Last month, we investigated the difficult topic of what determines whether we are living with intellectual assent or genuine faith in God. We discussed how our behavior reveals who we truly are and what we truly believe. Faith renders obedience at all times in all circumstances. In contrast, intellectual assent excuses transgression.
When a person lives up to all that he knows to be right and true, he is living by faith. Obedience and faith are inseparable. God sees the motives of our hearts and minds. He clearly sees each transgression when there is a separation between knowledge and behavior. As we continue, the last two segments will highlight different properties of faith:
Faith That Overcomes Fear
We could describe faith in God as a form of heroism. An ordinary person becomes a hero when he willingly risks his own life to save another life. Heros are exalted because their actions are an expression of supreme love. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
From God’s perspective, living by faith is a heroic act because a faithful person puts God’s will above his own. A person reveals his faith in God when he faces threatening situations and chooses to do right in God’s sight without regard for the consequences.
This may sound strange, but faith is not detected on "easy street." In fact, a person’s faith and true character are not revealed until he or she is tested which is why He designed a testing time for everyone during the Great Tribulation. Jesus spoke to His faith-full believers at Philadelphia saying, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from [during] the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the Earth." (Revelation 3:10, emphasis and insertion mine)
Faith and character are often hidden from view until they are tested. One way faith in God grows is through personal study and prayer. Similarly, character grows from test to test. As we study the Bible, the curtain is pulled back to reveal the successes and failures of people in the past. Even more importantly, God reveals His involvement and response.
God sees everything. In fact, the phrase "the eyes of the Lord" is mentioned 88 times in the Bible. "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (1 Chronicles 16:9, italics mine)
Jesus taught that faith in God is not measured by size because it can be as tiny as a mustard seed and still move mountains! (Matthew 17:20) Faith in God is a choice. We demonstrate our choices with each challenge that comes our way. When confronted with a test, those who live by faith grasp the Promises and Providences of God, and through His strength, they overcome their fear. For example, consider the actions of King Jehoshaphat:
"After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea.’ . . . Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.
"The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. . . [The king offered prayer and he concluded saying: ] For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.’
"All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah . . . . He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
" ‘Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you. . .’
"After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated." (2 Chronicles 20:1-22 )
The faith of one man inspired a whole nation to have faith in God! To demonstrate his faith in what God could do, King Jehosophat placed an unarmed choir at the head of the army. As the column marched toward the enemy, they sang praises to God who had promised victory. What finer words could be used to end the story, "and they [the enemy] were defeated"? Blessed is the person who gains victory over fear through faith!
Total Surrender –- Even to Death
The most difficult dimension in faith is total surrender even to the point of death. Jesus gave us the perfect example of this kind of faith. A few hours before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed: " ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:42-44)
The Father did not remove the bitter cup that Jesus had to drink, but the Father did send an angel to strengthen Jesus.
Many people do not realize this, but when it comes to prayer, God may not answer prayers in the way people anticipate due to three reasons:
1. Divine wisdom and foreknowledge:
- God sees tomorrow with the same clarity that He sees today. God always knows what is best. In many situations, we may pray for an outcome that would not be good for us (or others), so divine wisdom and love may prevent Him from answering our petition in the way we think is best. For example, what loving father would give the keys to the car to his ten year old son? Even human wisdom has to say "no" from time to time. So, when Jesus asked the Father to remove the bitter cup, the Father said "no" because the redemption of sinners required the death of a sinless sacrifice! Therefore, the Father sent an angel to strengthen Jesus so that He could fulfill His mission, even if it meant dying on the cross. Jesus lived a life of faith and He accepted His own death as the will of the Father. The faith of Jesus is astonishing.
2. Justice and fairness:
- God is love, His actions and policies are based on the principles of love, but He must be unquestionably fair. For example, God does not send miracles very often, but when He does, it is usually in a setting where He can accomplish several objectives at the same time. (Acts 14:3) For instance, millions of sick people worldwide pray for healing. It would not be fair for God to answer some petitions and ignore others. God does not cancel the laws of cause and effect, and He is not cancelling the curse of sin right now. However, He does the next best thing to help everyone which is to increase knowledge and give people the ability to help one another.
God loves everyone (Matthew 5:45) and He gives us a great deal of freedom which enables us to grow in knowledge and exercise our faith in Him. Of course, God knows tremendous injustice is occurring on Earth. God sees the suffering caused by predators, and believe me, He keeps records and He will deal with those who have hurt others and preyed on the vulnerability of the poor, sick, and elderly at a time He has chosen.
Of course, human beings want justice executed right away, but God has ordained that justice will be served after the drama with sin is over. He will deal with all of the wicked and be sure they receive the appropriate punishment for the sins they committed. Be assured, the wicked are heirs, too – only they will receive God’s wrath when the time is right. No crime will go unpunished.
3. The curse of sin:
- Until the curse is lifted, God must allow the consequences of sin to bring about sorrow, suffering, and death. God has ordained that the curse of sin will last long enough to accomplish His objectives and not one day longer.
Three reasons come to mind for allowing the curse of sin to exist for six millennia:
First, God foreknew that it would take 6,000 years to produce enough saints to "repopulate" Heaven. Right now, Heaven is two-thirds full. When redemption is accomplished, Heaven will be restored to three-thirds – a full house!
Second, God foreknew that it would take 6,000 years for the curse of sin to mature. Since God’s greatest problem is the prevention of a third episode with sin, He has allowed the consequences of sin to develop. God wants the knowledge of good and evil to be completely revealed.
Going forward through eternity, there will be no excuse for sin or rebellion. No one will be able to create lies or arguments against God’s character or government because the truth about God will have been demonstrated. No questions will remain about the supremacy of God’s government or the purity of His character.
Finally, at the end of sin’s drama, God will show the universe who Jesus really is. God will show the universe that Lucifer’s character changed and he became a liar and a murderer because of sin. God will show the universe that sin makes predators of every sinner – given time and opportunity.
God will show the universe the great price that was paid for the redemption of sinners. God will show the universe that He has perfect foreknowledge and even though He knows the end from the beginning, He will not treat His children according to His foreknowledge, but based on His love.
When God creates the new Heaven and the new Earth, He will replace it with something better than He had when He first created Heaven and Earth. Everyone living in His house will understand the horrific consequences of sin. The knowledge of good and evil will be complete as well as the knowledge of God’s purity and perfect love. What a really wonderful way to press the reset button and begin eternity all over again!
Knowing all this helps to understand why God turned down Jesus’ petition. Jesus prayed to escape Calvary, but the Father knew that the redemption of sinners required the death of a perfect sacrifice. His hands were tied by love for us ("For God so loved the world . . .") and His hands remain tied by the curse of sin. Do not be discouraged. Rejoice!
A day is coming when God will righteously annihilate the wicked and purify the universe of sin.
In these three issues of the Wake Up Report!, we have examined four dimensions of faith.
1. Obeying a direct order
2. Faith versus faith and intellectual assent versus faith
3. Faith overcoming fear
4. Total surrender
Each dimension has its own properties and challenges, but they all have one thing in common – choice. A life of faith begins when a person chooses to surrender his will to God’s will and live by faith. By choosing to live by faith, a person becomes an heir of the righteousness which is necessary for salvation.
None of us have escaped the curse of sin yet, but we do have the promise of salvation and that is good enough. Tests and trials come and go, strengthening our faith in God, and with every test and trial comes with commensurate grace from God. His grace is sufficient for any challenge when we surrender to His will.
Living by faith – there is nothing like it, yet nothing is more difficult and more exciting at the same time.