The bible describes two types of belief: one might look right on the outside, but lacks the power to save or transform, but the other drives us to an abiding walk with the God of the universe. Having a mere mental assent to Jesus and the gospel is powerless to save or transform (James 2:9). Unfortunately, our churches seem to be full of those who have “prayed a prayer,” walked an aisle, serve diligently, know & have shared the gospel, pray and attend church regularly, but their belief only resides in their heads and has no real root in their hearts. Jesus addresses this phenomenon in Matthew 7:23 when people will come before Him and put up their impressive (in our eyes) resumes of the works that they have done in Jesus name. Jesus response? Depart from me, I never knew you. Too many church goers have little regard for God, His glory and have no true, sustained desire to follow Him, walk with Him or know Him; we want His blessings, benevolence and good gifts (i.e. good marriages, successful careers, moral children, influence or even ministry significance or success), but really have no desire for God Himself (Romans 1:25). Far too many have what Paul describes as “an appearance of godliness, but they deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). Morality and obedience to a form of external religiosity are not the primary indicators of true belief.
Getting belief from our head to our heart is an impossible task for men. God must do this, God must regenerate the heart so that our desires and affections begin to change. The bible calls this type of transforming belief faith. The bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV), and says that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Faith is a settled confidence & trust that the things that have been promised by God will actually come to pass – especially that Jesus has atoned for our sins and that we no longer need to strive in an attempt to appease God or win His favor. This faith is rooted in God, who is sovereign, majestic, holy and true – He will bring to pass everything that He has promised to do. Our faith is in God and who He is, not in the blessings of God. Yes, we long for heaven, for all things to be made new, but ultimately our faith is in God. As faith changes us on the inside, it moves us to obedience on the outside.
So what does faith look like on the ground; what does it look like in real life? Hebrews 11 gives us examples of those who exercised trust in God. With names like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses Jacob, Joseph, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David & Samuel, it is nearly always the goto place in scripture when it comes to faith. Abraham, the father of faith, was called by God to exercise faith and abandon all sources of identity & security and trust & rely completely on God for his provision, protection & identity (Hebrews 11:8-10). Faith always yields obedience, but our white knuckled obedience never produces faith.
We often times think that the bible gives us these great people who have gone before us, as examples for us to follow. That is partially true, but the bible does not tell us these people’s story as a means for us to mimic their lives, but, rather, to reveal the faithfulness of God. God is in focus in this passage, not Abraham or Sarah or David. Yes, they exercised faith in God, however, it is a good thing that God’s plans, actions and benevolence are not predicated on our belief & obedience; His sovereign will comes to pass regardless of our obedience. The bible does not gloss over people’s failures and stumblings. Look at Abraham’s life:
- God calls Abram to be a great nation (Genesis 12)
- Abraham lies to Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12:10-20)
- Abraham struggles about being childless, but believes God and this simple belief/trust/faith was credited to Him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6. It is important to note that God views Abraham as righteous based upon His trusting God, not on His obedience to God.
- Abraham & Sarah attempt to fulfill the promise on their own by Abraham having sex with Hagar and getting her pregnant (Genesis 16).
- God gives the covenant of circumcision after Abraham was declared righteous before God (Genesis 17).
- God promises the birth of Isaac, but Sarah doubts God ( Genesis 17-18, 18:9-15)
- Abraham again pretends that Sarah is not his wife to save his own skin with Ablimilech (Genesis 20)
Our battle, like Abraham & Sarah, is to believe the seemingly impossible promises of God that are rooted in His good, sovereign and transcendent nature. Abraham & Sarah both struggled with believing that God was able to do what He said He would do. Abraham lied about Sarah being His wife (twice!) and they attempted to “help” God by trying to fulfill the promise on their own with Hagar. Let us, with Abraham, Sarah, David and those who have gone before us, battle for belief that this great God of ours is indeed faithful to what He has promised. Let us go to the scriptures, swim in books and talk to others in such a way that our faith in our sovereign Creator is bolstered and our affections for Him are stirred up. This is the work that we must be about, it is a work of battling unbelief and developing a deeper faith that draws near to believing that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Note that it tells us that we primarily should draw near to him and seek him; it does not say to do great things for Him as if God needs us to accomplish anything. God is not reliant upon us, but He allows to play a part in His grand redemptive plan. Let us all draw near to Him and believe that He exists and will reward us as we seek Him!