WHAT IS FAITH?
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Scriptures reveal the true faith, and the understanding of the statement, “the just shall live by faith.” True scriptural faith always comes from God into the spirit of the believer, not from the mental and soulish efforts of the individual. True faith always is employed to find the will of God and to do it, not to direct God to do whatever the Christian desires.
True faith always lives in works. There is no such thing as an abstract faith, a faith not expressed in some kind of works. To live by faith is not to adopt a doctrinal position but to live in a close relationship with God, always depending on Him for all our needs.
WHAT IS FAITH?
We have come to the conclusion after many years of thought and experience that there are major errors in current Christian thinking. Somehow our concept of the plan of salvation has gotten off course. The fruit of the error can be observed in the pathetic state of the Christian testimony in the so-called “free” nations of our day.
It seems to us that at least part of the problem arises from our interpretation of the cry of the Protestant Reformers, “the just shall live by faith.” In particular, the error springs from our understanding of faith.
What is faith?
If we base our conception of salvation on “the just shall live by faith,” and then define faith incorrectly, we have a serious problem at the core of our theology and practice.
Faith is employed commonly to refer to our religion: “She is a member of the Christian faith.”
This is not the meaning of the term faith in the expression, “the just shall live by faith.”
The Scriptures counsel us to live and minister according to the faith assigned to us.
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
While the faith portioned out to us for life and ministry comes closer than some other definitions, it still is not exactly the faith emphasized in “the just shall live by faith.”
Sometimes the Spirit of God will give us a special faith, or a gift of faith, that will produce a miracle. Miracle-working faith is not what the writers of Scripture meant by “the just shall live by faith.”
We hear ministers say they are living “by faith” or doing the work of God “by faith.” This usually means they are not working and have no source of income other than what is donated to them by interested believers. Such Christians may be sincere and following the Lord Jesus, but this is not the meaning of “the just shall live by faith.”
The term faith is sometimes used to mean the practice of metaphysical magic. This is soulish faith and it is exercised as its proponents seek to change the physical world to their advantage by positive thinking, or imaging, or stating what they want, or by some similar device.
Superficially the Scriptures appear to endorse the employment of soulish faith in order to manipulate the environment according to the will of the believer. But true scriptural faith always comes from God into the spirit of the believer; it does not proceed from the mental and soulish efforts of the individual.
True faith is always employed to find the will of God and to do it, not to direct God to do whatever the Christian desires.
Many believers of our day do not know the difference between true scriptural faith and soulish faith. They are attempting to acquire riches, to be healed, to rule their environment by affirming various passages of the Scriptures. Soulish faith is not endorsed by the Scriptures but is regarded as presumption (as in the case of the Lord being tempted to leap from the gable of the Temple). Soulish faith leads to arrogance and presumption and finally to destruction.
Another application of the term faith has to do with our acceptance and confession of the theological facts pertaining to the existence of God, and to the Deity, atonement, and bodily resurrection of Christ. “The just shall live by faith” has come to mean if I subscribe to correct theology relating to Christ I will go to Heaven when I die. This appears to be the prevailing concept of the Christian redemption.
While the holding of a correct viewpoint concerning the facts of the Divine redemption may be close to true faith, this interpretation of “the just shall live by faith” is incorrect in its method and its goal. Also, it includes an assumption that has created havoc in the Church, the Wife of the Lamb, the center of government of the Kingdom of God.
It is incorrect in its method in that living by faith does not mean continuing in mental assent to the theological facts concerning Jesus.
It is customary for the Christian ministry to labor diligently to persuade people to adopt the thought structure, the philosophy of a particular denomination. But there is little benefit in adopting a particular thought structure. A thought structure, a religious philosophy, is useful only as it brings us to Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.
The prevailing concept is incorrect in its goal because the goal of redemption is not eternal residence in Heaven but the redemption of our body.
Its destructive assumption is that we enter Paradise on the basis of forgiveness and are given to eat of the tree of life on the basis of forgiveness. It envisions the Christian redemption as primarily the forgiveness of our sins rather than what it is—the conversion of our personality from the adamic nature to the life-giving spirit (I Corinthians 15:45).
The current Christian concept sees God restoring Adam and Eve to Eden, not on the basis of a transformation of their personalities into the image of God but on the basis of mercy and forgiveness. This would be to change what God is. It would be to change God to the point that He is willing to dwell with lawlessness.
What, then, is the meaning of this expression that originated in the Old Testament and is repeated three times in the New Testament? The entire Scriptures are the definition of “the just shall live by faith,” for this principle always has governed men—it is not just for the Christian Era. In addition, the Spirit of God has summarized the principle in Hebrews 10:38-11:40.
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Hebrews 10:38)
The Book of Hebrews was written to careless believers. The theme of the Book of Hebrews is pressing on toward the promised rest of God. The author of Hebrews was writing to seasoned saints. They had suffered much but now had become complacent. They were neglecting their salvation. They were in danger of “dying in the wilderness.”
The first aspect of faith that we notice (in Hebrews 10:38) is, it is a pressing forward (“but if any man draw back”). God takes pleasure in us when we press forward in Christ each day. The moment we become careless or disinterested the Lord is displeased. This is what is so dreadfully incomplete about the current “make a profession of Christ and then you will go to Heaven when you die.”
The just shall live by faith means if we would please God we must make our life a continual quest for the Kingdom of God. The just shall live by faith covers men of all ages. The expression is found first in the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4).
Note carefully that the Holy Spirit, when instructing us concerning the faith that saves (in Hebrews, Chapter 11), uses examples from the Old Testament!
It is not only in Christianity that men please God by faith. No person at any time or in any place has ever pleased God by any means other than faith.
The Law of Moses was given to help the Israelites cope with sin until the Redeemer should come. In several instances in the Old Testament writings we find God was not satisfied with the offerings made to Him because they were not presented in faith.
Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. (Malachi 1:13)
“What a weariness is it!”
It was not enough just to bring an animal. The heart of the worshiper had to be full of faith toward the Lord.
The only manner in which God can be pleased is by our joyously seeking His face continually, understanding that the Lord is a rewarder of all who seek Him with their whole heart. This was true under the old covenant. It is true today. It always shall be true. Faith is our conviction that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him diligently. Also, everyone who has faith in God is sternly obedient to God.
The concept that under the old covenant men pleased God by works, and that under the new covenant men please God by doing nothing but believe in doctrine, has arisen from Paul’s controversy with the Judaizers. Paul declared to the Judaizers that now that Jesus has come, it is not possible to please God by continuing in the numerous statutes of the Law of Moses.
Christian teachers, not having the background of the Law and therefore not understanding Paul’s argument with the Jews, and not striving for righteousness as was Paul, convey the concept that men please God under the new covenant by doing nothing. “We are saved by unconditional grace,” they preach, a doctrine completely alien to the Old and New Testaments, and the bulk of the followers of such teaching have little knowledge of the Holy One of Israel and are drowning in the lusts of the flesh because they are not seeking God diligently.
Notice, in the following verse, the presentation of faith as an attitude toward God that governs our behavior:
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition [destruction]; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39)
Drawing back to destruction does not mean changing our mind about the theological facts concerning salvation. To draw back to perdition means to cease pressing forward in prayer, holy living, and obedience to God. To believe to the saving of the soul is to lay hold by faith on the living Jesus and to take up our cross and follow Him daily. It is not a case of mental belief but of coming out of the world and serving God’s Christ.
If we would save ourselves and those who hear us (I Timothy 4:16) we must continue pressing toward Christ each day. There is no time or strength left for us to become entangled in the world. Either we attain the glory of the Kingdom or we come under the judgment of the Lord. Either we use our talents diligently or we will be thrown into outer darkness. Either we press on to perfection or we fall back to destruction.
It always is today. In the life of faith, yesterday is forgotten except for the lessons taught to us by the Holy Spirit. If the sinner turns from his sin and begins to live righteously, God forgets about his sin. If the righteous individual turns from his righteousness and begins to sin, God forgets about his righteousness.
It always is today. Today is the day of salvation. Yesterday’s manna is not acceptable food for man or God. “The just shall live by faith” means we are to be seeking God with diligence today.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Hope is an important component of faith. We are saved by hope. Hope requires much patience on our part. Today we hear the self-centered believers claiming we do not have to wait for God. “If we have faith,” they say, “we can get what we want now.” This is the opposite of faith. This is human presumption combined with the working of metaphysical principles. It is the False Prophet of Revelation, Chapter 13. Faith deals constantly with the invisible. The Gospel of the Kingdom is a glorious hope for the future, not the means of becoming happy and wealthy in the world, as some are teaching. The true saint lays hold on the invisible. He sets aside his life, his hopes, his ambitions, so he may seek without distraction the invisible Kingdom of God. He lives for the Day when Christ will appear and establish righteousness in the earth. This is what it means to live by faith.
We are not suggesting God does not give us joy or fulfill some of our hopes in the present world. We would faint if we did not believe to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. But for those who are walking in stern obedience to God there often are long periods of waiting in which we must cling in faith to the promise of God.
For by it the elders obtained a good report. (Hebrews 11:2)
Hebrews 11:2 shows us that God never has changed and His ways of working with His creatures never have changed. The only difference between Moses and the Christian is that the Christian has been given more Divine grace, more spiritual provisions, more opportunities for Divine Glory.
Moses could please God only by faith and the Christian can please God only by faith. This is why the Holy Spirit, in the Book of Hebrews, is using the “elders,” the patriarchs, to teach the Christian the necessity for living by faith.
Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God, so things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11:3)
The man who is walking by faith is not impressed or oppressed by modern “science.” He understands and appreciates the spiritual basis of all that exists.
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. (Hebrews 11:4)
Notice that Abel, the second son of Adam, was declared to be righteous (justified) by faith. Justification by faith has been with us from the time of Adam.
Notice also it was what Abel did that obtained righteousness for him. True faith always lives in works. Faith without works is dead. There is no such thing as an abstract faith, a faith not expressed in some kind of behavior.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the “faith chapter,” is a record of works, of what people did.
Doctrinal faith, a mental assent to theological truth, is not mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. The righteous shall live by faith does not mean if we believe and confess certain doctrinal facts we will go to Heaven when we die. This approach to salvation is more like Gnosticism than it is Christianity.
The righteous shall live by faith means just that—it means we are to live with Christ as the Center and Circumference of every thought we think, every word we say, every act we perform. The righteous shall live by faith is speaking of how we live, not of what we believe. The righteous live by faith in God rather than in their worldliness, lusts, and self-willed pride.
The currently held concept is that it is not essentially important how the believer lives because he is saved by faith, he is declared righteous because of his faith. The Christian ministry is contrasting faith and righteous behavior.
Can you imagine the Lord Jesus contrasting faith and righteous behavior? It is no wonder the light of the Church is flickering and going out. Christ is removing our lampstand. He is removing it because He knows our works, and our works are not righteous.
A faith that does not produce righteous behavior is worthless to God and worthless to man.
We hear believers stating today that if we have enough faith we can get what we want in the world. If these ignorant, self-centered believers will read the Scriptures they will discover the blessing of God comes on the righteous, not on those who seek to manipulate their surroundings by “faith.” It is righteous behavior that is the emphasis of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. When we walk righteously, we inherit the blessings of the Lord. It is as simple and direct as that.
The current emphasis on magical faith is leading Christian people away from faith in Jesus and into spiritual pride and presumption. It is of Satan, not of God. Magical faith is an attempt to get the blessing of God by a means other than patient, cross-carrying obedience to the Lord Jesus.
It is fashionable for the believers in the so-called “faith message” to consider every thing or event that makes them unhappy as being of the devil. They continually are giving glory to Satan rather than to God.
Our problems actually are coming from the Lord, although He uses Satan to chasten us. When we learn our lessons we will have no more occasion to worry about Satan. God will meet our needs and take care of the demons if we will walk with Him and serve the Lord Jesus Christ in righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God.
If we will spend our days seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, God will deliver us from every devil. When our ways please the Lord He will make our enemies to be at peace with us.
There is a place in the Kingdom of God for casting out devils. The casting out of devils is the first sign to follow the believers. But God wants the emphasis to be on resisting the devil rather than rebuking the devil. We resist the devil by drawing near to God and overcoming temptation through the wisdom and power He gives us. If we will do more resisting of the devil there will not be nearly as much need for casting out the devil.
Some have taught that Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable because it was not a blood sacrifice. The Scriptures teach that Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because it was not offered in faith. Cain had jealousy and murder in his heart. God will accept a firstfruits of the grain harvest, but not if the heart is not right.
How many believers perform their religious duties but their hearts are far from God? The Pharisees strove to be technically correct in doctrine and duty but they had little faith in God. Their hearts were not lifted up to God in faith.
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. (Hebrews 11:5)
On what basis was Enoch translated? He was translated because he walked with God all day long for hundreds of years. Why did Enoch seek God with such diligence and intensity? He did so because his heart was full of faith toward God. Enoch believed that all that is worthwhile is to be found in the Presence of God. The righteous Enoch lived by faith, meaning God was in all his thoughts.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
The first step in salvation is to believe there is a God. The author at one time found it difficult to believe in the existence of God. He prayed for faith to believe there is a God, and God gave him what he requested.
The second step is to believe it is God who has sent Christ (“ye believe in God, believe also in me”).
The third step in salvation is to seek God in Christ with diligence for the remainder of one’s life on the earth. This is what it means to “live by faith.” Living “by faith” has nothing to do with not working and trusting that people will give us money. To our knowledge, this application of the phrase is not scriptural.
Living “by faith” means we have an assurance deep in ourselves that if we seek God continually our needs and desires will be given to us. We will be rewarded. It is not the superficial “volleyball game” being played with God today: “I will fast, and God will give me power”; “I will give money and God will give it back to me with interest”; “I will abide in Christ and therefore God will answer my prayers”; and so on and on in this disgusting, self-centered fashion.
The quest for God indeed is rewarding. Soon we are absorbed in God Himself. He is the end of our quest. Christ Himself is the Goal, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection. Christ is Salvation. He is our Sanctification, our Wisdom, our Strength, our Joy. When we attempt to use the Lord Jesus to “get” something we miss the point. We trade God for the gifts of God, and that is an unwise, shortsighted trade.
The supreme end of the life of faith is the possession of God Himself. To be in perfect, complete, restful union with God through Christ is so much greater in value than anything else in the universe that comparison is foolish and, in fact, idolatrous.
The Potter’s Nature is such that if we are willing to settle for His gifts instead of Himself He allows us to do so (although sometimes He deals severely with us in order to turn our attention to Himself). This is one reason why we are counseled to guard our heart diligently.
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. (Hebrews 11:7)
Notice in the above verse the roles that God’s personal intervention and direction, obedience to God, and the fear of God, all play in scriptural faith. Faith is our obedient response to God’s Word as it comes to us, both in the Scriptures and also in personal Divine guidance as God intervenes in our life.
The fear of God is a wholesome attitude. The fear of the Lord is much more than reverence. It is the proper response of the creature to the Creator. God has the power to bring us into everlasting joy or to cast us into eternal torment.
God warned Noah that the destruction of all flesh was at hand. Such a warning was not an occasion for reverence but for fear.
The Christian teachers of today speak of reverence rather than fear. They are willing to revere God as they would a great man, but to fear God requires humility. The spirit and doctrine of humanism has fostered in mankind an arrogance toward God. This is most unwise and unrealistic. God is God, and all the proud boasting of men produces no change in God or in His power to do as He will.
Noah was moved with fear, not with reverence, as he contemplated the impending destruction of the peoples of the earth. He was afraid for his family and himself. Noah feared God.
People can stand in reverential awe before a national monument. While doing so they may carelessly throw sandwich wrappers on the lawn. If they knew fire would flash from the monument and consume anyone who threw paper on the grass they would be careful not to do so. Fear will accomplish what respect, reverence, good intentions, and awe will never produce.
We have lost faith in God and therefore we talk about reverence and love for God rather than the fear of God. But the God of the Old Testament, of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, has not changed.
The righteous fear God. This is one of the principal reasons why they walk in faith, behaving in a godly manner.
Noah “became heir of the righteousness that is by faith.” Noah was justified by faith. But God commented on his righteousness, not on his faith.
And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. (Genesis 7:1)
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. (Hebrews 11:8)
Obedience to the will of God, whether His will is found in the Scriptures or revealed in the Spirit to the saint, is an important aspect of faith—the faith by which the righteous live.
It has become fashionable in Christian circles to speak of “challenging” our faith. The concept seems to be that the Christian is to announce what he would like to see happen and then, if he can summon the faith, God will do what he has asked. We are exhorted to think “big” because God is a “big God.” We are encouraged to be aggressive in our “faith.”
We are not certain there is merit in this approach. We do not see it in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are a record of God speaking to men, and of men demonstrating their faith by doing what God commanded them to do. The people described in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews showed their faith by being obedient to God, not by imagining some large enterprise and then attempting to exercise “faith” so God was compelled to do what they supposed was beneficial.
There is an aspect of asking largely of God that should be cultivated by the saint. God often puts a holy discontent in our heart concerning our current situation. Our response must be to go to God continually, believing He will do the impossible. It is a delight to God’s heart that we bear much eternal fruit. As we bear permanent fruit, God continues to hear us, and so more fruit is borne. This process will continue throughout eternity.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. (John 15:16)
However, the process of bearing the permanent fruit of Christ’s image and consequently having our prayers answered is different from the challenge, the dare, to “do great things for God.” The former comes from the working of God in us as we grow in Christ. The latter, in many instances, proceeds from enthusiasm, personal ambition, ignorance of God, or some other undesirable motive.
The idea of doing “great things for God by faith” is common among Christians of our time, probably because we are not suffering tribulation or being persecuted severely. The concept of doing great things for God carries with it the idea that the mind and imagination of man are in control, not the Holy Spirit. It is not the faith of obedience, it is the faith that attempts to force God to do what man wants. God is made obedient to man as we exercise “faith.”
The patriarchs, prophets, and miracle workers of the Old Testament were not attempting to “do big things for God.” A careful study of the Scriptures will make clear that the prophets of the Lord always acted in obedience to what God was showing them. God spoke first and then they believed. On occasion they were brought into much distress because of God’s dealing with them.
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me. (Jeremiah 15:10)
Daniel was not “daring to be a Daniel” when we was put in with the lions.
There definitely is a time to press forward in God, and pressing forward requires faith. There is a time to claim a promise of Scripture, particularly when the promise answers some strong need or desire. However, many of our prayers are not what we truly desire.
We are to hold the Scripture before God and ask Him continually to do His will in the matter. It is a good thing to blow the trumpet of prayer loudly in God’s ear, so to speak. This is pleasing to God. He will receive the petition, modify it if it needs to be modified, and then give us the true desires of our heart.
This is different from announcing some personal ambition or good idea we have and attempting to believe until it happens according to our plan.
We are not to attempt to use God’s promises for our ends but to employ them to enable us to live in victory and do God’s will in the earth.
God spoke to Abraham, and Abraham went out “not knowing whither he went.” Those who are living by faith know God leads us through many situations that we do not understand. We pray, we hope, we trust God, we are perplexed, but we do not know what is taking place or what will happen to us. We do know if we continue obeying God our future will be glorious. This is how the righteous live.
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: (Hebrews 11:9)
To the individual who is living by faith the present world is an alien environment. He is a pilgrim, a sojourner living in a “tent.” But one day he will inherit the nations of the earth.
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
If we would live by faith we must have a clear goal. The goal of the saint is eternal life in the Presence of God. It is the possessing of Christ—to be found in Him.
To attain the righteousness that is of God by faith we always must be pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ.” The moment we draw back from the single-minded, intense pursuit of Christ, God has no pleasure in us.
We have not reached our goal until it is no longer we who are living but Christ who is living in us.
The righteous live by faith. The faith that brings the approval of God is made up of the several factors we have mentioned: living in terms of what is invisible; adopting the way of the saints of all ages; recognizing the hand of God in the physical universe; serving God because of our love for Him; walking with God; having Him in all our thoughts; acknowledging the existence of God and recognizing that the pursuit of God is the most worthwhile and rewarding of the opportunities available to people; fearing God; practicing stern, diligent obedience to the revealed will of God; being willing to obey when one does not understand what is taking place; making our goal the knowledge and possession of Christ; plus patience, courage, and all the other attitudes and actions demonstrated in the lives of the people who are included in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews.
Love, hope, trust, courage, and patience are important components of faith. Of special value in the sight of God is our readiness to rejoice in His promise to us before it has been fulfilled—while we yet are in His prison.
The heart of man is so wicked that he always can find a way to use the Divine covenant to thwart God’s fatherly intention.
So it is today as teachers of the Scriptures are using “the just shall live by faith” to mean we no longer are required to serve the Lord.
No human being, from the time of Abel to the present hour, has pleased God except through faith. The Scriptures are a record of the individuals who managed to see past the letter of the covenant of their day and come to the understanding that to love and obey the living God is greater than all burnt offerings, observance of statutes, and professions of belief.
(“What Is Faith?”, 3562-1)