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Spiritual Health-Faith

What are some misconceptions over the meaning of faith?
I have met many Christians who are disappointed with God. They feel as if God has let them down, as if He didn't answer their requests as they had desired. It is not unusual for people in this situation to stop reading their Bibles, stop attending church, and stop praying. In some cases their disappointment turns to anger and even bitterness.

Disappointment with God usually stems from confusion over the meaning of faith. Most people who are disappointed with God misunderstand what faith is. To them, faith is some sort of power or force. They think if they have enough faith, God will do whatever they ask Him. So when a crisis comes along, they try to move God into action through their faith. When God doesn't respond, they become disappointed. Their misunderstandings lead to unrealistic expectations. And their expectations eventually lead to disappointment.

Faith is not a power we tap into. Faith is not a lasso we slip around God's neck to force our will on His. Faith is not a button we push to prod God into action. Faith is confidence that God will do what He has promised. That is what all those men and women in Hebrews 11 were commended for.

Part of the problem is that the concepts of faith and hope have been confused. If you wrote me a letter inviting me to your home for dinner, you wouldn't include statements such as, "We have perfect faith that you are coming; we know you will be here; we are claiming your arrival; by faith we are announcing to all our friends that you will be here."

On the contrary, you would say things like, "We hope you can join us; we would love to have you; please check your schedule." You would be foolish to believe I was coming until I told you. Once I called you and confirmed the date, you could have faith. Why? Because I told you I would be there; I made a commitment to come; you have a promise to hang your faith on. You can start cooking at some point. And if I don't show up, your disappointment is justified—I broke my promise. But until you heard from me, you could only hope I was coming.

As children of God, we are free to ask God anything we please. And once we ask, we can hope He will give us exactly what we've asked for. But to believe He will do something He has not promised to do is not faith; it is presumption! I fear that much of what is passed off as faith these days is really presumption.

Part of the reason for the confusion in this area is poor teaching. But another reason is that we want to be in control. We want God to do our bidding. We don't want to submit to His will; we want Him subjected to ours. We don't really want God to function as the Lord of our lives; we would rather have Him operate like a vending machine. We put in a little faith, and He sends out whatever we think we need. But He doesn't operate that way. And to approach the Christian life as if He does is to set yourself up for disappointment. Faith is not an escape hatch from all the trials and tribulations in this life. It is confidence that God will keep His promises.

Another area of confusion has to do with the foundation of faith. Believers tend to judge God's interest and involvement in their lives according to what happens around them. When things go well—their health is good, their finances are solid, their family members get along--they are quick to praise God for His faithfulness. But when things take a turn for the worse, they doubt. "Where is God?" they ask. "Has He forgotten me? I thought He loved me!" They make the mistake of drawing conclusions regarding God's faithfulness based on what is happening then.

The writer of Hebrews warns us against this. His original audience made the same mistake two thousand years ago. Their situation, however, was a bit more severe than anything most of us will face. He was writing to a group of Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for converting from the Jewish faith. The persecution was so intense that they began to doubt whether they had made the right decision. God wasn't honoring their faithfulness in any tangible sort of way. On the surface it looked as if He had abandoned them. They were judging His love and concern for them on the basis of what was happening around them. Consequently, some believers abandoned the faith.

To combat this defection, the writer of Hebrews reminded them of the foundation of their faith. He took the entire first three chapters of his letter to demonstrate for them the superiority of Christ over Abraham, Moses, and even the angels. He summarized his argument with these words: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). In other words, "Since our Savior, Jesus, died and rose from the dead and went to be with the Father, we have every reason to hang on to our faith. What He has done is enough to merit our faithfulness regardless of what happens in the meantime."

His point is that the primary support for our faith is not what is happening now but what happened two thousand years ago at Calvary and later at the tomb. Jesus has demonstrated His faithfulness to us in a way that far surpasses bailing us out of unpleasant circumstances, that far surpasses answering a prayer or two. The fact that He would die on the cross for our sin settles the question of His love and concern. The fact that He could rise from the dead settles the question of His reliability and His right to call Himself Lord. The fact that He passed through the heavens and is seated at the right hand of the Father is overwhelming support for the reliability of His promise to return.

The question of whether or not God loves you and is concerned about you has nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding you right now. That question was settled a long time ago. We never, regardless of our circumstances, ever have reason to doubt God's love, care, and concern. It is an open-and-shut case, never to be reopened.

What is faith?
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This is what the ancients were commended for."
—Hebrews 11:1-2


There is no clearer explanation of faith in all the Scriptures than the one found in Hebrews 11:1 (NIV): "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The two key words here are sure and certain. Faith is about being sure and certain of something. This raises the question at the heart of the confusion often surrounding the topic of faith: Sure and certain about what? When can we be sure and certain God is going to act? When can we know for sure He is going to do what we ask?

Fortunately, the author (whose identity is a mystery) answers that question in no uncertain terms. Interestingly enough, he introduces his explanation in this way: "This is what the ancients were commended for." This refers to faith. The people whose stories he is about to recount were all men and women who had faith; they were sure and certain about something. They were sure and certain about the right things.

As he recites the experiences of some of our favorite Bible characters, along with some of the most spectacular events recorded in Scripture, it becomes evident why the ancient men and women were so sure and certain. Furthermore, the author gives us some unmistakable clues about the things we can be sure and certain about.

He begins with the creation story and moves right on through the story of Abraham. He takes us on a historical journey through the life of Moses including the parting of the Red Sea. He speaks about Joshua, Gideon, David, and Samuel. Each man's life is associated with "by faith."

But something else is associated with each of these characters. In some cases it is stated outright. In others it is merely implied. That something else is a promise. The men and women were so certain and sure because each had received a promise from God. They were confident that God would do exactly what He promised. And that is the essence of faith.

The term promise, or some derivative, appears eighteen times in Hebrews. It appears seven times in this one chapter alone. What is the significance of that? Faith and the promises of God go hand in hand.

Where there is no promise, there can be no faith—only hope. Notice the connection in the following verse: "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise" (v. 11 NIV). The basis of Abraham's faith was the promise of God. He believed he and Sarah would have a child in their old age because God promised they would. Their faith followed a promise. Every person mentioned in this chapter was given a promise of some kind. Faith was grounded in the promise of God.

Faith, then, is confidence in the promises of God or, as stated earlier, confidence that God will do what He has promised.