Faith Is the Victory, Part One
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 19, 2006
Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
The Nature of True Faith
Faith is the only divine requirement for eternal salvation. When the Philippian jailer cried out in the middle of night, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:30-31 KJV). Thus, it is imperative that we find out what the Scripture says about faith. We want to examine the nature of true faith, look at the faith of Abraham, the father of all believers, and then examine our own faith.
Faith is only as strong as the object in which it is placed. If we trust in idols, our faith will be worthless; if we trust in man, our faith will be useless; if we trust in ourselves, our faith will be hopeless; if we trust in money, our faith will fail us; and if we trust in circumstances, we will not be upheld. Faith is the attitude that rejects all dependence on ourselves or on creation, and relies only in God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
True faith consists of three elements: knowledge, agreement, and trust. First, faith is based on knowledge. There must be content to our faith. We declare, "I believe that. . . ." The word "that" refers to certain facts about the object of our faith, the true and living God. But mere knowledge is not enough. The devil knows about God, but he is not saved. So, second, we must agree with the facts concerning the true God as revealed in the Scriptures.
Yet mental assent to a certain set of facts cannot save us, for even the demons believe in this manner, and tremble. So the third element of true faith is trust. We must move beyond knowing facts about God, and beyond agreeing with those facts, and must personally entrust ourselves to this infinite, personal God of the Scriptures, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sovereign Lord. We must entrust our past, present, and future to the triune God, that we may be eternally saved. We must deny ourselves completely and be trusting only our Savior, Jesus Christ. True faith is confidence in and union with Jesus Christ.
Those with such faith are described as being "in Christ." They abide in Christ and Christ abides in them inseparably. They rest completely upon the rock-sure foundation of the living God, trusting not in themselves nor in their shifting feelings, but in God alone and his promises.
When such people initially place their faith in God for salvation, they are declared righteous forever. Their sins are immediately forgiven and covered forever; they become blessed people. They daily put their trust in the triune God and his promises. A justified person will continue to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ throughout his life.
Such faith is the only divine requirement for our salvation. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Such faith has characterized the people of God always. Thus, we read in Genesis 15:6 that "Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." And in Romans 4 Abraham is called the father of all believers.
Saving faith is not dead faith; it is vital, living, persevering, and obedient. God calls sinners "to the obedience that comes from faith" through the proclamation of the gospel (Romans 1:5; 16:26). Saving faith works through love (Galatians 5:6) and obeys God (Hebrews 11:8). James, the Lord's brother, also says, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26).
If such faith required for our eternal salvation, we must ask: How can sinful people produce it? The answer, simply, is that we cannot. It is impossible for man to believe savingly on his own; yet, to believe is the condition for our salvation. How, then, can we be saved? God alone is able to do it, for with God, all things are possible. God alone is able to justify the ungodly. He does so by regenerating them and creating in them the vital faith he requires.
Thus, saving faith is a gift of God. As sinners, we bring to God only our sins and depravity, and God, our mighty Savior, redeems us from our sins. We are like the publican, who cried out, "Have mercy on me, the sinner!" and God justified him, not counting his sins against him. At the same time, we understand that God counts our sins against Christ, who was "delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Thus, a true believer is one who trusts God with saving faith and commits himself to all that God is, all that God has done, and all that God will do. He trusts in the omnipotent God who cannot lie and does not change.
The Faith of Our Father Abraham
Romans 4:16 says Abraham the father of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles. So Christians are sons and daughters of Abraham because we share his faith. Romans 4:12 says that all believers are to "walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had," meaning we must believe and live the way he did. It is important, therefore, to discover the nature of Abraham's faith. Let us consider the footsteps of Abraham's faith.
1. The call of Abraham. By birth Abraham was an idolater who suppressed the truth and exchanged it for a lie, and refused to glorify God. But then the God of glory appeared to him in Mesopotamia and commanded him to leave his country, his people, and his father's house, and go to the country God would show him.
Notice, Abraham was not seeking God; God sought him and found him. This is true of all believers. And in Genesis 12:3-7 God made seven promises to Abraham: "I will show you the land"; "I will make you into a great nation"; "I will bless you"; "I will make your name great"; "I will bless those who bless you"; "I will curse those who curse you"; and "I will give this land to your offspring." What was Abraham's response? "By faith Abraham obeyed and went" (Hebrews 11:8). That is saving faith, obedient faith, living faith, vital faith-faith that works, faith that responds to God in joyful, instant, and exact obedience. As God called Abraham effectually, he responded in faith and obeyed. At this point, we can say that Abraham was regenerated and justified, because such obedient saving faith, according to the Bible, is the fruit of regeneration. Thus, Abraham ceased to be an idolater and became a worshiper, friend, and follower of the God of glory. As a true disciple, he sacrificed his city life and became a nomad, leaving his country, his people, and his father's house to go to Canaan. He did so out of obedience to the God who called him. Like Abraham, we also are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
2. The pilgrimage in Canaan. When he reached Canaan, Abraham lived in a tent as an alien. He refused to go back to Mesopotamia, because it was not the will of God and would have been an act of unbelief. Hebrews 11:9-10 tells us, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Verse 15 says, "If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one." Abraham obeyed God by remaining in Canaan by faith, although he did not inherit it.
3. The birth of Isaac. In Genesis 15:6 God promised to give Abraham children as countless as the stars in the midnight sky. In Genesis 17 the Lord appeared again to Abraham and promised to make him the father of many nations through a son he would give to Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham may well have wondered how this could be, especially considering his age and Sarah's age and barrenness. Yet Abraham believed God's promise. His faith was not mere subjective feeling; it did not rest in circumstances, nor was it centered in man. Rather, Abraham laid hold of God and his promises, trusting in the word of God alone. Such faith declares, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles the issue." How could Abraham have such confidence in God's word alone? Because our God is the infinite, personal, most holy Creator, Redeemer God who cannot lie and who does not change like shifting shadows. What he promises, he will fulfill. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ." If God promises, it will come to pass. God has given us many promises, has he not? He has promised to give us all we need for life, for it is he who gave us bodies. He has promised to guide us and give us eternal life. He says to all these promises, "Yes, yes, yes." In the same way, he promised to give Abraham offspring and land, saying, "Yes, yes, yes. I promised, and I will do it." What about the circumstances in which God made this promise? In human terms, they were not good. "Abraham faced the fact that his body was dead . . . and that Sarah's womb was also dead" (Romans 4:19). Abraham, at ninety-nine, could no longer procreate. And not only was Sarah long past the age of childbearing-she was ninety-but she had never borne children before; how could she have one now? Additionally, Abraham and Sarah had never heard of any such happening in history to encourage them in their faith. Humanly speaking, this couple had no hope. Thus, Romans 4:18 begins in human terms, "Against all hope. . . ." But Abraham was not trusting in his body or in his wife's. Abraham was realistic, for true faith has nothing to do with optimistic self-deception. So he acknowledged the reality that their bodies were no longer capable of reproducing. Nevertheless, Romans 4:18 continues, "Abraham in hope believed." Against all hope, as far as man is concerned, Abraham believed on the basis of his hope in God. Abraham's faith was not in himself or in his miserable circumstances, but in God. With man it would be impossible, but "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). God himself asked Sarah, "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Genesis 18:14). And Romans 4:17 says of Abraham, "He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." This is the faith of Abraham: he believed in the God who gives life to the dead. The prophet Ezekiel once saw a valley full of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). The Holy Spirit asked him, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel answered, "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know" (v. 3). But God said they would live, and God gave them life. The bleached, dried bones rose up like an army by the power of God. Abraham believed in this God-the God who calls into existence things that are not as though they are. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. He said, "Let there be stars," and there were stars. He called into existence the whole universe out of nothing (PGM). Had Abraham trusted in himself, he would have weakened in his faith and fallen away. He would have doubted God and his promise. But he fixed his eyes on God and trusted in God's promise, despite his circumstances. We can imagine him reasoning, "The God of glory is the true and living God. This God alone can give life to the dead. He is almighty; he can create out of nothing whatever he wants to. He can bring life out of dry, bleached bones. He created the universe and sustains it." As he trusted God and his promise, Abraham "was strengthened in his faith" (Romans 4:20). When we look to ourselves, we become afraid, anxious and complaining. When we look to our circumstances, we grow weak; we stagger and fall. But when we look to God alone, we are strengthened in our faith and we begin to praise God. We are built up and we encourage others. So we read that Abraham "gave glory to God." We can do the same, even before we experience deliverance, because we know God will fulfill what he has promised. We know who our God is, what he has done, and what he will do in our behalf. Romans 4:21 tells us that Abraham had absolute conviction God would act: "being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." We receive full conviction as we meditate on God and his word. Brothers and sisters, this God has saved us, this God is saving us, and this God will save us on the last day. And God did give a son, Isaac, to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, and through Isaac, nations came.
4. The sacrifice of Isaac. Genesis 22 tells us that when Isaac was a teenager, God tested Abraham's faith, demanding that Abraham sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. What a dilemma for Abraham! On the one hand, God had promised him that in Isaac all the families of the earth would be blessed and that nations would come through Isaac. This meant that Isaac must grow up, marry, and have children. God had promised that through Isaac, Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
But, on the other hand, this same God was now demanding that Isaac be offered as a holocaust in worship to God. Abraham faced a trial of faith: If Isaac was killed, how could God's promise of many children and nations be fulfilled? How could all the families of the earth be blessed through his seed? Besides, Abraham had no historical record to encourage him of anyone being raised from the dead. All these circumstances seemed to be against Abraham. So he argued within himself: "If God is true, if God does not lie, if God is immutable, there must be a solution to this dilemma." That solution is given in Romans 4:17. The God in whom Abraham trusted was "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." This solution came to Abraham's mind by divine revelation before the sacrifice took place, as seen in his speech in Genesis 22:5: "[Abraham] said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'" The writer to the Hebrews tells us the reasoning that went on in Abraham's mind: "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead" (Hebrews 11:17-19). Having faith does not mean we give up our minds and reasoning ability. Abraham reasoned that God must raise Isaac from the ashes, so that through him God's promises could be fulfilled. This must be our faith as well. One day we all are going to die. And as we are about to die, our faith will be tried. We may think, "What is going to happen to me? Is this the end? Am I just like a tree that is falling, or like a dog who is run over by a truck? Or am I being summoned to the presence of God, to enjoy greater blessings and eternal fellowship with him? Will I really be clothed with a glorious body like unto the body of Christ?" If we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, he will grant us such saving faith-the faith of Abraham-to believe in our God who is able to do what he has promised us in his word. We will believe, and God will send his angels to take us to him. Jesus our Redeemer will welcome us as he welcomed Stephen, and we shall be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory as we dwell eternally in the presence of God, his holy angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.
Let us then examine our own faith. If we are Christians, we are children of Abraham. As Abraham believed, we also believe and are saved. Romans 4:22-25 says, "This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.' The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
Have you believed in God as Abraham believed-in the God who gives life to the dead and who calls things that are not as though they were; the God who caused an old couple to have a son; the God who raised Isaac from the dead, figuratively speaking; the God who has the power to do what he promised? Do you believe in the true and living God, the God of Abraham, the God of glory, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead?
Have you trusted savingly in this God of glory? Have you trusted savingly in his Son, the only Savior and Redeemer sent from heaven? Can you say with all confidence, "I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and was raised for my justification. Jesus has taken all my sins away and has given me the robe of his righteousness"? Have you been a recipient of this double transaction in which Christ takes our sins and gives us his unimpeachable divine righteousness, in which we can approach God? Can you boldly declare, "I am reconciled to God. I have peace with God. I have eternal life and can now commune with God and he communes with me. I live by faith, hope, and love. I am unafraid of the future because I have committed to him my past, present, and future. I abide in Christ and he abides in me. And nothing, not even death, can separate me from the love of God"?
Faith in God is the victory that overcomes the world. Jesus said, "Rejoice, for I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33). By faith in him we also have overcome the world, and we will continue to overcome it. So Jesus encouraged us, saying, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" (John 14:1).
Cast all your cares upon God, the object of your faith, for he cares for you, now and forever! In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" And in Jeremiah 32:41 God declares, "I will rejoice in doing them good . . . with all my heart and soul." The total commitment of the triune God is to do us good.
May God help us to believe in the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, that we may live in hope and victory, this day and always!
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Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
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