"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Faith (Page 1 of 3)

The ROM of Faith

As we continue seeking to understand just what faith is (see The DNA of Faith) consider it now under another acronym. ROM comes from the world of muscular-skeletal science and stands for Range Of Motion. Think of how far you can lift your hands above your head and how far you can reach when you stretch them toward the floor. ROM describes the effective area of your various limbs and body parts.

It helps us ask and answer the question: How does faith work?

We must explore six markers to understand the full ROM of faith.

Word

God has spoken. This is the theme of Hebrews. God has spoken to humanity. And His final word is through Jesus. It is a word superior to all “words” before or since.

  • “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (1:1-2)
  • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (2:1)
  • “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (3:7b-8a, 15; 4:7b)

We hear a great deal of talk these days about a battle between revelation and reason. One famous opinion piece stated it simply, people who believe the Bible are “poor, uneducated, and easy to command” (Washington Post, Feb. 1, 1993).

The knowing looks and snickers aside, no such divide exists. All faith rests on an encounter with information/content. All faith involves an exercise of reasoning. It is ultimately a matter of what voice you choose to listen to.

But some object to the very notion of faith: “Oh, no! Not me! I am a very scientific person! I rest on the evidence!” But what many are unwilling to admit is that their “science” rests upon the foundation of many other people’s research, the validity of their methodologies, the accuracy of their analysis, and the limited nature of their conclusions. That upon which you build your work is taken by faith. You didn’t do all that research upon which yours is built. You didn’t study the data you’ve presumed upon. You didn’t analyze the information that you’ve taken as fact. Someone else did. And you built upon it, trusting their work, their processes, and their conclusions.

Doubt is a rag as old as time and too worn to be swallowed so easily. After the record records “God said” almost a dozen times. Each time He spoke that which we call reality popped into being out of nowhere and from nothing. Yet the snake had the temerity to stand in the midst of it all and ask, “Did God actually say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1).

The problem is not between revelation and reason. It is a battle of whose word one wishes to believe. And why we choose to believe whom we do. World renown apologist Josh McDowell has gone on record: “For me, Christianity is not a leap into the dark but a step into the light.”

If I’m going to grow in my faith I must hear that Word! Paul made it simple: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

At its essence that “word” is a . . .

Promise

Hebrews speaks eighteen times of the promises of God. Seven of those times are in Hebrews 11, what has been called “the faith chapter.”

  • “You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb. 10:36)
  • “He who promised is faithful” (10:23)

God has spoken. He has done it in and through Jesus. Inherent in what He has said in Jesus is a promise … filled full of promises …

As we saw in our previous post these two elements (word & promise) comprise that first element of the DNA: Content.

his is something one must hear. Without hearing it, one can’t have faith in it. This is the all-important starting line point, but it is only the beginning, for embedded in a promise there is . . .

Hope

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

In the Word there was a promise and when I heard it something sparked inside of me and I said, “Could that be meant for me?”

In that moment it goes from raw data and objective word and promise to something with spark,  life, and possibility. It has become something with my own personal interest at heart.

Skeptic H.L. Menken once famously said: “Hope is the pathological belief in the occurrence of the impossible.”

What a sad, empty, meaningless view of life. In fact that view makes life unsustainable.

In contrast a promise, any promise, is fraught with hope. If I hear a father speak to his son, making a promise, I think, “That is sweet. How nice. That father is going to take his son fishing.” But when I heard my father promise me that he’d take me fishing it is an entirely different matter!

God the Father (our Maker) has spoken to us promises in Jesus which He desires to fulfill in our experience. Do I hear? Do I hope?

The call is, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23).

A word … full of promise … giving birth to hope … which calls forth …

Belief

Word of promise is believed. There is intellectual acceptance. I give intelligent approval of the word and the Promiser and His promise. It all becomes personal. “That is my Father! That is my promise!”

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

Look carefully at that phrasing: “By faith we understand . . .”

Do you see it? It’s right there. But too often we read right through it without seeing it. God says that it is by believing that “we understand.” Without faith we cannot and do not “understand.”

Be careful! That does not say that Christians or religious people “by faith understand.” No, this is simply the way faith and understanding interrelate anywhere in the universe and in every life within it. We might say there is a battle of “words” behind all matters. The question is “Whose word will I believe?” The Bible’s? God’s as revealed in the Bible? Man’s? Man’s as it has found expression in scientific methodology? The research of hundreds of people before me? The consensus of millions?

So it all comes down to a “word” from someone. What I think of that “someone” and what I think of their “word” issues in what I believe.

I hear a word of promise. I experience a spark of hope. I believe that word in hope.

But that is not yet the full ROM of faith. Indeed, as wonderful a hope may feel, that is not yet fully faith. It is a necessary point along the exercise of faith, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Heb. 11:6). This is what the DNA called conviction. But the DNA has three strands to its helix. So the word of promise seen in hope and taken up in belief goes public with . . .

Trust

The word is acted upon. The speaker is trusted.

You may believe something, but you don’t possess faith until you act in trust!

Observe the landscape of Hebrews 11 . . .

  • It is composed of a long catalogue of people who have lived by faith.
  • The key phrase is “by faith.”
  • Notice that every time the phrase is used a person is named and then a verb follows, so that we read “by faith” . . .
    • Abram “offered” (4)
    • Enoch “was taken up” (5)
    • Noah “constructed” (7)
    • Abraham “obeyed” (8)
    • Sarah “received” (11)
    • Abraham “offered up” (17)
    • Isaac “invoked” (20)
    • Jacob “blessed” (21)
    • Joseph “made mention” (22)
    • Moses “was hidden” (23)
    • And on and on and on the cataloging goes through the rest of the chapter.

Faith acts. Faith takes a step, does a deed, speaks a word, undertakes a task. Faith does something.

Theodore Roosevelt was not speaking biblically, but it was close to the point when he said, “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself for a worthy cause.”

Faith demands that we not only believe, but that we act in trust.

When we do, we . . .

Experience

God answers. God shows up. God works. Promises are fulfilled.

This is what the writer is pointing to in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The word “assurance” may not be the best translation. Assurance sounds a bit psychological, subjective, emotive. Most modern translations go with something like along these lines (cf.  “confidence,” NIV, NLT). But the original Greek word is more objective than that. The King James Versions reflects this when it translates with the word “substance.” The original is a compound word comprised of hupo (“under”) and stasis (“to stand”). In Latin it is sub-stantia (i.e. – substantial). Faith lays hold of a physically unseen reality, but one that is guaranteed by the word and character of God. In the immediate surroundings and present moment that promised reality rests on the substantial/objective ground of the individual’s faith. That faith acts in time and space until the actual objective reality of the promise arrives and faith turns to sight. The word was used in the legal world for the “title-deed” to a piece of property. That plot of land became yours in experience when you showed up with the title-deed and laid claim to it. Thus faith takes up the promise of God and holds it forth until possession of the thing promised arrives.

Faith is also a matter of “conviction.” And again the English word sounds rather emotive and subjective (“assurance,” NIV, NLT).  But again, the original is more objective than that. It means something like “proof” or “evidence” (KJV) presented to establish the facts. Thus faith counts on the fact that God will show up in time and space and give objective evidence that “proves” the word He spoke and in which we trusted.

Here then is faith exercising its full Range Of Motion. It is really just the DNA of faith put in motion.

  • Word
  • Promise
  • Hope
  • Belief
  • Trust
  • Experience

Now would be a great time to pause, reflect, and ask yourself: Do I have true, operative faith?

The DNA of Faith

What is faith? How does it operate? How do I know if I have it?

Let’s explore this matter together over the next several posts.

To begin let me borrow the acronym DNA. It stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the basic “stuff” of which you are made. The smart people tell us that all the DNA in your cells is the same. No matter from what part  of your body you may extract those cells they all have the same DNA. They may come from your liver, your brain or your ear lobe, but the DNA within them is the same.

So too, wherever “faith” is found it has the same DNA. The DNA of faith, wherever it is found, whatever form in which it is displayed, whoever may be the one exercising it and in whatever arena it is on display—these same basic components of faith exist.

Content

Everyone lives by faith. Like me you’ve heard people ask, “Are you a person of faith?” The question always bothers me a bit. I know what is meant, “Do you adhere to a religion?” But I always feel like interrupting the conversating and saying, “Well of course they are!” Everyone lives by faith; we all trust something or someone.

This is not the party line of the majority today. The prevailing notion is “The rest of us are too smart for all this ‘faith’ nonsense!” But I wonder, do you currently have a bank account? Did you drive or ride in a car recently? Have you, I wonder, breathed in the air in the last few seconds?

All of these are acts of faith. And all faith rests on something or someone. There is no such thing as a “blind leap of faith.” The phrase exists to denounce people of “faith” as foolish and illogical, suggesting that the speaker is above such silliness. The fact remains, however, that everyone lives by faith and they are believing someone’s word when they do.

So, my friend, there is something that you believe, something in which you are trusting. It may be God as revealed in the Bible. It may be yourself, your intellect, your experience, your savvy. It may be your parents, friends, spouse, or someone else. It may the natural order of things—the sun coming up each morning and setting each evening, the orbit of the planets, the consistency of gravity, etc. But you trust something.

The point is simply that faith always has content. It rests in something. My guess is that you have believed the FDIC. You have believed in the designers of the brake system in your automobile. You believed in the furnace in your basement, that it was functioning correctly and wasn’t asphyxiating you as you laid your head on the pillow last night.

But faith is more than content believed.

Conviction

There is a moment when that “something” comes before your heart and mind and there is a spark, a flash of insight, a connection. In that moment it is more than content received. It may be because of the character of the person before you. It may be because of the repeated nature of the action you’ve observed. It may be the superior nature of the research behind a matter. But you realize you don’t just know the information, you trust it.

Biblically, it comes about because of the awakening of the eyes of your heart by God. The apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). You notice it was not an idea, a concept, a proposition or thesis which Paul “believed.” It was a person—he knew “whom” he believed, the Person of God. Not only did Paul become aware of the content of what God said, but he was convinced that God is able to do what He has said. He was “convinced.”

Later in the same letter Paul told Timothy, “Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim 3:14). Note the progression! First, “you have learned” them. Then at some later point and by some kind of experience, Timothy, “you … have become convinced of” them.

There is all the difference in the world between knowing something and being convinced of it.

However it happens, there is an “aha!” moment. There is an awakening to the reliability of that thing/person/statement/proposition. There is an awakening to the certainty of the outcome. There is an awakening the possibilities if you act in trust.

So you made a …

Commitment

The content encountered has flashed into conviction and so you commit yourself by taking action. In worldly terms you made a deposit money in your bank account, drove the car at 65 mph, went to sleep believing your breaths would be O2 and not CO1 .

What then is faith? These three elements are always found in the DNA of true faith . . .

  • Content: Something/someone believed.
  • Conviction: Some possibility awakens to your heart.
  • Commitment: Some act of entrusting yourself to that thing/person in hopes of attaining the possibility.

All three are present or it is not faith. Two out of three may equal religion, strong opinion, arrogance or something else. But two out of three is not true faith.

The Next Step

Gravel tumbled down the face of the cliff. He heard more slip from beneath his feet and go over the edge as he clutched the fragile roots that came from the earthen wall next to him. The narrow ledge beneath his feet held him from the chasm that opened below, providing scenic vistas of the depths of the canyon that from a safe vantage point would have been awe inspiring. But now, here, he couldn’t bear to take in the scene. All he could do was press into the rooted wall and close his eyes.

“I can’t,” he heard himself say, panic packed around every syllable.

“You must,” came the answer.

“But I can’t!” he managed to say in even more desperate tones.

“There is no way back from here. Forward is the only possibility.”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I think this is a great place. Maybe we could just stay here.”

“Nonsense! You can’t even sit down. You’ll tired shortly and then what?”

“All I know is I can’t do this!”

“You don’t have to do this. All you have to do is take one step, the next step. Then we’ll worry about the step after that. One step. That you can do. Now lift your foot and move.”

********

Do you know that feeling?

I do. Right now.

Doing the will of God can be scary. Stepping out to follow God’s commands is more than a little frightening at the moment.

But back is not an option; forward is the only way.

Forward is the challenge that confronts me right now. One step. Just one. Together with Him.

Ready?

No, I don’t think so.

But here we go …

Prayer and Faith

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50b)

We are all in the school of prayer. Anyone who prays is still enrolled and Jesus intends to keep us growing. We have in John 4:46-54 an account that helps me understand one way Jesus continues to school me in prayer. Perhaps you’ll see a reflection of the lessons He is teaching you as well.

Jesus was petitioned by a man to “come down and heal his son” (v.47). The matter was urgent because the son was near death (v.49b). We can plainly see that the man wanted Jesus not merely to heal his son, but to be present physically with the son when He did so (vv.47, 49).

Jesus told the man, “Go; your son will live” (v.50a).

In so responding to the desperate father’s request, Jesus refused part of the man’s request (to come down with him to visit his son) and granted the other part of his request (to heal his son). The one was unnecessary (though the man may not have perceived it as such that at the time); the other was essential. Jesus gave the man that which was essential. But He did so in a way that tested the man’s faith by telling him the essential would be granted (the healing) while the unnecessary (the going) would not.

How did the desperate father respond?

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke” and proved it when he “went on his way” without Jesus in tow (v.50b).

When I pray and ask Jesus to act, it is likely that my requests, like the father’s, are a mingling of the essential and non-essential. It all likely feels essential to me, but my faith needs refining—as did the father’s. Jesus may separate the wheat from the chaff in my praying by granting me one thing, while denying me another that I have also asked for.

What do I do after Jesus responds to my prayers, granting some and denying others? Do I ask Him to reveal His heart to me in these things? To teach me wisdom? Do I draw nearer to Him in prayer, asking for more understanding? Or do I back away, confused and upset? Or do I, like the father, believe the word of Jesus and prove it by my faith-filled actions?

Our prayers are the footprints that tell the tale of our discipleship, our journey after Jesus as our Master and Teacher. What tale is being told by my praying?

Those Inner Conversations

More than once Moses warned the new generation poised to enter the Promised Land: “Do not say in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 9:4a).

God is concerned over the self-talk of His people. It is what we “say in [our] heart” that is of consequence.

It is worth pointing out the obvious—God knows we talk to ourselves! These inner conversations are of constant occurrence. In fact, they can’t be turned off, only redirected. And that only by the grace of God. We see this warning repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. There are a number of ways to go wrong in talking to yourself.

1) The danger of self-congratulation.Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4; cf. 8:17)

The Israelites faced a danger from the seductions of the peoples of the land. Of this God constantly warned them (see, for example, the disaster at Peor, Numb. 25:1-9). But the ideas of others, as dangerous as they were, were not the only or even primary danger facing the Israelites. It was the conversations going on within their own hearts that made them especially vulnerable.

It is when we begin talking to ourselves about ourselves and our circumstances that we are in the most danger of going astray.

We all have this kind of self-talk going on within our hearts all the time. We see and experience and try to understand—but are prone to interpret and talk to ourselves in self-affirming ways (“because of my righteousness”). This stream of thought forms a jet stream that powerfully circles planet self, threatening to pull everything else into its flow.

What we fail to see is that God sometimes blesses one (in this case, Israel) because he is disciplining another (here, the Canaanites). We must talk and walk humbly. The reasons “why” our lives are as they are is much bigger than our performance before God.

2) We may err in our inner conversations by self-exaltation. We may not elevate others or our accomplishments over God, but we may elevate our very selves: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’ (Isaiah 47:8). “I am” – that name has already been taken (Exodus 3:14); its Owner says He’s not sharing (Isaiah 42:8).

Self-exaltation was literally the problem of the Edomites. They dwelt in the physically lofty heights of a God-given land. They thought their elevated position made them untouchable. Thus they were warned: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3).

God did with the Edomites what he does with all who exalt themselves within their own hearts: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).

3) We go astray when we engage in self-dependence. The self-talk can also lead us stray in the opposite direction: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’” (Deuteronomy 7:17). Instead of elevating ourselves and denigrating others, we may overly exalt them in our eyes—making them even bigger than God. And with God out of the picture all we have left to depend upon is ourselves. That leads to fear, paralysis and despair.

4) We err when we talk ourselves into self-justification. The people of Jeremiah’s day denied their hardships arose from their responsibility: “And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up and you suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:22). Ultimately, denial of responsibility is a denial of hope.

But not all self-talk is bad-talk. The Bible depicts the power of telling yourself the truth.

Take, for example, David as he prays Psalm 62. He begins his prayer so positively and confidently: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (v.1).

But, as so often is the case, things get difficult. Our confidence wanes. Our faith wavers. Our prayers change. By the middle of the psalm David is still praying. In fact he is still on the same theme with which he opened, but he has transitioned from talking to God, to coaching himself: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (v.5).

This telling-yourself-the-truth kind of self-talk is the application of faith to a wavering, struggling heart. We talk to ourselves this way because deep down we believe Jesus was right: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31b-32a).

We talk to ourselves as a hold out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus’ deliverance, Jesus’ promised freedom.

When we keep this up God’s blessings of freedom become increasingly real in our lives. Perhaps we even come to the place, as Isaiah predicted the people of Israel would, where we have to start talking to ourselves about the compounding, stockpiling grace He is pouring into our lives: “The children of your bereavement will yet say in your ears: ‘The place is too narrow for me; make room for me to dwell in.’ Then you will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’” (Isaiah 49:20).

Don’t stop talking to yourself. Just start telling yourself the truth. And then keep it up. Those with ears to hear might hear the sound of heaven’s applause. Those with eyes to see might detect life, freedom and grace standing just off in the distance, rising with a smile on their faces as the conversation begins.

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