The Just Shall Live By Faith

2 07 2014

 

If it can be said that the Bible contains a prime directive, it would be this: as Jesus said, and as it is written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(1)  It is the Triune God who gives love its existence and its significance. Without the Triune God there is no such thing as love. Our love for God gives us the motivation to love others ― properly ― and to love even ourselves ― properly. Proper love for ourselves and our neighbors proves our love for God.

Love is work; it is action. Such action is enabled by faith, faith in the God who is the fount of love, who is Love itself.

And what is faith? As it is written, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (2)  Faith as revealed to us via the prophets and the apostles is belief, and more than belief; it is also devotion, fidelity, conviction, and fealty. It is trusting obedience and obedient trust.

What else is written about faith?

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” (3)

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (4)

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ” (5)

“But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (6)

Indeed, one may say that one means of expressing love to and for God is by exercising faith in Him, His Word, His will, and His way.

Here is an illustration.

Casey may say to his young son Henry, “Here. Eat this. It tastes good, and it’s good for you.” And Henry  says, “Of course it is. I know exactly what’s in it. Whole-grain wheat, barley, rye, oats, and corn. Soybeans. Yeast.  Bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. Curds and whey. Eggs. Sunflower seeds. Nectar.” And he eats it.

Or Casey may say to Henry, “Here. Eat this. It tastes good, and it’s good for you.” And Henry says, “What is it?” Casey says, “That’s exactly what it is: manna. (7) Eat it.” Now Henry has a choice, to eat or not to eat. He doesn’t know what manna is, but because he loves his father, and because love for his father orients on his father’s love and care and provision for him, plus his father’s knowledge and wisdom, plus his father’s talents, skills, and abilities, Henry chooses to eat the manna.

In both scenarios, Casey’s love for his son is expressed in his provision of food for Henry’s health and welfare. In which scenario, though, is Henry’s love for his father better or more meaningfully expressed?

In the first scenario, Henry’s orientation is more on himself as subject than on his father as object. “I know,” he says to himself. “It’s only rational, logical, and sensible of me to eat this food.” Here, leaning on his own understanding, Henry helps himself.

It is written, “We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.  But whoever loves God is known by God.” An alternate reading of the last two sentences says, “Those who think they have knowledge do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves truly knows.” (8)

In the second scenario, Henry’s orientation is more on his father as object than on himself as subject.  “I don’t know,” he realizes. Nevertheless, because he trusts his father, Henry eats. He accepts the helping offered by his father.

It is written, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (9)  In the first scenario, Henry is more selfish; he receives. In the second scenario, Henry is less selfish; he receives, but he also gives. What does he give? Not just belief, not just assent. It would not have been enough for Henry to say to his father, “I believe you,” and yet refuse to eat. Henry acts on his belief by eating manna. Active trust, it’s something every parent wants in a child. Active trust is an expression of love any child can give.

God wants every one of His children to express love for Him, not just by mere belief, and not just by mere obedience, but by trusting obedience. “Trust Me,” God says.  As Jesus the Son of God says, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (10)

Alas, as the prophets and apostles have taught, we are all like Henry acting according to a third scenario. “No! I won’t eat that, that … whatever it is. I don’t trust you. And I won’t trust you. I can figure this out for myself, and I figure that stuff, whatever it is, is garbage. I don’t want you. I don’t need you. I can provide for myself.” Now, how loving is that?

Faith ―informed, enlightened, existential faith ― persuades Henry to eat what his father provides. In so doing, he comes to know what is in the manna, and he comes to know his father better.

It is written:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (11)

Even those who have had close encounters with God, whether once or more than once, must nevertheless continue to exercise faith.  This side of the coming Kingdom, one can never say, “I have graduated from faith; beyond the shadow of a doubt, I know … absolutely.” Such a person is already being deceived and is in danger of dreadful diabolical assault. Such a person is also likely to receive further lessons in faith from God. Think of Job. Think also of Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah. Think of the entire Hebrew nation after the Exodus.

Remember Simon Peter? With fellow apostles James and John, he witnessed the glorious transfiguration of Christ. (12) Yet what did Jesus say to him later?  “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail….” (13) Simon Peter did fail, but not for long. Jesus’ prayer was answered in a glorious affirmative; in faith, Peter became first among equals.

Consider, too, the prophet John the Baptist. If anyone could say he had a close encounter with God, John could. Indeed, when he baptized his kinsman Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River, he was exposed not only to God the Son, but also to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Moreover, John proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God. But then John was arrested for some unequivocally incorrect political speech. Suffering in prison, he sent two disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (14)

Why would John, of all people, ask such a question? Wasn’t he familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah that predicted his own ministry? Hadn’t he already heard? Didn’t he already know?

And what did Jesus do? Did He go to that prison and appear before John as He did to Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration? Did He reveal to John those twelve legions of angels in a manner similar to God’s revealing His army of fire to the prophet Elisha and his servant? Did Jesus then give John a clear and incontrovertible answer, saying, “Yes, I am the Messiah, the Son of man and the Son of God”?

Instead, Jesus says, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (15)

Jesus does not provide John with absolute proof, though He could have done so. If anyone was worthy of such a revelation, based upon what Jesus said about him after his two disciples left, it was John the Baptist. (16)  Jesus rather insists that John consider the evidence, evidence that can be seen and heard in the here and now, evidence that fulfills prophecies recorded in the past.  This is evidence that can convince the mind of the truth of the Gospel and thereby produce belief and induce certainty of judgment.  Jesus insists that John exercise ― that is, continue to exercise ― faith.

Why? Consider another definition of proof: an effort, process, or operation designed to establish or discover a fact or truth; an act of testing; a test; a trial. Faith proves us.  Faith proves the mettle of our love of God while it improves the mettle of our love for God and for our neighbors.

And what of those of us who never have a close encounter with God? As Jesus said to Thomas and the other apostles, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (17)  We, too, consider the evidence, both natural and supernatural, both Biblical and extra-Biblical. We, too, accept on faith the advice of the prophet Azariah, “The Lord is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (18)

 

  1. Matthew 22:36-40  Deuteronomy 6:4-5    Leviticus 19:34
  2. Hebrews 11:1
  3. 2 Corinthians 5:7
  4. Hebrews 11:6
  5. Romans 1:17   Habakkuk  2:4   Galatians 3:11
  6. Hebrews 10:38
  7. Exodus 16:14-35
  8. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
  9. Acts 20:35
  10. Matthew 18:3   Mark 10:15   Luke 18:17
  11. Jeremiah 9:23-24
  12. Matthew 17:1-13   Mark 9:2-13   Luke 9:28-36
  13. Luke 22:31-32
  14. Luke 7:19
  15. Luke 7:22-23
  16. Luke 7:24-29
  17. John 20:26-29
  18. 2 Chronicles 15:2   Jeremiah 29:13-14   1 Chronicles 28:9

 

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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