THE BUILDING OF FAITH

FAITH IS ONE of several important elements in the Christian life. In a sense, faith is at the very beginning of our spiritual experience. It is one of the first developments in the new life of those who turn from sin toward righteousness. This is indicated in the important exhortation written by the Apostle Peter in his second epistle, chapter 1, verses 4-8. "Through which things He [God] has given to us precious and very great promises in order that through these ye might become sharers of a divine nature, escaping from the corruption in the world by lust. But also for this very reason bringing in all diligence fully supply [or superadd] to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control endurance, and to endurance piety, and to piety brotherly friendship, and to brotherly friendship love."--Marshall Interlinear

It may be seen from Peter's words that faith is set down as a foundation or beginning, so to speak, in harmony and conformity with which other essential elements of our very being grow. Because faith occupies such an important position in orderly spiritual growth, we should expect that there is much to learn about it. In this discussion five different manifestations of faith are noted which pertain to the Christian life as presented in Scripture: 1) the Unbeliever's Faith; 2) the Believer's Faith; 3) the Imparted Faith; 4) the Praying Faith; and 5) the Fruit Faith.

The Unbeliever's Faith

It may seem a contradiction in terms to speak of an unbeliever having faith. But such may be understood from Heb. 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

Before one sets out to seek God, and to feel after Him if haply he might find Him (Acts 17:27), some prompting motive must be present. This motive--if it be to please God--may be the beginning of the development of faith. One must believe in the existence of God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20), and must also believe in God's ability and willingness to take note of and reward the one who seeks after Him.

No motive other than this could be pleasing to God, and none other could inspire and sustain the seeker. He must believe in God's existence, for it would be most unreasonable to try to find someone who does not exist. The seeker must also believe that it will be to his advantage to find God, else why should he trouble to look for Him? This much faith one must have before setting out to find God, and for that reason it may be called the Unbeliever's Faith.

Reason suggests that it is quite feasible for men to believe in the existence of God even though they may not be prepared to submit themselves in obedience to Him. Some wise men of the world have said and do say that the existence of the universe which is seen is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of its Creator who is not seen. Scripture testifies to this: "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."--Rom. 1:20 RSV

This Unbeliever's Faith is not "saving faith," nor is it a faith which gives him standing in God's sight. It is just a start in the right direction, as illustrated by the case of Cornelius. He had faith, and he worshiped God, yet he needed to be told words whereby he should "be saved" (Acts 11:13,14). Recall also the Athenians, who worshiped many gods. But being unsatisfied, they erected an altar to "an unknown god." The apostle Paul took this as an indication that they were "feeling after" the true God, the Creator, the one who made the world and all in it. Only such a God could answer to the requirements set by their poets, who said, "For we are also his offspring."--Acts 17:22-29

It is striking to note that the second item of the faith of the unbeliever which is pleasing to God is precisely the motive most likely to be agreeable to men: viz., the seeking of a benefit. Men would not trouble to find God, did they not believe it would benefit them to do so. On the other hand, God takes pleasure in being thought of as the great Rewarder, and in being sought out for that reason. How lovely it is that the desires of both parties meet agreeably.

The Believer's Faith

Having accepted the assurance that there is a God, the unbeliever is invited to approach Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. He is informed of his need of salvation, and of the way to attain it. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Belief in Jesus is the first step to those who would attain salvation. He must call on the name of the Lord. This means that he must believe certain things--not only in his head acknowledge historical facts, but in his heart accept them as principles to govern his life. When he really believes that Christ died for him, he is "justified from all things..."--Acts 13:29,38,39

The apostle explains how this kind of faith, the believer's faith, comes. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ...that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:17,8-10). "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God:..."--1 John 5:1

If we believe these things, righteousness is imputed to us; we are justified on account of, or by reason of, our faith; and "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 4:23-25; 5:1). We become members of the divine family--"born of God"--and receive the favor of the "upward calling." This calling is to joint heirship with Christ, wherein we rejoice "in hope" [of partaking] of the glory of God" (Phil. 3:14, Rom. 5:2). We receive the holy spirit, which is the seal of God upon those who truly believe. It is also witness that our sins are forgiven, and that we are children of God, yes, even His heirs, and joint heirs with Christ.--Eph. 1:13,14, Rom. 8:15-18, Heb. 10:15-17

It should be understood that the Believer's Faith is a matter of definitely accepting as true the claims of the Master, and of conforming one's life to the conditions and circumstances arising from acceptance of them. We must believe that Jesus died for our sins; that God raised Him from death to be the Lord of all, truly the Christ of God; and that it is our duty to obey Him in all things. Note how emphatic is the Apostle's teaching to this effect: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."--1 Cor. 15:1-4

The Apostle wrote in another place of the relationship between salvation and obedience. "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:9). And it is made so clear in Galatians 1:8,9 that acceptance of the one and only Gospel is essential to salvation: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you,...than that ye have received, let him be accursed."

It is obvious that faith in certain teachings, and conformity to them in one's life, could not be manifested by an uninformed person. It is equally clear that no member of our race could have imagined or dreamt, or in any way of himself have invented the truths of the gospel. They must be introduced into the mind by some outside agency. The Apostle Paul reminds us of that. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?...So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."--Rom. 10:13-17

Of course the believer does not learn at once everything he is expected to believe about God and Christ, or about present responsibilities and incoming righteousness. He is to "grow in grace and in knowledge"; and as he grows he is to be sanctified by "thy truth" in which he exercises faith (2 Pet. 3:18, John 17:17). Faith -- belief in Biblical truth--is necessary in order to be of the "one faith" admonished in Eph. 4:5. Similarly the Apostle exhorts us in 2 Cor. 13:5 to "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves."

God so loved the whole world as to give His Son for us, "that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). What comfort then it is to realize that it must also be in the divine purpose that "every man" shall at some time or other hear the Word of God to the end that he may, if he will, exercise the Believer's Faith, and so become on the way to salvation. This reasonable inference is plainly stated in John 1:9 and in 1 Timothy 2:4-6.

The Imparted Faith

The faith now discussed is not that of the unbeliever, nor yet that of all believers, but is a special faith imparted by the Lord, for a particular reason, to some of those who had become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle refers to this faith in 1 Cor. 12:4-13: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit...For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;...To another faith by the same Spirit;...But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."

When converts to Christianity were made in Apostolic times, the hands of an apostle were laid on these converts, and so various gifts of the spirit were imparted to them. Practically all believers had some gifts and used them, but only the twelve apostles were able to confer them. Philip, the deacon, made many converts in Samaria, but Peter and John had to go down from Jerusalem to lay their hands on these believers in order that they might receive the gifts of the spirit (Acts 8:14-17). When Paul the apostle taught certain ones at Ephesus the meaning of baptism into Christ, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then he laid his hands on them that they might receive the holy spirit, and they received miraculous gifts (Acts 19:4-6). And Paul wrote that he longed to visit the church at Rome, "that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift."--Rom. 1:11

Nine gifts of the spirit are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. It does not appear that all of these were imparted to any one believer, but that they were divided among the believers, not according to their preferences, but according to the will of the holy spirit. One would receive this gift, and another that; some of the believers would be granted the gift of faith, to others it would not be granted. This proves that the "faith" here mentioned is not belief in God and in Christ, but something unusual, which was graciously given in apostolic times to some (not all) of the converts to Christianity.

The gift of faith which was imparted to some of the early believers was a special power enabling them to do wonderful works. Without it, they would not have been able to perform such wonders as the infliction of death on lying Ananias and Sapphira, and blindness on the subtle sorcerer.--Acts 5:1-11; 13:8-12

The gift of faith may have brought greater influence to those to whom it was given; but the Apostle taught that one might have the "best gifts" and still amount to nothing. "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way...And though I have the gift of prophecy,...and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love], I am nothing."--1 Cor. 12:31; 13:2

God's purpose in imparting to the believers the gifts of the spirit, of which wonder-working faith was one, was to give testimony to the authenticity of the gospel of Christ, which was then being newly introduced into the world. Another purpose was to establish the Church.--Heb. 2:1-4; Rom. 1:11

The manner of conferring the gifts by the laying on of the hands of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, shows that the gifts were to be only temporarily granted. At the death of the last of the apostles the power to confer the gifts passed away. And when the last believer died who had received such a gift, the gifts "failed," "ceased," "vanished away," just as the Apostle said they would.--1 Cor. 13:8

The absence from the church of these gifts of the spirit since apostolic days is therefore no reflection on the piety and faithfulness of God's true people. As said under "The Believer's Faith," every sincere believer in the Lord Jesus receives the holy spirit as a gift from Him, and the possession of the spirit is shown by its transforming influence in mind and heart. Furthermore, the holy spirit was given to be a guide into all truth, and thus the church has been fitted to carry on the work of the gospel and to expound the Word of God.

The Praying Faith

Consider now that aspect of faith which pertains especially to prayer. This is the faith which takes God at His word, trusting Him for the fulfillment of His promises, not only when the prospects seem favorable but even more when they seem gloomy. This faith is neither blind nor haphazard. It ascertains as nearly as possible what are the things promised in the divine Word, and constantly regulates the life and its petitions in conformity with those promises.

The praying faith, therefore, does not fix on some extraordinary thing that it would like to see done merely to test God's ability and gratify its own passion for the marvelous. Nor is it like the Pharisees, who continually demanded a "sign" that they might believe, yet never believed after all the miracles they saw. The praying faith does not doubt God's ability, nor yet His love and willingness. It is fully satisfied in respect of all these, and requires but to know what the will of God is.

To the end that men might have persevering, unfainting, praying faith, our Lord gave the parable about the importunate widow. She came continually to the unjust judge, demanding to be avenged of her adversary, and her perseverance at last had the desired effect. The lesson is that if the unjust judge, who had no personal interest in the widow's welfare, was impressed by her perseverance in petitioning, how much more shall the just God, who has a deep interest in the welfare of His people, attend to their needs! If, therefore, we are asking according to His promises, and not for our own selfish ends, any delay in answering should not discourage but should stimulate our patience and perseverance in the prayer of faith.--Luke 18:1-8

The things which the Lord's people prize most highly are the spiritual blessings. For such things we may and should freely ask at all times, and the statement is that our heavenly Father is much more ready and able to give the holy spirit to them that ask Him than imperfect earthly parents (naturally more or less selfish and unresponsive) are to give good gifts to their children.--Luke 11:1-13

Of course God has not overlooked those things necessary for our welfare as His children, and the promise is that all such things shall be added to those whose chief aim is the seeking of God's kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:24-34). The prayer of faith may therefore also include petitions for such things as are necessary. The decision as to their necessity, in the event of a question arising, may safely be left with Him who is perfect in wisdom and in His love toward us.

The Praying Faith is unselfish. The teachings of our Lord referred to in this section are in harmony with the letter and spirit of the model prayer, known as "the Lord's Prayer." The prayer of faith gives first place to the glory of God's name, the coming of His Kingdom, and the doing of God's perfect will on earth. When "The Lord's Prayer," or one modeled after it, is spoken seriously, and not merely as a form of words, the petitioner is lifted out of himself, as it were, so that his personal requests occupy a quite secondary place. The personal requests are not to be omitted, for the model prayer includes them too. They are, however, to be viewed in their proper perspective, and in their right relation to other and larger things.

The things that may be asked for are too many to list. Our Master said to the disciples, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7). If one be not abiding in Christ, and be not instructed in His Word, he has no promise that his petitions shall be favorably considered. If we fulfil the conditions, they will of themselves so guide us, that we shall not knowingly intend to ask anything contrary to God's will. Even in regard to the things most strongly and agonizingly desired we shall follow our Savior's perfect example: "Father, if thou be willing,...nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."--Luke 22:42

"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise."-- Hebrews 10:35,36

The Fruit Faith

The fruit of the spirit is shown by the Apostle to be most important in the life of the Christian. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control..." (Gal. 5:22,23 Marshall Interlinear) After becoming a believer in Jesus, the convert is sealed with the holy spirit (Eph. 1:13). The spirit dwelling in the believer produces fruit, and part of this fruit is faith. Evidently this fruit of faith is not the initial belief in God and in Christ, for he must have this faith before he could receive the spirit. The faith produced by the indwelling spirit is "keeping faith"; some versions use the word "fidelity" in this place. The ASR version reads "faithfulness," also. In other words, the believer in whom the holy spirit produces fruit becomes faithful, reliable, dependable, in imitation of God, from whom the spirit proceeds (John 15:26), and of Christ, who is our example.

Every Christian finds in his experiences proof of the faithfulness of God. We have found Him exactly as His word leads us to expect. It is well that we have a keen sense of God's faithfulness, for upon this trait of His character rests the continuity of the universe. With this realization, we shall appreciate in all circumstances the words of the Apostles in 1 Pet. 4:19; 1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23; 11:11; 1 John 1:9:

"Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a FAITHFUL Creator." "...God is FAITHFUL, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." "FAITHFUL is he that calleth you, who also will do it." "But the Lord is FAITHFUL, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil." "...for he is FAITHFUL that promised." "If we confess our sins, he is FAITHFUL and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

As we prove the faithfulness of God, and realize the effect His constancy has upon our lives and well-being, we find our love for Him increasing. We also find increasing our desire to imitate His faithfulness and to be faithful unto the very end. Those parables which picture the dealings with faithful and unfaithful servants prove this. If we be faithful over the present "few things," He will make us rulers over the future "many things," is the teaching of such parables.

We have to be faithful in our conduct, that we bring no reproach upon the name of God; faithful in spreading abroad to others the truth of the Gospel, which He has committed to us; faithful in our dealings with each other, to assist one another along the narrow way. And all of this faithfulness is part of the fruit produced by the indwelling holy spirit, which we have from God.

As we love God the more for His faithfulness, so will faithful brethren enjoy the love of their fellow-pilgrims. Note how "faithful" and "beloved" go well together, somewhat like "service" and "reward" relate, in Paul's words of commendation in Colossians 4:7,9: "All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a BELOVED brother, and a FAITHFUL minister and fellow-servant in the Lord...With Onesimus, a FAITHFUL and BELOVED brother, who is one of you." Let us see to it that we place no hindrance to the production in us of the Fruit Faith.

The presence and manifestations of faith have been traced in this discussion from its very beginning in us to its culmination as a beautiful fruit of the spirit--Faithfulness. One exhortation remains-- the appropriate words of the spirit "unto the churches": "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer:...be thou FAITHFUL unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."--Rev. 2:10