The Message of Jesus: This Is Living Faith
Living faith, the kind of faith described in the Bible, can transform your life, enabling you to enjoy a close, personal relationship with God. Faith can offer freedom from the shackles of worry, doubt and fear. It can bring strength, hope and wisdom in the face of problems and challenges.
PROFILES IN FAITH
Faith! It brings to mind images of fiery prophets, dynamic apostles, brave martyrs and exceptional followers of Christ across the ages. Great people of God, powerful and effective. You could never have faith like that, could you? Perhaps you could.
Few aspects of the Christian experience are so often talked about, but so little understood, as the subject of faith. And yet, God says that without faith it is impossible to please him, “because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“Have faith in God,” Jesus Christ declared (Mark 11:22). He was speaking about heartfelt belief. Such belief involves trust, commitment and loyalty. Faith in God means belief in him even though we cannot physically see him. It means accepting God’s principles, his words, his instructions — believing in and doing what he wants.
The Bible records many examples of believers who in faith served God, received answers to prayer, triumphed over adversity and did remarkable deeds. These examples have been recorded and handed down to us for our learning (Romans 15:4). Let’s look at some experiences of believers of the past and see how faith worked in their lives.
God’s friend Abraham
Besides Jesus, no individual is referred to more often in the New Testament as an example of faith than Abraham, who lived nearly 2,000 years before Jesus Christ came as our Savior. Because of the sincerity of his belief, he is called God’s friend (James 2:23).
At age 75, Abraham (then called Abram) probably would have liked to comfortably live out his days in Mesopotamia, where his home and relatives were. But God had something else in mind. He instructed Abraham to pull up roots and migrate to the land of Canaan and live in unfamiliar territory. Although Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless, God promised to greatly multiply their descendants.
At Abraham’s age, it was not easy to accept the idea of a move like that. He probably would never again see most of his relatives. But Abraham had faith. His reaction is summarized by the words “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4). “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” (Hebrews 11:8). But he did know he could trust God.
Time passed. Though God had safely guided them to their new land, Abraham and Sarah remained childless. Abraham therefore reminded God of his promise (Genesis 15:2-3). God responded, not by granting a child, but by repeating his promise in additional detail. And, in spite of how hopeless having a child looked from a physical point of view, Abraham believed the Lord (verse 6).
More time passed. For nearly 25 years, Abraham and Sarah felt their bodily vigor diminish. “Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing” (Genesis 18:11). But Abraham knew that nothing is too hard for the all-powerful Creator God he worshiped.
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead [she was about 90]. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)
After many years of waiting, the time that God had promised eventually came, and Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah in accordance with God’s word (Genesis 21:2). Their faith had grown over years of testing. Who would not have been anxious as the years went by? Who would not have wondered if God meant what he said, if the passage of time somehow nullified the promise?
|It is never too late for God! He will do whatever he wants at the time he appoints. Nothing can stand in the way.|
It is never too late for God! He “calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17), and he will do whatever he wants at the time he appoints. Nothing can stand in the way.
But God had not yet finished testing Abraham. When his long-awaited-for and beloved son, Isaac, was still young, the big test came. God told Abraham to take Isaac to a designated place and there to offer him as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-12)! “A sacrifice?” Abraham must have been tempted to ask.
However, Abraham didn’t argue. He trusted in faith that God knew what was best. Abraham did not understand how God would work it all out. But he did know without a doubt that the true God was speaking to him. He knew the God he served did not desire human sacrifices, as the gods of other nations supposedly did. He knew that God would somehow provide a substitute offering (verse 8). But how? When? Abraham did not know. Nor did he have to. He prepared to offer Isaac. It wasn’t until the last second that God intervened and provided the substitute sacrifice.
A close call? Not for God. He had promised Abraham innumerable descendants through Isaac. Abraham believed the promise. He knew that God, if necessary to fulfill his word, could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham fully trusted that God was in complete control.
As a memorial of the experience, Abraham named the place “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14). In every trial, in every peril, in the face of every obstacle or need, the promise that God will provide is the assurance on which faith thrives and triumphs.
Of course, Abraham was not perfect. His faith wavered at times. Nevertheless, the Bible calls him “Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9) and singles him out as an important example for Christians to follow. Faith without action is dead (James 2:17, 20). By his deeds or works, Abraham demonstrated the reality of his faith (verses 18, 21-24).
Mary the mother of Jesus Christ
God carefully chose the woman who was to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. He made certain that both Jesus’ mother and stepfather would be capable parents, submitted to God’s will. Joseph, the man appointed to be the stepfather of Jesus, was a righteous, God-fearing person (Matthew 1:19-25). Mary, the woman who was to give birth to and be the mother of the Son of God, was a person of quiet, patient faith.
Can you imagine Mary’s astonishment when the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to her that she, even though she was a virgin, would bear a child, and that the child would be “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32)? What a test of faith! How can a virgin give birth, let alone to God’s child, who was destined to live and reign forever?
On a personal level, what about all the gossip and accusations that would result from Mary conceiving a child before her betrothed husband came to live with her? From a human point of view, there was ample reason for a woman to be hesitant and skeptical about getting involved in something like this. But the angel assured Mary this was God’s doing, that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it and that “nothing is impossible with God” (verse 37).
In spite of how unlikely all this seemed, humanly speaking, Mary believed God and faithfully obeyed. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said. “May it be to me as you have said” (verse 38).
Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement stands in sharp contrast to the reaction of another person—the priest Zechariah. Some months previously, Gabriel had appeared to him and announced that his wife, Elizabeth, despite her age, would conceive and give birth. Luke records that Zechariah had difficulty believing Gabriel (verses 18-20).
But Mary, the inexperienced young woman, believed. She knew that God is trustworthy and can never fail. Mary’s faith is commended in these words: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (verse 45).
From the beginning it was obvious that Jesus was a special child. The hand of God was often manifested in events surrounding him. Mary didn’t understand everything that happened or everything her son Jesus said and did (Luke 2:33, 48-50). “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (verse 19, see also verse 51). In faith she knew God was in charge, and that is what really matters.
Mary’s humble faith is apparent in the account of the wedding at Cana. When the supply of wine ran out, Mary knew Jesus could do something about it. Why else would she have brought the problem to his attention (John 2:3)? Though it was not yet time for Jesus to perform public
miracles (verse 4), the fact that he performed a miracle as a result of Mary’s request speaks loudly of his respect for her and her faith.
For a long time, Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5; Mark 6:4). But his mother believed in him. Mary remained steadfast through all the years of Jesus’ life as she witnessed her son being ridiculed and persecuted and finally shamefully murdered.
Where were Jesus’ brothers and sisters when he was crucified? The Bible doesn’t say. But it does record that in the depth of his agony, close to the cross and the torn and bleeding body of her firstborn, stood his mother, Mary (John 19:25).
Mary’s faith endured. The next and last scripture where she is mentioned by name is Acts 1:14. Here we learn that she was with Jesus’ disciples, who were later filled with the Holy Spirit on that great Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
The apostle Paul’s faith
|By faith Christians come to repentance and the knowledge that Jesus died so their sins may be forgiven.|
No one wrote more books of the New Testament than the apostle Paul. Through them we get a clear picture of the role faith plays in genuine Christianity.
Paul had his share of trials after becoming a Christian. More than once he was unjustly thrown into prison for his beliefs and preaching. He experienced execution attempts, serious accidents, attacks by criminals, betrayal and opposition from those he tried to help. He was familiar with pain and weariness, loss of sleep, lack of food, water, shelter and even clothing. You can find a list of various trials he endured in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.
What did all these unpleasant events make of Paul? A depressed, discouraged, defeated individual? Not at all! As his writings show, Paul was a thoroughly positive person—one who traversed difficult times with a triumphant faith:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)
Paul could handle all these challenges and more because he had faith in Jesus Christ. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” he wrote (verse 13). Paul knew the God he served would make all things work out for good in his life (Romans 8:28).
Faith is a way of life
Aside from demonstrating the value of faith to meet the challenges in life, Paul showed how faith is related to salvation. He taught that commitment to faith in Christ involves obedience (Romans 1:5; 16:26), living by God’s Word as revealed in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and being willing to serve others, even to the point of self-sacrifice (Philippians 2:17). These are ways faith is expressed in daily Christian living.
Paul made it plain that salvation is free—a gift by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is impossible to earn salvation by works (our actions and deeds). People are “justified by faith apart from observing the law,” Paul wrote. But, lest some misunderstand, he also said, “Do we…nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:28, 31). Faith is in harmony with God’s will, not opposed to it.
We need God’s Spirit (verses 9-14) to give us more faith. The problem the ancient Israelites experienced under the old covenant was that although they had God’s law, they didn’t have faith (Hebrews 3:18-19).
God’s church has both the commandments of God and faith (Revelation 14:12). Because of this combination, we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Living the Christian life constantly requires the exercise of faith. It is by faith that Christians come to repentance and the knowledge that Jesus Christ died so their sins may be forgiven. By faith they know God has given them his Spirit and they are his children. And in faith they await
the immortality and glory promised at the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. Faith assures them that God watches over them, cares for them and hears them when they pray.
Christians continually face decisions requiring them to choose between doing God’s will and doing their own will, between doing what is right and doing what appeals to their human nature — their lusts, their vanity, their pride.
Doing their own will appeals to their natural desires and may promise rewards such as sensual pleasure, immediate gratification, material gain and increased self-importance. Doing God’s will may involve extra effort, short-term sacrifice and humility now, with a sure reward promised in the future.
By faith Christians reject their own will and choose to do God’s will. By faith they offer their “bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” as Paul pointed out in Romans 12:1. This is an expression of total dedication, where every ounce of bodily strength is expended to God’s glory and all the members of the body are “as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
Persons of faith trust God and give themselves in loving service to God and humankind — “faith expressing itself through love,” in the words of Paul (Galatians 5:6). This is living faith. And it is living by faith!
The story of Ruth is a lesson in commitment and loyalty. Ruth’s demonstration of these qualities in her relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, resulted from Ruth’s faith. Commitment and loyalty are expressions of faith.
Naomi, a Jewish woman, her husband and their two sons had moved from Bethlehem in Judah to the land of Moab. There the sons married Moabite women. Eventually Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving three widows.
Naomi decided it would be best to return to Judah. Her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, set out on the journey with her, but Naomi recommended that they go back to their own people and their way of life. For one thing, the young Moabite women might receive an unfavorable reception from of the Israelites. A tense, sometimes violent relationship had existed for many years between the two peoples.
Orpah followed her mother-in-law’s recommendation. She tearfully kissed Naomi and returned to Moab. But Ruth clung to Naomi and uttered a remarkable statement of loyalty: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
In this way Ruth expressed commitment to her mother-in-law and to her mother-in-law’s God — the God of Israel. She had no guarantee of gaining anything by accompanying Naomi to her homeland. She stood to lose everything by leaving her own people. Naomi had nothing tangible to offer Ruth but widowhood in a strange land.
But Ruth believed in Naomi and her God. She demonstrated her belief not by words alone, but by deeds. God rewarded Ruth for her faithful attitude. She eventually met and married Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. Through their son, Ruth had the honor of contributing to a most important family line. From Ruth and her husband descended not only King David, but also Jesus Christ!