"For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5.4,5 NRSV). The life that God gives to His children is born in a heart that has turned to Him in faith. Believing in the Son of God is not a dull intellectual acknowledgement but an active faith. God's life in us develops contrary to the spirit of the world and in opposition to the natural feelings of our human nature. It is life that will continue when this world has ended.
Is 'faith' relevant in this modern scientific world? Is it not a relic of past days when people were slaves of superstition and blind credulity? Let us first ask 'what is faith?' One Bible writer provides us with a definition, "Faith gives substance to our hopes and makes certain of realities we do not see." (Hebrews 11.1 NEB). Another translation of the same verse reads "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (NRSV). Blind credulity hopes for something that may be impossible to obtain. Christian faith is based on reasonable evidence and is a conviction inspired by personal experience. Faith is part of a living relationship and so is bound up with trusting someone.
From birth a baby instinctively trusts those who feed it. From the moment of its first cry it depends for its needs and protection on its parents. As the child grows, so does its confidence. As the years pass children learn to trust teachers and text-books. If home and school let them down sadly the trust is broken. This faith in others is important to maintain social structures of daily life. We learn to trust those who produce and sell food and many others things. We trust those who operate public transport and those who build and maintain the places where we live and work. In times of crisis we become helplessly dependent on those people responsible for medical and health care.
Scientists, like everyone else, need faith. Students at college, depend for a great deal on lecturers. They learn to trust the accuracy of instruments and apparatus. They depend on the work of colleagues and their own growing skills. Sometimes confidence wavers and relationships are strained.
Faith in God is the first principle of following Jesus Christ. It is impossible to follow Him or please God without it. Is it a surprise that many scientists have such faith? There is a sense in which this faith is given by God and empowered by Him (Hebrews 11.6; Romans 10.17; Ephesians 2.8,9; 1 Peter 1.5). We need to understand the difference between knowing something that our senses tell us to be factually correct and having faith about something that our senses cannot absolutely prove to be a fact. As we build evidence to support spiritual understanding so confidence grows into deep conviction and this is especially so where the hand of God can definitely be traced in our own life. He does not let us down even amid our doubts and fears. If our faith is personal experience of our God it will not be permanently damaged by clever rationalist argument. It is very important that those who have the pastoral care of young Christians make certain that the lambs know the Chief Shepherd. Structures of doctrine can never replace a personal knowledge of the Saviour. One loose card in the 'castle of interpretation' can bring down the whole 'building'.
It was the quality of Abraham's faith that prompted obedience to leave his homeland and his family twice in his life. His departure from Ur and then from Haran are worthy of meditation. It's difficult to understand really how he could give up the son whom God had given him to fulfil His own promise. As obedience to God increases so we are more ready to relinquish the things nearest our hearts, and that in turn strengthens faith. Slowly we learn that the 'unseen' is much greater and stronger than the 'seen'. "This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot been seen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4.17,18 NRSV). What the saints have endured from Abraham till now must have felt much worse than "momentary affliction" but its rewards were eternal (Hebrews 12.11).
It was the quality of Abraham's faith that inspired him to leave the security of his native city, with its noble buildings and prosperous merchants. He became a man of 'the tent and the altar' among the hills and valleys of Canaan. As he cut the ties of his former life, one by one, he became strong in his ties with God. It must have been strange to him that he left behind child sacrifice in Ur and was then asked to sacrifice on the mountains of Moriah. He must have lived very close to God and been very sure of His commands. He was still human and must have felt the load of sorrow on His heart. Yet he believed "that God could raise his son up, even if he were dead. And he did, in a manner of speaking, receive him back from death" (Hebrews 11.19 Phillips).
So Paul uses Abraham's life to illustrate the teaching of justification by faith. God forgave Abraham's sin because he trusted in Him. It is a doctrine so profound that the teachers of the great religions and have never been able to understand it. They do not have the relationship to God that old father Abraham enjoyed. Simply walking with Jesus and trusting Him gives us acceptance with His Father. Nothing else can do that.
Blindly, Jewish leaders clung to their tradition and belief that they could earn salvation by their own good actions. It caused them to reject their Messiah. The medieval Church had the same problem. Few in that period knew their God. Faith deteriorated into rites and ceremonies. The more we trust God the greater the effect on our lives. Meditation upon 'goodness' may appear helpful but sin can only be overcome and conquered when we focus our thoughts upon God through Christ Jesus.
Paul not only was the most able exponent of Christian doctrine and especially of justification by faith but his whole life was a commentary on the failure of self effort and the need to trust God for salvation. Before being confronted on the Damascus road by the Lord Jesus, Paul had tried to gain salvation by obedience to the Law. For the same reason the rich young synagogue ruler in Perea was a failure (Luke 18.18-29). Human endeavour cannot overcome sin and reach up to eternal life. Saul of Tarsus had been so proud of his ancestry and background. His pedigree and curriculum vitae were second to none. He had been born into a religious family and educated by the greatest teachers of his day. He had lived a careful life according to the highest moral teaching known to man. But Saul was wretched and longed for deliverance from those things that his conscience told him were wrong. Within his heart he knew he could not 'lift himself by his own boot straps' and had to come to terms with the fact that to reach the presence of the Eternal God meant total surrender and contrition before the Lord as David had expressed it in Psalm 51. But we must go further, so much further, and discover the fellowship of the Lord Jesus if we would see God face to face and Paul records the steps we must take in his self revelation in Philippians 3.
The social gospel and the ideals of humanism have had a similar appeal to human pride as the Jewish Law did two millennia ago. It has been hoped that moral and social reform would bring lasting peace and prosperity. During the last hundred years or so there have been changes to alleviate suffering and distribute wealth more fairly. The discoveries and inventions of science or the theories of philosophers cannot change the hearts of mankind. Only the Creator can do that. "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" were Paul's words to the gaoler at Philippi (Acts 16.31) and they are still true. Simple faith in Jesus is the solution to all our problems and the victory in all our conflicts. It must be the goal of all our yearnings (Romans 10.8-10)
Jesus said "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath." (John 3.36 NRSV) It is clear from reading the whole of this verse that 'believing' is very much more than giving mental assent. This is what the young ruler found. 'Believing' in the New Testament sense involves bringing the whole of life under obedience to Christ. As Jesus came to the end of that Last Supper He told His disciples to be of good cheer for He had overcome the world. He hardly looked like the victor a few hours later as He hung on the cross. But His complete obedience to His Father's instructions and the total dominance of love in His life until He died, not only conquered the world but gained the victory over Satan. From then on those who trusted in Christ shared His victories. For the most part the world does not recognise that conquest yet and remains in ignorance and darkness. It has yet to discover that the expressions of faith in Christ, demonstrated by loving actions of His people will outlast the kingdoms of this world and bring an end to the world dominated by the Devil. But ours is not the kind of victory that smashes and destroys but rather the day to day victory over sin in the human heart.
What kind of a world is it that we have to overcome? Essentially, it is a world that demands its own way and the more affluent people become the more demanding they become. Every newspaper declares it across its front pages, every news bulletin announces through every day. Disputes are not settled by what is logically good for a whole community (parochial or international) but to win personal and national prestige. It is a world that has no place for the man or woman who surrenders his or her preferences and wishes for the sake of others. When we have difficult choices to make the solution to the problem lies in those words of Romans 14, "whatever is not of faith is sin". Our lives do not depend on the outcome of industrial disputes or on the vagaries of lotteries. But these words come at the end of a chapter about judging others. We cannot decide what our brother or sister must be doing for that is between themselves and the Lord. Nor must our harsh criticism be a means of stumbling others. Let them see that complete dependence upon God and complete obedience to His requirements is the only truly life of bliss.
Cities get a bad press in the Bible from Babel onwards. Towns are places where people live for security in each other. We live in a world that struggles against insecurity of peace, of health, of old age, of impending disaster. Jesus' words in Matthew 6.24-34 should give us comfort. The great missions of this world whether to the needy in this land or in places across the sea, were begun in faith, depending on God to supply the resources.
Nothing is too hard for the Lord. That was the promise to Abraham and Sarah. Others, notably Jeremiah, echoed it. That promise remains firm to us who believe. Oh that we had faith as big as a mustard seed. Faith played such a part in Jesus' dealings with people. The faith of two gentiles, a centurion and a desperate Phoenician mother brought forth exclamations of joy from the Master but close disciples greatly disappointed Him; "O you of little faith" He said. They verbally promised so much but failed when it came to putting their faith into action; as Peter found during Jesus trial before Caiaphas.
First we must be aware of the challenge of Scripture and other indications given of what God requires of us. There is no room for excuses and explaining away the plain statements of Scripture. We may feel nervous and anxious but this is part of our human nature still with us. Ours is a life of faith; sometimes a fight of faith. It's a daily battle against wrong and it is won by faith in Christ's finished work. If we will let Him, He can make us bold and strong, able to subdue the power of evil, first in our own lives and then in the lives of those around us. 'Lord, increase our faith'