Part 3 of a four-part series. That which is “dead” is inert, inoperative, and lifeless.
“So Faith by itself, if it has no works, is Dead.” (James 2:17, 20. 26)
“Repentance from Dead Works, and faith towards God.” (Heb.6:1)
Both of these verses are well known, and provide us with the foundation of this third article. Suffice it to say that the writer to the Hebrews is speaking about works, actions, desires, etc., that precede New Birth. These are referred to as dead works simply because our lives in the flesh are of no consequence in the sight of God, because He has written off our Adam Nature, and insists that to be righteous in His sight we “put on the new man created in the image of God.” (Col.3:10) We are content to leave the subject of “dead works” there, knowing that when the “books are opened” God will justly judge all those who have not been born again “by their works.” The story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 impinges on this topic as well.
A few definitions would not be out of place in our investigation about Faith, and these may be gained from a good Greek Lexicon, such as Arndt & Gingrich, which I find helpful. J.B.Lightfoot, (1828-1889) Bishop of Durham, once said, “I buried my head in a Lexicon and arose in the presence of God!” Have you ever known that experience? Perhaps I wouldn’t put it quite so dramatically, but I think I understand what he was getting at. So often the Lexicon can enhance the flavour of words, and make New Testament Greek come alive in a new way.
Take these two words – faith, and belief. Think how they are used today, based on centuries of religious thought and writing. What comes to mind when these words are mentioned? We all have preconceived ideas, and use the words within our own limited understandings. But here is what I found in the Lexicon.
PISTEUO. Verb. I believe. I am convinced of the accuracy of something. I have confidence in the words of God and of Christ in the Bible, and act on them. I have found something to be trustworthy, and worthy of further attention and action.
PISTIS. Noun. Faith. trust, confidence, faithfulness, loyalty, “the assurance of what we hope for, and the proving (orconviction about) what we cannot see.” (Heb.11:1) That which we read in the Bible, and which is laid upon us, we must do if the Faith is to become operative, living, and effective.
PISTOS. Adjective. Trustworthy, dependable, faithful, loyal. Christ is a “faithful High Priest”. He is trustworthy, dependable. (Heb.2:17)
The italicised words provide a wider spectrum of understanding, and enable us to obtain a deeper knowledge of this important subject – FAITH. However, I have no desire to write a “theological essay” on the subject, but rather to remain practical.
Paul tells us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom.10:17) And in Hebrews we read that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb.11:6) Notice how important the subject of faith is. To many Christians such bold statements can create fear and dread. They say, “But I have never heard God speak tome. Does that mean I have no faith? Does that mean God is not pleased with me at all?” Good questions, needing to be answered. How then does one “hear God speak”? This is where we enter upon the practical side of this subject.
Think for a moment about the animal kingdom of MAMMALS. As the name suggests, they are creatures who suckle their young. Human babies are fed at their mother’s breast, and so are many animals such as cats and dogs, tigers and lions, guinea pigs and mice. But there are other mammals that possess quite different modes of feeding their young. Take for example the duck-billed platypus. Yes, it’s a mammal, even though it lays eggs. When the young hatch they suck milk from the hairs on the female’s chest, rather than from nipples. Then there’s the kangaroo. Thefoetus moves from the mother’s womb after only 12 days, and is hardly an inch long, blind and naked. It crawls along the stomach hairs into a pouch, where it suckles continuously for six months before emerging as a Joey.
I mention these examples, because I want to show that there are numerous ways by which the New Born believer may receive the “sincere milk of the word”. (1 Peter 2:2) Let’s have a few examples.
Have you ever had a strong desire to read a certain book, and find that after reading it you say, “No wonder I had to read that. It answers all those horrid questions that have been nagging away at me recently.” Have you given God the glory for putting that strong desire within you? If not, then you have failed to understand this method by which God speaks to you.
Have you woken in the middle of the night, only to find a relative, or a friend, coming strongly to mind, which causes you to pray for them. Later the next day, or perhaps a few days later, you receive news showing the plight they were in, and their need of prayer. Have you thanked the Lord for putting that pressure upon you? You were hearing the word of the Lord. Of course, there were no actual words, but the communication was as real as if God had uttered the words. So what’s the difference?
Have you been reading the Bible, only to find that certain words, or verses, seem to stand out, which cause you to act on them as a result, saying that they were just what you needed at that moment. Have you thanked the Lord for speaking to you? This time it was by the written word, and the Holy Spirit “highlighted” the verses just for you.
Have you gone to bed praying that God will undertake for you in that difficult task you will meet tomorrow? Have you woken up in the morning sensing a certain strength, and an approach to the day that will carry you through. King David had this experience, and spoke about it, saying that God had “instructed [him] in the night seasons.”(Psalm 16:7) Now this could have been through a dream, but not always. You may not even realise how it came about, but you are sure that you woke up refreshed and equipped for the day’s problems. Have you thanked God forspeaking to your sleeping mind during the night?
Many years ago two men were walking together in the streets of London. One was a mature Christian, the other a mocker. “Your God never laughs!” he said. “He’s a miserable bloke always pointing out man’s sin. He has no sense of humour.” At that moment they passed a church, and heard through the open door a man’s voice. A service was in progress, and the minister was speaking from the pulpit. The Christian urged his friend inside, where the minister was reading from Psalm 2. “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. He shall have them in derision.” The mocker ate his words, sat down in the pew and cried tears of repentance. This was a divine coincidence, a miracle, engineered by God for that man. God had spoken through the minister, who was totally unaware that he was being used as God’s mouthpiece. This is a true story. How important it is that “the words of my mouth be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord.” (Psalm 19:14) “The wholesome tongue is as a tree of life.” (Prov.15:4) Yes, we can impart God’s word to others without even realising it. But do we prefer to engage in endless chatter? What a responsibility.
There are basically two types of faith, which I would classify as CONTINUOUS FAITH (or EVERYDAY FAITH) and PARTICULAR FAITH (or SPECIAL FAITH.) The Continuous faith is the type that exists in a believer’s life as a result of his New Birth. He is a New Creature, and begins to walk in accordance with God’s Word in the Bible. This is an on-going process, hence we can call it continuous. It is the everyday walk of faith.
But there is another type of faith, which we have called Particular, or Special. In the examples mentioned above, they all partake of this special character. They are one-off happenings, and are events scattered along the time line of our everyday faith.
During the years I was teaching in Hong Kong we were living in Government quarters, which in our case was a second-floor apartment. On a particular day there had been about 12 inches of rain from a typhoon, and there was quite a bit of flooding. Around our apartment, on the outside wall, there was a voluminous storm drain which had become blocked by a child’s ball stuck in the down pipe. It needed attention pretty rapidly, and there was no one available to attend to it. I looked at the drain and felt quite unable to clamber along the precarious ledge to where the blockage existed. But suddenly I heard the Lord speak to me. “You can do it! I will uphold you.” Still fearful, I set off, a step at a time, right round to where the obstruction lay, removed it, and watched the water rush down the pipe. Getting back was no easier, but I managed it, and thanked the Lord. I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience. I have gained no courage from it. But if someone had attempted this task and overcome their fear in their own way, it could have generated pride, but when the Lord specifies such an action there can be no pride involved.
I want to ask a question here. What was gained through this experience? It affected hardly anyone else. Apart from the fact that I was upheld in safety by God’s dependable hand, I can only suppose that in the unseen realms, something may have been overcome as a result. In fact I believe that in all cases of actions, and works, resulting from faith, God’s pleasure is registered when He sees it working His purposes in heaven. After all, this was Jesus’ teaching about the man who built his house upon the rock.
So yes, in this case I actually heard God speak. How is it that I am able? Let me tell you another tale. Back in the post-war years in London two men were walking down Oxford Street. Many of the big stores had been bombed during the Battle of Britain, and the sites had been fenced off until new buildings could be erected. As they passed one of these sites, one of the men pulled his friend over to the fence. “Look there!” he said. “Can you see it? It’s a cricket” His friend saw it, but was amazed. “How on earth did you know it was there?” “I heard its call.” “How could you possibly hear it with all the traffic noise?” “I’m an entomologist. I have a trained ear.” A true story, related to us by Edgar Trout of Plymouth in 1967.
Here’s the point. We all need to learn how to hear God speak. The initial examples I gave were of the sort that many people could pass them over without appreciating that God was speaking. But to hear the actual words of the Lord, it is essential to have “a trained ear.” Brother Lawrence (1610 – 1691) spoke about this in his little booklet entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God.” When he entered the Carmelite monastery he couldn’t hear God speak, but he waited upon the Lord, not just praying, saying Amen, and leaving it that, but waiting and listening. Gradually the “still small voice” was heard, and as his ability grew, his trained ear was so susceptible to God’s voice that he could hear it over the clatter of the pots and pans in the kitchen where he worked. Perhaps this is not for everyone, but it does tell a tale, and perhaps someone reading these lines might be encouraged to follow Brother Lawrence’s example.
Pastor Thompson, who was the minister of the Elim Church in Reading in 1967, told us that a lady in the congregation occasionally had a word of prophecy. When she received it, she said that it was written in words of fire in front of her closed eyes. I’ve never heard of anything like this since, but it goes to show how greatly varied are the ways in which God speaks to us.
Finally, let’s take a look at the “Gift of Faith”, mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor.12:9. Here is something “exotic” by comparison with all the usual items of faith that most of us have. The Gift of Faith is a divine ability to work miracles over and above the normal endowment which most of us have. Smith Wigglesworth, the Yorkshire plumber, (1859 – 1947) was one to whom God gave this remarkable gift, and there are several books written, some by Smith himself, some by others, describing what his special life of faith was like. Two of the books he wrote are entitled “Ever Increasing Faith”, and “Faith that Prevails.” From my own reading I would have but one hesitation – he expected his gift to be more widespread amongst believers, rather than a special gift given only on special occasions to selected believers.
It is a common tendency for us to emulate another’s faith when reading about the amazing healings they were able to bring from the Throne of Grace. Rosalind and I were two such in 1967, and we had to learn that it was not God’s will for us. The Lord Jesus did say that some would be able to do great works, even greater than He did Himself, but so far as we know this has never yet transpired. The Apostle Paul had a season of remarkable power, but it didn’t last. Perhaps it would have destroyed him through pride. The Lord certainly didn’t want that.
And so to sum up. In all the examples we have given there has been divine communication, and it was followed byaction. James said, “Be doers of the word, not just hearers.” (James 1:27) If I had proclaimed to brethren the word of the Lord about the storm drain, saying how wonderful it was to hear God speak, and yet never put it into practice, it would have been a mockery. God would have wasted His words on me. Furthermore, I would have insulted Him. Certainly no good thing could have been achieved in heaven as a result. That is the whole point of this writing. Did I have faith to receive God’s word? Yes. But if I hadn’t acted on it, that faith would have been dead.
But all actions based on faith achieve something good in the heavenlies. Such faith is living, active, and powerful in the battle of the ages against unseen foes. And above all, it brings God pleasure.