The Obedience of Faith
© C. O. Bishop 10/14/17 THCF 10/29/17
Last time we talked about the Behavior of Faith…what Faith does as a response to Revealed Truth. In fact, we stated that “Faith is an Obedient Response to a Revealed Truth.” This would include everything from “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” (from Acts 16:31) to “Make thee an ark of gopher wood…” (from Genesis 6:14), and even “Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac…and offer him there for a burnt offering….” (Genesis 22:2). Those were all responses of faith, some requiring a physical response, some not. Paul mentions this idea over in Romans, 1:5, saying that the Gospel had gone into all the world “for the obedience of faith”, or (KJV), “obedience to the faith.”
Hebrews eleven gives us the most examples, all in one place, of the whole Bible, to see what the obedience of faith might look like…and the results in people’s lives. Some were thrilling to read about…some were sad and frightening, when you go back and read the original accounts in the scripture. I do not find the story of Stephen getting beaten to death with rocks, by a mob of angry religious men, to be thrilling. I find it a fearful thing, and depressing, because my old nature says “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people.” (Job and his friends thought that, too, remember.)
The point is this: faith does NOT always bring about a happy, or comfortable life. Faith can be fatal, even, and has been fatal for millions down through the ages. But that is not what we are usually taught to expect. So, let’s look, now, and see the real result of faith, in Hebrews Eleven.
The Obedience of Faith
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Did Abraham obey because it was fun, or exciting, or rewarding, or pleasant? He was being asked to kill his innocent son! He was being asked to offer his “only begotten son”…just as God did for the human race.
Again we can see that “Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” Abraham already had the promise that Isaac, and none other, was to be his heir, but now God called him to sacrifice his son. What is amazing to me is that Abraham did not even argue, as he had done earlier, interceding for Lot, but just got up early and began splitting wood for the sacrificial fire!
We can hardly see it in Genesis, except in seed form, but Abraham looked beyond the apparent paradox, and saw the resurrection! In the Genesis account (Genesis 22:5) we see that Abraham left the servants with the donkey and told them, “I and the lad will go…and come again to you.” That is the statement of faith…and it is all we have to look at until Hebrews 11:19, where we see that Abraham literally believed that he was going to sacrifice Isaac, and that God was going to restore him to life! He looked beyond the paradox and saw the resurrection!
When we read Isaiah 53:10, we see a paradox, as well. It describes the death of the protagonist (the Messiah), and then says “…he shall see his progeny” after he has made his soul an offering for sin. (!!) But we see the paradox from the vantage point of the New Testament, and easily understand that the resurrection comes between those two events. Could you have seen it without the New Testament revelation? I think I would have simply seen a contradiction. The resurrection was known in the Old Testament, for sure, but I am not sure I would have put the two together. Abraham had far less information upon which to build, but, somehow, he made the connection by faith, knowing that
- God had made an unchangeable promise, and that
- He would have to compensate in some way, to still keep that promise.
That is the result of faith! He believed God more than he believed his eyes. More than he believed his experience. More than he believed the “laws of physics” as he understood them. And God says, in a figurative sense, in a picture of the real resurrection yet to come, Abraham indeed received his son back from the dead.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
The only information Isaac had to work with was the prophecy made during the pregnancy: “two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) But he saw the truth of the prophecy, reflected in the lives of his sons, and, as a prophet, he opened his mouth in faith, and God spoke through him.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
Jacob was also a prophet, and God spoke through him. He believed God and spoke the truth, though I’m sure it was not what he would have chosen. He predicted the outcome of the lives of all his sons and those of Joseph. And not all of it was nice. But he was acting in faith.
The Actions of Faith
22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
Joseph believed the promise of God given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he wanted to be part of the fulfillment. So, he commanded that his bones be transported to the land of the promise when and only when Israel actually returned there.
We have modern day examples of this: The famous pianist Ignacy Paderewski became the Prime minister of Poland during Poland’s struggle for independence, but later served as head of a Polish parliament-in-exile, living in London and touring in the United States to raise money for the Polish relief fund. In 1941, he ultimately fell ill and died of pneumonia in New York, but had asked that his body, though temporarily interred at Arlington, should be removed to Poland after they achieved independence from the Soviets. In 1992, this actually occurred, 51 years after his death. His body is now in Warsaw, Poland, at St. John’s Arch-cathedral. (Oddly, in 1953 his heart had been encased in a bronze sculpture in a Roman Catholic shrine for Polish-Americans, near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and it remains there today. I don’t know who arranged that.)
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
I have underscored the verbs (“was hid, refused, choosing, esteeming, forsaking,” etc.) in many of the preceding passages, only to point out that faith is not a “feeling”—it is an action. It means being persuaded enough to act. The results are not always what we hope for, in this life. But sometimes they are: the following verses tell of a whole bunch of miraculous victories, healings, and raisings from the dead, etc.
The Results of Faith
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
There is an odd little point to notice here: If you are familiar with the life story of each of the people actually named, here, you will remember that most of them were fairly deeply flawed individuals, these were not pious saints who walked around with halos over their heads. They had some pretty severe dysfunctions in their lives. Samuel seems the best of the list, and even he had his failings. David was an adulterer and murderer; Samson was a violent, self-serving narcissistic womanizer. Gideon and Barak were fairly timid, fearful men whom God raised up to a point of valor (to one degree or another) so that great victories were won. And, sadly, Gideon accidentally started an idolatrous mini-cult after his great victories.
33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
This all reads like the flyleaf of some sensational best-selling book from a modern Christian bookstore…and each event, unlike the modern books, was simply historical fact, not sensationalized at all. But, in the midst of all the victories, we hear of the other side of faith:
The Cost of Faith
35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
Again, I am emphasizing the terrible cost of faith in some believers’ lives. (“Tortured, trials, mockings, scourgings, bonds, imprisonments, stonings,” etc. And what does God say about those people?
Does He mumble something about their faith not having been strong enough? Because that is exactly what the “health-and-wealth” Prosperity Gospel people say, when things don’t go well. They say, “Your faith wasn’t strong enough! If you really believe God for (whatever it is) then you’ll receive it.” I headed into that trap briefly myself, when I was a new believer. I read the place in John 16:24 where it says “hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full”, and I thought I had found the key to getting whatever I wanted in prayer! God disabused me of that notion that very day, as the things I prayed for “in Jesus name” did NOT happen…not even close! It was a very frustrating day; believe me!
But later I chanced upon the passages in 1st John 3:22, and 1st John 5:14, 15. There, the same Apostle John informed me that there was more to the promise than met the eye. The one verse (3:22) said that I had to already be walking with God, in obedience to His will, and the other two (5:14, 15) specified that the things we ask have to be within the will of God. (Ohhhh! So, there was a condition to that particular promise!) I even had a teacher in Bible school who taught this “believe and receive” idea, though I am confident that he later realized he was mistaken.
But, again, what did God say about these who did not experience health, prosperity, or victory? What does God say about these people, whom the World will call pathetic losers, and dupes and fools? Read the next two verses:
38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
God says these were the best of the best! He says the World was not worthy of them! That they were the real winners, not the losers! Who? The ones who got rich by faith? The ones who saw great triumphs? No! He refers to the ones who were destitute, afflicted, and tormented! The ones who lost everything for God, and, from the world’s perspective, seemed to have died as “pathetic losers.” He says they died, not having received the promise, and that they obtained a good report by faith.” That is their “report card” from God! God says they were the winners: the best of the best! Give that some thought, please! They made choices by faith!
The Choices of Faith
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Completion of the Church, proper.)
This promise definitely includes us. And how do we apply it? The writer applied it for us: he says that God has provided for US some better thing…we are in the same position as those “pathetic losers”, condemned by the world for believing God. We are to join them in their faith and obedience, knowing that, ultimately, it may cost us, just as it did them. We attain maturity and completion in Christ along with them, and by means of many of the same tribulations, afflictions and trials. And, ultimately, the Church will be completed, including both those heroic saints of the early church and us, who are latecomers, whether heroic or otherwise.
What choices are involved? Faith is a choice, no matter how it is applied. Every one of you lives by faith, already…I work for two weeks without reward, believing that I will receive a paycheck in due time (and I do receive it.) I sat down in the pew, here in church this morning, without first checking to see whether it would hold me. I make a call on my cell-phone, believing that the correct person will receive my call, when the fact of the matter is that neither one of us understands the phones we are using: we use the phones by faith. We believe the phones will work, so we use them. They do not work because of our faith, but because they are designed well. God’s grace and power are a reality whether or not I believe. But they are applied to my life through faith. And I have to choose to believe, based upon whatever evidence He has given.
Faith is always a choice to believe; a choice to trust, a decision to take someone’s word as true. The real question is, in every case, where are you placing your faith? Will you believe a politician who has a history of lying? A financial corporation who has a history of failing to protect your money or your personal information? A preacher who can barely manage his own life, let alone tell you how to manage yours? Or the eternal God, who created you, who has sustained all life for all time, and who deliberately took your sins on his own shoulders at the Cross, so as to die in your place? We choose to trust Christ!
Initially, we choose to believe in Jesus’s blood at the Cross: so God takes away our guilt and gives us eternal life. Then, every day, we either choose to believe God enough to obey Him, or we decide that someone else, perhaps our own deceitful heart, is more trustworthy.
The choice is yours!
Lord Jesus, help us to enter into the obedience of Faith. Rebuild our lives in your own image! We want to be like you! Make us the men and women of God you have called us to be.