Saturday, May 09, 2009

By Faith...

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1
This is the definition of the word faith given by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He will go on in chapter 11 to catalog the peculiar lives of many saints of old, calling attention to faith as the decisive means by which these men and women were able to live the kind of radical lives that they did. "By faith..." he will say again and again and again and again....

What's so interesting about each of the examples of faith that the writer gives in chapter 11 when he says "by faith" is that in none of them does he ever call attention to faith itself. But instead we only see what the faith produces. This means that the chapter isn't actually so much about faith, but rather about the kind of lives that faith produces.

But it's clear from this chapter that this faith isn't an afterthought. What this faith is isn't something to lightly skim over. Therefore, it's worth digging deep to understand what the essence of this term is. Because, if it is that faith and that faith alone that motivated these men and women to live the kind of lives that made God not ashamed to be called their God (Hebrews 11:12), then I want that faith and that faith alone. I need to know what that faith is, not just by my standards, but by God's standards. When Paul says in Romans 14:23 that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin," should that not grab our attention? Should that not set us on a quest to make sure that the faith that we have is the kind of faith that God wants motivating all of our thoughts, words, and actions? A verse like Romans 14:23 has that kind of staggering effect on me.

And the stakes for me have only been increased since God spoke decisively, undeniably, and irrevocably to me through Hebrews 11:24-27 (quoted in the 'About Me' box to the right) last year, issuing His call on my life to leave the privilege of being a first generation American to move back to Kenya, the country my parents immigrated from, for the sake of His gospel. If it was only by faith that Moses could refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, and leave Egypt without fear of the king, then there is no doubt in my mind that I am without a glimmer of hope if I have anything other than that very same faith that Moses had.

So I am on a quest to know what that faith is, Hebrews 11 faith that receives commendation from God. What is underneath this faith? What strengthens and stabilizes it? How does its power work? Why does God place such a high premium on it?

And I have employed the services of an able guide, a Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Manton, who preached a series of sermons on Hebrews 11 that spans over 700 pages! I've read about 300 pages so far and he's still in verse 6! And it's sections like the following excerpt that give me great eagerness to read another 400 pages and make me want to keep on peeling back the layers of this faith:
Oh, consider, to quicken you, [faith] is the grace that bringeth God most glory, and doth you most good. Some cry up charity, because they mistake the nature of faith--they depress it, they omit what is chiefest in faith, and they speak of it as if it were nothing worth. And so others make faith a pendulous hope, and therefore cry up obedience and love.

1. It bringeth God most glory. It is notable that faith doth that to God in a way of duty, which God doth to the creature in a way of grace--it justifieth, sanctifieth, and glorifieth. It justifieth, and that is a relative word, against the slanders and contempts of the world. So it is said, Luke 7:29, 'And all the people heard him, and the publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John;' it defendeth his hounour and the truth of his grace. The pharisees said, It was a foolish doctrine. How a believer justifieth God against contempt of the world and the suspicions of his own heart! Whatever conscience saith to the contrary, the Lord is just, gracious, merciful. Unbelief slighteth God and Christ, as if he were not worth the taking; the truth of the gospel, as if it were not worth credit; his worth, as if he did not deserve respect; his power, as if he were not able to save a sinking soul; it putteth a lie upon the whole contrivance of grace. Oh, how sweet were it if we could justify God against the prejudices of our own hearts! they make the blood of Christ a base thing, the Spirit of Christ a weak instrument. So it sanctifieth God: Numbers 20:12, 'Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel.' To sanctify, is to set apart for special uses and purposes; so we are said to sanctify God when we give him a separate and distinct excellency from all the powers in the world. He is not a common help and saviour, none so holy and gracious; it setteth the Lord with admiration above all created powers, for trust, fear, and dependence: Isaiah 8:13, 'Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.' When we see man is not to be trusted nor feared, but God, we set him on the highest point of eminency, aloof from the creatures. Is there any like him for pardon, for power, for holiness? So it glorifieth God: Romans 4:20, 'He was strong in faith, giving glory to God.' God doth as it were receive a new being from faith; though he be infinitely glorious in himself, yet he counteth himself glorified by the faith of the creature; he hath a second heaven in the heart of a believer, there he dwelleth by faith and displayeth the pomp of all his excellencies. Now unbelief dethroneth God, it will not let him set up a new heaven or place of residence in the conscience.

--Thomas Manton, Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 14, p.118
May we not trifle with this word that we've become so familiar with. May we not confuse this faith for something that's not it. But instead, Lord, we pray as Your apostles did, "Increase our faith!" In Jesus' name, Amen.

No comments: