The powerhouse of “faith” gives Christianity a potency and presence that is simply not available in any other religious context. Non-Christian religions rely on the strength of human will or the spiritual capacities of demons. Christians can put their faith directly in the Creator of all things; the most powerful entity in all of eternity.
However, faith is not a toy or some mystical power tool which ignorant people can use, independently of God’s existence or God’s will. Faith, as we have seen in the previous “Faith Factor” posts, is anchored in God and is directly connected with God’s pleasure. I am discuss with you, in yet a later post, the wonderful “Double Delight” which faith brings to bear. But for now, I want to seal with you the primacy of faith.
The Primacy of Faith
The human experience of Christianity is based on faith, and faith alone. Faith is the trump card. Faith is the supreme dimension. Faith is the only platform on which our new life rests.
While that fact is clearly supported in the Bible, people persist in expectation that other things are significant contributing factors.
Of particular natural interest to people is the notion of duty and dedication. Religious duties and acts of devotion seem naturally to be important expressions of spiritual life. And so Christians can easily be distracted by those things, in place of walking in faith.
People tend to think that duty, sacrifice or other religious processes are necessary to please God. They readily expect that people of supreme dedication and sacrifice have attained an elevated place in God’s reference books.
However, what is it that Hebrews 11:6 says about faith? This is my favourite defining text for understanding faith. And Hebrews 11:6 clearly states that ONLY faith pleases God. All other actions will fail to please God unless faith is involved in them.
“But without faith it is impossible to please him (God): for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Only faith pleases God. Sacrifice, duty, dedication and the like will not displace, replace or supersede faith.
Duty and Diligence
Ignatius Loyola, writing back in 1553, extolled the virtues of blind obedience. In his letter he pointed to Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac as a model for subordinates to blindly follow the instructions of his superior. He parallels Abraham’s obedience with that of an Abbot John who dutifully obeyed when instructed to water a dry stick.
“presuppose and believe that what the Superior enjoins is the command of God our Lord, and His holy Will; and to proceed blindly without enquiry of any kind, to the carrying out of the command, with the prompt impulse of the will desirous of obeying. So it is to be thought Abraham did when commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac; and likewise in the New Testament, some of those holy Fathers, to whom Cassian refers, as the Abbot John, who did not question whether he was commanded was profitable or not, as when with such great labor he watered a dry stick throughout a year”
Loyola’s elevation of duty and diligence falls flat against Hebrews 11:6. Only faith will please God, not blind obedience and dogged duty.
As Martin Luther struggled to find peace with God and to reconcile the Bible with what he saw in the Catholic church of his day, he engaged in many acts of devotion and piety. One which the Pope commended was to kiss the 28 marble steps of the Scala Sanctum in Rome. These Holy Stairs are claimed to be the same ones which Jesus ascended when He was sentenced by Pilate. It is claimed that angels magically transported the steps to Rome.
Catholics were encouraged to kiss each of the steps. But as Luther did so he heard the words, “the just shall live by faith”, and that stopped him in his tracks.
“One day, among others, wishing to gain an indulgence which he Pope had promised to every one who should on his knees climb up what is called Pilate’s Stair, the Saxon monk was humbly crawling up the steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported to Rome from Jerusalem. But while he was engaged in this meritorious act, he thought he heard a voice of thunder which cried at the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, ‘The just shall live by faith.‘ These words, which had already on two different occasions struck him like the voice of an angel of God, resounded loudly and incessantly within him. He rises up in amazement from the steps along which he was dragging his body. Horrified at himself, and ashamed to see how far superstition had abased him, he flies far from the scene of his folly.”
Duty or Faith
At the moment Luther stood to his feet and walked away from the steps he had been kissing, other devotees would have looked at him and been glad that they were not giving up. To those bound to duty Luther was about to miss his blessing.
Luther would have been seen as the loser and the dutiful as the ones pleasing God. Yet it was the other way around. It is Faith that pleases God, not duty. The just will live by Faith, not diligent duty.
Yet many Christians readily fall into religious duty and routine, forgetting that it is faith and only faith that God is looking for.
Luther pleased God when he stopped kissing the steps and walked away. Those who remained diligent at the task of physical devotion were not pleasing God. The one who walked away and determined to worship God according to the Bible was the one who pleased God. Devotees may embrace any manner of discipline with whole-hearted devotion, but they cannot please God by their religious service.
I have been to the Batu Caves, north of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where Hindu devotees inflict pain upon themselves to prove their devotion to their gods. The tortuous ways in which these devotees show their devotion have become legendary.
Moslems engaged in their pilgrimage or attending to their fast may think that their religious obedience makes an impression on God.
Yet religious sacrifice and devotion is all in vain. The true and living God is not impressed with acts of physical endurance or personal sacrifice. God is looking for faith, and only faith will please Him.
A tiny child who has faith brings far more delight to God than any acts of devotion. A man who is an invalid and incapable of performing religious acts, can please God more than any other, by his faith, not by his physical achievements.
God Enjoys the Impossible
In Otto Koening‘s message, “God Enjoys the Impossible”, he tells of a young boy who trusts God do restore boiled eggs which have broken open during cooking. The boy’s father, a non-Christian, personally told Otto of the miracle that happened when the boy trusted God to restore the eggs.
That boy, poor and powerless, pleased God. The boy trusted God. The boy walked in faith.
That’s what it’s all about. Faith is the thing. And only faith will please God.