Recently, I had a discussion with a friend on the topic of faith. We discussed the relationships between religious paradigms, traditions, culture, knowledge, devotion, behavior, and faith. Near the end of the phone call, he suggested that I create a presentation on the properties of faith.
He was convinced that others would also enjoy investigating the different and sometimes confusing aspects of living by faith. Most Christians agree that faith is an important topic because the Bible teaches that salvation comes through faith! (Ephesians 2:8,9; Galatians 3:11) Therefore, I have prepared a three-part study for your consideration.
Let me make a statement for you to think about as we proceed: As strange as this may sound, it is often our desire for salvation that hinders our understanding about what faith is and is not. For example, biblical faith is not a form of self-deception. Some people have accepted the notion that God saves a person on the basis of personal conviction, that is, if a person believes with all his heart that he is saved, then he is saved.
The Bible does not teach that personal conviction determines eligibility for salvation. Salvation is not a ticket, a life insurance policy, or an intellectual belief that avoids Hell. When a sinner responds to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and totally surrenders himself to God's will (by becoming eager to go where God wants him to go, be who God wants him to be, and do as God directs him to do "go-be-do"), he immediately becomes an heir of salvation. Let me clarify, an heir does not have what is promised, but he has the promise.
God promises to give every heir of salvation eternal life at the Second Coming. Until the Second Coming, the issue that confronts the heirs of salvation each day is whether or not we are living by faith. Jesus told each of the seven churches (Revelation 2 and 3) that salvation will be given to overcomers at the Second Coming. He also told His followers, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mark 13:13)
Faith Saved Two-Thirds of the Angels
The relationship between faith and salvation is timeless and universal. Consider the role that faith played in Heaven before God created Earth. Lucifer and all of God's angels were happy and selfless before sin began. Everyone loved God, enjoyed His presence, lived in His house, and ate from His generous table.
Over time, Lucifer became jealous of Christ and unhappy with the Father. In an effort to convince the other angels, Lucifer skillfully framed God's policies and actions to made Him appear to be evil and unfair. Eventually, one-third of the angels believed Lucifer's lies, and when their contempt for God reached maturity, rebellion followed.
These angels "bought into" Lucifer's sophistry because they had the ability to reason, they had the power of choice, and they believed Lucifer was right and God was evil! There is only one way that a finite being can happily live in the presence of our infinite God. Because God's ways are not our ways, created beings have to blindly trust God's wisdom in all things.
We have to be patient with God's long-range plans and we have to be faithful and obedient even when it seems that God is absent or ignoring us. His time scale is eternal and our knowledge of His ways is limited, which means waiting on God can be very aggravating. Let's face it, "We want what we want." Consequently, our own impatience can lead to bitterness which can lead to rebellion. Fortunately, God understands.
Lucifer sought out his friends in this deception because he wanted their affection and loyalty, which should only belong to God. To redirect the faith and love which the angels had for God, Lucifer made up several lies and he used them to "reason" with the other angels. For example, Lucifer claimed that God was unfair because He had a law demanding that sinners must die.
Lucifer claimed this law was God's way of keeping everyone in line because the minute someone did something that God did not like, he would die. I believe Lucifer challenged the angels with a question that went something like this: "How can God claim that angels have the power of choice? The minute we exercise our choice and do something He doesn't like, we are condemned to die! This isn’t love! This is tyranny." What could the angels say?
All created beings are given the power of choice. What we choose to do with that "power" is up to us. We can choose to blindly trust in God or we can choose to do otherwise. If we believe God and trust Him unconditionally, we choose to believe that God sees us, understands our daily needs, hears every prayer, and deeply loves us.
We believe that God's wisdom is always present, working things out for the best possible result. Choosing to wait on God can be very trying (ask Abraham and Sarah) and choosing to maintain a nonnegotiable faith in God can be hard to do when we are suffering, irritated, worn out, distressed, or discouraged.
Living by faith can be very difficult at times.Two-thirds of the angels chose to believe that God was right and Lucifer was wrong. Their faith in God allowed them to remain in Heaven, and ultimately, all God's creation will see that the angels faith saved them from eternal death.
Faith in God means remaining confident about what He promises. Faith in God always produces a glorious result. (Romans 8:28) The result may not be what we wanted or expected, and in some cases, we may not live to see the result, but there will be a day of fulfillment beyond our expectations with rejoicing that cannot be contained.
Each time God fulfills His purposes, His children become wiser. God gives them spiritual insight to grasp a larger and more beautiful result than they could have ever asked for or imagined otherwise. Choosing to live by faith is difficult, but faith in God always results in exhilarating joy and when viewed in reverse, it always makes sense.
The Mirriam-Webster.com dictionary defines faith as:
1. a: allegiance to duty or a person, loyalty; b: (1) fidelity to one's promises, (2) sincerity of intentions
2. a: (1) belief and trust in and loyalty to God; (2) belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; b: (1) firm belief in something for which there is no proof; (2) complete trust
3. something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially a system of religious beliefs
The Bible mentions the word faith 247 times in the King James Version. Faith is mentioned so many times because I believe God wants us to understand the properties of faith. The Bible offers diverse examples showing many different dimensions to faith. This month and in the upcoming two newsletters, I have chosen topics that go in different directions to highlight some of the properties of faith.
Faith: Obeying a Direct Order from God
We need to examine faith within the context of obeying a direct order from God. Many people think that faith would be a lot easier to exercise if God plainly told us His will. If you have toyed with this idea, you might want to rethink it. Notice this verse: "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, italics mine)
Notice that Noah became an heir of the righteousness which comes through faith. We know that an heir is someone to whom something is promised. An heir does not have what is promised, but he has the promise. Noah did not receive eternal life because of his faith; rather, he became an heir of eternal life.
I need to clarify an important point regarding this. Thus far in human history, very few people have been "saved," that is, very few people have had eternal life bestowed upon them and taken to Heaven. For purposes of discussion, a "saved" person is someone who is not an heir of salvation.
A "saved" person is someone who is no longer subject to death (saved from the curse of sin). People in this category include Moses, Enoch, Elijah, and the twenty-four elders. The righteous dead remain heirs of salvation. They are "asleep" in their graves and will be resurrected at the Second Coming and at that time, given eternal life when they meet Jesus.
During the Great Tribulation, the whole world will receive a direct order. Everyone will be commanded to worship the Creator. (Revelation 14:7) Those willing to put their faith in God and obey this command will be persecuted by those who are unwilling to obey God. Living by faith is not easy, but everyone who chooses to live by faith becomes an heir of the righteousness that comes through faith.
To put Noah's experience with "a direct order" in perspective, I have written a short parable:
One day, as Noah was walking with the Lord, the Lord said, "My son, I am sick at heart with the way life on Earth is deteriorating. I have decided to destroy the whole Earth with water so deep that the highest mountains will be more than 20 feet under water. (Genesis 7:20) I have chosen you and your sons to build a big boat to save the faithful and the animals."
Noah asked, "My Lord, when will this happen?"
The Lord said, "One hundred-twenty years from now."
Noah was shocked. Stumbling for words, Noah gasped, "My Lord, it is true. The world is evil and violence is epidemic. How will this water appear?"
The Lord answered, "I will send torrents of water from the sky and squeeze the great aquifers below the surface of Earth. I will melt the ice stored on the mountains, as well as the ice frozen at the north and south poles. This planet will be totally covered with water just like it was before Creation week took place."
After walking along in thoughtful silence, Noah spoke, "My Lord, how big should the boat be?"
The Lord handed some blueprints to Noah and said, "The boat shall be 450 feet long. The construction of this boat would normally take 40 years, but it will take you 120 years because of persecution, ridicule, and extortion."
"Extortion? What do You mean?"
"Because you and your family will become the laughing stock of the world, hiring people to work on the boat will be very difficult. You will eventually have to pay five times the usual wage for laborers."
"How much will this project cost?"
"The boat could be built for about $25,000,000, but cost overruns, construction delays, and extortion will bring the total close to a $100,000,000."
Noah stammered, "My Lord! Nothing like this has ever been seen. Where do You want it built?"
"Build the boat at the crossroads. I want everyone on Earth to see this boat and observe its construction. I want people to inquire about it. This boat will be a symbol of My deep grief with mankind. This boat will testify that I intend to cleanse Earth with water, and it will also prove to be a vehicle of salvation for those willing to believe My Word."
Noah looked over the blueprints and responded, "My Lord, I am willing to do all that You ask. Through the power of Your Spirit and His guiding providence, I will build the boat, but may I ask how the boat will be financed? I do not have $100,000,000."
"Noah, you must go and sell everything you have to get the project started. You are to build a small temporary house near the site where the boat will be built. When the time comes to enter the boat, dismantle the house and put it in the boat. After the flood, you can remove the house and carry the pieces down the mountain.
It will be shelter for you and your family. As for funding the construction of the boat, I will impress the patriarchs, people like Methuselah and his family, to generously support this project, and there will be a number of saints who will not live long enough to see you enter the ark. They will also support you. You are not to worry about the money. It will come as needed. Your most frustrating challenge will be dealing with the malice of mankind."
The walk ended and Noah returned home. With the help of his believing family, Noah began selling his property. Noah's obedience demonstrated his faith, and his faith made him an heir of the righteousness which is necessary for salvation.
If we look closely at Hebrews 11, we find that Noah's faith was consistent with many other heirs. God commanded Cain and Abel to kill a lamb as a burnt offering. Abel killed a lamb; Cain did otherwise. God called Abraham to leave home and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Eventually, Abraham grew weary of waiting for the Lord to give him and Sarah a son. They let go of their faith in God and Abram had a son through Hagar. This greatly displeased the Lord. Ultimately, Abraham renewed his faith in God's promise and Sarah brought forth the promised son when she was 90 years old.
Earlier, I mentioned that an heir does not have what is promised, an heir only has the promise. Look at this verse: "All these people were still living by faith when they died [Noah, Abel, Abraham, etc.]. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. . . ." (Hebrews 11:13, insertion mine)
I believe the stories of faith in Hebrews 11 have something to do with salvation, but not in the way that many people think. When a person lives by faith, he transitions from rebellion and intellectual ascent to having an attitude of humility toward God's great authority. This attitude is demonstrated by an eager willingness to go-be-do.
When we choose to have this submissive attitude, living by faith begins and we become an heir of the righteousness necessary for salvation. The righteousness of Jesus is given to everyone who lives by faith. His righteousness is the wedding garment that everyone needs in order to attend the coming banquet. (See Matthew 22:1-14.)