"LOVE is the greatest thing in the world," said A. J. Gordon, "but faith is the first." If this is so, then faith should have been the theme of our first chapter. However, the development of our approach required that we leave it until now.
A. J. Gordon was quite correct. It is as faith glimmers in the soul, causing an individual to look to Jesus, that he is on the threshold of the Christian life. When he surrenders to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes possession of the life and begins to transform it. Then comes the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22, R.S.V.).
Faith is absolutely necessary for the Christian. We are accepted by God only on the basis of the righteousness that is ours by our exercise of faith (Rom. 4:4-6). It is our faith in Christ that makes it possible for Him to carry on the work of sanctification in our lives (Acts 26: 18). We cannot even approach God in prayer without at least an atom of faith (Heb. 11:6).
But many who would live the Christian life seem to see faith as something that is doled out sparingly by God to special people. To some it is a sort of illusory, mysterious concept requiring one to be a learned theologian to understand, and a mystic or visionary, or perhaps a very simple person, to possess. Again, others see faith as a sort of magical attribute that somehow enables its possessor to have unusual experiences.
The Simplicity of Faith
Because we have these, and other, incorrect ideas of faith, too many Christians fail to grasp what Ellen White calls "the simplicity of true faith" (Messages to Young People, p. 111).
To me, one of the best illustrations of this simple faith we are attempting to describe is given by I. H. Evans, a former vice-president of the General Conference.
In his capacity as a vice-president Elder Evans had to do a great deal of traveling. Each time he returned home he had the practice of taking a small gift to each of his children, so they got into the habit of expecting it.
Arriving home from one trip late at night, he went to bed without awakening the children to let them know he had returned.
The next morning he was out in his yard when his little boy came running toward him shouting, "Hello, Daddy! Hello, Daddy!"
Elder Evans picked up his son and greeted him, then the boy asked, "Daddy, what did you bring me this time?"
"I brought you an orange," was the response. (That was in days when oranges were not as readily available in certain areas as now.)
The boy slid out of his father's arms, shouting, "I have an orange! I have an orange!"
His son's unquestioning acceptance of his word struck Elder Evans so forcefully that he asked, "Let me see your orange."
His eyes beginning to fill with tears, the lad held out his empty hands, and asked, "Don't I have an orange?"
Ashamed at having raised a doubt in his little son's mind, Elder Evans assured him, "Yes, you have; of course you have. It is in my bag in the closet."
And away the boy ran toward the house, shouting at the top of his voice, "I have an orange! I have an orange! I have an orange!"
Possessed by Faith
Then Elder Evans asks, "How could that little lad shout with joy when he had not seen the orange, or smelled it, and did not know where it was? Because of his faith in my word. He believed; his faith caused him to possess." -Cited in The Preacher and His Preaching, pp. 86, 87.
That is faith, simple faith. The type of faith that all must possess in God. It is trustingly believing God, who cannot lie, and who does not deceive, and acting upon that belief.
Ellen White describes two incidents in her experience that illustrate "the simplicity of true faith."
She had a sister, named Elizabeth, who seemed not to be able to understand faith. She was suffering from poor health, so Mrs. White wrote her saying, "Ask anything you will, that is in my power to obtain, to make you comfortable, and you shall have it."
Believing what Ellen said, Elizabeth wrote of a wheel chair she thought would be helpful. Then she had a chair selected before she answered Ellen's letter, confident that her sister would pay for it.
"How is it," Mrs. White observed, "that she could believe my word, and yet could not believe in the promises of Jesus?" -In Review and Herald, March 19, 1889.
In the same issue she tells of an Adventist sister in Oakland, California, who had been complaining of a lack of faith in God. This woman on one occasion reminded Mrs. White that she had promised to give her a copy of The Testimonies, volume four, when it was revised and enlarged.
"Did I?" Mrs. White asked. "And did you really believe I meant it?"
"Certainly," was the reply.
"Why did you think so?" Sister White responded. "Is it not strange that you should think I would do that, simply because I promised you?"
The woman looked at her in astonishment. Then Mrs. White made her point. "How is it," she asked, "that you can trust in a promise of mine, but cannot trust your heavenly Father's word? How is it that you can have faith in a poor, fallible mortal, and cannot rely upon the unchangeable God? I had forgotten my promise; but God never forgets. Why can't you take Him at His word, as you take me at my word?"
A Definition of Faith
These three incidents help us to formulate a definition of faith: Faith is complete belief in God, a trustful expectation that He will fulfill His promises, and confident opening of the heart and hands to receive what He gives. Faith is not faith without all three of these elements.
Many say they believe in God, but it turns out to be simply an intellectual credence. They have been taught there is a God, or they see evidence in the Bible, in nature, science, or in experience, that He exists. But their belief stops right there.
Faith goes beyond this. It includes the confident expectation that He will, for example, give us full victory over our sins, that He will supply the love for others we are lacking, that He will help us overcome envy, pride, malice, jealousy, a quick temper, and every other failing. It is an attitude that leads us to accept undoubtingly His promise that He will provide for our every need and help us in every emergency when we are fully committed and fully obedient to Him. "True faith rests on the promises contained in the Word of God, and those only who obey that Word can claim its glorious promises." -Early Writings, pp. 72, 73.
Faith is that attitude of utter willingness toward God that causes us to open our hearts and minds so that He can do for us what He wants to do. Faith makes it possible for Him to do what He desires to do.
Faith is that unquestioning trust that caused Abraham to leave home, friends, property, security, to wander a lifetime and to die at last, still anticipating, but knowing God would not fail him.
Faith is that confidence that prompted boil-ridden Job, on his pile of ashes, reduced to penury, to exclaim, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."
Faith is that trustful commitment to God that allowed Peter to sleep soundly the night before he was supposed to be put to death.
But, you say, I have heard before the illustrations presented, or similar ones, and I know what they teach is true. But I still do not seem to have faith. As a result I am weak in spiritual power, my assurance of sins forgiven is a wavering one, I am unable to witness to a confidence in God, and I have no firm assurance of salvation.
The illustrations we started off with had to do with faith in people. Let's think in the same context in trying to find an answer to our problem. Let's ask, What reasons can we find for not having faith in a person? We think of two.
One Year Made the Difference
One, we are not going to trust a person with anything of importance unless we know enough about him to trust him. By way of example, suppose a total stranger knocks on my door one evening and asks to borrow $50. There is, I suppose, a slim possibility that his explanation would convince me I ought to loan him the money. But most likely I would decline his request. But one year later I might hand him the keys to my $3,000 car if he asked to borrow it, without a qualm. Why? Because in the interim I had gotten to know him so well I was confident I could trust him.
One reason why people do not have faith in God is because they have not really gotten to know Him.
Ellen White has defined faith as "the clasping of the hand of Christ in every emergency" (Gospel Workers, p. 262). But you aren't going to trust yourself in any emergency to someone you do not know. Therefore, only getting to know God intimately will permit us to rest ourselves so confidently as is pictured here. We have discussed this subject in a previous chapter. (Of course, in discussing this facet of faith, we do not mean that only in emergencies do we go to God or exercise faith in Him.)
The second reason we may not have faith in a person is because he has failed us before. With men this has often happened; with God, never.
Speaking to Israel, both Joshua and Solomon stated that not one word of all that God had promised had failed (Joshua 23: 14; 1 Kings 8:56). At the end of a long and eventful life, Paul could write of God, "he abideth faithful" (2 Tim. 2: 13), and "he is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23). Never, if we meet the conditions, will we be able to claim that God has failed us.
There are two other reasons we add for a person's failing to have faith in God. One is what the Bible terms "an evil heart of unbelief" (chap. 3:12). The term is used by Paul to describe the attitude of the Israelites in the wilderness, but it is still found today.
Many look hack to the Israelites, and marvel at their unbelief and murmuring, feeling that they themselves would not have been so ungrateful; but when their faith is tested, even by little trials, they manifest no more faith or patience than did ancient Israel. When brought into strait places, they murmur at the process by which God has chosen to purify them. Though their present needs are supplied, many are unwilling to trust God for the future .... Some are always anticipating evil, or magnifying the difficulties that really exist, so that their eyes are blinded to the many blessings which demand their gratitude. The obstacles they encounter, instead of leading them to seek help from God, the only Source of strength, separate them from Him, because they awaken unrest and repining. -Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 293, 294.
Another reason we observe as a cause for the lack of faith in God is an unwillingness to meet the conditions laid down for receiving it, for faith is first a gift (Rom. 12:3; Heb. 12:2). These various conditions we have discussed in previous chapters.
How do we develop faith? Well, how do we develop trust in a new friend? We listen to him talk and learn his philosophy of life, and his moral and ethical standards. We observe whether his actions line up with his profession. We listen to others' evaluation of him and their experience with him.
We usually do not set about, consciously, rationally, to evaluate a friend. It comes as a result of being together and seeing him under a variety of circumstances, and discussing a wide spectrum of subjects with him. We learn of his character, in other words, in the ordinary process of life.
Further, we get to know the genuineness, the dependability, the honesty, of a friend, by testing him. Again, we generally do not do this with planned deliberation. It usually happens casually, often haphazardly. But unless this process takes place we cannot really learn whether he is dependable, generous, sympathetic, helpful, and so on.
Nor do we stand much chance of learning what he is like unless we are involved in specifics with him. To illustrate:
Suppose I am told a friend of mine is a good mechanic, which I am not. I begin to notice that my car is not acting as it should, so I say, "Bill, could you come over and take a look at my car one of these days? It doesn't seem to be working right." And he answers, "O.K. Any time."
I'll never really know whether he meant it or not, or whether he is a good mechanic or not, until I say, "Bill, I think my carburetor isn't working right. Could you help this afternoon?" And he says, "Sure, I'll be over at three o'clock:'
When he turns up at three, and efficiently goes to work on my car, and gets it fixed, I am learning something about Bill. One thing I am learning is that I may have faith in him.
It is the same with God. We are frequently altogether too vague, too general, with Him. We say, "God, I'd like Your help." We make our requests so general that there is no way of discovering whether He grants them or not. And how can faith be developed under those conditions?
God is more interested in, and much more capable of, helping us than is a friend. He is eager to show His willingness to help. "Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 3: 10, R.S.V.). It is true that, in context, Malachi is writing about tithes and offerings. But I am sure we can make an application in other areas. God doesn't promise to help and bless us only on the basis of our generosity with our checkbooks.
When we prove God, He helps; He is seen to be trustworthy. Our faith in Him grows.54
Recall the confident statement of Paul, after long years of serving Christ: I "am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1: 12). How so? "For I know whom I have believed."
Faith is closely connected with choice; with an act of the will. It sometimes requires deliberate effort of the will to expel doubt from the mind and to decide to believe God and to trust Him.
Confidence, No Matter What
We have learned what God is like through the revelation of His word. We have experienced the blessings, the peace, the joy, the freedom, that comes through Jesus. Now we must calculatedly place our confidence in Him, no matter what.
At times ... to exercise faith seems utterly contrary to all the evidences of sense or emotion; but our will must be kept on God's side. We must believe that in Jesus Christ is everlasting strength and efficiency. -Our High Calling, p. 124.
There are those who find it hard to exercise faith, and they place themselves on the doubting side. These lose much because of their unbelief. If they would control their feelings, and refuse to allow doubt to bring a shadow over their own minds and the minds of others, how much happier and more helpful they would be. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Matt. 28:17, p. 1110.
We must, then, choose to trust God. Having established in our hearts and minds that He is true, we must place our minds in an attitude of trust toward Him. This advice is sound psychologically, as well as spiritually. John Wesley's Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, advised him, "Live by faith until you have faith."
Ellen White gives the same kind of advice:
If you want faith, talk faith; talk hopefully, cheerfully. -Testimonies, vol. I, p. 699.
Those who talk faith and cultivate faith will have faith, but those who cherish and express doubts will have doubts. -Ibid., vol. 5, p.302.
You have to talk faith, you have to live faith, you have to act faith, that you may have an increase of faith; and thus exercising that living faith you will grow to strong men and women in Christ Jesus. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Luke 17:5, pp. 1121, 1122.
Faith is simple in its operation and powerful in its results. Many professed Christians, who have a knowledge of the sacred Word, and believe its truth, fail in the childlike trust that is essential to the religion of Jesus. They do not reach out with that peculiar touch that brings the virtue of healing to the soul. -Ibid., Ellen G. White Comments, on Rom. 5: 1, p. 1074.
Ellen G. White gives two other requirements necessary for faith: "In order for a man's faith to be strong, he must be much with God in secret prayer." -Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 236. "In order to strengthen faith, we must often bring it in contact with the Word." -Education, p. 254.
We close with a word of caution, exhortation, and assurance. First, the words of caution and exhortation:
If we sink down and give way to the temptations of Satan, we shall grow weaker and get no reward for the trial, and shall not be so well prepared for the next. In this way we shall grow weaker and weaker, until we are led captive by Satan at his will. -Christian Experience and Teachings, p. 103.
The very time to exercise faith is when we feel destitute of the Spirit. When thick clouds of darkness seem to hover over the mind, then is the time to let living faith pierce the darkness and scatter the clouds. -Ibid., p. 126.
Then there is this statement: "Faith grows by conflicts with doubts" (Sons and Daughters of God, p. 191).
Words of Assurance
The words of assurance are from The Desire of Ages, page 833. After her description of Jesus' ascension from the Mount of Olives, Ellen White tells of how the disciples went back to Jerusalem in gladness and triumph, full of praise and thanksgiving, their faces aglow with happiness. Then she writes:
The disciples no longer had any distrust of the future. They knew that Jesus was in heaven, and that His sympathies were with them still. They knew that they had a friend at the throne of God, and they were eager to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus. In solemn awe they bowed in prayer, repeating the assurance, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." John 16:23, 24. They extended the hand of faith higher and higher, with the mighty argument, "It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Rom. 8:34.
The same assurance the disciples had, we may have. And we also may extend the hand of faith higher and ever higher, for we have a living, loving Saviour who can help us to overcome every sin, meet every emergency, do every task He lays upon us to do, and to stand at last, victorious before the throne.