No. 07 – Practical Faith
It is my prayer that through these presentations, God is giving you the answers that you have been needing. So many of us stress about our salvation. We can see that this world is rapidly descending into a time of terrible trouble and we know that we need to be ready for Jesus to come, but we don’t know HOW to be ready. And this was my problem for many years. I spent some years in a more liberal way of life, taking the grace of God for granted, and some years in the legalistic way, trying to save myself by my own good works. I could never find the meaning of faith AND works in my life. It always seemed to be either faith OR works. I was never told that works come to me by faith – that it is God who must do the works, and it is through faith that God’s works will become a practical reality in my life.
Now, I must say this for those that need to hear it. What we are studying does NOT do away with HUMAN EFFORT. You see, when we talk about God doing all the works for us, some of us might fall into the danger of thinking, “oh great, so I don’t have to do anything”. Well, in one sense, yes, and in another sense, no. In one sense, no, it MUST be God doing all the works. But in another sense, you are responsible for EVERYTHING.
When we talk about human effort, we must realize that there are two kinds of powers in us. The first is physical strength. This power is naturally within our bodies. It is the energy we gain from the food that we eat. Any action requires physical strength – it requires human effort. When God works in us to do of His good pleasure, the natural physical strength that God has given to each one of us is called into action. Many times, especially in the basic situations in life, God does not need to input His own strength in order to accomplish His will in us, He uses what is already there.
The other power within us is the power of the WILL. And THIS is the ONE part that everything depends on. We must GIVE God permission to work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. But not just sit there and say, Amen! Please do it, but recognize what God’s will is and then put the mind and body in that direction, believing that God will fulfil His word and perform the works Himself. For example, the Bible tells the story of a paralytic lying beside the pool of Bethesda. He could not walk. Jesus said to him, “Stand up. Take up your bed and walk.” The paralytic believed that word, believed that it would happen IF he made the CHOICE to stand up. And so through his will, the message was sent to his nervous system to put into action the muscles and ligaments necessary to stand up. In that very moment that the body received those instructions from the brain, the life and power of God that was in His word surged into his body and he stood up, completely healed of his disease. Can you see there was more than just a choice? It was a willingness that translates into action. Without that message from the brain, which comes as a result of the ACTION of the WILL, nothing will happen. And so God can WANT and WILL to do as much as He wants, but if there is no message from the HUMAN will to the body, there is no working.
But now we might think, if it requires the action of MY will, then isn’t that ME doing the works? For some this might be getting a little too technical, but for others, I know it is necessary that we deal with these things. Remember that in Philippians 2:12 it says that God works in us both to WILL and to do. He does the WILLING in us also – He operates the WILL. However, as Ellen White describes in several places, “We must be WILLING to be MADE WILLING.” In other words, even the action of the will is God within us. BUT, we must be constantly giving Him the permission; constantly saying, “Lord, I can’t do anything right. I need you to do it. Can you please do in me what is right – make the right choices, and do the right things;” constantly submitting to His will and workings within us. And the reality is that to a great degree He has already made in us the right choice – its called our conscience, and he is waiting for us to actually choose to do what is right, not in a sense of “I want to do what is right” but ” I WILL do what is right”.
And does it require effort to submit to the will of God so that He can work in us? Absolutely! A huge amount of it – more than anything else! Look at Christ in Gethsemane as He struggled to submit to the will of His Father!
Many quotations by Ellen White emphasize the importance of human effort and co-operation of the human with the divine, and many people get confused thinking that she is talking about WE ourselves doing the works. And its not necessarily easy to articulate a clarification what she is saying. I have just tried to show that YES, there is an effort that must come from the human side just as Ellen White writes in Acts of the Apostles on page 482: “Resistance of temptation must come from man.” Just like with the paralytic, there must not only be a willing to be made willing, but a “will to action”. We must say, “No! I will not do this!” and there must be a deliberate impulse to action, and then God can come in with His infinite power and work within us the victory. Maybe later in another study we can spend some more time on this point.
Let’s read one statement from Ellen White that helps us to understand what she is saying regarding our own works:
Faith and Works 94
He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law is attempting an impossibility. Man cannot be saved without obedience, but his works should not be of himself; Christ should work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure. If a man could save himself by his own works, he might have something in himself in which to rejoice. The effort that man makes in his own strength to obtain salvation is represented by the offering of Cain. All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin; but that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God.
Can you see Ellen White is saying exactly what we have been learning? We must have obedience in our lives – but not our own – the good works must come from God. All of our own works are like the offering of Cain – useless. But “that which is wrought through faith is acceptable” – there it is – right-doing by faith. And so yes, our human faculties, our human powers have a place, but it is God who is to use them. If He gives us the strength, it is because He wants to use it same with talents, money, time, etc. Even life!
Now, let’s continue our studies and see how we can build on what we have already learned about faith and works.
I want to read again Romans 10:1-3, and again substitute the word “righteousness” with “right-doing”.
1| Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2| For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3| For they being ignorant of God’s right-doing, and going about to establish their own right-doing, have not submitted themselves unto the right-doing of God.
This last verse really helps to explain things doesn’t it? I spent most of my life trying to establish my own right-doing – thinking that with a lot of practice, and trying and trying and trying, AND by the power of GOD, I could eradicate sin from my life and present myself holy and spotless before Him. But it never seemed to work. I admit, in some areas I thought I was doing pretty well, but I was using these outwardly good works as a pedestal to stand on while I judged and condemned those around me. I was ignorant of the right-doing of God. It is like He has been standing there my whole life watching me fail again and again, and He has been waiting for me to admit that I CANNOT do it, and to LET Him do it.
Did you notice the words “have not submitted” in verse 3 of Romans 10? “Have not submitted themselves unto the right-doing of God.” This is very important. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “submission” as: “The action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” Bear this in mind as we consider these next two verses:
12| Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13| Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
The word “LET” is synonymous with “submit” and “yield”. Verse 12 says, don’t LET sin control you. This implies that sin comes upon us with authority and force. Verse 13 says, “Don’t yield your members as instruments unto unrighteousness”. Unrighteousness is obviously anything that is NOT the works of God, because all God’s works are righteousness, and anything else is not. But “yield” yourselves servants unto God… as instruments of the right-doing of God.
Can you see something here? We are caught in the middle between two AUTHORITIES that both have power. And it is up to us to choose which power we want to control us in our life.
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
This verse is saying that IN THE SAME WAY we have let sin control our lives, we can let God control our lives. Everything depends on one thing – the choices that we make. You know the old picture – a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil whispers in the ear, “Let’s do this!” And the angel whispers in the other ear, “No, let’s not do that. That’s a bad idea. You will regret it.” And the person simply makes a choice as to which one he listens to. Up until now, we have a problem – that voice that calls us to sin, comes with the strong impulse to sin – we can feel its power pulling us to do what it wants, and we are so weak, and before we even know it, we have sinned, and looking back at things we wish we made a different choice. But at the time it was so hard to make the right choice. You could literally “feel” the pull of that temptation. You could feel the FORCE of it.
But now, God is helping us to understand something. Just like that temptation to sin came to us with power, the conviction to do good that comes from God’s word comes to us with power also. This verse here in Amos suggests to us what kind of power the right-doing of God can come into our lives.
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
The right-doing of God will come into our lives like a mighty stream. In Romans 5:20 it says that where sin abounded, the grace of God much more abounds. The right-doing of God is so much more powerful than sin. But the word “LET” is the keyword. Yield, submit. These words tell us that the right-doing of God that is found in His word is just waiting to come flooding into my life and fill it with His perfection. That is an awesome thought. God is just waiting for us to open the floodgates of our hearts and He will come in and rinse out all the sin in our lives and wash it all away. If we make the CHOICE for God and His right-doing to rule in our lives, if we will say, Amen! to His word, and really mean it, then He will fill our lives with His own life.
And so let’s spend some more time on faith and how it can bring us the reality of God’s own life.
Review & Herald, October 18, 1898
The knowledge of what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, is more essential than any other knowledge that can be acquired. We suffer much trouble and grief because of our unbelief, and our ignorance of how to exercise faith. We must break through the clouds of unbelief. We cannot have a healthy Christian experience, we cannot obey the gospel unto salvation, until the science of faith is better understood, and until more faith is exercised.
This is so true. Because we haven’t understood faith correctly, we haven’t had the advantages of what faith can really bring into our lives. Of course, God has worked with us where we were at in our understanding, and He never let us down, but now He is clarifying our understanding so that we can be ready to meet Him.
I want now for us to consider the story of the paralytic at Bethesda once more.
2| Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3| In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4| For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5| And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6| When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, wilt thou be made whole? 7| The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8| Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9| And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
Did you see how this works? Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” And IMMEDIATELY the man was made whole, took up his bed, and walked. This paralytic believed that the word of Christ was true – that he COULD get up and walk. And so he simply told himself, I can stand and so I will stand, and he did.
I appreciate the commentary on this story in the book, Steps to Christ:
Steps to Christ 50
Let us turn to the story of the paralytic at Bethesda. The poor sufferer was helpless; he had not used his limbs for thirty-eight years. Yet Jesus bade him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” The sick man might have said, “Lord, if Thou wilt make me whole, I will obey Thy word.” But, no, he believed Christ’s word, believed that he was made whole, and he made the effort at once; he willed to walk, and he did walk. He acted on the word of Christ, and God gave the power. He was made whole.
Now listen carefully to what Ellen White writes in the next paragraph:
Steps to Christ 51
In like manner you are a sinner. You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You believe that promise. You confess your sins and give yourself to God. You will to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfil His word to you. If you believe the promise, –believe that you are forgiven and cleansed, — God supplies the fact; you are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It is so if you believe it.
Do not wait to feel that you are made whole, but say, “I believe it; it is so, not because I feel it, but because God has promised.”
Remember that last part – faith has nothing to do with feelings. Never, ever depend on your feelings. You can only depend on God and His promises. And sometimes you will feel very different to what they say, but as Alonzo Jones says, “How you feel is none of your business.” Our business is the word of God, and it doesn’t matter how you feel, if that’s what it says, then that’s the reality.
Did you see in this statement something really precious, and simple? IF YOU BELIEVE THE PROMISE – and it doesn’t matter WHAT the promise is, ANYTHING in God’s word – God will SUPPLY the fact. It is so IF you believe it!
1 John 5:14-15
14| And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: 15| And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.
The will of God is expressed in His word, and so when we pray according to His will, according to what is written in His word, and we claim those precious promises, of course we will have the answer to our prayer – because His word MUST do what it says. We can lift up the word of God before Him, put our finger on the text and say, God, YOU HAVE SAID, and I believe that this promise has come out of your mouth and it must do it. And friends, when we do that, God smiles and says, “Definitely, I will do this for you.”
Now there is one thing really important for us to realise. We have been reading such words as LET, and YIELD, and SUBMIT, and BELIEVE. Now obviously, if you do not believe, you will not LET. Right? Because if you don’t TRUST it, you won’t LET it do it. If you don’t believe the word, you will not let the word work.
And so we are forced to come to one clear conclusion – God’s word WILL work; BUT we must believe it, trust it and LET it work. When God came to create the world in the beginning, He didn’t just say, BE LIGHT! No. Our God is a gentle God. He is a courteous God, and He does not force His will or His way upon us. He respects the freedom of choice that He has given us. Even to this earth that was without form and void, He said, LET. He ASKS for submission from all of His creation. Seems strange, but it tells us something about God. His word will work, but He leaves it up to us as to whether we want it to work for us or not. Of course, that word will never return to Him without doing what it says, IT WILL WORK, BUT it may not be in YOUR life. SOMEONE will claim the promise and experience its power, but it might not be you if you don’t claim it and live every moment depending on it being fulfiled in your life.
There is a very simple yet powerful demonstration of this reality found here in the description of the Ark of the Covenant. Read carefully Exodus 25:10-14:
10| And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. 11| And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about. 12| And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it. 13| And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 14| And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them.
The ark of the covenant represented the presence of God. It was symbolic of His own throne in heaven. But did you see how this ark was built? What was on its corners? There was a ring on each corner, and through that ring, a pole would be put so that the priests could carry it upon their shoulders. What do you learn from that?
God could not move unless the people moved. Of course, this is all just symbolic. But think about it. This Ark represented His presence, and that He would be with them wherever they went, BUT unless they picked up that Ark and carried it, His presence would not go with them.
And so, the word will work, but it is dependent upon us. If the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda just said, Oh what lovely words, I believe them, but didn’t ACT on them, with the expectation that they would fulfil themselves for him, then he would never have received its benefit.
Generally speaking, the word will not work for us until we take what we call, “A step of faith”. For example, just a totally figurative example: The word of God comes to you and says, Go forward! And so you go forward. And as you are walking you come to a huge abyss between you and the other side, and to all of your senses it seems that if you go forward like God said, you will fall off the cliff and die! But God’s word comes again, Go forward! Now, if you truly trust that word, you will put your foot out, depending on God to fulfil His word. And as you put your foot out, and you put it down, you feel that there is solid ground underneath you, even though all that you could see a moment ago was the black abyss. And you take the next step and the next until you have crossed to the other side. Now, if you didn’t take that step of faith, where even your senses told you that you were crazy, would you ever have experienced the fulfilment of the word?
The Israelites came to the Red Sea and they could see that there was no way across to the other side. And so Moses cried out to God on their behalf, and God parted the Red Sea. Now, did they have faith or not? NO. Because they needed to SEE God work before they would step out. And often God is like this with us. He will do amazing things right in front of our eyes so that we will learn that we can trust Him, but as our faith grows, we will not need to look for evidence that His word will be fulfiled BEFORE we act, but that “step of faith” itself will produce the EVIDENCE.
After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the next generation of Israelites came to the Jordan River. But this time, they had faith. They didn’t wait for the waters to part before they crossed, but they set their faces to the opposite shore, put their feet in the water, and started walking. They believed that God would do what He said; and He did. The river parted and they walked across on dry land. THIS is faith.
The promises of God are guaranteed to those who will depend on them and act in expectation of them. But unless we do this, they will not work for us.
Another illustration of these things. In Jeremiah 29:10 it says that the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon would be limited to 70 years.
For thus saith the LORD, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
70 years later, Daniel is reading the book of Jeremiah and he finds this promise and realises that the time period is coming to it completion. Read of this here:
2| In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. 3| And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
Daniel begins to pray and repent, not just for his sins but on behalf of the nation also. He tells God that none of their works are good enough, but that God is righteous in everything that He does. And so while at the same time as asking for forgiveness and mercy, he prays for the fulfilment of the promise. Now come to verse 19, and see what Daniel did with this promise:
O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.
Daniel says, “O Lord, hearken and DO”. He asks God to do what He has said He will do. The promise was there, but it was waiting for someone to claim it. And so when Daniel saw the time had come, he claimed the promise and demanded from God its fulfilment. What would have happened if Daniel never prayed this prayer? Perhaps if no-one else had found the promise and claimed it, Israel may never have been released from its captivity in Babylon?
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they acted in dependence upon the word of God. They believed He would keep His promise. But when they first began to cross the Jordan, their feet got wet! That would make one think, maybe God is not going to do this for me. But true faith doesn’t have anything to do with feelings.
Come to another story. This time we want to read of Elijah and the rain. Israel had just had a huge demonstration of the power of God, and they were convinced that He was the only one who deserved their worship.
In Deuteronomy 11:13-15 God had said:
13| And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14| That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. 15| And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full.
But Israel gradually came to stop loving God and serving Him with all their hearts; they forgot Him and worshipped the idols of the nations that surrounded them and so the word of God was:
16| Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17| And then the LORD’S wrath be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.
For three years, the nation had been in drought because of their apostasy. There had been no harvests, most of the cattle and sheep had died and also many of the people. But on this day when their hearts were turned again to God, and they pledged themselves to worship only Him and no other gods, Elijah believed that God would keep His promise that if the people repented, God would send the rain again.
Which promise was that? It is found here in the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the temple he had built:
1 Kings 8:35-36
35| When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them: 36| Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk, and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance.
God had agreed to answer the prayer of Solomon. And so now let’s come to the story in 1 Kings 18:41-44:
1 Kings 18:41-44
41| And Elijah said unto Ahab, get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. 42So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, 43| And said to his servant, go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. 44| And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
Elijah fully believed that God would keep His promise. He told the king that the rain was coming and then he went to the top of Mount Carmel and began to pray. Six times he sent his servant to look for the sign of rain, but there was none. He prayed the seventh time, and then the rain came. What if Elijah had stopped praying the sixth time? The entire nation would have perished. Just one man, with just one promise, saved an entire nation.
Never underestimate the importance of your prayers. Never take it for granted that others are praying for something and so that you don’t need to. No. You may be the only one. And you may be the only one praying with genuine faith in the living word.
And never stop praying until you see the fulfilment of the promise. Many times we expect God to do things for us immediately, but because our prayer is not answered straight away, we doubt Him, and think His promises don’t work. Or we think He doesn’t care about us or love us. NEVER EVER THINK THAT. Keep praying. Keep waiting. And keep going forward. When the time is right, God will fulfil His word. Sometimes when WE want the fulfilment of the promise isn’t the best time. God’s timing is perfect. He has heard your prayer and will answer it at the PERFECT time.
Never give up. Sometimes, God is also testing us to see if we will keep trusting Him, even if the answer is delayed. He wants us to learn to trust Him ALL THE TIME. Even if we can’t see our way through the darkness of our situation. He hasn’t forgotten you, and when you have learned what you are needing to learn, you will find that He is right there beside you.
But in the battle against temptation and sin, definitely we have an immediate answer. Like when Peter who was sinking beneath the waves reached out to Jesus crying, “Lord! Save me! I perish!” God will answer that prayer immediately. God wants to do more than just take care of our daily needs for food and clothing. He wants to give us His own perfect works every moment of the day.
And so if you need to be more persistent in claiming the promise, or you need more patience in waiting for it to be fulfilled, just ask God to work in you the persistence, or the patience. It will be His pleasure to do it.
Before we move on in this series, I want to insert a little supplementary presentation, especially for parents. But please, if you are not a parent, don’t skip to the presentation after it, but listen carefully to this next one because it is one of the most wonderful revelations of the character of God that I have ever found, and has been a great source of comfort to me.
I will see you then.