The Examination Of Faith
The immature handwriting looped and spread across the page. It’s uncertain forms seemed to betray the feelings of the writer; a teen-ager in trouble. “I don’t know whether I believed the right way… perhaps I don’t have the right kind of faith …” I fingered the pages of the letter that had just arrived. It was virtually a cry for help.
Another day, another letter, but this time the straight firm handwriting posed a different problem. A mature believer this time had written. “I wonder if we have enough faith…”
These letters made me think. “faith”, what is it? What does it actually do? What is it like? Obviously some were having trouble in the realm of their faith. Haven’t most Christians been assailed right there at some time in their lives? How many have experienced the siftings of Satan and their faith has well nigh failed? Who can tell how much we owe to the intercession of our Great High Priest, “… but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not”?
Many are the distressed and discouraged these days, whose greatest difficulty is not so much the circumstance in which they find themselves, but rather, their view of that circumstance and the resulting attitudes and actions.
Faith, so often misunderstood, so often misinterpreted, so often attacked, how can it be defined? What does it do? How can it be described? A clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this vital subject would deliver many of us from fears and insecurities and no doubt assist us in lives of more vital impact in the generation in which we are called to live.
Here then are three questions for which we shall seek an answer from the Scriptures. What is Faith? or The Definition of Faith. What does Faith do? or The Application of Faith. What is Faith Like? or The Description of Faith.
The Definition of Faith
In Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1, there is one definition given to us: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We see two main thoughts here, The realm of faith and the elements of faith.
When we read of faith in the Bible, it is of course implicit that this is faith exercised in God, and not just an abstract idea. God gave the capacity for sight, but we must do the seeing. He gave the capacity to hear, but we must do the listening. So too, He gave all the capacity for faith, but we must do the believing, and we are to believe in God. However we will at one point consider it in the general sense, of the ability to believe. Perhaps this distinction might be conveyed by the difference between the words, “faith” and “the faith”.
The realm of faith is two-fold. It operates in the realm of “things hoped for”. That is, in that area of things, at present inaccessible. For instance, the Lord’s return, is at the moment of writing, beyond our experience, yet it is the great hope of the Church and this hope has impelled, inspired and comforted the Church down the centuries.
The joys of Heaven too are, experientially beyond our reach at this moment of mortality. Rest, release and the reunion of loved ones long gone, cannot at the moment be enjoyed. Yet who can deny the tremendous comfort, especially to the weary which comes by hope of these very joys. One writer puts it… “A veritable pre-libation from the River of Life.”
Faith operates too, in the realm of the things “not seen” or the invisible. There are things invisible now by reason of time,. History has carried the visible impressions of things long past, out into the reaches of space far beyond the scope of physical sight or technical recovery.
The actual sight of the Lonely Man, nailed to a rough cross, crowning the skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem, though still transported on the ether waves, two thousand light years into the vaults of space, cannot be received now by these eyes of ours. Yet every Lord’s Day, and in every land, and indeed every day, faith leaps the calendar, spans the milleniums and sings, “See from His Head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown.”
There are things invisible too by reason of place. The limitations of visible sight become all too apparent with the onset of age. A few moments travel carries loved ones beyond our view. The Man once slain and buried was raised and is at this moment located at the right hand of the Majesty of God, too far above for us to look upon. Faith soars above the constellations and leaves the slow wheeling galaxies to their silent corners of the universe. Faith enters the throne room, finds grace to help in time of need.
Lack of the proper sensory equipment too, renders much invisible. Right in the room where I now sit are the pulsations of a myriad impressions. All that I need to make them visible is a piece of electronic equipment, a source of electric power and the ability to switch it on, and there would appear men reading the news, theatricals, documentaries or whatever may be transmitted to the machine. Not having this, these things cannot be visible.
Faith is that sensory equipment that brings into focus the things which God has transmitted to us. Faith can make it possible for a Moses to see “Him who is invisible.”
It would seem however that most difficulties in the realm of faith come about by having only a hazy appreciation of the elements of faith. Not a few of God’s people have been thrown into doubts of their security because of fine distinctions being made between “believing in” and “believing on” or “by faith” and “through faith”.
The elements of faith are threefold. There is an intellectual element. That is, faith as an exercise of the mind. This is faith as distinct from reason and might be expressed by the Scripture in Hebrews 11:3. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Here, faith receives the facts and accepts them intellectually as being accurate apart from the processes of reasoning or logic.
There is the emotional element of faith. That is, faith as an attitude of the heart. This is faith as distinct from works and could be expressed by the truth in Romans 10:9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart…” This is a step further than the intellectual appreciation of the fact. We say, “Christ died” here is the fact, believed. But when we go on to say, “Christ died… for me,” then I become emotionally involved in the death of Christ. I relate myself in some way to that death.
Thirdly, faith has a volitional element. That is faith as distinct from sight and might well be expressed in the words of 1 Peter 1:8: “Whom having not seen, ye love…” This is the “step” of faith which closes off the triangle. Now we not only receive intellectually the fact and find ourselves personally involved, but we move volitionally and say in effect,
“Jesus, I will trust Thee
Trust Thee with my soul.”
So then we can see that it is not a case of having “the right kind of faith” but rather it is completing the process of faith by an act of the will.
The Lord, knowing full well the differences in all our personalities (He made us), presents the gospel in ways that can appeal to all. To one it is “come,” to another “open,” to yet another “receive,” and so on. But whether we came, opened, or received, is not the vital thing; it is the act of the will involved. This is the volitional aspect of faith, and is virtually the act of “obeying the gospel”.