What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?
© C. O. Bishop 9/30/17 THCF and Cornell 10/1/17
At the end of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, we saw the warning to not fall back into formalism or legalism, but rather to step forward into faith. The writer stated that “we” (the believers) are not those who “draw back unto perdition”, but rather, we are to be “them that believe, unto the saving of the soul.” This contrast is set up for us to clearly see, that, regardless of the question at hand, or the challenge before us, the choice is the same—will we believe God, or not?
Human reasoning is very attractive, and, under submission to the Word of God, it actually can result in good decision-making. The problem is that we do not tend to submit our thought processes to the light of God’s Word, so we are easily snared by the World’s way of thinking, because our own hearts are also extremely deceitful.
Secular Humanism demands that we deliberately cast off any reference to the Light of God’s Word, and look at the World exclusively from the perspective of Human reasoning. The results are consistently disastrous, as History has shown us by countless examples. But, as a race, we humans persist in believing that “We have the answers to all problems, and that given just a little more time, we will fix everything”! Now there is a statement of Faith! In spite of all evidence to the contrary, and the observable decline of human behavior, we still think that we humans can produce righteousness, and truth, and peace. Does that sound…reasonable? Given the thousands of years of failure, and given that our most impressive “advances” have been in technology, which, invariably, are soon turned to weapons of one sort or another, by which to rob or kill or spy upon each other, do you really think that we will escape our human predisposal to sin? Our predisposal to lust, and violence, and deceit, and theft?
The World demands that we place our faith in a wholly unreliable demi-god, Man! (Or in any number of false Gods, who all deny Christ.) And those who refuse to believe in Human Sovereignty or in one of the various World Religions, are routinely cast aside, ridiculed, abused, and often killed. Jesus says for us to turn our faith to Him, and be saved from our sin, thus addressing the root problem that all the other deny. So, perhaps the question we ought to be asking, is “What is Faith?” And then: “How do I place my faith where it will do the most good?”
What is Faith?
1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
This verse is frequently quoted as a “definition of faith.” This is not a definition of faith, any more than “God is Love” is a definition of God…this is a statement of the value of Faith, to the believer: the effect it has on the believer’s life. If I say “my car is how I get to work every morning,” you would correctly understand that I use my car to get to work. But that does not define an automobile; it only describes a particular effect it has in my life.
Faith is believing: simply put, that is all faith is. Godly Faith is believing God. Godly Faith is believing God enough that it changes something in our behavior. Godly Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. That definition is borne out is every single statement in the following verses. (“By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such…”)
Faith is not a “force”, or a “power” (though it may free the power of God to work in our lives….) It is not a “muscle” that needs exercise, as some have taught. When we “exercise faith,” it simply means we consistently apply it, just as, when we say that someone needs to “exercise good judgment,” we mean that they need to apply wisdom.
The Greek word for “faith” is the noun “pistis”. The infinitive Greek verb “to believe” is “pisteuo”. Both pistis and pisteuo come from the Greek root “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded.” The people named in this chapter were persuaded that God had called them to do certain things, or to believe His Word regarding certain things; and they were persuaded enough that they did them! They believed God! It was always an action, motivated by belief.
We can believe wrong things, and the result will be wrong behavior. We can believe self-serving things because they are attractive to us, and then act on those beliefs because they serve our self-will. We are masters of self-justification, and self-deception. But, we have a choice as to where to place our faith. Placed properly, faith does have the described result in the believer’s life.
The Old Testament believers allowed faith to have a proper effect upon their lives, in that they believed God, because He was counted trustworthy. The result was that, for them, faith was “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”
God’s Testimony; Our “report card”
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
The eternal testimony of God regarding the men and women of faith, is that they believed God. That is a Good Report! That is the “report card” that God applied to their record. Regarding Abraham, God said, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) This passage is quoted and used in Romans chapter 4, to teach Salvation by Grace, through Faith. There are some things regarding which Faith only calls for believing God about something he says to be true. The creation is one of those things. See the next verse:
3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Here the writer give a single example that shows how faith might not only be evidenced by an outward action: The writer says that they chose by faith to believe in the creation account, as revealed by God in the book of Genesis. We can (and do) still make that choice today, but it will become increasingly difficult to do, as the World has made that particular belief the special target for ridicule, and verbal attacks.
Certain Christian leaders have attempted to “water down” the Creation account, to make it compatible with evolution. Whole books have been written to try to reconcile the incompatibility between what the World insists is true, and what the Bible claims to be true. I actually have one or more of those books, given to me by well-meaning friends or family.
It is always an error to try to make God’s Word more “palatable,” or more “accessible,” by changing what it says. Evolution and creation are simply not compatible. And, that’s OK! Light and darkness are mutually exclusive. In this regard (and others) we are called to believe. In much of life, our belief calls us to change what we do; to take action of some sort. The rest of the examples in Hebrews 11 are of that sort, but before we address them I would like to present one more example of the call to simply believe:
In John 6:28, 29 The people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” and, instead of listing the ten commandments or anything else that people think they can do to make themselves acceptable to God, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”
Please don’t add to that verse! Just accept it as it stands!
We can believe it or reject it, but that is the standard of faith, as spoken by Jesus. This is the Testimony of God the Son, regarding Faith.
Now let’s look at some of the other type of examples of faith…the ones that call for action. These also constitute the Testimony of God, regarding Faith:
Old Testament Examples of Godly Faith
4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
There are several valuable gems, here:
- By faith, Abel did …what? A better job of offering a similar sacrifice? No! It says that the sacrifice is what was different! The sacrifice was more excellent! Why? Because he was being obedient to a revealed truth, and bringing a blood That truth had been revealed in practice, by the object lesson of Genesis 3:21, when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood of the first sacrifice.
- The writer further states that by that sacrifice, he “obtained witness that he was righteous”…that he possessed a right standing before God. That blood sacrifice made all the difference, then, and it still does. That is how we gain a right standing before God, today, as well: Through Jesus’ blood, applied to our own lives, by faith!
- Notice, too that it says “God testified of his gifts”…not his “heart attitude” or how he genuflected, or anything else: it was the gift that was in question. God told Cain that if he did right, he, too would be received. But what did Abel do that was “right,” in comparison to which, Cain evidently did wrong? He brought the blood sacrifice, while Cain brought the non-blood sacrifice. God testified of his gifts! It was the sacrifice that was different!
- Finally, back in Luke 11:50, 51, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet! What prophecy did Abel make? Here in Hebrews 11:4, it says “by it (that sacrifice) he, being dead, is still speaking.” All the Old Testament blood sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah. Abel, the prophet, spoke by his sacrifice, and is still speaking today. He points to the Cross!
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
And how does one please God? We are told very little about Enoch’s life. There is a tiny reference to a prophecy by him, in Jude 14, and the account in Genesis regarding God taking him off the Earth, so that he did not die. But that is all! The Writer goes on to say,
6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
There it is! That is the definition of Faith! Faith is believing. Saving faith places the believer’s hope in the person of Christ and His completed work at the Cross. So (though we really aren’t told very much), at some level, Enoch was a man of Godly faith, and walked very consistently in the light that he had. That is all we know about him. The result was a tremendous thing: God took him out of the world without dying.
7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
“Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” In Noah’s case it meant he went and got a whole lot of timber, and built a monstrous wooden box—a barge, effectively. I have helped build a number of steel barges about that size, and I have helped build a number of barns, houses, etc. out of wood and other materials. I am grateful that I am not faced with the task Noah was assigned. It was an enormous job, and it is no wonder that it took 120 years to complete it.
Notice, too, that it says he was motivated by fear. The Greek word here is “eulabe-theis”, meaning a devout fear. This is not a common word in the New Testament. Usually, the writers use the far more common, simple word for fear: “phobos, or phobeo”. One is a noun and the other a verb…but you can probably see that this is the root for the English word “Phobia”—and it means “fear”. There is nothing wrong with fear being a motivator. Psalm 19:9 says that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” If fear of the coming judgment moves a sinner to repent and be saved, that is a good thing! If the fear of displeasing ones Savior moves a believer to abandon some pet sin, and serve more faithfully, that is a good thing.
Ann Landers once said, in her column, that she was not a “God-fearing “woman, but a “God-loving” woman. Let me tell you: If you don’t fear the judgment of the Holy God you claim to love, then you don’t know Him well enough to love Him either. The disciples were afraid of drowning, during the storm, but they were exceedingly afraid after Jesus calmed the Storm. That is a Godly fear. (Mark 4:35-41) I’d rather take their example than that of Ann Landers.
Noah was called to build that Ark. I am called to believe God’s Word regarding that flood, the building of that Ark, and the results of the flood, in the world today. I see the geologic evidence in the landforms around me, and I realize that the evidence for a worldwide flood is simply overwhelming: it is all around us. But the World ridicules the idea and it rejects the Author as well as the Message.
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Notice all the action words! Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in actions. He:
- Went out
He did things because of his faith: He was called, so he had a specific thing to do. But he did not just sit back and claim to believe. He obeyed! And why? He was looking for the reward. Hope for reward is an acceptable motivator, too! He looked for “a city built by God.” Here on Earth? No, he apparently knew of the coming resurrection, and expected a new body, and looked forward to that redemption. Amazing! And he didn’t even have a Bible to read! Not even a part of one.
Next week we will examine some of the things Abraham accomplished by his faith. But, in the meantime:
What is Our Problem?
Why is it, that with far more revelation available to us, and all the advantages of various translations, and electronic Bibles, and home-study courses, and commentaries, and radio preachers, we still end up being less responsive to God’s Word, not more?
I’m not really sure I can answer that. But it may be worth remembering that, in Luke 18:8, Jesus said “When the son of man cometh, shall He find faith?” (The implication being negative.) Apparently true faith is going to become more and more rare. I don’t know why. But I do know that we are called to believe God, both for salvation, and for our daily walk with Him. Apart from believing God (a.k.a. “faith”), God says it is impossible to please Him. We need to confess our unbelief, and then change the way we think, and learn to Believe God more than we believe our own lying hearts…and to serve Him as those who have been released from bondage.
Lord Jesus, change our hearts. Teach us to believe You and Your Word above all other words and feelings. We realize that our feelings are not an accurate measure of reality. Teach us to trust Your Word implicitly.