"Being, then, justified by faith, we may be
having peace toward God."
(Romans 5, v.1.)
THE EARNEST reader of the Bible has not long to search the Sacred Word to discover the supreme imprtance of faith in connection with God's dealings with man and man's relationship to God ; and though the Epistle to the Hebrews was written primarily (as its title implies) to Jewish believers, I suggest that the statement in verse 6 of chapter 11 is true of all who desire to please God. There it says that "apart from faith it is impossible to be well pleasing, for he who is coming to God must believe that He is, and is becoming a Rewarder of those who are seeking Him out."
We also read several times (e.g., Rom.1:17; Gal.3:11; Heb.10:38) that the just one by faith shall be living. Our Lord used the expression when performing some of His miracles, "your faith hath saved you," and we read, too, of such experiences as, "being justified by faith," and of someone's faith being "reckoned for righteousness."
What then is this great quality by which men can live, and be made whole, and be justified ?
Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to God. Notice the word "impossible." Faith is therefore the essential; an absolute essential if we desire to please our Maker.
I propose to answer this question, not by giving any special dictionary definition of the word "faith," or even by getting down to the meaning of the Greek word translated "faith" in the passages quoted above, although this would doubtless be an interesting and profitable line of enquiry, but by tracing some of the tests of faith which have been imposed on man by God throughout the ages; to see how He has been constantly inviting man to have faith in Him, and how He has shown His pleasure when man has demonstrated this faith in Him.
If, however, we require a definition of faith as a starting point for our investigation, let us take the scripture quoted at the outset. This is the simplest definition of faith that we can possibly have. Faith is a belief that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
This simple faith widens to include a belief (as we shall see as we proceed) in Jesus Christ, Who Himself said, as recorded in John 14:1. "Believe in God and believe in Me."
Yes, it is necessary to believe in God, that He exists as the great Creator and Sustainer of all things ; and not to believe that everything in the universe has just come into being by chance, or is contrelled by some unseen intangible, insentient force called Nature; to believe that God is not a vindictive Being, but a just God, Who will reward all who seek Him out, And finally, to believe in Jesus Christ, His Son, Who died for sin that we might have life,
As faith is so important in man's relationship to God, it becomes the means of his justification before his Creator, so we should expect the oripinal test which God imposed on Adam and Eve to be related to faith. And surely it was,
Let us look at Genesis 3. The first six verses read
"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden ? And the woman said unto the sent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden : But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."
Several important facts stand out as we read this passage but perhaps the most striking is the very simplicity of the test which God imposed upon man. Now contrary this is to our methods.
If we wish to prove someone's worth, we impose a stiff examination; we give him something difficult to do. God, in Gen.1:28, gave certain commands to man, such as to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it, but there is nowhere any suggestion that Adam did not carry out these commands, or that he was in any way being judged by his ability or willingness to obey these instructions. God did not say to Adam that if he failed to subdue the earth he would surely die.
There is every indication from verse 6 of Gen. 3 that the forbidden fruit was good for food, and in every way was a desirable thing to eat.
But God had said, "Thou shalt not eat of it." Was God keeping something back that it was desirable for man to have ? Adam had to show by his actions that he had faith in God - faith to believe that God is God, the Creator, the Sustainer and the Disposer, and that He had the right to say what food His creatures shall eat; for if, in His wisdom, He withdraws one kind, He has the power to sustain them with another. Adam was called upon to believe, not only that God IS, but that He is a rewarder, and not a depriver, of those who seek Him. We must therefore conclude that Adam's test was not a test of works, as such (else he would have been asked to do something difficult), but that works were necessary to prove his faith. He had to demonstrate his faith by his acts.
This principle, that all who wished to prove their faith were requested to do so by works, is maintained throu ghout the greater part of the Scriptures. There was, however, one outstanding exception to this rule, and this is developed in the remainder of the Scriptures; we will deal with this later.
As for the principle of faith and works, this is enunciated by James in his epistle, chapter 2 and verses 14 to 26. He asks, "What is the benefit, my brethren, if anyone should be saying he has faith, yet may have no works ? The faith cannot save him." And in verse 17 he states, "Thus, also, is faith, if it should not have works; it is dead by itself." And he quotes the cases of Abraham and Rahab as shining examples of people who were justified by their works.
Consider also some of the examples of faith given in chapter 11 of Hebrews.
Noah was building his ark, which was necessary for his salvation from something in the far distant future, 120 years. What a faith he had in continuing to build (year in and year out, all the time surrounded by a jeering world) this wonderful building; and then to go in while everything seemed quite as usual; and finally to wait there seven whole days before anything happened at all. Truly Noah proved his faith by his works.
"By faith Abraham, when undergoing trial, has offered Isaac, and he who receives the promises offered the only begotten, he to whom it was spoken that In Isaac shall thy seed be called, reckoning that God is able to be rousing him from among the dead also." So far there had been no case of a resurrection from the dead. Thus, like Noah, Abraham also believed in "something not seen as yet," and by this act demonstrated his great faith in it; moreover, as James tells us, "It is reckoned to him for righteousness," and he was called the friend of God.
Moses also showed his faith in instructing the children of Israel to keep the Passover, and to sprinkle the saving blood on the doors and lintels of their houses, and so the Angel of Death (again 'something not seen as yet') passed over them, and they ensured the salvation of their firstborn.
We think, too, of the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea in a manner 'not seen as yet'; of Gideon choosing an army by a most unarthodox method, which actually reduced its size to a figure ridiculously small when compared with the opposing hosts of the Midianites.
We also think of Joshua encampassing the fall of Jericho by means which seemed fantastic, and of David relying on the most primitive weapons when going to meet the giant of Gath. In all these cases men showed their faith in their Lord by their works.
Coming also to the Greek Scriptures we find Jesus practising and preaching the same principles. Well does the writer to the Hebrews say, "Looking off to the Inaugurator and Perfector of faith, Jesus, Who, for the joy lying before Him, endures a cross, despising the shame, besides is seated at the right hand of the throne of Gad. For take into account the One Who has endured such contradiction by sinners while among them, lest you should be faltering, fainting in your souls." (Heb.12:2 and 3).
What a demonstration of faith our Lord gave! He, Who had created all things, voluntarily submitted Himself to be put to death, even the cruel death of the cross, by the hands of some of the lowest of His creatures, in the full confidence that in three days God would raise Him again.
How often, too, when people came to Him with their afflictions, was He willing to recognise and reward even the smallest evidences of faith. We think of the woman who touched the hem of His garment, and of the centurion's servant who was healed through the faith of his master. We remember how He caused people to do certain things to demonstrate their faith before He healed them, as when He instructed the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam, and the sick of the palsy to take up his bed and walk.
And so James very rightly exhorts those to whom he writes to show their faith by their works. " For (he concludes) even as the body apart from the spirit is dead, thus faith also, apart from works, is dead. "
And that surely is conclusive. But is that all ?
It was stated earlier that there was one outstanding exception to this rule in the Hebrew Scriptures; what was it ?
In his epistle to the Roman's, Paul devotes the whole of chapter 4 to showing that (in spite of all that James says) Abraham was justified by faith alone, and not by works.
Let us read the first five verses:
"What, then, shall we declare that Abraham, our forefather according to flesh, has Found ? Sor if Abraham was justified by acts, he has something to boast in, but not toward God. For what is the scripture saying ? Now 'Abraham believes God and it is reckoned to him for righteousness.' Now to the worker, the wage is not reckoned as a favour, but as a debt. Yet to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness."
What is the explanation of this seeming contradiction ? James says that "Faith apart from works is dead," but Paul says of Abraham, "to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness."
The answer is that Abraham was privileged to fulfil a dual role in the purpose of God. James sees him the lesser part where He is justified by works and is called "The Friend of God." Paul sees him in the greater part where he is justified by faith, and is called "The Father of All That Believe."
The last phrase is significant in itself, "The father of all them that believe." In the list of heroes of faith given in Hebrews 11, Abel, Enoch and Noah all come before Abraham. Surely one of these should have been given this title ? God, as the great Disposer, has, however, passed them by, and reserved that position. for Abraham, just as He has reserved for you and me, if vwe belong to Christ, the privileve of being of the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise, although we cannot claim natural descent from the patriarch.
These two separate and distinct aspects of Abraham's experience should therefore be perceived by us; e.g., that in all matters pertaining to his earthly inheritance and to his natural seed, Abraham had to justify his faith by his works, and all the promises which God made to him in this connection were conditional promises - conditional upon his proving his faith by his works. But all the promises made to Abraham concerning his spiritual seed were unconditional, and in this connection, his faith, without works, was counted to him for righteousness.
Let us look at some of Abraham's experiences to prove this point.
We are inroduced to him in Genesis 12:1, where we find the first of the conditional promises. God undertakes to make of him a great nation, but the condition is that he should get out of his country and from his father's house into a land that God would show him.
The writer to the Hebrews refers to this, and says that "By Faith Abraham, being called, obeys, coming out into the place which he was about to obtain to enjoy as an allotment, and came out, not versed in where he is coming." He came into something which was, as far as he was concerned, "not seen as yet."
As soon as he came into the land - as soon as he had demonstrated his faith by his works God confirmed His promise, and said, without any further condition, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." (Gen.12:7).
Again, in Genesis 13, verses 14 to 18, after Abraham's experience with Lot, God repeated His promise, and likened Abraham's seed to the dust of the earth, so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, so should his seed also be numbered.
In Genesis 15, however, a further experience of Abraham is recorded. (I refer to him as Abraham for convenience, although his name had not yet been changed from Abram). Although he was of an age when the possibility of producing children by any earthly consideration was no longer there, yet God promised him a son. And Abraham believed God. He was not asked at this stage to do anything else; that is, to demonstrate his faith by any act. He was simply invited to believe that though his own body was, as far as reproduction was concerned, dead, yet through this same body should be his heir, and that, as a result, his seed would be not as the sand on the seashore, but as the stars of heaven. Here we have an indication that God was looking upon Abraham as the father of a great spiritual seed, which Paul tells us is Christ and all who are Christ's; and Abraham believed in the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
The Authorised Version gives a rather ambiguous rendering of Romans 4:19 in referring to this incident. From a casual reading, it might be inferred that Abraham did not consider his body as dead, although he was a hundred years old. In actual fact the opposite was the case, and for this reason we note the comparison.
The Revised Version gives this verse as follows: "And without being weakened in faith, he considered his own body now as good as dead, (he being about a hundred years old)."
The Diaglott reads: "And not having grown weak in faith, though he regarded his own body as deadened, being somewhere about a hundred years old," etc.
The Concordant Version: "And not being infirm in faith, he considers his own body already dead (existing somewhere about a hundred years)."
Therefore the value of Abraham's faith lay in the fact that he did consider his body as dead, aud realised that of himself he could do nothing towards producing the promised seed, but that God could overcome the deadness of his flesh; and for this cause "he doubted not the promise of God in unbelief, but was invigorated by faith, giving glory to God" thereby.
Thus it is affirmed that "Abraham was invigorated by faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured that, what He has promised, He is able to do also. Wherefore, also, it is reckoned to him for righteousness."
Now I have emphasised this pint because Paul assures us, in the very next verse of Romans 4, that it was not written for Abraham's sake only that righteousness was reckoned to him, but because of us also, to whom it is about to be reckoned, who are believing on Him Who rouses Jesus our Lord from among the dead, Who was given up because of our offences, and was roused because of our justifying.
In other words, we, like Abraham, should consider our bodies as dead, and realize that of ourselves we are unable to do a single thing towards producing that righteousness which God declares for us.
Than, we give all glory to God, because we also are fully assured that, what He has promised, He is able to do, and by this same rule it is reckoned to us for righteousness.
The reckoning is God's, not man's; and faith asserts its truth.
Therefore, we accept the position as stated by Paul in Romans 4, verses 1 to 5 :
"What, then, shall we declare that Abraham, our forefather according to flesh, has found ? For if Abraham was justified by acts, he has something to boast in, but not toward God. For what is the scripture saying ? Now 'Abraham believes God and it is reckoned to him for righteousness.'
"Now to the worker, the wage is not reckoned as a favour, but as a debt. Yet to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness . . ."
Thus, Abraham is the great illustration of our subject.
According to the flesh, we are impotent and cannot boast, and we are given the definite statement in verses 3 and 4 of Romans 4 that must silence any supposition that the righteousness of Abraham had its source in himself.
If Abraham was justified on account of his acts, then his justification would be wages which he could claim and boast about; but no! his justification was a favour conferred upon him by God, it consummates his faith and leaves him with a boast toward God Who has done this for him.
How true it is that we have much to appreciate in the ways of grace, and in accord therewith, we remind yau of the position stated by Paul in the second chapter of Ephesians, reading from verse 4, "Yet God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us (we also being dead to the offences and the lusts), vivifies us together in Christ (in grace are you saved !) and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For in grace are you saved, through faith, and this is not out of you; it is God's oblation, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For His achievement are we."
God's activities in Christ are clearly indicative of the fact of His achievements.
This is, a gain, well emphasised in verses 3 to 6 of Ephesians 1
"Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus; in accord with the delight of His will, for the laud of the glory of His grace, which graces us in the Beloved."
HIS will! HIS grace! It is God Who graces us in the Beloved.
This ability of God is a constant message in Paul's writings, and as necessary for us as it was for Abraham God gave Abraham power for the object in view, likewise with us, God gives the power that we may become what He would have us to be. We are as completely impotent as Abraham was, but God makes us potent - we are His achievement.
These thoughts are confirmied in Romans 8, verses 28 to 30.
"Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also."
Again, the Authorised Version has rather a weak rendering of this passage, for it reads: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God," as though all things are working by chance. How much more reasonable and satisfying to adopt the phrasing of the Revised Version (margin), the Twentieth Century New Testament, the Diaglott (footnote), and the Concordant Version, as saying that it is God Who is working all together for good, just as it is He who designates beforehand, Who calls and justifies and glorifies, according to the purpose that those whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand also, to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Upon what then is our justification established ? What have we to do to be justified ? God's activities in Christ answer ; and, taking Abraham as our example, we, like him believe; and even this is God's gift, that we should not boast in His presence.
Where were we when we were designated beforehand as recipients of God's grace ?
"Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given us in Christ Jesus before times eonian." (2 Tim.1:9).
And, as verse 10 states, we perceive that our Lord made manifest to human minds what had long been established in the mind of God.
God, Whose wisdom is so great that He sees the end from the beginning, and Whose power is so mighty that He carries every jot and tittle of His purpose into certain fulfilment, can, and indeed does, operate all things according to the counsel of His own will.
God calls, justifies and glorifies in accord with His own purpose and grace: choosing us in Christ before the disruption of the world: we to be holy and flawless in His sight: designating us beforehand for the place of a son, He graces us in the Beloved.
We have a further confirmation of God's activity towards a far distant objective in verses 6 to 9 of Galatians 3; and this links up with our subject:
"According as Abraham believed God, and it is reckoned to him for righteousness ? Know, consequently, that those of faith, 'these are sons of Abraham. Now the scripture, perceiving before that God is justifying the nations by faith, brings before an evangel to Abraham, that 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So that those of faith are being blessed with believing Abraham."
In using this passage in the past, we have emphasised the fact (which is perfectly true) that God is now extending His favours to the nations and not confining them exclusively to Jews. I will now repeat it, placing the emphasis where I think Paul intended it to be placed.
"According as Abraham believes God, and it is reckoned to him for righteousness ? Know, consequently, that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham. Now the scripture, perceiving before that God is justifying the nations by faith, brings before an evangel to Abraham, that 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So that those of faith are being blessed together with believing Abraham." (Not with Noah, or Moses, or David).
Therefore the evangel God preached beforehand was "Justification by Faith." No longer are works necessary for the believer in Christ to have righteousness with God.
In Ephesians 1, and verses 9 to 11, we read that God is "Making known to us the secret of His will (in accord with His delight, which He purposed in Him) to have an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in the Christ - both that in the heavens and that on the earth - in Him in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will "
This without any consultation with us.
God is doing this for His glory, in accord with His delight, and in accord with the counsel of His will ; and, in order that we might glorify Him, He has given to each the measure of faith, that we might be able to believe in Him, Whom we have not seen, receiving thereby the blessing He designs to give.
We should therefore be in no doubt in our minds as to God's ability for our salvation. He has sealed us with the holy spirit of promise (which is an earnest, or pledge, of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured) for the laud of His glory.
If you have such an earnest, it is a sure sign to you that you are due to receive that which it retains, and this depends upon God, Whose gifts and callings are unregretted.
May I then remind you of Paul's prayer that we may be recipients of a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realisation of Him, Who is thus ready to bless.
Turning back again to Romans 8, we are here reminded of verses 31 to 32, "What then shall we declare to these things ? If God is for us, who is against us ? Surely, He who spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not, together with Him, also, be graciously granting us all ?"
Continuing with verses 38 and 39, we must concur with Paul as he says, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor what is impendŽng, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
But if our salvation is assured, does that mean that we are simply to sit back in our armchairs and wait for it ? Do not works come into the picture at all ?
As far as our salvation is concerned, it is by grace alone, that the glory may be entirely to God; but we are also to be carrying our salvation into effect, the obedience of faith recognising that it is God Who is operating in us to will as well as to work for the sake of His delight.