By faith: musings on the life of faith and its reward

17 06 2010

The life of faith is always a struggle; yet it is the only life to be lived before God.  Without faith, the Bible reminds us, it is impossible to please God.  We please God when, firstly, we acknowledge His existence; secondly, we come to Him; and thirdly, we recognise that He rewards those who earnestly seek him.  The NIV suggests these three by the sentence construction: “Anyone who comes to him must believe…that He exists and…that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Lives of faith are set before us in Hebrews 11 – people who were sure of what they hoped for and certain about things they could not see – people whose faith was set upon God.  Abel, Enoch and Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; Moses, Israel and Rahab.  The list goes on, unending: Gideon, Barak and Samson; Jephthah, David and Samuel; prophets, women, ‘others’ and ‘some’.  They are collectively known as ‘the ancients’ – not by reason of their age but because they were people of old, from an era long removed from the writer and more so from our own twenty-first century.

As if such distance in time was not enough to put us off further consideration of their example we are reminded twice in the chapter that ‘they did not receive what was promised’; even Abraham, the ‘father of faith’.  Here is some indication of the nature of their struggle, yet nevertheless, they were all commended for their faith… because the ultimate goal of faith is not the here and now, but the hereafter; not the matters of this world but the matters of a world yet to come.  Faith is concerned with a city – the city of God – where, by God’s design and plan the people of faith from every generation are to dwell with Him.  That promise was yet future for all those ‘ancients’ and it is still yet future for us ‘moderns’ and so-called ‘post-moderns’.  The fulfilment of God’s promise is still the ‘something better’ God has planned and which we receive by faith.  This is the reward of faith.

The reward of faith was set out and secured by its Author – who is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He is none other than our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He became the perfecter of faith for all who believe in Him because by His death on the cross, he brought us to God by the atonement made through His own life blood shed there.  Jesus is an even better example of the life of faith than all those ‘ancients’ because he himself lived by faith, despising the shame and agony of the cross, believing that by his own sacrifice He could make perfect forever all who come to God by Him.  God was ‘well pleased’ with His Son.  His faith-full life and service, the ‘something better’ which God had planned, secures for all who believe in Him the reward of faith.  Faith in Jesus allows us to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.

Yet God’s ‘reward’ is surely not confined to the future hope of a city in which God will not be ashamed to call us His people and we to call Him our God.   Why, did not Abel find his sacrifice accepted?  Did not Noah see God’s provision in the instructions for the ark?  Were not Abraham and Sarah blessed with a son in their old age through faith in the promise of God?  And in some small measure were not these things ‘the reward’ of a faith placed in the faithful and benevolent God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Hebrews chapter 11 makes it plain that these people lived a life of faith.  Faith characterised their outlook, their worldview, their perspective on every incident of life. 

The life of faith sees God in every moment, great or small.  The life of faith ‘earnestly seeks Him’ in everyday occurrences as well as in the high days and holy days of Christian experience.  The life of faith traces the hand of God in the fury of flames miraculously quenched and in the flogging of believers mercilessly jeered.  Whatever the race marked out may bring the life of faith is ready to see in it the hand of God – at times blessing, at times disciplining – in all things a hand that leads us on to holiness, without which no-one will see the Lord.

Abraham’s life is lived ‘by faith’.  We read ‘By faith Abraham… obeyed and went‘ which resulted in a complete change of lifestyle and circumstance.  Abraham removes himself from the dependence of the family and the society he has known all his days and launches out, dependent only on God.  ‘By faith Abraham… made his home‘, established his roots, did his business, lived out his life, worshipped his God like a stranger, a foreigner – one not quite accepted in the society in which he was based.  ‘By faith Abraham… lived in tents‘.  He saw himself as a nomad, a sojourner, someone with no permanent place in this world – the writer of Hebrews suggests he was seeking a better place to live and that place would not be found in this world.  ‘By faith Abraham… was looking forward‘.  Abraham’s life was characterised by looking forward, not looking back.  He sought out the new things God had for him – he was a man of spiritual vision.  It is certainly true that he made some serious errors of judgement and took matters into his own hands at times, but his course was always set looking forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises and to the ultimate hope of a final dwelling place with God.  In all his life, but especially in regard to having a son we discover that, ‘By faith Abraham… was enabled.‘  Yes, Abraham like Elijah after him was ‘a man just like us’ but a man of faith who recognised his need for the enabling power of God, received by faith.  God’s power was seen in His supernatural intervention in the birth of Isaac.  Despite receiving the promise of God in providing an heir we see the implicit obedience and complete trust of this man when we hear that ‘By faith Abraham… offered Isaac‘.  Faith was no irrational impulse, no religious fanaticism, no pagan rite or pious ritual.  Faith in God stands Abraham in good stead when using the intellect His Creator gave him we find that ‘By faith Abraham… reasoned that God could…‘.  He reasoned that God could what… ?  Yes, God could even raise the dead!  And faith was such that out of his ready trust and contrite obedience, Abraham did in some measure receive back Isaac ‘from the dead’.

In seeking God’s rewards in the everyday occurrences of life – through the pain and pleasure of life; through the anguish of barrenness and the joy of children; through abundance and plenty or through loneliness and famine; through strife with loved ones and the attack of enemies; through the blessing and discipline of God in the way marked out for the life of faith  – Abraham nourishes and develops a true and meaningful faith in a God with whom he has forged a deep and thoroughly satisfying relationship of great worth.  This is his great reward – to know God and to be known by Him – he cannot wait until the life of faith gives way to sight and he comes to dwell with Him forevermore.