Image via author, Ice Lake, Wallowa Mountains, Oregon
In our last post on true faith, we learned that Paul says works without faith is dead. James says faith without works is dead, but faith that produces obedience is a justifying faith. How shall we measure the truth of our faith?
We can do so against the examples of faith given in the scriptures. For example, in Hebrews 11 we are given a list of people who exemplify true faith. The writer is making it clear that for the faith heroes, their actions are the proof of their faith. If you read the whole chapter, you will find these heroes did great exploits and many of them died for their faith. They were all in, fully surrendered. From their example we learn that the faithful live sacrificially, walk with our God, and seek Him diligently.
That passage opens with these words: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
The Greek word rendered as “seek” in Hebrews 11:6 means a diligent and earnest seeking, an active search. The rest of the chapter details just how diligent the “heroes of the faith” were in seeking their God. It gives example after example of how these heroes lived a faith that was all in toward their God.
So the writers we have been reading regarding faith come to the same point by different paths. Paul says works without faith is dead. James says faith without works is dead, but faith that produces obedience is a justifying faith. The writer of Hebrews is telling us that when faith produces diligent seeking, obedience and absolute surrender, it is God-pleasing.
There is an undercurrent of absolute surrender that runs throughout the scriptures. Surrender makes the difference between true faith and its lesser substitutes. It is a kind of “secret sauce” that turns mere belief about God and agreement with the facts into true faith. Absolute surrender both defines and energizes our faith:
- We must approach our God in faith, in an attitude of diligent and active seeking. The parables of Jesus reinforce this description of true faith. Remember the man who finds the treasure in the field, then sells everything he has to purchase the field, or the merchant who sells all his possessions, going all in to purchase the one pearl of extraordinary value.
- Abraham was willing to take his son Isaac, the living proof of his God’s promises, and offer him as a sacrifice on the altar. He was all in, fully surrendered to his God, even though it must have gone against the grain of everything he thought he knew about his God.
- The heroes of the faith in Hebrews were likewise living and dying all in toward their God. Their lives prove they gave up everything, even life itself, in their trust and obedience to God.
This surrender is found every story of faith in the Bible. It is vital to all that constitutes being a disciple of our God. Jesus made this clear repeatedly in the gospel accounts, indicating the only those who live in full abandonment and surrender are worthy to follow Him. Indeed, to turn to our God as our Savior and Lord demands our being all in as disciples.
Belief and agreement alone, if it does not produce surrender and obedience, is not faith as the Bible defines it. James was clear on this point when he stated, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” If we believe in God and agree with His cause without a resulting surrender and obedience to Him, James tells us it puts us on par with the demons. This is hardly a commendation.
True faith puts our God in control over every aspect of our living. Belief and agreement by themselves still allow us to retain control and leave us in charge. Faith and retaining control are mutually exclusive, for it is impossible to please our God while we retain control over our daily living.
Living a life of genuine faith will lead us to being “all in” toward our God. Committing to a life of faith, love, and surrender is the start of true faith, and that faith will continue to grow in us as the life of the Spirit replaces all our own living.