The Character of a True and Living Faith
To live by the doctrines of Scripture requires a true and living faith. Such faith accepts the teachings of Scripture as the yardstick governing and controlling all our actions. At the same time true faith is a firm confidence that the teachings of the Bible affect us very personally. The Lord grants us the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation spoken of in Scripture (cf. Lord’s Day 7).
Faith is more than objectively accepting the facts of the Bible. People can appear to have a real and living faith by saying all the right things but still be missing the ingredients of true faith. In the eleventh chapter of his letter, the author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us some of the characteristics of a true and living faith. He introduces the subject of true faith in this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). At first glance, a sentence like this may seem somewhat obscure. The rest of the chapter, however, explains and amplifies what is meant.
1. Faith does not Question but Seeks to Please
First of all, those who have faith “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). Abel and Enoch are mentioned by the author of Hebrews as men of faith who lived to the praise of God’s glory. Before Enoch was taken up to heaven “he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him.” Faith responds in obedience without challenging or questioning the Lord’s purpose. Noah is cited as an example. He was told by God to build an ark because the Lord had said that He would send a flood upon the world to punish the wickedness of man. Noah did not fully understand what God had in mind. Yet he did not protest or question how all the animals would fit into the ark. His faith was visible in that he did what the Lord asked:
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet un-seen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.Hebrews 11:7
Having faith in God we accept the will of the Lord for our lives and respond in obedience to what He tells us.
2. Faith is Total Acceptance
Secondly, true faith accepts as true all that God has revealed in his Holy Word. As a result of this we may have to make decisions to do things we would rather not do, for example, to break close ties with family and friends. Abraham had to leave behind his homeland and his family “and he went out not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham had to go to a foreign land where he often lived in fear of what others might do to him and his wife. He did not have a permanent dwelling but lived in tents. Yet in faith he obeyed the Lord. Abraham believed the Lord would do what He promised. He did not doubt the Lord’s Word even though, humanly speaking, it was impossible to believe what the Lord was telling him. He had to wait patiently for many years before the Lord fulfilled what He had promised.
3. Faith Rejects the Lifestyle of the World
Third, true faith rejects the lifestyle and the culture of a godless society. Listen to what the author of Hebrews writes in verses 24-26,
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward.
Those who have a true and living faith make choices. They do not blindly follow the trends, fads and values of a godless society. Instead they develop the culture of the church and a lifestyle that reflects how they have everything in Christ.
4. Faith Obeys God rather than Man
The fourth characteristic of true and living faith is to obey God rather than any other person. You will not bow in submission to any individual, no matter how powerful or influential he maybe, if he demands of you actions that are in conflict with the Lord’s Word. Hebrews 11 gives the example of Moses’s parents. They were not afraid of the king’s edict (11:23). In that same faith we today must obey God rather than man and not bow to the pressures of people.
5. Faith does not Exclude Suffering
Fifth, a true and living faith includes a willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake. What we believe with our hearts is confessed with our mouths. Think of the many who gave their lives because they refused to deny the name of their Saviour. Again we turn to the letter of Hebrews:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.Hebrews 11:35-37
True faith could mean having to give your very life for Christ’s sake. Faith is accepting whatever the Lord reveals and acting accordingly in any and every given circumstance.
6. Faith is Personal
Sixth, true faith is having the confidence that the promises of the gospel are not only for others but for me as well. Hebrews 11:9 tells us that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob shared in the same promises. This is the beauty of our faith. I, as a covenant child, share in the same promises that are given to the church of all ages and places. I can have the confidence that what all others have I may have too. God is my God, my Mediator; I am his covenant child. The Lord surrounds me with his love and care just as He did for His saints in the past. Accepting the message of the gospel, I believe that I am engraved in the palms of the Lord’s hands together with all his children. What He gives to others does not make me jealous because the Lord gives me everything I need too. That is what gives me confidence.
If left to ourselves our confidence in the promises of the Lord would languish and fade away. The Holy Spirit must work a true and living faith in our hearts by repeatedly directing us to the gospel so that we continue to rely on God. He must open our closed hearts to instill new qualities into our will. When the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, a tremendous power takes hold of our lives. We receive strength and courage for each day. We are helped through every situation, in moments of doubt, in the trials of life and even at the hour of death. We have hope eternal as we treasure the blessings and joy of a true and living faith.