I want to introduce to you a series of posts that will focus on stories of people of faith. You will be familiar with some of the names, like Noah and Abel and Enoch, while other biblical characters will be less renowned, like the Widow of Zarephath, who still have important stories to tell.
But before we begin, I need to remind you of something important: the purpose of their stories is not to give you heroes to emulate, but rather to point you to a Person in whom your faith should reside.
You see, these men and women aren't memorable because they had faith; there's nothing special about the EXISTENCE of their faith. Rather, these individuals are memorable because they found an immoveable and eternal LOCATION for their faith - the God of the universe.
As I've written many times before, it's impossible to exist as a human being and not have faith. Every man, woman and child is born a philosopher and a theologian, organizing their life by a faith-based worldview that determines their thoughts, desires, words and actions. Even if their theology boldly declares, "There is no God!" and their lifestyle is defined by carefree autonomy, they still exist by faith - a belief that there is no God and no eternal consequence for their behavior.
God hardwired this capacity to have faith into the hearts and minds of every person who ever lived, with the ultimate purpose of driving them to faith in the Creator. Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
Notice the two inescapable and inseparable aspects of faith found in that verse. First, to have faith in God means you must "believe that he exists" - this is your commitment of heart and mind to belief. Second, since "he rewards those who seek him," faith is deciding, acting and speaking based on your belief in God's existence.
So, if I had to define faith, here's what I would write: faith is a commitment of the heart and mind to believe in God's existence that radically changes the way that you live.
But that leaves us with one more question: where the rubber meets the road in daily life, what does it mean to believe that God exists? We find a wonderful answer to this question in Acts 17.
Belief In God
The Apostle Paul is in Athens waiting to connect with fellow missionaries when he observes people worshipping an altar inscribed to "an unknown God." Being the gospel missionary that he was, Paul can't resist jumping into a conversation with the local philosophers and letting them know that the God who exists is really quite knowable.
Here's what he says in Acts 17:24-31:
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
"'In him we live and move and have our being’
as even some of your own poets have said,
"'For we are indeed his offspring.'
Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
In this incredibly concise but complete and practical statement, Paul brilliantly defines what it means to "believe that God exists." There are three elements:
1. To believe that God exists, you must believe that he is the CREATOR of all that is (v. 24)
Foundational to every other commitment of vertical faith is the belief that God is the Creator of everything that exists. His awesome presence, power and wisdom is communicated all around us by everything he made.
Since he created all that is, he is the only eternal and self-sufficient being. Consequently, because we are his creatures, we've been designed to be dependent on him.
To believe that God is Creator is to believe that your life does not belong to you but to him - that he owns every one of us, and that we only ever live properly when we live in submission to him and inside of the boundaries of his plan for us.
2. To believe that God exists, you must believe that he is SOVEREIGN over all things and all people (v. 26)
This second aspect of true biblical faith is also fundamental. Believing in God means that you rest in his unchallenged rulership over every situation, location and relationship that has ever or will ever exist.
Paul is very specific as he talks about this. It's not just that God is in some kind of general, distant rule over the universe; no, Paul posits that God is in such specific control that he determines the exact address where everyone will live and the exact length of everyone’s life.
It's humbling to understand that although God wired us to be able to make choices, we don't author our own stories. This means that peace of heart will never be found in figuring out your life and planning well, but in resting in the One who has everything figured out and whose plan for us is perfect.
3. To believe that God exists, you must believe that he is the one and only SAVIOR for fallen mankind (v. 31)
In Paul’s concluding remarks about repentance, judgment and the resurrection, he summarizes the salvation story: this God who is Creator and Sovereign is also Savior.
He sent his Son to live the life we couldn't live, to die the death we should have died, and to conquer the enemy that no human could ever conquer, so that we could receive his offer of forgiveness and life eternal.
We simply cannot embrace the belief in God as Savior without also acknowledging the sin in our hearts from which we all need to be saved. Just like with God's sovereignty, rest is not found in our own attempts to live a good life, but in trusting the One who lived a perfect life on our behalf.
So what does it look like for you to have your own story of faith? Well, if you believe in God as Creator, Sovereign and Savior, it will radically change the way you live. It will influence every thought, desire, choice, action and word in some way. You will live your life more as the result of vertical confidence and rest than as the result of horizontal craving and hope.
In these stories of faith, you will see a common theme running between each man and women: they were confident in God's existence.
But it's also important to recognize that belief in God is not natural for any of us, even for these characters that we'll be studying. Faith means we put God at the center, submit to his will, and abandon our glory for his. But what's natural for all humans is to put ourselves at the center, to demand our way, and to be obsessed by whatever gives us glory.
When you read these stories of faith, and when you see how these men and women laid down their life to live for the existence of God, you know that they were visited by grace.
There won't be any heroes in this series. Whether their lives went quiet and unnoticed, or whether they are known down through the ages, they all had one thing in common: grace entered their door and radically rearranged their heart.
It takes grace to live by faith, and it even takes grace to know that you need that grace. The reason we're going to take the time to consider these individuals is because ultimately their stories are stories of grace - the very same grace that each of us needs so that we may "believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" and think, desire, choose, act and speak accordingly.
May these stories encourage each of us to cry out for that same rescuing and transforming grace.