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.

Faith and the Spiritual Life

Faith is also essential for living the spiritual life.  In the final verses of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus instructed us to teach new believers “to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20).  Have you ever thought about the implications of the “all” in this verse?  Obeying all is a pretty tall order.  How do we obey all that Jesus commanded?  We obey by faith.

We often think of faith as a mysterious concept, but living by faith is a very practical matter.  When our choices, decisions, and actions are controlled by biblical principles and biblical commands, we are living by faith.  When we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word, we are basically saying two things; we believe, by faith, that there is great reward in obeying God’s standard, and we believe, by faith, that we are indwelt with the power to obey.

Visiting the first thought, we believe there is great value in following God’s commands.  In the world’s eyes, obeying God is foolish.  And even in our own eyes, we do not always see the positive outcome of our obedience.  In fact, obeying God can be costly.  So if our obedience were just based on what we see, the narrow path could be grueling.  But when we see with the eyes of faith, we see both present-day and eternal rewards for our fidelity to the Lord.  We see love, peace, joy, unity, and so much more as His blessings for our allegiance to God.  We choose to obey by faith.

Secondly, we believe that we have been given the power to obey.  This is such a crucial part of living by faith.  If my obedience is based on my mood, my willpower, my effort, my perseverance, I am doomed to fail.  But my power to obey is based on my identity in Christ.  In Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I have everything I need “pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet 1:3).  Believing I am filled with this power is the only way that I John 5:3, “and His commandments are not burdensome”, makes sense; and empowers me to walk victoriously.

The commands of Christ are not burdensome because, as believers, this is what we were created for.  At first glance, they may appear to be burdensome.  But Christ’s commands are really a reflection of who we now are, not a list to follow.  We were “created for good works to walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

This is who you are!  You were created in your new identity to obey all that Jesus commands.  Do we always accomplish the all?  No.  Do we fall short?  Yes.  Do we miss the mark?  Yes.  Do we fall into sin?  Yes.  And when we do, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (I Jn 2:1) to quickly and humbly run to for His generous forgiveness.

But we do not need to fail as often as many sermons imply.  A popular teaching today is essentially that God is a distant Father, standing back with His arms crossed on His chest thinking, “I don’t think he or she is capable of this.  I don’t think they can do this.”  Nothing could be further from the truth of the New Testament.  God is a generous Father with His arms outstretched toward us.  And He longs to see us take our faith steps, one at a time, straight into His delighted joy; just like a father coaxing along his child’s victorious first steps.

So may I encourage you?  By faith, believe what God says about your new power within and recognize that your acts of obedience are really steps of faith.

Faith and Salvation

Last weekend, at the Ft Worth Children’s Museum, I saw a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”  As with most things I read these days, I immediately put a theology twist to it.  So I am thinking,  “Logic will get you from A to B, theologically speaking, but faith will take you everywhere.”  So many of our theology systems, while built on Scripture, are carried to the nth degree by human logic and when they are, misunderstanding ensues.

I am afraid that in our rush to fit everything biblical into a neat theological system, we have made knowledge and logic the ultimate goal in the Christian life.  But knowledge by itself produces arrogance (II Cor 8:1), and knowledge without love is useless (I Cor 13:2), and knowledge without faith has no saving value (James 2:19).

There is a popular system of theology that takes principles of Scripture like grace, election, atonement, and depravity, and adds adjectives to them based on human logic.  It produces something that, in my opinion, is not found in Scripture.  And one of its dangerous by-products is to minimize the value of faith.

A theology with a hyper-focus on God’s blueprint design, including our salvation, falls short of the full teaching of Scripture.  From Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that our faith matters.  It is clear that your faith makes a difference.  All the way from your salvation to changing the outcome of a situation, your faith matters.  Let me explain.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works” (Eph 2:8,9).  Your salvation was pure gift.  Your salvation was by grace.  Your salvation was not based on works of the law.  But it was also through faith.  Your faith mattered.  There was a requirement for you to exercise faith in order to embrace the gospel message.

But many teachers today imply that if you believe your faith somehow contributed to your new birth, you are treating it as a “work” and, as such, are relying on “works” to save you.  At best, this view is confusing.  At worst, it implies that you are believing a different gospel and may in fact not be saved.  As hair-splitting as it seems, I have heard it preached this way, and it puts an unnecessary and disturbingly oppressive pressure and guilt on our believing brothers and sisters.  God is not the author of confusion.  So what does God require?

There is a “work” required for you to be saved.  But it is not a work of the law, it is the work of faith.  In John chapter 6, the crowd asked Jesus, ” ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:28,29).  Believing in Jesus, embracing His message, is the only work required for you to be saved.

In Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3, Paul reveals that Abraham was made righteous based on his faith.  His belief was not a work of the law – by which no one is saved – but was a work of faith.  “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:6,7).  Our exercise of faith makes us spiritual descendants of Abraham and children of God.  “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26).  Your sonship came about through faith.

The balance between God’s choice and our faith in the matter of salvation may seem like just a theoretical discussion, but I think it has powerful life-giving applications.  When we combine our faith making a difference with God’s promise to never desert us, we have a powerful assurance of salvation.  Because I have exercised my faith and have said “I believe”, I have no doubt that I am in God’s family based on the promise of Jesus about those who believe.  Without knowing that my faith was rewarded with the gift of eternal life, I might spend my life doubtful, discouraged, and wondering if I am in; if I am included in God’s choice.

Likewise, because I believe in God’s choice, my salvation is secure.  I never have to wonder if my faith was or is strong enough.  When my faith wavers, I never have to worry about being outside His secure hand.  I know I am secure in God’s hand.  He promised that (Jn 10:28-29).  What I am saying is that my faith had something to do with getting into His hand.  And knowing I got there by faith is part of my assurance of salvation.

Now, not only is our salvation influenced by faith, but our daily walk as well.  We will talk about that subject next time.