The Definition of Faith

It was the renowned theologian and preacher Charles H. Spurgeon who once stood before his congregation and delivered his exposition on the topic of faith in 1889 which convicted my conscience and confronted my standing as a child of God. For it was in the midst of his exposition [of which I read as his sermon was recorded and passed down throughout church history] where he posed a series of questions before the congregation which had been entrusted in his pastoral care. The first of which was simple enough: "Are you a believer?" The simple question would be framed in such a manner that it would invoke a simple response: yes or no. If the answer which he received was a simple "no", than he would have received sufficient a response as to stop his inquiries there and end the conversation. Supposing however, that one of the members of his congregation replied affirmatively with a "yes", he would continue his inquiries in order to bring about clarity: "So then, you’re a believer of Jesus Christ I suppose?" And again, another simple and basic question would be put forth in order to act as a means of separating those who associated themselves with Christ versus all other formal religions and those who upheld the various false prophets who arose throughout history- whether it be Mohammod, Charles Russell who founded the Jehovah's witness movement, or Joseph Smith who founded the modern day Mormon church. And yet, surprisingly enough it was the third question which he would hypothetically pose to one of the members of the church which he pastored [supposing that is, that they once again answered positively] which was so simple, yet equally so profound: "Supposing-", he said, "you were to reply with 'Why, yes I am in fact. I am a believer in Jesus Christ!' And I were to ask but once more- 'And what is it exactly, that you believe? Please, define and describe your faith.' I wonder-", Spurgeon said, "What varying of responses some of you might give me. 'Well I'm a little taken back, I already told you- I am a believer in Jesus Christ and ergo, I believe in Him!' But what exactly does that mean? 'Oh, I believe what my church believes- for I know it to be the truth!' And how do you know it to be the absolute truth? Or rather, would your response be 'I believe what my parents believe!' I suppose that many of us who are gathered here today are very certain that they believe, yet are very uncertain of what exactly it is that they believe in. When was the last time that we ever examined ourselves- as Paul urged to the Corinthians to 'test ourselves and see whether or not we are in the faith [II Corinthians 13:5]?' When was the last time that we examined our religion to see whether or not it was the purest of religions?" Although this quote may not be a direct word-for-word quotation from the sermon by which I cite ["Faith", Charles H. Spurgeon, Sunday August 18th, 1889], I believe I captured the essence of the series of questions posed by Spurgeon [albeit in a modern translation] in order to make it more comprehensible for us. For if there ever was a time in which we were in need of faith, it would be now- both as a church in the present age, as well as a family which is currently gathered under such circumstances. And yet, I have seen- primarily in myself, as well as the collective universal church body that we are an extremely peculiar group of people. I am often taken aback when I muse and look back upon the places in which I have chosen to plant my feet firmly in regards to my profession of faith. And I believe that what Spurgeon spoke in 1889 rings truer in our present day of the modern Christian who can be described in a whimsical way: that we often stand with such certainty in our uncertainty. Now I suppose that it is beneficial of me to clarify that I in no way intend to belittle nor mock any of us on account of our professions of faith nor is it my intent to discourage us from the continuation of walking and growing in the faith- by no means! On the contrary, it would be to strengthen the hands which hang low and make firm the feeble knees which so easily falters in the face of adversity and circumstance. It is to lead you to a place where I too have been led under the shadow of the Most High- atop the mountain of God as it were, and return with a newfound perspective upon grace and have the uncertainty of doubt be quieted by the trustworthiness of God's revealed Word. It is so that we may be edified and dismiss on this beautiful Easter Sunday fully confident by what the Spirit of Christ foretold and testified beforehand by the prophet Habakkuk: "Behold the proud! His soul is not upright within him, but the just shall live by his faith!"(Habakkuk 2:4) It is no strange thing to strive for faith- that is, to live it out in a practical sense. Yet I have found- in myself as well as others, that the definition of my profession of faith would be the recital of a church creed or some great unattainable mystery: a feeling or an impression. And perhaps this is how we would describe our faith to another as a means of what distinguishes us from every other religion or irreligion in the world today- mirroring the prophet Micah: "Though all the peoples walk in the name of their own gods, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever!"(Micah 4:5) "Your god made you feel this way or that, but my God made me feel this! Your God gave you this impression, but my God gave me this! Your god made you experience this, but my God made me experience that!" And with a little persistence and determination we find ourselves under the impression that we have fashioned our feet upon a solid rock whereas we have set ourselves firmly in the sinking sand. I could, for instance, stand firm in my belief that a certain woman is the one destined to marry me because of a feeling which I have towards her and state that it is my faith being exercised in a practical sense in my life despite it being a contradiction to the reality that she does not experience the same towards me. Likewise, I can devote myself to the labor of my hands and uphold the impression that my devotion is merit enough for success and a promotion, yet continue on unnoticed and overlooked. What then? Has my faith in fact failed me? Or, perhaps it is that I simply did not have enough faith to receive what is entitled to me? Such thoughts breed a myriad of doubts and paint an infinitely loving God as a very cruel and unjust dictator. The problem of which, being rooted not in the reality of who God is, but rather on the perception of whom I have made God out to be: For we know that God is infinite in power [Omnipotent] and that nothing can occur outside of His control [Sovereign], and we have also heard it said that "Without faith it is impossible to please Him. For those who come to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."(Hebrews 11:6) And with this, we draw near to the Word set before us on this day: "Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors won God's approval."(Hebrews 11:1-2) There can be a great many things which many great minds can muster up when they talk regarding the faith. In fact, in Spurgeon's sermon which I cited earlier he described faith as the act of uttermost trust in God and went to extent of giving an illustration of a man standing in a burning building while another [much stronger] man stood on the ground below urging him to jump because he would catch him. The man standing in a room which was ablaze must not only reason within himself that the man below was in fact strong enough to catch him and deliver him from harm, but he must also be justified in his faith by plunging himself out the window or else perish in the fire. And yet, however beautiful and true an allegory this may be or any given for that matter, they must never hold precedence over what God has revealed by the hand of the apostle who wrote these verses. At the first you will note to whom the author originally intended to write to- for he says "our ancestors."(2a) The mystery of course is revealed when considering the title of the epistle or letter [Hebrews]: the Jews, and the patriarchal figure of which being the man Abraham. What set this man apart, and his descendants apart was not their character qualities- for it was Abraham who deceived the Egyptians and Pharaoh into thinking that his wife Sarah was his sister in order to be treated pleasantly, and likewise it was Israel of whom God Himself describes as being stiff-necked [i.e stubborn, or as the Hebrew puts it, "not to be led" ]. Nor was it their number as a nation, for God once more testifies that they were the least among all nations. Yet Abraham had something- the Jews had something which enabled them to "win", that is to apprehend or seize, to lay hold of God's favor and approval and that was their faith. The definition of which is described in two ways: reality and proof. The reality of something hoped for, and the proof of something not yet visible and seen. The Vulgate [or Latin translations from which we have the KJV and NKJV] render faith as being the, "substance of what is hoped for" and the "confidence of what is not seen." And although both translations give its own point of view, when taken by itself it does little to bring about clarity- for by what should I place my confidence and rest my hope in? How then does this manner of faith saturates itself into my daily life? Should I strive to be stiff-necked as Israel? Or perhaps pat myself on the back when I resort to deceitful acts carried out with selfish intent and say, "Why, wouldn't father Abraham be proud of me. Look at my faith!" No, but rather the description of faith is shown not solely to the trust of Abraham as it played out in his life through the proceeding verses, but rather the culmination of it in the following descriptive verses of Abraham's life: "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.."(Hebrews 11:8-9) This faith of Abraham hinged entirely upon a promise- an inheritance as the author describes in verse 8. And it was this inheritance and promise which established a faith which wrought about God's approval from generation to generation- for look once more at verse 9: This faith of an inheritance which Abraham had was not his own, but a mutual one which he shared with his son Isaac and was passed on to his grandson Jacob to the extent that they were considered equals- or coheirs. And though some might sell off their inheritance and birthright like Esau- claiming that their inheritance is a career, perfect health, a perfect spouse, the author leaves no room for misinterpretation by continuing their thought by describing that they- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not receive their inheritance or else it would not be mutual. For the writer continues: "For [Abraham] was looking forward to the [heavenly] city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."(Hebrews 11:10) This all makes sense when one considers that the original language [sophisticated Greek] utilizes a word in the place of reality or substance which is a very specific word referring to a legal document for a home- a deed for a house [inheritance]. In the same way that one claiming a property for their own means absolutely nothing in the sight of the state unless they have in their possession the deed to the property, at which time their owning of the home becomes a reality. And the reason for this great exposition on faith and inheritance is attributed to the fact that the common Jew of that time [as well as now] were people with a dual mindset- one which exercised its faith here on earth [i.e honor your father and mother and your days will be prolonged] as well as one which was exercised towards eternity as they awaiting for their Promised Messiah who would establish His Messianic reign and in doing so bring heaven and earth together in perfect harmony. And this promised Messiah who would establish that kingdom was the Man Jesus Christ of Nazareth. If a man as Abraham who had may earthly possessions yet lived his life on earth in a tent [rather than a castle] ought to be esteemed and considered as a great figure of faith in spite of his character flaws, how much more so Jesus- who counted it not robbery to be equal to God but left His heavenly domain and took on the form of flesh and a bondservant with the scope of dying upon a cross so that He might freely justify all who would lay hold of Him- like Jacob [who would later be named Israel] when he threw himself upon the Angel of the Lord [presumed to be Jesus] and who, without strength lay hold upon Him and demanded "I will not let you go unless you bless me!"(Genesis 32:26) In like manner the Savior Himself hung outstretched upon a cross as if to lay hold of all humanity altogether and look up upon the Father and say, "I will not let go until we can save these people!" And that is the beauty of faith. It is not earned through our obedience- no, it is a blessing, a gift. Nor are we rewarded with some sort of supernatural power in exchange for our faith. For the apostle Paul writes to the Romans that the gospel alone has the power of God which brings about salvation [Romans 1:17]- in other words, it is the gospel- or good news which has the power to enable a person to believe. It enables a person to exercise their thoughts past the immediate circumstances- no matter how insurmountable they may be, with a quiet resolve that God is in control, and even if the initial result may appear to be a defeat it will always hold an eternal weight of glory. It is for this reason why we celebrate this glorious day- for it marks the day when the enmity of sin and death was dealt with once and for all because it marks the day in which Jesus was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit from the grave and seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. It was Christ who was made sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God by faith [as Paul testifies in II Corinthians 5:21]- This is why the Christ was crucified, because the wrath of God had been poured out on sin resulting in His death. And as Paul writes, if Christ had not risen from the dead than our faith is in vain for we are still dead in our sins. Yet He is not dead for He is seated by the right hand of the Father [even though He was made sin] to testify that sin [namely, our sin] no longer has a place to stand before God as a witness testifying against us for our sins have been buried with Christ and in it's place He stands to testify to the Father of an inheritance reserved in heaven for us with Him- a seal declaring that we are not only pardoned, but also coheirs with Christ as it is written in Romans chapter 8 verse 17! A true man or woman of God is defined not by their past mistakes however various and frequent they may be- like Abraham [for the Scriptures reveal to us that Abraham did not learn from his mistake of pretending that Sarah was his sister, but did it again], rather they are defined by what awaits them in eternity. And the marks of a mature Christian's faith is not discerned by their ability to manifest material things on earth, but it is the ability to exercise their thoughts towards eternity and grow to depend more solely on their hope reserved for them in heaven, and when they do manifest their faith towards material things it is not solely for themselves as written in James, but towards others around them. Those who diligently seek God will be blessed by God, and I believe that true blessings of God are intended to bless and be shared with others. For the one who truly seeks to inherit eternity do not live as a hermit cut off from the rest of the world in seclusion, rather they exercise their faith towards those around them- As Abraham, who entertained and provided food and shelter to strangers passing by who turned out to be angels of God en route to Sodom and Gomorra. It is to be manifested to their children, and to their children's children so that they may share in a mutual faith and become coheirs of the promise of eternal life like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In closing, I would like to share an illustration which I have received in the midst of my various alone time with God which I believe to have been inspired by God as it pertains to the description of faith as written in Hebrews: the reality of things hoped for as a means of bringing comfort for some of us who might not feel as though they are a child of God, the love of God, the peace of God as I myself have struggled with bouts of depression long after receiving the joy of salvation and Christ as my Savior: I know that the sun is in the sky- and I know that to be a fact. And because it is a fact, it is not prone to change. As such, I can say with great certainty and without a doubt that I know that the sun is in the sky even on the days in which I do not feel its warmth. Lastly, a small meditation that took on the form of a poem [somewhat] that I transcribed some years ago when I was going through difficult trials yet trying fixing my eyes on Jesus- who, as Hebrews puts it, is the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despised the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [Hebrews 12:2]: When I follow in His foot steps on the road to Calvary, My mind can scarce fathom His pain, and agony. His body- it was beaten, His flesh- how it was torn! A crown upon His head- not of gold, but rather thorn. In silence stood the Lamb, as He was devoured by the wolves. Armed by the Spirit of the Father, He continues and endures. He was brought before the multitude, as if a symbol of His defeat. The same crowd that had once praised Him now sought nails in His hands and His feet. In silence He remained. For He knew what must be done, To be lifted- as a banner, to declare that He had won. And may the grace and peace of Jesus Christ remain with us all, amen.

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