For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
I have to say at the outset that any quibbling about the difference between “faith” and “belief” is bootless. The English word “faith” derives from Latin roots, “belief” from Germanic ones. They mean essentially the same thing. To say that “belief” is “passive, while “faith” is "active" is a useful distinction for English speakers, under some circumstances, but there is no such clever distinction in the Greek.
I do not think that a Sunday ever passed by in my childhood when there was not someone saying to me that I ought to “believe”. I am certain that when I was attending Daily Vacation Bible School that the teachers reinforced that notion, that if I ever hoped to be “saved” I would have to “believe”. For a long time I was not altogether sure what was expected of me. Did I merely need to be intellectually aware of what it meant to be saved? Did I merely need to know something substantial about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Was knowing the facts of the matter the same thing as knowing the truth of those facts? If there was the difference, how was it possible for me to know what the truth was?
Intellectual inquiry is relative easy; I did that all the time in school. If my teacher was personable and engaging, I generally accepted what that man or woman taught without much fuss. Fussing the classroom would come later.
“Faith”, according to Paul, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, or as it is translated in another place, “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). I am certain that this verse in Hebrews was another one of the DVBS scriptures. I cannot imagine understanding this sublime passage at age eight or nine. How can one be “assured” or have “evidence”, if there is nothing to be seen or if there is nothing more than “hope” in the heart or mind? Science does not work that way. If I am in a chemistry laboratory, how can I “know” or be “assured” beforehand that the experiment is going to work just as it was outlined? Someone else may say to me, “Well, I have done this experiment a thousand times and I have never failed to get the proper result”. That is all very well and good, but someone else’s success is not necessarily mine, particularly if I have been a bungler of the first water in everything else I have ever done. I might be encouraged by an experienced party, but I cannot be “assured” success by a fellow student.
Can any man know the future as well as he knows the past, so that “assurance” can be complete? That question, actually, is at the heart of the matter. If I perform the chemistry experiment correctly, quantifying all of the results, I can say afterwards, “I know that this procedure works, for I have done it myself”. Can I know ahead of time that I am going to be successful in some endeavor, as certain as I am afterward? Yes! That is what constitutes true faith. It is substantive foreknowledge. The “evidence of things not seen” works essentially the same way. Can I see an event before it takes place? Yes! That is what constitutes the full weight and measure of the calling of a faithful prophet, seer, and revelator. The eye of faith sees in to the past and into the future with equal facility, and perceives the truth of any event, together with its connection with every other element of truth. A prophet living a thousand years before an event takes place can be as certain of all that would happen as if he had lived every second of the event. This is the power and effect of true faith. Is everyone equipped with this sort of faith? Apparently not, for there are multitudes who assert that it is not possible for any man to know the future.
What did Paul know and understand through faith that assured him of salvation. As far as the reality of the resurrection is concerned, Saul of Taurus had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears the personage and voice of the Lord Jesus Christ while on the road to Damascus. He therefore knew that resurrection was possible. How did he know that he himself would be resurrected? He certainly must have “hoped” to be resurrected. From whence came his personal “assurance”? Paul’s early life had been filled with deeds that would later bring him to grief. He had persecuted the Christian disciples, arresting them and hauling them off to prison, where some of them later died. Once he understood that his actions were offensive to God, he was struck with terrible guilt. When the prophet Ananias came to him and blessed him so that he could recover his eyesight, Paul learned for himself that it was possible to have one’s deepest guilt swept away through repentance and divine forgiveness. At what point did Paul know that all of his subsequent efforts were acceptable to the Lord. The forgiveness for his past sins was a fait accompli. How did he know that he would eventually find grace in the sight of God and be received into His presence with rejoicing? He saw in the future that it would be so, the Lord God of Israel testifying to him on the day of judgment that his life was in order. This eternal success could only be perceived by the eye of faith.
How does one acquire faith unto salvation? The formula is simple, though the experiment is somewhat lengthy.
First, a man must intellectually accept that there is such a being as God. This is usually a conscious decision, even though children generally are aware of the fact almost from birth. An atheist, by the way, has forced this default state of mind from his philosophy. With one’s temporal eyes open, with the acquisition of more and more awareness, even the most hardened unbeliever is persuaded that there is more going on in the universe other than his own self-awareness.
The second principle of faith unto salvation is a correct understanding the characteristics, attributes, and perfections of that God who had been intellectually allowed. Some of this knowledge comes through study, but most comes by obedience to the commandments given by God to His children. We learn for ourselves that His desires for us are not malignant, but rather are the product of an infinite and eternal love for us. We learn, too, that He is as His commandments suggest. He cautions us against immorality, perjury, and covetousness, because He exhibits nothing of these flaws in His own conduct.
The third principle of faith unto salvation is to know for ourselves that our course of life is acceptable unto Him. That can only come as a result of Him speaking with us, assuring us that we have found grace in His sight. There is no more poignant aspect of the need for personal revelation than in its contribution to our personal salvation.
Faith, in the end, is a gift of God that can be acquired in no other way than that which the Father of All has established. The first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for without it, repentance, forgiveness, and the redeeming covenants are impossible.
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