Living by Faith... but not as we've known it
by Lynette Woods
"For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love." (Gal. 5:6, The Message)
When we hear the term "living by faith" we usually think of people who have felt called to stop working in their vocation and to 'live by faith'; expecting God to provide for their financial and physical needs. I have no doubt that our Father can and does provide for those whom He leads to live by faith in this way because I never knew anything else as a child and young adult. My parents were called to the missionfield when I was three and they sold their new house and belongings so they could go. The interdenominational mission that we were with was a "faith mission" and had the policy of not asking people for money or things that were needed, but asking only God. We saw Father provide for us time and time again and we not only had all we ever needed, but also (from a child's perspective) even things that I wanted. He proved His faithfulness time and time again. I also know friends who felt called to live by faith and their experience was a disaster!
I believe that God's grace was operating in both cases - but in quite different ways, because we are all called to live by faith, but not necessarily like either of the two examples I've given. We are all called to live by, through, in Faith, which is Christ. Faith is not a thing that needs to be stirred up or proclaimed; Faith is a Person and when you are in Him, you are living by Him and His Life and that IS living by/in/through Faith! Living in Him means you own nothing - even "your" faith comes from Him - and yet in having nothing but Christ, you have Everything.
Our Life in Him begins with Faith and is continued every moment by Faith - not by OUR faith but by His Faith. This Life and this Faith is not something we can bring into existence; it can only come from being born from above and having our source of Life in Christ. No religious rituals, statements of faith or sinner's prayers can make that happen; this Life must be born of GOD and not us! It is HE who chooses us, we do not "make a choice for Christ" - it is all of Him and it is all Grace: "You did not choose Me, but I chose YOU" (John 15:16). Was I born because I decided and chose to be born? Did my birth and entrance into this world have anything at all to do with me? Clearly the answer is no, and it is exactly the same with being 'born again'! If it is us that "makes a decision for Christ" then we are relying on ourselves and our flesh and our WORKS and self-effort and self-righteousness because that would mean that my birth was dependent on me and my flesh instead of on God and His Spirit.
It is a humbling thing to realize that this "choice" was simply a response to already having been chosen! If being born from above had anything to do with me then I could claim the credit and the glory for it and it would make me proud and self-righteous. As it is, this new Life was born of God and came from Him and He receives all the credit and glory for having brought forth Life! Just as a little baby did not ask to be born and has no understanding for some time after their birth, so we too often do not understand for some time what has happened to us, we simply know that we are alive and are experiencing Life. Our faith and understanding do not cause us to be born from above; rather we have faith and understanding because we were born and because Christ lives within us.
Living by faith in the traditional understanding of the term means stopping work for which we receive reward or reimbursement and instead seeing God provide. Living by faith in our spiritual, unseen life also means STOPPING our work done in our own strength and waiting on God to provide for all our needs in His time and way. We no longer look for any reward from our work here on this earth and instead know Christ as our Reward! This is illustrated in Matthew 6 where three times the phrase "Truly I tell you, they have their reward in full already" is repeated in reference to those who look like they are doing exactly what God would want them to: praying, giving and fasting. Yet because the unseen motivation for doing those things was from the flesh, it was rewarding their self-righteousness and their reward was the approval of man and the loss of the approval and reward of God. The contrast in these verses (1-8, 16-18) is between what is seen by man and what is unseen by man; because all is seen by God Who knows the motivations of our hearts. Praying, giving and fasting can all be motivated by needs that WE see and that we respond to in the flesh rather than being led by the Spirit - it is not those who pray, give and fast that are called the sons of God but those who know and are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14).
"If then you have died with Christ to material ways of looking at things and have escaped the world's crude and elemental notions and teachings of externalism, why do you live as if you still belong to the world? ...To do this is to follow human precepts and doctrines. Such practices have indeed the outward appearance that popularly passes for wisdom, in promoting SELF-imposed rigor of devotion and delight in SELF-humiliation and severity of discipline of the body, but they are of NO value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. Instead, they do not honor God but serve only to indulge the (religious) flesh." (Col. 2:20,22,23). Obviously there is nothing wrong with praying, giving and fasting; they are good things to do providing they are initiated by our Life in Christ and not by our flesh! Too often we are led by circumstances, needs and what we see instead of simply being led by the Spirit. God is always more interested in our hearts (the unseen internal) than our actions (the seen externals) because right actions never mean a right heart whereas a right heart will result in right actions. And so too with this issue of living by faith: it is not about the seen but the unseen (Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18).
This living by Faith must start with our being born from above; not because we have signed our own birth certificate or decided to be born, but because the Light has shined into our hearts and revealed Who and what Life really is all about and Who our Father is. Death must precede resurrection Life; stopping our own work and not relying on ourselves and our wisdom will not happen unless we die to ourselves. We often do not submit to this death which brings Life because we are so used to doing things in our own strength and being "in control" of as much as possible in our lives - that is the only "life" we have ever known!
The opposite of faith is not unbelief, or distrust, but FEAR. Both faith and fear are unseen but nevertheless very real! Fear is the logical result of doing things in our own strength and thinking we are in control, because the truth is that we are not, and never have been, in control. Fear often arises when things beyond our control affect us. When we have our security and trust in ourselves, when we rely on Self for our judgments, our happiness, our fulfillment, even our salvation, then it is all based in us and our flesh and when a storm comes we are rightly afraid, because we have built our house upon sand and we cannot control the weather. It is a battle for Life because fear is associated with death whereas faith is associated with Life and our fears show very clearly where our trust and faith and real life are - whether here or above. The more we know in our heart that we are born from above and that our real Life is there with Christ seated in the heavenlies, the less the things of this earth will cause us to fear because we are living in and by Faith, Who is Christ! HE is our Rock and He dispels our fears and trembling and brings stability and assurance because He is Love!
The question becomes: Can we fully, really trust God??? Of course we know the answer to that in our heads, but do we KNOW the Answer as Truth and reality in our hearts? Even if we know in our heads that He is absolutely trustworthy and faithful, we still cannot trust Him completely unless His Faith and Love are overcoming the fear inherent in us. We are either trusting God and living by Faith, or we are trusting ourselves and living by fear. So how do we experience this Faith that casts out fear? By seeing Truth; not only Truth in Christ, but also the truth about ourselves: that in us, in our flesh, there is no good thing and that not one of us is righteous. When we see who He is and who we are, He enables us to give up on ourselves and quit trusting ourselves and instead we lay down our lives and see Christ's Life in us instead. We die, He lives. Fear dies, Faith lives.
So is living by Faith easy? Yes and no! It is easy if we look up and see the unseen and know Christ as our Rest and our All and know the fact that He is GOD and can do anything! And it is not easy if we look down and see the seen and what appears to be facts that are larger than life. It becomes a matter of where we are focussing and whether our gaze is fixed on Jesus or on Self. It is not a matter of denying reality and claiming promises or making proclamations of faith (which are all works of the flesh because WE are trying to make something happen) but it is seeing and acknowledging the reality, hopelessness and impossibilities of life here on earth even while having absolute trust and faith in knowing that God is in complete control over it all. This is not something WE can do; it must be done by Faith, Christ!
We so often say or sing "He is Lord" but do our actions and words prove that fact? When we really do know Him as the Lord and Sovereign Ruler and King of our personal kingdom, then we give up our right to rule and make things happen in our lives; our kingdom has been handed over to Another and HE rules - we live in His Kingdom. We are utterly dependent upon Him and act and speak and move only as He and His Life within us directs. Fear usually rises when we realize that we are not in control of something, but when we know He is in control - not only knowing it in our head but KNOWING it as a fact in our hearts - then Faith drives out all fear. So often we think we know something but it may be merely a mental apprehension of knowledge and we don't need more of that kind of knowledge. We don't need to know someTHING but someONE - things are inanimate and do not contain Life. Christ IS Life and when Father brings forth His Life in us and we are born from above THEN we truly know in our heart and know by the spirit - it is Life and it is Truth - and we finally see, hear and understand as we are given new eyes, ears and heart! Our head knowledge often gets in the way because we THINK we know even when our heart does not and this can prevent us from receiving further revelation and unveiling from above. There is a world of difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge when it comes to knowing Christ.
He longs for us to really know Him... to know Him as our Everything and All, to know Him not because He brings Faith, Peace, Rest, Love and all that He is, but to know the reality of those aspects of Him in our lives simply because in the first place we know HIM! May we be those who know Him and love Him and live with Him not because of what He can give us but simply because He IS All and Everything; our Life, our Love, our Faith!
"Whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as loss for Christ's sake. Yes, I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all mere rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and that I may be found and known as in Him, not having any self-achieved righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law's demands, but possessing that which comes through faith in Christ, the right standing with God which comes from God by faith." (Phil. 3:8,9).