WALKING BY FAITH IN GOD’S WORD
There is great confusion in our world over what human beings can know or even whether they can know. Tragically, such doubt does not afflict only atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and other unbelievers. There are many prominent religious leaders, some of whom claim to be evangelicals, who have serious doubts about man's ability to know. In his book, Into the Whirlwind: The Future of the Church (Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1983), former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, foolishly affirms: "The one fact that is certain in our world is that no authority exists that can define truth in any area for all time" (p. 26). Rubel Shelly and John York basically agree with this radical bishop. In their book, The Jesus Proposal: A Theological Framework for Maintaining the Unity of the Body of Christ (Siloam Springs, AR: Leafwood Publications, 2003), they argue: "Postmodernity also challenges the notion of 'objective, dispassionate knowledge from which the knower disengages himself" (p. 29). Shelly says: "Postmoderns have no difficulty with less-than-perfect interpretations, for they value persons above formulas" (p. 83).
I invite you to listen to the differences between the views of postmodernists like Spong, Shelly and York and those of the Apostle Paul. The divinely inspired apostle wrote: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this (that is, in this earthly body) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he who has wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also has given unto us the earnest of his Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether they be good, or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences " (2 Cor. 5:1-11).
Paul uses the word "know" three times in these eleven verses. The tense of the verb in all three cases means to have sure knowledge. Paul affirms in verse 1: "For we know." The tense of the verb means "we have come to know, and we still know." Are the postmodernists arguing that they know more than an inspired apostle? What absolute arrogance! The Apostle John concludes his first epistle: "For we know that whosoever is born of God does not sin .... And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in sin. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, even in this Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 5:18-20).
There is one other word in the passage from 2 Corinthians I need to examine briefly. Paul told the Corinthians: "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6). The word "confident" can be translated "to be of good cheer, to be of good courage," as well as to be confident. Was the Holy Spirit being deceptive when he assured the Corinthians they could be confident? When people like John Shelby Spong, Rubel Shelly and John York preach funerals of people who have devoted their lives to serving the Lord and their fellowmen, do they say: "There is no one who can define truth for all people for all time?" Do they tell the grieving family members: "We cannot really know for sure if there is a heaven for our loved ones to inherit?" How comforting is such skepticism?
There is an expression in the passage from 2 Corinthians 5 that I would like to dwell on in this lesson. Our study today will be focused on the theme: "Walking by Faith." What does "walking by faith" mean? In 1918 James Wells wrote the words and J. L. Heath wrote the music to the song, "Living by Faith." The chorus reads: "Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting, confiding in his great love, from all harm safe in his sheltering arm, I'm living by faith and feel no alarm." The songbook we use at the West Fayetteville Church of Christ includes these familiar songs: "I Know God's Promise Is True," "I Know My Name Is There," "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," "I Know the Lord Will Find a Way," "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" and "I Know Whom I Have Believed." Can postmodernists sing these beautiful hymns with an honest heart?
We must begin our study of "Walking by Faith" by defining the word "faith." W. E. Vine says there are three "main elements in faith in relation to the invisible God": "A firm confidence," "a personal surrender to him" and "conduct inspired by such surrender" (p. 401). The Bible does not define any word, but it provides insight into the meaning of words like "love" and "faith." The book of Hebrews tells us that faith stands under that for which we hope and is the evidence of things not seen. "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him" (Heb. 11: 1, 6).
Tragically, there are many people, including some well-known theologians, who use the word "faith" when they ought to use the word "opinion." John Hagee is fond of telling his listeners and readers what he believes, especially what he believes about the end of the age. His book, The Battle for Jerusalem (Nashville: Nelson, 2001), is filled with items he says he believes. He writes of "the rise of a global personality," meaning the Anti-Christ. He says he does not know his name. He then foolishly affirms: "But I believe he is alive at this moment and knows his satanic assignment" (p. 171). I do not mean to be unkind, but he does not believe that. It is his opinion. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17). There is not one scripture that furnishes John Hagee a basis for believing the Anti-Christ "is alive at this moment."
I hear preachers on television and on radio strongly affirm: "I believe Christ is coming back soon." That is their opinion and is worth nothing. It not only lacks a foundation in scripture; it is contrary to scripture. Do you remember what Christ told his disciples at the end of his Sermon on the Mount of Olives? "But of that day and that hour, knows no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.... Watch therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at even, or a midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch" (Mk. 13:32,35-37). Unless you are God, you do not and cannot know when Christ is coming back.
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a well-known scholar in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, has written a great book with the title, Faith Founded on Fact (Nashville: Nelson, 1978). If there are no facts, there is no faith. For example, a person may say with confidence, "I believe Jesus Christ is coming back." On what basis does he believe that? Jesus himself promised his apostles and all his faithful followers: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). You can have absolute assurance that Christ is coming back.
Dr. 1. Gresham Machen was one of America's premier fundamentalist theologians. He taught at Princeton Theological Seminary until Princeton became so liberal he could no longer conscientiously remain at Princeton. Dr. Machen was a prolific writer. His scholarly books include The Origin of Paul's Religion, Christianity and Liberalism, The Virgin Birth of Christ, and The Christian Faith in Modern World - all of which I value very highly. Dr. Machen also wrote a book with the title, What Is Faith? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1925). In this book, Dr. Machen discusses the relationship of faith and knowledge. "That contrast (that is, between faith and knowledge) ... ignores an essential element of faith; and what is called faith after the subtraction of that element (knowledge) is not faith at all. As a matter of fact all true faith involves an intellectual assent; all faith involves knowledge and issues in knowledge" (p. 40).
I need to make one other comment before I spend some time discussing what it means to walk by faith. Walking by faith does not mean walking by faith alone. Martin Luther added the word "alone" to the following verse: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28). In his commentary on The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (St. Louis: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1936), Dr. R. C. H. Lenski, a distinguished Lutheran scholar, agrees with Luther. He comments: "Since 'all works of the law' are barred out, ‘faith' alone is left.... ‘Alone' is not found in the Greek text and yet it is there.... If faith alone is not the sense, what else goes with it" (p. 271)?
In the Roman letter, Paul tells us very plainly what else goes with faith. He reminded the Romans that God "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, (he will) give them eternal life: but unto them who are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul that does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace to every man who works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Rom. 2:6-10).
Is there any way you can harmonize the doctrine of faith alone with the words I have read to you from Romans 2? God "will render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6). We must continue in well doing (Rom. 2:7). If men do not obey the truth, they will suffer indignation and wrath (Rom. 2:8). Glory, honor and peace will be bestowed on every man who does good (Rom. 2:10). If men are saved by faith alone, why was the Apostle Paul troubled that some had not obeyed the gospel (Rom. 10:16)? We must obey from that heart the form of doctrine which was delivered unto us (Rom. 6:16-18).
Those who maintain that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone have surely ignored Hebrews 11 - the great chapter on the heroes of faith. Can you find faith alone in this verse about Abraham? "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, now knowing where he was going" (Heb. 11:8). When you strip away the modifiers of the main clause, this is what you have left: "By faith Abraham ... obeyed." Would Abraham have been listed in Hebrews 11 along with Noah, Abel, Enoch and others had he not obeyed? James asked: "Was not Abraham justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Do you see how faith wrought with his works, and by works was his faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed in God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. You see then how a man by works is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:21-24).
All of the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 walked by faith. What did they do? "Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Heb. 11: 4). Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:22-24) and "was translated that he should not see death.... For before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5). Noah "moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" (Heb. 11:7). Moses chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb. 11:25). Not one of these men was saved by faith alone. Every one of them had to do what God commanded them to do.
Is that what "walking by faith" means in the Christian era? How can any serious Bible student deny it? The New Testament continually emphasizes doing the will of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord told his disciples: "Not every one who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out demons? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity. Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rains descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Mt. 7:21-27).
When I was on the Bible faculty at Freed-Hardeman University, I taught a course on the General Epistles. The International Gospel Hour has recently published my book on that topic. Included in the General Epistles are James, 1& 2 Peter, 1,2 & 3 John and Jude. I want to dwell on 1 John in the remainder of our study today. The Apostle John uses three words that have a direct bearing on what it means to walk by faith. Those three words are: "do," "keep" and "abide." If we must do anything, keep the great truths of the gospel, and abide in the faith, we are not saved by grace alone through faith alone. I shall give you examples of each of these very significant words.
"The world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he who does the will of my Father abides forever ... .If we know that he is righteous, we know that every one who does righteousness is born of him" (1 John 2:17,29). "Little children, let no man deceive you: he who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous ... .In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he who does not love his brother.... And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (l John 3: 7, 10, 22).
The word "keep" appears over and over in 1 John and throughout the New Testament. "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby we know that we are in him" (1 John 2:3-5). "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. ... And he who keeps his commandments dwells in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us" (1 John 3:22,24). "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2-3).
The Greek word translated "abide" is also rendered "dwell," "continue," "remain," "might stand," "endure" and "tarry." Please listen to these examples. "He who says he abides in him ought himself to walk, even as he walked ... He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.... Let that therefore abide in you, which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.... And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:6, 10,24,28).
How grateful we ought to be that our God loves us so much he tells us what we must do to please him! We are not left to guess. He wants us to so live that he can give us eternal life. Is that not the meaning of the Golden Text of the Bible? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3: 16-17).
May God help every one of us to walk by faith in the word of almighty God!
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