Faith and the Righteousness of God: Part 1

John Plunkett
May 25, 2013

On June 18th, 2011 at a Sabbath service at Mossy Lea Village Hall in northern England, David Paine, a United Church of God minister, gave a split sermon on the subject of Faith.

In a split sermon, the speaker only has about 35 or 40 minutes; and as the subject of Faith is such a huge one, Mr. Paine was unable to do full justice to it in such a short time. 

I am certainly not criticizing the content of his split sermon; everything he said was fine.  However, as he was listing his points and going through the scriptures, many other points were streaming into my own mind.  That's when I realized what an incredibly huge subject it is. 

So, spurred on by David Paine's split sermon, as we were in England for an extended length of time, I started studying the wonderful subject myself.  We had just given our little "Netbook" computer to our daughter; so I no longer had access to my handy computer Bible; so I  had to resort to the small, limited concordance in the final pages of my wife's Bible.  Although that was all I had to work with at that time, it was quite an effective and eye-opening study.

I am, of course, still limited by time today; but I would like to give you the results of my studies that I started two years ago on the huge subject of Faith.  I will the give the first one today and Part Two next month (June 2013).

Although my focus in the first part of this study will be on some outstanding New Testament examples of faith... and of lack of faith, I would like to begin with a verse from the Old Testament, because this one verse appears to be the very core of God’s teaching on the subject of faith:

Habakkuk 2:
4. Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.

The second appearance of the word “his” in this verse was an addition and does not appear in the original Hebrew.  Hence, "the just shall live by faith."

The just man living by faith is compared here with a proud person, whose soul is not upright in him/her.

Please keep this in mind because, even back in Old Testament times, God decreed that truly just men – and women too – are to live by faith and that their souls (or their very beings) were to be upright. 

May I repeat that the subject of Faith is a truly vast one?  

Now that I am reunited with my computer Bible, I find that, in the King James Version, there are a whopping 336 appearances of the word "faith" and other derived words (e.g. "faithful," "faithfulness," and "faithfully").  So, as I'm sure you can understand, just like David Payne, I can really only scratch the surface in these two sermons.

Looking back over my years in God's church, I must admit that I have sometimes thought that the topic of faith is a somewhat bland, colourless, and even nebulous one. But after going through this study, it has become much more colourful and clear to me.

For many years we have known that:
- God the Father and Jesus want their people have faith,
- We cannot "work up" true faith of ourselves,
- True faith must be given to us by God the Father and Jesus Christ.

And yet Jesus didn’t make any secret of being disappointed when His loved ones – those closest to Him – lacked faith, which they often did!

We’ll see these things as we go through this study. We’ll also read about some surprising strong levels of faith in the most unlikely people.  We might be surprised as we read through this account of a person who we would not expect to have great faith – but did!

Matthew 8:
5:  Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,
6:  saying, "Lord
(Greek Kurios: Master), my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented."
7:  And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."

Please note Jesus' offer here.  It is significant.

8:  The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.
9:  "For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it."
10:  When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"... ...
13:  Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you."  And his servant was healed that same hour.

The Greek noun for "faith" and/or "belief" is "pistis" and the Greek verb for "believed" is the related word "pisteuo."  These are the words that are most commonly used throughout the New Testament.

Here we have a Gentile Roman – a humanly very important man – a captain over 100 men.  Notice that he called Jesus "Kurios" – "Lord" and "Master."   As well as his deep humility, he displayed an amazingly strong faith by believing – simply believing that Jesus could heal his servant without even having to go to his home. 

Now there may have been good reason for this.  Perhaps because he was a Gentile and perhaps because of some former dealings with other more "stand-offish" Jews, the Roman centurion may have assumed that Jesus would not have wished to go into his home.  Or he may thought that his job as a soldier – basically a paid killer of men – made him unworthy of Jesus’ presence in his home (Exodus 20:13). 

Even after all Jesus had seen since creating Israel; actually, if you think about it, even after all He had seen since creating Adam and Eve, He had never seen faith like this!  The Creator of the universe even marvelled at the great faith of this Gentile Roman!

Some obvious questions come to mind: 
- Was this centurion converted? 
- Had he been baptized? 
- As he had true faith, did he also have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in him? 
- Although the Holy Spirit had not yet been generally given at that time (John 7:39), had this centurion perhaps been given an earnest of it?

We don’t know the answers to all these questions.  Some have speculated that this might have been the same centurion that was mentioned in Matthew 27:54 who was in attendance at Jesus’ crucifixion.  But again, we don’t really know.

So here was a Gentile Roman soldier who had the strongest faith that Jesus Christ had ever seen up to that time.

We might logically expect that those who were closest to Jesus might have had the most, the greatest and the strongest faith.  But the reality belies our expectations!  

After what we have already read about this Gentile Roman, let's just read the two verses that we skipped over:

Matthew 8:
11. "And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
12. "But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Could this – the sons of the Kingdom being cast into outer darkness – possibly be because of their lack of faith?  Evidently so as Faith is the central subject and lesson of this account.  It was all about faith and belief. 

This is serious!  The danger of not having faith is a very serious matter!  I don’t want to frighten you.  There is a solution, which we are going to come to.

But surely Jesus’ disciples, those twelve men who were personally chosen by Him and were so close to Him for three and a half years – surely they had lots of faith...  didn’t they?

Matthew 6:
30:  "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31:  "Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32:  "For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33:  "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness
{Please keep this phrase firmly in mind}
and all these things shall be added to you.
34:  "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Who was Jesus referring to here when He said: “O you of little faith”?  We need to go all the way back to the beginning of this discourse in Matthew 5 in order to find out who Jesus was talking to here: 

Matthew 5:
1:  And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2:  And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

So we see that He was talking to His disciples specifically.

But why does Jesus say that these men who were becoming so close to Him were of such little faith?  Partly perhaps, because God’s Holy Spirit had not yet been given to them. 

Still, our thoughts go back to that faithful Gentile Roman centurion who had such great faith and we ask once again: "Had God’s Holy Spirit been given to him and yet not to them?"  Again, we don’t know all the answers.

Back in Matthew 6, it appears that strong, God-given faith is first and above all else directly proportional to us making our first priority the seeking of God’s Kingdom… and His righteousness!  If we do this, He will provide all of our other necessities – including faith.

Please keep this concept of the righteousness of God firmly in your memory.  It has an inseparable connection with God-given faith.  We will discuss it more next month in Part Two.  

Shortly after the events of Matthew 5 and 6, Jesus again used this very same phrase referring to His beloved disciples.  He did love them; but He made a point of telling them that they had very little faith:

Matthew 8:
23:  Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.
24:  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.
25:  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"
26:  But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

he was referring this directly to His disciples.  In Mark’s account of this same event, he goes as far as quoting Jesus as saying that they had “NO faith”:

Mark 4:40: 
But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"

We may assume that the boat that Jesus and His disciples were in was small like the others that were accompanying them there (verse 36).  We can just imagine these little boats in the midst of a great windstorm, with huge waves inundating that little boat.  So we can sympathize with them to some extent!

It is clear that, even despite all they had seen thus far, the disciples had not yet developed much trust and confidence in Jesus; and it appears that perhaps they would not receive confidence, trust and faith in Jesus until after they had received God’s Holy Spirit.  Mere time did not make the difference – even time with Jesus did not seem to increase their faith.  Even much later, as we see in Matthew 26:31-75, despite having spent a full three and a half years with Jesus and witnessing His many miracles, they still lacked faith to the point that: 

- They would fall asleep during the time when they needed more than ever to be watching and praying,
- Eventually they all forsook Him and fled,
- Peter denied Him repeatedly.

What about us?  Has time along with God’s Holy Spirit within us developed more true faith in us? 

I want to move on right now to a primary, and perhaps surprising, example of lack of faith, again from those of Jesus' loved ones who were the very closest to Him.  Let’s go to the account of the wonderful event of the raising of Lazarus.  This account ranks up there amongst my favourite scriptures.  We have all read through it many times; but there are different "layers" of wisdom that we can all learn from this account.

As we go through it again today, I would like you to keep in the back of your mind the account of the strong faith of that Gentile Roman centurion and compare it with what God's Word reveals in this account of the raising of Lazarus.

John 11:
1:  Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2:  It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
3:  Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, "Lord
{Once again, the Greek term is "Kurios" which means "Master" or "Sir"}, behold, he whom you love {Greek "phileo"} is sick."

Two things to note here:

i) The sisters recognized Jesus as “Lord and Master.”  Just like the centurion back in Matthew 8, they did not look upon Him as merely an ordinary fellow human being.  He was something very special and they knew it. 

ii) Lazarus and Jesus were such close friends that it was well-known that Jesus had a special “phileo” love for him.

4:  When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

As we shall see (way down in verse 40), a good part of this glory and glorification was through a testing and increasing of belief – of faith.

5:  Now Jesus loved {agapao} Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

We all know the story, don't we?  Jesus hung back for a couple of days, and poor Lazarus died:

6:  So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was…
14:  Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead."

But why did Jesus hang back?  Why did Jesus allow Lazarus to die? 

He had already told His disciples the reason why – that this special event was for the glory of God His Father and that He – the Son of God – may be glorified through it. Now, He goes into more detail of just how this was going to happen:

15:  "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe." 

Once again, the Greek word for "believe" is "pisteuo" – a verb grammatically linked to the noun "pistis" which means "belief" or "faith."

16:  Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

From the little that we know about Thomas, he apparently had a unique personality.  This was a somewhat bizarre statement which might sound initially like what he said here was inspired of true faith.  But it really was not!  If you really examine his words, you will see that it was more like poetic bravado.  Thomas was far off the mark from what Jesus was intending here and trying to get across – the increased glorification of His Father and Himself by means of increased faith in these human beings.

17:  So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
18:  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.

From this, we gather that Jerusalem was where Jesus and the disciples had been when the word arrived about Lazarus’ sickness.  It was only two miles away – a very short walk, especially for seasoned walkers like Jesus and His disciples.  

So Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days by the time Jesus and the disciples arrived there at Bethany.

19:  And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20:  Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.

From the Luke 10 account, we have traditionally considered that Martha was the sister who was the more physically practical of the two sisters.  She would be the one we'd find working in the kitchen.  Mary was the one we have always considered to be the more spiritual and faithful one – the one we would normally find eager to be spending as much time with Jesus as possible. 

But on this occasion, it was Martha who was the first to go out to meet Jesus.  Perhaps Mary was deeply disappointed and despondent that Jesus hadn’t come earlier and prevented Lazarus’ death.  Perhaps this confused and perhaps even depressed her.   Perhaps she was thinking something in the order of, "Oh, I know that He is a very busy man.  But four days!  Surely He could have put something else aside to come and help us, His beloved friends."  On the other hand, verse 29 implies that she may just have not known that He had arrived and that Martha did not think to tell her right away.

Let’s look at what Martha said to Jesus when she met Him:

21:  Then Martha said to Jesus, "Lord {Kurios}, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22:  "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."

At first reading, Martha’s words seem to be filled with faith.  But her belief – her faith – was, in fact, very limited.  By what she said here she was limiting Jesus’ ability to heal Lazarus due to the lack of His physical presence with them in Bethany.  Again, please remember the example of that Roman centurion!

23:  Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24:  Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again… in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus was thinking, "Resurrection right now!… in just a few minutes time!"  But Martha was thinking, "Resurrection at the last day."

Although Martha was probably aware that Jesus and His Father had already performed other temporary human resurrections (See Luke 7:11-15 and 8:49-55), it was still perhaps natural for her not to presumptuously expect them to raise her brother right there and then.  It is doubtful that she would have taken that for granted.

25:  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes {Greek "pisteuo"} in me, though he may die, he shall live.
26a:  "And whoever lives and believes
{pisteuo} in me shall never die…

Then He asks Martha this question:

26b: ...”Do you believe {pisteuo} this?"

In those two verses, He uses the word "believe" three times.  This was what Jesus was looking for!  He was looking for belief – faith!  That is what was – and still is – primarily important to Him and to His Father.   

Again He asked her, "Do you believe this, Martha?"  Now look at her answer:

27:  She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe {pisteuo} that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

Great words, Martha!  But still a little non-committal!  (Not that I would have done any better, perhaps!)  But Martha didn’t really answer the question that Jesus had asked her, did she?  Jesus asked her if she believed His statements:

He asked her if she believed these things.  But she answered merely that she believed that He was the Son of God and the prophesied Messiah.  She didn’t really answer the question that He asked her.

28:  And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you."

I wonder why it says specifically that Martha "secretly called Mary."  I don't know; but it is interesting that that word should be put in there.

29:  As soon as she (Mary) heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him…
32:  Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Mary – the sister to whom we attribute a greater faith – said exactly the same faith-limited words that Martha had said, so exhibiting the same limited level of belief in what the human Jesus was capable of.  Look at Jesus’ immediate reaction to the sisters’ words:

33:  Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled… 
35:  Jesus wept.
36:  Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"
37:  And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?"
38:  Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

Before we move on, let’s ask these questions: Why did Jesus groan within Himself?  Why did He groan in the spirit?  Why was He troubled?  Why did He weep? 

Why?  Was it because some of His most beloved human friends were sad and grieving?  Well yes... maybe... partially! But we can be sure that that wasn't the main reason.  Then perhaps was it because He was sad at Lazarus’ death?  Or perhaps was it because Jesus’ enemies – Satan and death – had won a round? 

The answer is No!  Absolutely not!  Jesus knew very well that it was He and His Father who had pre-arranged Lazarus’ death!  Jesus knew very well just why they had arranged it.  And He knew exactly what He and His Father were about to do in just a few minutes’ time. 

Back in verse 4, Jesus expressed great excitement to His disciples about what was going to happen when He went down to Bethany.  He was excited about the outcome of this great miracle that He and His Father were about to perform.  But now He wept, He groaned in the spirit, He groaned within Himself, and He was troubled!  Why the huge change?

The reason for Jesus’ groaning and weeping was very likely because those closest to Him had such little faith in Him and what He was capable of doing (together with His Father, of course).  

Also, perhaps He was thinking back to that Gentile Roman man of war who had such great faith and who understood that Jesus did not need to be physically present in order to heal.  And yet Jesus' own close loved ones – fellow Israelites – fellow Jews – did not have anywhere near such faith!

39:  Jesus said, "Take away the stone."  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."
40:  Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe
{pisteuo} you would see the glory of God?"

The glory of God!  This refers right back to what Jesus said to His disciples in verse 4 about the glorious outcome of this miracle: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

And Jesus ties it solidly to what He said to Martha back in verse 25 and 26: "I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, thought he may die he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."

41:  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard Me.
42:  "And I know that you always hear me; but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe
{pisteuo} that you sent me."

Right there is the reason why Jesus and God the Father did this… that they may believe! Yes, that they might believe that Jesus was sent by God the Father; and that there would be an increase in their belief – their faith – and that this increase in their faith would further glorify Jesus and His Father.

43:  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
44:  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."

We usually read those verses and consider them to be the very highlight of the story.  But wonderful as they are, they are not the highlight of the story!  Faith is!  I am certainly not not taking anything away from the miracle; it truly was a fantastic miracle that God performed.  But look at the result.  Look what happened next:

45:  Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed {pisteuo} in Him.

They believed and they had faith in Him because of what they saw there. 

There is a kind of epilogue to this account; one that is still relevant to the subject of belief and faith:

46:  But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.
47:  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.
48:  "If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe
{pisteuo} in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation."

The chief priests and Pharisees were afraid that the Jews would transfer their belief from them – mere human beings – to Jesus whom they knew to have come from God (John 3:1:2).

So the very core of this account is that of belief!  Faith!  At first we read about the weak and shallow faith, – the lack of belief.  But later it was replaced by an increase in faith – both in the numbers of believers and in the strength of their belief.

Belief!  Faith!  Both English terms are translated from the Greek noun “pistis” and are one and the same thing.  Faith is simply believing what God tells us.  Again, this is a supremely important priority to God the Father and to Jesus.

As we have seen, God the Father and Jesus Christ deeply desire that we, their people, have strong faith.  They really want that!  We also know that Jesus and His Father retain the power and the authority to give strong faith to those that they choose to – and when they choose to give it to us. 

Still, as we have already learned today, there is something that we can do.  Jesus and His Father will give faith to those who seek first the Kingdom of God.  Not just the Kingdom of God; but also the righteousness of God.  That is our part in it.  This is a covenant.  We are to do our part; and God will do His part.  We seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; and He will give us everything we need, including one of the most important things – faith!

Next month: