"A noise shall come even to the end of the earth; for Jehovah hath a controversy with the nations; he will enter into judgement with all flesh: as for the wicked, he will give them to the sword, saith Jehovah." (Jer. 25:31)
The controversy between God and man has from the beginning been caused by a lack of faith on the part of man. It is that faith, the kind of faith that will bring us into a righteous state, a sanctified state, a justified state, before God, that we want to discuss.
"Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them. By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear ... and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him." (Heb. 11, American Standard Version).
It is faith, a lack of faith, that has caused the great controversy that God has with his Creation. The subject of "faith" has also caused great controversy between religious people. Eph. 4 says there is "one faith" and we believe it because the Bible says it. But do we know what that faith is? Do we know how we get it? What does it do to and for us when we have it? If there is just one faith, why are there so many "faiths" and so much division among religious people? How do we know if our faith is that "one faith"?
This passage in Heb. 11 is often cited as the defining passage for "faith", but this passage has not always defined "faith" well for me. KJV says "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I have trouble understanding how "faith" is "substance", and how "faith" is "evidence".
The American Standard Version marginal reading says, "the giving substance to". Faith is "the giving substance to things hoped for". That helps, but it is a clumsy expression. The SEB says, "Faith is the title-deed to the things we hope for". That expression, "title-deed" is also used in the Amplified New Testament and is from the Greek scholars Moulton and Milligan. But I still have trouble understanding how "faith" becomes a "title-deed" to me for things I hope for. A title-deed is a legal instrument investing ownership, control, and possession. I have trouble with a man having legal claim, ownership, to what God has promised.
I came across a translation of this passage by Edward Robinson which says, "Faith is confidence as to things hoped for; conviction as to things not seen". Now I can understand that. Confidence and conviction are states of my mind. Faith, in my mind, stands in the place of substance or sensory evidence. Faith contains such power of truth to the believer that the word of our Lord is equal to substance, equal to sensory evidence.
The Amplified New Testament says "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". That is very helpful. Faith is belief without sensory evidence to support the belief. The gospel has that kind of power.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:16).
The gospel is God's power. "Power" comes from "dunamis". Paul had seen the dynamite of God at work. That gospel, that power of God, is the only, the only, source of faith, that faith without which it is impossible for any man or woman to be well pleasing unto God.
I believe that the writer of Hebrews understood the difficulty his readers would have understanding that short definition of faith. Consequently, he continued to expand on the passage giving examples of that faith at work in the lives of believers. He said, "by faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God". That is a truth that I accept, without reservation, by faith.
Believing that God created this universe out of nothing contains some problems for those of us who believe and who have been confronted by the evidence offered by modem science to the contrary. Men of science over the past two hundred years or so have developed and presented evidence and conclusions purporting to demonstrate that the Genesis account of Creation cannot be true.
I believe that many self-appointed apologists for the Bible over the years have made many unreasonable assertions that make all believers appear to be ignorant fools. One such "defender" was Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish Catholic Bishop, who developed a chronology which concludes that the Creation took place in the year 4004 B.C. That conclusion carried such weight that many King James Versions today include the Ussher chronology.
Modern science has no problem demonstrating that much of the present earth is much older than six thousand years. Using the carbon dating, or some derived method, which measures the rate at which particular matter is decomposing, they can show that fossil fuels, hydrocarbons of all kinds take hundreds of thousands of years to develop, and they point out that petroleum comes from previously living matter. How do you explain that?
I believe that it is a matter of faith. When the Sadducees asked Jesus about marriage after the resurrection, Jesus answered, "Ye do err not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God". I believe that the problems men have with the Creation are caused by a lack of faith; we do not know the power of God.
Each of us who have been concerned with such questions must find our own answers. This is what I believe. The universe in which we live, the earth which is our home, is in a continuing state of development. The system of nature that God put in place was a functioning system at its creation. Earth is a continuing panorama of birth, life, and death. And not just organic matter; inorganic too. All living things are in a process of continually passing through birth, life, and death. Inorganic matter goes through much the same process, only much slower. Rivers begin, expand, continue, and decline. Mountain Ranges begin, age, and finally decline. The shape of the earth's land masses are continually changing. The entire universe operated under the system of natural laws that God established.
The important questions that occur to me include, "at what stage was the natural system when God created it?" Simple questions occur to me, such as "How old was Adam when God created him? Was he equal to eighteen years? Twenty-five years? Forty years? What was the stage of development for the Mississippi River, or was it present at all, at the creation? What was the stage of development for the entire system at the Creation?" What these questions mean to me is that if modern scientists could examine the remains of Adam their evidence may be true but would lead to a false conclusion. I believe that God's Creation had the attributes of much age at the Creation. I believe that the power of God is far beyond the scope of man's, any man's, capacity to comprehend.
The Hebrew writer continues with examples of men and women moved by their faith in Him such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, all men and women of faith who "had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect".
In Rom. 1:16 the apostle writes:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith."
The righteous have always lived, they have always been recognized as righteous before God, because of their faith. What kind of faith did they have? Abraham is known as the father of the faithful. Rom. 4 says:
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather hath found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God. For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).
What kind of works would have failed to justify Abraham before God? Works of merit. Works that merit a reward. Works that earned a reward. Abraham never entertained the idea that he earned anything that God did for him.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went". "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; even he to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence he did also in a figure receive him back".
Abraham believed God and it, his belief, his faith, was reckoned unto him for righteousness. His belief compelled him to obey God's will. "Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness". What is he saying? That God's grace, God's favor, God's blessings cannot be earned.
"For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2).
This is sounding as though works done by man for God have no place in the saving of my soul. Many people believe that God has done it all for us and that there is nothing for man to do. Listen to Jesus.
"Who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do." (Luke 17).
We, who are believers, have always had great difficulty with this principle. We are human beings. We have all the personality and character and psychological traits of human beings. We think we know some things that are essential to a child growing into maturity as a "successful" well-adjusted person. We must have positive and negative reinforcement tied directly to our behavior. Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement. When a child is consistently rewarded for "good" behavior and "punished" for "bad" behavior, the child learns that being "good" is better than being "bad". That is fundamental to a successful socializing process. Every person grows to maturity and lives out life confronted daily with the evidence of these principles. Socially acceptable behavior is rewarded and anti-social behavior is punished. There is always a pay-off for our behavior, good or bad.
When we learn the truth and obey the gospel, a part of what we must learn is that these principles work only in this world; these principles are not a part of our relation to God. When we learn and understand that after we have done all the things expected of us by our Father, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do", what motive is there to work hard for Him?
Listen to James.
"What does it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well, the demons also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (James 2).
What James says about faith and works so expands what Paul says that a great number of people have real problems believing, accepting, and making what James says a part of their active faith. Some scholars believe that Martin Luther believed in "justification by faith only" so much that he would have had no problem if the book of James was removed from the New Testament.
What James says makes an intellectual faith useless, dead. And, of course, a dead faith cannot save. A ''justifying faith" must be active, alive. As alive as the word itself.
"For the word of God is living, and active, sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
It is the quality of our faith that will lead us to work endlessly on behalf of that faith. In coming to what I now understand about the relation between faith and works, I have thought about the relationship between husband and wife. The relationship between me and my wife. I believe that my wife loves me, that she is faithful to me. I believe that I love her, and that I am faithful to her. She does not know how many meals she has cooked for me, how many times she has washed my dirty socks, how many times she has put up with my irritable ways. She does not keep count of such things. I do not reward her for any specific acts among these and many others. She does not reward me for any specific thing I do for her. Neither of us ever thinks about earning for what we do for each other. Those kinds of things just come with the territory, don't they? It is this same way between you and your wife, or husband, isn't it?
But I know people who keep up, who remember what they have done for our Lord. I heard an elderly preacher in a meeting many years ago. He was one of the "big guns" of the brotherhood. His first sermon related the number of years he had served our Lord, the number of meetings he had held, the number of believers he had baptized. I remember thinking while listening to him, "Why would a man of his stature in the brotherhood feel any need to keep track of such things, much less publicly relate them?" Now I wonder if he can stand before our Lord and say, "I am an unprofitable servant. I have done only what was my duty to do".
Now, this faith that plays so large a part in our lives; where does it come from? Well, we all know that. "So belief (faith) cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10: 17). It comes from Scripture. Yes, indeed it does. There are some very interesting things about our book of Scripture. Things that we seldom think about, much less say anything about. Of all the men who wrote the sixty-six books, not one page, not one word of their original writings exists today. We have copies, parts of copies, that were hand written from earlier copies. The men who did the transcribing were not, so far as we know, inspired as were the original writers. All of the letters written by the apostles are not contained in our New Testament. How do we know that our Bible is the word of God, the word upon which the eternal destiny of all of us depends? It is a matter of faith. It is our belief that God has done what he said he would do. God promised,
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers ... for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind and on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Jer. 31; Heb. 8) .
This word of our Lord is not a book of recipes or formulas which, if followed, will produce a Christian bound for eternal life. Itsí word must enter the mind and heart where it can work God's will in my life and in your life, and in the life of all who hear it and believe it.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1).
"For we walk by faith and not by sight".