By John Miltenberger
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. [Romans 12:3; NASB]
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. [Romans 10:17; NASB]
It would seem that the spinning wheel of spiritual teaching has recently been stuck on the topic of FAITH, and probably because God knows that it’s time that we know what it is, and what it is not. But in the way of warning, if it’s important to God that we know about it now, it’s probably to prepare us for what’s just about to come over the horizon; a heads-up may be in order.
I did not include Hebrews 11:1 in my reference verses above, because that’s always the go-to verse that’s used to explain faith. However, the issue is in my own experience, that when using Hebrews 11:1 as a base, most teachers get stuck on the over-epiphanized revelation that “faith is (the) a substance…”, without ever telling anyone how we can get from a mental understanding of the verse and move into a pragmatic use of the substance.
My spell checker says I made up a word there, but I’m trying to explain that if you want to direct someone from their current location to another location, just explaining over and over to them that the destination is a real place, does not move the traveler any closer to it, and in fact, the traveler may eventually give up trying to get there at all.
We call the Bible “The Word of God” because we recognize all sixty-six books of it to be inspired by Him. This is a lot easier for me to believe than that He had His words and thoughts recorded just to frustrate us. The Bible, The Word of God, is recorded for us, primarily to be understood by us. Any other thesis is ridiculous, but in order to be understood the way God intended it to be understood, His words need to be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, otherwise they remain black ink on the white pages of a book.
Why do we persist in making everything unnecessarily complicated? Faith is simple, but complex at the same time because the understanding of it demands of us a life changing response.
In my first reference verse, Romans 12:3, it is pretty plain that God has given each of us a measure of faith, and it was written to believers. I’ve recently heard it from three different sources that every believer gets the exact same amount of faith, but frankly, I think this is an unsupported assumption and out of sync with the teachings of Jesus in His parables.
There are no cookie-cutter gifts, faith included. If I give someone one gallon of gasoline, and I give another man five gallons, I have given both of them ‘a measure’ of gasoline, and the only common denominator is that both were given the same chemical substance. At least I think we can agree that God gives each of us the same substance, and leave the amounts up to Him.
But without some kind of spark, the gasoline is inert, and our faith is the same way. Where is the spark that ignites our faith? The spark is revealed in Romans 10:17, and it is the “how” behind the “what”.
We are told in Romans 10:17 that faith comes (‘to life’ – my own interpretation), ‘by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’. Quite simply, this complexity works like this: in order for the Word of God to get from the black and white pages of our Bibles and into our hearts, it must be brought to life, and this happens to it as the Spirit behind the words makes them come alive in us. I’ll need an example:
In February, 1975, it became obvious that my wife’s second pregnancy was about to end in birth. Not unusual, except that months before we both felt that God wanted us to trust Him enough to deliver the baby at home, by ourselves. But as I realized the birth was imminent, my courage drained away and I panicked. I remember the day well because at my lowest point, I fell on my knees in sheer desperation and begged God for the life of the mother and child. I told Him that was all I wanted, and since I didn’t know what to do then, I broke open my Bible totally at random (God is merciful to us if our hearts are right) and looked down. The first verse I saw was: ‘He asked life from You, and You gave it to him’ (Psalm 21:4)!! And like the sun coming up over the horizon after a dark night, it dawned on me that I had just experienced a miracle, and I cried like a baby!
The words of Psalm 21 have been in our Bibles for as long as we’ve had Bibles, and I had read Psalm 21 before, but this time, these specific few words hit my heart like an arrow, and I could feel my faith explode into life as I realized with a growing shock that God had spoken these specific words just to me, and just when I needed to hear them. Faith came to me by hearing the specific words of Christ. The Hebrew word for ‘word’ in Psalm 21:4 is “Rhema”, which is a spoken word, an utterance.
The baby was born twelve hours later – at home, with no complications. And since the word once spoken, becomes the property of the one spoken to, I remind God of this one verse whenever I pray for this specific child. His (spoken) word is eternal because the speaker is eternal.
By the way, in 1975 I was a new Christian, and I know that God gave me great grace in my relative ignorance. But the point is, I dared to believe what I believed to be His word to me, and He backed it up by enlivening my measure of faith.
To sum it up, faith is a substance that moves us from hoping to knowing, and it is brought to life by the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us in the moment. His enlivened (resurrected) words, explode in our hearts and are manifested as faith when we hear them. This is in stark contrast to just popping open a promise book and picking one we like – then claiming it for ourselves. That’s like finding your size on a rack of suits, as opposed to letting Almighty God custom fit one for you.
Our God-given faith comes to life as God brings His words to life in us. Let’s keep it simple. Simple suits us.
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