Back to basics for this, the 200th post on this blog.
Faith. Trusting in God to give us what we need.
The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) puts Hebrews 11:1-2 as follows:
“Trusting<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-CJB-30187a" data-link="[a]”> is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see. It was for this that Scripture attested the merit of the people of old.”
The word Faith used in the majority of translations is here translated “Trusting”. It draws a parralel with Habakkuk 2:4 “Look at the proud: he is inwardly not upright; but the righteous will attain life through trusting faithfulness.” (emphasis added)
We all recognise Faith is essential in our walk with God. We believe the right doctrine (orthodoxy) and try to live it out (orthopraxy) but too often in our own strength. The “progressive” movement places a high emphasis on orthopraxy as being more important, but the two are inextricably linked. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:3 “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NKJV-28669a" data-link="[a]”> but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Actions without the love that comes through orthodox beliefs and Love – agape love – are worthless.
Once a year while I was at secondary school our headmaster would drone on about agape love in assembly. And I mean drone on. And on. And on.
It was painful, largely because he didn’t really practice what he spoke of, it was merely lip-service to the word.
I’ve been in churches that emphasise doing good works as being the most important thing, and “working out” our salvation through them. Now in some cases this was a genuine set of suggestions, but in others it was a question of we had to do the works because God did his bit, now we have to make up the shortfall.
Look at the thief on the cross next to Jesus. He didn’t live long enough to become a missionary or convert anyone else. He had no time to act on his faith. All he had a chance to do was believe and accept what Jesus had done.
Faith and nothing else saw him rewarded with eternity in Paradise with Jesus.
Somewhere we missed the point. We’ve become obsessed with orthoprax behaviours at the expense of belief being the motivator. Orthodox beliefs will inevitably lead to right behaviour. The beliefs in the correct way of Jesus and His sacrifice, when allowed to seep into the soul, cannot cause anything other than the orthopraxy so beloved by some churches now.
And this behaviour has its limits in these churches. Any church practising the behaviour of the first and second century Christians is labelled a cult these days, yet observations by ancient historians and apologists such as that of Aristides of Athens in the second century, where he states “… if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them…”, a demonstration of a true community as practiced by the Church led by Peter in Jerusalem that led to a mass of people selling all they had to ensure everyone in the church, slave and free, had enough for their families – not because it would “earn” their salvation, but because their salvation was so complete they could not do anything else and accept they were Christians.
Somewhere along the line we introduced the concept of the tithe – not a bad concept in itself, just not what Jesus talked of. Jesus said to the rich young ruler to sell all he had and follow Him. The young man left sadly because he loved his material possessions, not because the orthoprax behaviour was impossible, but because it required him to surrender his idol – money.
“ I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.” [James 2:18 The Message]
The modern idiom is to do the works and the faith will follow. Tell that to a diabetic who stops his medication to cause his faith for healing to grow. The man will die by inches (I am a diagnosed diabetic but my faith for healing is not yet complete so I take my medication until it is). Or a heart disease patient. Or any sick person who is convinced by wrong teaching that actions produce faith.
Faith without works is dead, but similarly, works alone are pointless. The two are inseparable. Without faith it is impossible to please God. We cannot “earn” His Love as it is freely given to us. Our own children don’t have to earn the love of their parents, they are simply loved. Why do we ascribe a different standard to God?
Faith gives us vitality. It allows us to move into works. It brings life and a point to our existence. It allows our works to have meaning and for us to be more than an empty vessel making a noise.
The Pharisees had works. They “obeyed” their interpretation of the Law of Moses. Paul himself wrote he was blameless in the sight of the pharisaic interpretation of the Law. He had kept the Law, their interpretation of it, perfectly. But it was not enough. His actions were perfected by Faith. Trusting instead in the completion of the Law by Jesus and His actions, Paul was freed to move into real action, God’s works for his life. As a result he travelled the Roman Empire in the Middle East planting churches and teaching the risen Christ to anyone and everyone who would listen. He gave us over half the New Testament books in the form of the letters he wrote, and most of our modern understanding of orthodox belief is based on those letters.
Faith is the power-house that provides movement to the body of Christ, or it should be. If we truly Love God, that is if we truly have a complete trusting faithfulness in His goodness and faithfulness, then we will see the mountains around us thrown into the sea. It is not our beliefs or actions that cause the change, but our trust that produces God’s actions to manifest in our lives.
First the belief, the vitality of true unwavering faith. Orthodox beliefs.
Actions will follow naturally. Orthoprax actions – the right actions – flow from faith.
And that Faith revitalises us.