A little faith will bring your soul to
but a lot of faith will bring heaven to your soul.
DWIGHT L. MOODY
* * * * *
Faith. What a magnificent word! In five letters it just about sums up the whole Christian life. Did you think when you picked up this book that in it you might find something about the joy of the Lord? You were right, but you will never find that joy without faith. You might be curious enough to ask, "What does he mean by that? Faith in what? What is faith?"
Put simply, Christian faith is believing that Jesus died for you and me. He died on the cross to take away our sins. He made His vicarious sacrifice at Calvary for us, on our behalf and in our stead, and He rose again the third day.
That is the indispensable start. If your answer to that statement is "I do believe," you have just made an act of faith. Then the inspired word of the apostle Paul applies to you. He wrote to the church in Rome, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."1
If your response again is "I confess and believe," no one on earth or in heaven can successfully question your right to be called a believing Christian. Here is the apostle's confirming word: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."2
What else do you need? Nothing . . . for salvation. Well, what else is there? There is more explaining of what those words mean that you have just accepted and embraced. And then there is joy, the joy of faith, the joy of loving Jesus, the anticipation of the delights of heaven.
What is faith? I like this word of explanation by an English theologian. W.A. Whitehouse: "Faith is the act by which a person lays hold on God's resources, becomes obedient to what God prescribes, and, abandoning all self-interest and self-reliance, trusts God completely."3 In other words, we forget about ourselves and put ourselves in God's hands. We trust Him. We trust His goodness and His love. We trust His firmness, steadfastness, and total reliability. He is our Father, and we love Him.
The letter to the Hebrews says that "faith is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not seen."4 That definition, you can see, is generic rather than specific. It shows that faith has a spiritual reality of its own, just as valid in its own way as reason and knowledge. And the "faith" referred to is clearly faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet Habakkuk was the first to write these wonderful words: "The just shall live by faith."5 The apostle Paul used them later in his letter to the Romans to establish the Christian doctrine of justification by faith. It means that when we believe in Christ our sins are forgiven; Christ Himself has atoned for them. We can accept that fact, and we don't need to work out some penitential payment for them. We stand justified before God, with our sins vanished into oblivion.
The reformer Martin Luther made "justification by faith" the keystone of the Spirit-led Reformation of the sixteenth
century, and he clarified it by adding the word "alone." We are justified by faith in Christ alone. We are saved by grace through faith alone.
For people who have no knowledge of it, faith sometimes seems a confusing thing. Many reject it. H.L. Mencken, an American journalist, once defined faith as "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." Ernest Hemingway, for a crude joke, once changed the Lord's Prayer to "our nada who art in nada, nada be thy nada." (Nada is the Spanish word for "nothing.")
And yet despite such scorners and cynics, faith is what keeps us alive. I wouldn't have stepped out of bed this morning if I hadn't had faith that the floor would hold me. Josh Billings carries it further: "If it weren't for faith, there would be no living in this world; we couldn't even eat hash!"6 I wouldn't finish this sentence on the computer if I did not have faith that one day you would read it!
Faith is one of God's greatest gifts. In the Bible, one finds faith clearly illustrated in three incidents. The first is found in the Old Testament book of Genesis, describing Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac.7 At the command of God, Abraham prepared to offer his young son on a sacrificial altar. Abraham supernaturally demonstrated great faith in that act, and it leaves us awash in admiration. God recognized that He had a man prepared to do anything to prove his trust in his Lord. In Hebrews 11:19 we learn Abraham believed that even if he carried out the sacrificial act, God could raise up his son from the dead, because He had promised to create a great nation from his offspring. Abraham was saved from sacrificing Isaac by an angel and the presence of a ram caught in the brush. Thus Abraham became a man of honor, worthy to be called God's friend and to be the spiritual father of all believers.
The Bible also illustrates faith in a marvelous way in the entire eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. What an inspiring panorama of spiritual greatness! Here are paraded all the heroes of faith, men and women of Hebrew history known and unknown from Abraham down to David and the prophets
"who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions . . . of whom the world was not worthy."8
As a follower of Jesus, I can applaud and admire all these superb heroes of faith; and there are more. What of James the brother of John the apostle, and Stephen, Peter, Paul, and the many other heroes of the first century? Once I published a book titled Faith's Heroes which honored men and women of succeeding centuries who exercised great faith in their ministry. Among them were Polycarp, Vibia Perpetua, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, George Fox, George Whitefield, Amy Carmichael, and others.
But now the record must be set straight.
What Abraham had I do not seem to have. It is not a question of sacrifice; I would gladly sacrifice myself for members of my family and for others, too, as circumstances required. But when it comes to sacrificing someone else I pass. This is a test of faith. Augustine's friend Alypius read Paul's letter to the Romans and then declared that since God would apparently accept someone with weak faith (Romans 14:1), he would become a Christian. I think I side with Bishop Alypius, not with Abraham.
In the same way, I find myself unqualified when I examine the list of men and women of faith as we find it in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. They demonstrated a magnificent faith in God, a supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. I admire them and would love to emulate them, but as with Alypius, my faith is weak and I feel unworthy.
The third place where we find great faith is in the words of Jesus, as found in Matthew 17:20: "I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."
Now there is a challenge from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that takes one's breath away. Move a mountain by sheer faith? A whole mountain, like Kilimanjaro? What could Jesus have been thinking of? It makes no sense whatever.
Or does it? Yes, it does. Excuse me, but by the grace of God I gladly fall in line when those saints go marching in. Move a whole massive mountain by faith? Absolutely. I have done it by faith. I have watched amazed as a whole mountain of grief and anger rolled right off my back and never returned. I have also seen other hard-pressed Christians kneel and go to the cross with Jesus in tears, and then stand up and shake off one mountain after another that had been squatting on them and crushing their weary spirits.
How did it all happen? Not by any human agency, unless you want to credit a microscopic grain of faith. It was actually done by the power and favor and love of the Holy Spirit in answer to that tiny bit of faith. It fills me with hilarity (a good Bible word) to think of it. Confession? Yes. Repentance? Absolutely. Faith, prayer, intercession? Of course. But no transcripts. No track record. No diplomas, resumes, degrees, honors, letters of commendation, holy garments, or press clippings. Just Jesus.
How about you? Have you been that route? Let me make a suggestion. Go out to the nearest garden and pick up a seed the size of a tiny mustard seed. Let that be the size of your faith. Now use it.
There remains the question, Where is the joy in all this? When faith is put to work, where does the joy come in? The answer of the Bible is that the faith itself creates the joy. Faith leads to contentment, and contentment leads to peace, and peace brings into play all the other fruits of the Spirit including love and joy.
Faith goes with the Christian wherever he or she goes. It is not easy to describe the electric spark, the inner thrill that comes to a believer when he meets someone else who is "of the faith." The welcoming smile, the murmuring of the name of Jesus any one of a hundred looks and gestures can bring recognition and response, and the beginning of a friendship that has its basis in the heaven of heavens. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst
of them,"9 and it is still true. Thus does my Jesus share the faith, and the faith creates the joy.
Older believers meet and encourage each other. They reminisce, calling up memories of great spiritual events of faith. Middle-aged people revel in the signs of growing faith in their children. Young people find tremendous support in their own walk with Jesus as they fellowship with like-minded young believers. The joy of the Lord adds strength to their spiritual commitment.
All of this sharing of the faith brings gladness of heart to believers who may well be undergoing life's trials. What a blessing it is to meet a lighthearted Christian who believes what Jesus says: that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.10 There is such a joy in the faith itself, in the knowledge that our lives are in God's hands and that eventually everything will "pan out" all right.
Many books have been written about faith, and with good reason, for faith has always meant different things to different people. The very word "faith" to many people conjures up windmills in the head and an imaginary environment. For such doubters faith is equivalent to a lie, for it seems to accept as fact what they are sure "isn't so." I know, because for years faith meant little or nothing to me.
By contrast, for millions of God's people faith has always been a lifeboat in a stormy sea. It equips the believer with wisdom and confidence in discerning the doubter's error and the cynic's lie. No one slickers his way into the kingdom of heaven! When doubts and false reasoning and disastrous outward circumstances combine to confuse the believer, faith provides an armor of protection. It leads the believer along a path of righteousness which is patrolled by angels and protected by God Himself.
Faith has a way of bringing about the joy of spiritual freedom. We are relieved to know that God is not looking over our "good works," which are always subject to the flaws of personal ego. God is rather looking at our faith in Him. We don't have to earn our way to Him because He is already with us. When
trouble comes, He assures us that it will not last. "Fret not."11 When our hopes for income are disappointed, Jesus sends us His message: "Do not worry."12 The French have a saying, "ça passe." Whatever it is, it will go away in time. Good things lie ahead. Take joy.
Perhaps the greatest joy of all for the Christian is to lead someone else into the presence of God and then see the Holy Spirit bring that person to Himself. Nothing in the world can make God so real to us or so awesome as to realize that He is using us (sinners that we are) to win another person to Jesus Christ. One of the nobler things Billy Graham has done for the church has been to offer a simple prayer for a person seeking Christ. I have heard him say it many times, and I have used it with members of my own family:
"Oh God, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. I am willing to turn from my sins. I receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. I confess Him as my Lord. From this moment I want to follow Him and serve Him in the fellowship of His church."
Jesus said that there is great joy in heaven among the angels when a sinner repents.13 It may be in a great meeting, or it may be a very unimposing scene in a small church, or in a living room or dormitory with few people present. When those words are repeated or words like them by a sincere seeker in faith, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work, and that at the portals of glory there is celebrating among the angels.
Where is the joy in saving faith? It is the joy of Jesus, that which He called "my joy." To get you to that joy, perhaps this analogy will help.
When my brother Lincoln and I went camping as Boy Scouts we would sit around the campfire at night along with the other boys, warming ourselves and singing songs, after which our scoutmaster would regale us with scary stories right out of Arthur Conan Doyle. The night wind was chilly, but my brother and I were having fun because we shared a secret.
Under the embers of that bonfire we had hidden some Idaho potatoes (don't ask where we got them), and all evening long we had the joy of this assurance: that the spuds were there
in the fire and that they were being roasted. When the blaze was being extinguished as time neared for "lights out," we reached in with sticks and uncovered our treasure. Peeling off the black skin, we sank our teeth into the hot baked potatoes, and oh! did they taste good!
Would you like to make a test of secret faith? Make a spiritual investment outside your family, in a child, in a church, in some kind of spiritual mission or goal. This is your hidden "hot potato," your secret with Jesus. After awhile rake it out of the fire, peel off the black skin, and take a bite.
Sink your teeth into your secret investment. Enjoy it. Taste it and see how good God is, and what your faith has done for you!
1. Romans 10:9
2. Ephesians 2:8-9
3. Cf. A Theological Word Book of the Bible, Alan Richardson, ed. (London: SCM Press, 1950), p. 75.
4. Hebrews 11:1
5. Habakkuk 2:4
6. The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, ed., Frank C. Mead (Westwood, NJ: Fleming Revell, 1965), p. 130.
7. Genesis 22:1-18
8. Hebrews 11:33, 38
9. Matthew 18:20
10. Matthew 11:30
11. Psalm 37:1
12. Matthew 6:25
13. Luke 15:7
Chapter 21 || Table of Contents