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Faith – the treatise

Faith – Defined

Heb 11:1  NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

Perhaps no other component of the Christian life is more important than faith. We cannot purchase it, sell it or give it to our friends. So what is faith and what role does faith play in the Christian life? The dictionary defines faith as “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.” It also defines faith as “belief in and devotion to God.”

Faith – The cornerstone of Christianity

Faith is so important that without it (faith) we have no place with God, and it is impossible to please Him (Heb 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out].)

We believe in God’s existence by faith. Most people have a vague, disjointed notion of who God is but lack the reverence necessary for His exalted position in their lives. These people lack the true faith needed to have an eternal relationship with the God who loves them.

God designed a way to distinguish between those who belong to Him and those who do not – faith.  God tells us that it pleases Him that we believe in Him even though we cannot see Him. A key point in Hebrews 11:6 states that “He rewards those who earnestly seek Him”.  This is not to say that we are to have faith in God just to get something from Him although God loves to bless those who are obedient and faithful.

We see a perfect example of this in Luke 7:50. Jesus is engaged in dialog with a sinful woman when He gives us a glimpse of why faith is so rewarding. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The woman believed in Jesus Christ by faith and He rewarded her for it. Finally, faith is what sustains us to the end, knowing by faith that we will be in heaven with God for all eternity. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Faith can fail us at times, but because it is the gift of God, given to His children, He provides times of trial and testing in order to prove that our faith is real and to sharpen and strengthen it. This is why James tells us to consider it “pure joy” because the testing of our faith produces perseverance and matures us, providing the evidence that our faith is real (James 1:2-4).

But how does faith affect your lives?  You get in the car and drive on faith. You do not know if you’re going to make it to your destination alive or not, but you go.  You have faith that the food you buy that is grown by strangers is not harmful, so you eat it.  You have faith that the doctors you see are competent. Therefore, you put yourself in their hands. You have faith that when you flick the light switch, the lights will come on.  If you did not have faith, if you did not trust others you would find it very difficult to drive, to eat, to get help in times of sickness, or to shed light on the darkness. Your life would be very difficult.

A Christian’s faith is very much like the faith we exhibit in daily life: Our faith in Christ is what allows us to live in Him, and Him through us.

The essentials of Christian faith

The essentials are those elements of our faith that we should rely upon and embrace as if our very lives depended upon them – for the truth is that, our lives (our eternal lives) truly do depend upon these foundations of our faith.

These essentials are the deity of Christ, salvation by God’s grace and not by works, salvation through Jesus Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel, monotheism and the holy Trinity.
The deity of Christ. Quite simply, Jesus is God. While Jesus never directly says, “I am God” in the Scriptures, He makes it very clear to those around Him, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, that He is God. John 10:30 says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus was claiming “deity” and, interestingly enough, He did not deny that He was God. Another example we find is located in John 20:28 when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” Again, Jesus does not correct Him by saying that He is not God. There are many other examples one can find in the Scriptures regarding Jesus’ rightful place in heaven.

Salvation by grace. We are all sinners separated from God and deserving of eternal punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of mankind, giving us access to heaven and an eternal relationship with God. God did not have to do this for us, but he loves us so much that He sacrificed His only son. This is grace and it is most definitely undeserved favor. Scripture tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor or gain access to heaven apart from His grace.

Salvation through Jesus Christ alone. A truly provocative question to ask someone might be “Do all roads lead to God?” The truth is that all roads do lead to God. Eventually, we are all going to stand before God when we die no matter what faith we are. It is there that we will be judged for what we have or have not done while we were alive and whether Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives. For the majority of people this will be a terrible occasion as most will not know Him or be known by Him. For these people, hell will be the final destination. But God in His mercy has provided all of us the only means for salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 tells us that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This passage speaks of the name of Jesus and His saving power. Another example is found in the book of John. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). No one gets into heaven except by faith in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf.

The Resurrection of Christ. Perhaps no other event in the Bible, aside from Jesus’ appearance here on earth and subsequent death on the cross, is as significant to the Christian faith as that of the resurrection. Why is this event significant? The answer lies in the fact that Jesus died and then after three days came back to life and rose again to reappear to His followers in bodily form. Jesus had already demonstrated His ability to resurrect others such as His friend, Lazarus. But now God the Father had resurrected Him to display His awesome power and glory. This amazing fact is what separates the Christian faith from all others. All other religions are based on works or a powerless deity or person. The leaders of all other religions die and remain dead. The Christian faith is based on Christ crucified and resurrected to life. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Lastly, to deny Christ’s bodily resurrection (John 2:19-21) is to deny that Jesus’ work here on earth was a satisfactory offering to God for the sins of mankind.

Monotheism. Quite simply, there is only one God. Exodus 20:3 states very powerfully, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God to be worshipped and served. “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me’” (Isaiah 43:10). Here we see that we are to “believe” and “understand” that God lives and is one. A Christian will know that there is only one God and His name is Yahweh. All other ‘gods’ are false and are no gods at all. “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).

The Holy Trinity. While the concept of a “three-in-one God” is not defined by a single verse or passage, it is described frequently throughout Scripture. If we look at Matthew 28:19 we see the verse calling out the trinity: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” While this verse mentions all three Persons of the triune God, it does not call them the Trinity. Therefore, to understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity we must look at the “totality” of Scripture and glean from it the very definition of it. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, we see how this comes together “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Again, we see all three being represented but not titled the Holy Trinity.

Faith – a work?

I mentioned justification by grace through faith alone, not of works. So one may ask if faith isn’t a ‘work’ – something we actually do to gain salvation.

Our salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ. He is our substitute, taking sin’s penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21); He is our Savior from sin (John 1:29); He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The work necessary to provide salvation was fully accomplished by Jesus Himself, who lived a perfect life, took God’s judgment for sin, and rose again from the dead (Hebrews 10:12).

The Bible is quite clear that our own works do not help merit salvation. We are saved “not because of righteous things we had done” (Titus 3:5). “Not by works” (Ephesians 2:9). “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). This means that offering sacrifices, keeping the commandments, going to church, being baptized, and other good deeds are incapable of saving anyone. No matter how “good” we are, we can never measure up to God’s standard of holiness (Romans 3:23; Matthew 19:17; Isaiah 64:6).

The Bible is just as clear that salvation is conditional; God does not save everyone. The one condition for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. Nearly 200 times in the New Testament, faith (or belief) is declared to be the sole condition for salvation (John 1:12; Acts 16:31).

One day, some people asked Jesus what they could do to please God: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus immediately points them to faith: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). So, the question is about God’s requirements (plural), and Jesus’ answer is that God’s requirement (singular) is that you believe in Him.

Grace is God’s giving us something we cannot earn or deserve. According to Romans 11:6, “works” of any kind destroys grace—the idea is that a worker earns payment, while the recipient of grace simply receives it, unearned. Since salvation is all of grace, it cannot be earned. Faith, therefore, is a non-work. Faith cannot truly be considered a “work,” or else it would destroy grace. (See also Romans 4—Abraham’s salvation was dependent on faith in God, as opposed to any work he performed.)

Suppose someone anonymously sent me a check for $1,000,000. The money is mine if I want it, but I still must endorse the check. In no way can signing my name be considered earning the million dollars—the endorsement is a non-work. I can never boast about becoming a millionaire through sheer effort or my own business savvy. No, the million dollars was simply a gift, and signing my name was the only way to receive it. Similarly, exercising faith is the only way to receive the generous gift of God, and faith cannot be considered a work worthy of the gift.

True faith cannot be considered a work because true faith involves a cessation of our works in the flesh. True faith has as its object Jesus and His work on our behalf (Matthew 11:28-29; Hebrews 4:10).

To take this a step further, true faith cannot be considered a work because even faith is a gift from God, not something we produce on our own. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Praise the Lord for His power to save and for His grace to make salvation a reality!

Faith alone

Sola fide which means ‘faith alone’ is important because it is one of the distinguishing characteristics or key points that separate the true biblical Gospel from false gospels. At stake is the very Gospel itself and it is therefore a matter of eternal life or death. Getting the Gospel right is of such importance that the Apostle Paul would write in Galatians 1:9: “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Paul was addressing the same question that Sola fide addresses—on what basis is man declared by God to be justified? Is it by faith alone or by faith combined with works? Paul makes it clear in Galatians and Romans that man is “justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law” (Galatians 2:16) and the rest of the Bible concurs.

Sola fide is one of the five solas that came to define and summarize the key issues of the Protestant Reformation. Each of these Latin phrases represents a key area of doctrine that was an issue of contention between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church, and today they still serve to summarize key doctrines essential to the Gospel and to Christian life and practice. The Latin word sola means “alone” or “only” and the essential Christian doctrines represented by these five Latin phrases accurately summarize the biblical teaching on these crucial subjects: sola scriptura—Scripture alone, Sola fide—faith alone, sola gratia—grace alone, sola Christus—Christ alone, and sola Deo gloria—for the glory of God alone. Each one is vitally important and they are all closely tied together. Deviation from one will lead to error in another essential doctrine and the result will almost always be a false gospel which is powerless to save.

Sola fide or faith alone is a key point of difference between not only Protestants and Catholics but between biblical Christianity and almost all other religions and teachings. The teaching that we are declared righteous by God (justified) on the basis of our faith alone and not by works is a key doctrine of the Bible and a line that divides most cults from biblical Christianity. While most religions and cults teach men what works they must do to be saved, the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works, but by God’s grace through His gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Biblical Christianity is distinct from every other religion in that it is centered on what God has accomplished through Christ’s finished work, while all other religions are based on human achievement. If we abandon the doctrine of justification by faith, we abandon the only way of salvation. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). The Bible teaches that those that trust Jesus Christ for justification by faith alone are imputed with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), while those who try to establish their own righteousness or mix faith with works will receive the punishment due to all who fall short of God’s perfect standard.

Sola fide—the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works—is simply recognizing what is taught over and over in Scripture—that at some point in time God declares ungodly sinners righteous by imputing Christ’s righteousness to them (Romans 4:5, 5:8, 5:19). This happens apart from any works and before the individual actually begins to become righteous. This is an important distinction between Catholic theology that teaches righteous works are meritorious towards salvation and Protestant theology that affirms the biblical teaching that righteous works are the result and evidence of a born again person who has been justified by God and regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How important is Sola fide? It is so important to the Gospel message and a biblical understanding of salvation that Martin Luther described it as being “the article with and by which the church stands.” Those who reject Sola fide reject the only Gospel that can save them and by necessity embraces a false gospel. That is why Paul so adamantly denounces those who taught law-keeping or other works of righteousness in Galatians 1:9 and other passages. Yet today this important biblical doctrine is once again under attack. Too often Sola fide is relegated to secondary importance instead of being recognized as an essential doctrine of Christianity, which it certainly is.

“Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Galatians 3:6-11).

Proof versus faith

Our relationship with God is similar to our relationship with others in that all relationships require faith. We can never fully know any other person. This is because we are incapable of fully knowing others because we cannot experience all they experience nor enter into their minds to know what their thoughts and emotions are.

Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.” We are even incapable of knowing our own heart fully. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is wicked and deceptive, and this verse asks concerning the human heart, “Who can know it?” In other words, the human heart is such that it seeks to hide the depth of its wickedness and gloss over it, deceiving even its owner.

Because we are incapable of fully knowing fellow humans, to some degree faith (trust) is an integral ingredient in all relationships. We all share information about ourselves with others, trusting they will not betray us with that knowledge. We drive down the road, trusting those driving around us to follow the rule of the road. Whether with strangers or with intimate friends and companions, because we cannot fully know others, trust is always a necessary component of our relationships.

Subsequently, if we cannot know our fellow finite human beings fully, how can we expect to know an infinite God fully? Even if He should desire to reveal Himself fully, it would be impossible for us to really know Him. It would be like trying to pour the ocean into a quart-measuring jar.

But nonetheless, even as we can have meaningful relationships with those around us that we have grown to trust because of our knowledge of them and of their character, so God has revealed enough about Himself through His creation (Romans 1:18-21), through His written word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21), and through His Son (John 14:9) that we can enter into a meaningful relationship with Him.  However, this is only possible when the barrier of sin has been removed by coming to trust in Christ’s person and His work on the cross as payment for our sin.

This is necessary because, as it is impossible for both light and darkness to dwell together, so it is impossible for a holy God to have fellowship with sinful mankind unless our sin has been paid for and removed. Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, died on the cross to take our punishment and change us so that the one who believes on Him can become a child of God and live eternally in His presence (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Peter 3:18; Romans 3:10-26).

There have been times in the past that God has revealed Himself more “visibly” to people. One example of this is at the time of the exodus from Egypt, when God revealed His care for the Israelites by sending the miraculous plagues upon the Egyptians until they were willing to release the Israelites from their slavery. God then opened up the Red Sea, enabling the approximately two million Israelites to cross over on dry ground. Then, as the Egyptian army sought to pursue them through the same opening, He defeated this enemy by bringing the waters upon them. Later, in the wilderness, God fed them miraculously with manna, guided them in the day by a pillar of cloud and by night by a pillar of fire, visible representations of His presence with them. He also obtained water for this great number of people in the wilderness through miraculous means, including causing water to flow from a rock as Moses struck it with his rod.

Yet, in spite of these repeated demonstrations of His love, guidance, and power, they still refused to trust Him when He wanted them to enter into the Promised Land. They chose instead to trust the word of ten men who frightened them with their stories of the walled cities and the giant stature of some of the people of the land, and to ignore the counsel of two godly men who encouraged them to trust God who had always been faithful. These events, found in the books of Exodus and Numbers, show that God’s further revealing Himself to us would have no greater effect on our ability to trust Him. For were God to interact in a similar fashion with all of the people living today, we would respond no differently than did those Israelites…our sinful hearts are the same as theirs. But even as a few of the Israelites chose to trust God based on what He had revealed of Himself in the past and were willing to trust Him for the future, (going into the Promised Land – Numbers 13:1-14:9), so we can choose to trust Him for our future based upon what He has already revealed about Himself and His character.

The Bible also speaks of a future time when the glorified Christ will return to rule the earth from Jerusalem for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-10). More people will be born on the earth during that reign of Christ. He will rule with complete justice and righteousness, yet in spite of His perfect rule, the Bible states that at the end of the 1,000 years, Satan will have no trouble raising up an army of men to rebel against and to seek to overthrow Christ’s rule. The future event of the millennium and the past event of the exodus reveal that the problem is not with God insufficiently revealing Himself to man; rather, the problem is with man’s sinful heart rebelling against God’s loving reign because it craves its own sinful self-rule.

God has revealed enough of His nature for us to be able to trust Him. He has declared and shown through the events of history, in the workings of nature, and through the life of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, all-holy, unchanging, and eternal. And in that revelation, He has shown that He is worthy to be trusted. But as with the Israelites in the wilderness, the choice is ours as to whether or not we will trust Him. Often, one is inclined to make this choice based on what he/she thinks he knows about God rather than what He has revealed about Himself and can be understood about Him through a careful study of His inerrant word, the Bible. I encourage you to begin this careful study of the Bible, that you may come to know God through a reliance upon His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to save us from our sin so that we might have sweet companionship with God both now and in a fuller way in heaven one day.

Growing in faith

We are commanded in Scripture to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This growth is spiritual growth, growing in faith.

The moment we receive Christ as our Savior, we are born again spiritually into God’s family. But just as a newborn baby requires nourishing milk for growth and good development, so also a baby Christian requires spiritual food for growth. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Milk is used in the New Testament as a symbol of what is basic to the Christian life.

But as a baby grows, its diet changes to also include solid foods. With this in mind, read how the writer of Hebrews admonished the Christians: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). Paul saw the same problem with the Corinthian believers; they had not grown in their faith, and he could only give them “milk” because they were not ready for solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

The analogy between a human baby and a spiritual baby breaks down when we realize how each baby matures. A human baby is fed by his parents and growth is natural. But a baby Christian will only grow as much as he purposefully reads and obeys and applies the Word to his life. Growth is up to him. There are Christians who have been saved many years, but spiritually they are still babies. They cannot understand the deeper truths of the Word of God.

What should a Christian’s diet consist of? The Word of God! The truths taught in the Bible are rich food for Christians. Peter wrote that God has given us everything we need for life through our (growing) knowledge of Him. Read carefully 2 Peter 1:3-11 where Peter lists character qualities that need to be added to our beginning point of faith in order for maturity to take place and to have a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All Christians want, or should want, to increase their faith. But those who have given their lives to Christ have come to realize that success does not come from our own human attempts; we always fail. First Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, “What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?” Without God, we are left to our own resources, which plague us with pride, stubbornness, indifference, insensitivity, and failure. The only one we can count on who absolutely will not fail us is God (Hebrews 13:5).

Beginning our journey of faith with God requires that we immerse ourselves in His Word (Titus 1:13-14). We must learn about His love, His justice, His mercy, and His plan. We must form a relationship with Him, so that we can know Him personally through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We should ask Him to reveal Himself to us and change us. The Bible promises that if we seek God, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7). And if we allow Him to, He will transform us into new people who can know His will (Romans 12:2). We have to be willing to die to our old selves and let go of the pride and selfishness that kept us from Him for so long. As God changes us, we will learn to develop the fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all Christians (Galatians 5:22-23; John 14:17). As we walk in the Spirit, allowing Him to control our lives, we will begin to trust in Him. “Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done” (Colossians 2:7).

If our trust in God is going to grow, we have to learn to step out in faith, moving out of our comfort zone and taking chances. If we believe that God will sustain us for that day, we can be free to carry out His will, regardless of the consequences. Whenever we face temptations, God will always provide a way out so that we will not be overcome (1 Corinthians 10:13). We need to look for that way out, and praise God when we find it. First Peter 1:7 says He will use trials to test our faith and to make us stronger Christians; we will be given much honor if we can stand strong and not waver. “Yet faith comes from listening to this message of good news – the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

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