The Life of Faith

Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on August 28, 1983
      For ever, O LORD, they word is settled in heaven.
      Psalm 119:89
      I HAVE ONLY ONE REASON FOR PREACHING, which is to show that when God says something, He does it. This nation is now reaping the harvest of a generation transformed by John Dewey’s “progressive education” beginning in the 1920s. The underlying philosophy of progressive education is called “pragmatism.” More formally, it is known as “experimentalism.” Its basic premise is that there are no certain truths and there are no fixed values. There are no certain facts other than the fact that every fact is uncertain; and since everything is changing, you must learn to cope with change in an uncertain world. When progressive education took over our educational system, the way you learned became more important than what you learned. Learning facts became less important, because progressive education taught that any facts you learned would eventually change. The very definition of value was changed: value became whatever worked for you and whatever gave you the most personal satisfaction during your relatively short period of existence in an uncertain world. Agnosticism became the vogue.
      An agnostic lives in a state of uncertainty. When you are an agnostic, you don’t have to take a stand on anything and you can spend your life shooting down the beliefs of others. It is a marvelous way to spare the ego. You are never wrong because you never stand for anything. But it is not a sure foundation to stand on. The generation that grew up under that uncertainty overreacted and many joined cults, embracing extreme beliefs that gave them a sense of absolute certainty. But as they turned their lives over to someone else, they turned from nothingness to a prison, subjecting themselves to another form of bondage.
      We have reaped the bitter harvest of uncertainty, and there are some preachers who share the blame because too often they didn’t make the certainties clear enough. Pragmatism even infected the church world and personal experiences became the criteria of truth. A. W. Tozer lamented that it was bad enough when the pragmatic view of life conquered the secular world, but it was even worse when it took over the church. Again, the pragmatic view of life teaches you to judge everything by your own personal experience. Truth is whatever works for you and value is whatever satisfies you. Consider how the current revival movement, with all of its strengths, has overemphasized the significance of feelings and personal experiences. The earliest and most widespread heresy of the New Testament church was Gnosticism, which essentially based truth on one’s own personal experience or “inner witness.” Each man became an independent island of self-judgment in regard to truth. But God’s word is the only rudder that can steer us through an unseen sea. Again, I preach to simply show that when God says something, “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.”
     Hebrews 11 begins, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for . . .” The Greek word translated “faith,” using English letters, would be spelled pistis. Again, using English letters, it is related to the verb pisteuo. I have often taught on what I call the ABCs of faith: faith is an Action, based upon Belief and sustained by Confidence. When the verb pisteuo is translated into English, we normally use the words “to believe” or “to trust,” neither of which is an adequate translation.
      The English word “trust” appears prominently in the Old Testament where it is most often a translation of one of two different Hebrew words, both of which are action words. One of those words means “to run to the shelter of a rock” or “to run to the shelter of a mother bird’s wings.” When the arrows of the enemy are flying, you don’t just stand there and think about a rock. You don’t simply say the words, “I trust in that rock.” You must run to the rock. That is why the English word “trust” does not go far enough. In English, we can say “I trust in that rock” and still remain standing right where we are, but the Hebrew word does not allow that. In the Hebrew meaning of the word, you are not trusting in the rock unless you are running to it for shelter.
      The other Hebrew word for “trust” was used to describe the act of leaning on a staff. David was the first to apply this word to a relationship with God, though the word was widely used in a non-worshipful sense. In the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem. The king of Assyria sent his foul-mouthed representative who stood near the walls of Jerusalem and mocked its inhabitants. He accused them of relying upon an alliance with Egypt and he shouted to the men on the wall, “If you trust in Egypt, it will be like leaning on a staff made of reeds that will break and splinter and pierce your hand.” David used the same word for trust and related it to God, saying, “I will trust in the Lord.” David had learned to lean on the Lord as one would lean on a staff and put his full weight on it. These Hebrew words for “trust” go beyond mere belief and go beyond having confidence; they describe an action. Just as you are not trusting in the shelter of a rock until you actually run to it, you are not trusting in a staff until you actually put your weight on it.
      Like the Hebrew words for trust that are used in the Old Testament, the Greek word pisteuo in the New Testament is an action word. You are not engaging in pisteuo if you merely believe. You are not engaging in pisteuo if you merely believe with confidence. Pisteuo requires an action; you have to act based upon a belief and keep on acting because you have confidence in that belief.
      When the New Testament was translated into English, there was no equivalent verb for pisteuo. The word “believe” is inadequate because belief only involves the mind. The word “trust” comes close in its meaning, but “trust” is still inadequate because it has a passive overtone. I suppose you could use the expression “confident belief,” which at least adds an expectancy that something will happen, but that still would not involve an action. Anyone can stand in an airport and believe that the planes will fly, but you are not exercising faith until you actually board a plane. Now let me go further: many people believe a parachute will open, but faithers jump!
      Faith requires the action of leaping. A parachute jump is a better analogy than getting on a plane and being told that when they open the door, you have to jump out. I would want to check my parachute just one more time! Now I can believe my parachute will open, I can have great confidence it will support me, and I may have watched a hundred people jump in the past. But when someone shouts “Jump!” I would rather just think about it. Pisteuo requires the leap.
      From the Greek philosophical frame of reference, the word pisteuo could apply to any kind of action based on any kind of belief, as long as you had enough confidence in your belief to motivate and sustain the action. The philosophers in Paul’s day would gather on Mar’s Hill and debate the relative merits of different beliefs. One person had one belief, while another person had a different one. If you didn’t like the gods they offered, they even provided a monument “to the unknown god,” just in case they had missed one. It was a wonderful intellectual exercise that provided the worshiper with many options.
      The Greek philosophical frame allowed for many possible objects of faith until God came along and appropriated the word pisteuo for Himself. Now faith is only defined as an action based upon belief in God’s word and sustained by the certain confidence that God always does what He says. Nothing else qualifies as biblical faith.
      In the Greek language, there is no “neutral gear” when it comes to faith. You are either acting on God’s word or you are not. And any other kind of action, no matter how valuable it may be, misses the mark. God will not call it faith nor will He respond to it. Of course there are many kinds of actions that ought to be done. I believe if you brush your teeth and take care of your mouth, people will be less likely to run away from you when you talk to them. And I believe more people ought to do it more often. There is nothing wrong with action on that belief. I believe eating spinach is healthier than eating ice cream. I am not saying it tastes better, but that it is better for you. I don’t need to pray before I step on a staircase, “Lord, please make sure I go down the stairs and not up.” I didn’t even ask the Lord to help me tie my tie this morning. I have confidence that if I wrap it a certain way, I will not choke to death. None of those actions are spiritual and none of them will save you. There are all kinds of possible actions – some of them good, some of them bad – that do not qualify as biblical faith. I am not saying that God is unconcerned about the smallest details; the Bible says He sees the sparrow fall. But faith is what God is looking for and faith is what saves you.
      When God says something, His word is forever settled in heaven. God has already spoken in the heavenly kingdom. I am not spiritualizing that statement: I believe heaven is a real place. I believe Jesus came from there and returned, and one of these days we will make the same trip to be with Him. I have no interest in a heaven of ethereal nothingness. Heaven is a real place inhabited by substantial beings. The Scripture says, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” While we do not know what form we will have in heaven, we know we will be like Him. And in God’s kingdom, words and facts are synonymous. Yet here we are on this little globe occupied by rebels who want to do things their own way, and the Bible calls that sin.
      What is sin? I grew up in a church where everything was called a sin. If you polished your shoes, it was a sin because you were worldly; if you left them unpolished, it was a sin because you were slovenly. I even heard one preacher say that automobiles were a sin. Eating, drinking, smoking, sitting, standing and breathing were all called sin; none of that is what the Bible calls sin. The Bible’s definition of sin goes to its root: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” By that definition, there are just as many sinners inside the church as there are outside of it. We all want our own way. That is the problem of this world.
      The whole world has gone awry. God has uttered things forever settled in heaven, but down here on earth we are out of sync. A man of faith who has learned God’s word sees the circumstance of his life and he confronts a challenge. Before him is a contradiction: God gave a promise, while the circumstance down here on earth defies that promise. Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He was speaking in the context of intercessory prayer. An intercessor is someone who takes the place of another. In the Old Testament, when the children of Israel were assigned their lots in the Promised Land, God spoke through Joshua to the tribe of Asher and said, “This is your place.” He said to Manasseh, “This is your place,” and He said to Ephraim, “This is your place.” The children of Israel didn’t yet possess a square inch of the land; someone else occupied it. Theirs was the challenge to make God’s promise displace the facts that contradicted it. But the moment God declared the land was theirs, it was forever settled in heaven.
      An ordinary man sees the circumstances of this life rise up in front of him and be bows down to them, saying, “This can’t be overcome.” A hero of faith refuses to bow down to circumstances. God made a promise, but the circumstances deny it. Every day I have a choice: will God’s word rule me or will the circumstances rule me? I can dwell in the valley of indecision and think about it until I die, or I can look the circumstances in the eye and declare, “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” A faither refuses to be ruled by the things of this earth. A faither reaches up and grabs hold of God’s promises and keeps hanging on until he becomes the instrument through whom God changes the circumstances. A faither may die still hanging on, not yet having obtained the promise; but at his death he will swing into the land where the conflict doesn’t exist.
      This is where I part company with the modern preachers who have taken this truth of God and humanized it. They have taken John Dewey’s pragmatism and applied it as a test of the value of faith. They sell books on how to be delivered. They corrupt the meaning of faith by teaching that you can change your circumstances through your faith and by your own actions. And when earthly results don’t come quickly or easily, most people just give up.
      There are ministries that publish magazines that only herald faith’s accomplishments. You will seldom read a story in one of those magazines like this: “The Funeral of Sister Jones. She died of cancer. I prayed for her, she believed God and died.” You are not likely to see an article saying, “All of my prayer partners prayed for Brother Doolittle. He was in a wheelchair and we said, “Rise and walk in the name of Jesus!’ We buried him last Thursday. He must not have had any faith because faith means getting results!” I am being ludicrous, but how many people have been motivated to have faith because of what it was supposed to do for them down here on earth? How many have been motivated by someone’s “testimony” of God’s past deliverance? In my case, almost everything bad that turned out good was only a setup for something worse. Every time I won a victory in God, something would happen that made me wish I could go back and fight the previous fight. Each victory set me up for an even tougher battle.
      Faith has nothing to do with obtaining results down here on earth. Faith has only to do with God. And the true measure of our faith is what happens to us when instant success doesn’t come. We have faith in God because when He says He will do something, He does it.
      As a pastor, I see the contradiction daily; I see circumstances that defy God’s word. I see people who are not well, yet God has promised, “I am the LORD that healeth thee.” I see people in need, yet God has promised, “I will provide.” Sometimes I pray right to the point and say, “Now God, I am going to preach and tell people about You, but sometimes it seems like You don’t know Your own words!” or “I know what You promised, but my bank balance doesn’t agree!” I am being ludicrous again, but that is the way most of us practice faith. We get angry at God and tell Him, “You weren’t there when I needed you! You are never on time! You took advantage of my naiveté and my enthusiasm by getting me into situations before I was ready for them. I took a leap of faith depending on You, and You let me down!” No doubt I have offended some traditional churchmen whose prayers sound more like, “Lord, my house is on fire, and if it be Thy will, I shall take my wife and children and go outside.” Sometimes I really have it out with God and say, “Where in the hell have You been?!” You say, “That’s awful!” Well, my Bible says He is in hell. Psalm 139 says, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there . . . thy right hand shall hold me.”
     I don’t believe I am the only one who has ever prayed, “Where are You, God?” If God were to reply, I think He might say, “Are you quite done? I am where I have always been. What I have said is forever settled in heaven, and if you want to be here with Me where those contradictions don’t occur, just keep on acting like what I have promised is going to happen. And if you die without seeing the results on earth, that’s My problem, isn’t it? Because I have promised eternal salvation for faithers.”
     To the man or woman praying for deliverance from a wheelchair, the answer is the same. God is saying, “What do you really want: eternal life, rulership through the ages and a share of Jesus’ inheritance, or simply to get out of your wheelchair? Sure, you want out of your wheelchair; and yes, I said, “I am the LORD that healeth thee.’ I haven’t changed, and one wheelchair more or less will neither prove nor disprove Me. I will do what I will.”
     You say, “But God hasn’t healed me yet,” which leads me to the subject of God’s timing. Einstein proved that time is relative, but there is no time with God. From an earthly perspective it matters to us how long it takes before God heals or fulfills any of His promises. You might ask, “But what if He doesn’t do it within my lifetime?” That doesn’t make any difference from the eternal perspective. Again, what do you want most? To be saved? God saves faithers!
      God does not save me based upon my behavior. He does not save me because I don’t go to movies, nor is my salvation dependent on whether or not I shave my beard. Ladies, God will not save you because you don’t wear makeup. God will not save someone because he doesn’t drink wine. I have traveled as a missionary to some places where drinking the water would kill you a lot quicker than drinking wine would. Paul knew that, which is why he told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake. I am sure this will horrify some traditionalists, but I saw one of my ushers smoking a cigarette the other day on a city street. I don’t police the behavior of my congregation. I grew up in a judgmental atmosphere where I heard people say such inane things as, “If God wanted you to smoke, He would have put a smokestack on your head!” Hear me closely: I am not advocating smoking; I just dislike hypocrites who condemn people to hell for being hooked on some habit while they themselves can’t give up eating sugar. It’s all stupidity. I believe that some people do as much damage to their bodies by their eating habits as others do by smoking. But none of those things have anything to do with salvation.
      Some self-righteous church member might say, “Well, I believe that when God saves you He cleans you up.” I agree that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but cleanliness won’t save you. You can take showers in Jesus’ name 50 times a day and still go to hell; or you can be filthy and in a moment of faith gain an eternal inheritance. I am not passing judgment on someone’s behavior; I am simply saying the church spends most of its time preaching on those kinds of things, which are a bunch of garbage and do not save you. Only faith saves you. Again, what is faith? The traditional church says faith means doing this and not doing that. But none of those things qualify as biblical faith. Faith is action based upon the belief that God does what He says, and sustained by the confidence that God will always do what He says.
      Hebrews 11 says that some of the heroes of faith “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted . . .” Returning to my earlier illustration, you will never see a magazine article published by one of those faith ministers featuring people who acted in faith and became destitute and afflicted. But the Bible says some were “destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” From a natural point of view, they didn’t have much going for them; but “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” They all obtained a good report: they never stopped faithing, they never stopped acting as though God would do what He said He would do, and they were willing to die not having obtained the promise.
      The life of faith has eternity in view; it is not like that phony stuff you see on religious television that promises material blessings down here on earth. They feature some man who believed God for a Cadillac and received a Cadillac, and now he sails through the rest of his days looking backwards and telling everyone his testimony. But poor you, you encountered an obstacle and declared, “Be removed in the name of Jesus!” and nothing happened. In my case, I encountered a wall and knocked it down, only to reveal another wall behind it that was worse! The apostle Peter says that faith tried in the fire is more precious than gold. Faith is the legal tender of eternity. Suppose one man faithed to the end and went to his eternal reward with a great bank account of faith tried in the fire, the gold of eternity. Another man had it easy; all he did for the last 20 years was show up as a guest on religious talk shows and talk about his past victory. Who exercised the most faith? Who maintained the faith for the whole trip? It is hard to keep the eternal perspective. Jesus asked, “When I come, will I find faith on the earth?” I doubt it. He will find testifiers of past victories.
      The man or woman of faith declares, “I will not stop hanging on to God’s word. I will be a citizen where God’s word rules. I will keep butting my head against the wall of circumstance. And if I don’t see God change the circumstance and win the victory in my lifetime, I will die in the process and live eternally where there is no contradiction to God’s word. Now that is day-by-day Christian faith.
      Frankly, I cannot stand any other kind. I have seen enough of the witchery and the delusion of ministries that single out the few who receive immediate results and make heroes out of them. The blind lead the blind and they will all fall into the ditch together. God is not interested in your results down here unless He is ready for those results down here. He is interested in your faithing. And if you don’t see immediate results here and now, God gives you more than your faith has earned you: He gives you all the inheritance that Christ’s faith earned Him. That is the good news of the gospel, from faith to faith.
      You might ask, “Well, don’t we ever get results down here?” Sure we do, but we have a choice. We can go out in a grand and glorious blaze of faith, and if we fail, at the very least we can say we tried, we faithed. I have to accept failure as a realistic possibility, but I must continue to act on “Thus saith the word of the Lord.” God has promised to provide, and whom the Lord calls, He enables. I must act as though the whole battle depends upon me because God’s word declares, “There is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.” And I must continue to claim the promise, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I must act because the Lord, based on His word, will be on time. I must act because these promises are forever settled in heaven.
      The test of my faith will bring forth the pure gold of eternity. I must not care if I fail. Oh, of course I care in the natural, but there is a part of me that must reach beyond the natural. Though this “old man” perish, the new man is being renewed each time the circumstances make me grab hold of God’s word by faith and tighten my grip. God gives us the saving power of His Spirit for our faith.
      This is down-to-earth, nitty-gritty Christianity. I must live by faith in my assignment as pastor, and you must live by faith in your own life. You have to size up the problems that are killing you and come to that simple choice that Jesus talked about, your eternal soul or your life down here. You have the option today to become a hero of faith, and that is worth more in the long run than all the little things we might get down here.
      God has given you promises. It is the devil’s message that you should look out for yourself and your own problems first, get yourself on your feet, and then someday you might support God’s work. God’s word says turn to Him and He will turn to you. Each of you must treat the church’s battles as though the whole war depends upon you alone. I have made my decision: I will turn to God and will not allow His work to come to a standstill. It is better that I personally fail than that the church not go forward. That is what it means to turn to God. But lo and behold, the God who provides has promised to look out for you when you look out for Him and His work. That is just icing on the cake. Someone might say, “What if I turn to God and I still don’t obtain the promise?” You already know the answer: you have eternal life!
      You stand at the threshold today. You did not receive the word of God by accident. John 6:44 says, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” But God is not going to suddenly appear before you and shout, “Hey, you! I have chosen you!” Your intersection of faith is right in front of you. Some other man on the street who didn’t hear this message doesn’t have the same choice you have. You will either go your own way or turn to God and take a step of faith. My advice is that you walk through the doorway and become a hero of faith. Faith is what saves you. Aren’t you glad that faith saves you and not all that other stuff? We can’t do all that other stuff, but we can all faithe.
      Re-printed with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott

Wherever Christians meet these days one word is sure to be heard constantly repeated; that word is revival.

In sermon, song, and prayer we are forever reminding the Lord and each other that what we must have to solve all our spiritual problems is a “mighty, old-time revival . . .”

So strongly is the breeze blowing for revival that scarcely anyone appears to have the discernment or the courage to turn around and lean into the wind, even though the truth may easily lie in that direction . . .

It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.

-A.W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life, pp. 7-8

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