19. Understanding faith. (Part 1 of the Faith series.)

Some Christians think of faith as an almost magical force: If you muster enough of it, then you’ll stay healthy and become wealthy. Though it sounds true, that is not necessarily the big picture we see when we study Scriptures. The author of Hebrews delved deep into the subject of faith,  and came up with an amazing revelation!  In Chapter 11, which is dubbed as the ‘Faith Hall of Fame’ there are not only those who got what they hoped for, but also those who didn’t get what they hoped for. Some ‘through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised; who shut the mouth of lions, quenched the fury of flames and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies … Others were tortured and refused to the released, so that they may gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed into two; they were put to death by the sword … They went about destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them … These were all commended for their faith.’ – (Hebrews 11:33-39) The Bible doesn’t say that those who didn’t get what they hoped for were lacking in faith but says that there is something better in store for them; that they might gain a ‘better resurrection’! All their believing was never in vain though they never got what they asked for.  The Bible portrays faith as something that needs to be guarded, at all cost! The faith described in Hebrews is not sugarcoated: God does not guarantee a life of luxury and ease. It is tough faith: a constant commitment to hang on and believe God against all odds, no matter what! So Paul wrote to Timothy in his  farewell letter : ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ – ( 2 Timothy 4:7)

What then is faith? The opening statement by the author of Hebrews has become the classical definition of faith. ‘Faith is the substance or  surety of things hoped for, the evidence or certainty of things not seen.’ – (Hebrews 11:1 KJV/ NIV)  From this definition of faith, we get two aspects (a particular part or feature of something) that constitute faith. The first aspect being the  ‘certainty’ and the second aspect being the  ‘surety’. (Different translations uses different words but throughout this article, will stick to these two words. )  Almost all of us have faith, meaning, we are ‘certain  of things not seen’,  but often we are not ‘sure of what we hope for’. – (Hebrews 11:1) We ‘believe that God exists’ but we are not sure whether ‘he rewards those who earnestly seek him’. – ( Vs 6) We probably might have the certainty about God’s ability but have no surety of his willingness!  But it takes both these aspects to make our faith complete and workable. If either one of them is missing, then our faith is crippled. If we have the certainty that God exists and that he is able, it is not to our credit because ‘this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God’ – (Ephesians 2:8) whereas if we have the surety that God is willing and rewards those who earnestly seek him, then it pleases God and he credits it to us. ‘This is what the ancients were commended for’ – (Hebrews 11:2), because they were not only certain of things not seen but also were sure of things hoped for. Simply put, they trusted God against all odds!

How do we get this surety? It does not necessarily come from previous experiences because inspite of all the miracles the Israelites saw in Egypt and in the desert, they always failed to trust God whenever they faced the next crisis because only knew his deeds but not his ways. – ( Psalm 103:7) But Gentiles like the Centurion and the Canaanite woman, who had no previous experience of God’s deliverance, showed great faith that even amazed Jesus and he promptly commended them for their faith! – (Matthew 8:10, 15:28) The surety they had came from the understanding of who Jesus is. The Centurion recognised him to be a man of spiritual authority and the Canaanite woman realised that the Gentiles too needed a Saviour and recognised him to be the One. Though we read that Abraham, ‘believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness’ – (Genesis 15:6), he still didn’t have the surety he needed and therefore said, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” ( vs 8) So ‘on that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram’ ( vs 18) to give him the surety of the promise. The covenant gave him the surety and made his faith whole. (We too have a covenant in the blood of Jesus to give us this surety of his will.) Abraham’s faith was unlike those of his contemporaries who also probably believed in the existence of God but he believed in a ‘God who gives life to the dead and call things that are not as though they were.’ – (Romans 4;7) And unlike us, he didn’t get this understanding about the nature of God from Scriptures for they were not written yet! He understood that God call things that are not as though they were, when God changed his name to Abraham – (Genesis 17:5), which means ‘father of many’, even when he didn’t have any! (But still there was a truth in that phrase because Issac was after all in the loins of Abraham, just as Scripture says Levi was in the loins of Abraham, when he gave a tenth to Melchizedek. – Hebrews 7:9-10) God taught him to speak the language of faith by calling things done in the spiritual realm when it still had not manifested in the physical realm. (We too are being taught to speak the language of faith when we call things that are not as though they were! For instance, we confess we are healed by the stripes of Jesus, when in reality the healing is yet to be manifested in the physical.) Moreover, Abraham believed that God had the power to raise the dead and therefore was unhesitant to sacrifice his only son. He probably was the first person to believe in the power of the resurrection because ‘He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Issac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Issac back from death.’ – (Hebrews 11:19) Abraham’s faith was well founded in his knowledge of God that he was not only certain of God’s existence but also was sure of God’s goodness. All his previous experiences further backed up his faith. We too can get this surety of God’s goodness today through our knowledge of him who has made a covenant with us in the blood of Christ. When our faith becomes complete and workable, locked doors begin to open because faith is the key to miracles! Amen.

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