What do Christians mean by “Faith”?

This week I’ve been trying to get to grips with what the Bible means when it talks about faith. I’ve noticed that we use the word as a bit of a catch-all term, “just have faith” “I admire your faith” “what faith are you?” Somewhere along the line I start to get confused about what we mean by it, and I realise that I’ve become far too comfortable with a word that is meant to shake us from our complacency and lead us to live radically.

As I’ve thought about faith this week, I’ve been encouraged, but also hugely challenged. God has reminded me that faith begins and ends with, through, and in HIM!STEPPING-OUT-IN-FAITH by V Herschberger

Not a Lecture

This blog post isn’t a theological lecture on faith, and it’s certainly not exhaustive! I just want to share some of the rediscoveries I’ve made, in the hope that they will sink more deeply into my heart, and perhaps warm yours too.

I began by looking at how the Bible defines and uses the word ‘faith’. Some of the most common meanings were:
Firm Persuasion, Belief, Trust, and Steadfastness.

In the Old Testament, God himself is the prime example of faithfulness. Israel is commanded to have faith because of his faithfulness. They are to trust him, based on his perfect character and all that he has already done for them.

6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulnessExodus 34:6

Often the Israelites are rebuked for their lack of faithfulness, because they are not steadfast in their faith:

Psalm 78:8…they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Examples of Faith

In the New Testament, Hebrews has a whole chapter that reads like a hall of fame for the faithful – except that when you look closely, many of those mentioned are flawed people who made big mistakes. So why are they commended?

Chapter 11 starts with its own definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And the author goes on to give a plethora of examples:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she
considered him faithful who had made the promise,

It is God’s faithful, promise-keeping character that enables his people to act on their trust in him! Faith enables them to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer their happiness, and wait for the arrival of the promised rescuer, Jesus Christ.

Another thing that struck me as I read this passage, is that God expects his people to trust him, when they don’t know how he will deliver them, or why he has given them certain instructions, or how his promises can possibly come about! They often have little information about the situation at hand, and yet their faith is not foolish or a blind leap in the dark. It rests in the solid, certain, steadfastly faithful character of God.

A Waiting Game

I was also reminded that faith often requires periods of struggle or waiting. Charles Stanley said: “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” And we see this in Hebrews 11:

v.9b-10 [Abraham] lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

v.16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

v.26 [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Genuine faith results in action and change

I want to avoid a super-long blog post, but let me give a brief mention to the book of James, which so clearly shows us that real faith will be evidenced by what we do – just like our Hebrews 11 heroes.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26

Hope for the Little-Faiths

Everything I’ve read about faith shows me how faithless I am most of the time! (Every sin has unbelief at its core because we disobey God when we disbelieve the goodness or wisdom of his commands and promises.)
So I was heartened to also read passages that remind me that just as faith is rooted in a faithful God, it also begins and ends with Jesus Christ:

…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:1-2

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4, 6

Jesus never sinned because his faith in his Father never faltered, and he lives to intercede for us today. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith; and he continues his work in us to strengthen our faith by his Holy Spirit. In our fight for faith and faithfulness we are not alone!

Faith in God enables us to wait, be holy, act boldly, be obedient, keep trusting in impossible circumstances, defer happiness, and look forward eagerly to Christ’s glorious return.

Praise God for his faithfulness to an unfaithful people!

Nim

Hating Waiting

The title says it all really.

Last week I was stuck in bed for a few days with the flu. And unsurprisingly it reminded me that I have a bit of a problem with waiting. Waiting to regain my strength, waiting to get back to work before it piled up, and waiting for 4 hours to pass so that I could take another Lemsip! Trivial examples, but I don’t have to look too deeply to find more serious things that I don’t want to wait for either!

It’s felt like I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual waiting recently too. And that feels even harder. As a church we’ve been waiting to hear from God and to make decisions about the future. And personally, I’m waiting for God to answer some prayers that I feel like I’ve been praying for a long time.

This blog post is the result of me exploring what God has said to us in his word about waiting – why we wait, what we wait for, and how we should go about waiting.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about this. It’s a subject with many facets, so forgive me for only scratching the surface.

Last week, I led a Bible study on the parable of The Persistent Widow (Luke 18). Right at the outset we are told that Jesus tells the parable to teach his followers that they should always pray and not give up.”

In a fallen world we should expect to persist in prayer, persevere, and wait for many things. I don’t know what you’re waiting on God for – Maybe for guidance on an important decision, perhaps for a life partner or children, or for relief from a difficult situation.

Waiting can be worrying and uncomfortable, but instant gratification does nothing to help us grow. When we must wait, we must trust, and flexing our muscles of faith can only be a good thing for our strengthening and growth.

How can we, as God’s children, wait well?

Waiting sounds passive, but I believe that waiting on God should be active, for a number of reasons:

The Psalmist in Psalm 5:3 tells us that he lays his requests before God each morning, and then waits expectantly.

Psalm 130:5 reminds us where to find hope and help as we wait – In his word I put my hope”

Psalm 37:34 exhorts us to: “Hope in the Lord and keep his way“. Continuing in obedience as we wait is important!

Hebrews tells us that we’re in an endurance race, not a sprint: Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb 12:1-2

But what should I say to my soul when the wait seems endless?

Lamentations 3 reminds me – in the context of enduring suffering – that the Lord is my portion as I wait. When I already have the main thing, I can afford to wait for everything else! And the certain goodness of God’s character infuses even my darkest periods of endurance with hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.

Secondly, there is something ultimate that I wait for, a certain hope that outweighs anything else I might want. The glorious appearing of Jesus Christ! Romans 8:23 says that we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

I like to remind myself (get ready for the cheesiness) that although my wait seems endless, my end is not weightless!

One day Jesus will return in glory for his people – his bride! He will bring justice and peace, and satisfy all of our deepest longings eternally. It is easier to wait in the light of a certain guaranteed hope.

So as I gather myself up to keep on prayerfully waiting for the things I need or want in this life, I say with Micah (7:7) “But as for me, I will look to the Lord;  I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

And the verse I’m trying to memorise this week is Psalm 130:5-7:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.

Nim

For the times when you don’t understand what God is doing

I sometimes look back wistfully at the early days of my Christian faith, when God spoke simply and gently, a father to a little child, feeding me with spiritual milk, easily digestible for a baby. But as I’ve grown I’ve needed solid food.

There have been times of rejoicing at learning new things, and less enjoyable periods of discipline, and difficult lessons to master. It’s sometimes been painful, and often confusing.

greener-home-home-renovations

C.s Lewis says it better than I can, but I have to agree with his description:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― 
C.S. LewisMere Christianity

Here are some thoughts that help and encourage me when I don’t understand what God is doing:

1. I don’t expect to understand everything he is doing – his thoughts are higher and wiser than mine! (Isaiah 55:9)

2. I don’t need to understand –I’ve given my life over completely to him, and he is the grand architect who will make me into a suitable home for my King.

3. I remind myself of his character, so that my trust will come more easily: Love, faithfulness, mercy, wisdom, justice, kindness. Such a God must have a good and wise reason for any pain he causes me in the process of his amazing renovations!

4. I remind myself of Job. Do you know his story? In the Bible book named after him, Job is a sorry character, he experiences great suffering, and God does not reveal to him why he is afflicted ( although it is revealed to the reader).

Instead God reminds Job of his character, his superior wisdom and power, the might of the things he has created. He asks Job if he understands how any of it came to be, if he knows the mechanics of the world around him, if Job was present when they were created. Job’s reply shows his righteousness, and the mouth-stilling superiority of God:

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Or as Lewis puts it in another good book of his:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

Nim

For My Good?

What do you do when the events of your life threaten to hurt you, to overwhelm, and destroy? How should the Christian think about suffering?

I was talking with a friend this week; she is going through a very tough time, which threatens her health and much that she holds dear. “Why is this happening to me?” She asked. “I’m trying to trust God’s purposes, but I cannot see or understand what he is doing through this pain!”

As I’ve reflected on how I can encourage her in these circumstances, I know that no trite or simplistic answer will do!

She needs an anchor to hold onto, as the waves threaten to overcome.

Scripture gives us that firm and immovable anchor; one that holds fast even when nothing else does.

Paul says in Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” And what is his answer?

37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’ve been meditating on the whole of Romans 8 where, in the context of suffering pain and persecution in a fallen world, Paul reminds Christ’s followers of what will keep them following and loving him.

The verse that I keep coming back to in my own uncertainties, and as I weep with my friend comes a few verses earlier:

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[j] who[k] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

He who did not spare his own Son!

Surely nothing else can speak so powerfully, to the one who sees much that they hold dear ripped away from them, and yet still seeks to trust in the loving sovereignty of their God?!

God did not withhold the agony and death of his only son, that we might be saved from facing God’s righteous anger against our sin.

His death shows us both the seriousness of the debt our sin creates, and gloriously, the riches of the love of God towards sinners. A love unshaken by our suffering in this life.

We may have no resources to understand why God allows us to face our current circumstances. Perhaps we can’t imagine how anything good can result? Is God playing with us, or blind to our hurt?

What prevents us from losing hope that God loves us, and uses all things for our good, is the cross which stands forever as a witness.

We look to it, when all else fails to make sense. And we know that the God who did not withhold his precious, perfect son, will also withhold no good thing from his blood-bought children.

We don’t know how our experiences will work for our good. But what we do know is that Jesus has paid for us with his life, and is fully, faithfully, committed to our good.

And it’s not a vague, spiritual ‘good’, or the kind of ‘good’ our parents meant when they told us to eat our vegetables!

Scripture speaks of how God uses our pain to refine us, like Gold that is purified, emerging from the terrible furnace, pure and stunningly beautiful.

He redeems our pain for our good.

It’s a good that encompasses body, soul, and spirit, so that Christ may present us as his people, whole, and without blemish.

And it’s a good that we can know in part now, as we taste and see that God is good even in the midst of our pain, that he is enough, when he is truly all that we have.

Perhaps the pain that we ask God to withhold from us is the very thing that will deepen our faith and get us to the finish line.

I don’t think we will ever stop grappling with this, and I want acknowledge that this subject of suffering is a huge one that I only address in the smallest way, forgive me my omissions!

But these scriptures hold us up as we struggle. He loves us and he has shown us by giving up his only son, in our place, that we might live. How will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Our loving, faithful, infinitely wise Father.

He loves when we do not, he is faithful when we are faithless, he is strong when suffering makes us weak.

Amazingly we are promised that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us – and
this by Paul who experienced more suffering than most of us will ever know!

One day we will be free of all pain and grief, made whole that we might worship our Saviour and King.

But in the meantime we are told that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.(v.26-7)

What a comfort! When we experience pain that we are sure no one can alleviate, when the brokenness of this world causes us to despair, we are promised that God’s spirit intercedes on our behalf!

Friends, I encourage you to read Romans 8 for yourself, (always best to read things in context!) It has been a real comfort to me, and these are promises that will stand until Jesus returns and ends sin, sorrow, and death forever!

Nim xx