The Imperative of Faith
From Living for Eternity
There are many precious things in this world. Some, such as diamonds, pearls, homes, cars, coins, and other valuables can be looked upon or held in the hand. Others, intangible and more difficult to perceive, become more valuable than the tangible things upon reflection. These include citizenship, safety, health, friendships, and relationships of various kinds. Without the intangibles, the tangibles would quickly lose their value. The wise person looks to the things that are unseen as well as the things that are seen. The things seen are temporal, but the things not seen are eternal.
God has told us that the first imperative, the most basic quality in the world, is faith. When beginning his discourse on the eight imperatives of life Peter names the first imperative: faith. We will begin by adding to our faith.
What is faith? How does it work in life? Why is it so important? These questions have been asked by Christians in every century. Because we are prone to believe what we see, confidence in something unseen seems mysterious. God repeatedly admonishes us to be not faithless but believing. We are called to accept divine truth and reject human falsehood. Often, however, the visible and appealing falsehood wins the race to capture our attention with the help of the evil one, who is a liar from the beginning. Thus the visible triumphs over the invisible, and we are deceived.
To discover the meaning of faith (the ability to perceive and the courage to believe the invisible things of God) and to anchor our souls in its solid substance is the beginning of understanding and the key to salvation itself.
To understand the imperative of faith we must remember that faith can be understood in at least two ways. The first way to understand it is as the faith.
This aspect of faith is implied by Peters opening statement in 2nd Peter. He said he was writing to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ (1:1). Faith, in this sense, was referred to by Christ when He asked the question, When the Son of Man comes, shall He find [the] faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8). Clear also is the call that we are to be established in the faith (Acts 16:5). Indeed, the importance of this faith is emphasized by the reminder that in the last days, some shall depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).
Faith is, therefore, presented in the Bible as, first of all, the body of truth that Christians believe. The faith is that set of facts, revealed in Scripture, dealing with the reality of God, and mans relationship to Him. They must be understood, because there can be no personal faith without the faith.
What then is the body of truth that constitutes the faith? The foundations of the Christian faith include the following:
1. There is a God. The Bible teaches that above and beyond all other considerations in life stands one prime fact: God is. The first revelation of Scripture is In the beginning God (Gen. 1:1).
Having revealed Himself in nature and in the Bible, God has told us that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and is before all things. To become established in the faith, the inquirer would do well to open the pages of Scripture and read of how God has announced His existence and told us about Himself.
Under the first principle, then, we establish ourselves as theists and not atheists. We believe that God is.
2. God is a Trinity. The Lord has revealed Himself as eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has not explained to us how the Trinity is possible, for the word possible is only relevant to man. With God, nothing is impossible. Nevertheless, we have His word for itGod is three Persons and yet One. We Christians are not unitarians; we are trinitarians.
3. God created the universe. We know that the universe is not a self-existent entity that has always been and will always be. Rather, it was created out of nothing by the Lord Himself. To speak precisely, the world was created by Jesus Christ Himself. When Scripture refers to Christ it says, For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist (Col. 1:16-17).
We Christians, therefore, believe that creation is to be respected but not worshipped. We are not pantheists (who are, in essence, no different from atheists).
4. Sin has come into the world. Man was made in the image of God. That image, however, was defaced when Eve and then Adam ate the fruit forbidden to them by God. Scripture says, by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12).
As Christians, therefore, we must recognize that the sublime creation of God has been defaced by the cancer called sin. Sin has separated man from God, making it utterly impossible for human beings to have fellowship with the Lord except through the loving provision God has provided in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
5. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. With this affirmation, we come close to the core of Christianity. It is the conviction that Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, was indeed Emmanuel, God with us. We are sure that God was in Christ and that He came for the purpose of reconciling the world to Himself.
The deity of Christ is one of the most fundamental building blocks of the faith. Marvelous vitality comes into the life of a person whose deepest conviction is the deity of Christ. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5). As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, and the provision He made for our salvation is sure and steadfast.
6. Christ offers salvation through His blood. We Christians are sure that the center point of history is a place called Calvary and that historys greatest event transpired there. At Calvary Jesus Christ took on Himself the sins of the world. Indeed, He was made sin for us with the marvelous result that we should receive the gift of imputed righteousness. It is Calvary that becomes the sole basis of our salvation. The Christian means it when he sings, Calvary covers it all and pardon there was multiplied to me. It is the blood of Jesus Christ, Gods Son, that cleanses from all sin.
7. Salvation comes to the sinner by faith alone. The essence of Christianity is that salvation is by faith. In a sense, there are only two religions in the worldChristianity and all others. In one way or another, the religions of the world (and even some that are called Christianity) teach the production of human righteousness, the winning of merit before God on the basis of human works.
True Christianity, however, presents the gift of righteousness without works (Romans 4:6) to all who will exercise faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvarys cross.
As Christians, we identify with the words of Robert Murray McCheyne in Jehovah Tsidkenu:
Beyond the basics, the Bible teaches many things about the faith. We can see that, above all other things, Christianity is a doctrinal religion. By that we mean it is a presentation of facts about actual people and events in history. Above every other consideration, it is a body of truth most surely to be believed.
No one is a Christian apart from believing this body of truth. An individual may be winsome, good, fine, and decent, but he is not a Christian because of those qualities. Nothing about ourselves makes us Christians. We are Christians only by the fact that we hold true objective facts about Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. There can be no faith, then, without the faith.
We might illustrate these facts by noting that we live in intransitive times. From our high school English classes, we remember that an intransitive verb is one that does not take an object. A transitive verb, therefore, is one that does take an object. There is a definite erosion in the English language today. In one such deviation, we have begun to see transitive verbs as if they were intransitive.
In the realm of religion, this tendency is practiced every day. We are told to have faith, but we are not told in whom or in what to have faith. We are told to pray without being told what or who should be the object of our prayers. We are counseled to just believe without being given an object of that belief. We are advised to trust without being told that it is impossible to trust without trusting something or someone. Under the influence of these existential times, Christianity itself is believed by some to be a faith that takes no object and is anchored in nothing. It then becomes the emotion of a moment, the good feeling of an evening, or a fleeting sense of the presence of God. Consequently, the salvation claimed by some could be without foundation. It may be nothing more than an imagined psychological experience with an imaginary Jesus.
Let us remember, then, that faith without the faith is delusion. Above all else, Christianity, the call to faith, presents the divine Person and the historical acts in which to believe.
As a result of this historical, objective faith, it is possible for us to have personal faith. That is what Peter is referring to when he says to add to your faith the other imperatives. He assumes that his readers have moved from cynicism to acceptance and have stepped from no faith to the faith.
Christianity is, therefore, not only the faith, but it is personal, subjective faith. When I exercise faith, the objective facts about God and the atonement available in Jesus Christ become my personal possessions.
Each person must ask himself, Do I have this personal faith? What is personal, saving faith in Christ?
This faith unto salvation has been illustrated in many ways. If I stand on the twenty-seventh floor of a tall building and press the button for an elevator, I am confident (I have faith) that the elevator will arrive. Indeed, it does, and the door opens. I am now presented with a vehicle that, I am confident (I have faith), will take me to the ground floor or to the top of that building, provided I step into it. When I do, my faith in that elevator takes the form of personal trust. It has become not only objective confidence but a personal reality to me.
In the same way, the faith of the Gospelthe truth of Christianitybecomes the path to my personal salvation when I exercise faith. This is accomplished by accepting Christs death as my way to right standing before God.
This way of salvation is presented to us by the Apostle John when he gives us his account of the life and ministry of Christ. He speaks of the Lord Jesus coming into the world to His own people and making them the loving offer of salvation. Sadly, their response was negative: He came unto His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11). This is one of the saddest verses in the Bible.
Because they did not receive Him, Israeland then the worldmoved into desolation and rejection.
But then comes one of the happiest verses in Scripture. There were individuals who did hear and heed and who believed the facts about the Lord Jesus. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name (John 1:12). Exercising faith comes in the form of receiving Christbelieving on His name.
Christ illustrated this transaction further when, explaining the way of salvation, He said, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-15). In referring back to this Old Testament picture, Christ is using an event in the lives of the children of Israel to show the nature of personal acceptance of Him.
In Numbers 21, we see that the children of Israel committed a transgression against the Lord. In that regard, they are an illustration of the entire human race and of each one of us. They spoke against the Lord, and they held His provision for them in contempt. They said, For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loathes this light bread (Numbers 21:5). The response from the Lord is most telling. The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died (Numbers 21:6).
As a result of this judgment, there was the responsive conviction of sin on the part of the people. We have here an illustration of the purpose of Gods judgment of the world. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against you; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people (Numbers 21:7).
What was the provision that came from God? The Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live (Numbers 21:8).
What an interesting and marvelous provision! The Lord instructed Moses that a serpent resembling the one that bit the people was to be made of brass. To obtain healing, the people were required only to look upon the serpent. The formula that came from God was Look and live.
Moses did as he was instructed, putting a serpent on a pole in the center of the camp and inviting those who were infected to participate in the divine remedy. What a beautiful result came to pass! If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Numbers 21:9). The message that went out to the people of Israel was that God had provided a way by which they would be delivered. The requirement placed upon them was so simple as to be almost unrelated to the severity of the problem.
Now there may have been those in Israel who had philosophic arguments against this method of deliverance, who believed that other remedies were superior, or who allowed personal disillusionment or a dozen other problems to prevent them from believing and responding to this simple remedy. However, no other provision had been made except that one must look and then one would live. The simple way of salvation was also the sole way of salvation.
Christ used this account of the serpent in the wilderness to illustrate saving faith. He announced that in this very fashion must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-15).
Following this statement comes that magnificent offer of eternal life. Jesus gives us the most well-known and revered statement in the entire Word of God, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Christ then tells us that the Son of Man came not to bring condemnation but salvation. Salvation becomes mine through faith.
The simplicity of faith is also evident in the life of Abraham. In Romans 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul says, What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God. For what says the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Abraham is the illustration of the exercise of saving faith. What did Abraham actually do in order to receive imputed righteousness? He believed God. The word used here is amen. Abraham said amen to God, and he was instantly and eternally saved, having received the gift of imputed righteousness.
Paul presses the point by saying, Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that works not, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [imputed] for righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). Salvation, then, comes not to the one who works to earn or merit the gift. It is given to the one who believes. Faith alone brings imputed righteousness.
What is imputed righteousness? It is merit or acceptance before God that is put to our account, as it were, in the bank of heaven. It is not imparted righteousness, for there is no such thing. In salvation, God does not make us righteous, but He declares us righteous. Imputed righteousness, therefore, is the basis of our perfect legal standing before God. Because of this ascribed righteousness There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Down through the years of Christian history, thousands, convicted of sin, conscious that they have offended God, wanting to be reconciled to Him, have asked the question, What must I do to be saved? Many discovered, even in the process of asking this question, the trust that became personal faith in the Savior.
From where does this faith come? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). We can promise that the one who examines the teaching of the Scripture with an open mind will become aware of the need for faith. In the sincere seeker, this awareness will produce the desire for personal salvation. That desire, followed by the exercise of personal faith, brings the seeker to the transaction that is salvation.
From faith where do we go?
Having been saved by faith, the believer discovers faith to be a growing thing. God increasingly becomes the loving Father who rules our lives and who is to be trusted in every circumstance and with everything. Having come to Christ, the Apostle Paul tells of the consequences of his own personal step of faith. He said, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day (2 Tim. 1:12). By faith we can trust God not only for eternal salvation but for every other consideration in life as well.
In exactly this fashion, Paul, in the name of the Lord, extends an invitation to us. In his most brilliant treatise, the book of Romans, he speaks to those who have believed and says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1). Here the call to commitment is not extended to the sinner but to the brethren. Salvation and commitment are two distinct things. Eternal life come because of Christs commitment unto death for us on the cross. Significant service for the Savior comes when our faith leads us to commitment to Him.
Faith, therefore, is the door to salvation and the basis of all the qualities that God intends to build faithfully into our lives. So imperative is this first quality of life that it is presented in the Word of God as the basis of life itself. Consequently, we have the oft-repeated principle in Scripture, The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
By faith we anticipate that we will live through each day. By faith we retire at night in the quiet confidence that we shall wake in the morning. By faith we cross the street, drive a car, ride on an airplane, and perform a hundred other daily tasks. The one who insists that he wants nothing to do with faith and claims that he operates only on the basis of his eyes will find it impossible to live at all. Those who deny the existence of faith and claim they rely only on what can be seen and proved are deluding themselves. It takes faith for anyone to live. The Christian, however, knows that and rejoices in it.
When the Christian decides to live by faith, to rest in its inevitability, he makes a wonderful discovery. He discovers that he has access by faith into the grace wherein he stands (Romans 5:2). Before him opens the treasure house of Godaccess to everything, including the universe itselfwhich has been purchased for him by Jesus Christ on Calvarys cross. The promise given to us by the Apostle Paul has yet to be tested to its fullest by even the most ambitious Christian. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2). Walking by faith should not be a tenuous and trembling activity on the part of the timid, reluctant believer. It should produce great accomplishments and rejoicing in what Scripture calls the hope of the glory of God. The believer who moves from a tentative pursuit of the will of God to enthusiastic participation in the life of faith can expect astonishing results.
In Hebrews 11, God has given us the believers hall of fame. Here we can read the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and many others. The heroic lives of these spiritual giants reinforce what we already know but need to remember: Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Just a glimpse into the possibilities of faith should lead us to say with sincerity to our Heavenly Father, Lord, increase our faith.
Living for Eternity