“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9)
A few years ago, a group of scientists were given the most prestigious award in the world, the Nobel Prize for science, for discovering that all around us, all around them, and throughout every cubic foot of the universe is reverberating tiny echoes of the original Big Bang, Creation itself. They called it something like a “humming,” which everyone heard to the point that they had quit questioning it.
You see the same wallpaper every day and eventually you quit noticing it. When the scientists decided to analyze the mysterious hum, they found echoes of the Beginning.
Faith is like that. It’s everywhere, everyone uses it, lives by it, orders their lives by it and around it, but rarely give it a thought.
The funny thing is how some dispute that they believe in faith or use it in any way. As they do so, they draw their breath by faith, stand on their spot of terrain by faith, and plan their next act by faith.
Defining faith is a little tricky. Everyone tries his hand at it.
The writer of Hebrews–whoever he or she was–introduces the well-beloved 11th chapter, the Faith Chapter in our New Testament, with a definition:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1 NIV)
Some kid said it’s believing what you know isn’t true.
Here’s my definition:
“Faith is a conviction that a certain thing is true and real and solid on the basis of evidence even though some evidence is still missing.”
We are all celestial Sherlock Holmeses in a way–studying the evidence, coming to conclusions on the basis of that evidence, but all the while wishing we had the missing parts of the puzzle. Divine sleuths.
The disciple of Jesus Christ goes forward by faith. The Jew, the Taoist, the Muslim all live by faith. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the animist, and the voodoo practitioner get up every morning and go forth by faith.
The atheist lives by faith. The skeptic and agnostic are faith practitioners, just as much as Oral Roberts or Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa ever were.
This is true for the simple reason that we on this planet have tons of evidence for belief and a great deal for unbelief. We find loads of evidence for confidence our house will still be standing on the ground it occupies this morning and likewise reason to fear it won’t. Ask any Haitian about that.
The insurance company, the Fortune 500 conglomerate, and the bakery that opened in the strip mall near my house, all roll the dice and take their chances.
We live by faith every day. Get used to it.
Faith is only as good as its object. Here is where the disciple of Jesus Christ shines.
“Though you do not see (Jesus), you love Him.”
“And even though you still do not see Him, you believe in Him.”
I have not seen Jesus, although I became a follower of His as an 11-year-old boy living on an Alabama farm. Since that moment when He became real to me and I began to love Him, I still haven’t seen Him. However, my belief in Him and my love for Him grow stronger every day.
Faith was easier for the Apostle Peter, the man who penned this epistle and spoke so much about faith.
He had been there. He had seen Jesus. He had been plucked from the mundane existence of a Galilean fisherman to become a world revolutionary. He had been saved from a hum-drum life not unlike generations untold that had preceded him and given a message that would literally turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). It would end with Peter being executed on a cross (albeit, upside down; we’re told he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as the Lord).
Peter had walked the dusty lanes and back trails of Galilee with Jesus and His team and heard every sermon the Lord preached. He was in on the more secluded meetings the Lord had, where He met with Moses and Elijah on a mountain, raised a 12-year-old from the dead in a back room, and agonized with the Father in the Garden.
Peter fought to prevent Jesus’ arrest, denied Him to the courtyard servants as he was being tried, and wept when He was crucified. He saw the empty tomb and experienced the risen Lord.
Peter was the only disciple to walk on water. When he took his eyes off the Lord and onto the wave threatening to swamp him and began to sink, the Lord grabbed his hand and said, “O you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
Why indeed? Peter must have asked himself that a thousand times.
By now, however, he did not just believe. He knew. Peter still had some unanswered questions, but the evidence for Jesus was so overwhelming–so infallible, so completely dependable–he hardly needed faith at all. He had walked by sight.
You and I believe, but Peter knew.
They asked Dr. Carl Sagan, a popular scientist and outspoken unbeliever and accomplished writer of a generation ago, “Don’t you want to believe?” He answered, “No. I want to know.”
He’s not alone in that. We all do. And some day we shall see and know. (See I Corinthians 13:12 and I John 3:2) From then on, faith will be a thing of the past; we will live by sight.
But not yet. Today, we still walk by faith.
–We are saved by faith, not by works. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
–We walk by faith, not by sight. (II Corinthians 5:7)
–We please God by faith, not in any other way. (Hebrews 11:6)
–We must not be deluded into thinking faith is a New Testament business, while the Old Testament was all about works. It was faith then also, as evidenced by Genesis 15:6 where Abraham “believed God and it was counted to Him as righteousness.” In Romans 4 and Galatians 3, Paul emphasizes that this declaration preceded Abraham’s circumcision, making it an eloquent testimony for “salvation by faith.”
This teaching from Paul captured the imagination of Martin Luther, as it should us.
–We come by faith in the same way the early disciples did: by listening. “Now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
The first generation of Jesus-followers had no convenient New Testament to carry around in their back pockets, take out and read and study and wrestle with on their way to a full belief. At every opportunity they joined themselves to the Lord or to His disciples (or both) and listened. As they listened to the message, they processed it inwardly and many made life commitments to the Lord.
In our case, we open the Scriptures and read. We think about what we read and consider its implications and come to decisions about life and eternity.
We receive faith from reading the Word. That cannot be over emphasized. The best thing we can do for a seeking friend is to place a New Testament in their hands. Even a portion such as the Gospel of Mark or John will go a long way toward giving them faith and changing their lives.
–we each make our own faith commitment. The people of Sychar told the “woman at the well,” We no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
Others help us by their testimony, prayers, and reasonings. But each one must come to his own conclusions and act on his faith.
–We are tested in our faith and should expect it. Not only is it going to happen, but such testing is to be welcomed. “That the trial of your faith, being more precious than gold….” (I Peter 1:7) Many scholars say that it’s not the faith Peter is calling golden here, but the trial itself.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’ve long forgotten who said that, but it’s true. In the same way, a faith that cannot endure testing should be discarded so the real article can be found.
When the Apostle Paul was presenting his testimony–and at the same time defending his faith–before King Agrippa, he spoke of the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, a bedrock element of our faith. Paul said, “The king is familiar with these things…I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice. For this was not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26)
Anything taking place “in a corner” would have been unseen, unexamined, unquestioned, and therefore, would be undependable.
You do not want to go another day depending on such uncertainties.
You particularly do not want to go out into “that good night,” as death has been called, trusting your eternity to something you know so little about and cannot defend at all.
–We who are required to believe by faith rather than sight have been blessed by Jesus.
Even typing “believe by faith” seems a little much. Redundant, or something. Aren’t they the same, belief and faith? Close cousins, maybe even twins, but not identical. If ‘faith’ is confidence in Jesus Christ based on all the evidence we have for Him notwithstanding the remaining questions and lack of evidence, then ‘belief’ is our response to that faith.
Jesus said to the Apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
–We frequently find ourselves praying the most honest prayer in all the Bible, uttered by a distressed father whose son the disciples were unable to help. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
Far from being offended by such a prayer, the Lord Jesus honored the man’s integrity by healing his son.
It was said of Stephen and Barnabas (Acts 6:5 and 11:24) that they were “full of faith.” I take that to mean they had conquered their doubts and that unfaith occupied no corner of their lives.
Must be nice. They certainly occupy the highest rung of heroes of our faith.
Thankfully, the Lord has not required that we be filled with faith before He is willing to use us or bless us. In fact, quite the opposite.
“If you had faith as a mustard seed, you could do miracles.” (See Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:5)
Good! I have that much, and I’ll bet you do, too.
The trick is to use our faith and to leave our doubts alone. The faith will grow (“we go from faith to faith”–see Romans 1:17) and the doubts will little by little be answered and shrivel into nothingness.
–In witnessing to our unsaved friends, we must encourage them to read the Gospels and “listen” to its teachings. And, just as importantly, we should encourage them not to wait until they have “all faith” before confessing their faith in Jesus and becoming His disciple.
A small amount will do at first. And lest we heed the taunting of the devil that such a little faith as ours would surely be an insult to Jesus and we must not deign to offer so small a gift, we have Zechariah 4:10.
“Who has despised the day of small things?”
We actually know the answer to that. The world has, the flesh does, the devil will.
But Jesus Christ loves small things. He loved the Jews, wept over Jerusalem, likes you and me, receives small gifts like a small boy’s lunch (John 6:9), the widow’s coins (Mark 12:42), or even a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42), and teaches that childlikeness is a condition for entering the kingdom (Mark 10:15).
“I can’t do anything; I’m so small.”
Sorry, friend. That doesn’t work around here.
Martin Luther once said, “God created this entire universe from nothing. And if I can ever get to be nothing, He may be able to make something from me.”
–And this is the victory, even your faith. (I John 5:4)