This fact is evident throughout the scriptures. Consider belief in God's existence. I would question whether belief in God's existence is a matter of presumption or a matter of perception. For according to Romans 1:20,21, God has given us sufficient physical evidence that we should be able to "perceive" that He exists. Just as in finding a footprint in the sand we should be able to perceive that someone has been before. This requires no trust in an individual, but an objective evaluation of the facts. I have written on the subject of evidence for God's existence at length in a separate paper.
If we perceive that God exists and that He has the ability to communicate in complex language forms, then it is only natural to wonder whether He has communicated to us in a written or spoken form. This is only reasonable. But why would our creator communicate with us? It is apparent that we are not unlike Him in that we are unique among all that has been created in having the ability to communicate in complex language forms and having the ability and desire to design complex devices. Also, we find it necessary to have meaning and purpose in life. But these can only be dictated to us. In vain do we define our own meaning and purpose, for the thing which is made can only be defined by its maker.
In seeking after truth, pride often hinders one from being as objective as possible. Pride causes us to read our own ideas into the evidence. When doing Bible study, it causes us to read our own ideas into the text, rather than reading out of the text the ideas that the author intended.
A person can never come to legitimate faith in Christ without conviction of sin. Pride blinds us to our sinfulness. Jesus gave an illustration of this in a parable.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14How can you develop humility, whether in yourself or someone else, in preparation to believe? This, like faith, is also not directly a function of the will. Rather it tends to me more of function of our reaction to circumstances. As God was leading the people of Israel though the desert in preparation to enter the promise land, he was developing in them these characteristics which were essential prerequisites to prepare them to have the quality of faith that saves.
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Deut 8:2How does God develop humility in people? Through HUMILIATION. This humiliation might come in the form of difficult circumstances in one's life. It may come through rebuke as in "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Matt 23:13 God knows how to humble the proud. So if you're praying for humility, don't be surprisd to be humiliated!
As I mentioned, without conviction of sin, one cannot come to faith in Christ. God has a particularly interesting way of dealing with people who think they are so good that they can certainly live a lifestyle that meet's God's standards for righteousness. Christians often make the mistake of starting off with such people by rebuking them for sin. But God simply reveals his law and tells them to do it. Coming out of Egypt, the first thing God did was to give the people the Law. Jesus also met a man who needed to learn a lesson in humility.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." Luke 10:25-28Such people often casually throw around the word "good" as if being good is a trivial thing. Jesus ran into such a person and says the same to him.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-- except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mark 10:17-22Here is a person who, though appearing religious, lacked conviction of sin. So Jesus humilates him by pointing out to him his idolatry. We don't know what happened to the man, but most proud people don't react well to humiliation. But while the proud work for their salvation, God gives his grace to the humble.
"To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12,13On the other hand, there are verses commanding people to believe
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-- you and your household." Acts 16:31Yet such a command seems only to be given when people are prepared to take the final step into the Christian faith, which is a long way from atheism. On the other hand, just as one can't simply decide by his free-will to believe something that he is not fully convinced of, neither can one who is fully convinced of something decide to disbelieve. If a person says at one point he was fully convinced of something, but now no longer is, was he ever "fully convinced" to begin with? Yet this is the quality of faith that qualifies one to really become a Christian.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Heb 11:1
Saving faith is not simply believing certain doctrines. Rather, having come to be fully convinced that Jesus is the son of God and therefore convinced that His promise of eternal life is trustworthy, we place our trust in Him. This final step is not an experimental trust, just as the hope it produces is not a sort of "I hope this is true"-type of vain expectation, but a confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the promise of eternal life.
The Biblical word for "believe" (pisteuo) has a strong sense of "trust" with it. And sometimes is even translated "trust", as in:
"So if you have not been trustworthy(pistos) in handling worldly wealth, who will trust (pisteuo) you with true riches?" Luke 16:11If we have found Christ to be trustworthy, then we need to entrust to Him our lives and our eternal destiny.
"Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." John 12:36Trusting in Christ means we have a confident expectation of going to heaven. It means that we view ourselves as children of God and brethren of Christ. And that God controls all the circumstances and difficulties we go through in life, and that through such things God is dealing with us as with His sons. It means we empathized with God in His hatred of sin both in ourselves and in the world. It means that we identify with Christ in his purpose, his lifestyle, his attitudes, his speech, his convictions, and his relationship with the Father to the point that we can say "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." Gal 2:20.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." John 14:1
While all of these aspects may grow in maturity, yet to start off the process one must be born of God. And whereas maturity takes a lifetime, birth occurs at a point in time. Birth is an irreversible process which starts an individual off towards the inevitable path to maturity. So to enter into the family of God, at some point in time we need to make a decision to put our trust in Christ and thus our eternal destiny is assured forever.
This being the case, faith that God has spoken should hardly be considered "blind faith". However faith that God has spoken does require a certain amount of trust that the "historic record" which includes the miracles and the declaration, is indeed "historic". Many may walk away when they consider this, but when you think about it, it is unavoidable. For God to prove that He has spoken requires that He perform some miracle that only He could do. But once performed, such a miracle is then history. So it is necessary there be an historic account of the event. However, if we are to assume that God has any kind of intelligence, He must also provide sufficient evidence to the person examining the historical record that the record is indeed historical. What kind of evidence? Such things as the number and nature of the witnesses and whether the historic record was open to criticism at the time.
As an example, let's consider Acts chapter 2. As one reads, one will find that it is recorded that there was an international assembly of Jews in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of Pentacost. This is difficult to lie about, for everyone would know whether there was or not. No matter where one went, there would be people who would have either been there or not. Furthermore, the Jewish leaders were hostile to Jesus' followers, having killed their leader. So if there was any way to discredit their message, they would have done it. So we can pretty much conclude that this assembly was an historic event.
Now it says that Peter stands up among this great assembly and gives a speech. And we can pretty much conclude that he did because for the same reason everyone would have known whether he did or not. And again we can conclude that what the Bible says he said was what he said. And what the Bible says how the crowd reacted was also what happened, because everyone would have known whether it happened or not, and therefore it would not have past the test of history if these events never happened, especially since these accounts were open to hostile criticism. Or as Paul said to King Agrippa, "These things were not done in a corner." Acts 26:26
So what did Peter say? In Acts 2:22 Peter declares that Jesus did miracles and that the assembly there were witnesses of those miracles. Furthermore he states that Jesus was raised from the dead and that they were witnesses of that. Now how did the crowd react? That day about three thousand Jews became Christians. As proven to extent given above, these are historic facts. Therefore Jesus did indeed do miracles, unless we are to concluded that three thousand Jews are stupid enough to believe something they know for a fact is false.
Now so far, "faith" seems to be less "trusting in a person" and more a matter of perception. Now perception does require a certain amount of presumption. But this presumption is based on the common occurences in one's life. Whereas Christian faith is a willful decision to believe promises that one has not yet seen fulfilled, based on one's knowledge of the character and ability of the one who made the promises. Faith in God's existence and faith in the historic record of God's word are a matter of perceiving the truth through a careful examination of the facts. However, Faith in what God has spoken is a little different than faith that God has spoken. Once we have concluded that God is and that God has spoken, we then must deal with what God has said. If I see a footprint in the sand, I have faith that someone has been there. If I then meet that person and he promises me something, I then have an opportunity to believe (or "trust") that person to live up to his promise.
What faith is acceptable to God? Consider Abraham's faith as described in Romans 4:20,21 "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform." If a person is fully convinced (not wishfully hoping) that God (rather than oneself) is able to perform what He promised, then this faith is acceptable to God. Simply stated, being fully convinced that God will give you eternal life because He promised to, and accepting this as a fact just as you accept historical facts and just as you accept the physical laws, this is the faith that is acceptable to God.
Now there are a number of ways one can reject the promise of God. One can reject it because for one reason or another it doesn't make sense thinking, "I must not understand the promise correctly, because it seems too easy." Or one can add onto the contract rejecting the original thinking, "I will receive God's promise by believing and also by living a good enough life." In this case, rather than believing in God's contract, one believes in his own contract. Or we could just ignore the promise altogether. All these demonstrate a lack of faith.
This is not to say that one should be presumptous and accept the promise of God without being certain that God has spoken or without being certain what God has promised. For "faith" is not "presumption". It is based on knowledge and understanding. Doubts are certainly legitimate and necessary aspects which should lead one to obtain further knowledge and understanding until one is fully convinced. If however doubts cause one to turn away and not make further inquiries, I would question the sincerity and integrity of one's search for truth.
What if, having believed, a person a some point "falls away" into unbelief? Of course if he falls away it is questionable whether he was ever really certain of the thing he believed. If, for example, I say that I am fully convinced that God exists, but later become an atheist, it's clear that I must not have been fully convinced to begin with. But besides this, the Bible declares that true believers do not fall away, although many who are called believers do fall away. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going out showed that none of them belonged to us." I John 2:19 And also "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved away from the hope of the gospel." Col 1:22,23. Notice here there is a past result based on a present and future condition. This cannot mean that one loses his salvation if he does not continue in the faith. But rather it means that if one does not continue in the faith, then one had never been reconciled to God. For those unfamiliar with the gospel, "reconciliation" is a past event, not a future event. One believes the gospel and is then "saved" from that point on, as can be seen from this verse. And it is as if a person has already passed from death to life.
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure."1John 3:2,3Separation from sin is so characteristic of the behavior of those born of God, that John says of them "no one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." 1John 3:6. Such a transformation is due to the Holy Spirit who dwells in the believer. "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." 1John 3:9
Colossians 1:5 mentions that love can spring up from one's hope. Why is this? The anticipation (hope) of going to heaven frees one up to care for the welfare of others, recognizing that our essential needs are taken care of. This anticipation also causes our faith to grow, not in magnitude, but in application. As we look forward to going to heaven, we put our faith less in the things of this world. When something goes wrong, we can think that it will be alright in the end. Love for other Christians also springs up naturally from faith by recognizing that the believers have a common relationship and a common destiny not shared by unbelievers.
One could potentially measure a person's salvation status by such outworkings of faith. Of which I have another web page called How Can You Be Sure of Your Salvation Status?
There are a number of ways to describe becoming a Christian. As a Christian, one is justified, forgiven, adopted as a child of God, saved from the wrath of God, redeemed. However it may be described, these all happen at a point in time when one believes the promise of God. Although the results will not be fully experienced until the resurrection. Becoming justified has always been by faith, not by works or a person's performance. However, there has always been those who don't comprehend the grace of God and so would add onto His requirements. During the Apostle Paul's ministry, he had a great deal of conflict with those who said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." Acts 15:1,5 And some of these people belonged to the church at Jerusalem.
Now churches have often been rather lax in correcting such false teaching. The church at Jerusalem run by Peter, James and John was no exception. Paul even had to rebuke Peter at his hypocrisy in this matter saying, "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will by justfied." Galatians 2:15,16 And Peter agreed with this as he discussed in Acts 15:7-11. However historically the Catholic Church paid little attention to the teaching of justification by faith and turned God's grace into a ritualistic justification by works.
Why throughout history have those who claim to be familiar with God's word turned away from God's grace? This is nothing new, for even in Jesus times the religious leaders appear to be his greatest enemies. And in Pauls ministry, his greatest persecution came from the group of the Circumcision that promoted justification by faith plus following the law of Moses. In times after Paul I find no excuse for the institutional church's ignorance of the concept of salvation by faith alone and its own self imposed requirements on the individual. For much of the New Testament writings are devoted to clarifying the salvation is by faith alone. And these churches claim to follow the writings. What hypocrisy!
Consider what Paul writes in Romans chapter 4:
Let us consider this illustration. I once heard of a man who set up a tight rope across the Niagra Falls. After having crossed, he asked the crowd if they believed that he could go across with a wheelbarrow. "Yes", they cried out. And so he did. He then asked if they believed that he could go across with with a man in the wheelbarrow. "We believe", they cried. But upon asking for volunteers, there was but one man who was willing to go! So you see that, for most of the people, their faith was not real because it was not accompanied by action. James would say that their faith was dead. Notice also that the "action" they were to take to demonstrate their faith was to get into the wheelbarrow. What action demonstrates our faith?
Does doing good works demonstrate our faith that we are sinners, but that God has given us eternal life as a free gift? I guess it depends on our motivation for doing good works. If we do good works in order to be saved, then we demonstrate by our actions that we do not believe the gospel! If we do good works because we are saved people, then we are not acting inconsistently with what we believe. On the other hand, our faith also says that noone is good but God, and that all our works are but filthy rags. So "good" works are somewhat relative. Let us now consider an example that James gives of a deed that accompanies a person's faith:
Faith involves reasoning that leads to application of faith. And it is this application of faith that James is talking about. Now notice the apparent contradiction between James 2:24 "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." and Romans 4:5 "To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." With such apparent contradictions, we can either ignore, or we can turn away into unbelief, or we can react like Abraham and reason out a solution.
A simple solution is to consider when Abraham was reckoned righteous. Was it before the command to sacrifice his son or after? Both James and Paul quote the same verse concerning this. Genesis 15:6 "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to his as righteousness." This happened long before the sacrifice and even before the birth of Isaac. Abraham was reckoned righteous by faith alone without any actions, just as Paul had said. Then what is James talking about? Very simply that our actions are a demonstration of our faith. By our faith we are justfied in the sight of God and by our actions we are justified in the sight of men. What James was upset about was people who said they believed, but their actions contradicted their supposed faith and therefore could not be considered believers in the sight of men.
Notice also, as in the case of Abraham, that it is not the action itself, but the attitude while taking the action that is important. Abraham's action would be meaningless with respect to his faith if in his attitude he hated his son and wanted to kill him anyhow! In the same way, two people may be doing the same thing, but because of a diffence in attitude (which is based on what they believe), their actions will be judged differently.
"Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8
"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:13,14
"You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." John 15:16
"This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him." I John 5:14,15
"If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from his anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him." I John 3:21,22
These requirements can be summarized by saying that God will promise to give us what we ask if we are knowing and doing what pleases God and are asking for something that will help in that process.
Now let's take something you may pray for. What are examples of things to pray for? The examples are only limited by you imagination. After all God is able to do more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Suppose, for example, you're suffering physically and so you pray that God would take away the suffering. Are you actively involved in knowing and doing God's will? Let's say that you are. Will your relief from suffering help you to please God more, or are you asking out of selfish desires? This is often difficult to say. Especially when one prays for oneself. And it would make sense for God to wait until this question has been resolved in the person's mind until He will answer. Remember I John 3:21 about our hearts not condemning us.
We may think that our suffering is a distraction or even a major hinderance to doing God's work. And it well may be, but when we think a little deeper about it, our suffering may just redirect our efforts into what may result in more fruitful labor. For example, remember Paul's unanswered request when he says,