We have already considered the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1. The writer goes on to describe the part played by faith in man’s approach to God.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Notice the two phrases: “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and “he who comes to God must believe.” We see from these that faith is the indispensable condition for approaching God and for pleasing God.
The negative aspect of this truth is that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). This means that anything a person may do at any time, if it is not based on faith, is reckoned by God as sinful. This applies even to religious activities, such as church attendance, praying, singing hymns or performing deeds of charity. If these acts are not done in sincere faith toward God, then they are in no way acceptable to Him.
Unless such acts have been preceded by true repentance and unless they are motivated by true faith, they are nothing but “dead works,” totally unacceptable to God.
The Basis of All Righteous Living
Perhaps the most all-inclusive statement concerning the relationship between faith and righteousness is found in Habakkuk 2:4.
The just shall live by his faith.
The two English words just and righteous are two alternative ways of translating one and the same word in the original text. This applies equally to the Hebrew of the Old Testament and to the Greek of the New Testament. In both languages there is only one root word which, as an adjective, can be translated either by “just” or by “righteous,” and, as a noun, can be translated either by “justice” or by “righteousness.” Whichever translation may be used, there is no difference whatever in the original sense.
Thus, in translating Habakkuk 2:4 we may say either “the just shall live by his faith” or “the righteous shall live by his faith.”
This statement of Habakkuk is quoted three times in the New Testament: in Romans 1:17, in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. In each of these three passages the New King James Version renders it, “The just shall live by faith.” It would be difficult to think of any sentence as short and simple as this which has produced as great an impact upon the history of the human race.
In the New King James Version the entire sentence consists of only six or seven words, none of which contains more than one syllable. Yet this sentence provided the basic, scriptural authority for the gospel message preached by the apostolic church. The proclamation of this simple message by a tiny, despised minority changed the course of world history. Within three centuries it brought to his knees the great Caesar himself, the head of the most powerful, the most far-reaching and the most enduring empire that the world had ever seen.
About twelve centuries later this same sentence, quickened by the Holy Spirit to the heart and mind of Martin Luther, provided the scriptural lever that dislodged the power of papal Rome and, through the Protestant Reformation, once again changed the course of history – first in Europe and then, by its outreach, in the world at large.
There is no doubt that, still today, this same simple sentence, when once apprehended and applied by faith, contains within it the power to revolutionize the lives of individuals or the course of nations and empires.
Though so short and so simple, the scope of this sentence, “The just shall live by faith,” is immense. The word live covers almost every conceivable condition or act of any sentient being. It covers all areas of the human personality and experience in every conceivable aspect – the spiritual, the mental, the physical, the material. It covers the widest possible range of activities – such as breathing, thinking, speaking, eating, sleeping, working and so on.
The Scripture teaches that, for any person to be accepted as righteous by God, all these activities within that person must be motivated and controlled by the one great principle of faith.
Paul actually applies this principle to the familiar act of eating, for he says:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
This shows that, in the life of righteousness which alone is acceptable to God, even an act so commonplace as eating food must proceed from faith.
Let us therefore consider for a moment: What does it mean to “eat from faith”? What is implied by this?
First, it implies that we acknowledge that God is the One who has provided us with the food we eat. Thus, the provision of nourishing food for our bodies is an example of the principle stated in James 1:16-17.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
It is also a fulfilment of the promise contained in Philippians 4:19.
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Jesus.
Second, because we acknowledge that God is the One who provides our food, we naturally pause before eating to thank Him for it. In this way, we obey the commandment contained in Colossians 3:17.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
In this way, too, we are assured of God’s blessing upon the food that we eat, so that we obtain the maximum amount of nourishment and benefit from it. This is explained by Paul.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
Thus, through our faith and prayer, the food we eat is blessed and sanctified to us.
Third, eating in faith implies that we acknowledge that the health and strength we receive through our food belong to God and must be used in His service and for His glory.
Now the body is not for sexual immorality [not for any immoral, unclean, foolish or harmful use] but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1 Cor. 6:13).
Because our bodies are thus by faith and by holy living given over to the Lord, the responsibility for their care and preservation also belongs to the Lord; and we have every right to expect the fulfilment of Paul’s prayer:
And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Jesus (1 Thess. 5:23).
All these – and many more besides – are the implications and the outworking’s of the principle “The just shall live by faith,” as applied to only one simple aspect of our lives – that of eating. And when we thus analyze what is implied by the phrase “to eat from faith,” we are forced to the conclusion that the great majority of people, even those who profess Christianity, do not “eat from faith.” In the provision, preparation and consumption of their daily food, no thought whatever is given to God.
No doubt this is one main cause of such diseases as indigestion, ulcers, tumours, cancer, heart disease and many others. The Western world has enjoyed an unprecedented abundance of both food and money. Yet countless thousands are misusing and abusing this abundance to their own physical distress, because by their indifference and unbelief they have shut God out of their lives. Solomon gives us a picture of the carnal, sensual man who makes no room for God in his daily life.
All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger (Eccl. 5:17).
This description is still as true today as when Solomon wrote it. Not to eat in faith is to eat in “darkness,” and three consequences that commonly follow this are “sorrow . . . sickness and anger.”
There is another simple act, familiar and essential to us all, in which the principle of faith can have a decisive influence: the act of sleeping. In Psalm 127:2 the psalmist says:
It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He [God] gives His beloved sleep.
Through the continual, restless pursuit of wealth and pleasure, millions today are losing the ability to enjoy either food or sleep. Who can count the millions of pain killers, digestive tablets and sleeping tablets that are consumed each day throughout the Western world – and often with so little effect? But to God’s believing children, to those whose lives are based on faith in God, sleep comes as a gift of God’s love, a provision of His daily mercy, “for so He gives His beloved sleep.”
Someone has said, “Money can buy medicine, but not health; a bed, but not sleep.” It is not only very costly, but it is also very injurious to our bodies to shut God out of our daily living.
The psalmist David was a man whose way led through many troubles and dangers, but in the midst of them all his faith in God sustained him and gave him the assurance of sweet, untroubled sleep. Listen to David’s own testimony of what prayer and faith could do for him.
I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me (Ps. 3:4-5).
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps. 4:8).
This same blessed assurance of calm, untroubled sleep at the close of each day is still available to those who will enter into all the provisions of God’s love and mercy contained in that simple phrase: “The just shall live by faith.”
At this point I can imagine a reader saying, “You have spoken about simple, familiar acts such as eating and sleeping and the part that faith can play in these. But the problems of our modern world are much greater and more complex than simple things like eating and sleeping. What solution can faith offer to our great national and international problems today?”
Yes, it is certainly true that we are confronted with vast and intricate problems – social, economic, political. We must acknowledge this. But let us take the truth one step further: There is no human mind and no human wisdom that can comprehend all these problems in their entirety, much less work out solutions to them all. If we must depend solely upon human wisdom for the solutions, then the outlook is hopeless.
But faith is always united with humility. True faith causes man to acknowledge his own limitations. True faith distinguishes between those things which are within the province of man and those which are within the province of God.
Someone has stated the relationship between man’s part and God’s part in the life of faith as follows: “You do the simple thing; God will do the complicated thing. You do the small thing; God will do the great thing. You do the possible thing; God will do the impossible thing.”
God’s simple plan for living, “The just shall live by faith,” still makes sense today. Let man do his part – let man by faith and obedience seek God’s guidance and blessing in the simple acts of daily life, in the familiar relationships of home and community. There will come a relief and a release from the strains, the tensions, the physical, mental and moral breakdown of modern life. And in the vast areas of the modern world that are outside man’s comprehension and control, God will move in response to man’s faith and will overrule the affairs of nations in a way that will amaze us by its effectiveness.
This simple principle, “The just shall live by faith,” which has twice changed the course of world history, still contains today the power to revolutionize the life and destiny of any modern nation that will apply it. This is still God’s answer to man’s problems, God’s provision for man’s needs: “The just shall live by faith.”
Of all man’s faculties and capacities, there is only one by which he can solve the problems that confront him today – one human faculty which is potentially greater than all his material and scientific achievements – and that is man’s faith in God.
In order to comprehend the latent possibilities of man’s faith in God, it is necessary to look at two statements made by the Lord Jesus Jesus during His earthly ministry.
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23).
Set these two statements side by side: “with God all things are possible,” and “all things are possible to him who believes.” This means that through faith God’s possibilities become ours. Faith is the channel by which God’s omnipotence becomes available to man. The limit of what faith can receive is the limit only of what God Himself can do.
Appropriating All of God’s Promises
We have spoken hitherto of faith as an experience of the human heart which revolutionizes human behavior and provides a principle by which to direct the whole course of human life. However, it is most important to add that faith is not merely something subjective, something private and personal in the heart of each believer. It is this, but it is also more.
Faith is based on definite, objective facts. What are these facts? It is possible to give a very wide answer to this question. On the other hand, it is possible also to confine our answer within quite narrow limits.
In the widest sense, faith is based upon the entire Bible. Every statement and every promise in the Bible is a potential object of faith. As we have already said, faith comes through hearing the Word of God; and faith is therefore based upon everything that God’s Word contains. For the Christian’s believer there is nothing within the statements and promises of God that is outside the scope of his faith. This is plainly stated by Paul.
For all the promises of God in Him [Jesus] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us (2 Cor. 1:20).
Side by side with this we may set Romans 8:32.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
All things that God possesses – all His blessings, all His promises – are made available freely to each person who will receive them through faith in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection.
There is a tendency today to base the interpretation of Scripture on a system of dispensations in such a way that only a small proportion of God’s blessings and promises are made available to professing Christian’s.
According to this system of interpretation, many of God’s choicest blessings and promises are relegated either to periods in the past, such as that of the Mosaic covenant or the apostolic church, or to periods in the future, such as the millennium or the dispensation of the fullness of times.
However, this does not tally with Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 1:20, which we may amplify as follows:
For all the promises of God [not some of the promises of God, but all the promises of God] in Him [Jesus] are [not were nor will be, but are here and now] Yes, and in Him Amen [not merely Yes, but a double affirmative Yes and Amen], to the glory of God through us [not through various groups in different ages, but through us who receive these words today].
The context makes it plain that “us” includes all true Christian’s believers.
In the life of any Christian’s believer, there is no need which is outside the scope of God’s promises.
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:19).
For every need that can arise in the life of any Christian’s, there is somewhere in God’s Word a promise that meets that need and which may be claimed through faith in Jesus.
Whenever a need arises in the life of a Christian’s, therefore, there are three steps that he should take.
- He should ask the Holy Spirit to direct him to the particular promise or promises that apply to his situation and meet his need.
- He should obediently fulfil in his life the particular conditions attached to those promises.
- He should positively expect their outworking in his experience.
This is faith in action, and faith of this kind is “the victory that has overcome the world” (1 John 5:4). The secret of this victory lies in knowing and applying the promises of God’s Word.
Peter states this same truth very forcefully.
His [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him [Jesus] who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Here Peter’s message is in perfect agreement with that of Paul. He tells us that God has already provided us with all that we can ever need for life and godliness and that this provision is made available through Jesus by the claiming of God’s promises.
In the Old Testament, under Joshua, God brought His people into a promised land. In the New Testament, under Jesus, God brings His people into a land of promises. The parallel is made more exact by the fact that Joshua and Jesus are two different forms of the same name.
In the Old Testament God showed Joshua the principle of active, personal, appropriating faith.
Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you (Josh. 1:3).
In the New Testament this principle remains the same. God says, in effect, “Every promise that you personally appropriate, I have given you.”
However, it is necessary to add one word of warning: The great majority of God’s promises, in the Old and New Testament alike, are conditional. There are conditions attached which must be fulfilled before the promise can be claimed. For example:
Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass (Ps. 37:5).
The promise here is: “And He shall bring it to pass” – that is, “He shall work out the way of the believer for him.” The two conditions which are stated first are: “commit your way” and “trust also in Him.” The word commit denotes a single definite act; the word trust denotes a continuing attitude.
Thus, the conditions attached to this promise may be interpreted as follows: 1) make a single, definite act of commitment, 2) thereafter maintain a continuing attitude of trust. When these two conditions have been fulfilled, the believer can then claim the ensuing promise, “He shall bring it to pass,” in whatever way is appropriate to his own particular situation.
This kind of active, appropriating faith is the key to victorious Christian’s living. It must be based on the promises of God’s Word, and it must follow the three successive steps:
- find the appropriate promise,
- fulfil all the conditions attached,
- claim the fulfilment of the promise.
Subject to these conditions, the scope of the Christian’s faith is as wide as the promises of God.