The Nature of Faith and Evidence
Contrary to what some think, faith and evidence are in harmony with each other. God does not ask us to believe Him in spite of evidence to the contrary. He wants us to consider the evidence and make a decision to put our faith in Him based upon that evidence (e.g., Matt. 11:2–6). It is our purpose in these articles to overview some of the evidences God has provided. First, we want to think about the nature of evidence and faith.
What Is Evidence?
“Evidence” is proof that helps to establish something as valid. It helps us to form a proper conclusion about a matter. The type of evidences to which we appeal are not scientific. For something to properly belong to science, it should be observable, repeatable, and testable. This excludes unique, historical events. Science is limited. There are matters of science that have a bearing upon the Bible, but these cannot directly test the historical events.
The kind of evidence to which we appeal is historical. Historical evidence involves data such as eyewitnesses, written documents, and archaeological finds. Historical data leads us to conclude that certain people existed, or certain events occurred. In this way, we know that Jesus Christ lived, died, and arose again from the dead. Faith in Jesus is based upon the historical validity of the events which are ascribed to Him. In seeking to know and understand history, we are building a foundation upon which to understand and trust God.
The testimony of eyewitnesses is significant. In a court of law, eyewitness testimony can help convict or acquit a defendant. The Bible claims to have been confirmed by eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1–4). The resurrection of Jesus was confirmed by hundreds of eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:1–8). This is of primary importance.
What Is Faith?
The basic idea of faith is “trust.” When we put faith in God, then we are willing to listen and do what He says. Why would one choose to trust God? Because of a conviction that God is true. This conviction comes by examining the evidence God has left for Himself. The evidence is strong enough that it warrants a choice of faith.
Biblical faith is built upon evidence. This is shown in John 20:24–31. After Jesus was raised, He appeared to His disciples. Thomas, not present, later said that he would not believe unless he saw (v. 25). Jesus appeared to the disciples again. When Thomas saw, he responded, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28). The fact that Thomas would not believe did not change the nature of the evidence. Christ had risen whether Thomas believed it or not.
Jesus replied, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and believed” (v. 29). The resurrected Christ was evidence of the power of God. Note that in verses 30–31, the signs Jesus performed were designed to be evidence that would lead one to believe in Him. We have not seen Jesus, but the written records testify to His historical validity.
Faith is a reasonable response to the evidence. “Blind faith,” which has no supporting evidence, is unreasonable. Faith is not “believing something you know isn’t true.” It is accepting and acting upon that which has credible evidence to support it.
We should not take an approach to God solely on the basis of our reasoning. If we rely too much on our own thinking, we may reject biblical principles and commands because they don’t “make sense” to us (see Proverbs 14:12). We have the ability to reason and think, and God expects us to use our minds. But once we are convicted that “God is” and that He rewards (Hebrews 11:6), then we have reason to trust Him, even if we don’t understand everything (see Hebrews 11:8).
The study of evidences does not create faith, but it does help remove some stumbling blocks and give us greater confidence in the things of God. Faith comes by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). Let’s be convicted of this, and accept what God has done for us.
Faith That Overcomes
In Atlanta, as in all metropolitan areas, there are thousands of displaced Christians who once were faithful, but now are completely inactive spiritually. When approached, they almost always have excuses. Some blame others: their parents, families, or brethren in Christ who they feel have mistreated them. Others blame their new environment where the church is strange or unknown and where unbelief and immorality are the norm among their new acquaintances. A few even blame God, complaining that He has forsaken them: they have been sick, had accidents, lost jobs or suffered other disasters from which they feel He should have saved them.
In the book of Genesis, we read of a young man who was abruptly removed from his homeland and taken into a strange country—Egypt. Joseph had been a faithful servant of God in Canaan and could have made all of the excuses described above if he had chosen to forsake God in Egypt.
Joseph had been wronged. He was in Egypt because his brothers had sold him into slavery. With no way of knowing that his father assumed him dead, he had reason to blame his father for not sending to rescue him. When he refused to be seduced by his master’s wife, she lied about him and he was imprisoned; then a prominent fellow-prisoner whom he befriended forgot his promise to remember Joseph after his release. The situation in which he found himself was strange. No longer a son, he was a slave; no longer a native, he was a foreigner. The God of his fathers was unknown in Egypt and idols were worshipped instead. Immorality was the rule in the land and a young teenager could hardly be expected to resist the fleshly appeal of such an environment, especially when so much of his suffering was a direct result of his efforts to please his God. Surely God had forsaken him!
Joseph did not forsake God. He did forget his father’s house, as indicated by his naming his first born son “Forgetfulness” (Genesis 41:51), but this was the means by which he escaped the bitterness that otherwise would have clouded his life. He made a new place for himself in his new home. As a slave, he became the best slave he could be; imprisoned, he became an exemplary prisoner; as prime minister, he was loyal to his king and highly respected for his service to his adopted land. But, above all things, he remained loyal to God in his personal life and worship. He gave God time to work out His purpose for him and in later years he was able to see that God had used even the reverses of his life as the means of bringing his own exaltation and the salvation of his people.
As remarkable as these evidences of faith are, however, they are not the one featured in Hebrews. There it is noted: “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22). Joseph was aware of the promise made to Abraham that his seed should inherit the land of Canaan after a sojourn in Egypt. Though none of that land actually belonged to his family at the time of his death, God’s promise meant more to him than all of his achievements in Egypt. He might have had an extremely honorable burial in Egypt with a great monument erected to the memory of Zaphnath-Paaneah (his Egyptian name), but he understood the transient nature of human honors and preferred to lay hold of the promises of God and be buried in Canaan. He did not even ask for immediate removal of his body to Canaan, but chose rather to have it taken when God’s promise of an exodus was accomplished.
As prime minister of Egypt, Joseph enjoyed the best which that land had to offer for the remainder of his lifetime. In addition, his descendants received a double portion of Israel’s inheritance, for his two sons were given an inheritance equal to that of each of his brothers. But, above all of this, he lived with a clear conscience and peace of mind in knowing that he was approved of God. And you and I, who likely would never have heard of Zaphnath-Paaneah, now honor Joseph and imitate his faith in the hope of sharing with him in that eternal reward which God has for all of the faithful. Faith is the victory!
Feelings Or Faith
The nineties may well go down in history as the decade of feeling. Feelings clearly determine the values and standards of our times. Feeling good about ourselves is the mark of the good life. Feeling good is considered our birthright, and anyone who interferes with our good feelings has wronged us.
Schools encourage this attitude. I recall visiting the principal of a school which was adopting a new educational policy. Each student made a contract with the school and when he arrived in the morning he could do whatever he felt like doing that day. I have not heard the results in that school, but the results of such education are evident in our society. Multitudes of able bodied people are depending on others for their livelihood simply because they feel more like loafing than working.
Feelings have become the test of morality. “If it feels good, do it” is a popular motto. “How can this be wrong when it feels so right?” is a question asked in a familiar song. More than one jury has acquitted an obviously guilty criminal simply because they felt good about him. And the grossly immoral conduct of more than one executive has been tolerated because people felt good about how things were going.
In religion, as well as in other areas of thought, people now talk more about how they feel than about what they believe. Years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to leave an assembly disturbed by what I had preached, saying, “I don’t believe that, and I am going to take my Bible and prove you wrong.” Now they say, “I don’t feel as you do on this subject” and go their way and think no more about it.
Some judge the success of a worship service by how good they feel when it is finished. Churches often cater to this by introducing various devices to produce those good feelings, and attendance grows. One problem with this is that such devices must continually be upgraded as the old ones cease to have the desired effect, and before long activities are introduced which are not authorized in scripture. Any criticism of such practices, however, is refuted by pointing to their rapid numerical growth.
Another problem is that those who are not right with God need to feel bad about themselves. Godly sorrow is necessary to produce repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Nathan’s rebuke left David feeling bad about himself, but it was his salvation. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord … No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5, 11).
Justifying our conduct by feelings is a cop-out. We do not feel obligated to defend our feelings, for no one else can know how we feel. But our beliefs must be defended; we are expected to be able to give reasons for what we believe.
Is right and wrong determined by feelings or by faith? Not one word in scripture justifies anything on the basis of feeling. “We walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
The demands of faith and those of feeling often conflict. The heroes of faith featured in scripture often acted contrary to their feelings. Would you suppose that Abraham “felt like” leaving his homeland for an unknown destination, or offering his son on an altar? Yet, he did those things by faith (Hebrews 11:9–18). Do you think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego “felt like” defying the king’s command to worship his image, knowing that a fiery furnace was already prepared for those who did? Or that Daniel really “felt like” praying openly to Jehovah when he knew that hungry lions were waiting to feast on one who did so?
Read Paul’s lists of things he endured as recorded in 1 Corinthians 4, 2 Corinthians 6 and 11 and ask if he really “felt like” preaching. In 2 Corinthians 5:12 he summarizes it all by saying, “death is working in us.” Why did he continue preaching? The next verses gives the answer: “But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul acted by faith, not by feeling.
Many justify absence from worship or failure to study and pray because, “I just don’t feel like it and if I don’t feel like it, it will do no good.” When we are tempted to think this way it is time to revisit Gethsemane.” See that suffering sinless one weeping, praying there alone.” And what is His petition? “O My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Does He feel like going to the cross? Obviously not! Yet, he adds, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
When Feelings say “NO” to any duty, Faith says, “Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as You will.” Only then do we have a right to “feel good about ourselves.”
God’s Absolute Faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith
Righteousness by faith: the character or quality of being right—in God’s sight—and that, not on the basis of our own merit or goodness, but, by faith.
A search for the beginning of such righteousness takes us back to the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis. Consider the following:
Abel. “By faith Abel … obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel, righteous? Had not Abel sinned? How could Abel be viewed as righteous, even by the Lord Himself? The answer lies in the fact that Abel’s righteousness was not based on his own sinlessness or merit; his was a righteousness by faith.
Noah. “By faith … became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Abraham. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). So significant is the fact that Abraham was accounted righteous by faith rather than by any merit of his own, that the statement is repeated in the book of James (2:23), in the book of Galatians (3:6), and several times in the book of Romans (4:3, 9, 22).
Righteousness by faith: a theme beginning in Genesis, but continuing throughout scripture. The theme reaches its climax in the book of Romans, where the “faith” by which one is proclaimed “righteous” is defined as faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). This righteousness had been “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21); was manifested in the death of Jesus whose blood became the propitiation (Romans 3:25); and is now “revealed” in the gospel (Romans 1:16, 17). The Holy Spirit in Romans reveals clearly that this righteousness is not the result of perfect law keeping, but of Cod’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:7, 8). Accountable beings have lived in different dispensations and under different laws, but all who are saved eternally will have been (1) saved by the blood of Jesus and (2) proclaimed righteous on the basis of faith.
Not One’s Own Righteousness
One cannot be saved on the basis of his own righteousness. The reason is stated clearly in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All the righteous deeds one may practice cannot erase one sin. One is therefore dependent on Gods grace. He must come to a righteousness which is of God: “But when the kindness and the love of Cod our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5). The Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” and in their self-righteousness, they “despised others” (Luke 18:9). Arrogance and contempt for others are inevitable outgrowths of self-righteousness. But when one comes in faith to be proclaimed righteous through God’s forgiveness he can only “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
What kind of faith is under consideration in the expression “righteousness by faith”? Clearly, it is an active, obedient faith.
Consider Abel’s faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).
Consider Noah’s faith: “By faith Noah … prepared an ark … and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Consider Abraham’s faith: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son on the altar … And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (James 2:21–23). Abraham demonstrated a faith that not only could believe anything God said, but would do anything God told him to do. This is the faith that results in righteousness—the righteousness which is of God.
When one places his faith in Jesus Christ rather than in his own righteousness, and submits to His command to “repent and he baptized” (Acts 2:38), he finds in Him “remission of sins;” he has become righteous on the basis of faith. As he continues a life of submission and obedience to the Lord, humbly asking forgiveness for his failures, he still rejoices in righteousness by faith. Then when he reaches the end of life, he can rejoice with Paul in being “found in Him, not having my own righteousness … but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God be faith” (Philippians 3:9). This is “rejoicing in the Lord.” Herein lies man’s hope!