What the Bible says about
Faith Comes by Hearing
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The King James Version's and the New King James Version'swording is a bit awkward for our modern ears unless we carefully follow Paul's line of thought from the beginning of the chapter. Isaiah, whom Paul quotes, is saying the faith exists when people hear the message, believe it, and then obey it. Three modern versions help to clarify this:
The Revised English Bible: "So then faith does come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." This helps to show that this verse is a concluding statement, an appeal to believe the facts and the logical reasoning that preceded it.
The New Testament in Modern English, better known as the "Phillips' Translation": "Belief, you see, can only come from hearing the message, and the message is the word of Christ." (Emphasis ours throughout.)
Moffat: "You see, faith must come from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ."
Biblical faith, a very specific faith, comes from a person knowing, believing, and using what God says in His Word strongly enough to make it a constant part of his life.
Of concern to this faith is where is the information that is entering our minds and guiding our conduct coming from? Never has mankind lived in a time when powerful and frequent communication is so easily available and seemingly limitless in quantity. Radio, television, the Internet, movies, cell phones, iPads, etc., pound our eyes and ears almost incessantly. Perhaps the most powerful influence is the general attitude of the people and the events in which our lives are immersed within the culture. Few people in the world seriously care any longer about what God says in His Word. This can subtly and silently affect our attitudes and conduct in daily life.
Are we living our lives by the faith? Those who have some respect for God are overwhelmed in our culture's civic life, thus public reference to God has been removed from schools, courts, universities, and governments. The secularism of mankind dominates. The result is abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, and same-sex marriage as acceptable practices. Thus, it may appear even to those who do care as though Satan has overwhelmed God and is dominating life on earth. We must understand that those not living by the faith set the world's spirit, fashions, novels, movie themes, and music in this culture. We must resist being drawn in.
Notice the use of the word "wanders." God's children do not ordinarily deliberately plan to go astray, but whether they do or do not, regardless of the intention, the result is the same.
Hebrews 2:1-3 provides an illustration in which there is no deliberate intention to sin:
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.
The metaphor in "lest we drift away" is of a boat slipping its moorings and drifting away, caught in the currents it was tied against. Paul makes clear that the spiritual drifting is the result of neglecting the priorities set by our calling into the Kingdom of God, just as a boat will drift away if it is not tied securely. Other parts of the book of Hebrews show that neglect becomes a factor when one is not consciously living a purposely directed life. The epistle's recipients were neglectfully drifting through life.
Hebrews 5:11-14 shows us the result:
. . . of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
These people had become "dull of hearing" and apparently were rapidly regressing toward unconversion. Neglect is particularly spiritually dangerous. Through neglect, they were seriously drifting into a lack of faith deep enough to have to relearn the fundamentals of this way of life. When dullness of hearing is tied to Romans 10:17—"faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"—we can understand that, if one does not hear correctly, motivation to live by faith greatly diminishes.
Hebrews was written to encourage a congregation of neglectful and drifting people to repent, to get back on track toward the Kingdom. Considering their dullness of hearing, the book of Proverbs provides what might be a shocking reality, one we hope we will not have to face if we will repent.
Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:32-36)
Bluntly stated, Wisdom's sage and exhortative counsel is, "Listen carefully and apply what I tell you diligently. If you do not, but instead live a life of sin, then the conclusion of the matter is that, in reality, you love death rather than life." Since our calling, have we ever pictured ourselves as loving death? Those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives by faith toward obedience to God in reality love death!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice
The counsel Solomon gives provides specific insight into the evils these people were committing. He says in verse 1, “Draw near to hear.” In verse 2, he advises, “Do not be rash with your mouth,” as well as, “let not your heart utter anything hastily before God” and “let your words be few.” In verse 3, he states, “A fool's voice is known by his many words.” Finally, back in verse 2, he counsels humility, “for God is in heaven, and you on earth.” Whatever they were doing was more serious than it appeared on the surface.
His initial counsel involves hearing. Jesus says in Matthew 13:8-9: “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” He gives the same sobering admonition in Matthew 13:41-43:
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
The first command to hear lies in the Parable of the Sower and the second in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. Both have the same urgent sense and end with exclamation points, emphasizing urgent seriousness. The instruction on hearing in the Parable of the Sower is quite clear. Consider these factors in what Jesus said: The seed is the Word of God, so what the sower cast was good. In addition, the human soil the seed fell upon was also good.
However, one factor is still beyond the sower's power. The soil, that is, the person the seed fell on, has the power to allow or reject the seed's taking root by choosing to listen or not. That singular choice is of particular importance at this point in the parable. The same conclusion is true in verse 43 concerning the hearer choosing the Lake of Fire or the Kingdom of God. When Jesus uses the term “hear,” He means more than just hearing audible sound; we also “hear” as we read His Word. He is thus emphasizing that people have the power to shut off hearing completely even though the Word of God enters their ears or their eyes and He has opened their minds to grasp it. It is the individual's responsibility to hear, consider, and then accept or reject it.
Mark 4:23-25 contains the same urgent warning, but he adds an additional truth that is important to us, a second lesson:
“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
The lesson is that, not only must we first consciously turn on our hearing to be converted, but we must also selectively choose from among all we hear and thoughtfully accept or reject. In others words, we must discipline ourselves to be selective in order to grow, overcome, and glorify God.
Why are these elements of our conversion so important? Romans 10:16-17 provides a condensed foundational reason: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'LORD, who has believed our report?' So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Hearing may well be our highest responsibility in our relationship with God because we must live by faith (Hebrews 11:38), and faith begins and is sustained by hearing. Hearing is serious business for the children of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
Jesus Christ's declaration is interesting because the subject directly involves a resurrection, and it is also tied to a vital process that sets the elect apart. The key words in this verse are "hear" and "dead."
We need to add a thought from Ephesians 2:1: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Before God's calling, even though we were physically alive, we were spiritually dead because of sin. However, John 5:25 says that the dead "hear" His voice. Similarly, those who are spiritually dead cannot "hear" God's Word until they are called, made part of the elect, and enabled by God to hear and thus understand His Word clearly.
Another important factor appears in Hebrews 10:38: "The just shall live by faith." Also, Ephesians 2:8 says that we are "saved by grace through faith." Romans 10:17 adds, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Finally, in John 6:63, Jesus clinches the point: "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life."
This linkage of truths makes vitally clear the importance of the calling and election by God. His enabling of us to "hear" is what begins to sweep away the spiritual blindness that has kept us ignorant of the purpose He is working out here below. This miracle of hearing gives rise to truly effective faith. It makes God's Word truly logical and believable, making commitment in obedience to His purpose possible.
Yet, what if a person cannot "hear" what God is saying? None of these saving elements comes to pass in life because no faith is produced!
Jesus utters another awesome, humbling truth in John 10:3-4, 6, 16:
"To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." . . . Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. . . . "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
He describes our calling and relationship with our Shepherd—Himself—in intimate and personal terms. "He calls them by name." He personally leads them out of their pen, a symbol of the world in which we are held captive, enslaved, and spiritually dead. Conversely, verse 6 plainly depicts the spiritual condition of the uncalled: They did not understand. God had not enabled them because He was not calling them to be a part of His purpose at that time. Thus, the miracle that opens our minds so we could "hear" was not performed on them.
Romans 8:30 adds another startling truth: "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and who He justified, these He also glorified." Only the called are justified! Justification through repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what permits us into the presence of God, enabling further growth to glorification in God's Kingdom!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
2 Corinthians 5:7
There is a similarity between eyesight and faith simply in the effect that they have—one on the physical, the other on the spiritual. Nevertheless, in terms of II Corinthians 5:7, faith and eyesight are opposites. Recall that Hebrews 11:1 says that "faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen." Faith is the conviction of what we have heard but cannot see. "Faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17).
Man says. "Seeing is believing." So when a man sees something, he is convicted, and his mind, then, is inclined to what he has seen. In the life of the righteous, faith is the controlling factor that motivates his conduct. The importance of eyesight is true in the physical realm, but it means almost nothing in the spiritual realm.
Consider physical Israel. The Israelites saw multiple miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness, but they seem to have profited them almost nothing. They saw the Nile turn to blood. They saw the frogs. They saw the lice. They saw the darkness. They saw the hail. They saw the fire on the ground. They saw the murrain kill the cattle. They saw the firstborn die. They saw the Red Sea part. They saw the pillar of fire and the cloud. They saw water coming out of the rock. They saw manna on the ground every day for forty years. They saw all those things.
Yet, what they saw did not affect their minds spiritually at all because eyesight means almost nothing in terms of the spiritual. Faith is the foundation, the assurance, the substance, the confidence, of things not seen—the invisible realm of God. In terms of faith, what a person can see with his eyes is more likely to frighten him and create doubt than it is to build faith.
Faith, according to Ephesians 2:8, is a gift of God. It is a gift because we did not have real spiritual faith until God began to call us. It is a gift because, by a mighty miracle, God opened our minds to enable us to understand His Word so that we can process the evidence we hear from His Word and make right choices relevant to His Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Two)
2 Timothy 3:1
Sufficient pressure comes from the world, so that, if we are lackadaisical in carrying out our Christian responsibilities, we can easily allow ourselves to follow Satan's arrangement of things, as shown in the world. There is much out there that is attractive to human nature and to true Christians, and we can see, despite two thousand years of preaching by the church, the overwhelming majority is still following the broad way.
The world makes it seem as though Christianity is an abject failure—an altruistic experience that has gone awry. The world gives every impression that God has either gone far off, and that His whole creation is nothing more than a kind of cosmic joke. Some believe God never really did care, and the creation is a mere plaything of His with no positive, beneficial purpose in mind.
Thus, with that kind of approach, if we are lackadaisical, the world can be very persuasive. When viewing the expanse of Christian history, it is not difficult for a carnal person to reach the conclusion that God has good intentions, but that He is frequently disappointed because Satan outwits Him or man thwarts Him. God, then, is frustrated in everything that He tries to do. It is as if He says that He wants to bless men, but they will not let Him.
Who with that perspective could take God seriously? It makes it easy to think—and thus to live—as though God really is not sovereign in His creation. We must take these thoughts and questions seriously, yet considering them directly, as we are doing now, we are likely to say that we do not think that way.
We think that God is in complete and total control, ruling His creation. We hope and believe that is true. Even so, experience shows that, though we confess this, we sometimes—perhaps often—live and talk as the world does. Who will not think or live that way? Those who really live by faith.
What does "walk by faith" mean? It means that we are allowing our thoughts to be formed, and therefore our conduct guided, by God's Word, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by means of the word of God (Romans 10:17). The most frequently repeated command, charge, or exhortation of Jesus Christ during His ministry can be reduced to one word: "listen"! What did He mean? "Listen to the message!"—because this is the very thing that mankind has not done. Faith comes by hearing.
Faith comes by means of listening to the Word of God. How much faith is being displayed on earth today? Not very much! There is so little, that Jesus wondered, "When the Son of man comes, will He find any faith on earth?" He will not find much because not very many people think God is the Sovereign Ruler of His creation. It is that simple! They may think they believe it, but their lives do not show it. If their lives showed it, it would prove that they really were listening to the Word of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)
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