A Mosaic of Faith from the Gospels
by William Seaver
A Mosaic of Faith from the Gospels
By William L. Seaver
THIS BOOK IS not an autobiographical exposition about my faith or anyone else’s faith in God. It is an attempt to define faith in God as illustrated, taught, and extolled in the Gospels. Having been involved in some sort of ministry for almost forty years, including university ministry, college athletic ministry, discipleship ministry among men in the workplace, various church ministries for all ages, small group ministries, and full-time pastoral ministry, and as a professor who is excited about his faith on campus, my soul has been troubled about the lack of faith, the stagnant faith, or the weak faith I have witnessed in myself and others.
As a result, I started my own personal study of faith in the Gospels and the interchanges about faith between Jesus and His disciples and between Jesus and others with the disciples looking on. Many have encouraged me to put the series in print to pass on to others who may need to reassess their faith in God or who may not really have faith in God but have gone through the motions of religion without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior. Others who might benefit are those who need encouragement in their faith or who really desire their faith in a great God to grow even more in His way and His time.
As a result of this need to evaluate or reassess our faith in God, examples of faith from my life or the lives of others are sparsely interwoven into this book. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is based on parts of Exodus and Numbers with the need for water. The first time God provided water for the sons of Israel by commanding Moses to strike the rock, after which the waters came forth abundantly (Ex. 17). And the second time in Numbers chapter twenty God told Moses to speak to the rock, but in Moses' impatience he struck the rock again. God provided water because the need of the people was more important than dealing with Moses right then. The third time the Israelites were to sing and dig for water (Num. 21).
On three different occasions, God saw fit to provide for the need of water in three different ways so that the trust of those people would be in Him and not the method. I am very concerned that people might misconstrue my examples and how God led and acted for me or others by thinking that is what He will do for them.
The second reason for few examples is to put my personality in the background and allow the face of Christ to shine brightly. The essence of each chapter is to expound the biblical text and the flow of events coming up to the teachable moment. At the end of each chapter (except chapters one and fourteen) are sections entitled “Life response to biblical truth” and “Questions for reflection.” These sections delineate applications or insights about the truths that need to be personally considered or applied.
This is not one of those books to be read at one or two sittings. As with studying the Gospels, one needs to move thoughtfully and prayerfully through each chapter, slowly and under the power of the Holy Spirit, asking God to help the reader hear His voice. If one were studying a chapter per week, he or she might choose one application to meditate on each day. It is the author’s desire that this book be read not once but many times. Maybe on each reading God will prick your heart, as He does mine, to focus on a specific application that is pertinent at the moment.
Finally, this book was not designed to replace anyone’s time in studying the Word of God. Rather, my intent is to help readers evaluate where their faith is, but most importantly, where our eyes of faith need to be focused. This book is not a complete treatise on faith; instead, it looks at faith as specifically mentioned in the Gospels. This study has caused me to stand in amazement of my Savior and the wonder of His ways and timing. In other words, our focus on God and obedience to His Word should become more intense but relaxed. We must remember to “cease striving and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
C H A P T E R 1
FAITH BEYOND THE GOSPELS AND ACTS
A. W. TOZER SAID, “Real faith is not the stuff dreams are made of; rather it is tough, practical and altogether realistic. Faith sees the invisible but it does not see the nonexistent. Faith engages God, the one great Reality, who gave and gives existence to all things. God’s promises conform to reality, and whoever trusts them enters a world not of fiction but of fact.”
This real faith is not found in people, programs, organizations, traditions, marketing, or emotionalism. It is found in God and His Word. Of course, if someone doesn’t know Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he cannot walk by faith in anything that he does. Many believers, however, fail to walk by faith because they trust in what works (i.e., a tendency to doing things in a practical manner that works) and not in what God says. For instance, suppose you met someone at an athletic club who is only in town for a few days because his parents are moving. After the workout, you talked and had a good conversation; but later that afternoon the Holy Spirit burdened your soul that you should have shared the gospel with the individual. Would you spend several hours trying to find this person to share the good news with him? This may not be practical, but obedience here would be an act of faith.
Or suppose a family with two young children needs a larger car. They live in a small, rural town about an hour from a larger town. They need to buy a larger car to handle their family transportation needs, but they need to sell their sporty car quickly to be faithful with God’s money. They expected their car to sell quickly since it was in excellent condition, but they begin to realize that they were trusting in their car and not in God. As a result, they run an ad in the large town newspaper for buyers to come see the car only on Saturday in that town. This may not be practical, but if they are acting on faith, don’t they drive the car to be sold and another car so they have transportation back home? Doesn’t real faith see the invisible God as able to do exceedingly beyond what we ask or think (Eph. 3:20)? Suppose the buyer of the car wants the owner to say that the purchase price is only $3,000 instead of $10,000 so he can save money on taxes. Does the owner compromise and gain the sale or does he hold the line about being honest and trust God to make the sale anyway?
In both cases, tough choices need to be made to bring glory to God and be obedient to His Word. These quick illustrations reveal that the essence of walking by faith should encompass all phases of life, a lesson the disciples had to learn and we need to continually be reminded of. It is this essence of faith that is revealed in the Gospels. The rest of the New Testament and the Old Testament also have much to say about faith in God and His Word. A list of key verses in the New Testament on faith or on the believer being faithful is provided in the appendix at the end of the book. The list may not be exhaustive, but it captures the essence of faith mentioned outside the Gospels and the book of Acts and its importance to our Father in heaven. The list is provided for the reader’s self-study and edification.
A close study of the list would indicate that the book of Romans has the most to say about faith, followed by Hebrews (which is not surprising because of Hebrews chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” chapter on faith). On the other hand, relative to the number of chapters in an epistle, Galatians and 1 Timothy have the greatest incidence of faith citations. The easiest way to study the essence of faith would be to study these two epistles of Paul. The coverage of living by faith, however, is best initiated by examining the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.
Habakkuk and Faith
The key verse in Habakkuk about faith is chapter two, verse four: “The righteous will live by his faith.” The context of this verse arises out of Habakkuk’s struggle with the unfathomable ways of God. The prophet Habakkuk was heavily burdened by the wickedness of Judah. The law was being ignored, justice was never upheld, the wicked hemmed in the righteous, and there was a general perversion of justice (Hab. 2:1–4).
Habakkuk questioned God about how long this perversion would go on, and why He did not do something about it. God in turn answered that He would send the Chaldeans or the Babylonians to chastise Judah. However, this divine response triggered more questions about why God would use the wicked (Babylonians) to correct the seemingly more righteous (Judah). There is no immediate answer from God, and this is one of the first things we learn about faith: In the realm of living by faith, it takes faith to wait on God to answer prayers or questions. It takes faith to wait on Him to give instructions on what to do and when to do it and sometimes to learn that the most difficult thing to do is to do nothing. God’s eventual answer to Habakkuk then and to us now is:
Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith. Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, so that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations and collects to himself all peoples.
Simply stated, there are two kinds of people: the proud and the righteous. The proud person is obviously not trusting in God but in him or herself. In contrast, the righteous one is trusting in God and Scripture and not in self. A believer is walking by faith and faith alone, but the soul of the proud is not right within him. This assessment of the soul not being right within the individual is an assessment our Father in heaven can easily make within His omniscience.
It is interesting that this key passage in Habakkuk on living by faith does not provide a list of faith activities or responsibilities or attitudes that one could just check off to enable one to say, “I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10:17–22), as the rich young ruler responded to Jesus. Such a list would encourage living by the power of the flesh and not by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. The essence of living by faith is trust. The soul of such a one who lives this way would be right before God.
But the soul of the proud is not right with God. Telltale signs of a self-sufficient individual who does not or will not trust God include restlessness as well as greed or insatiable appetite for things like control, fame, entertainment, or power. The self-sufficient person is never satisfied with what he has, where he has come from, or what he looks like. These people are always trying to conquer, control, or manipulate others for self gain or self-exaltation.
The one who walks by faith rests in God and seeks God and His kingdom, knowing that all needs will be provided by the Father in heaven. Unlike the proud, the righteous one is content in his circumstances and does not have to scheme or control others to accomplish his ends since the ultimate end is to know and bring glory to the Creator.
This contrast of the proud and the righteous in Habakkuk seems to be a stark comparison of nonbelievers (Babylonians) with righteous believers. There are many believers today, however, who have begun the life of faith properly by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as the only provision for their sin; but as noted by the apostle Paul, they have begun by the Spirit but are now trying to perfect themselves by the flesh (Gal. 2:3). Outwardly, they may look like the proud one described in Habakkuk 2:4–5.
It is too easy for the believer today to trust in education, intelligence, human strength, lineage, the ability to create fear in others, the manipulation of others, organizational abilities, money—or anything other than God Himself. Jesus saw these same tendencies in the disciples He chose to be with Him. As we look at the divine record in the Gospels, we will see Jesus’ methods and timing of events to mold and mature these disciples to be men of faith.
Critical Passages on Faith in the Gospels
Eleven events recorded in the Gospels directly deal with faith, and the disciples are present at each of these events. Generally, sermons and teaching from these passages are done in an isolated way, but there is much more to be gained pedagogically by examining not only the individual events pertaining to faith but also the interrelationship between these events over time. Each chapter to follow examines one of these eleven events and looks at the relationship between that event and preceding events. Chapters 13 and 14 explore the interrelationships between all eleven events on faith. For the purpose of self-study, readers are encouraged to meditate on and study the passages of Scripture given at the beginning of each chapter prior to reading the chapter.
A quick perusal of these eleven unique events reveals that nine of them are recorded in the gospel of Matthew, seven in Mark, and seven in Luke. Not one of the events is recorded in the gospel of John, but the purpose of John’s gospel was that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). The remaining chapters of this book about growing in faith may not be very productive if the reader is without a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (as noted in the gospel of John). If you do know Jesus Christ as your Redeemer, may the chapters to follow excite your heart and ignite a richer relationship with your God by faith.