In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The verse goes on: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” The chapter then continues with the examples of faith of many an ancient believer from the past, such as Abraham and Moses. But I don’t always feel certain and I don’t always feel like I match up to the examples of faith described in the Bible. And when I feel lacking instead, what does that say about my salvation? After all, in Romans 1:17 we read, “The righteous will live by faith.”
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t describe saving faith as a feeling. Nor does Scripture describe faith as a pious wish that everything will turn out OK, just because we hope that it will. True, we are accustomed to hearing faith described that way in our popular culture, as when survivors of a disaster are told by politicians or reporters to “have faith, all will be well”. Yet the looks on the beleaguered faces betray the victims’ question: “faith in what?” No, the Bible talks about faith in much more solid terms than feelings or wishes!
A theological truth is that faith and its object can’t be separated. In other words, faith must be in something. That’s true in many areas of life. When you cross a river on a bridge, you don’t just hope that you won’t crash into the water and get wet - or worse. You understand that the bridge is built to be solid, you agree that it will hold firm and you drive across with trust. When the Lord talks to us about faith – which is his gift to us – he speaks in those same terms. He teaches us about himself in his Word and he leads us by the power of the Spirit to understand and know and trust what he has taught.
First and foremost, the object of our faith is Jesus. We know and believe in Jesus and what he has done for us. And along with that trust, comes trust in all other promises that he has made in his Word. It’s not our faith that is strong. It is the object of our faith that is strong, and he is the One who saves! Maybe “strong” or “weak” aren’t the best descriptors of faith. We are always weak. But God is always strong! On our own, we are nothing, and wouldn’t have faith at all. But by God’s grace we believe, we have faith. It’s not a question of “how much”, therefore, but “in whom” we believe.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He tells us that. It is true. And he wants us to trust. And even for that trust we can’t and don’t rely on our own strength, sinners that we are. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) Our Lord – the Strong One – is the One who saves, and he gives us the faith to believe what he has done!
One more passage to consider: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) We know how God gives and preserves faith. He does it through his Word, and the Word connected with water and with bread and wine in the Sacraments. The Holy Spirit works faith in us through the Word. We are saved by that faith because it connects us to Jesus who died and rose again to save us. It’s not a question of our faith being strong or weak. Our faith is saving faith because our faith is in our Savior, and he is strong.
Now, it’s also true that all the people listed as examples of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 or anywhere in the Bible had the same problem that we do. Sometimes their trust in a particular promise of God at a given occasion wasn’t what it should have been. Remember when the disciples were so afraid on the stormy sea, thinking they might drown. But Jesus, the Savior in whom they believed, had already told them that he was going to use them as “fishers of men”. Their faith in him as their Savior naturally would also have led them to believe all of his other promises for this life. But, weak as they were as imperfect sinners, there was a disconnect. Jesus had to chastise them for that, as he often had to say with his famous words, “O ye of little faith”.
We sometimes have that same disconnect, don’t we? God tells us in Romans 8 that all things will work out for the good of those who love him, yet in weakness we doubt. That doesn’t mean that we’re not believers in Jesus. We are. The scared disciples on the sea were, too. They and we have saving faith, by God’s grace! It does mean, however, that we need encouragement to continually hear the Word and know and trust that everything God says is true. In that sense, I suppose, we could use the terms “weak” and “strong”, since unfortunately our confidence level in all of God’s promises ebbs and flows. But, we also know the solution to the times of low ebb! “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”
Fellow believers – fellow saints of God, saved by the One who lived and died for us – may this new year be a renewed time of hearing the message of the Gospel. And through the Gospel message, we rest assured that God himself will preserve our saving faith!
New Year’s Blessings in Christ,