A Brief Treatise on Faith
By Leander Keim
May 1, 2013
Defining faith as it pertains to a Christ-based belief can be a challenging task. What faith means to one person is not necessarily what it means to another. After centuries of Christendom, there are as many definitions of faith as there are denominations or even people.
To many people, faith is inextricably linked to a culture, cultural setting, or traditions. These customs become almost indistinguishable from the word "faith" in the minds of its constituents.
The Bible, however, gives a different definition of faith by the context in which it appears and also by the Greek term that is rendered faith, meaning steadfast. The question is, steadfast in what? Some careful reading will reveal that we are to be steadfast in our trust and belief that Jesus is the promised Deliverer He claimed to be, and that He will deliver us from wrath and judgment and make us co-inheritors with Him. This promise was first given to Adam and Eve, then to the Patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets and was finally fulfilled though Christ. Over the years, the promise was added to and expanded upon as more revelation was given. It has not yet reached completion and will not be completed until the return of Christ. Then He will truly be the Deliverer that was promised, coming to deliver the ELECT whom HE elected - not whom we have elected. He will deliver them from the wrath that was also promised, delivering them from (or in) the tribulation period.
This is what took place between Abraham and God. God spoke and Abraham believed without adding his own rules or ideas. He simply and completely believed what was spoken to him, and this believing was counted as righteousness for Abraham. Dependency upon the truth of these promises can be defined as faith. Isaiah the prophet wrote the oft-quoted words, "the just shall live by faith," which are repeated in the New Testament. It does not say that the just shall live by cultural trappings or traditions. We say these things because we think they carry some merit with God. But our merit does not come from such things, as Scripture plainly states Christ is our justification. "Blessed are those with the best attendance record in the local church" is a message often implied in a typical sermon. But it is we who say it. It is we who assume it. Christ never implied such a thing. In our hearts we are to sanctify Christ, not the church institution. Not our customs or traditions. We have no justification for ourselves or from ourselves. It is Christ who justifies us in the presence of God as our high priest - our legal representation if you will. The church can and should act as a support group for its members, but it saves or loses no one. It does not have that ability or authority. That belongs to Christ.
So what should we say about cultural customs and traditions? Are they wrong? They are neither right nor wrong. They are a personal preference or often the result of what one has been born into. Whether you are of this or that culture has little to do with anything other than perhaps an individual choice about how you wish to live. But it is God who sees through cultural choices to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. So if you are part of a nomadic culture that derives its living from its herds and flocks, or a business person on Wall Street, or a Roman Centurion in command of a hundred soldiers, it is God who sees through your busyness to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. The desires of the heart are a critical issue. As the prophet writes, "sacrifices and burnt offerings thou would not but a body hast thou prepared me. Lo I come to do thy will oh God."
The thrust of the New Testament is aimed at giving meaning to and defining the Old Testament and changing the motivations and desires of the heart. Changing hearts and minds, not creating more rules (which always fail ultimately) is its goal. A changed heart gives us freedom in Christ, not for perverse purposes but for living well, by faith, "in the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free." No longer encumbered by rules which are impossible for us to keep anyway, we await with full expectation the promises which were first given to Adam and his wife, Eve, and to many others along the way. These promises were made to us through Christ. The Cross and the Resurrection confirm and establish these promises and fulfill the previously written prophecies concerning them.
Our confidence in these promises carries with it great recompense of reward according to the writer of the book of Hebrews. We are admonished to not cast away this confidence. This unfailing confidence toward God was witnessed by a man who took a larger view of things and who became "all things to all people so that he might by all means save some." He left us many admonitions including this statement showing him to be a global citizen of the New Heavens and New Earth by writing:
"if indeed you continue in faith, firmly established and steadfast, not moved away from the hope of the good news that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister" (Col.1: 23).
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