The real meaning of faith (part 2)


In the last post, I started to explain the real meaning of faith using Paul’s account of Abraham’s faith in Romans 4. This post picks up where the last one left off.

In Romans 4:19, Paul tells us that Abraham “considered his own body.” The Greek verb for “consider” means this: “to direct one’s whole mind to an object, to study, examine, consider reflectively, ponder, or to apprehend something in its fullness by immersing oneself in it.” That means one thing: Abraham was not afraid to face the human facts. Yet somehow he did this “without weakening in his faith.” Faith does not run away from what is there in front of us. Faith does not deny that the problem exists. Faith does not say it is a “negative confession” to admit we are sick. That is not faith, that is deception. And it’s a deception born of fear. Faith states that, in spite of the undeniable reality of the physical evidence, the evidence of the word of God is stronger still. The word of God is the only evidence faith needs. When faith comes up against the brick wall of circumstance, it does not pretend obstacles do not exists. It does not pretend we have the ability to do anything to change the circumstance other than to cry out to the God who can change everything.

Paul understood what the nature of Abraham’s faith was. It was not a mind-over-matter arrogant declaration of the person who believes they have the power within themselves to make anything happen. No, it was the same faith which had enabled Paul himself to move ahead in obedience at the darkest hour of depression and despair. That was the time when he wrote to the Corinthians admitting that he felt the sentence of death had been passed upon him (2 Corinthians 1:8). That was the time he felt afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; hunted, but not killed; struck down, but not struck out (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). That was the time he felt he was carrying about in his body the dying of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10). Like Abraham, Paul knew that the key in such circumstances was to look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. Those things can only be seen with vision given by the Holy Spirit on the basis of the revelation of the Word of God (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul continues: “With regard to the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (verse 20). The man or woman of faith, like Abraham, has an undivided heart. Whatever the state of their emotions or mind, they will trust God and obey him. But notice this: it was “with regard to the promise of God” that Abraham did not waver. The most crucial thing here is not Abraham’s faith, but the promise of God upon which that faith rested. Abraham’s faith was directed toward something entirely independent of him: the promise of God.

Genuine faith has nothing to do with mind over matter or positive thinking or speaking. Such a “faith” is human-centred. It is not the faith of the Bible. Abraham’s faith was based on and controlled entirely by the divine promise. Faith does not contain its own power, as some preachers seem to suggest. Such a “faith” would be a form of magic or even witchcraft – an attempted manipulation of God by human efforts. Instead, the promise on which faith rests is its power. Faith exists, Charles Cranfield wrote, because a person has been “overpowered, held and sustained by God’s divine promise.”

So many fall into condemnation, frustration or disillusionment because they feel their act of believing is the critical part. They discover that their “faith” does not work, because in truth it is not Biblical faith so much as human positive thinking. And what is the promise that holds us? The promise is the Bible in its fullness, as that Word is understood and applied through diligent study, prayer, discipleship, submission to godly wisdom, and expressed in a commitment to live not for oneself but to walk in the way of the cross. As we walk in obedience to the Word, its promises take hold of us.

Abraham “was strengthened in faith.” He did not strengthen himself by his own “positive thinking”, will-power or emotional self-control, all of which were entirely inadequate. He found his strength only and entirely in God. God himself will come alongside the one who is attempting to move forward against all the heavy currents of doubt, fear and despair the world and the enemy can stir up against him. Abraham made a choice to believe God, but that opened the door for God to help. Where everything is ranged against the promise, faith is “being enabled” by God to rest on the promise alone, refusing to demand any visible proof or evidence. People of faith are not strong people, they are weak people with faith in a strong God.

Faith begins the minute we believe what God says. Once we have believed what he has said about salvation, the big decision of faith is accomplished. The heavy lifting is over. It should be easy, by comparison, to believe him for anything which comes after that.

Then the promise of verse 21 will come up under our feet: whatever God has promised, he has power to do. This faith of Abraham – our father – is available to every one of us today.