BELIEF AND FAITH
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The cry of the Protestant Reformation is “The just shall live by faith.” The key word is “faith.” If our definition of faith is not scriptural, then we are confused as to the manner in which the righteous shall live.
It is our conviction that we of today are not distinguishing between an acknowledgment of theological facts, and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
BELIEF AND FAITH
But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. (Hebrews 10:38)
Perhaps it would be helpful to begin with a definition of sin followed by a definition of faith. It is my point of view that neither sin nor faith are defined correctly in much Christian teaching.
What is sin? Sin is the behavior of spirits that are in conflict with God’s holy Nature. Sin is described throughout the Bible, not counting, of course, the special, covenantal directives of the Law of Moses. The Apostle Paul, in several passages, clearly describes sinful behavior. When we are following the Holy Spirit closely He continually uses the Scriptures, or Christian teaching, or our conscience, to warn us concerning the aspects of our personality and behavior that are in conflict with God’s holy Nature or His will for our life.
It is not at all true that Divine grace in Jesus is a means of hiding our sin from God’s eyes. This is one of the greatest misunderstandings of all. Rather, Divine grace in Jesus Christ is the entrance of the Divine Nature into our personality such that we increasingly are able to cease sinning and to do that which pleases God.
In the ultimate sense, Divine grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, given to us that we may become a new righteous creation.
What is faith? Faith is our enduring belief and trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Under the new covenant, faith always expresses itself in our continuing interaction with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and daily obedience to Christ, resulting in a new creation in His image.
We claim today that we are saved by grace working through our faith. What we mean by this is as follows: If we acknowledge as being true that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, that He was born of a virgin, that He lived a blameless life, that He died on the cross to make an atonement for our sin, that He rose in bodily form from the cave of Joseph, and that He literally will return to earth, our belief in these matters are a ticket to eternal residence in Heaven. Some go so far as to say that once we make this profession of belief we can never be in danger of Hell.
Such is the Evangelical understanding of “the just shall live by faith.”
However, this is not what faith is.
How do we know this? Because Satan and his demons realize beyond all doubt that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, that He was born of a virgin, that He lived a blameless life, that He died on the cross to make an atonement for sin, that He rose in bodily form from the cave of Joseph, and that He literally will return to earth. Satan and his demons have accurate knowledge of these facts. Yet they have no eternal life. They are not saved by their belief in the truth.
“We know who you are, the holy One of God!”
“These men are servants of the most high God who show us the way of salvation”
“Do you believe there is one God? So do the demons, and they tremble.”
If we are to understand what faith really is, what the Apostle Paul meant when he stated we are saved by faith, we must grasp the difference between an accurate understanding of theological facts, and the actual nature of scriptural faith.
Faith is not a correct belief in the facts pertaining to the Lord Jesus Christ. What shall we call such a confession? Perhaps mental belief, or a doctrinal position, or accurate knowledge concerning the things of Heaven. But assuredly such a theological position is not what is meant by the righteous shall live by his faith.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the ‘faith” chapter of the Bible, makes no mention of a theological position.
Whenever a person is arguing against a point of view he may make statements which, taken out of context, are contrary to the intention of the individual making the statements.
Nowhere is this more true than in the epistles of Paul
I don’t think we realize the motivation behind many of Paul’s statements. Paul, as was true also of Martin Luther, was fighting against the religious establishment in which he was raised. Paul stood alone in his understanding of the relationship of the Law of Moses to the new covenant. I find no evidence in the writings of the other Apostles that they understood how the new covenant differs from the Law of Moses.
Because of the vehemence of Paul’s reaction to the persistence of the devout Jews, we find statements in Paul’s writings that can be used to provide an erroneous explanation of the Christian salvation.
A good example is presented in the following passage:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9,10)
These two verses are used to proved that we are saved by our belief and not by any change in our behavior. In other words, just state Jesus is Lord, and believe the fact that God raised Christ from the dead, and you will go to Heaven by grace regardless of how you behave after having made the proper confession and having believed the correct information concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ.
This is an example of using isolated statements from Paul’s writings without regard for other declarations of Paul.
In the same book, the Book of Romans, we find these words:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:12,13)
Paul concludes his argument in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans by saying:
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22,23)
The passage above is speaking to Christians, not to the unsaved. It means if an individual, having been baptized in water, chooses to be the slave of righteousness he will gain eternal life. If, however, after having been baptized in water, he chooses to be the slave of sin, he will die spiritually.
Romans 10:9,10 must be interpreted in the light of the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans. Confessing that Jesus is Lord, and believing God has raised Him from the dead, is our correct orientation to God’s plan of salvation. But it is nothing more than an orientation. It is not the entire plan of redemption. It is not a ticket we hold to ensure our entrance into Heaven.
Romans 10:9,10 is written to Jewish people. Paul was referring to the following passage from the Book of Deuteronomy, knowing that it would be familiar to Jews and would appeal to them.
If you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:10-14)
Whenever we find Paul emphasizing we are saved by faith and not by works, such as in Romans and Galatians, he is addressing Jewish people or Gentiles who were being influenced by Jewish teachers.
Paul is claiming, in Romans 10:9,10, that we do not have to ascend to Heaven or descend into the deep to find righteousness, it is a matter of the mouth and the heart. Paul is using the Hebrew Scriptures to prove to the Jews that God’s ways are not fantastic demands that never can be met. At one time they were obliged to observe what God had written through Moses. Now they are to turn their heart and their mouth to the Lord Jesus Christ. In both cases, God has made it possible for them to be righteous without going to religious extremes.
If we understand the Jewish milieu in which Paul reasoned and wrote, and add the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans to our thinking, we can see that we Gentiles have interpreted a passage addressed to Jewish people to mean we can live an ungodly life and still inherit the Kingdom of God. As Peter said, we wrest Paul’s teaching to our destruction.
Paul sometimes referred to Abraham to prove it is possible to have righteousness solely by believing what God said, apart from the Law of Moses. In fact, God can ascribe righteousness to whomever He will, with or without the Law of Moses.
We must always keep in mind, when reading Paul’s writing, that he was wrestling with the enormous problem of convincing Jewish people that God is able to declare people righteous even when they are not doing the works of the Law of Moses.
The Jews could not conceive of God assigning righteousness apart from the Law of Moses. Apparently they forgot that Paul viewed Noah and Job as righteous before the Law was given.
This is all Paul is declaring by his reference to Abraham: God can ascribe righteousness apart from the Law of Moses. Paul is not implying that all Abraham had to do was to take a theological position concerning God and from then on he could live in sin. Yet this is how Paul’s reasoning is viewed in our day.
If we come in the context of a Gentile, who is seeking to escape Hell and gain admittance to Paradise with the least possible effort, we miss the intention of the godly Jew, Paul, whose aim always was to gain righteousness in God’s sight, not to escape Hell with the least possible effort.
Abraham believed God and so he was counted righteous. We Gentiles get from this that if we will believe the theological facts concerning Christ we do not have to live a godly life. We will escape Hell and go to Heaven because we believe these facts.
This hardly was the case with the faithful Abraham.
Abraham was not dealing with theological facts. God gave Abraham a personal revelation, an incredible promise. Abraham did not stagger at the Word to him, but believed God. This is a different matter from our latching onto the facts of theology, claiming that such “faith” frees us from growth in righteous behavior.
A little later God spoke again:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)
What if Abraham responded by saying “You have given me righteousness because I believed what You said. I know I ought to walk before you and be blameless, but even if I don’t You are still obligated to bring me to Heaven when I die. Once saved always saved!”
Suppose Abraham had defied God at this point. Do you think God would still have considered him as righteous man? Yet this is taught today. There is no need for us to live a blameless life before God, because we are righteous on the basis of our belief.
And what if Abraham had refused to offer Isaac? Would he still have been righteous in God’s sight?
You know the answer to that as well as I.
Well, if we are going to appeal to one episode in Abraham’s life, then we have no sound reason for ignoring the other episodes in Abraham’s life.
Paul was saying it is possible for God on the basis of faith to ascribe righteousness apart from the Law of Moses. By no means was Paul asserting that if we believe the facts pertaining to Jesus Christ we are not obligated to walk before God in a blameless manner.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. (Psalms 101:2)
The Lord’s people always are careful to lead a blameless life. The concept that we can be accepted by the Lord and not lead a blameless life is widely taught in Evangelical circles. In place of a blameless life we are advocating a mental grasp on theological knowledge in the hope that thereby we shall escape Hell and make our eternal home in Heaven. We Gentiles care little about righteousness or about pleasing God. All we think about is escaping Hell and living in Paradise. We desire to do this without leading a blameless life.
Thus we have made the holy, righteous Lord Jesus Christ the author of ungodly behavior. This in spite of the passages of the New Testament that warn us if we continue to live according to our sinful nature we will reap corruption, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
The Evangelical teaching of today is erroneous and has destroyed the moral character of numerous believers. They are worse off than if they never had made a profession of Christ. This is because if they never had made a profession of faith in Christ they would realize they were sinners and were facing Divine wrath.
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. (II Peter 2:20,21)
Let’s turn now to the Book of Galatians. In this book the Apostle Paul is arguing against teachers who were urging the believers in Galatia to be circumcised. Paul addresses the question of how we can disobey the Law of Moses and yet not be counted a sinner.
We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” Know a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15,16)
Paul here is responding to Peter’s determination that the Christian Gentiles should follow Jewish customs.
(If Peter were the rock on which the Church is to be built, the foundation is a bit shaky at this point.)
Paul is clear that no individual will be declared righteous by observing the Law of Moses. Notice again that the emphasis is on righteousness (“justified”), not on escaping Hell and going to Heaven to live forever.
If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! (Galatians 2:17)
Although the verse above is abstruse, I think Paul is saying if we continue in sin while seeking to be justified in Christ, it would appear to a devout Jew that Christ promotes sin.
If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:18)
Putting verses 17 and 18 together it sounds as though Paul is explaining that if he, having received Christ, were to turn back into sin, he would prove to Peter and the rest that he indeed was a breaker of the Law of Moses. Again, it would appear to the Jews that Christ promotes sin.
The extremely difficult question here is: if we no longer are under the Law of Moses, how are we to regard sin? How do we know what sin is if we no longer are under the Ten Commandments? I would venture that this question has not been answered satisfactorily throughout the Christian Era. It certainly does not seem to be treated clearly today, as we see so many Christ under the impression that they are keeping the Ten Commandments by going to church on Sunday.
For through the law I died to the law so I might live for God. (Galatians 2:19)
The Law of Moses brings us all to death. We cannot obey its injunctions. It is this agent of threat that brings us to Christ, who is the end product of the Law, we might say. We flee from the Law into the arms of Jesus Christ. I think this is what Paul meant by saying “through the Law I died to the law.”
The next verse is tremendously informative and significant. Paul is now going to explain how we can be freed from the Law of Moses and still not be sinners.
Notice carefully that Paul does not claim since we have accepted Christ we can forget about the moral commandments of the Law. Paul does not set us free from the Law so we can behave as we please without jeopardizing our relationship with God. He does not stress an imputed, ascribed righteousness. He does not maintain we will escape Hell and obtain eternal residence in Heaven by believing Christ died for our sins; by proclaiming Him as Lord; by believing God raised Him from the dead.
Here is Paul’s answer to Peter and the other Jews as to how one can abandon the Law of Moses and yet be righteous in God’s sight.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
“I have been crucified with Christ.” Not I have believed in Christ; I have been crucified with Christ. Quite a difference!
“I no longer live.” The old Paul no longer is bound by Moses because Paul has died with Christ on the cross.
“Christ lives in me.” Not I can forget about Moses and just believe the facts pertaining to Christ. Christ is living in me. He actually is living in me. The righteous One is living in me. This is how God deals with sin under the new covenant.
“The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” How do we live by faith in the Son of God? By continually interacting with the living Jesus, with His crucifixion and resurrection; by obeying Him in every instance until we become a new righteous creation in His image.
Can you see how totally different this is from the current idea that if we believe the facts concerning Christ we will escape Hell and go to Heaven? In the first place, the goal is not that of going to Heaven but of becoming a new righteous creation so we can have fellowship with God and perform the Kingdom roles that were created for us to fulfill.
We have to obey Christ and His Apostles. As we do, Christ comes to maturity in us. Then we shun sin and live righteously because of the Divine Nature in us. This is how the new covenant deals with sin, whereas the Law of Moses announces what sin is but does not provide the means of conquering the sin.
The difference between the old covenant and the new covenant is not that under the new covenant we have been forgiven. The difference is that under the new covenant we are able to gain total victory over worldliness, the lusts and passions of the flesh, and self-will. This is why the new covenant is superior to the old.
Paul had more to say about faith, in the following verses:
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8,9)
“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”
The Jews Paul was arguing against were seeking to be righteous by keeping the various rules and restrictions of the Law of Moses. I don’t know if they hoped, by being righteous, to escape Hell and go to Heaven. If this was the case there certainly are not many statements to this effect in the Old Testament. It seems to me they wanted to be righteous in order to please God, and so they might prosper in a material sense.
In any case, the goal was righteousness, and Paul was seeking to obtain righteousness by exercising faith in Christ.
Right here is where our definition of faith becomes critically important. If we define faith as our belief in the facts concerning Christ, His atoning death and triumphant resurrection, then Paul is maintaining that he wanted the righteousness that proceeds from such belief and not the righteousness that proceeds from obeying the various injunctions of the Law of Moses.
If such is the case the verses that follow in Philippians should support this viewpoint.
But if we define faith as an enduring belief and trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God, always expressed in a continual interaction with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and daily obedience to Christ, resulting in a new creation in His image, then the verses that follow in Philippians should support this viewpoint.
Let us then examine the following verses to determine how Paul defines faith in Christ. Is true faith in Christ a static belief system, or is it a manner of life. Does the saying “the righteous shall live by faith” refer to a belief system or to the way in which we live?
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10,11)
“I want to know Christ.” Didn’t Paul know Christ by this time?
“I want to know the power of His resurrection.” Are we referring here to a belief system or to a way in which we live?
“I want to experience the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” Can you imagine a typical Evangelical believer in America defining faith as a desire to suffer as Christ suffered?” Perhaps some do, and probably quite a few Catholics also. But probably not the majority of us.
“I want to become like Him in His death.” Faith, under the new covenant, is always expressed in a continual interaction with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I have never heard the above verse preached. Why is it not preached very often? Because we do not know what it means. Why do we not know what it means? Because we do not understand the plan of salvation.
The resurrection mentioned here is the resurrection that will take place when the Lord returns. This resurrection must be attained to, or arrived at, by means of a daily pressing forward in Christ. It is not that we attain the resurrection of the body in advance of the return of the Lord, it means we must arrive at the resurrection of our inward nature in preparation for the resurrection of our outward form.
Unless there is a mighty move of God in America in which the believers begin to live as true disciples of the Lord Jesus, there are not many Americans of our day who will be raised when the Lord appears.
If the American believers are going to be raised and glorified in their carnality and self-seeking in spite of the clear statements of the New Testament, then all is confusion and we are in a moral no man’s land.
But the Word of God is not rendered void by our ignorance and unbelief. If there is only one believer who is living in continual interaction with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and who is obeying Him implicitly, then only that person will be resurrected, glorified, and caught up to be with Christ forever.
God will not be mocked! He is never impressed by numbers of people. If you stop to think about it, our guidance from the Old Testament does not come, for the most part, from the Israelites as a nation but from remarkable individuals who often stood against their fellow Israelites.
Paul wants to be saved by faith in Christ instead of by obeying the injunctions of the Law of Moses. By faith in Christ Paul means pressing every day into the death and resurrection of Christ. This is what living by faith means. We must forget all that is behind and press, press, press toward the goal. The goal is perfect conformation to the image of Christ, and perfect, untroubled rest in the very center of God’s Person and will.
But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:38,39)
It is he who endures to the end who will be saved. This means salvation is not only past and present, but also future. We are not to “shrink back” when we encounter the various tribulations by which we enter the Kingdom of God. We must press forward. “No individual having put his hand to the plow is fit for the Kingdom of God.” If we shrink back we shall be destroyed.
Our belief in Jesus Christ is vastly more than a mental position. It is our interpretation of the meaning of life. Either we believe in Jesus to the point that each day we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or else our belief is merely a mental acceptance of theological facts.
To live in Christ means to seek His counsel in every decision we make during each day. It is to live in Him and by Him as He lives in and by the Father.
What is sin? Sin is the behavior of spirits that are in conflict with God’s holy Nature. Sin is described throughout the Bible, not counting the special, covenantal directives of the Law of Moses. The Apostle Paul, in several passages, clearly describes sinful behavior. When we are following the Holy Spirit closely He continually uses the Scriptures, or Christian teaching, or our conscience, to warn us concerning the aspects of our personality and behavior that are in conflict with God’s holy Nature or His will for our life.
What is faith? Faith is an enduring belief and trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Under the new covenant, faith always is expressed in our continuing interaction with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and daily obedience to Christ, resulting in a new creation in His image.
It is easy to see how a true definition of sin and a true definition of faith work together to product the new creation. As we interact continually with the living Christ, the Holy Spirit makes us aware of what we are doing that is sinful. Then we are to confess such behavior to the Lord, denounce it as evil, resolve never to have anything more to do with it, receive our forgiveness, and then resist the behavior in the future.
If we are not interacting continually with the death and resurrection of Christ, then the program of deliverance from sin (the program of redemption) will not operate. We remain a spiritual infant, not being able to distinguish between good and evil. This is the plight of so many believers in our day.
The Christian Church has wandered in doctrinal confusion long enough. It is time to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts!
(“Belief and Faith”, 4337-1)