Who Do You Believe?
There is a lot of talk today about faith and faiths. We live, of course, in a so–called multi–faith society where Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the like are granted equal status with Christianity as ‘faiths’. However, even if we exclude those religions which do not give the Lord his rightful place, we are still surrounded by many who claim to have ‘come to faith’ and yet who do not seem to fit into a strictly Biblical mould of what a Christian should be. Indeed, in our broad–minded day, all kinds of persons, whatever their doctrines or morals, seem to be classed as ‘believers’. It is enough to ‘have faith’, without enquiring as to actually what or who it is that people are believing. ‘Faith’ is the thing––what that faith rests on is viewed as of secondary importance, if of any importance at all. For some, any interest in faith and faiths might seem a positive development, but in reality it masks a deep and widening departure from Biblical truth, with solemn and eternal consequences.
In Hebrews 10: 39, the writer tells his readers that “we are not drawers back to perdition, but of faith to saving [the] soul”, and then goes on to define faith as the “substantiating of things hoped for, [the] conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1). Now it is no good just glibly trotting this off the tongue. We need to know what the words mean––firstly, to establish if we ourselves have a worthwhile faith––that is, one that saves our souls––and, secondly, to come to a proper judgement as to the many around us who claim to have ‘faith’.
So what of the first part of the definition: “Faith is [the] substantiating of things hoped for”? There are millions of religious persons with “things hoped for”––salvation, heaven, bodily healing, and the like––with ‘faith’ that what they hope for they will receive. Have all of these a worthwhile faith––a faith “to saving [the] soul”? The Roman Catholic trusting in his baptism and church membership for salvation, the mystic and his ‘experience’ with God, the politician who preaches ‘Christian’ values to gain election, the celebrity able to recall the time he ‘came forward’ at an evangelical crusade, the homosexual who ‘found faith’ at a study group where sin was not mentioned––are these people really the Lord’s? Certainly, only “[The] Lord knows those that are his” (2 Tim. 2: 19), but a care for souls would surely raise a question. The Greek word for “substantiating” in the verse in Heb. 11: 1 is upostasis, which has the primitive meaning of foundation. Thus the question for all of us is not merely do we have hope (which, after all, may be a misplaced hope), but what is the foundation or ground for our hope? Everything depends on this. Mere faith by itself will not do. What is the basis for that faith? On what is it resting? That is why the common question, ‘Do you believe?’ is so senseless. If we answer it by asking ‘Believe what?’ or ‘Believe whom?’ its emptiness is exposed. The real question is ‘What’ or, rather ‘Who do you believe?’ To be vague on these matters is perilous.
As to our hope for eternity and heaven, it all rests on the faithfulness of God’s promise. If there is no God, or if His promise is not true, then we have no foundation whatsoever for our hope. Everything depends on the fact that God has spoken, and that what He has said is true. Faith is believing what God has said. Some of those around us who claim to have ‘faith’ are merely resting on the thoughts of men––their own or of others. They believe in God, but only as they imagine Him to be. Their ‘faith’ is in themselves or in their fellow men. This is not faith according to God. As the apostle tells us, “faith then [is] by a report, but the report by God’s word” (Rom. 10: 17). A report is a message from another regarding something we cannot see––faith is receiving that report as true. Thus Paul could write to the Thessalonian saints: “we also give thanks to God unceasingly that, having received [the] word of [the] report of God by us, ye accepted, not men’s word, but, even as it is truly, God’s word, which also works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2: 13). A report came to them, a report which was God’s Word, and they believed what they heard. Thus faith is the response to a divine revelation. If we shut our ears to what God has said, then there is neither room nor place for faith––if we wilfully refuse to listen, we deny ourselves anything to believe. This is the position of those who reject the Bible out of hand. Faith is by a report––not by the imagination. The mystics of our day may clothe their concept of spiritual realities with the name of Christ, but in reality, they know nothing of Him. The report is brought to us by God’s Word––what God has said––and God’s Word has been written down for us in the Bible. Other books may discuss what God has said, only the Bible is what He has said. If you reject the Scriptures, you reject God.
Some speak of an ongoing and continuing revelation. Jude exhorts his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (v3), proving that the body of doctrine which we believe (“the faith”) has been once delivered. There is no more to be delivered––it was delivered then, once, for all time. By “then”, I mean the days of the apostles and prophets upon whom the Church was founded (see Eph. 2: 20; 3: 5). Once the last of these had passed away (probably John), the Scriptures––the record of the Word of God––were complete. Now the first Christians “persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles” (Acts 2: 42). We no longer have apostles and prophets (what is foundational only has a place at the beginning), but we can still persevere in their doctrine––it is written down for us in the Bible. The Scriptures are an abiding record of the faith once delivered. The spurious notion of a continuing revelation is a direct contradiction of Jude 3––which we know to be a true revelation from God.
An ongoing revelation necessarily has the effect of diminishing the role of Scripture. The Bible is viewed as only ‘part’ of God’s revelation, and as each new revelation is added, that part becomes ever smaller. Eventually, we are made more or less dependent on the word of the ‘prophet’, and the Bible is forgotten. How do we know these new ‘revelations’ are of God? On the say–so of man! Faith, such as it is, is thereby transferred from God’s Word to man’s word. It is nothing but popery (it being a little realised fact that there are more popes outside Romanism than in!). ‘Divinely accredited ministry’ so–called is never on a par with the Scriptures. From where does such ministry receive its accreditation? From the Bible! It has value only so far as it is in accord with the record of God’s Word. Faith rests on what God has said in the Bible––a book that will never be superseded by any other ‘revelation’ and through which God speaks directly to each and every individual. Where faith is made to rest, even partially, on anything other than God’s Word we may be sure that the enemy of souls is at work. The Bible alone is the rock on which we can depend with absolute certainty. Anything else is sand.
No one will hope in vain who has believed in God and His Word. Can God be trusted? Of course. It is “impossible that God should lie” (Heb. 6: 18). We may believe many things that our fellow men say, only to find out later that their words are not true. Look at the myriads of false teachers with their loyal bands of deluded followers––promised healings that did not come about, prophecies that failed, and revivals that existed only in men’s imaginations. Man is inherently unreliable. It is not a question merely of the sincerity with which we believe, for the more sincerely we believe what is not true the worse it will be for us (there will be many sincere ‘believers’ in hell). The question is, Is what we believe true? When we give ear to man, we can never be certain that what he says is true, but when we give ear to God, we can rest in the fact that “God is true” (John 3: 33) in what He says, and that He is faithful in what He promises (see Heb. 10: 23). Faith is hearing God and believing what He says.
Now to ‘believe God’ is not the same as rehearsing a ‘belief’. True faith is faith in a person. Faith certainly rests in the truth of what is said (see Mark 1: 15), rests upon what we hear, and that which we hear is the foundation upon which our faith rests (see Rom. 9: 33; 10: 11), but it also goes out to, and is directed to Him from whom we hear (see John 2: 11, 3: 16). Faith is in God. Some seem to equate faith with being able to recite a creed, but mere orthodoxy by itself is dead. The Jews were the orthodox ‘believers’ of their day. They held that the Scriptures were the Word of God––but only in theory. They did not know God––they did not hear Him with the ears of faith. Thus the Lord had to say to them “Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; and ye will not come to me that ye might have life” (John 5: 39). Salvation requires something beyond a mere intellectual assent to the validity of what the Scriptures teach––faith in God is more than just agreeing with the articles of the faith, be they 39 or otherwise. It is not a question of reciting a few chosen verses of Scripture, repeating a catechism, proclaiming oneself a follower of Darby or Kelly, or holding to the 1689 Baptist confession. Faith, if it is to be of any value, must be in a person. The Lord Jesus said to his disciples “ye believe on God, believe also on me” (John 14: 1)––inviting them to believe the One then speaking to them. We read that “Abraham believed God” (Rom. 4: 3). Believed God! That is the point. Do we believe God?
The second part of the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11 is: “Now faith is ... [the] conviction of things not seen” (v1). The word used here for ‘conviction’ is elgcos, which means a proof that conveys a satisfying conviction to the mind. It is the conviction produced by demonstration. In John 8: 46, the Lord says “Which of you convinces me of sin?” The word there for ‘convinces’ is elgcw, from which elgcos is derived. Could they convict Him of sin? No. He then asks “If I speak truth, why do ye not believe on me?” This is the sin above all sins––not believing what He has said. Turn over to John 16: “And having come” (that is, the Holy Spirit), “he will bring demonstration to the world ... of sin, because they do not believe on me” (vs 8, 9). “Bring demonstration” is elgcw again. Here we have demonstrable proof of sin. How? “Because they do not believe on me”. God has spoken, and the great sin is defined in not believing what He has said. We may have convictions about many things, but above all else, it is what God has said that we must be convicted of. Have we “[the] conviction of things not seen”––the things God has told us about?
This is the one great question for you and I, Do we believe what God has said? God has given us “the greatest and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1: 4). Do we believe Him? If we do, then this faith is the foundation of all that we hope for. It is the “conviction” of what we have heard but do not see. Man says that ‘seeing is believing’. That is the complete opposite of faith. The Jews were always looking for signs (see 1 Cor. 1: 22), but as Christians “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5: 7). A faith that needs constant miracles, works of power, and revelations to sustain it is not really a faith at all: “blessed they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20: 29).
Too many who claim to have faith are worryingly vague when called to give an account of the hope that is in them (see 1 Pet. 3: 15). Instead of the conviction of faith, they really do not know what they believe. They think themselves to be Christians without really knowing what a Christian is. They say they believe God, yet protest when confronted with the plain statements of His word. Have such really believed God or not? Here are some examples of what God has told us. Test your ‘faith’ by them.
God has told us that in our flesh “good does not dwell” (Rom. 7: 18). Pulpit, platform and press, with one voice declare there is some good thing in man. Who do we believe? God or man?
God has told us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1: 1). Man tells us that it all came about by chance. Who do we believe?
God has told us that “if ye repent not, ye shall all perish” (Luke 13: 3). So–called liberal churchmen tell us that repentance is an outdated and offensive doctrine. Who do we believe?
God has told us that “No one comes to the Father unless by me” (John 14: 6)–by way of Christ. Man tells us that there are many ways to God. Who do we believe?
God has told us that “Every one who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Luke 16: 18). Some tell us that this is too inflexible, and hard. Who do we believe?
God has told us that “if Christ be not raised, your faith [is] vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15: 17). Church figures tell us that one can be a Christian without holding to a literal resurrection. Who do we believe?
God tells us as to women in the assembly that “it is not permitted to them to speak” (1 Cor. 14: 34). Liberals tell us that this is unreasonable. Who do we believe?
God tells us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2: 20). Religious people tell us that church–attendance is the main thing. Who do we believe?
These examples might well be extended. There is nothing in the report God has given us in His Word that we can ignore. We are not at liberty to believe some things that God has said and not others. How can we trust God at all on that basis? Many think, for example, that they can believe God as to what He has said about the redemption of the soul, but what He has said on worship can be ignored. God says “they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth” (John 4: 24). God says He MUST be worshipped in spirit and truth. If we ignore this “must” and attempt to worship God by other means, then we are disbelieving God when He says “must”. Not only is God’s Word thereby disobeyed, but God Himself is rendered untrustworthy. Those who are so eager to introduce fleshly innovations into public worship ought to consider the slur they bring upon God. Is God a liar when He says “must”? “Jesus answered and said to him, If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. He that loves me not does not keep my words; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but [that] of the Father who has sent me” (John 14: 23, 24). If you do not obey His words there is only one conclusion that can be drawn––you do not love Him. Your faith is dead. Again, How do we know that we have a real relationship with God? By simply asserting it? No: “And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2: 3). That is the test.
In some parts of the world, true Christian faith is often accompanied by the prospect of the ultimate price––martyrdom. In other countries, faith appears to come cheap. Thus people can practice open and flagrant sin while at the same time claiming to be Christians (see Gal. 5: 19–21), others can seemingly be both friends with the world and friends with God (see 1 John 2: 15), and multitudes more can be saints at church, and saints to talk to in public, but not saints in private in their own homes (see 2 Tim. 3: 5). None of these are saints in heart––where it matters. The touch–stone throughout is Christ. It is written “Behold, I lay in Zion a corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be put to shame. To you therefore who believe [is] the preciousness; but to the disobedient, the stone which the builders cast away as worthless, this is become head of [the] corner, and a stone of stumbling and rock of offence” (1 Pet. 2: 6–8). To you who believe is the preciousness! This text is worthy of notice. It does not say Christianity is precious, or salvation, or the Gospel––it is Christ Himself who is precious to the believer. His faith does not consist in just an intellectual assent to some propositions and doctrines. It is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts concerning Christ. It is not a belief merely in signs and miracles (see John 2: 23). It is not a belief in mere religious meetings (comp. Rev. 3: 14–22). It is a living communion with a living person. Paul could say “I live by faith, the [faith] of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me” (Gal. 2: 20) and “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1: 12). That was his faith, a faith truly “to saving [the] soul” (Heb. 10: 39). What about yours? Is the One he believed, the One you believe? ‘Coming to faith’ is not enough––you must come in faith to Him.