As we get closer to Advent, the season in the Christian year when we look forward to the arrival of Christ, I have been thinking about faith.
Faith is what opens up a relationship with God, but what is faith? I know many people who run to Romans 4 to talk about faith as opposed to working. Faith is belief, working is trying to earn your place with God. Abraham is justified, or made right with God, by his faith and not by what he did. God gave circumcision, the beginning of the Covenant, after Abraham was counted as righteous because of his faith.
This is all true, but it is not all there is to the story. Abraham had to have enough faith that it changed how he lived. He had to believe that the God who was speaking to him was actually divine and would live up to His promise, and then he had to prove that he believed it by leaving his father’s house in Haran and going to an unknown land because God said to go (see Genesis 12).
Not only this, but if we go further in the Romans 4 passage, we find this:
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:18-22)
This passage speaks very strongly about Abraham’s faith, but it was faith that led to action. Sarah was not Mary. Isaac was not miraculously conceived without a father. He arrived in the world in the normal way. Abraham had to have enough faith in God that at 100 years old, he and Sarah tried to have Isaac.
If our faith is not strong enough to change the way we think, live, act, and react in the world, then it is no faith at all. This is why James can write with confidence that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Interestingly, “faith by itself” in Latin is sola fides. This was one of the hallmarks of the Reformation and one of the reasons why the issue of faith versus works is such a hot topic, even today. And interestingly enough, this verse in James is the only place in the entire Bible where the phrase “faith alone” is used. We would be well to remember that faith alone can never save, because we have to have faith enough to change how we live.
If Abraham had faith alone, Isaac would never have been born and Paul’s entire theology of salvation coming through the promise would be gone, not to mention the fact that Paul would never have been born since the Twelve Tribes of Israel would not have been born since Jacob would not have been born.
The next time you stop and think about salvation by faith, ask God what the Isaac is in your life that He is planning for you, provided your faith is strong enough to change how you act.