eyes are to the body, so faith is to the soul. Faith essentially is a spiritual seeing which is just as real as a physical seeing. Faith is the ability and function of the soul to see beyond the physical realm and the restrictions of time. Thus, Jesus said to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). The soul has different abilities and functions. The soul has a will – it can choose and decide. The soul has a conscience – it can discern between right and wrong, what is morally acceptable and what is not. Just as the will, conscience, etc. are abilities and functions of the soul, so is faith; and when faith is rooted in the work of the Spirit and results from the presence of divine grace, then one embraces the truth and promises of God with utter certainty. One confidently trusts in the Word of God.

We may thus read Hebrews 11:1 as follows, "Now faith is the spiritual eyes of the soul which sees and grasps the future as if it were looking at the present." That is why the author uses the language "assurance;" there is absolutely no doubt about it. Thus, in referring to Sarah, Abraham, and others, we read, "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hb. 11:13). Again, faith is "the spiritual eyes of the soul, which sees or grasps the invisible as if it were visible." Thus, in referring to Moses, the author states, "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen" (Hb. 11:27). The eyes of Moses' soul 'saw' God.

The scope of faith

In Hebrews 11:1, faith is portrayed as being two directional: a forward direction and a backward one. Faith spans history and embraces truth; it is unhindered travelling through time, rendering the past and future as if it were the present. The forward direction centres on the promises. That's hope – "faith is the assurance of things hoped for." The backward direction focuses on unseen historical facts and events; that is the implication of the second half of this text – "the conviction of things not seen." By faith, you know that Christ really died; you 'see' it as if you were actually at the cross beholding His lifeless body. By faith, you know that Christ has risen from the dead; you 'see' it as if you were actually at the empty tomb, beholding Him on resurrection morning with your physical eyes. Accordingly, John 20:26-29 reads, "And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, 'Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord, and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see [with the physical eyes] and yet believed.'" These blessed ones see with spiritual eyes.

Biblical faith – real faith – confirms the past without any doubts or questions, and experiences the future without any doubts or questions. Do you have Biblical faith? Do you have that conviction of unseen things? Do you have spiritual eyes that really see Jesus performing miracles, that really see Him teaching His disciples, that really see Him raised from the dead? And do you see the future as if it were the present? Do you see the new heavens and the new earth, and the coming of the Lord, as if it were now? Again, this kind of faith is a gift from God. He must give the grace to trustingly believe in His Word and to spiritually rest in Him. And He is pleased to vouchsafe this grace in the context of humble, dependent prayer.

God must give the light, and only when God brings the light, and dispels the darkness, will one really see; and unless God brings the light, one will remain in his or her blindness. Listen to the Scriptures: "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled [if you are yet in your sins, if the Gospel makes no sense to you], it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:1-6). We are wholly dependent upon God for the salvation of our souls.

Further, every professing Christian is equally dependent upon God for the sanctification of his or her soul by receiving continual light from God. God Himself must strengthen faith. God must give the light if there is to be any reality and power to faith, and if He does not shine that light into our souls, then our spiritual sight will be dim and failing. Maybe you feel your deep need for God to shine His light into your heart. If that is your situation, I encourage you to cry out to God. Do not be complacent and indifferent. Humbly pray for grace.

~ 3 ~

The Essential Aspects of Faith - Part 1

Recently someone told me that a former graduate of Tyndale 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 emotional 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

In the last chapter, we considered the nature of faith. Recall that the author begins Hebrews 11 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" (11:7a). According to the Scriptures, there is no Biblical faith apart from the Word of God. 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 actually 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 personally 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). Only God's Word 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 falter, and perhaps 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. One must hear a personal word from God, through His objective Word. Only God's personal address gives rise to faith. God Himself must speak into the 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. The living Word of God must give raise to faith; and faith must reside in the objective Word of God. It is only God's direct 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. Why is it some have a weak faith? They have not heard the voice of God.

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 it. 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 indeed 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 cannot. 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. Let us not be discouraged over the fact that 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" (11:7a). The faith of Noah moved him to act; he built an ark. 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.

Faith is a response to God's Word, but not simply an intellectual response (though it is that), but also 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 to preach a message of repentance to the Ninevites. 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). It is clear that the Ninevites 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. 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" (11:7b). 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 that 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; and 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. You believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord, but how is that belief demonstrated in your life each day? You believe that God is sovereign, that He controls everything, but how is that belief demonstrated in your life each day? You believe that God is faithful and that He answers prayer, but 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" (11:7b). 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 to me 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. Now, if that is true with respect to fearing a policeman, how much more should be the result and affect of fearing God? We read, "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, then you do not have a healthy, God-honouring faith. Faith reveals itself in reverence, godly fear. When God personally speaks to you and you are confronted with the living God, then 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" (11:7). 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. We began this chapter by raising the question, "How does one know that he or she has real faith?" Have you asked yourself 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. Permit me to address a word to those reading this booklet who are non-Christians. Maybe much of what you have read thus far has been confusing to you. Maybe you have understood very little. But 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? Why do you delay? You come; the Saviour is waiting.

~ 4 ~

The Essential Aspects of Faith - Part 2

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 worshiping 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 some further 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" (11:8a). 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 then 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, 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. Again, 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. God's calling and 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 communique, or 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. 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 media contamination. You know that 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 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? 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 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" (11:8b). 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 was it. And some left their businesses behind, 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 word, or on his commitment, and not 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 proper time. God does not often show us in advance what tomorrow will 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." But God typically says, "No more light will be forthcoming now. You do what I told you to do now." And at this point, you must trust Him.

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. God 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 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. Fear is deadly. It bleeds us of that confidence and assurance in God. Fear swallows up and disallows trust. If you are fearful, then 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 humble prayer, as you come to God in dependency, 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." God, in showing respect for that act of humility and dependency (because it honours Him), may vouchsafe grace which expresses itself in confidence, peace, and hope. Trust in God is not humanly manufactured; it must be divinely given, it is the gift of God. Experiencing this trust 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 (and have been given grace) to trust Him, come what may."

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" (11:9,10). In responding to God's call, Abraham sacrificed much. Responding to God's call often carries a price. It is usually 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 in a foreign land 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.

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. Abraham's family had no choice; they had to follow. Abraham's family also became 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 are simply persevering 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 you too will press on. You will press on regardless of the challenges, 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" (11:10). And thus he persevered. Faith allowed him to endure, and to embrace the blessing, before it was actually realized. 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, no doubt, who are reading this booklet, are having a difficult week. Maybe some have become discouraged or upset; maybe you are ready to 'throw in the towel'. But 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 too need to persevere because God is faithful. As the Scriptures say, "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. We read, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9); and, "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Th. 5:24). Do you believe these truths? Father Abraham did, whose children we are by faith.

~ 5 ~

God Bears Witness to Faith

What is one of your biggest delights? What do you take particular pleasure in? Maybe it is traveling, or playing golf, or having family gatherings, or spending an evening with your friends. God takes pleasure or delight in different things. For instance, we read Moses' words to Israel in Numbers 14:8, "If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us – a land which flows with milk and honey." Deuteronomy 10:15 reads, "Yet on your fathers did the LORD set his affection [i.e., delight] to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day." Again, we read part of King David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:17, "Since I know, O my God, that Thou triest the heart and delightest in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Thy people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to Thee."

God finds particular delight in the expression of faith in Him and in His Word. In this connection, we read, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, for by it [i.e., faith] the men of old gained approval.... By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up [into heaven] so that he should not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hb. 11:2,4-6).

God bears witness to faith

God takes special note of faith that rests in Him and His Word – "For by it the men of old gained approval [or simply, they were borne witness to]" (11:2). This activity of bearing witness is indeed that which God Himself performs, as verse 4 of this chapter clearly states – "God testifying...." (same term in the original as in v. 2). God Himself testifies to faith. If I may be permitted to speak in this way, there are few things that capture the attention of God as does faith. God specially acknowledged the faith of the Old Testament saints, along with those listed in this 11th chapter of Hebrews. Now, it is interesting that Jesus, during His earthly ministry, made special mention of, and even marveled at, the presence and expression of faith. For instance, we read, "And when [Jesus] had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, entreating Him, and saying, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain.' And He said to him, 'I will come and heal Him.' But the centurion answered and said, 'Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it. Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, 'Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel'" (Mt. 8:5-10). Jesus was not marveling simply because there was no one in Israel that had a comparable faith, but Jesus marveled at the reality and depth of this man's faith. What I find interesting, and almost incomprehensible, is that it is the Son of God who makes this statement. Jesus Himself marveled at this man's faith, and He directed attention to it. If I can, for a moment, use earthy language, Jesus was overly impressed with this man's depth of faith; the fact that he could believe in the incredibly extraordinary, without doubt and without wavering.

So, God acknowledges and affirms (or simply approves of) the reality of faith. If you have faith, then God bears witness to this fact. I wonder if it could be said of us that if Jesus were to encounter us, that He would marvel at the depth of our faith. God is not particularly impressed with our talents and skills, regardless of how many and great they may be. God is not particularly impressed with our accomplishments or achievements. God is not particularly impressed with our personal qualities or characteristics. But rather (speaking in an earthy way), God is impressed with our faith. It is that to which He bears witness. He takes special note of those who have faith, whether you are a child, someone mentally challenged, or an adult.

God's witness is one of pleasure

Second, God bears witness to (i.e., He approves of) faith because faith pleases Him. Recently, I asked my daughter, Sarah, to do a chore, and she did a good job. When I relieved her, she asked, "Dad, what do you think about what I did?" I was pleased with what she had done, and I answered, "You did a good job." Because I was pleased, I bore witness to what she did, and I declared that it was good. Such is the case with God. In being pleased, He testifies to that which pleases Him. Hebrews 11:5 reads, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness [from God] that before his being taken up [into heaven] he was pleasing to God." More specifically, Enoch pleased God because he walked with God [i.e., followed God's righteous ways and thus enjoyed communion with Him] (see Gn. 5:22ff.); and his walk with God was the outworking and demonstration of a living, vital faith. So, in effect, God was pleased with the presence and fruit of Enoch's faith.

You may have asked yourself the question at some time: How does God feel towards me? Have you ever asked yourself: Is God angry with me? Is God upset with me? Is God unhappy with me? Is God disappointed with me? Of course, different factors impinge upon an evaluation of the nature of your relationship with the Lord at any given time; but one truth is certain: if you have faith, He is pleased. I find that tremendously comforting; that though you stumble and sin, if you have faith (which entails the desire and self-conscious effort to carry out His Word), then He is satisfied. He takes pleasure in you. He does not take pleasure so much in your countless hours of prayer (though He desires and delights in your sincere prayers). He does not so much take pleasure in your countless hours of Bible study and meditation (though He desires you to be a student of His Word). He does not so much take pleasure in your countless hours of service to Him (though He delights in selfless commitment for the sake of Jesus Christ). What God takes particular pleasure in is the reality and demonstration of your faith. You can show all these other behaviours, and yet be lacking in faith, and thus all these other behaviours will mean absolutely nothing in the presence of God; for, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hb. 11:6a). This means, as mentioned, that the basic and necessary matter that does please Him is faith. Faith is devoid of personal merit. It is not essentially a doing, but rather an accepting, which ought to blossom into a doing; and that is why it is the only thing which we can offer or bring to God that is acceptable and pleasing to Him.

Faith is obedience to God's Word

So, God highly values faith. He puts a high premium on its presence. Why does faith evoke His approval? Why does He bear witness to it by way of divine acknowledgement and affirmation? Well, very simply, faith is the essence of true worship; and faith is the essence of true worship because faith is a demonstration of the surrender and submission that we owe to God. Remember, faith is simply accepting and keeping God's Word, without question, doubt, or resistance; and thus God is honoured, He is extolled, and it is affirmed that He indeed is God. This is why God delights in faith. The account of Abraham illustrates this truth. God had commanded Abraham to take his son, Isaac, to mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice to Him. Yet God had promised Abraham that through him and his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Nevertheless, Abraham immediately responded, without question or hesitancy, to the word of God and went to mount Moriah. He prepared the altar, tied Isaac up, and raised the knife to plunge it into his son for the offering; and then the angel of the Lord [i.e., God Himself] called out of heaven to Abraham to desist from killing his son, for Abraham had passed the test of his faith. Hence, we read, "Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, 'By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice'" (Gn. 22:15ff.). Abraham responded to God's Word and was obedient. The New Testament reveals that this willing response and obedient act was simply an expression of faith. We read, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son" (Hb. 11:17). The point is: the act of faith in God's Word is the act of obedience to God's Word. The genius and uniqueness of Biblical faith is that it receives and acquiesces in a divine revelation or word. Biblical faith is not merely believing in a 'something', but rather, it is believing in God's Word. God's Word gives Biblical faith its substance and significance. If there is no divine Word, then there can be no Biblical faith. So, Abraham's faith was revealed by, and resulted in, his acceptance of, and obedience to, God's Word (i.e., surrender and submission to God), and thus God received glory.

Faith renders our works acceptable to God

Again, the act of faith in God's Word is the act of obedience to God's Word. So, we read, "By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which [faith] he obtained the testimony [the witness by God] that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts [which he brought to Him], and through faith, though he is dead, he stills speaks" (11:4). God deemed Abel righteous [i.e., testified to or declared him to be righteous] because Abel followed God's command and directive on how to approach Him in worship. Apparently, God had instructed Adam and his family on what kind of sacrifices would be acceptable; and through faith, Abel accepted God's word and carried it out. Through faith Abel did what was right, and God took special note of it. Even Jesus referred to him as 'righteous Abel' (Mt. 23:35). As a result of Abel responding in faith to God's word, God approved of, and delighted in, his offerings. It was faith that sanctified his service and actions. In accepting or approving of Abel, God was accepting or approving of Abel's offerings (see Gn. 4:3,4). Abel's act of faith made his service to God pleasing, for it was a faith-ful service, which is the only service which does please Him.

Faith has power with God

In response to faith, God is pleased to bless. Faith, and only faith, has power with God – "and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks" (11:4b). Faith has power with God, not because God is bound to cater to our whims, not that we can control God like a puppet, but because God has committed Himself to respond to faith, for faith glorifies Him. Though Abel is dead, yet through his faith, he still speaks. Faith gains a hearing with God when nothing else can. Faith renders our devotion, our gifts, and our service a perpetually effectual offering to God even though we have physically died. God does not cease to regard our demonstrations of faith. Abel's blood cried out for a moment in time (Hb. 12:24). Abel's faith speaks continually throughout eternity. God continues to remember it, and take special note of it.

So, faith has power with God; and maybe this explains why some Christians are experiencing very little power in their lives and in their families – lack of faith. They really don't believe God's Word; they doubt in their hearts. The Scriptures teach, "But if any of you lacks wisdom [or anything else; see Jas. 4:3], let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (Jas. 1:5-7). The Word of God says that if we doubt, which is the opposite of faith, we shouldn't even begin to think that God will hear us. Faith is the key and the prerequisite for transacting business with God. The Lord does not hear doubt, but He must hear faith, because He has committed Himself to respond to it, and that for His glory.

How has your week been? Have you lived triumphantly? Have you experienced the power of God? Did you gain a hearing with God this past week? God is not looking for great religious acts, or for extraordinary religious service (though, if Spirit-driven, He rejoices in that). God is not impressed with what you do for Him. What God takes note of is this: your faith. In faith you are the object of His pleasure. By faith, you too, like the saints of old, gain approval from Him. And that is good news.

~ 6 ~

Faith Secures the Power of God

A little while ago I attended a funeral. During the service something rather unusual happened. The pastor who was officiating allotted a segment of time in which people could offer a final word about the deceased. One middle-aged man stood up and announced that the deceased could rise again. He professed to the congregation, "All you have to do is believe, and he will be raised from the dead." Well, needless to say, there was a general unease that fell upon the congregation, as well as a keen sense of embarrassment at the remarks of this Christian brother. There was the sense that he was somewhat strange, and perhaps unstable. I am sure most felt uncomfortable. Incidentally, the deceased did not rise again.

Could faith have raised the deceased? We must certainly affirm the Scriptures and say, "Quite possibly" (e.g. Jn. 14:12). Now, I would not advocate fanatical extremes, nor would I condone such a radical action as reported above; but at the same time, I must clearly acknowledge that faith can secure the power of God, even resulting in miracles. Faith can achieve the seemingly impossible, regardless of how the impossible may be defined. Hebrews 11:11,12 reads, "By faith even Sarah herself received ability [power] to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also [as a result of faith], there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE." Clearly faith can lay hold of the power of God.

Faith is taking God at His Word

Recall that Sarah not only had been barren, but she had passed the stage of menopause when the possibility of conceiving had been presented to her. Prior to her expression of faith, she neither had the opportunity nor the ability to conceive and bear children. She was about 90 years old, an incredibly impossible situation in which to have children. According to our text, faith dismantled and dispelled the impossible. Faith was able to defy natural limitations; faith scoffed at the unthinkable. It is faith that achieves the miraculous, and the reason why faith is able to do so is because faith secures the power of God – "By faith even Sarah herself received ability [power] to conceive" (11:11a). C. H. Spurgeon said, "Oh brethren, be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to Heaven, but great faith will bring Heaven to your soul."

How can we have this kind of faith which is able to secure the power of God? What makes faith possible whereby we may achieve the impossible? Or simply, what gives rise to efficacious faith? Well (as I have emphasized in the previous chapters), we need to implicitly and unreservedly accept the truth of God's Word. Notice how Sarah achieved such faith – "since she considered Him faithful who had promised" (11:11b). God had spoken a Word, and Sarah believed that Word. The journey of faith begins with a divine Word – the speaking of God. Again, faith is simply the human response to the divine Word. Faith is the acknowledgement and personal acceptance, of what has been spoken or revealed by God.

Now, you may say, "Faith is a gift, isn't it? Isn't it something that God must give to me, and unless God gives this faith to me, I cannot believe? What do you mean that faith is a response to the divine speaking, as if I have some responsibility in demonstrating, expressing this faith?" Indeed, faith is a gift; just as air is, or food is; or water is. So, the question is: How does one accept the gift; how does one experience the gift? Faith is not realized, nor essentially identified, by a feeling. "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rm. 10:17). It is not that you must sit down and simply wait for faith to come upon you as a strong feeling of some kind. No, rather faith is revealed and realized when you take God at His Word (God helping you). Again, air is given to you, but you must breathe it. Food is given to you, but you must eat it. Water is given to you, but you must drink it. All these things are gifts (and you do not need to know the essential make-up and nature of these elements, nor what is their essential power whereby they have a beneficial effect upon our being, in order to actually profitably experience and enjoy them). Similarly, faith is given to you through the Word of God, by the Spirit, and you must take that Word as God's Word. In a very real sense, you have a responsibility to believe, that is, to personally agree that God's Word is indeed the truth. Yes, faith is a gift, but God Himself will not believe for you; He will not trust for you; He will not hope for you. You must take God at His Word.

I was recently reading some relevant words in this connection. An unidentified writer states in the Sunday School Times, "There is an easy, practical way to have faith. A minister said to an evangelist who was holding services in his church, 'I have no faith in this matter, but I see it in the Word of God and I am going to act on God's Word, no matter how I feel.' And the evangelist replied, 'Why, that is faith!' The Word of God is the secret of faith. We do not attain or achieve faith; we simply receive it as we read God's Word.... Many a child of God is failing to enjoy God's richest blessings in Christ because he fails to receive the gift of faith. He looks within himself for some quality that will enable him to believe, instead of 'looking unto Jesus' who is 'the author and the finisher of our faith'. If our faith were but more simple, we would take Him at His Word."

Realizing God's faithfulness strengthens faith

Sarah took God at His Word. But notice, it was not simply a divine Word which gave rise to faith, but a promised divine Word – "since she considered Him faithful who had promised" (11:11b). God affirmed that He was definitely going to do something wonderful. He had pledged that He would miraculously provide. He had committed Himself to a certain course of action; and Sarah, in faith, responded something like this, "I know that this is exactly what You are going to do." So, faith is the heart's response and acceptance of God's promises. God's promises provoke personal faith. We read the account in Genesis 18, in which God visited Abraham and Sarah, "Then they said to him [Abraham], 'Where is Sarah your wife?' And he said, 'Behold in the tent.' And he [God] said, 'I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.' And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past child-bearing. And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' And the LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.' Sarah denied it however, saying, 'I did not laugh'; for she was afraid. And He said, 'No, but you did laugh.'" God promised that Sarah would conceive and bear a son, a year from the point of the divine promise (and Sarah believed); and that is exactly what happened.

Now, you may object, "Hold it! The Bible says that Sarah laughed when God made this promise. That does not sound like faith to me. It seems that Sarah doubted, that she did not believe. What do you mean that by faith Sarah received the ability to conceive?" I will touch on that in just a moment. But, by way of encouragement, just like Sarah initially doubted, so you too may initially doubt when the Word of God comes to you and God presents a promise which sounds utterly incredible. You, like Sarah, may laugh. Have you laughed at the promises of God, the Word of God? Have you read something and concluded that it is impossible? Have you doubted God's Word? Have you said, "God won't do that for me; He will do it for someone else, but not for me"? Sarah doubted God's Word and laughed too; and yet we have this testimony given of her – "By faith even Sarah herself received ability [power] to conceive" (11:11a). Some Christians become so discouraged because they discover in themselves weak faith. But as we mentioned earlier, you should not be looking at your faith, you should be looking at the Object of your faith; not trying to discover something in yourself, but trying to discover something outside of yourself, even Jesus Christ. Even if initially you do doubt, and you laugh like Sarah, do not lose heart. The impact of God's promise may eventually provoke faith, resulting in the miraculous. Meditate on the promises of God.

Now, the question is this: What was it that gave the divine Word weight and force in order that Sarah moved from doubt to faith? To be sure, many hear the Word of God, many read the Word of God, and still no faith comes to birth. Remember, there is nothing automatic or necessary about faith's birth in the simple reading or hearing of God's Word. Many have attended the preaching of God's Word Sunday after Sunday, and have audibly heard the Word of God, and have left not deepened or strengthened in faith, but rather have left unchanged. There was no spiritual hearing of God's Word; and the result has been discouragement, and even depression. So, what was it that gave the divine Word weight and force, at least from the human side, in order that Sarah moved from doubt to faith? Simply, the realization of the faithfulness of God – "since she considered Him faithful who had promised" (11:11b). Receiving the promise alone was insufficient. You can read the Bible, you can hear preaching week after week, and hear the promises; or you may read about the promises, and yet have no strengthening or deepening of faith. You must realize something about the One who gives the promises, namely, that He is faithful.

I have a friend; he, like all of us, has weaknesses. One of his weaknesses is that he is always late for an appointment. No matter what time we arrange to meet, he is always late. When we make arrangements to meet and he says that he will arrive at such and such a time, what do you think my response is? Because I judge him unfaithful in this regard, his words carry no weight. I do not believe the promise because the one giving the promise is unreliable, he has proven untrustworthy. Do you see the connection? The strength of a promise rests on the trustworthiness of the promisor. That is how Sarah moved from doubt to faith. This astounding divine Word came to Sarah, and, in effect, said, "Sarah, though you are barren – you never had the opportunity to conceive – and though you are now years beyond menopause – you neither now have the ability to conceive, yet you will bear a son." And Sarah laughed. And then she eventually said something like this, "Wait, though that is an astounding Word, I must remember who has uttered that Word. God has. And having traveled alongside my husband all these years, I have seen that God is faithful to His Word and that He does not lie or deceive." Sarah contemplated the trustworthiness of God. She thought about His impeccable character, and she concluded that God is faithful. And for her, that meant that whatever He said would indeed come to pass. Thus she believed the impossible. What about you?

There are two things that God cannot do: He cannot deny Himself, nor can He lie (2 Tm. 2:13; Hb. 6:17,18). Sarah accepted the seemingly impossible Word, and she thus saw its fulfilment. Accordingly, if you are doubting God's Word, if you are laughing inside, you need to contemplate the impeccable character of God. You need to contemplate His holiness, you need to realize that indeed He is trustworthy; and that whatever He has said, He will do, because His very name and honour are at stake. The great missionaries of the past, like George Mueller, understood this truth. Is that true for you?

Faith secures the power in the Word

So, the promises of God occasion faith. The realization of the faithfulness of God, which gives weight to the promises, strengthens and deepens faith. And thus faith secures the power of God. Notice, again, the miraculous effect of faith – "Therefore, also, there was born of one man [because of faith], and him [as well as her] as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE" (11:12). Faith resulted in the birth of a nation. Israel came forth because of the faith of Abraham and Sarah – "yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Rm. 4:20,21).

Faith secures the power of God. But, notice this: faith produces or effects no greater power than that which is entailed in the promise which faith receives. Faith, for Sarah, brought about the power to conceive because she accepted God's promise concerning such a miraculous conception. The realized promise itself necessitated a display of God's power. The point is this: faith does not so much directly control and tap the power of God, as it accepts the Word of God which itself involves, reveals, and concerns God's power. In that sense, faith accepts a 'powerful Word'. It is in embracing God's Word, a Word that concerns power, and whose fulfilment involves a display of divine power, that faith thereby secures power. God promised Sarah, "You will conceive." Sarah eventually believed that promise, and thus experienced the power necessarily entailed in the promise – the ability to conceive.

Many of God's promises involve God's power. For instance, John 12:32 reads, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." Do you believe that? Do you believe that Word of power, in the life of the Church and in your individual life? If God grants us the grace to receive, by faith, that promise, then we shall see the power of God in the saving of souls. Again, Philippians 1:6 reads, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Do you believe this Word of power? God is able to manifest His strength in the depths of our souls. Insofar as God gives us the grace to lay hold of that Word, we will see the demonstration of the power of that Word in our lives. Another Word of promise is Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "...I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." That bespeaks incredible power. Do we believe that Word concerning our own local situation? Again, insofar as God gives us the grace to lay hold of that promise and enter into it, will we see the power of that Word in our lives. Again, many of the promises of God involve power, and in receiving His Word, we will receive power.

What do you think about these truths that you have read in this chapter? Just another teaching? Will you turn away from this teaching cold and indifferent? Or, are you going to take God at His Word? "Yes," you may say, "but God needs to help me." I understand that, but you have a responsibility to believe. Don't worry about what God has to do; simply be concerned about what you have to do. The above is God's Word; do you accept it? Do you appreciate the faithfulness of God? Who is the God you worship? Will you believe Him for the impossible? The great saints of faith of the past did. They expected great things from God, and they saw them; and we worship the same God Who stills performs the miraculous.

~ 7 ~

Faith Secures the Promises of God

The genius of faith is that it continues to cleave to the promises of God, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of the opposition. When you take that vegetable can from your cupboard, on which is the brand name Heinz; or when you open those baby food jars or take that bottle of ketchup from the refrigerator, on which is that same name, remember the above statement. Henry J. Heinz of the 57 varieties fame wrote his will as follows, "Looking forward to the time when my earthly career will end. I desire to set forth at the very beginning of this will, as the most important item in it, a confession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I also desire to bear witness to the fact that throughout my life, in which were the usual joys and sorrows, I have been wonderfully sustained by my faith in God through Jesus Christ. This legacy was left me by my consecrated mother, a woman of strong faith; and to it, I attribute any success I have attained." Henry J. Heinz died in faith, having not received all the promises of God, but by his faith he continued to cleave to those promises, regardless of the dire circumstances, opposition, or sorrows in his life.

Faith patiently waits for the promises

We read a summary statement in Hebrews 11:13-16, referring to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah, "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." How would you feel if you had been promised something, but never witnessed the realization of it; you simply waited? The patriarchs waited their whole lifetime to receive that which had been promised, but they died without receiving it – "All these died in faith without receiving the promises" (11:13a).

The nature of true faith is that it continues to cleave, it never gives up, it never quits; it perseveres, resting in the promises, regardless of the challenges and the trials. Recall the statement in Romans 4:18, "In hope against hope he [Abraham] believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which has been spoken, 'SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.'" And Abraham died in hope that continued to believe in that promise. Will that be said of us – that we waited patiently for the fulfilment of the promises; that even though on our deathbed, and the promises of God had not yet been realized, that we died in faith? Now, there may be the criticism, "I think that the patriarchs believed in vain. They waited their whole lifetime and received nothing. What's the point? They gambled and they lost." I don't think so. Again, true faith extends beyond the earthly realm into the eternal one, implying the fact that an essential aspect of faith is patience.

Though these patriarchs did not physically experience the actual realization of the promises, they did spiritually. They were convinced that one day there would be an actual fulfilment of them, even if it were to be on the other side of the grave – "But having seen them, and having welcomed them from a distance" (11:13a). A number of years ago, I went to Philadelphia for further studies. I was anxious to return home. While flying back from Philadelphia to Toronto, the pilot came on the intercom, saying, "We are about to make our descent; we should be arriving at Pearson Airport in about 15 minutes." Out the window, I saw the city, and I welcomed it from a distance. I felt the anticipation; I felt the excitement. As we were making our landing descent, moving closer to the airport, the excitement and anticipation grew. I saw my specific destination, and I was welcoming it from a distance; and such was the case with these patriarchs. In faith, we should not be discouraged, nor should we lose hope. Our experience of seeing those future promises should be just as real as seeing a city and an airport on a landing descent. That is the nature of faith. Faith imports the future into the present and embraces it in the fulness of its reality.

Faith embraces the promises concerning heaven

There was absolutely no doubt in the minds of these saints concerning the promises of God as they lay on their deathbeds. They had seen them through the eyes of faith, they had welcomed them, they had embraced them. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would be the realization of them. What did they see? What were the promises that they embraced? Simply, the various aspects of the eternal state – the blessings that pertain to God's country, God's city, God's eternal home. God had promised Abraham not only physical blessings, but spiritual ones; not simply a physical land, but a spiritual domain – heaven, in all its glory, consisting of myriads of redeemed souls. Recall the language of Genesis 22:15-18 in reference to Abraham's obedience in being willing to offer up Isaac, "Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, 'By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed [i.e., Christ] all the nations of the earth shall be [spiritually] blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

So, Abraham and others, by faith, recognized that they were of a different realm; they clearly recognized that this world was not their home; that they did not belong here – "and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (11:13b). For instance, in Genesis 23:3,4, Abraham addressed the sons of Heth, "Then Abraham rose from before his dead and spoke to the sons of Heth saying, 'I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial sight among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'" I am sure that the sons of Heth did not realize all that Abraham meant by that confession; and most likely, Abraham did not fully understand the full significance of that confession; but in any event, he self-consciously recognized his status on the earth. Those who walk in faith can give the testimony, "I do not belong here, this world is not my home." Believers should not get comfortable in this life. This world is not our home. The Word of God says that our citizenship is in heaven. We read in Philippians 3:20,21, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."

Faith desires and seeks heaven

Having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth, do you see what that implies? It implies, of course, that they belonged somewhere else. Their homeland, their fatherland, was somewhere else; and thus they naturally sought it. Accordingly, if you really believe this, that is, the divine promises of God (what He has laid up for you); if it is true that you see, by faith, these things from a distance, and you have embraced them, doesn't it stand to reason that you will desire and seek them? You see, all else then pales in comfort and significance. In receiving the promises, the patriarchs sought for their fulfilment – "For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own" (11:14).

That is the nature of faith. Faith looks forward. Faith yearns for that which has been promised, by which we make the confession that we are strangers and exiles on the earth. Confession translates into motivation. This realization is absolutely critical in terms of our development in the faith. What am I saying? I am saying this: if you come to a self-conscious realization that you are a spiritual stranger and exile on the earth, and you make a clear confession of that (you verbally acknowledge and declare it), it will change your perception; and it will affect your motivation, affecting how you live. I suspect that many Christians have not made that self-conscious confession, and have not actually said (even to yourself), "I am a stranger and an exile on the earth. I do not belong here. I belong elsewhere." Again, my friend, when you make that confession, and you believe it, your perception changes. Have you made that confession?

There is absolutely no comparison between the earthly and the heavenly realities. As the glory of the sun inestimably outshines the glory of a light bulb, so the glory of heaven inestimably outshines the glory of earth. Once you have 'seen' the coming glory through the eyes of faith, you want nothing else. The former life no longer satisfies – "And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out they would have had opportunity to return" (11:15). If these patriarchs had been thinking well of that prior homeland, then they, no doubt, would have thought about returning. But there was no attraction, no pull to go back, because they had become preoccupied with the promises of God. They had seen the coming glory and had acquired a glimpse of that eternal city; they had seen God's country, as incredible as that may sound; and there was no further desire for the past – "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one" (11:16a).

Let me ask you, are you looking back? Be honest now. Are you preoccupied with this world? Do you feel the pull of the pleasures and enticements of this world? Do you sometimes say to yourself something like this, "I am not sure if I am ready to leave this life just yet. I am not sure that I am prepared to go and meet God. I still want to enjoy some of the things this world has to offer"? Are you having second thoughts? Are you looking back? Even more seriously, are you thinking about 'returning'? Remember Lot's wife. She looked back to the perishing city of Sodom, out of which she escaped, because her heart's desire lay there; and she lost everything. We read, "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back; and she became a pillar of salt" (Gen. 19:24-26).

In Luke 12:29ff., Jesus instructs, "And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek for His kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Do you 'hear' the Scripture? Where is your heart? What is preoccupying your thoughts and desires, your aspirations and ambitions? What takes up your time and energy during the week? What are you focused on? – "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Where is your treasure? We are to be people of faith who clearly 'see' their treasure in heaven, and as heaven. Our hearts should be longing for the heavenly fatherland – "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one." What do you desire? Do you desire the spiritual fatherland?

Faith shall receive its reward

Do you notice that we have the notion of a gift, a reward, conveyed here? The heavenly country is God's present to us. God has prepared it for the people of faith – "for He has prepared a city for them" (11:16c). God Himself will be in that country, that city. We read, "And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev. 21:22,23). This will be the greatest joy of all – Jesus Christ will be there in fellowship with His people; and we will "follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Rev. 14:4b). So, God will present this glory to those who have lived and who have died in faith.

Do you see that it is those with whom God is pleased who shall receive this heavenly domain? – "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God" (11:16b). Having lived and died in faith, God feels no disgrace nor dishonour to own you as one of His people. He takes great delight in the people of faith. Can I put it this way? He takes holy pride in His people; an attitude similar to that which marked the original creation – "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). God was deeply satisfied. And so God rejoices over the people of faith. He will proclaim His pleasure to the whole of creation on that final day of this earth's history.

So, are you rejoicing in the promises? If you have faith, you will cleave to these promises, regardless of the circumstances and the opposition. You will persevere; and if you should die in faith before the realization of the promises, you will awake in the full joy of those promises in the glory of God's presence, a glory that shall be increasingly experienced and enjoyed, world without end. Amen.

~ 8 ~

Faith Secures the Favour of God

Recently, I was talking to a Jewish hematologist. As I was leaving his office, I looked at him and said, "The Lord bless you." He smiled at me and responded (I suspect, according to religious tradition and propriety), "Be well with you too." That exchange made me think again about the matter of blessing people. I suspect that few of us realize the religious value, significance, and even power, of blessing people. It is a vital aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Recall, for instance, the account in Ruth 2. Boaz, having returned from Bethlehem, met his reapers, and pronounced, "May the Lord be with you." To which they responded, "May the LORD bless you" (Ru. 2:4). Again, recall the account in the life of King David in which he orchestrated the transportation of the ark to the city of Jerusalem. Subsequently, he rejoiced and praised the Lord, offering up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and "he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts...Then all the people departed each to his house...David returned to bless his household" (2 Sam. 6:18-20).

Faith is convinced that God will bless

We find this notion of 'bless' or 'blessing' numerous times in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the act of blessing is a biblical directive and a Christian duty, as Romans 12:14 teaches, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not." Now, I suspect that we do not fully appreciate the fact that the act of blessing, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is to be an act of faith. Hebrews 11:20,21 reads, "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff."

Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; and the Scriptures tell us that that was an act of faith. Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh; and the Scriptures tell us that that too was an act of faith. Now, why are these particular acts by the patriarchs highlighted as exemplifying faith? Does it seem strange to you that these particular acts are given space and mention in Holy Scripture; that these acts apparently emphasize and provide us with illustrations of faith? What is so special about blessing someone? Surely there were more significant acts in the lives of Isaac and Jacob than the act of blessing to which the Hebrew author could have referred. For instance, why not, "By faith, Jacob accumulated much wealth, even though his uncle Laban tried to dupe him"? Does not this occurrence seem much more significant, especially in light of how Jacob actually became wealthy? Or concerning Isaac, why not something like this, "By faith, Isaac prayed for his wife, Rebecca, who was barren, and she conceived twins." Does not that seem more significant than the act of blessing? But why do we read, "By faith Isaac faith Jacob blessed..."? Well, we should remember that the act of blessing Jacob and Esau, on the one hand, and Ephraim and Manasseh, on the other hand, is very critical to the flow and development of redemptive history. It is with these blessings, uttered in faith, that we have the continuation and the realization of what God had, in part, promised Abraham. What we have highlighted here, with these patriarchal blessings, is the conviction of both Isaac and Jacob that God would indeed be true to His Word and to His promises. Their acts of blessing underscored and revealed their belief of God and in God. They really believed that God would bestow His blessing, and thus they blessed "regarding things to come" (11:20b).

Does your belief in God reveal itself in blessing? Isaac and Jacob were of the conviction that God would indeed be true to His Word and to His promises; and God has given us many promises. And, of course, we believe that God is loving, kind, and faithful. Does your belief in God and in His Word reveal itself in blessing? When you say, "Lord, bless sister so and so;" or, "Lord, bless brother so and so;" or even, "Lord, bless Pastor so and so," do you understand the import and significance of that language? Or is it simply mere religious jargon? Is it simply programmed praying? Or is there that belief in God? Do you believe that God will bless according to His Word and in keeping with His promises?

I appreciate much of the material produced by Chuck Swindoll; and there are not too many times that I disagree with him, but I remember a while ago hearing him say something like this, "You know Christians use this term 'bless' too often; it has become a rather general, empty term." He was suggesting that we really should not use that kind of language or, at least, not use it as often as we do; it has lost functional value. I understand what he was trying to say; and we often use such language as mere religious jargon; but I do take some exception to his remarks because I believe that we are instructed to use such language in our speech and prayers. If we really understood such language, we would realize that it communicates great significance and power. When mothers bless their children, that communicates power. When fathers bless their children, that communicates power. Gary Smalley and John Trent recently coauthored a book, The Gift of the Blessing, in which they teach the importance and effect of pronouncing blessing. It makes for interesting reflection.

Faith invokes God's favour and prosperity

Now, what does it mean to bless? It basically means to utter a word of favour; it is requesting good and prosperity. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, to bless is to invoke or call forth God's favour, good, and prosperity in a formal way. For instance, in 1 Kings 1 we have the account of the anointing of Solomon as king. Adonijah, his brother, usurped David's authority, attempting to secure the throne. His plans, however, were overturned. After Solomon had been anointed king, Adonijah was informed about the matter which included the following statement, "And moreover, the king's servants came to bless our lord King David, saying, 'May your God make the name of Solomon better than your name and his throne greater than your throne!' And the king bowed himself on the bed" (1 Kgs. 1:47). So, to bless is to invoke, to call forth, God's favour, good, and prosperity. As mentioned, it should be a Christian practice. At different times, I have had the opportunity of attending an African Methodist Episcopal service. At some point in the service, the minister will say something like this, "The Lord bless you." And the congregation will respond, "And the Lord bless you too." In the Common Book of Prayer, the liturgical book of the Anglican Church, there is a common liturgy that is often used in their services, and it begins with the minister's words, "The Lord be with you." To which the congregation responds, "And with thy spirit." This exchange is simply the act of mutual blessing.

Now, to sincerely pronounce a blessing means that one believes that God will show visible kindness, love, and good fortune – "Isaac blessed Jacob...Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph" (11:20a,21a). By faith they laid hold on future favour. They knew that God would show kindness. In effect, Isaac and Jacob had received inner revelation, inner confirmation, from God; and they spoke accordingly. They spoke through the inspiration of God. That is, blessing often has divine roots. Recently, I was on the phone to a pastor, a good friend of mine, and during the course of our conversation, I was struck by the inner sense, the strong conviction, that God was going to use this brother in a special way. I cannot explain it; I just sensed it. As we were saying goodbye to one another, we had a word of prayer, and I prayed the Lord's blessing upon this brother in keeping with that inner conviction. I do not think that that was mere subjectivism. I believe that the Spirit stills works, and still moves, and still reveals Himself. I believe that He still speaks to us, not in audible language, but in the Spirit's language, too deep for human expression. Isaac and Jacob had that inner conviction. The Word of God was impressed upon their spirits, and they spoke out of that conviction, that is, they spoke by faith and they blessed their children.

Faith secures future favour and prosperity

Let us note the blessings that were uttered – "Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau." First, consider Isaac's blessing upon Jacob. Genesis 27:26-29 reads, "Then his father Isaac said to him, 'Please come close and kiss me, my son.' So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, 'See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.'" Now, this blessing came true in Jacob's life (cf. Gen. 33:11), but it came true in a fuller sense in the lives of Jacob's descendants; and so we read, for instance, in Deuteronomy 33:26 – 29, "There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, 'Destroy!' So Israel dwells in security, the fountain of Jacob secluded, in a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew [the same language as in Isaac's blessing]. Blessed are you, O Israel; who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, who is the shield of your help, and the sword of your majesty! So your enemies shall cringe before you, and you shall tread upon their high places" – the fulfilment of Isaac's blessing.

Second, consider Isaac's blessing upon Esau. Genesis 27:39f. reads, "Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, 'Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.'" That blessing came true in Esau's life (cf. Gen. 36:6-8), but in a fuller sense, it came true in the lives of Esau's descendants, the Edomites. Thus, 2 Kings 8:20-22 reads, "In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves. Then Joram crossed over to Zair, and all his chariots with him. And it came about that he arose by night and struck the Edomites who had surrounded him and the captains of the chariots; but his army fled to their tents. So Edom revolted against Judah to this day" – the fulfilment of Isaac's blessing.

Furthermore – "And Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph [Ephraim and Manasseh]." Genesis 48:15,16 reads, "And he [Jacob] blessed Joseph, and said, 'The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; [and notice the particular content of the blessing] and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.'" Jacob's blessing came true. Recall that Israel had entered the Promised Land and Joshua apportioned lots to the individual tribes. Joseph's descendants received two lots because they had increased in multitude. We read in Joshua 17:17, "And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, 'You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours'" – the fulfilment of Jacob's blessing. The fathers blessed their children, and the children tasted the goodness of the Lord.

Fathers are to bless their children. Now, I have personally prayed about this matter (and am seeking the Lord about it) of a blessing that He wants me to pronounce upon my children when they reach a certain age and they 'go out into the world'. Do you believe the language of Scripture, the religious significance and value of blessing one another, blessing your household, and blessing your family? You are to invoke God's almighty name that He may show favour, prosperity, and good to others. Could the failure to bless be one of the reasons (and I conjecture at this point) that different young people who have grown up in a Christian family go astray, become overcome with the enticements of the world, and thus fail to shine in the Lord's grace and favour? Do we so much despise this kind of language that we fail to appropriate it and enter into it? Is it too common or simple for us that we do not embrace, by faith, the truth that this language communicates power? God's ways are simple; they are not difficult. Isaac blessed Jacob, and Jacob prospered. Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph and they prospered.

God should be worshiped by faith

In conclusion, do you see what else is recorded in Hebrews 11:21? We read, "By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and [here is the phrase I wanted us to consider] worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." As you read the historical record, Jacob first worshiped, leaning on his staff (or head of the bed) (Gen. 47:31), and then he blessed the sons of Joseph (but the order of events is inconsequential). The significant point is that the act of worship was also an act and expression of his faith. Let me put it this way: by faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, and by faith Jacob blessed the Lord (i.e., he worshiped). He spoke that 'good word' about God. He praised God.

The whole of Jacob's life was a life of faith, but particularly his worship of God; and we too need to worship by faith. Do you worship by faith? There must be the belief in your heart that God is near; that God is present and holy; that God is worthy of praise. That belief in your heart must motivate you and control you. Do you worship, believing that God is loving, that He is kind, gracious, and merciful to us and to others? We bless God by faith; and it is in blessing Him by faith, and experiencing the reality of that, that we can, and we will, in turn, bless others. As we hear from Him, as we receive from Him, as our cups overflow because of Him, we will bless others; and thus we will fulfil Jesus' command, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lu. 6:27f.). You cannot do that, not with a right heart, unless by faith you bless God's name. Bless His holy name.

~ 9 ~

Faith Perceives the Creative Power of God

Are you an evolutionist? Do you believe that the universe arose out of some infinitely dense matter, which developed, changed, and mutated over time, increasing in complexity and sophistication? Do you believe that lower life forms gave way to higher life forms over billions of years, according to the principles of the survival of the fittest and natural selection? When I was in seminary, I was subjected to the teachings of a rather high profile evangelical Christian scholar, who has written a number of books, who is an evolutionist. There are many Christians who believe that there is no contradiction between being an evolutionist and believing in the truth of the Scriptures as a professing believer in Jesus Christ. There are many Christians who espouse the theory of evolution, and yet they do not realize that in doing so, they are subverting the truth and integrity of the Scriptures. This statement may sound rather extreme, but it is true. What I am saying is this: to believe in the traditional view of evolution is to deny an essential article of faith. Hebrews 11:3 reads, "By faith we understand that the worlds [i.e., the universe, that is, every aspect of created reality, invisible and visible – all that pertains to time and space] were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." This verse emphatically states that the universe was made by a creative act of a personal God, rather than by the natural effects of impersonal forces. This verse emphatically states that the universe assumed its present form and order by a divinely spoken word, as opposed to random variables of change and mutation. Reason alone may compel you to accept the theory of evolution; but it is faith that enables you to accept the Biblical doctrine of creationism.

Faith enables one to understand the unobservable

Having given the practical definition of faith in verse 1 – "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," and having stated God's commendation or favoured assessment of faith in verse 2 – "For by it [faith] the men of old gained approval [by God]," the author proceeds to give illustrations of faith, emphasizing the power and effect of faith. Again, faith is the soul's ability, first, to see the invisible realities; and, second, to know the certainty of future events. It is these two aspects of faith that the writer subsequently demonstrates and highlights by various historical examples. Now, in giving this catalogue of illustrations he begins at the beginning, with the commencement of time and space, to which only God is the witness – "By faith we understand that the worlds [everything pertaining to time and space] were prepared by the word of God" (11:3a). Generally speaking, faith has the power to enable us to accept intellectually that which is improvable, and was originally unobservable. More particularly, faith confirms the reality of the means through which the creation assumed its present form and order. Do you believe that faith has that kind of power? Do you believe that faith has this kind of effect; that it can so constrain and control us that we realize and must confirm in our minds that indeed the universe in all its detail was made by God? Here is the image of faith that I suggest you keep before your minds. Faith is able to travel through the corridors of time, brooking no barriers, either temporal or spatial; and though you were not personally present at some particular point in history, it permits you to know what happened. I would further suggest to you that faith knows no barriers, no boundaries, in traveling through (as it were) the corridors of spiritual realities into the very presence of God, into heaven itself. Faith can take us before the throne of God to gaze upon His splendour and majesty, and to know with all certainty that He is on His throne in glory, and even to wrestle with Him and receive His blessing. That is the power and effect of faith.

Faith understands how the creation was formed

So, faith assists us to really understand the unverifiable. In other words, understanding concerning the beginning of the universe need not be a matter of speculation or personal opinion. No, faith allows for, and brings about, real understanding because faith accepts the testimony of God's Word. And the Scriptures clearly state that God is the agent of creation. Notice Job 38:1-7, "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars [the angels] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?'" (cf. Is. 40:12ff.). For that matter, where was anybody to bear witness to how God actually brought about the creation? How often could this word of indictment and judgement be leveled against those who would speculate out of their own fallen reason and dark understanding. Remember, the uniqueness of Biblical faith is that it responds to, and acquiesces in, the truth of God. The Word of God gives birth to faith, and in that experience of faith, one knows, understands, and is convinced about the truth in view.

By faith in the truth of God's Word, we may understand not only that God made the universe, but also how He made it. God's Word tells us that God made the universe by His spoken word (that is the more accurate translation of the original Greek) – "that the worlds were prepared by the word of God" (11:3a). It is by a divinely spoken word that the universe came to be. For instance, Psalm 33:6,9 reads, "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host...For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." The Word of God emphatically states that by the spoken word the universe came to be.

How do you view the Word of God? How do you understand the Bible? Is it simply a collection of legends and myths? What is your attitude towards the Scriptures? That will determine the reality and quality of your faith. If you believe that the Bible is fallible, that it consists of errors; if you believe that the Bible simply consists of myths, folklore, and legends, then you will have a weak faith. Maybe that is why many Christians struggle in their faith; they do not have a high view of the Scriptures, but rather have a very low one. Again, it is the Word of God that brings forth faith and gives power to it. Faith stands or falls, depending upon how you view the Word of God and the impact that that Word makes on your heart. The reality of faith is rooted in the Word of God. I think of a young man who was wrestling with his faith, to the point where he began to doubt the teachings of God's Word and began to question the infallibility and authority of that Word. It is sad to report that he no longer professes faith in Jesus Christ. I am not surprised. You cannot question the truth of God's Word without also having serious spiritual repercussions, and also a weak faith.

Let me ask you again (and this is a critical question), what is your view of the Scriptures? Do you see the Bible as the very Word of God, and that every word given in the original manuscripts was inspired by God; that when this revelation was originally given, God so moved and worked in the human beings, who were the instruments of recording that revelation, that what they recorded was indeed the inerrant, infallible Word of God? If you do not believe this, I suspect that you often have a struggle with your faith; you probably have little spiritual power.

Faith understands something particular about creation

So, through faith in the testimony of God's written Word, we clearly perceive that God made the universe by His spoken word. Maybe you have read up to this point, justifying yourself in this way (and there are many well-meaning Christians who talk this way): "I am not denying that God created the world, that God created the universe. Far be it from me to deny that God made the world in which we live. I believe that God is the first cause, that He put everything in motion. But I believe that God allowed the universe to develop, change, and mutate according to certain created laws. That is, I am not denying that God is the Creator, I am simply saying that God used the means of evolution to actually fashion and order the universe, rendering it in its present form. I see no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the Biblical teaching of God as the Creator." Have you been reasoning like that? Now, I would agree that there is no necessary contradiction between evolution and God being the Creator; that God, if He was pleased to, could have used evolution in forming the universe. But if you believe that God used the means of evolution, then I want to say emphatically that you have denied the Scriptures and, in effect, reject the teachings of the Bible. Again, it is the Word of God and it's testimony which faith acknowledges, affirms, and accepts, regardless of the claims of science. If God's Word says it, faith accepts it implicitly, and without question. The denial of the Word of God is the absence of faith. Again, we read, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the spoken word of God." Do you notice that it does not say the worlds were created by the spoken word? The emphasis of this text is not that God created the universe, but rather on the means by which He made, or arranged, the universe (which, of course, entails the fact that God created the universe). The text does not say 'created', it says 'prepared', that is, fashioned or put it together – the means by which God established the universe in its present form. The text teaches that God actually put the universe together – furnished it – by the spoken word, not by evolution.

Faith accepts all that the Bible teaches about creation

We find the same term, translated 'prepared' here, used in Hebrews 13:20a,21, "Now the God of peace...equip [furnish, outfit] you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." So the point is this (consider carefully, you who have wrestled with this matter of evolution and are concerned about having a Biblical view): the actual means by which the universe was fashioned (as well as created), is simply the spoken word of God, and not according to the laws of evolution. Hebrews 1:3b uses similar language, "[Christ] upholds all things by the word of His power." Through the divine word, the universe is regulated and sustained. Hence, we read further in Hebrews 11:3 (and keep in mind that this is a clarifying or explanatory statement, having said that the universe was fashioned or arranged, if you like, by the word of God), "So that what is seen [or that which is seen, that which appears to us now] was not made out of things which are visible." What is being said? The point is this: preexistent physical, natural, or material phenomena (not simply objects) do not explain the fact and nature of the creation. To put it in different language, the present forms and structures of the creation are not dependent upon any impersonal naturalist principles or forces. There is only one explanation – the spoken word of God (NB. the spoken word of God is contrasted with the 'things which are visible' in this verse). There is no impersonal, naturalist principle or force behind the universe, but there is a personal, supernatural principle – God.

More specifically, the identification and distinction of the species, even though there is variation within the species, has only one explanation, according to our text; there are no precedents to the different species, apart from the spoken word of God. The evolutionist will search in vain to find the critical missing links between the species because there are no critical links. So, Genesis 1:20ff. constitutes a clear and vivid commentary on Hebrews 11:3, explaining and describing how the universe was fashioned or arranged, and even how the different species came to be. We read, "Then God said [He spoke], 'Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.' And God created [in a moment of time] the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply on the earth'...Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind [defined and identifiable]: cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind'; and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, 'Let Us make [God was personally involved] man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"

Do you realize that if evolution is true, then everything that the Bible teaches is questionable? If evolution is true, then Adam and Eve were not the first humans, which means that the garden of Eden account must be a myth. Now, the teaching of salvation in the New Testament is absolutely and fully dependent upon the historicity of the account concerning the Garden of Eden; that Adam and Eve were the first humans and that through them the whole of humanity was plunged into sin and death, from which Christ was sent to redeem us. If that account is not true, as written, then everything else recorded, with respect to salvation is, at best, indisputably suspect, and, at worst, deceivingly false.

Some who are reading this chapter have a question to ask themselves: Are you going to walk by reason or are you going to walk by faith? Reason may eventually damn you; only faith will save you. Some may be fighting inside: "Will I follow the authority of science and the sufficiency of reason or will I follow the authority of the Scriptures and the certainty of faith?" Will you believe God or will you believe man? If you are wrestling right now, and you have God on the witness stand in the courtroom of human reason, and the verdict of your mind judges Him guilty, then realize that that is blasphemy, and you will bear your judgement. To walk by faith is to honour God's Word, and thus to honour God's name. Do you have a rebellious heart that has yet to submit to Him?

~ 10 ~

The Triumph of Faith

What is your response when God's providence – how He orders all things – seemingly runs counter to His promises? For instance, we read in Hebrews 13:5, "...He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.'" God here promises that He will continually grace us with His presence; and yet, often in our experience, God seems to be distant and disinterested. It seems that often we do not personally enjoy the reality and power of that promise of His abiding presence. Again, Philippians 4:19, another promise, reads, "And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." What is your response when it does not seem that God is supplying all your needs in keeping with that infinite storehouse of glorious heavenly wealth? Further, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promises, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it." How do you respond when a strong temptation comes your way and overtakes you; and you fall into sin again and decry, "Lord, I have done it again. It seems like I had absolutely no strength, and yet You, Lord, said that You would not allow me to be tempted beyond that which I can bear." His promise of deliverance, at times, seemingly appears empty and meaningless. So, what is your response when God's providence runs counter to His promises? It is at this very point that your spiritual reality and rootedness will be determined, as well as the true nature of your relationship with Him.

Now, your response to the occurrence of God's providence running counter to His promises may be that you question the truth of His promises; you may begin to doubt God's integrity and love. Or you may respond by becoming angry with yourself, and say, "I also have a part to play in all of this. Maybe I have to fulfil some conditions before I experience the truth of these promises." And thus you begin to blame yourself and say, "Well, maybe if I had more faith," or "maybe if I were more determined, more disciplined, then...." Or maybe your response would be like this, "I just need to seek more light, more understanding; something is not right here; something is not fitting. God promised that this would happen, but it is not happening; so I just need to seek more light and understanding."

You need to give a personal response to this disturbing question; it is absolutely critical that you answer it because (in one sense) your spiritual health and progress directly depends on the answer forthcoming. How you answer this question in your own life may determine if you take the upward road or the downward one. It seems to me that when God's providence seems to run counter to His promises, there is only one acceptable option, and that option is one of persistent faith. Now, that may sound like a simple reply, but I want to flesh it out. The option of faith does not mean that we bury our heads in the sand, denying the truth of the trying circumstances, but rather it means that we lift our heads up into heaven and affirm the truth of God's Word; and that is exactly what Abraham did. Hebrews 11:17-19 reads, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.' He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type."

God tested Abraham's faith

Perhaps there is no more moving account, no more revealing account that highlights the glory and the triumph of faith, than this account concerning Abraham. It is clear that with the offering up of Isaac, Abraham was being tested. He was sorely tested, not simply with respect to the content and expression of faith, but with respect to the very ground and fact of faith. The offering up of Isaac was a test of the obedience of faith. It was designed to reveal his heart, where he really stood in relationship with God. God commanded Abraham to offer up his son. He did not invite him, nor encourage him, nor lead him, but commanded him. Genesis 22:1, 2 reads, "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.'" Notice that the language that God used was apparently designed to intensify the temptation by touching Abraham's deepest emotions. God commanded Abraham to offer up his son (his flesh and blood, and not a lamb or pigeon); his only son (uniquely born from the union of Sarah and him); the one he loved (reminding him of his affection and emotional attachment); even Isaac (the one with whom he had established a very personal and filial relationship). This was not only a test of the obedience of faith, it was a test of the trust of faith; that is, not only a test of the obedience of faith to God's Word, touching on the reality of faith, but also a test of the trust of faith to God's faithfulness and His promise, touching on the quality of faith.

So, the question that confronted Abraham was this, "Will you really trust God to perform the promise, even though the very heart and basis of that promise are threatened?" Recall Hebrews 11:18, "It was he to him it was said, 'IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED;'" which is found in Genesis 21:12, "But God said to Abraham, 'Do not be distressed because of the lad [Ishmael] and your maid [Hagar]; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named.'" This was God's personal promise; and yet we have the language in Hebrews 11:17, "And he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son."

God severely tested Abraham's faith

Would Abraham firmly believe that God would really be true and faithful to His promise, regardless of appearances to the contrary? A further question is this: Why would God command Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten son? Why this kind of a test? This kind of a test seemed to reflect negatively upon the very character of God. This was possibly the most stringent test by which God could test Abraham. It was a test designed to clearly, emphatically, indisputably reveal Abraham's true allegiance and commitment of heart to God. Consider for a moment that which Abraham was faced with? First, Abraham was faced with a God, Who is good and kind, now appearing cruel and savage, by not only requesting the death of an innocent youth, but also allowing Abraham himself to go through personal anguish in responding to the command to offer up his beloved son. And remember that Abraham endured that anguish for what must have seemed like an eternity; for the place at which he was commanded to offer up Isaac was a three day journey; and God had planned this. No doubt, humanly speaking, Abraham may have been compelled to question the beneficent character of God.

Second, Abraham was faced with a God, Who is moral and trustworthy, now appearing deceitful and dishonest, by requiring the death of one whom God Himself had promised as the person through whom the future blessings would be realized. Abraham's posterity, and Abraham's seed, was promised through Isaac; and now God, apparently with caprice, had commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac. No doubt, Abraham, humanly speaking, may have been compelled to question the integrity of God, His righteous character.

Third, Abraham was faced with a God, Who is holy, transcendent, and incomparable, now appearing earthy and primitive, identifying Himself with the surrounding false deities who required human sacrifices in order to be appeased. No doubt, humanly speaking, Abraham may have been compelled to question the uniqueness of God; the fact that God is holy, sovereign, and subsisting in 'a class all His own'. Clearly, then, this God-ordained test was an incredible trial of faith! Every aspect of this test was designed to disprove and counter his faith. Every aspect! He was not simply being tested in his faith, but also concerning the very reality of that faith.

Do you really appreciate that which Abraham was faced with? What do you think about this? His whole understanding of God was challenged right to its very core and foundation. Humanly speaking, there was absolutely no reason for Abraham to continue in faith when God commanded him to perform this unthinkable act of human sacrifice. And so here was the question: "Abraham, in spite of everything with which you are presented, in spite of the contradictions that divine providence poses, will you continue to cleave to the promises of God? When everything is demanding you to abandon God and spurn the promises, will your faith hold?" Everything that Abraham had learned about God, everything that he knew about God, was here being challenged and threatened with this test. It is like someone who works with computers, who knows that a computer runs by means of microchips, circuits, and electronics, and then hearing a news release that soon a new computer would be marketed which does not require any microchips, or circuits, or electronics. "Impossible!" would be the response. It goes against absolutely everything one has learned about computers. This situation is similar to that which Abraham may have gone through. An impossible situation!

What would have been your response if you had been Abraham? Maybe I should phrase it this way: What would have been your reaction if God had come to you, commanding, "Take your son (or daughter) right now and kill him as a sacrifice to Me? Take that little one right now, and kill him on an altar, burn him as an offering to Me." What would be your response – your reaction – my friend? Be honest now.

Abraham's faith did not falter

Now, incredibly, there was no resistance from Abraham, no hesitation, no questioning of God's command. Genesis 22:3 reads, after God had commanded him, "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him." That was Abraham's response (not reaction); and as I mentioned earlier, it was a three day journey away. Again, the various aspects of the test were designed to intensify the struggle and pain of the trial. Think about it. Abraham had three days to think about the ordeal that lay ahead. Often that is our problem: we have too much time to think about a potentially difficult situation. If the situation required an immediate response, an impulsive response, then that would be manageable, but having to think about a dreadful situation for three days – that's torture. For instance, when you have to speak to a large, distinguished group in three days, you would probably think anxiously about it, saying, for instance, "What exactly am I going to say? Will I say something worthwhile? What will be the reception? etc." Or when you know that you have a doctor's appointment, having had a series of blood work, because you are evidencing mysterious symptoms, you may worry, saying, for instance, "Is everything going to be okay? Am I going to die? Will I suffer from pain? etc." Or knowing that you have an interview with your critical, unthankful boss in three days, believing that he or she is out to hurt you, you may fret, bemoaning, for instance, "Why does he want to talk to me? What did I do wrong? Is he going to fire me? etc." So, Abraham had three days to think about it. Doesn't it seem cruel that Abraham was given three days?

But Abraham was resolved. We read, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac" (Hb. 11:17). What does it mean, "offered up Isaac." He did not actually offer him up. Yet, the sense of the original Greek language is that it was as good as done in his mind and heart; that is why we have the past tense in the original. There was no question about his obedience. Abraham was resolved. When God had commanded, there were no other options. This is the man who had received the promises. What is Abraham's obedient response teaching us? Faith annuls all apparent contradictions posed by divine providence and continues to hold on to the promises. Again, faith finds its root and sustenance in the Word of God. Abraham had received the Word of God, the promises, and he did not let them go, even in the face of overwhelming apparent contradiction. Why? How do we explain this? Why does faith annul all apparent contradictions posed by divine providence? Because faith, by its very nature, and of necessity, insists upon and even argues for the truth of God's Word. For instance, if you really believe that Alzheimer's Disease or schizophrenia is the result of a nutritional deficiency, rather than the result of a biochemical imbalance, then, naturally, you will argue for that view. That is self-evident.

So, through true faith, and with true faith, one has absolutely no choice but to demand and validate, at all costs, the truth of God's Word. Thus, we read, "He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead" (11:19a). That is what Abraham reasoned in his heart. Even though God had called him to offer up Isaac, Abraham was convinced that the promise of God was true; and that God, who is faithful, would even raise Isaac from the dead, if needs be, in order to keep His word. Hence Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Delitzch, an Old Testament scholar, insightfully writes, "Abraham's faith appealed to the omnipotence of God in order not to surrender its reliance on His truth." Abraham, no doubt, affirmed something like this, "God cannot lie; it is impossible, regardless of the apparent contradictions of providence, and regardless of appearances to the contrary." That is what true faith always affirms. That was true of Job, wasn't it? Initially Job knew and professed that God was good, kind, gracious, and just. And yet God's providence, with a few violent strokes, removed all his possessions, all his material goods, and all his children. But what was Job's response? He affirmed, "Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Jb. 1:21). Job worshiped. "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Jb. 2:10b). Initially Job did not question the holy character of God.

Abraham's faith triumphed

Faith neither accepts nor brooks any challenges to the promises of God; and so, in faith, Abraham argued against natural reason, and faith won. True faith always does. Again, the Scriptures state, "He considered [he argued out of his faith, he reasoned] that God is able to raise men even from the dead" (11:19a). Consequently, in demonstrating the reality and quality of his faith, by being tested, God pre-empted the proceedings and spared Isaac. We read, "From which he also received him back as a type [that is as a figure]" (11:19b). So, figuratively speaking, Abraham received Isaac back from the dead, because in his act of obedience, God intervened. No doubt, we have here a picture of the future resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 8:56).

But let us remember, if Abraham had failed the test, there would not have been any covenant. This test also served to ratify the covenant, from Abraham's side. In this one act of faith's obedience, God confirmed the truth of the covenant that He had made with Abraham. Ratification was necessary. God had promised to bless, but the fulfilment of that promise required the faithful response from Abraham to whom the promise was given. Thus we read, "Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, 'By Myself I have sworn, declares, the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice'" (Gn. 22:15-18). It is clear that covenant ratification was dependent upon Abraham's faith and obedience. Faith secured the eternal blessings of God. Perhaps, if Abraham had failed the test, Isaac would have been taken anyway, for his seed would then no longer be needed, the covenant thus becoming void. Isaac's life, either way, hung in the balance. That is God's way, and He is not to be questioned.

So, by exercising his faith, Abraham figuratively received Isaac back from the dead, for God intervened and responded to that faith. Now, here is the irony. In the exercise of his faith, he offered up Isaac; however, it was that exercise of faith that actually prevented Isaac from being offered up – the triumph of faith. Don't you agree that Abraham was truly a remarkable man? God tested Abraham, and Abraham passed 'with flying colours'. Again, why did God test Abraham? Why the test at all? God was pleased to reveal the real devotion and commitment of Abraham's heart. And God is pleased to test our hearts. It is all well and good to follow the Lord when things are going well. Anyone can willingly worship God then; but where will you stand, and how will you respond (or react!) when you are stripped of everything, when it seems that God has become an ogre, when it seems that every good thought or understanding that you have had of God is challenged, threatened, and seemingly denied or contradicted? What will your heart say then? Where will you stand then? When you go through your darkest night and your deepest trial, will you then acknowledge God to be your faithful God? Will your faith keep you then? Where will you stand when the suffering and pain come in full force so that you could cry out for death, just to have some relief? Then what, my friend? What will you think of God then?

God wants your deepest affections, your warmest devotion, and your strongest commitment, regardless of what life 'throws at you', and not mere lip service. It is relatively easy to give lip service when things are going well, but trials expose the content and true motives of the heart. What will you think of God then? So, testing proves whether we are His, but more importantly, whether He is ours. True faith never lets go. Never! True faith insists upon, and even argues for, the truth of God's Word. It entertains no other options. Can you say with every confidence, "Though He slay me [after taking everything from me, even my loved ones], yet I will trust in Him" (Jb. 13:15)? If you can, then you too, like Abraham, will know the glorious triumph of faith which can know no defeat.