* Neil Thielke: Faith

Neil Thielke at Grey Abbey south of Bangor, Northern Ireland

What is faith?

The word faith in today’s language can have several meanings. When I was growing up I often heard the expression, “have faith”, meaning not to give up hope. Or someone curious about your religious background might ask, “What faith do you belong to?”  Many churches have a statement of faith, or a confession of faith or creed, which is a mental acknowledgment of what they believe. The word for faith in the Bible meant so much more. Here is the definition I like to use when explaining the Biblical application of faith:

Practical Definition:  Faith is seeing or perceiving a matter or situation the way God sees it, putting our trust in that, and responding accordingly.

Faith and fantasy travel on the same railroad track in our brains, but the engines are running in opposite directions. This is also true of Faith and fear. My wife likes to say, “Why worry when you can pray?” When the two engines run into each other, we have a crisis of faith. Are we going to keep on worrying, or are we going to believe God has the solution to our troubles and put the matter in God’s hands through prayer?

There are several aspects of faith. We will begin with four key components: reliance, acquisition, importance, and response.

I. Reliance upon Christ for salvation

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (NRSV)

This commonly used definition in Hebrews 11:1 speaks of the surety of the outcome of faith, but there are additional components of faith in the Bible.

In the Strong’s Concordance the Greek word for faith is 4102 pistis; from another Greek word 3982 peitho; persuasion, credence, moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; abstract constancy in such profession; by extensive the system of religious (Gospel) truth itself:– assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.

  • Abel put his trust in God when he offered his sacrifice in the way and with an attitude that pleased God.
  • Noah understood that God was going to flood the world, put his trust in God and acted accordingly. Even though it did not make sense with Noah’s historical knowledge (there had never been a flood in Noah’s time), or line up with the popular beliefs/culture of his time, Noah built the ark.
  • Jonah is a picture of someone who didn’t put his trust in what God had told him. He didn’t want to preach a message of repentance to the large and wicked city of Ninevah. He ran away  from God’s command and didn’t stop running until Jonah was in the belly of a whale in the depths of the sea. It was after God’s discipline that Jonah decided to trust what God was telling him, and to obey God. When Jonah preached to Ninevah, the whole city repented (turned their lives around) and began to follow God.
  • Jesus’ example of trust in his Father’s will resulted in his obedience in dying on the cross for our sins.

We call someone faithful if we know we can rely upon them to get a job done. To be faithful is to be full of faith, or to be trustworthy. Jesus was totally faithful. He made sure the job he came to do on earth was fully completed to his Father’s full satisfaction, making provision for all the sins of mankind to be washed away. He did his part, but we also have a part to play. Salvation takes place when we personally put our trust in Jesus’ full payment for our sins, laying down our will, and allowing Jesus to become the Lord of our life.

II. Acquisition of Faith: How Do We Get Faith?

A. By Hearing

Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

B. By Knowing God’s Ways

Moses met with God every day in the tent of meeting for 40 years while leading the people through the wilderness. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. When God’s anger burned against the people for making the golden calf, Moses was able to successfully appeal to God to spare the people, because he knew God’s heart. .

Psalm 103:7  He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

Exodus 32:9-14 “I have seen these people,” The Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you a great nation.
But Moses sought the favor of The Lord his God. “O Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ”
Then The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

III. Importance of Faith

There are many challenges in life. The more desperate the circumstances, the greater are the opportunities to exercise our faith! Consider the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army following close on their heels; Daniel thrown into the den full of hungry lions; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into the fiery furnace; the threat of the holocaust in Queen Esther’s time. What difficulties are you facing where it has been hard for you to believe that Jesus can take you through them? Jesus encouraged his disciples with these words:

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The writer of Hebrews emphasized the importance of faith:

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice. Jesus was pleased with the widow’s offering of two coins at the temple. Abel brought the first-fruits and offered the best he had to God. The widow brought all she had when she made her offering at the temple. Noah preached to un-listening ears for 100 years while building the ark. He didn’t waiver in his faith even though his message was rejected. Lack of faith in Noah’s day had catastrophic consequences. Noah’s family were the only people on the whole earth who survived the flood. The ark Noah built was ready for Noah and his family when the floods came. The Lord brought the animals to the ark, Noah’s family went on board with the animals, and God shut the door of the ark behind them as the rains came and the fountains of the deep opened up to flood the whole earth. All the other people alive in Noah’s time who had refused to listen to his preaching, died in the flood. Peter uses this physical rescue of Noah’s family from the flood as a picture of our salvation in Christ in his letters:

2 Peter 2:4, 9-10 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; . . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

1 Peter 3:18-22 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

The prophets foretold Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. They also spoke of the second coming of Christ. When God speaks, things happen just as he said they would. There is a heaven reserved for all the people on the earth who have put their trust in God’s promise of eternal life through his Son, and there is a hell reserved for the devil and his angels and all people on the earth who reject God’s salvation through his Son. There are eternal benefits for putting our trust in God. There are eternal disastrous consequences for rejecting God.

Faith is important in matters of salvation, and it is also important on a day-to-day basis.

IV.  Response

Faith involves taking action in a direction where we have not experienced the outcome. It is a test of faith when a man asks a woman to marry him, and a test of faith for both of them when she says, “Yes”. Neither knows what tomorrow will bring. In a similar way, it is a test of our faith when we say “Yes” to Jesus, entrusting the rest of our life to him and giving him the ownership of all that we are, all that we have, and our future for eternity.

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

A.  The “action” here is different from works unto salvation:

Romans 9:31-10:4 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

 B.  Actions that Accompany God’s Way of Life

There is a difference between trying to work off our sin load and the actions that accompany God’s way of life. The scripture in Romans denounces the former (“works unto salvation”) and the verses in James encourage the latter (faith accompanied by action or actions that flow out of a faith relationship with God). Another way to put it is, we do not work to get to heaven, rather we work because we are already going to heaven. And actually there is a work (response or accompanying action) that is required to get into heaven: We must give our lives to Jesus and put our trust in what he did rather than in what we have done.

Before we proceed, let’s review the four key components of faith we just discussed: reliance, acquisition, importance, and response.

  • Reliance: We rely upon Jesus’ death on the cross for full payment of all of our sins: past, present, and future. Jesus’ righteousness was given to us when we put our faith, or put our trust, in the work he already did for us on the cross.
  • Acquisition: Faith comes by hearing and believing the word of God. Someone needs to tell us the good news of salvation from God’s word. The more we read the Bible, the more we get to know God’s ways, and the more our faith, or trust, in God grows. In other words, we begin to see or perceive the ways God does things.
  • Importance: Without faith it is impossible to please God. As we get to know God, we learn that he is a loving Father. That love grows in our hearts. Our desire to please our Heavenly Father becomes greater than our desire to please ourselves.
  • Response: Our response is in the actions we take doing things in the ways that God does them. Our obedience is meant to come, not from a heart filled with fear of judgment, but rather from a heart full of love toward God. Our Father loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. We show our love for our Father when we love Jesus enough to become like Him. This is true for salvation, but it is also true in day-to-day decisions and actions as we are living out our faith.

Now that we are beginning to have a basic understanding of faith, let’s explore ways to increase and utilize faith in practical ways.

V. Great Faith can be Demonstrated

Jesus’ disciples asked him to increase their faith. He said if they had faith even as small as a mustard seed they could move mountains. Throughout Jesus’ three years with his disciples, he kept demonstrating faith through the relationship of faith/trust he had with his Father. Then he gave his disciples assignments where they needed to exercise their own faith for outcomes only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

A. Great Perception

1. Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15:21-28  Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
     Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
     He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
     He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
    “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
     Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

 2. The Centurion

Matthew 8:5-13 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
     Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
     The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
     When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
     Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

B. Great Investment

Faith and financial investment have the same opening principle—start today! Early investment reaps the greatest rewards. Some examples of early investment in the Bible are: Joseph, Samuel, David, Josiah, Joshua, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abegnigo, Jesus, and Timothy. Great investment is not measured by the total amount, or you would need to be wealthy. Great investment is measured by how much you invest compared to how much you have. Two women are commended in the Bible for investing everything they had.

1. Widow’s Two Small Coins

Mark 12:41-44 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
     Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

2. Elijah and the widow

1 Kings 17:8-24 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
     “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
     Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
     She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
     Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
     “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
     The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
     Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of theLord from your mouth is the truth.”

VI. Faith Can Be Measured

We are all given a measure of faith. God determines the size of the cup; we determine how full it will be. If you keep your cup full, God will at various times and places increase the size of your cup, or its capacity to hold even more faith. It is wonderful to step out in faith and to experience the power of God at work. However, caution is needed. Faith by itself can lead to arrogance. We must not let pride take over. If we begin to feel like it is the power of our faith, rather than the Holy Spirit, at work in us causing the miracles, stop and remember the purpose of God in our lives. Faith is like the huge 4-wheel drive tractors farmers use in their fields. Love is meant to be the driver of our faith tractor that gets the job done as God intended.

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Romans 12:3 For by the grace of God given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Matthew 24:45-47 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Matthew 25:14-30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
     “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

    “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
    “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
     “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
     “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
     “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

VII. Effective Faith Needs to be Practiced Ahead of Time

Think of football players. They begin practicing their skills long before they play their opening game. When the squeeze comes, whether it is in a football game, or in personal life it is too late to begin trying to develop the skills required to meet the challenges. Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins with their lamps underlined the need for preparation.

Matthew 25:1-13 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
     “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

     “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
     “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

     “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
     “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
     “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
     “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

VIII. Faith is not Presumption

Presumption opposes faith. When presumption is at work rather than faith, the person is stepping out boldly on their own initiative without waiting for direction from God.

A. Joshua’s Presumption in Attacking the Gibeonites

Joshua 9:3-16 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treatywith us.”
     The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”
    “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua.
But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
     They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.” ’This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is.  And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”
    The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
     Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.

B. David’s Presumption When Returning Ark to Jerusalem

David did not check the Scriptures to follow God’s instructions concerning how the ark was to be transported, with tragic results:

2 Samuel 6:1-10 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
     When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act;therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
     Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
     David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.

David studied the scripture to learn the method God had given for transporting the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was never meant to be carried on an oxcart, which was something made by man. It was very important that the ark of the covenant be carried on the shoulders of the Levitial priests. The priests were men made by God, and they were men set aside by God to minister to God. One day God would usher in a new covenant with mankind that would be carried on Jesus’ shoulders when he carried the cross to the hill where he would be crucified for our sins. David’s second attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was successful, because he followed God’s ways:

1 Chronicles 15:1-3 After David had constructed buildings for himself in the City of David, he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister before him forever.”
     David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the Lord to the place he had prepared for it.

IX. The Issues of Faith

As faith is being developed in our lives, we will wrestle with issues of faith. Three main issues are:

  • How God perceives himself
  • How God perceives me
  • How God perceives other people and situations in my life

The meanings of the names for God reveal some of the ways God sees himself. Jehovah itself means the Lord. Jehovah-Jirah means the Lord our provider. Jehovah-Rapha means the Lord our healer. Jehovah-Nissi means the Lord our banner. Jehovah-qadash means the Lord who makes us holy. Jehovah-shalom means the Lord our peace.

We may have our own perceptions fairly well developed before we become a Christian. We may see God the Father as the judge waiting with a big stick for us to make a mistake so he can mete out our punishment. We may see ourselves as a sinner saved by grace. The key here is what is God’s perception. We can study this in the Bible, but it is important to recognize that our own perceptions are flawed. When we allow God’s word to become the standard of measure for our faith, we will begin to see that Jesus gave us his righteousness. All of our sins were washed away by His precious blood on the cross. We can stand before the Father clean and holy in His sight, not because of any goodness on our part, but because of what Jesus has already done for us.

If we go back to the beginning of this study and take a look again at the practical definition of faith, let’s accept God’s love for us, that we may respond in love and obedience toward Him, allowing God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to become the springboard for putting our faith into action:

Practical Definition:  Faith is seeing or perceiving a matter or situation the way God sees it, putting our trust in that, and responding accordingly.

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