Earlier this week I wrote a post explaining what I have learned recently about faith and assurance. Our pastor is leading us in a study of the book of Romans. It has been such a blessing. Romans is a tough book to understand, and thankfully, I understand a bit more than I did before.
We talked one night about "laboring to enter into that rest" which is something Paul exhorts us to do in the book of Hebrews. It stirred my mind, so I have been reading the book of Hebrews, trying to focus on our assurance. Today I read what is called the Faith Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11.
(I suppose I ought also to mention that this year the kids and I are reading The Holy War by John Bunyan. By God's providence, we got to the place where Emmanuel defeated the erring town of Mansoul, cast out Diabolus, and received the uncertain petitions of the townspeople. Interestingly enough, the townspeople had to make three petitions. The first two were apologies and promises to do better, to be his servants, etc. Indeed, they had Mr. Good-deed deliver the second petition! But with the third they sent the three most infamous prisoners, Lord Understanding, Mr. Conscience and My Lord Will-be-will, and completely threw themselves on the mercy of Prince Emmanuel, confessing they rightly deserved death for their rebellion.)
As I was reading Hebrews 11 today, my mind lit by our recent study of Romans as well as our reading of The Holy War, I realized that usually when I look at the Faith Hall of Fame I focus almost completely on the deeds of the Hall of Famers. Paul does say the world was not worthy of them. They are to be admired. But for their good deeds? No; for their faith! He says over and over, "By faith... by faith... by faith..." The focus is faith. How did I miss it?
Leading up to this chapter, Paul talks about Christ and the new testament-- how you can't have a testament without the testator dying, and that is why in the old testament they were commanded to sacrifice animals; it was not adequate, but a shadow of things to come. Then Christ the new testator came and shed his blood for us. The new testament is superior. The perfect one paid for our sins: we could not, and cannot, pay.
Paul takes an entire chapter to list amazing things done by people because of their faith in God. They did not head out to do these things on their own. Would Abraham have left Ur of the Chaldees without the Lord telling him to do it? Ur was a hub of civilization at that time. He left a place where he had wealth and power, and went into the wilderness! Some would call that crazy; but he was following God by faith.
Abel's and Cain's sacrifices have always bothered me: why did God accept Abel's and not Cain's? Does God like animal husbandry better than agriculture? Not necessarily. Abel offered his sacrifice with faith in God, while Cain did not!
And Rahab, a non-Israelite that clearly did not live up to the moral standards of the children of Israel, in spite of this threw herself on the mercy of the Israelite spies in Jericho. She protected and helped them although the punishment for fornication in Israel was public stoning. In Hebrews, Paul tells us she did this through faith in God. She was not stoned-- she was protected by the Israelites of her time, and was later lauded as a woman of faith!
These amazing people didn't go off and do these things on their own and they did not do these things through blind faith. They had the promises of God written in their souls, though those promises were not revealed generally until Christ came. They did not take leaps of faith. They went on rational faith. We talk about doing things 'in good faith', which means we have it on good authority that things will turn out a certain way, so we are acting on that belief. That's what I mean by rational faith: It is rational to do things based on good authority that things will turn out a certain way.
Doing things through faith in God is not going on your own strength, nor is it taking a leap of faith or following blindly. It is receiving the promises on good authority-- we know we will ultimately be saved, so we keep going. We do hard things and face uncertain times and plough through BECAUSE we have it on good authority that God's promises are true. One result of our faith is our awareness of God's love for us, another is that we may be able to do amazing things like these Faith Hall of Famers. But that is not the focus. The focus is on the good authority.
This is such a ramble, but I feel like I finally get some concepts I have struggled with my whole life. It's so easy to focus on results. But we are responsible for process! God redeems our efforts according to his purpose. Our process should be to follow Christ in faith, doing our best because we know how much he loves us. Christ loves to see our faith perfected. And he loves us. Love doesn't measure the actions of the other to see if they add up. Love rejoices in the loved object. (We should love him too and not measure whether he loves us or not by the good and bad things that happen in our lives.)
At this point in my life, I am strong and can do many things. Am I acting with faith? Oh, to be Martha with Mary's faith!