By J. Oswald Sanders
What Is Faith?
"Faith is assurance…proof…" (Heb. 11:1, Amplified).
Faith is confidence, reliance, trust. It is the sixth sense which enables us to apprehend the invisible but real spiritual realm. Within this realm its dealings are directly with God. It is confidence in a God who is absolutely trustworthy, utterly reliable. "He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
Faith is indispensable to a walk in fellowship with God, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:6). It is a childlike, effortless trust which is never betrayed. Faith enables the believing soul to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen. It is as much at home in the realm of the impossible as of the possible, for it relies on a God who knows no limitations. "With God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26).
There is no such thing as faith apart from the object on which it is fixed. It is akin to eyesight which does not exist apart from the object of vision. In looking at something, we see, not our eyesight, but that on which our vision is focused. So the object on which faith relies is not our faith, but that which our faith enables us to see. Jesus Christ is the sinner's Savior, and faith is simply the eye that looks at Him and apprehends Him. It is for us to think not so much about our faith as of Him at whom we look by faith.
Faith is not merely a subjective state of mind. There is always a corresponding fact to which it gives substance (Heb. 11:1). Nor is it merely passive. Every true act of faith is followed by an activity of faith. It grows with exercise, but atrophies through neglect. "Lord, increase our faith."
Faith and Feeling
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
Faith is the confidence of things not seen, not the consciousness of things not seen. Before we can feel them we must exercise faith in them. Faith is the initial act, feeling is the resulting effect. Faith must recognize before it will realize, for feelings rest upon facts. Feelings of joy stem from believing joyful facts. The facts remain unchanged even if we do not believe them, but we are thereby robbed of their enjoyment.
It is possible for us to have more faith in, to place more reliance on our feelings than on the facts God has recorded in the Scriptures. When we place more credence in our emotions than in God's word, we make Him a liar.
The divine order is unfolded in Romans 6:6, 11, 14. First there is a revelation of an objective fact entirely independent of any subjective feelings. "Our old man is crucified with [Christ]." Next comes faith's recognition of the fact. "Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God." Then follows the realization, the experience, the feeling of the fact. "Sin shall not have dominion over you."
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" – not by introspection or perpetual examination of our spiritual pulse. Constant taking notice of heartbeats tends to produce disorders of the heart. Faith grows by being occupied with what God is and with what He has said.
It is essential that we observe the correct sequence. If we desire to have faith we must first discover a divinely authenticated fact on which it can rest. If we wish to enjoy feelings such as peace or joy, we must have faith in the facts on which peace and joy are based. Then, and only then will we be filled "with all joy and peace in believing."
Faith and Promise
"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief" (Rom. 4:20).
Faith must have a divine warrant upon which to rest, and it finds this in the promises of God. A promise is an assurance given by one person to another that he will or will not do a certain thing. The validity of the promise depends on the character and resources of the one who makes it, even as the value of a bank note depends on the reputation and resources of the bank on which it is drawn.
A promise of God in His Word is an undertaking given by God. His character is therefore involved in His promises. An old Christian lady affirmed her assurance of salvation because of the divine promise, "Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). An atheist taunted her, asking, "But what if He does not keep His promise?" "If He does not keep His promise," she replied, "I will lose my soul, but God will lose His character." But that will never be, for "He cannot deny Himself," as millions of Christians can attest.
With God there is no equivocation. Promise and performance are inseparably linked. "Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken and shall He not make it good?" (Num. 23:19). Faith is power which turns promise into performance.
There are no circumstances in life for which there are not appropriate promises. They anticipate every human need and await only the appropriation of the believing heart. It is tragically possible for us to stagger at the promises of God through unbelief, thinking them too great and glorious for such as we. Or we may come short of them (Heb. 4:1), toning them down to our own experience. But faith is fully persuaded that what God has promised, He is able to perform (Rom. 4:21).
Faith and Patience
"Them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:12).
Faith is frequently called upon to run in double harness with patience. God nowhere promises that faith will receive all its desires exactly when it wants it. We are counseled to be "followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." In support of this exhortation, the writer cites the case of Abraham who, "after he had patiently endured, obtained the promise" (Heb. 6:15). Could it be that our failure to obtain the blessing we desire and which God has promised is through a lack of patience as well as faith?
Between God's promise of a son to Abraham and its fulfillment, more than twenty years elapsed, years barren of any sign of God's activity. Faith grows by being tested, and the father of the faithful must master the lesson of maintaining the attitude of faith in the face of discouraging circumstances. Yet Abraham did not cast away his confidence and in God's time his faith and patience reaped their reward.
David waited more than twenty years before God's promise of the throne matured into actuality, and during those waiting years his faith was severely tested. Waiting for God was more difficult than waiting on God. But faith and patience ultimately secured the throne.
Jericho's capture was the result of faith and patience. The divine promise was given as a ground for faith (Josh. 6:2). But faith and patience had to encompass the city thirteen times before the promise materialized. Up to the twelfth circuit there was not the slightest evidence that anything was happening. But hand in hand faith and patience completed the last round – and the walls fell.
Waiting seems sometimes more difficult than believing, but if the waiting is joined to unwavering faith we will prove without fail that God works for those who wait for Him (Isa. 64:4).
Faith and Suffering
"The trial of your faith…much more precious than…gold” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Faith does not stagger when suffering strikes or sorrow engulfs. Nor does she react to the fiery ordeal as something unexpected and extraordinary. She accepts it as a messenger of God sent to prove her genuineness and to demonstrate the Divine adequacy. "These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:7 NEB). Indeed far from thinking it strange, faith embraces trial with joy, since it affords a sharing of Christ's suffering (4:12-13).
Faith discerns that "manifold trials" (1:6) are always matched by the "manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. 4:10). "Manifold" means many colored. These complementary phrases indicate that there is no color in any human situation which cannot be matched by God's superabounding grace. And God's colors always match perfectly. "Sorrow and suffering do color life, don't they?" said a friend to a sorely tired servant of God. "Indeed they do, and I intend to choose the colors," was the answer of triumphant faith.
A faith that triumphs in the fiery trial is precious to God, "more precious than perishable gold" (1 Pet. 1:7 NEB). She experiences her finest hour when hard pressed on every side, for she is then best able to demonstrate the utter sufficiency of her God. She is able to stand undaunted amid the fiercest fire, knowing that she is not alone. If she must enter the fiery furnace, then her God walks with her in the flame. With both hands she grasps the divine undertaking, "When you pass through the waters I will be with you…the flame shall not consume you" (Isa. 43:2).
With Samuel Rutherford she exclaims, "And glad may your soul be even to walk in the fiery furnace with One like unto the Son of Man."
– Reprinted by permission from the booklet, Effective Faith by J. Oswald Sanders.