Biblical faith: Reliance on God's words

June 10, 2020

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Faith is typically associated with one gritting their teeth in blind belief or hoping for something to come to pass when there is no proof or evidence that it will. The Bible's definition of "faith" is far from this. The God of Israel has given ample historical evidence to help us affirm his words as communicated in the Scriptures as trustworthy and reliable.


Hey friends, Josh here. Today I want to talk about faith. This of course is a common word in the Christian vernacular, but it’s often misunderstood. In my experience I’ve found that the average evangelical Christian today understands faith to be a synonym for “belief”, and so it gets coupled with saying the sinner’s prayer and affirming something about Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead so they can go to heaven when they die. Couple that with Webster’s English dictionary definition of faith that says it’s “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”, and that’s sadly how many often approach faith, as if it’s just about gritting their teeth to believe something about God or Jesus or the Bible when there’s really no scientific proof that it’s true at all. Well, that’s of course problematic, because the Bible isn’t a scientific textbook, it’s ancient Jewish writings and accounts of history, so it makes no sense to try to look at history through the scientific method. But that’s a subject for another day… Today I want to look at what the Bible says about faith and I think it may surprise you.

Now I have to get a little geeky here with Hebrew and Greek for a minute, because it’s really helpful to understand the original languages that the Jews would have used to communicate the concept of “faith” in their scriptures. The word that’s often translated as “faith” in Hebrew, for example in a passage like Habakkuk 2, a passage you may have heard before, where the Lord says to Habakkuk, “the just or the righteous shall live by faith” - that word there for faith in Habakkuk 2:4 is “emunah”, which is derived from the root in Hebrew, “aman”. So this word and all the other words that derive from it in the Hebrew word group mean certainty, reliability, dependability, steadiness, firmness, or trustworthiness, whether in a figurative sense or a literal sense. So for example, this word emunah is used in Exodus 17 when Israel was fighting the Amalekites. Check this out, this is Exodus 17, starting at verse 8:

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

Ok, so do you see that? Aaron and Hur were holding up Moses’ hands so that Joshua and all Israel would prevail in battle against the Amalekites. The word there where it said that his hands were steady is the word “emunah”. His hands were reliable, immovable, firm, steady, etc. This is just one example of many of how this word group gets used in the Hebrew Bible.

And so this concept in Hebrew gets brought into the New Testament through the Greek word “pistis” or “pisteos”, which is translated in our English Bibles as the word “faith”. Again, the same sense is communicated by the Jewish authors… The word means reliability, steadfastness, trustworthiness, certainty, firmness, etc. So the New Testament authors who were all Jewish quoted Habakkuk 2:4 in their Greek New Testament writings. You can see that in Romans 1, Galatians 3, and Hebrews 10. Clearly this concept of “faith” is pretty important for them. So again, aman, emunah in Hebrew, pistis or pisteos in Greek, means certainty, reliability, steadiness, firmness, etc.

But we have to go back to Habakkuk here to get the context of why the New Testament authors would have quoted Habakkuk 2:4 in their writings. When we read Habakkuk 1, we see God saying “I’m going to do something crazy… I’m going to raise up the Babylonians and they’re going to come to take Israel captive because the people have turned away from me and broken the covenant.” And then Habakkuk argues and says “Far be it from you, God, to take somebody that’s even more wicked than us to discipline us! We’re not that wicked!” And then in chapter 2, Habakkuk stops arguing with God and says: “alright, well I guess it’s a done deal.” And then God says: “Habakkuk, write this vision down… so that the one who reads it can run.” David Pawson, a well-known and well-respected Bible teacher says simply: “he literally means run”. Like Habakkuk, this vision is for the future, for an appointed time in the future, so write it down so that the one who reads the vision can run when the things start to take place.” This is like Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 talking about the great tribulation at the end of the age, he says: “when you see these things, get outta here, get out of Jerusalem”.

So let me read a little bit from Habakkuk 2:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

So there we have it, right at the end of verse 4, the word in Hebrew again is “emunah”. The ESV translates it as: “the righteous shall live by his faith”. But some commentators will make the point here that the word “faith” might not be the best translation into English here. As a result, other Bible translations use the word “faithfulness”, which I think is more helpful, because as we’ve seen, the word emunah means reliability, steadfastness, firmness, or certainty. Another important point that commentators note is that this verse can be understood in two ways: that the man reading the vision will live by his own faithfulness or reliability, OR, which I think is the more likely case, that the Lord is is referencing the vision itself. In other words, the righteous man will live by how he counted the fact that God is going to do what he said, that the vision is reliable, it’s certain. The wicked man, the one whose heart is not right within him, is contrasted with the righteous man. Because when they both read the account that Habakkuk has written down, the wicked man will not take it into account, but the righteous man will. And the righteous man is going to run, because he counts the words that God gave Habakkuk as trustworthy and reliable and certain. In other words, the Babylonians are really coming, and so if I want to live, I need to get out of here.

So when the New Testament authors quote Habakkuk 2, and say that “the just shall live by faith”, they’re not saying that we should just believe that Jesus died on the cross or grit our teeth believing for something for which there’s no proof. I think we can see this clearly because Habakkuk 2 is quoted in Hebrews chapter 10, this is starting at verse 36 of Hebrews 10:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith”

Now if we were to keep reading in Hebrews, we see a whole bunch of people in Hebrews 11 who counted God’s words as trustworthy, as reliable, as certain, they were confident that God was going to do what he said he would do, and the whole chapter gives examples of people that lived in light of God’s promises for the age to come. The author of Hebrews presents them as a model, which is why we see the encouragement right at the beginning of Hebrews 12, that because there’s this faithful cloud of witnesses, ones who counted God and his words as trustworthy and reliable, that we should live like they did.

So what does God require? What is God looking for? When he calls a disciple of Jesus to have faith, he’s not saying “just say a prayer and blindly believe”, but rather “look at the evidence, look at my track record, look at how I have proven myself trustworthy, that what I have spoken in the past has come to pass. And in light of that, you can have certainty about the things that I’ve spoken that have yet to come to pass. You should count me as reliable, my words as firm, that I’m really going to do what I said.”

So this is the righteous act or the appropriate response toward God and his words. Guys, faith is not blind belief, God has given ample evidence by real historical events where he’s said he would do something, and he did it. And then he said he would do something else, and he did it. Over and over and over again, we see him acting in accordance with his promises, and this is the evidence that he’s given so that we can read the things that still have yet to come to pass and actually have confidence and assurance and certainty that they really will. This is why Paul says things like “we walk by faith”, in other words, we are living our lives in accordance with the certainty or the reliability of God’s future promises actually coming to pass because on real historical evidence.

So do you see why this really matters and that the Biblical understanding of faith is actually the opposite of Webster’s dictionary definition? There is ample historical proof, and based on that, the appropriate response when we read God’s words about the future is to tremble, to live in light of the certainty of them coming to pass.

Friends, the day of the Lord is coming, just as he promised in the Law and the Prophets and through the words of Jesus and the apostles. 2 Peter 1 says that because of the events of Jesus’ first coming, “we have the words of the prophets made more certain, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises“. We would do well to count those oracles as trustworthy and reliable and as a result, change the way we live and what we prioritize and what we look forward to and how we treat others and what we do with our money. God really is going to do all that he said, and we should feel urgency and sobriety to live righteously in light of the soon and coming Day.

Amen. If this was encouraging, drop a comment below, hit that thumbs up button, and subscribe for more. My heart with these short videos is to strengthen your foundation and spur you to build your life upon what the God of Israel has said and done and what’s he promised for the future, and I hope they’re doing just that. Well, God bless, and maranatha.

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