“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”
That’s Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1. It does a good job of surprising me with a fresh take on a verse that sometimes gets so over-familiar that I don’t listen to it properly.
It reminds me of that line by C.S.Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” That is to say, faith is the starting point of all perception. It’s the lens through which I see the whole world. People speak of having “rose-coloured spectacles.” The idiom suggests an overly optimistic view of life, as if you’re being unrealistic or a romantic who says: “Ah well, look on the bright side….” But as A. W. Tozer wrote: Faith is not “a substitute for obedience, an escape from reality, a refuge from the necessity of hard thinking, [or] a hiding place for weak character.” He continued: “I have known people to miscall by the name of faith high animal spirits, natural optimism, emotional thrills and nervous tics.”
The truth is that anything that makes no change in the one who claims it makes no difference to God either.
Faith as the Bible knows it is a confident assurance in God; in who He is and what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ; it is the response of the soul to the divine character as revealed in the Scriptures; and even this response is impossible apart from the prior inworking of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift of God to a penitent soul and has nothing whatsoever to do with the senses or the data they afford. Faith is a miracle; it is the ability God gives to trust His Son, and anything that does not result in action in accord with the will of God is not faith but something else short of it.
Faith and morals are two sides of the same coin. Indeed the very essence of faith is moral. Any professed faith in Christ as personal Saviour that does not bring the life under comprehensive obedience to Christ as Lord is inadequate and must betray its victim at the last.
The one that believes will obey. Here’s Tozer again: “Failure to obey is convincing proof that there is not true faith present. To attempt the impossible God must give faith or there will be none, and He gives faith to the obedient heart only. Where real repentance is, there is obedience; for repentance is not only sorrow for past failures and sins, it is a determination to begin now to do the will of God as He reveals it to us.”
And this is precisely how Hebrews 11 develops the theme of faith: Faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And “This is what the ancients were commended for.” Not for just believing something, but for responding to that belief, and putting that belief into action. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did… By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark… By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…”
In every case, the writer insists, a confident assurance in who God is and what He has done issues in a corresponding act of obedience. As Jesus put it, with characteristic succinctness: ‘If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15) That is to say: faith is always relational.
If it wasn’t, then it would quickly become a Thing, like a medal for Gutsiness and human drive. It would become substantival and quantitative. It would become -paradoxically- a “work.” That’s why it is always important that we stress the relationality of faith. It is faith-in-God, from first to last.
“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.”
The language of “pleasing” is supremely relational. It reminds us that the whole of existence is a love affair. C.S.Lewis again: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
And so, in that sense, the phrase “rose-coloured spectacles” somehow becomes appropriate after all! The love of God sheds such a light on all my days that it changes everything -even, and especially – all my inadequacies! And this is what the faith-life looks like. Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly (as if I’m constantly keeping score of how poorly I perform)…but merely to be LIVED. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically LIVED.
This isn’t a “substitute for obedience.” It’s the very basis of it.