Faith. What is it? Society has spoiled the word for us. Most regard it as just a sanctified synonym for the word hope. Wishing, wanting, hoping, longing for. But faith isn't even in the same category as these things, though we talk about it unceasingly as if it is. It's not just another word, it's another world, of meaning, entirely different from those other things.
In the Christian movie, God is Not Dead, one church pastor challenges another to believe God will make the car start after it has been failing to start. The one is reluctant to load the luggage until he has seen the car running. The other one says, "Come on, put the suitcases in the car. Have faith!" I'm sorry, but this is just ridiculous! This is not faith and I am deeply offended that it should be portrayed as faith by Christians who should know better and presented to non-Christians who need to know better! I know, it's just a movie. But it's a Christian movie, and by definition has a message. The problem here is, if the message is muddled or even worse, false, then it's worse than no message at all. This scene promotes a completely wrong, foreign, even wicked definition of faith: whatever you want is equal to believing God. You want it, it's faith. Whatever you believe, whether God said it or not, He is bound to act. And you are bound to believe. Your own will. Even if you generated the idea completely on your own. Like little Natalie Wood in another movie, Miracle on 34th Street: "I believe, I believe," in reference to a wished-for house and after her mother has told her that she was wrong to be cynical and good things sometimes do happen.
Faith is not wishing. Not even sanctified wishing. It's not believing in whatever you want, no matter what it is that you want, even the very best things. Even if you prayed for it. Even if other Christians have encouraged you to believe it. Doesn't matter. You have absolutely no business -- no business! -- treating that as faith. Bring God into it after the fact and you malign Him, you even supplant Him!
Faith is believing God about what He wants. Period. You may want all kinds of good things, even things that will bless others, even fulfill God's will and bless God. But, if God didn't communicate this thing, it is nonsense calling it faith. Call such a thing wishing or hoping or whatever want to, but don't call it faith. Don't call it faith!
So many illustrations about faith involve a chair, or an elevator. And to be sure, you demonstrate a certain kind of trust when you sit down or when you ride in an elevator. But that's not faith. It's based on what you want, not on what God wants. Did God promise to protect you? No? Then stop calling it faith! It's trusting the maker of the chair. It's trusting the elevator's maintenance crew, that they did their job. Fine things to trust in. Perfectly legitimate and good, But it's not trusting God so it's not faith.
Then what is? Hebrews chapter 11 affords us a great opportunity to see just what. There are two sections in this chapter. We know there are two sections because each ends with the same statement. To begin, let's look at the first section, verses 1 through 16, which focuses on the object of faith.
Abel did what God said, adhering to the proscribed sacrifice, showing righteousness, vs 4.
Noah obeyed what God told him to do, vs 7.
Abraham obeyed God, vs 8, and waited for the city promised him by God, vs 10.
Sarah believed God, vs 11.
The closing statement in vs 13 says all these died still waiting for the promises made them.
Now, the second section, vss 17 through 40, where we find what kind of faith those recorded exercised.
Abraham obeyed despite the thing not making sense, 17-19.
Moses chose the harder way, vs 24-26.
The miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by Israel's obedience, vs 29.
Jericho's walls falling miraculously, again by Israel's obedience, 30.
Mouths of lions closed, more unnatural things, vs 33.
Dead resurrected, plainly other-worldly, vs 35.
Persecuted and tortured, again the harder choice, vs 36-38.
And then then the closure repeated, that this second group also died without receiving what they were promised, vs 39.
Alright. What then are the elements, the ingredients of faith? How is it recognized? I submit to you that this passage lists three parts to faith. Here we go.
1. Believing God.
Believing God. This is mostly what faith is. Believing. But believing God means it's not about what you want, but what God wants. You're believing a person, not a thing.
2. What He said.
What He said. This is extremely important. In other words, you know the thing you're believing in is what God wants, not because you ascribe to Him your wants, not because you project onto Him your own feelings, but because He has said so. He has said so. He has communicated the thing.
3. Even if it doesn't make sense.
Even if it doesn't make sense. The third thing Hebrews tells us is how the faith practitioners recorded herein exercised this faith. They acted on it even when it was the hard way, when it brought pain, when everyone else ridiculed and opposed them, even killed some of them. Even when it seemed impossible to believe this way. To carry it out.
Flying a plane offers a fair analogy of trusting in this way, when it doesn't make sense. Pilots become instrument-rated because they can't always use ground markers to see where they're going. When instruments are really needed is when it is impossible to tell the sky from the ground, which can be particularly difficult at night over some kinds if terrain and even during daylight hours when flying over water or snow-covered ground. The top from the bottom. Up from down. In fact, both John F. Kennedy Jr. and 1950s rocker Buddy Holly's pilot crashed their planes because they weren't instrument rated and thus couldn't tell the night sky from the ground (or ocean, in JFK Jr's case). When first learning to use a plane's instruments, a pilot finds himself in the horrible position of having to trust the gauges when his body is screaming something else, "something is wrong!" The human mind is conditioned to listen to its body's senses first. It's a very difficult, almost impossible thing for a man to believe his instruments over his senses. The second group described in Hebrews 11 is said to have trusted God like this. They trusted God despite their flesh yelling bloody murder.
The bright spot in God is Not Dead is Josh, the hero. When young Josh refuted his philosophy professor he exercised faith. He did the uncomfortable thing, and the thing that cost him his girlfriend of six years. But wait, that's the "even when it doesn't makes sense" part, but where are the "believing God" and "what He said" parts? They're there. In the movie his pastor directs him to Matthew 10:33, about God wanting us to stand up for him when others are maligning Him. Josh believed God by acting. And he acted on the passage, what had God said.
Faith is believing God, what He said, even when it doesn't make sense. Faith is not believing something you came up with on your own. It's not believing what someone else has told you, even if it is about God, unless that Someone is God. Faith is taking God at His word enough to act even in the face of discomfort or opposition. And as Hebrews 11 says, without this kind of faith it is impossible to please him.