The faith taught in my church was no more persuasive than the Theory of Evolution that I learned in school. Most of my church friends eventually abandoned the faith. The experience I had with God before I walked into a church was too strong to cast God out with the church. I remained and developed a love hate relationship with an institution I could not live with and could not live without. I also stopped embracing everything I was taught in church to work out my own salvation. When I stopped studying the Bible in the light of church dogma, I found love.
The church defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, nkjv). Is this definition true? Yes. Is it useless information? Yes. Useless to me, because I did not understand what it means. What is the substance of faith? What is the evidence? What is my hope?
To believe something we do not understand, including the definition of faith, leaves us in a gullible state subject to every whim of human imagination. I did not have the option of abandoning God. I did have the option of asking God to explain, and sought an explanation for many years with many tears, until I found a satisfactory answer.
Researching the meaning of a word translated from another language is often helpful. The original language of the English New Testament is Greek. The Greek word translated faith is “pistis”, which simply means persuasion. The Greek word translated hope is “elpizo”, which means to expect. Therefore, I can paraphrase the definition of faith this way: Now persuasion is the substance of things expected and the evidence of things not seen. But I still didn’t have enough information to understand.
The ability to reason combined with the innate sense of right and wrong that is in all of us produces persuasion. In other words, if I have faith, I have persuasive reasons to believe that God can and will keep his word. There is nothing particularly complicated, mysterious, or magical about faith. It’s really very simple. Unfortunately, that simplicity is easily corrupted when thoughts birthed by love are filtered through human hearts in pursuit of selfish ambitions.
Faith is not necessary unless we hope to possess the things God promised to give us. Faith in God or the one who promised keeps us moving toward the acquisition of our hope. If our hope is rooted in a personal desire it is corrupt and will distort our faith to justify our desire. Using faith to obtain a personal desire has shipwrecked more ministries than I can count.
To understand faith we must look to the father of the only kind of faith that pleases God – Abram, whose name God later changed to Abraham. When Israel found themselves suffering for their disobedience, God said to his wayward children, “Look to the rock from which you are cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, you father…” (Isaiah 51:1-2, niv).
Abram left the city of Ur at God’s command. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going,” (Hebrews 11:8, nkjv). Leaving the comforts and convenience of a modern city, to go “you know not where” is foolish, unless, you have a good reason. Abraham did not know where he was going, but he knew why. His faith possessed partial knowledge and knowledge gave him the strength to obey.
Let’s consider a few things about Abraham that scripture and history teach. Historical writings reveal Abraham as an intelligent man. The Jewish historian, Josephus, identifies him as an astronomer and mathematician. He may have been the Carl Sagan of his generation with one difference. He possessed the wisdom to acknowledge God instead of the arrogance that denies God.
In Book 1, Chapter 8 of the Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, writes this about Abram:
“Now, after this, when a famine had invaded the land of Canaan, and Abram had discovered that the Egyptians were in a flourishing condition, he was disposed to go down to them, both to partake of the plenty they enjoyed and to become an auditor of their priests, and to know what they said concerning the gods; designing either to follow them if they had better notions than he, or to convert them into a better way, if his own notions proved the truest…. “[A]nd [Pharaoh] gave him leave to enter into conversation with the most learned among the Egyptians; from which conversation, [Abram’s] virtue and his reputation became more conspicuous then they had been before. For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs, and despised one another’s sacred and accustomed rites, and were very angry one with another on that account, Abram conferred with each of them, and confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrated that such reasonings were vain and void of truth; whereupon he was admired by them in those conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject he undertook and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him.”
Abram believed in one God, because he tested and proved his faith to himself against all of the best God notions of his day. He wasn’t afraid to listen to opinions that differed from his. The truth will stand against the very best arguments against it. He couldn’t find any better reasoning than he already had about sacred and accustomed rites; therefore, he was not persuaded by the Egyptians to change his mind.
Before Abram went to Canaan and then to Egypt he had a good reason to leave Ur or he would not have done it. He was an intelligent man. To understand faith, we need to know why Abraham followed God to a strange land. We can find Abraham’s reason in the book of Acts.
“…the God of glory appeared to our father Abram when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives and come to a land that I will show you” (Acts 7:2-3, nkjv).
While Abraham lived in the city of Ur, God told him to separate from his country and relatives and “come to a land I will show you.” But Stephen did not quote (nor did Luke, who authored Acts, record) everything God said to Abram before he journeyed into Canaan. Genesis gives us clearer picture of what happened in Ur.
“Now the Lord had said to Abram, “Get out of your country from your family and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
Do you hear an echo of Stephen’s words in this passage from Genesis? The various Bible translations reveal a difference of opinion about the meaning of these passages. The KJV, NKJ, NIV and The Living Bible imply the Lord had already said what follows to Abram before his father died. The NASB, AS, and Amplified leave the impression God spoke to Abram in Haran after his father died. Regardless of the disagreement, we can say with assurance that God started dealing with Abram in Mesopotamia before his family went to Haran because Stephen said God appeared to Abram before he went to Haran.
It’s possible that God spoke to Abram again in Haran after Daddy died, adding a little more information to what God had already told him in Ur. Whether God said everything recorded in Genesis Chapter 12 in Ur, Haran, or both places, we are sure of one thing. Abram had this information before he took his first step to obey God and if you study the chronology of his life, he pondered what God said for more than fifteen years before he obeyed!
Clearly, Abram was not blindly following God, following him without a good reason, following without substance. The substance of Abram’s faith is found in Genesis 12:2-3. If Abraham obeyed, God promised to do six things.
“I will,” God said, “…make you a great nation[;]…bless you and make your name great[;]…you shall be a blessing[;]…bless those who bless you[;]…curse him who curses you[; and]…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Yes! Abram left not knowing what land he would end up in, but he possessed partial knowledge of what God had in store for him. Faith will give you partial knowledge of what God has for you, or it’s not faith. Abram knew why he was going wherever he was going. He wasn’t going just because God said, “Go!” God gave him a good reason to go.
God’s reasons are never rooted in selfishness. Abram expected, hoped that God would make him a great nation that would not only be blessed but also bless all the families of the earth. Abram knew that God wanted to bless “all families of the earth”, not one man, not one family. Abraham followed God to get a blessing for everyone, including himself. The unselfishness in the reason behind God’s request eventually gave Abram the strength to take a step of faith.
To understand faith, we must first know what our hope is, just as Abram did. “What are we expecting as we follow God? Why should I believe that God’s promise to us is true? Do I have a persuasive argument that God will keep his word or am I blindly following simply because someone told me to. Do I have a valid reason to believe God can keep his promise? Finally, and most importantly, will my obedience bless others, or will it only bless me?” If we can’t answer those questions, we are standing on shaky ground subject to every wind of human thoughts that blow out of human mouths.
“[W]ithout faith it is impossible to please God…”(Hebrews 11:5). We will never possess God pleasing faith until we understand the hope God has given to us.
“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” Ephesians 4:4-6, nkjv.
God gave us “one hope” and then taught Abraham the faith necessary to acquire “one hope”, so we can understand what it means to love. Jesus commanded us to love one another, yet I have encountered very little love in the church. One pastor told me it might be impossible for us to love one another. I was inclined to agree with him, but for a nagging thought. Why would Jesus command us to do the impossible? Is it possible that there is a lack of love in the church because the saints stopped contending for the faith “once for all entrusted to the saints,” that teaches us how to love?
Before God laid the foundations of the world, he carefully designed a plan to reconcile “all things whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). God has a hope. He has a dream. Tell me what you hope for and I’ll tell you who you love. God will not quit or grow weary until HIS dream becomes reality. Whose hope, whose dream should we be reaching for? Whose hope should be the object of our faith? The things we hope for or the things God hopes for. To find an answer to that question, answer this question. Who is good?
If you don’t who is good, trust that Jesus did. “Why callest thou me good?” said Jesus, “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17, kjv). If God alone is good, anything I can imagine is tainted by my selfishness, and I will destroy others in my pursuit of good things for me!
God is so good that his dream benefits me and cost him beyond what I can imagine. The foundation of Christianity is God’s sacrifice to give us equality. Not your sacrifice. Gods! Our sacrifices avail little and tend to inflate human arrogance. Jesus is the only sinless man. Therefore, he is the only one who has truly sacrificed anything perfect and acceptable to God.
God hopes to give everyone a part in the things he promised to Abraham and his seed. According to the Apostle Paul that “seed” is Jesus. Until God fulfills that promise, he will take care of us in this life like he cared for Abraham and all who walked in Abraham’s faith. But he will not give us any more than he gave to Abraham and to all those who walked in Abraham’s, aside from fulfilling specific promises he may make to us personally.
Unlike so many Christians today, Abram did not choose whatever he wanted to hope for and expected God to fulfill it. God gave him something to hope for. That hope alone was the object of Abram’s faith.
The hope that God gave Abram is our only basis for fellowship with God, because there is nothing else we have in common with God. He is spirit; I am flesh. He lives forever; I will return to dust. He is love; my love for others is rooted selfishness. He is good; even someone we think is a good man cannot be completely trusted. God is rich; the richest man on Earth lives in poverty compared to God. God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of the wisest man who ever lived. His weakness is stronger than man’s greatest strength. How then can we have fellowship with God when we have so very little in common?
The only basis we have for fellowship with God is to desire what God desires – the “one hope” that the prophets and Apostles spoke and wrote about. The hope that is the object of the faith Jude encouraged us to earnestly contend for.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to make all things in the universe revolve around us. But the sun does not revolve around the Earth; the Earth revolves around the sun. God, not man, is the center of the universe. Man was created to serve God’s purpose because God had a problem before he created us.
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, [Jesus,] and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
The Bible teaches us how God is reconciling of all things back to himself, all things on earth and all things in the heavens. Am I telling you, on my own authority, that there are things in the heavens out of harmony with God? No! I am not telling you that – the Bible tells us there will be a war in the heavens.
“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:7-9).
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
If at this point you’re gagging, stop and listen carefully. The principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places hate us because we were created to replace them. God’s children exhibit God’s wisdom and justify the actions he took after the angels that sinned against him became devils and were removed from their places of authority.
Some of those angels are chained and “reserved unto judgment” (2Peter 2:4). Didn’t the Apostle Paul tell us “we shall judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3, Jude 5)? Paul also tells us……
“to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:9-10).
God’s intent was and is now that, through the church, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” God is using the church to teach the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms wisdom. God loves the angels, too! They are also his creations. Those that are not removed from their places of authority in the heavens also need to understand God or who knows whether one of them may become the next serpent to be called the devil or Satan?
My children use to watch cartoon show called “Pinky and the Brain.” The Brain was a little mouse that always had a big plan to take over the world. Pinky was another little mouse that helped Brain implement his plan to take over the world. Pinky wa dumber than dumb, and Brain’s plan was always ludicrous and ended in a fiasco. So shall it be for the Pinky’s in heavenly realms, the foolish angels that are not at peace with God, and the Brain they follow. It is God’s dream to rid his creation in Heaven and on Earth of the Pinkys and the Brains they follow by creating a nation that will be his and his alone, a special people that belong, heart soul and mind, to no one but God.
Why is it taking so long to get rid of these angels that have become devils and cause humanity a multitude of problems on the earth? Why didn’t God instantly destroy them the minute they so insolently rebelled against him? Wisdom! God knows that he is dealing with Pinky and the Brain, but a lot of angels in Heaven and people on Earth do not yet understand who can make a plan without it ending in a fiasco. As long as anyone in God’s creation in Heaven or on Earth perceives God’s justice as an injustice, there will never be peace. We must understand how God’s ways are right before peace will rule in all creation.
If God had instantly destroyed the devil, he would have planted a seed to take the devil’s place in the heart of one of the devil’s followers. How many angels and evil men would God have to destroy? Another and another and another, until there is no one left but God. He created us for life not destruction. He gave us life because he wants us to live. God desires to give us eternal life because He is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). He does not want any more angels to perish either, but if that’s not to happen, they need to learn wisdom – the very wisdom the church is teaching them as the angels are sent forth by God to minister for and to those who will inherit salvation. (Hebrews 1:14)
If the injustice on eath justifies God, do I then have anything in common with God? One thing: Hope! But if your hope is not the same as His hope, then, no, you have no common basis for fellowship with God. Indeed, you worship him in vain. Ephesians Chapter 2 tells us that without hope, we are without God in the world. Not any hope, not the things you choose to hope for, if we are without God’s hope we are without God in the world. Hebrews, Chapter 7 tells us that by hope we can draw nigh to God – not any hope, one hope, his hope, the hope God gave to Abraham and his seed, one seed, meaning Jesus. Until you possess that hope you faith is nothing but foolishness.