Thursday, November 11, 2010

Understanding Faith

My wife has recently written two posts concerning leaps of faith (though not the kind usually discussed in religious topics) and last night at Bible study the topic was Hebrews 11. It seems that faith has been a pretty well discussed topic lately, at least in my life. Many people seem to view faith as the step we take when we have no proof or no real knowledge of something. Whether it be the existence of God, dinosaurs or even that God will take care of them, some, under the idea that they just have no proof, just have to take that leap of faith that something is probably true.

Hebrews 11 paints a different picture of what faith is. The author of Hebrews wrote, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible" (11:1-3). When we really look at these verses, we can gain a different understanding of Biblical faith. Faith is not just a guess, or a shot in the dark, but an assurance. Faith consists of a proof we have that we are doing and following after is truth. Consider what Paul wrote to the church in Rome. He said, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." We don't have faith just by a guess, but by an assurance from God and His word.

Consider also the third verse in Hebrews 11. Logic and reasoning can also be a start to faith. When we look at creation, logic leads to the conclusion that there must be a creator. The fact that trees exist tell you absolutely nothing about the God of the Bible though. Yes, it leads you to know that there must be a creator, but what is that creator's character? What is his plan or interaction with mankind? What does that creator desire of us, if anything? True faith doesn't come from just knowing there is a world here, but going back to Romans 10:17, true faith comes from God's revelation that He is the one who created this world.

Consider the example of Noah given in Hebrews 11:7. By faith he built an ark. He had not seen a flood, or any physical sign of it's coming. There was no weather forecast, no raincloud in the sky (figuratively speaking of course) yet based on faith he built an ark. Was this just a lead into the darkness? Did Noah build based on just some presumption he had that it might possibly true that the world would flood? Not at all. In Genesis 6 it is recorded that Noah was told by God what was going to occur. Without God revealing to Noah what would happen, Noah could not have faith in God's Word.

This leads us to another important point in faith based on Hebrews 11:4. Some have suspected that Cain and Abel are simply a picture of a pure heart, and that all God desires of us in our worship and sacrifice to Him is the right type of heart. When one turns to Genesis 4, there is no indication that Cain came with an impure heart. For all we know, he came in sincerity, but was rejected. God's response was that if he would do right, the whole event could be put behind them. Using this event in Hebrews 11 along with Romans 10:17 implies that Cain and Abel were told by God what to do. Abel was able to act in faith because he was acting based upon the word of God. We aren't told what this word was, but we know it was present and that Cain had no real excuse to act otherwise. While God does indeed want our heart in what we do, we must act based on the standard of God's Word.

Hebrews 11 makes it evident that works are just important as faith in our approach to God. Consider verse 6. The author writes, "and without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Consider the words "draw near" and "seek." Does not this teach that we must do our part as well? This is not works of man that somehow earn one salvation, but, as seen throughout Hebrews 11, works commanded by God. How safe would Noah have been if he had faith but didn't build the ark? Many today might have said, "If I build that ark, I'll be working for my salvation." Many people say that about baptism do they not? What if Moses had said, "I believe the death angel is coming, but if I put blood on the door frame, I'd be working for God's reward of safety for the first born"? John 12:24 records the hearts of the chief rulers who had faith, but refused to act based upon it. Numbers 14:11 records the attitude of the Jews toward being able to take the promised land and God equates their unwillingness to take it to unbelief. In the mind of God, one who refuses to act in faith doesn't have any real faith at all. What does this say about those who claim to have faith, yet refuse to obey the commands of God they know of because it would be "work"? This isn't referring to those who may not know the commands, but to those who do know, and see what God requests of them and still refuse.

Faith is a topic that is oft misunderstood and misapplied to much religious teachings and lives. The Bible is clear on what God views as true and saving faith though. Saving faith is one that seeks after God, hears His word and acts properly based on what God has said.

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