Living Faith

MANY may find it easy to begin the Christian walk. The joy of finding the truth of God’s plan for man, and of setting out on a new venture of following Christ, is a mighty impetus along the narrow way, and for a while everything in life is favorable. So often, it seems, the Lord shelters the new Christian from difficult experiences for a time, much as a gardener places a tender new plant in his greenhouse where under his watchful eye all conditions are controlled for its maximum growth and protection.

Some who make a commitment to serve God run briskly for a short time, but when difficult experiences follow hard, one upon another, they grow weary in well doing. But the Apostle Paul was not in this category—he never seemed to grow weary! He was always on the alert to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, as far as his own convenience was concerned, year after weary year. He was ready to travel anywhere and everywhere to tell the glad tidings to all who had hearing ears. He suffered much persecution, but never wavered from his course. What was the secret of his perseverance?

In II Corinthians 4:18, we learn something concerning the essence of Paul. He said, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” Paul was not talking about human eyesight, of course, but about spiritual vision. Being human, he also saw the many earthly attractions surrounding him, just as we find them all about us. But they had no influence upon him, or upon his course of action in life because he was convinced that, contrasted with the heavenly treasures offered to him, worldly honor and riches were worthless!

With the eye of faith Paul discerned the invitation extended by the Heavenly Father to be the ‘bride’ of his Son, our glorified Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:17) And this is also our prospective inheritance—to be at his side and to share in his glory, honor, and immortality throughout eternity! It was by the eye of faith that the apostle was able to see spreading out before him the great Millennial kingdom with its blessings of life and peace for all. And it was by the ear of faith that he heard the divine proposal to become an heir in that kingdom with the Master and Redeemer. He accepted this gracious invitation, realizing that all else in the world was of no value in comparison with the eternal things which God had promised to those who love him.

Paul had a clear understanding what a living faith was, and we can learn from him. In Hebrews 11, he said: “Faith is the basis of things hoped for, a conviction of things unseen.” (vs. 1, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) Professor Strong renders the word faith as meaning ‘conviction of religious truths, constancy’. We appreciate these definitions because they increase our depth of understanding of the word. Paul’s statement that without faith it is impossible to please God, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), gives us an idea of the great importance placed on faith. Obviously, without faith in God we can have no relationship with him at all.

Reexamining, from time to time, the lives of some of God’s people throughout past ages to discover why they had faith in God, and how their faith was demonstrated, can be helpful to us. In Hebrews 11, Paul lists some of the men and women who were outstanding examples of faith. He began with Abel—Adam and Eve’s first son—and concludes with John the Baptist. One of the most prominent men in Paul’s chronicle is Abraham—the “father of the faithful.” His name appears seventy-four times in the New Testament; Jesus mentioned him nineteen times!

Jewish history narrates the fact that when Abraham was very young he despised the vices that surrounded him in Ur of the Chaldees, where he grew up. At the age of 14, we are told, he refused to join the family in idol worship, and on one occasion destroyed seventy-two costly idols. Whether or not this account is accurate, we know that Abraham evidenced a character pleasing to God. At the age of 75, God promised he would make of him a great nation—“In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3) Although this promise was made unconditionally to Abraham, God instructed him to leave his father’s house, and go to a land which God would show him.—vs. 1

This truly required faith. God did not tell him what his destination was. He simply had to leave, depending upon God’s promise that he would direct him and lead him to the place where he was to settle and to call his new home. Because he was a rich man with many possessions—cattle and herds, servants and household goods—it required a great effort to gather his family and belongings together in preparation to travel. They asked, “Where are we going?” And Abraham said, “I do not know, but God will direct our path.” What faith! The Apostle James wrote, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”—James 2:23

Later, Abraham’s faith was proven throughout the long wait for the promised seed. God had assured him that he would become the father of a great nation, but it was not until he was one hundred years old that his son, Isaac, was born! An even stronger test was imposed upon him some years later, when God required him to take Isaac, his son—his “only son” (Gen. 22:2), and to offer him up as a sacrifice! Abraham did not understand God’s purpose, or how he would work the situation out, but he had complete trust in God, and followed his instructions. There was Isaac lying submissively on the altar with his father standing over him, arm outstretched, with the knife in his hand ready to slay him. The angel of the Loren cried out, “Abraham, Abraham, lay not thy hand upon the lad, … for now I know that thou fearest God.” What a test of faith and obedience! And Abraham showed that he possessed both of these qualities in great measure.

There were many heroes of faith. The Apostle Paul told us in Hebrews, chapter eleven about many of them, for our encouragement and for our understanding of just how faith works. He mentioned Noah, who “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (vs. 7) We recall the story of the Flood, and how Noah faithfully built an ark according to God’s instructions, in which he and his immediate family floated to safety from an old dispensation into a new one.—II Pet. 2:5; 3:6

Another great example of faith was Gideon. God’s arrangement with Israel included his blessings when they followed his commandments, and his punishments when they would not follow his commandments. Israel, time and again, had proven unfaithful to Jehovah, and for punishment had been allowed to go into captivity to various nations. At this juncture in Israel’s history, God chose Gideon to deliver his people out of the hands of the Midianites, for he felt they had learned to look to him for deliverance after seven long years of captivity to that nation.

Gideon was chosen to be the general in God’s army against the huge army of the Midianites—135,000 strong! He recruited men from all twelve tribes of Israel, and 32,000 men responded. But, through various methods of weeding out the frightened and unwilling, God chose only a tiny band of three hundred to go against their enemy! Using God’s ingenious plan, these inexperienced but brave heroes under Gideon’s leadership were victorious in completely routing the battle-hardened army of the Midianites. Faith and obedience once again were triumphant!

The Apostle Paul continues in his dissertation on Faith to enumerate the many holy men of old. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down [under Joshua’s leadership], after they were compassed about seven days. … And what else shall I say more … for time would fail me to tell of Samson, of David, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight. Women received their dead raised to life again.”—vss. 30-35

In this very brief catalog of heroes, Paul mentioned some of the varied experiences of the Ancient Worthies, and how God delivered and helped them. But the apostle continued to recall some who were not spared, despite their great faith. Some endured “trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”—vss. 36-40

All these heroes—the ones slain by the sword, and the ones who were spared—demonstrated great faith in God. Because of this, God justified them to friendship with himself. (James 2:23,24) They were not perfect men, neither were their works perfect, but they were strong because of their trust in their Creator. God listened to their prayers, and guided and directed them as his friends. Our faith becomes stronger as we read of their faith under very difficult circumstances.

What did Paul mean when he added the words, “They without us should not be made perfect?” (vs. 40) Are we better than the Ancient Worthies that we should be given a greater reward, higher responsibilities and privileges than they will be given? What is this ‘better thing’ that Paul referred to? One expression of the higher reward is in John 1:12. Here the Apostle John tells us that our invitation is not to ‘friendship’, but to ‘sonship’! “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

Jesus and the apostles believed and taught the very same Gospel which was preached to Abraham—“In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) In this letter, Paul explained who the “seed” of Abraham would be. He said, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” (vs. 16) The apostle continued his explanation, to show how Christians have a part in this arrangement, saying: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (vss. 26,29) This is a mystery. (Eph. 5:32) “Christ in you the hope of glory” is the mystery that has been “hidden from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to the saints.”—Col. 1:27

It is a wonderful thing to be called a ‘friend’ of God! But Christ opened up a “new and living way” by which we can be called the ‘sons’ of God! (Heb. 10:20) And our reward, if faithful even unto death, will be to have a share in the great work of dispensing blessings to all mankind in the Millennial Age as the seed of promise! (Rev. 2:10,26; 3:21) This includes the privilege of assisting the Ancient Worthies in their work here on the earth. They will be God’s earthly representatives who will reveal God’s will and purpose to all mankind. And the “seed” will, from their heavenly position, direct their activities and give them counsel and aid their mission.

The nearly two thousand years which have passed since Christ opened up this new and living way is called the Gospel Age. God set this time apart for the selection and testing of the “seed,” or the members of the “body” of Christ. (Eph. 5:30-32) Our faith must be tested now. “The trial [‘proof’—Diaglott] of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 1:7) This trial of our faith is not only a test of our intellectual knowledge of divine truth, but also of our heart reliance upon God. The refining of gold is an excellent picture. When gold is placed in the fire, only the dross is removed—the gold remains undamaged!

The Ancient Worthies proved their faith by obedience to God’s dictates. Abraham did not decide he would show his faith in God by offering up his son as a sacrifice! Noah did not decide that he would build a large boat to show his faith in God! Gideon did not decide that all he needed was 300 men, and God would deliver him! No, these were the responses of faith and obedience to God’s commands!

And we, too, know that we must endeavor to do the will of God obediently and to serve him faithfully. In order to know his will for us we must pay attention to the Word which he provided us—the Bible—where God incorporated all the necessary lessons and instructions for the way in which he wants us to walk. Therein we learn how to present our lives as acceptable sacrifices to him. But in order to understand the Bible, our eyes must be enlightened with the Holy Spirit, without which it is impossible to understand or appreciate his plan.

Through the direction of God’s Holy Spirit we “rightly” divide “the word of truth.” (II Tim. 2:15) “Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:13), through study we become more proficient in the doctrines, and have a clearer understanding of every element of truth.

This process is described as ‘eating’. Paul wrote, “As unto babes in Christ, I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it.” (I Cor. 3:1,2) And again, in Hebrews 5:13 and 14, “Everyone that useth milk is unskillful [‘hath no experience’, Margin] in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” As a child gradually grows mature enough to handle solid food, so it is with the Christian. By learning the principles of truth and righteousness first, we have a basis upon which to learn more intricate details of God’s plan. Soon we are expected to behave as full-grown human beings: “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age.”

Once we have become mature Christians, testing begins. It is said that those who know God best, trust him most! Our faith increases as we walk along the path of obedience. It is like walking with two feet—you cannot take one step of obedience without taking one step of faith! And so our faith and obedience are tried. It was so with our Master, and it is so with us, his footstep followers.

The Apostle James wrote very informative words in his epistle, to shed light upon a controversy prevalent in the Early Church. Some said that works counted for nothing—faith alone was of value. Others took the opposite stance, urging that works were more valuable than faith. But James said, “A man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) True faith in God must be demonstrated by the way we live.

One example given here by the apostle well illustrates this point: “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (vss. 15-17) These privileges will not be available forever, and we earnestly desire to take advantage of them while they are still open to us.

When Christ’s kingdom is established on this earth, the Ancient Worthies will be resurrected from the dead. The reward for their demonstrated faith in God will be perfect human life. They will be the earthly representatives of the great Mediator—“princes in all the earth!” (Ps. 45:18) The reward of the church for her demonstrated faith in God will be even higher. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years!” (Rev. 20:6) Then God’s grand promise to Abraham will be fulfilled: “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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