In Hebrews 11:6, Scripture states that it is impossible to please God without faith, for each of His children must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek after Him. The imperative is given as a simple statement; dazzling in its clarity and unambiguousness. Furthermore, it is succinct and straight-to-the-point. One could admire the verse for its elegance itself.
However, as Christians, we are called not just to appreciate the Bible for its literary and lexical properties but to accept its contents as facts of reality. Yet, though the requirements of faith may seem simple, it is also one of the areas that Christians struggle most. This is not something that we should mask, for we are also called to examine our lives and be honest with ourselves.
How many of us will have genuine faith when we are faced with extreme challenges? When we get news from the doctor of a terminal illness or the possible loss of a loved one? When we are faced with the real possibility of a job loss? When the wicked of the world seem to get away with everything while the innocent suffer?
It would seem that faith is more than just simply believing. Every Christian believes that God exists, that He is almighty and loving, and that He faithfully rewards those who diligently seek after Him. We wouldn’t be His followers otherwise. So what is the issue here?
Before I continue, let me confess that there are many times when I struggle with faith too. But the Bible speaks to us, and perhaps it would be good to look at the examples of faith found within it. This is not going to be a theological article, but rather, a pilgrimage, and by God’s grace, I too can learn something along the way.
Examples of Men and Women of Faith
If we take a look at the characters of the Bible, none stand out more for his faith than Abraham, and rightly so. The Bible describes him in Romans 4:11 as the father of those who have faith. Abraham wasn’t a perfect man; he came from a lineage of idolaters, and when the angel of God delivered the message of his wife Sarah’s pregnancy in her elderly years, he doubted. Before that, he had resorted to his own means for progeny and affected the lives of other people.
Yet Abraham was also a man who obeyed God without question. When God directed him to move from his country, Haran, into the land he had been promised, Abraham was an old man of 75 years. Furthermore, at the time, God did not specify where Abraham was to go. Many years later, when God tested him by directing him to make a sacrifice of his son Isaac, it must have been extremely difficult for him, and yet again he obeyed. There is much to learn from the life of Abraham.
But there are also numberless examples of simple faith at work. When Elijah requested the widow at Zarephath to prepare a meal for him out of what little she had left, in the promise that God would provide for her, she did as he requested (1 Kings 17). In Matthew 14:13-12, a young boy offered his food out of simple faith and Jesus utilized the offering to feed 5000. Matthew 8:5-13 is a noteworthy example of a roman centurion’s faith for his servant’s healing, and yet all he did was to believe in who Jesus was.
God can use simple faith to produce a miracle. Let’s look at one of the most famous example of what faith can bring into someone’s life. In Matthew 14:28-31, Peter walked on water. No human before that or since has ever done this. Though Jesus gently admonished Peter for his lack of faith, for a while, Peter’s faith empowered him to do the impossible.
What is Faith and What It Is Not
We have already established that faith is not simply a passive belief. It is an active element of the Christian’s life, and it saturates everything he is, sees, or does. It is a vigorous placing of hope in the Living God, going against the grain of everything that popular culture or our visual data may tell us. It is being committed to a faithful God. Above all, it is our true journey in life and beyond, walking with God and constantly being receptive to His voice.
Faith is also however not foolhardiness. Godly faith is always grounded in who He is, and the knowledge that He has empowered us with. We need His wisdom, and ‘faith’ without God in the picture is recklessness. Many times, people have mistaken their presumption for faith, often landing themselves into trouble, and sometimes falling away from God as a result. There are times when God will direct us to wait for His timing, and this also involves an element of faith. Peter did not walk out of the boat until Jesus gave the direction.
Faith is Intrinsically Tied to Obedience
Above all, faith is a response to God. It does not stand alone. In order to have faith, we must know, truly know, who God is. Faith cannot come without abiding in God for it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), exercised when people do in fact believe despite the grain and pressures of the world. It can only come from a relationship with God, in prayer and studying His word to us.
How do we grow in faith? We need to commune with God daily, and soak our minds and values through the counsel of His word. God has provided the capability, endowing us with wisdom and passion. He has provided a Church to us in which we can fellowship and encourage one another in spiritual growth. He has provided His counsel and guidance to us through His word. In particular, He has provided us with the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is also still with us today. He is the perfecter of our faith. Faith is not contrary to human reason but a reasonable response to God’s word expressed in creation and made personal in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). Faith is personal, and it requires an individual initiative, often requiring us to act upon our belief. Yet as we pass through the “challenge checkpoints” of our lives, we will discover that faith is God opening new horizons for us (Hebrews 11:3).
Ultimately faith is an act of intimate submission to God. This is what it means to truly believe that He exists and of His benevolent and loving nature to every individual who believe.
Interesting Features of Faith
So those are some simple characteristics of what faith is to me. It is an active element in the Christian’s life, it must be guided through God’s wisdom, it must be rooted in God and His word, it is primarily a response to God, and it is personal. There are of course more to faith, simply for the fact that it is so central to our identities as Christians, but these are good starting-points to act on.
Yet along the way we also discover some interesting characteristics of faith. Faith often requires us to only take small preliminary steps or with what little resource we have, but results in something huge and miraculous simply due to the power of an almighty God. Faith seems difficult, but as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord, and as He takes us pass the challenges, the truth in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:30 becomes more and more concrete. Faith seems like we need to initiate it but we find in the end that God was the initiator all along.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13:12:
12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
This is the power of faith.
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– Jason Law