Faith to Endure

The General Concept

The mention of the word ‘faith’ among many Christians, and in particular Pentecostals, seems to specifically suggest healing, miracles, health, wealth, and happiness.  It is widely believed that faith is the key which unlocks the door to spiritual and material prosperity and no one could ever be successful without it.

Although these concepts may have a certain degree of truth, they are incomplete in their representation of Biblical faith because they exclude the negative aspects of the Christian life.  My use of the word ‘negative’ is reflective of the sacrifice and suffering associated with true discipleship.

Scripture as a Foundation

The purpose of this brief article is to offer a balance to the general concept of faith by presenting, from scripture, a few of these negative aspects  as depicted in the life of the Christian.  Because the following article may not harmonize with the thought pattern of present-day ‘faith movements’, I will refrain from using these organizations as examples and, instead, resort to recorded scripture and my personal convictions.  I am confident that truth will set us free from every misguided concept of God.  As such, the best examples of faith are those recorded in the Bible, with Hebrews the 11th chapter  as our main focus.

As we carefully and prayerfully read Hebrews 11, a passage of scripture nicknamed by many as  the ‘Hebrew Hall of Faith’, we will discover an amazing line of individuals whose faith remained unshaken in the midst of life’s worst situations.  Instead of moving their mountains by faith, they proved that climbing them offered greater spiritual benefits.  One grows stronger when one’s faith is tried.

Contrary to the so-called faith ministries of the 21st Century, whose exaggerated emphasis on healings and miracles seems to promote a gospel of material prosperity, the Bible’s illustrations of faith portray an altogether different point of view.  From Abel all the way down to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, there is a common trend depicted.  None of the apostles or prophets associated their faith with material success. Their lives were a manifestation of extreme self-denial and sacrifice.  They had forsaken all to follow the Lord.

The Apostle Paul described his concept of a successful minister in his letter to the Corinthians.  He wrote “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own country men, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.  Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.  (2 Cor 11:23-28).

It is a scriptural fact that success in the eyes of God is quite different from success in the eyes of man.  What is viewed as failure to a depraved mind, may be considered absolute success in the eyes of God, while that which appears prosperous and successful may be treated and accepted as a loss.

The book of Revelation describes the church at Laodicea and the church at Smyrna as good examples.  Laodicea, the sort of dream church for most pastors, was physically healthy, wealthy, and numerically prosperous, yet God saw it as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.  On the contrary, the church at Smyrna, though small, poor, persecuted, and beaten back, was commended by God and exhorted to be faithful until death.  (Rev. 2:8-11, 3:14-18).  In God’s eyes Smyrna was spiritually rich.

For years, Bible students have misappropriated many Old Testament principles that governed the literal nation of Israel by applying them to the Church.  But, Israel was dealt with in a physical manner.  Their circumcision was natural, their wars were physical, and their blessings literal.  Material accomplishments in the Old Testament were, in the majority of instances, an indication of God’s blessing.

However, the same cannot be said of the New Testament Church, as is reflected in its history.  Jesus, as well as the apostles, warned against the “deceitfulness of riches”. (Mt. 13:22, 19:23, 1 Tim. 6:5-10; 17-19).

While physical accomplishment was a major emphasis in the Old Testament; self-denial and self-sacrifice are the basic demands for New Testament discipleship.  Reading Matthew 5:3-12 in light of what we are discussing will leave us with a mind-boggling description of what was involved in being “blessed” in New Testament times.  Jesus said, it was a blessing to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers.  He further stated “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad”.

It is apparent from scriptural references that faith grows and becomes stronger in the face of trials but dwindles and sometimes dies in the midst of material affluence.  The Apostle Paul cautioned Timothy against the danger of a corrupted mind that would suggest that the accumulation of wealth is an indication of spiritual blessings.  He referred to“…perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness…”.  (1 Tim. 6:5).

The examples in scripture are not given for mere reading pleasure but as a standard to measure our lives against.  I have faith in God and in the precepts of His written word.

Definition of Faith

I must confess that I am not a renowned student of the Greek or Hebrew languages. As such, I must rely heavily on the Holy Spirit in my interpretation of God’s word.  However, hindsight reveals that without the Holy Ghost, even the greatest scholars or doctors of the law who listened to original words as they fell directly from the Lord’s mouth, remained blind to scriptural interpretation.  They were educated in scripture but not illuminated.  With this in mind, I will endeavour to offer a definition of faith that I am comfortable with.

Faith is a strong belief in anything, whether it is a person, a principle, or a thing.  This belief is not only in theory but becomes strong enough to guide one’s life.  Faith is complete when theory is implemented.

The Apostle Paul shows that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17).  It is not merely listening to the scriptures being read, but rather, listening with a comprehension of the proper interpretation.  This should then be followed by an implementation or practice of the same.  James wrote, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (Js. 1:22).  The Apostle Paul also supported this concept of two-fold faith by stating, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law are justified.”  (Rom 2:13).

A misinterpretation of the word will result in the overthrow of one’s faith. This means genuine Biblical faith will never be established on heresy or falsehood.  Paul exhorted Timothy saying, “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus: who concerning the truth have erred…and overthrow the faith of some.”  (2 Tim. 2:16-18)    On the other hand,  the lack of implementation is described as being ‘dead faith’. James said, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?…Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”  (Js. 2:14 & 17).

Faith is therefore two-fold, consisting of a theory or principle and the practice or implementation of such in one’s life.  This enhances dedication and persistence in the face of the worst of crises and develops vision, confidence, and stability.

Only when equipped with these is one able to endure to the end, for without faith it is impossible to please or live for God.  (Heb. 11:6).

Understanding Faith

To have faith in God means to trust in Him and have confidence in His words and actions, whether they please us or not.  We must trust His judgment in every matter and accept, without reservation, that He never makes a mistake but does all things right.  In the book of Job, Elihu declared, “For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways.  Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.  (Job 34:11-12).

Biblical faith describes a confidence in God to the extent that we will not doubt Him or His promises, yet at the same time, accept the fact that He has the right to sometimes say “no” to our requests.  His desire must become the will of God for our lives, while our contrary desires must be rejected.

Faith is not a supernatural leverage that we have on God that causes Him to jump at our demands.  In other words, I may have faith to move a mountain, but it will not be moved if God prefers me to climb it.

Israel saw a mountain moved when God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea, but the forty year journey through the wilderness was their mountain to climb.  Paul saw many miracles under his ministry yet his ‘thorn in the flesh’ remained to assist in maintaining his humility. (2 Cor. 12:7-9).   As previously stated, more is accomplished by climbing the mountains God allows in our lives.  With God’s help, we must fight our battles, climb our mountains, cross our valleys and go through our wilderness.

True faith in God places a confidence in our hearts that motivates us to live as He demands in His word.  Faith is manifested by out lifestyle especially in the face of negative circumstances.

Enduring Faith

Believing in a concept that faith is solely for the purpose of receiving “good” at the hands of God is extremely misleading and can result in much discouragement when one is confronted with trials.  There is more evidence in scripture to show that faith is the necessary element required in assisting the children of God through their trials and tribulations.

Concerning the value of having our faith tried, the Apostle Peter wrote that we should not think it “strange” when confronted by “fiery trials”. He further stated “the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold…might be found unto praise an honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:7, 4:12-15).

As I see it, the faith required for a healing is no comparison to the faith required to withstand trials.  To be strapped to a martyr’s stake, then set on fire for the gospel would be a true test of faith.

For faith to grow to the point of one being willing to die for Christ, God must first initiate a process of spiritual development in our lives.  Paul described the commencement of this process in Hebrews 11:6, stating that, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek  him.”  Our eternal reward should be the goal that motivates us in our daily sacrifice.  With Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith”, we have a perfect example to enhance the development of faith in our lives.  (Heb. 12:1-3).  We are exhorted to “lay aside every weight” and our besetting sins so that we can patiently run the race that is set before us.

We are to learn from the example of Jesus, whose desire to achieve His goal motivated Him to “endure the cross” and despise its shame.  Our understanding of the suffering of Jesus will strengthen our confidence and keep us from fainting.  It is our faith that allows us to endure the trials, even to the end.

James understood the necessity of trials in the development of our faith and suggested that the saints “…count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations [trials]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”  (Jas. 1:2-3).

Godly characteristics cannot be developed by a smooth, unruffled, and pampered Christian life.  Scripture sets the precedent, showing that this development involves a life of denial, sacrifice, and suffering.  The examples of scripture should always hold priority over the examples of 21st Century ministries.

Classic Examples

For many centuries, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews has been accepted as the Bible’s model chapter on faith.  It has been nicknamed the ‘Hebrew Hall of Faith’ because it so beautifully documents the living faith of many renowned Old Testament characters.

However, the accounts recorded in this remarkable chapter are somewhat contrary to what many in today’s religious community would consider a manifestation of faith.  Their assessment is entirely based on the number of miracles performed, numerical growth, and material achievement.

Unlike the thought pattern of those whose concept of faith seems to suggest a total elimination of suffering, the author of Hebrews skillfully blended trials and success as the necessary ingredients in the establishment of faith.  He also praised the majority of characters for their endurance despite a wide variety of distasteful experiences, when he said, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off…and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  (v.13).

Let us consider Abel as a good example.  He offered the right sacrifice to God, yet he was slain for his faith.  What of Noah’s commitment to save humanity that resulted only in the salvation of eight souls?  We can consider Abraham, whose obedience to God allowed him to accept famine in the land of Canaan.  Yet, that was the will of God for him.

The amazing reality of this chapter on faith is that it expresses faith in an altogether different light.  Faith is reflected in godly stability and  unwavering determination to endure the meanest of afflictions.  Consider the faithful who were stoned, “sawn asunder, slain with the sword, wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and tormented.”  These did not suffer because they were faithless.  Rather, it was their faith that strengthened their endurance.

There is much more that could be said concerning faith, but in conclusion let us consider the classic example of Moses.  While many would see materialistic opportunities as God’s open door, “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God…esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…”

What faith!  May God grant us the faith of Moses!

May the grace of God illuminate our  minds to comprehend the concept of enduring faith!

May God give us faith to endure to the end!