January 1, 2014

Faith that Counts

In the opening chapters of the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the doctrine of justification by faith is explained. Paul was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, teaching that justification came by faith rather than by the works of the Law. In Romans 4:3 we read Paul’s statement about Abraham’s faith: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” The Greek word translated counted in this verse is a term which relates to credit being placed on someone’s account. The same verb is rendered “reckoned” and “imputed” in succeeding verses, and provides the sense of an accounting that is favorable.

So, what is faith that counts?

Faith that counts changes the heart

Paul did not just preach “believe,” but he described the transformation of heart and behavior that results from believing faith. Even sinners may believe that God exists, but that type of faith does not “count” like the faith that embraces God, becomes acquainted with Him, and experiences the change of heart that believing faith brings.

Using Abraham as an example, Paul pointed out that Abraham’s righteousness was not a result of his works. After stating that Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness, Paul went on: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).

We cannot obtain salvation through works. If salvation were based upon works, it would be something we could earn—a debt we could work off. However, we cannot earn our way to Heaven; salvation is a free gift. The means by which God imputes righteousness to the account of a sinner is by forgiving his sin, through a gift of grace, or unmerited favor. Our part is to simply confess our sins, turn from them, and embrace the atonement Christ provided. When we accept His provision by faith, we experience a change of heart which leads to a change of behavior. We do not live the way we used to live. So justification does not come by works, but by faith.

Since certain Jewish Christians insisted that Gentile Christians be circumcised in accordance with Jewish Law, Paul continued by explaining to his Jewish audience that justification was not brought about by the rite of circumcision but by faith. Paul proved that to his audience by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith before the rite of circumcision was instituted. Similarly, we know that justification is not brought about by the works of the Law because Abraham was justified before the Law was given. Faith that counts is justifying faith which changes the heart.

Faith that counts overcomes feelings

We often measure feelings. Recently my wife had two surgeries to repair a broken leg. During the forty-eight hours she was in the hospital after each of the surgeries, nurses would come in periodically to ask how she was feeling. They would ask her to rate her pain level on a scale of one to ten, with one being the least and ten being the most. The staff used that method to determine how she was feeling physically.

We also measure how we feel emotionally. If I were to ask you, “How are you today?” your response might be based on your mood. You would say, “I feel fine,” or, “I’m not feeling so good today.” We may feel discouraged or upbeat, happy or sad, and that is what our response is based upon.

It is important not to confuse how we feel with how our faith is doing. If I were to ask you, “How is your faith today?” your reply might be, “I think about a four. I have been going through some things, and I am a bit discouraged.” Or perhaps you would respond, “It’s a ten! God answered my prayer yesterday, and I am on top of the world.” However, you are not measuring your faith—you are measuring your feelings. The Bible says if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains, so we must not let our faith be governed by feelings. Faith that counts is faith that overcomes feelings! Feeling like a four on a scale does not indicate a lack of faith; it just measures emotions.

One time a man whose son suffered from grievous seizures came to Jesus and asked the Lord to have compassion and help them. The man was overwhelmed by the affliction his son was enduring. If you had asked that father how his faith was, his reply probably would have been, “It is a one, if that. I am completely overwhelmed and in despair.” However, that answer would only describe how he was feeling. The fact that he came to Jesus indicates his faith was doing very well. He would not have come to the Lord if he had no faith! Jesus told him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24). In his overwhelmed condition, that father probably felt like he hardly believed, but his faith counted and his son was healed.

I do not know where you are on the “feel-o-meter” today, but on the “faith-o-meter” you are doing terrific. Look where you are! You came to the house of God. It was not my idea for you to come here—you did so of your own volition. Whether you feel it or not, your faith is at work.

The measure of our physical health might be our temperature. The measure of our feelings might be the state of our emotions. However, the measure of our faith, though a bit more intangible, can be found in what we overcome. It is revealed when circumstances are stacked against us and our feelings are low, but faith carries us through. That is the measure of our faith. We believe God not because of what He does, but because God’s Word says that the one who comes to God “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). That is why we are in the house of the Lord, because we have faith. The faith that counts is faith that overcomes feelings.

Faith that counts overcomes uncertainty

Faith guides our lives, not just theoretically, but practically. Romans 1:17 tells us, “The just shall live by faith.” Again, Abraham is an example. Abraham and his people were living in Ur of the Chaldees, the cradle of civilization, which appears to have been a place of prosperity. It was also a land of idolatry and moral debauchery. God called him out of that place to a location which was undisclosed. Not only was the destination uncertain, but the conditions that Abraham would find there when he arrived were uncertain. He went out not knowing whither he went, by faith. He traded certainty for uncertainty, security for insecurity. Abraham left Ur because of a Divine call.

God called Abraham, and God calls us. As Christians, we choose life’s path based upon the Divine call. We pray about decisions to be made and subject our will to God’s will. The world cannot comprehend operating in that manner. Perhaps friends and peers do not understand why we refrain from jumping at the next opportunity but choose to make it a matter of prayer. The fact is, a lot of what we might call “certainty” really constitutes “uncertainty.” We do not know the end, which is why we subject ourselves to God’s will—we believe that God does know. He sees around the next bend as we walk with Him. He knows the future, and He knows what is best for us, so we look His way for direction.

Living by faith is more than just answering the call initially. By faith, Abraham sojourned in a land of promise as in a strange country. Most of us like to settle where we know people, where the surroundings are comfortable and familiar. Abraham subjected himself to the will of the Lord based upon promises God had given him, even though it was disclosed that many of those promises would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. However, he saw them afar off, embraced them, and confessed that he was a pilgrim and a stranger in the land where God led him.

We too are pilgrims and strangers. We do not want to set roots down too deeply in this present world because we are just passing through. We are citizens of another land. We have an uncertain future in this world; none of us knows what tomorrow holds. But faith that counts is faith that depends upon the Lord to guide us through uncertainty and ultimately take us to Heaven.

Faith that counts overcomes circumstances

Often our natural circumstances present a challenge to faith. When we read in Romans 4:3 that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” it refers to Abraham believing a specific promise. God had told Abraham that his seed would be in number as the stars of the sky and as the sands on the seashore. However, Abraham was about one hundred years old, and he was married to a woman who was ninety! In the natural, it was impossible for them to bear children, but Abraham believed God’s promise.

Abraham was not ignoring the natural circumstances which would seem to make the fulfillment of that promise impossible. In fact, when it was disclosed to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child in a year, he laughed. It was humorous to him to think that they would become parents at their age, but he believed it anyway. We read in Romans 4:19, “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” He believed God, and that counted!

We read that by faith Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed and was delivered of a child when she was past age. Why? Because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Abraham and Sarah even named the child Isaac which means “laughter.” God had fulfilled His promise, and now they were laughing for joy. They were laughing as they glorified God. The circumstances were stacked sky high against them but their faith counted and overcame circumstances.

We may also face circumstances that challenge our faith. Perhaps we look at the situation before us and see no way—resolution seems impossible in the natural. Yet we believe that God will make a way because He said He would.

There is no such thing as a “leap of faith.” Faith is grounded in the promises of God, and the assurance that He is on the scene. It is something we can count on. That is the faith that Abraham and Sarah had—God had said it, they counted on it, and God fulfilled it according to His Word. Faith that counts overcomes circumstances.

Faith that counts overcomes death

The faith that counts is a faith which overcomes even death. In Romans 4:17 we read of “him whom he [Abraham] believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Some years after the birth of the child of promise, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 11:17-19, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” The faith that counts is resurrection faith! That is what Abraham had. He believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead if God indeed required him to offer that sacrifice. Rather than requiring it, God provided a substitute.

Like Abraham, righteousness will be imputed to us if we believe. In Romans 4:24-25 we read these words, “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” One of these days the Trumpet will sound. The Bible says that the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall also be caught up together with them in the air. We will need the faith that counts at the Rapture! We might wonder how that will happen. In the natural, it seems impossible. However, our faith knows that God will do what He said He would do. He will raise the dead in Christ and will also rapture living believers out of this world.

Do you have the faith that counts today? Faith that counts will make a change in your heart. It will overcome your feelings and the uncertainties of life. It will take you through impossible circumstances with a shout for the battle and victory in your heart, because you know God has heard your prayer. And some day, it will transport you from this world to the next!

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