Living by Faith
Some fifteen years ago a pastor working in the south of England surprised me in conversation by one of his many assertions: ‘How few Christians there are in the UK who truly live by faith’. While this pastor’s general pessimism and the presuppositions which underpinned it are very debatable, the subject of ‘living by faith’ is arguably one of the most important for our times, both congregationally and individually. One of the problems, however, is that the very terminology has been discredited by misunderstanding or by false application.
As many have suggested, ‘living by faith’ may sometimes be seen as a ‘cop-out’; the term may in some instances be used as a cover for an evasion of responsibility with regard to providing for ourselves or for our family.
Another problem is that we can sometimes confine ‘living by faith’ solely to those in full-time Christian service, or to those who are changing vocation. While we would hope that God will call people from our present congregation to serve Him in a full-time capacity in the UK and elsewhere, and would seek to be in a position to support them, we shall need folk ‘living by faith’ in secular employment to help fund such calls.
We can also mistakenly equate ‘living by faith’ solely with the miraculous, with signs and wonders. Sometimes these are given in the providence of God. More frequently, to stimulate faith, God will work through the natural order. There is a danger here of ‘fleece mentality’, based on a misunderstanding of Gideon’s guidance – the fleece could be interpreted as a concession to weakness, as Gideon had already been told of God’s will for his situation.
Not an optional extra
However, the call to ‘live by faith’ is extended to all of us. In a sense the phrase ‘stepping out in faith’, in the restricted sense in which it is often used, can prevent us from seeing its particular application for us in daily living. ‘Living by faith’ is, in fact, the only way to live the Christian life. First, to enter the kingdom:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews, 11: 6)
If the Early Church were constantly exhorted to go back to first principles, how much more should we, given all the temptations to divert us from our trust in Christ for salvation. However, faith is not merely essential to enter the kingdom but a lifelong process until that trust in Christ gives way to sight in the world to come.
The exhortation for all of us is unequivocal. As the Lord said to Habakkuk stationed on the ramparts (2: 4), ‘the righteous will live by [his] faith’, a charge repeated elsewhere, notably to the believers in Galatia (Galatians, 3: 11), who were being tempted to go back on their profession of Christ, and to the Jewish converts in the letter to the Hebrews, who were facing persecution and were being called to perseverance. At a congregational level, we can give thanks for all the provision, both material and spiritual (the refurbishment of the building, the ministry, the spirit of prayer and of expectancy, the outreach and so much more besides). The challenge to our faith is to maintain and develop this culture of dependency and thanksgiving, looking to God for future provision.
The challenge for individuals within the congregation to live by faith may take on different forms. For the self-reliant among us it may be to our comfort zone. When things are going well we can keep God at a safe distance. As missionaries have often said, we need to keep all that we have on the palm of an open hand. For so many in the past, as in many parts of the Third World today, the request in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, was and is a life-saving plea. In our comparatively opulent Western society we can so easily live by Mastercard faith and by Visa faith. Yet, as we are finding in these days of recession, even the most trusted security is no longer stable; the request in the Lord’s Prayer is increasingly apposite on a personal level, and also to the wider church, missionary organisations and many charities, and to the nation, caught up in a potential double-dip recession. Furthermore, it is good to remind ourselves that ‘every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James, 1: 17).
For others, the challenge may be nearer to that of Habakkuk, whose people were facing imminent invasion of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Chaldeans, and, indeed, the predicted destruction of Judah. Though the trial of faith is not on the same scale as Habakkuk’s, it is no less testing for some in our congregation who are facing uncertainty with regard to employment, financial concerns, issues with regard to relationships, illness and/or hospital visits. While the team of pastoral visitors can do their utmost to help, and there is a sharing of the particular burdens at our Wednesday prayer meetings and in many homes, the challenge for all in such stressful situations to exercise faith is not without cost.
But what incentives! In the first instance the company of a Saviour who has promised never to leave or forsake us in whatever situation we find ourselves. Unlike generic faith, which is based on a calculation of probabilities – for example, we believe that in boarding a bus we will arrive at our destination given the ratio of journeys to accidents –, our trust in Christ is in a person who cannot fail. In a person who has known hardship, poor housing, poverty, asylum seeking, betrayal by friends, loneliness, persecution, hunger, thirst, suffering and momentary separation from his Father, and who can sympathise with us in our difficulties and distress. In a person who has the capacity to answer the prayer of faith in a measure that goes beyond all our expectations. How encouraging that it is not the extent of our faith which counts but the person in whom it is placed! As Jesus said to the disciples who had been unable to heal a poor boy who had been suffering greatly:
‘If you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ’Move from here to there‘ and it will move.’ (Matthew, 17: 20)
How can we ‘live by faith’?
The means is both simple and profound – in knowing God, in cultivating that union with Jesus, which is so graphically illustrated in John 15 in the story of the vine and the branches. The more we invite Jesus to live in us through the study of His word and through prayer the more we shall experience the presence of God in our lives and the fruit of the life of faith. When Peter was called by Jesus to walk on water Peter did not just jump but waited for Jesus to say ‘Come’, and then responded in faith. (A number of well-meaning non-swimmers have suffered potentially serious consequences in misinterpreting this passage!). Peter’s demonstration of faith emanated not in this instance from a love of the spectacular but from a desire to spend time with Jesus.
How important it will be in the next few months for us as a congregation to exercise such mountain-removing faith, to abide in Christ and to wait upon Him, the Lord and Head of the Church, for the next stage of His provision for us. If we take our eyes off Jesus we can sink amid the troubled waters that might metaphorically swirl around us. The great cloud of witnesses has gone before us. Not just those cited in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. But the many over the years in Sandyford whose prayers of faith have reached out beyond their era to ‘generations yet unborn’ (Psalm 78). What encouragement for the days ahead!
With very best wishes
Noël Peacock, Session ClerkView All Letters