I had been thinking of doing a series titled Flesh vs Faith which I will get to eventually, but I thought I’d spend some time defining faith because of a recent discussion on Faith and Doubt. My reason for this includes there is common picture that faith is mainly a “wishful thinking” or “positive thinking” thing. This comes into issue from a couple of directions. First, skeptics often talk about faith in these terms resulting in ridicule for magical thinking and also resulting in the idea that there is no way to tell from magical thinking. All somebody has to do is say they believe something and, it is claimed, that something has equal validity as any other belief – whether of Jesus, or of Karma, or of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Second, is the Word of Faith people who, in order to justify their theology quote, But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6) to people who are not getting the “right” answer to their prayers. “Even if you don’t recognize it, there must be some doubt in your heart of hearts and that is why you are not healed”. Stories of this abound, but I remember a friend of mine (a 70 year old who had been a believer for 60 years and had cancer) who was visited in the hospital by her pastor (The same pastor who used to pray in the pulpit, “God, In Jesus’ Name, I command you to …” Blasphemy.) who told her “the tragedy here is that you would not have cancer if you had any faith”. In either case, whether of faith or of doubt, it is taught and accepted that it is a matter of what you are thinking and whether you can whip yourself up into positive thoughts or allow some thought of doubt in (For WoF, the presence of “doubters” in the group will mess you up even if you have your thoughts in order. Of course the skeptics say it doesn’t matter either way because there is nothing there).
To set this up, we are going to do a sprint through Hebrews 11, where my title comes from, where I think a pattern emerges.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark (Hebrews 11:7)
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17)
The pattern (which is obvious in these examples but I think apply to all the examples in Hebrews 11) is that Faith is an active response to Revelation (In this, the story of the tightrope walker with the wheelbarrow has some truth, if only because the object of your faith matters, but it doesn’t walk on all fours.) Faith is not thinking up something that would be nice to “claim” or “confess”. It is not self-will at all. Faith is that upon receiving the Revelation, they acted as if it mattered. God says something, do you trust and act or do you trust and act on your thoughts. Contrary to this, Doubt is acting as if the Revelation does not matter. Doubt says follow that which your self-will sees benefit in. Any connection between that and the Revelation is coincidental at best. God is not mocked, nor is he cynically used.
It is commonly observed that the word “Faith” is not so common in the Old Testament. The OT equivalent to “Faith” (shown by Hebrews 11:7) is the “Fear of the Lord” (with that, a dozen readers are salivating, “this does not mean terror”). Fear of the Lord can also be defined as acting as if what the Lord says matters. The one who lives his life in light of the Revelation is wise (Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). One who lives his life in self-will is unconcerned with what the Lord says and is foolish
A stark example of this kind of choice is found in Isaiah, Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. (Isaiah 50:10; see John 8:12) God tells the people that His will is for them to be in darkness and that they should walk in that darkness trusting Him. But walking in darkness is scary and dangerous. The common sense thing is to get some light. To those who make their own light, God says, Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:11) The choice is to walk in trust (Faith, Fearing God) or to walk in self-will (doubt). This biblical picture is a far cry from the popular teaching that doubt is some (perhaps very minute) impurity which spoils an otherwise good faith and keeps God from acting on your behalf. Faith or doubt is no less than a choice between obeying God and disobeying – of trusting God or trusting your flesh. It is here – active response – where James and Paul are reconciled. The common picture of doubt being some nagging thought does not match James’ image of crashing waves.
So, what about the Gospel? Have I not just declared that obedience saves? No, because the one who, according to the will of God, trusts in the One God has sent (John 6:29) is the son of God (John 1:12). Paul teaches (Galatians 5) that they still have a choice to follow Faith or to follow their flesh. Those who disobey will be disciplined by their Father (even to the point of taking their lives) but remain the children of God. It is the Flesh which wishes to add the constant threat of loss of Salvation to what God has promised.