Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 4/28/02
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, NIV).
When I asked the Lord about this Sunday's lesson, He said again, "Tell them more about the difference between law and grace." Then, He began to talk to me about faith, a popular though often misunderstood topic among Christians. God invites all of us to take a new look at this subject, based on what the Holy Spirit reveals to us, rather than what we have been taught. The dictionary defines faith as: 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing. 2. belief that is not based on proof. 3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. 4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics or standards of merit. These definitions of faith are what most preachers tell us we must have. We must believe in God, they say, and we must have faith in Him. Lenny points out that there is a difference between natural faith and spiritual faith, which is what we're going to consider today. The kind of faith which we "drum up" or work up in ourselves is "natural faith," i.e., faith that begins in our minds. Did you know that there is no command under the law to have faith? They were commanded to love the Lord their God, to keep his commandments and serve Him with all their heart and their soul (Deut. 6:5; 11:1,13), but I could find no commandment to have faith in Him.
Most religion is based on natural faith, relying on a learned set of beliefs. Here's another example of natural faith: Look on the Internet for information about whatever drug you're interested in, (www.rxlist.com), and you will quickly see that the the law requires pharmaceutical companies to publish the results of their findings. To study the efficacy of a drug, as well as its possible side effects, they do what is called a "blind study." Taking a group of let's say 100 people, they give 50% of them the drug being tested, and 50% get a placebo (sugar pill). Neither the administrators nor the recipients know which is which. It fascinates me to learn that a significant percentage of those getting the sugar pill get better, and a significant percentage of those taking it develop side effects. Natural faith causes many people to get better or get side effects from a sugar pill! The mind is a powerful tool, so powerful that it convinces some Palestinian young people to strap explosives to their bodies and walk into an Israeli location and push the detonator, killing themselves and as many others as they can in the process. This is natural faith elevated to brainwashing.
To explore spiritual faith, let's review last week's lesson about "the word of the Lord" which came to Jeremiah and others (See End Note "A"). You will remember that Jesus Himself IS the word of God (John 1:1,14). The term also refers to the "rhema," the living word, rather than the printed word which most people now call the bible. The living word of God begets faith in our hearts. This faith is spiritual (God-given), rather than natural (what we work up). When the word of the Lord came to a prophet, he was imputed with or given spiritual faith. Consider this verse: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17, KJV). Many Christians use this verse to equate faith with a work that must be performed before we can be saved. What does "faith comes by hearing the word of God" mean? When Jeremiah heard "the word of the Lord," it birthed faith in his heart. He then acted upon whatever that word said for him to do. This is a far different thing from reading the bible and mentally deciding to do what it says. When Jeremiah heard the word, there was no doubt about WHO it came from and WHAT he was supposed to do about it. He didn't have to wonder if he had a correct translation, or if the temple authorities would approve of it, or if he would be accused of apostasy when he obeyed the Lord. In fact, he was accused of apostasy and punished repeatedly for doing what God had told him to do, and yet, the faith which this word, the rhema, birthed in his heart was so strong, so powerful, so compelling, that he had to act upon it no matter what the consequences were.
It always astounds me when preachers sing verse after verse of an invitation hymn, and heap piles of guilt on the audience, trying to persuade someone to come forward at the altar call. This is relying on manipulation rather than the power of God to bring a person to repentance. We did not choose God, Jesus said; He chose us (John 15:16,19), and no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6:44). God enables us to obey Him: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). We see this illustrated perfectly on the Day of Pentecost. Under the anointing and life changing power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter spelled out for them their sin: they had crucified the Lord of glory. The scripture says that they were cut to the heart, crying out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). When the Holy Ghost puts His hand on your heart, you WILL repent (change your mind); you WILL get healed; you WILL seek God's face. If you must sing an invitation hymn ten times to get someone to go forward, you are wasting your breath. It is flesh, not Spirit that brought that person up front and the results will be fleshly, not spiritual.
Remember the Roman centurion, whose servant Jesus healed? When Jesus offered to go to the officer's home to heal his servant, the man replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only SAY the WORD, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it" When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Matt. 8:8-10, RSV). Many times, the Lord rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Have you wondered why? It was NOT because they were violating the law, because there is no command in the law of Moses to have faith. It was because they were in the presence of the Lord Himself, and still, they did not believe. His rebuke of them in the boat on the sea of Galilee was pretty rough because, after all, they were in the midst of a horrific storm (Mk. 8:36-41). They had seen him perform many miracles: healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk and the blind to see. The Lord of life was in that boat with them, and still they were afraid they were about to die. Actually, He calls on us to have more faith than they, because unlike the disciples, we cannot see His physical presence in our lives. However, we have the Holy Spirit, which they did not yet have. It is the Holy Spirit who gifts us with spiritual faith. Without Him, it is impossible to have it.
The difference between natural and spiritual faith is very important, for Paul says that Abraham's faith was credited to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3), and likewise, our faith is credited to us for righteousness (Rom. 9:30). What kind of faith did Abraham have? He had spiritual faith, that which arises in our hearts in the presence of the living God. How do I know? He came out of an idol worshipping family (Jos 24:14-15), meaning that he himself was probably an idol worshipper until God tapped him on the shoulder and revealed to him the GOSPEL, that in his seed would ALL nations be blessed (Gal. 3:8). Those of us who were born into a Christian home, often have lots of natural faith. We were taught about God, His power and might from the time we were knee high to a duck. Believing in something we've been taught is not spiritual faith, however.
On the other hand, a man who grew up in China, who never heard the name of Jesus, never read the bible, and never experienced the sweet savor of Christ, has a more difficult road to the Father than those of us who grew up in Christian homes. This is why we send missionaries to foreign lands, to speak the Name above all names, share the Way above all ways, and lead people back home to God, from whence the Apostle Paul says all men in all nations came (Acts 17:26-27). Just because we grew up believing that God exists does not mean we have spiritual faith. The Apostle James wrote, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe, and shudder" (James 2:19, RSV). So we see that spiritual faith is not just a matter of believing a fact about something. It goes far beyond that, and consists of a "heart transplant," a spiritual conversion, if you will, based on the word of God to our hearts, which brings forth belief. Here's a personal example. In December, 2000, we were to leave on vacation on the same day that the flu vaccine became available in this area. I have always taken a flu shot because of my life long problems with bronchial inflammations and sinus infections. There had been a short supply of the vaccine that year, and when I realized that we were to leave the day the vaccine became available, making it impossible for me to get it, I whined to the Lord, "Well, what am I supposed to do now?" He said clearly, "I am your flu shot." From that day to this, I have had not so much as a sniffle, a sore throat, or a sinus headache. That is a clear example of His faith at work, not mine. I heard His voice, and it was so powerful that it replaced all doubt and fear in my heart.
This is the kind of faith that God's presence produced in Abraham, who heard the voice of God and saw Him on numerous occasions. In Genesis, Chapter 17, we read that when Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and told him that from his and Sarah's aged loins, would come a son. His reaction was about what mine would be if God said to Lenny and me that we would have a child now in our old age: "Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?'" (Gen. 17:17, RSV). God assured him that this was exactly what would happen, and Abraham believed the word of the Lord. He then took all the males in his household and circumcised them, as a sign to God and others that he believed what the voice of the Lord had spoken to him (Gen. 17:23-27). He had the faith to obey God, BECAUSE he first had heard His voice. Paul explained it this way: "Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but BEFORE he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them" (Romans 4:9-11, RSV). Circumcision was a RESULT of his belief, NOT the cause of it!
Under law, a man first had to obey in order to receive the blessing. Often the church, operating under law, tells us we must repent BEFORE we can receive forgiveness. This is the exact opposite of the truth. Like Abraham, who obeyed AFTER God had put faith into his heart, we can only truly repent of our sins, AFTER He puts the faith in our hearts that we were forgiven through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Paul asked: "Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" (Gal. 3:21, RSV). Righteousness does not come by obedience to law, but by faith, by God's grace, which Paul tells us "... is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9, RSV). God knew we would try to take credit for our salvation if we could, which is why He anointed Paul to tell us that everything, even faith is a gift!
Lenny asks, "Whose faith is it?" The answer is found in this verse: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live BY the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:20,21, KJV). Notice that it is the faith OF the Son of God; it is Christ's faith which allows us to live in the flesh. It is not our own faith, because dead men cannot have faith! We are dead in Christ and He now lives though us! (Rom. 6:3-8; 7:4; II Cor. 5:14; Col. 2:20;3:3). He promised, "....in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, RSV). Life is the great equalizer, the divine "test tube," in which we encounter the living God. We may think we have faith, only to find out how weak our natural faith really is, when the storms of life begin to roll through and the waves threaten to capsize our little boat. These trials bring confidence as we learn by EXPERIENCE that He who knows the end from the beginning, has everything under His control. When Lenny says, "God gives us strength for the day," he means that even before we are tested, God has given us the spiritual faith we need to overcome the problem or obstacle we face.
The Hebrew writer gives this definition of faith: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1, RSV). If you have $100,000 in your checking account, it does not require any faith at all to know that you can pay your bills which add up to $1,000, let's say. If you only have $10 in the account, however, and a bill for $1,000, you are going to need spiritual faith to sustain you. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," which translates into the sure knowledge that the Lord will provide a way to pay our bills, receive our healing, and mend our relationships in His time and in His way: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19, RSV). There is no time limit on the promise in that verse, and no qualifiers, nothing to suggest that it depends on us in any way. This is where the Word of Faith teachers miss the mark. They take the free gift of God and make it something that we must earn. We live by grace, through faith, not by law. Faith is the bridge God has given us to cross over the troubled waters in our lives. It is a covered bridge, covered by the blood of the Lamb. By the faith OF the son of God, by Christ's faith living in our hearts, we see that we have everything we need to live an overcoming life. Lord, open our eyes to grasp it, now and in this time. Amen.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note "A": "God's Provision"
"What does faith have to do with it?" by Jan
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 4/26/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/15/08.