What is Faith?

Bryan D. Estelle

A couple of years ago I was flying home from the East Coast where I had been attending a Presbytery meeting and preaching on the Lord’s day.  It was also the end of a semester and so I had many exams with me that I was grading.  I took my seat and began working as I usually do on these long flights.  I was sitting in an aisle seat, the seat next to me was empty and a young man whom I guessed to be about 18 or 19 years of age occupied the window seat.

After working for about an hour, I put my tray table up and took a break. The young man sitting next to me asked me if I was a teacher (he had been watching me do my grading). I said yes and explained that I was a Professor at a Seminary that trained prospective ministers in San Diego. That was the end of the conversation for then and I went back to my grading.

When I took my next break from grading, the young man asked me politely if he could ask another question.  I said, “Of course.”  He said, “If you are a Professor that trains prospective ministers, are you a minister yourself?”   I said, “Yes, I am.”  Then he proceeded to ask his question.  He said, “What is faith?”

I told him that I was returning from a Presbytery meeting – I explained to him briefly what that was – and that we had just asked a prospective minister that was taking his ordination exams that very question as well.  I told him if he didn’t mind me taking about 10 minutes of his time, I would explain to him the kind of answer we were hoping to receive from that man.  In the next 10 minutes I explained to him that true saving faith includes elements of knowledge, assent, and trust.  I told him that faith was outward looking not inward looking. I took great pains to explain very carefully to him that we need to look for righteousness outside of ourselves and that righteousness can be found in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of my brief description of faith he thanked me and said that was the fullest and best answer he had ever received to his question.  I proceeded to ask what he was doing on the plane, where he was traveling from and to? He then told me that he was a bare-knuckled boxer who was returning from an “underground” and “black market” fight that had been held in Vietnam.  He had won and had $20,000 in his pocket as a consequence.  This is how he made his living. I asked, “Have you ever seen anyone get killed?”  He said, “No, but it happens.” He had grown up in Compton, California and lived with his uncle since his Dad was in prison for dealing crack cocaine.  He was only 18 or 19 years old.  Then he asked me if I had children.  I said I that I did, three of them.  Then he told me he had a daughter that was 6 years old!  Yes, do the math.  His daughter and the mother of his child also lived with his uncle in Compton, California.

Over the next couple of hours we had a very fine conversation. As our conversation drew to a close, I encouraged this young man to go to school and get an education since he would not be able to box forever. I left him with my card and told him to call me if he ever thought I could be of help to him.  I’ve not heard from him since.

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God Has Established His Church

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
Benjamin B. Warfield

I believe that God has established his Church in the world and endowed it with the ministry of the Word and the holy ordinances of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; in order that through these as means, the riches of his grace in the gospel may be made known to the world, and, by the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them, the benefits of redemption may be communicated to his people; wherefore also it is required of me that I attend on these means of grace with diligence, preparation, and prayer, so that through them I may be instructed and strengthened in faith, and in holiness of life and in love; and that I use my best endeavors to carry this gospel and convey these means of grace to the whole world. 

Turn with Grief and Hatred

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
Benjamin B. Warfield

I believe that God requires of me, under the gospel, first of all, that , out of a true sense of my sin and misery and apprehension of his mercy in Christ, I should turn with grief and hatred away from sin and receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation; that, so being united to him, I may receive pardon for my sins and be accepted as righteous in God’s sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone; and thus and thus only do I believe I may be received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. 

I believe that, having been pardoned and accepted for Christ’s sake , it is further required of me that I walk in the Spirit whom he has purchased for me, and by whom love is shed abroad in my heart; fulfilling the obedience I owe to Christ my King; faithfully performing all the duties laid upon me by the holy law of God my heavenly Father; and ever reflecting in my life and conduct, the perfect example that has been set me by Christ Jesus my Leader, who has died for me and granted to me his Holy Spirit just that I may do the good works which God has afore prepared that I should walk in them. 

My One Aim in Life and Death

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
Benjamin B. Warfield

I believe that my one aim in life and death should be to glorify God and enjoy him forever; and that God teaches me how to glorify him in his holy Word, that is, the Bible, which he had given by the infallible inspiration of this Holy Spirit in order that I may certainly know what I am to believe concerning him and what duty he requires of me. 

I believe that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and incomparable in all that he is; one God but three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier; in whose power and wisdom, righteousness, goodness and truth I may safely put my trust. 

I believe that the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, are the work of God hands; and that all that he has made he directs and governs in all their actions; so that they fulfill the end for which they were created, and I who trust in him shall not be put to shame but may rest securely in the protection of his almighty love. 

I believe that God created man after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, and entered into a covenant of life with him upon the sole condition of the obedience that was his due; so that it was by willfully sinning against God that man fell into the sin and misery in which I have been born. 

I believe, that, being fallen in Adam, my first father, I am by nature a child of wrath, under the condemnation of God and corrupted in body and soul, prone to evil and liable to eternal death; from which dreadful state I cannot be delivered save through the unmerited grace of God my Savior. 

I believe that God has not left the world to perish in its sin, but out of the great love wherewith he has loved it, has from all eternity graciously chosen unto himself a multitude which no man can number, to deliver them out of their sin and misery, and of them to build up again in the world his kingdom of righteousness; in which kingdom I may be assured I have my part, if I hold fast to Christ the Lord. 

Worse Than Lions

I remember my last confirmation class before I left Romania.  I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church but to a zoo.  Before the cage of lions I told them, “your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith.  Know that you also will have to suffer.  You will not be thrown before lions but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions.  Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.”

They had tears in their eyes when they said yes.

– Richard Wurmbrand

We Must Go Now. At Least I Must.

Prince Caspian
C.S. Lewis

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods.  “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others.  But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy.  “You don’t mean it was?  How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I?  Don’t look at me like that…oh well, I suppose I could.  Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.  But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow?  But how?  Please, Aslan!  Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan.  “No.  Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.  “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen?  There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan.  “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy.  “And I was so pleased at finding you again.  And I thought you’d let me stay.  And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away – like last time.  And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan.  “But things never happen the same way twice.  It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face.  But there must have been magic in his mane.  She could feel lion-strength going into her.  Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said.  “I’m ready now.”

“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan.  “And now all Narnia will be renewed.  But come.  We have no time to lose.”…

“Now, child” said Aslan, when they had left the trees behind them, “I will wait here.  Go and wake the others and tell them to follow.  If they will not, then you at least must follow me alone.”

It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won’t believe and making them do something they certainly won’t like.  “I mustn’t think about it, I must just do it,” thought Lucy.

She went to Peter first and shook him.  “Peter,” she whispered in his ear, “wake up.  Quick.  Aslan is here.  He says we’ve got to follow him at once.”

“Certainly, Lu.  Whatever you like,” said Peter unexpectedly.  This was encouraging, but as Peter instantly rolled round and went to sleep again it wasn’t much use.

Then she tried Susan.  Susan did really wake up, but only to say in her most annoying grown-up voice, “You’ve been dreaming, Lucy.  Go to sleep again.”

She tackled Edmund next.  It was very difficult to wake him, but when at least she had done it he was really awake and sat up.

“Eh?” he said in a grumpy voice.  “What are you talking about?”

She said it all over again.  This was one of the worst parts of her job, for each time she said it, it sounded less convincing.

“Aslan!” said Edmund, jumping up.  “Hurray!  Where?”

Lucy turned back to where she could see the Lion waiting, his patient eyes fixed upon her.  “There,” she said, pointing.

“Where?” asked Edmund again.

“There.  There.  Don’t you see?  Just this side of the trees.”

Edmund stared hard for a while and then said, “No.  There’s nothing there.  You’ve got dazzled and muddled with the moonlight.  One does, you know.  I thought I saw something for a moment myself.  It’s only an optical what-do-you-call-it.”

“I can see him all the time,” said Lucy.  “He’s looking straight at us.”

“Then why can’t I see him?”

“He said you mightn’t be able to.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  That’s what he said.”

“Oh, bother it all,” said Edmund.  “I do wish you wouldn’t keep on seeing things. But I suppose we’ll have to wake the others.”

When the whole party was finally awake Lucy had to tell her story for the fourth time.  The blank silence which followed it was as discouraging as anything could be.

“I can’t see anything,” said Peter after he had stared his eyes sore.  “Can you, Susan?”

“No, of course I can’t,” snapped Susan.  “Because there isn’t anything to see.  She’s been dreaming.  Do lie down and go to sleep Lucy.”

“And I do hope,” said Lucy in a tremulous voice, “that you will all come with me.  Because – because I’ll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Lucy,” said Susan.  “Of course you can’t go off on your own.  Don’t let her, Peter.  She’s being downright naughty.”

“I’ll go with her, if she must go,” said Edmund.  “She’s been right before.”

“I know she has,” said Peter.  “And she may have been right this morning.  We certainly had no luck going down the gorge.  Still – at this hour of the night.  And why should Aslan be invisible to us?  He never used to be.  It’s not like him.  What does the D.L.F. say?”

“Oh, I say nothing at all,” answered the Dwarf.  “If you all go, of course I’ll go with you; and if your party splits up, I’ll go with the High King.  That’s my duty to him and King Caspian.  But, if you ask my private opinion, I’m a plain dwarf who doesn’t think there’s much chance of finding a road by night where you couldn’t find one by day.  And I have no use for magic lions which are talking lions and don’t talk, and friendly lions though they don’t do us any good, and whopping big lions though nobody can see them.  It’s all bilge and beanstalks as far as I can see.”

“He’s beating his paw on the ground for us to hurry,” said Lucy.  “We must go now.  At least I must.”

“You’ve no right to try to force the rest of us like that.  It’s four to one and you’re the youngest,” said Susan.

“Oh, come on,” growled Edmund.  “We’ve got to go.  There’ll be no peace till we do.”  He fully intended to back Lucy up, but he was annoyed at losing his night’s sleep and was making up for it by doing everything as sulkily as possible.

“On the march, then,” said Peter, wearily fitting his arm into his shield-strap and putting his helmet on.  At any other time he would have said something nice to Lucy, who was his favorite sister, for he know how wretched she must be feeling, and he knew that, whatever had happened, it was not her fault.  But he couldn’t help being a little annoyed with her all the same.

Susan was the worst.  “Supposing I started behaving like Lucy,” she said.  “I might threaten to stay here whether the rest of you went on or not.  I jolly well think I shall.”

“Obey the High King, your Majesty,” said Trumpkin, “and let’s be off.  If I’m not to be allowed to sleep, I’d as soon march as stand here talking.”

And so at last they got on the move.  Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan.  But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.  He turned and walked at a slow pace about thirty yards ahead of them.  The others had only Lucy’s directions to guide them, for Aslan was not only invisible to them but silent as well.  His big cat-like paws made no noise on the grass.

He led them to the right of the dancing trees – whether they were still dancing nobody knew, for Lucy had her eyes on the Lion and the rest had their eyes on Lucy – and nearer the edge of the gorge.  “Cobbles and kettledrums!” thought Trumpkin.  “I hope this madness isn’t going to end in a moonlight climb and broken necks.”

“Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice.

“Yes?” said Lucy.

“I see him now.  I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right.”

“But I’ve been far worse than you know.  I really believed it was him – he, I mean – yesterday.  When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood.  And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up.  I mean, deep down inside.  Or I could have, if I’d let myself.  But I just wanted to get out of the woods and – and – oh, I don’t know.  And what ever am I to say to him?”

“Perhaps you won’t need to say much,” suggested Lucy. 

Not Just Inside the Mind

Talking God and Dostoevsky in Vietnam
Anonymous

My friend, a recent graduate from a Hanoi university, has digested many of the French and Russian classics. Most of the former set found their way into Vietnamese during the early part of the last century, while the bulk of the latter accompanied an increasing Soviet influence, which marked the end of French occupation in 1954.

As we sat across from each other in the cafe booth, sipping an iced blend of espresso and sweetened condensed milk, he reflected on three of his favorite Western authors, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Hugo. He isn’t a believer, but I asked about the composite picture of Christianity these writers had supplied him.

Thinking, he rubbed his chin with one finger and then began, “I like Crime and Punishment because it’s a story of a madman, Raskolnikov, who becomes one of the best guys in the book at the end. And a young prostitute saw his soul and wanted to help him.”

He paused and squinted, continuing on a little quicker than before, “But God only fights inside the mind. With Tolstoy, it’s also like this, but God doesn’t have much power to influence the character of a person. For example . . . ”

He tapped the bit of glass tabletop beside his cup, scouring his mind for a name. I waited attentively and urged on his search with my fixed eyes and nodding head, excited at any mention of Dostoevsky, my favorite novelist. Once retrieved, the name filled in the empty space. “. . . Pierre, from War and Peace, dreams of many big things, like Raskolnikov, but he didn’t do anything big for anyone else. He only married Natasha. I think their faith is not as strong as Victor Hugo. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean believes God did everything for him, and he becomes a tool of God.”

Link: Complete Blog Post

Faith and Suffering

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

[13] Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? [14] But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, [15] but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, [16] having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:13–16

Hope is the form that faith takes under the threat of death.

“Yes, Lord, I believe”

John 11:17-27

[17] Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18] Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19] and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20] So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. [21] Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” [23] Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [25] Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [27] She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

In the novel, the Kite Runner, two childhood friends are divided by one boy’s guilt.  His friend was brutally assaulted by other boys.  He actually could have done something and he knows that only his selfishness and fear kept him from helping his friend.

When Martha approaches her Lord after her brother has died, she knows that Jesus could have done something.  She had pleaded with him to come, but He did not.  Martha could have been overcome with bitterness.

In Over the Rhine, our church children experience many things that they do not understand.  Why do fathers or mothers leave?  Why do beloved uncles and cousins get shot?  Why do “good” people go to jail, while “bad” people do whatever they want?  We, too, have our questions.  We, too, are confused by what the Lord allows in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Martha has questions, she is heartbroken, but she still believes in Jesus – that He is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27).  She does not know why Jesus delayed.  She does not know that Jesus will resurrect Lazarus in a few moments.  But she does know, that Jesus loved Lazarus deeply.  And she knows that He loves her (John 11:3, 5).

God may not answer many of our questions in this lifetime, but He does answer the most important question: does Jesus love you?  His answer is “Yes.”  He loves you enough to give His body and His blood for you.