Faith Practically, Not Theoretically
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
If faith is so vitally important, if it is an indispensable must in our pursuit of God, it is perfectly natural that we should be deeply concerned over whether or not we possess this most precious gift. And our minds being what they are, it is inevitable that sooner or later we should get around to inquiring after the nature of faith. “What is faith?” would lie close to the question, “Do I have faith?” and would demand an answer it it were anywhere to be found.
In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith. Outside of a brief fourteen-word definition in Hebrews 11:1, I know of no biblical definition, and even there faith is defined functionally, not philosophically, that is, it is a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence. It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is.
We will be wise to go just that far and attempt to go no further. We are told from whence it comes and by what means: Faith “is the gift of God”(Ephesians 2:8); and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”(Romans 10:17). This much is clear, and to paraphrase Thomas a’ Kempis, “I had rather exercise faith than know the definition thereof.”
So let the words “faith is” or their equivalent be understood to refer to what faith is in operation as exercised by a believing man. Right here we drop the notion of definition and think about faith as it may be experienced in action.
The complexion of our thoughts will be practical, not theoretical.
We spend much time discussing the intricacies of the Christian life rather than enjoying its practical application and benefits. What I mean by this is that it seems more important to know how it works rather than experiencing the working power of this new life given to us by Christ.
Let me give a simple illustration. Suppose you and your friends wished to go on a journey. You sat around the table and all of you have a manual for the vehicle you are planning to travel in. You spend hours discussing its features trying to understand how each part works and contributes to making the vehicle function. You get so caught up in this process that you never get around to actually traveling. As you read through the manual you find terms and descriptions that are beyond your comprehension so you feel you must understand it all before you can get in it and travel. Now most of us would think that someone who did this had lost their mind. We would probably say to this person, “Close the manual, get in the car and enjoy the trip.”
It is true that we need to know something about the operation of the car. We need to know how to start and stop, and how to go forward and backward and keep the car traveling in the proper direction. We probably need to know where to put the fuel. If I were writing this some years ago, I’d include checking the tires and oil but now the car does that itself and maybe that’s a good example of the Holy Spirit at work in us keeping check on the vitals of our faith journey.
As a lifetime learner, I do believe in studying and increasing our knowledge. But I’ve discovered that knowledge is useless unless it is applied practically. This is true in our faith journey. What good is it to read the Bible or hear the Word if we never make application. James says it this way:
But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience]. What is the benefit, my fellow believers, if someone claims to have faith but has no [good] works [as evidence]? Can that [kind of] faith save him? [No, a mere claim of faith is not sufficient—genuine faith produces good works.] If a brother or sister is without [adequate] clothing and lacks [enough] food for each day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace [with my blessing], [keep] warm and feed yourselves,” but he does not give them the necessities for the body, what good does that do? So too, faith, if it does not have works [to back it up], is by itself dead [inoperative and ineffective]. But someone may say, “You [claim to] have faith and I have [good] works; show me your [alleged] faith without the works [if you can], and I will show you my faith by my works [that is, by what I do].” You believe that God is one; you do well [to believe that]. The demons also believe [that], and shudder and bristle [in awe-filled terror—they have seen His wrath]! But are you willing to recognize, you foolish [spiritually shallow] person, that faith without [good] works is useless? Was our father Abraham not [shown to be] justified by works [of obedience which expressed his faith] when he offered Isaac his son on the altar [as a sacrifice to God]? You see that [his] faith was working together with his works, and as a result of the works, his faith was completed [reaching its maturity when he expressed his faith through obedience].
This new life that Christ has given is one to be enjoyed rather than something remaining in theory. Like my little illustration, there are lots of people who get in their vehicles everyday and enjoy their travel and have no clue how the car operates other than you turn a key or push a button and the car starts. You move a lever and it moves and you push another pedal and it stops. They may not understand how it works, they just enjoy the fact that it works. They don’t go down the road spending their time trying to figure out how it works. They just use it to move themselves from place to place.
Many are the conversations by believers about faith. “I need more faith”, I don’t seem to have faith”, and “I wish I had so and so’s faith.” Yet the Bible teaches us that God gives us all the necessary faith we need. We have no faith of our own making, even to be saved.
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation]. For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].
Second of all the idea that some have more faith than others is not found in the Bible. What is found is that there are those who exercise their faith in greater measures. Every believer is given the measure of faith in the same way every human has the same number of muscles. Those who are strong in faith are those who exercise this gift of God in the same way those who are strong physically are those who exercise their muscles.
So why not crank the car and begin the journey. Rather than attempting to comprehend this God who has called us, let us just make use of the faith He has given us and live the abundant life of joy and peace and blessing, simply trusting in Him and His promises. I think the journey would be more fulfilling if we were enjoying the experiences rather that trying to figure out how everything works.
Dr. John Thompson