Faith is a Bible word. Faith operates only between man and God. Mankind has come to use the word to describe all manner of things as any dictionary will show, but the true and only definition of Faith is found within the pages of the Bible. Because the Bible is the Christian’s “Source Book” it is there that we must go to find our definition, and it is best seen in four important statements, as follows –
- “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom.10:17
- “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” (Heb.11:1)
- “Without Faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb.11:6)
- “Faith without works is dead . . . . by works, Faith is made perfect.” (James 2:17,22)
Let us therefore take each of these statements in turn and find the full force of what they are conveying to us.
- “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Straightway we learn that Faith only comes by hearing God’s word, not man’s words. It is not possible to exercise faith in what we read in the newspapers, the politicians of the day, the man in the street, or even our own parents. Of course, we may learn to trust our parents, and act on their suggestions, but this does not constitute Faith. Often we accept man’s word, simply because it is part and parcel of the flow of life. But here again, it must not be confounded with Faith. Although Faith is similar in its working, it is quite distinct from human trust.
Faith comes by hearing the word of God. There are many ways in which we may hear God speaking to us. One does not need to be like the Old Testament prophets to hear the “word of God.” Every time we see the beauties of nature, we hear the word of God crying out to us that He is the Author, and calls for our response in praise. If we fail torecognise His handiwork, then Paul tells us we are “without excuse, for the invisible things of creation are understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Rom.1:20) All creation around us is shouting with a million voices that God is the Creator, and has made all things well. When our eyes see, and our ears hear, and our hearts respond, we have have truly heard the voice of God, and our praise and thanksgiving is our response to faith.
But God has Two Great Books. The Book of Nature is one, but the Bible is the other. Often people refer to the Bible as “God’s Word.” So it is, but as with nature, one can scan the pages and “see” nothing. However, God uses His Book very widely as men read. He speaks to us out of its pages. And if we accept and act on what we read, it is an action of faith. But this is at the first level of Faith. Sometimes the very words we read seem to “come to life”, almost as though a voice had spoken into our mind without audible sensation. This is a higher level of faith, because God has spoken to us in a very personal way, and if we take heed to what He has said, we have acted in Faith.
God speaks to us in many other ways, and it is good to learn just how He communicates with mankind. Sometimes He speaks through a dream. However, we must beware of becoming like those who believe that every dream has this origin. Most dreams are sheer vanity and vexation of spirit. Somehow one learns to “sense” when a particular dream is “clean” and comes from God. Then God can speak to us through conversation with a Christian friend. The friend may not even appreciate that God is using him as a mouthpiece, but the “receiver” knows that something has happened, and goes on his way contemplating the “word.” God may speak to us through a sermon, or a talk, a Bible study group, through the words of a hymn, or a book that we are reading, where suddenly a passage seems to “come alive” to us. If we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open, we may find God speaking to us in so many different ways, but it takes patience and practice, otherwise when God speaks we are not sufficiently “tuned in” to recognise it.
But most important of all is the gradual learning to hear the “still small voice” of the Master. Prayer then becomes a dialogue, rather than a monologue. This takes time, as Brother Lawrence explained in his little book, “The practice of the presence of God.” Let me tell you a story about two men who were walking down Oxford Street one day near the end of World War 2. There were many others walking there, and much traffic noise. But the first man said, “Stop, I can hear a cricket singing.” The second man said, “How can you possibly hear that in the midst of all this noise?” The first man drew him over to the fence, where a bomb site remained from the Battle of Britain, and grass had grown. “There it is” he said, and they both saw it. “You see, I have a trained ear,” said the first man, who was an entomologist. That is the whole point. We need to have a “trained ear.” Practice is needed as surely as the young child has to learn to speak, to read, and to write. Jesus referred to Himself as “the Good Shepherd.” Then He said that His sheep “hear His voice.” (See John 10:3,27) He was not suggesting that a favoured few of His sheeprecognised His voice, but obviously the whole flock. Sadly many churches do not teach and train the congregations to hear God speak. This is the way in which God provides personal guidance through the pilgrim pathway in life.
We have seen that Faith comes by hearing. What does this mean? Where does it come from? What is it that comes? The truth is that the spiritual ability of man is initially at a very low ebb, but when the word of God is received, it produces a change within us. The word of God is alive. It has a hidden power of its own. It brings us the ability to believe and make intelligent responses to God. Jesus said to the Devil in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:4) God’s words are like food. When we partake of natural food, we are nourished, and obtain energy. So it is with God’s spoken word. We receive spiritual energy, enabling us to grow stronger in the realm of faith. The Apostle Paul tells us that faith exists on various levels, and may even be given as a special gift of the Holy Spirit, but in all cases it is a living function, and causes us to grow as surely as the fruit grows on trees. (See 1 Cor.12:9 and Gal.5:22)
- “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” When we first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, did we see anything different with our human eyes? No, of course not. But we believed all the same, and we knew that inwardly God had performed an act of spiritual re-birth. Our faith is the foundation stone of this, the inward conviction that God has honoured His word, and made us “new creatures in Christ.” The world always wants visible proof of everything, but the Christian has an invisible proof of a type that cannot be explained to the world, but is nevertheless just as real and definite. The Christian walk is a walk of faith, of hearing God speak to us, and acting accordingly. The world doesn’t understand how this works, and despises and rejects the testimony of those who declare they are walking by faith. As the word says, faith is the evidence of “things unseen,” and the world is not very interested in unseen things. They like their five senses to be the guide to what is real and true. However, just occasionally the power of unseen energy is transmitted across the dimensional barrier, and displays itself in the visible world, as when a person is miraculously healed. Even then the world often tries to account for it in some other way. But those who believe rejoice in the outworking of faith.
- “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” In John 5:19 we find Jesus saying, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do.” His whole life was one continual act of faith. None of us can match such a peerless record, but we are enjoined nevertheless to act in faith because only in this way can we please God. One wonders just how much of what transpires in Christendom is generated by faith. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) None of us can give a definitive answer to that question, but the very way in which it was posed does suggest a great falling away from true faith-practice. Those who never learn to hear God speak, and never learn to act in faith, give God no pleasure at all. How many times have men given talks and sermons, and although these may be full of interesting information, there has been no single word from the Throne? Human scholarship, theological degrees, and much learning can be wholly lacking in what God requires, if such men rely only upon their academic expertise. But when a man has prayed, and received a word from the Lord before he speaks, then life flows to his hearers, and generates faith, and it gives God pleasure.
- “Faith without works is dead . . .by works is faith perfected.” The whole of Hebrews chapter 11 is a catalogue of those who heard God speak, and put it into action. James tells us that faith is “perfected” by our works. Jesus said that those who heard His word and acted on it, were like men who built their houses on rock. It is sadly possible to hear God speak, and take a lively interest in what He says, write it down, keep it in a journal, but never do anything about it. That would not have served Noah very well. If he had not set to, and constructed a Ark, he would have suffered the same fate as those left outside when the Flood came. Likewise, according to Jesus’ parable, the man who hears but doesn’t obey, and builds his house on sand, finds when the test comes that his house is washed away. Rock-built houses, and Sand-built houses both look safe and secure enough in fair weather, but when the storms of testing come, only one remains standing. This is the point of James’ remarks. It is not good enough just to hear God speak, even though that is a great privilege. God expects us both to hear and to obey. Only under such conditions can there be a “perfecting” of our faith.
One final word of caution. The “works” mentioned here by James are only those that depend upon the spoken word of God. They are not all the multifarious works that are carried out by Christians regardless of the Divine initiative. Man may perform many apparently splendid religious works, for which he may be highly praised by his fellows, but if God has not been the sponsor, they have nothing to do with faith. And if there has been no faith, God has received no pleasure. These words may seem to be a strong judgment, but are only the true evaluation of what God has clearly stated. Either we accept it, and act on it, or reject it, and try to work the Christian life in our own strength, under our own steam.