Living by Faith

It is a prominent theme throughout the New Testament that the Christian life is lived by faith.  One example of that is our current topic; our family resemblance to God.

The Bible teaches that believers are indwelt by the very seed of God.  His Spirit lives inside us.  As such, we have taken on a new nature; a nature prone to righteousness.  Now if righteousness is our new inclination, why do we struggle with sin?  If our family resemblance to God is in our moral character, why is that resemblance, at times, hard to recognize?  The answer to this question is multi-faceted and I have written on various aspects of this many times; Galatians 5 and the War with the Flesh, Temptation Vs Sin, and The Exchanged Life are a few examples for your perusal.  But for today’s post, our focus is on the role that faith plays in this conflict.

Walking by faith is essentially living as if what God says is true, even when our experience stands in contrast to God’s promise.  When my experience does not seem to line up with God’s promise, which am I going to believe?  I am going to believe and trust and rest in God’s promise.  And one of His promises that saturates the New Testament is a life set free from the power of sin.  How do we put this promise into action?

God says that I have a family resemblance to Him in my character.  I don’t always feel this in my sensory perception.  I sometimes feel sinful.  I feel evil.  I feel anger, malice, jealousy, and a host of other sinful passions.  But because the Christian life is lived by faith, God is asking me to confess those passions, push them aside, and cling to the promise of all that became new in me.

This is not just spiritual theory.  Once I take the very real first step of clinging to His promise, I take the next step of living into the promise.  We often put the cart before the horse here.  We try to live the Christian life by our willpower; by beating ourselves up about our performance and committing to trying harder.  Faith is something we see in our distant past when we first believed.

But living, active, daily faith must come first.  When we consistently believe that we actually have a new nature, a new disposition, and a new power, we can fully live into God’s commands.  Living by faith is not license to ignore God’s commands.  It is not thinking we somehow live above God’s commands.  Living by faith is believing that I have the power, by Christ in me, to live the life; to live into all that Christ commands.

I cannot emphasize the practical nature of this faith enough.  My practice when faced with temptation is to literally tell myself that failure is not who I am.  It is not my identity.  It is not my new character of righteousness.  It is not befitting a child of God.

Does this sound too simple?  Do I ever fail?  Yes, we all have our downfalls in our conflict with the flesh, the world, and the devil.  But failure does not have to be our common experience.  And yes, it is that simple.  It is living by faith in God’s promise of a life set free from the power of sin.

Can Faith Control the Outcome?

An important distinction to understanding how much our faith affects an outcome is recognizing the difference between “change” and “control”.  I believe God has given us the opportunity to change an outcome through our faith.  But He has not given us the power to control outcomes.  Let me explain the difference.

Exercising the faith required to change a situation is putting our complete trust in what God can do.  It is having faith in God’s ability to miraculously move, and remedy, and redeem what needs changed.  It is not a blind positive thinking approach that says if I believe something hard enough God is required to act.

This is where the idea of control comes in.  We cannot control the Sovereign of the Universe.  And thinking our faith can somehow boss God around is ludicrous.  We are not calling the shots.  We are not in control.  We cannot demand a certain action on God’s part.  So what can we do?

We do two things.  (1) We believe by faith that God has the power to act and (2) we pray in faith asking Him to act.  Our attitude in prayer is the measure of whether we are seeking to “change” or “control” by our faith.  Proper prayer says, “God, You are in control and we humbly beg you to act.”  And this prayer is infused with a biblical faith; believing that He hears our prayers, believing that He can act, and believing that He will act in some form or fashion.

In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow teaches us that God will act and act quickly.  If you recall the story that Jesus told … A widow approaches an unrighteous judge demanding legal protection from an adversary.  The judge ignores her request until she badgers him to the point of wearing him out.  For her persistence alone, he hears her case and rules in her favor (Lk 18:1-8).

Now we often view the unrighteous judge as a picture of God.  That is, we think this parable teaches that if we badger God enough, He will reluctantly hear and answer us.  But it actually teaches just the opposite about God’s attitude toward us and our prayers.

Unlike most of Jesus’ parables, this one did not start with “The kingdom of God is like…”  No, God is not like the judge.  God is not compared to the judge.  God stands in contrast to the judge.  God is the opposite of the judge.  We do not badger God with our persistent prayer.  We honor God with our persistent prayer.

The parable closes with, “Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly” (Lk 18:7-8a).  God is contrasted with the judge.  Rather than being an overbearing ogre, God is a loving Father whose heartbeat is to hear and answer our prayers.

Can we “control” outcomes?  No, but I believe we can affect more than we commonly believe.  The story of the persistent widow ends with, “However, when the Son of Man comes will He find this kind of faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8b).  Our role is to respond to situations with the faith that God is asking us to use.  And the practical upshot of all this, in my opinion, is that our faith can be world-changing and life-changing; for us and for others around us.

Can Faith Change the Outcome?

As I continue to study the New Testament, I am becoming increasingly aware of the potential for faith to change the outcome of a particular situation.  I fully embrace the sovereignty and omnipotence of God and His rule over all His creation, but I believe His plan includes our faith making a difference.  It appears in Scripture that God does not have an unchangeable blueprint design for all outcomes, but that through our prayers and faith we can affect what happens.  Why do I say this?

After the incident in the gospels where Jesus’ disciples failed to cast out a demon (Mt 17:14-20), they asked Jesus a pointed question, “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus replied that their faith was too small (Mt 17:20).  Jesus ascribes their failure to a lack of faith.  Is it too much of a stretch of logic to suggest – based on Jesus’ own words – that with greater faith the demon could have been expelled?  What do you think?

Evidence that our faith makes a difference continues in several accounts of healing in the New Testament.  When Jesus restored sight to the blind man, Bartimaeus, He proclaimed to the newly seeing man, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 10:52).  When the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage problem touched Jesus garment, she was healed.  After she identified herself in the crowd, Jesus assured her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Lk 8:48).  To the cleansed leper who returned to fall at Jesus’ feet to give thanks, Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19).

Do you notice a pattern?  Clearly, Jesus is doing the healing – even feeling the power going out of Him when the woman touched the fringe of His cloak.  But somehow, accepting Jesus’ words as fact, the faith of the sick, blind, and lame had something to do with their being made whole.  I think it is safe to say that their faith made a difference.  And I believe our faith matters just as much today.  Our faith has the potential to affect outcomes.

How much of an effect?  Something we will talk about next time.