Editor: This excerpt on FAITH is taken from the Book “Preaching the Gospel“ chapter 6 | Obtaining God’s Help – Practicing what we Preach. An excellent treatise on Faith that strikes right to the heart and core of the matter. One of the most powerful of the “enabling” tools that God has provided us
This whole subject is really about faith. Mr. Armstrong taught that faith is not just believing that God exists, but believing what God says. I remember him making the distinction between believing ON Jesus Christ and believing what Jesus Christ said. He taught us that false Christianity tries to exalt the person of the messenger, Jesus Christ, while rejecting the message.
In his booklet “What Is Faith?”, Mr. Armstrong taught that faith is believing what God says and trusting God to do what He has promised.
Faith is not just a body of doctrine one happens to believe. True faith has to be based on a relationship with God.
Faith is a choice to believe God. It is closely tied with the Bible because the Bible is God speaking to us. It is the Word of God. Mr. Armstrong explained that Jesus Christ is the Word of God in person, and the Bible is the Word of God in print, but it is the same Word.
Faith means that we believe the Bible because we trust and believe the God who authored it.
Mr. Armstrong also said that he thought the Bible was primarily written for the Philadelphia era of the Church, and by that I think he meant it was written for the Church in our time.
When I hear some members and leaders try to say that we must recognize that Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah, and they exalt his person, and they say we should never change any of his doctrines, this has a familiar ring to it for me. To me, they are doing with Mr. Armstrong the same thing traditional mainstream Christianity has done with Jesus Christ. They exalt the person of Christ while rejecting and changing His teachings and message in the Bible.
Mr. Armstrong always taught us to be willing to be corrected by the Bible and to accept new knowledge from the Bible. He emphasized that we must always grow in grace and in knowledge. He rehearsed with us his experiences with the Church of God Seventh Day to remind us that we must not be like them. Today, it seems to me that if a Church of God organization makes a doctrinal change, typically they try to keep a low profile about it, as if they are ashamed of it or they don’t want anyone to notice. They may say, “This is not a doctrinal change really” even though it is. But when Mr. Armstrong made a change or introduced new doctrine, he said so, loudly, even with things that were minor. If I remember correctly, in the sermon in which he taught for the first time that the Church of God was the Kingdom of God in embryo, he first reminded us about the Sardis Church’s unwillingness to accept new truth, and then he said, “Here is NEW TRUTH, brethren”. He wanted to keep us in an attitude of being willing to accept new doctrinal truth.
Mr. Armstrong taught us that faith is believing what God said. He practiced that faith, and was himself willing to learn from the Bible, to accept new truth from the Bible, to be corrected by the Bible in doctrine and policy, and to admit mistakes when he was wrong. I remember him saying over and over on radio and television, “Don’t believe me, believe your Bible”.
When I first heard Mr. Armstrong teach that faith is believing what God said, and that the Bible is God speaking to us, I began to think more about faith. I wondered, over the years, why faith is so important to God.
It is obvious that God places enormous importance on faith. Faith is a condition for salvation. It is a condition for answered prayer. Faith is actually one of the weightier matters of the law, along with justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). And since sin is the transgression of the law, or “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), and faith is one of the weightier matters of the law, disbelieving what God says is a transgression of the law, sin. But why? Why did God set it up like that? Why did God make faith so important? When Abraham believed what God said, God counted it as righteousness. Why was it so important to God that Abraham believe Him?
To illustrate the question, contrast faith with love. Why is it important to God that we love Him and love our neighbor? The answer to that is a little more obvious. God wants us to get along with each other and cooperate with each other and with Him. He wants us to have an outgoing concern for each other and to love God so we will help and serve one another and obey God and do His will for all eternity. Love is the way of “give” that produces peace and harmony. It is the opposite of the way of “get”, of hostile competition and selfishness that leads to conflict and destruction. All we have to do is imagine eternity with love versus eternity without love to understand its importance.
But I still asked myself, how does faith fit in? As long as we have love, what difference does it make if we always believe what God says for all eternity? Suppose we didn’t always believe that God was telling us the truth? As long as we love God and want to please Him, wouldn’t we obey Him anyway even if we sometimes didn’t believe what He said?
I am going to indulge in a little speculation here. I do not know anywhere in the Bible where God specifically talks about why He considers it so important that we believe and trust what He tells us. We do know from the Bible that angelic beings were created before man. The Bible also teaches us that Lucifer was perfect in all his ways until iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15).
Revelation 12:3-4 seems to indicate that Satan enticed a third of God’s angels to join him in rebelling against God. These angels became demons. If Satan led them into sin, it may be that Lucifer was the very first angel to sin against God. Once Lucifer sinned and became Satan, he was able to tempt other angels to sin. But if Lucifer was the first to sin, there was no other being to tempt him into sinning that first time.
Why did he do it? I remember one time, a new member or prospective member in the Church asked me that question as we were riding together on a train to Sabbath services. Why did Lucifer sin? I didn’t know the answer, but it started me thinking about it.
God said Lucifer was perfect in his ways before he sinned. He must have started on the right track. It seems logical that God must have thoroughly taught all His angels the right way of life so they would know how to live. And in love God must have taught them the consequences of sin, that if they went the wrong way it would lead to misery and unhappiness. Lucifer started on the right way of God’s law. But something happened. What was the first thing that happened that led to Lucifer’s sin?
Ezekiel 28:15 states that Lucifer was perfect in his ways till he sinned. Verse 16 says he was filled with violence from within by the abundance of his trading, and verse 17 says that his heart was lifted up because of his beauty and he corrupted his wisdom for the sake of his splendor. So violence and vanity are listed as two sins he committed. But these were not necessarily the very first sins, or errors, Lucifer committed.
If God taught the angels the consequences of sin, then Lucifer was warned. And if he was the first to sin, then there was no evil being to tempt or entice him or influence him in an evil direction. God would not tempt him, and if he was perfect in his ways then there wouldn’t be any evil nature within him to tempt him. There was no temptation to resist. Yet Lucifer chose the path of sin. He chose the path of violence and vanity, even after God warned him that that path would lead to misery and frustration. Apparently, it was a deliberate, thought out choice, not an accidental slipping into sin because of weakness in the face of temptation. Every influence in the universe was only for good, and there was no evil tendency built inside Lucifer. Yet he chose sin. Why?
I don’t believe Lucifer would deliberately choose an eternity of unhappiness. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that Lucifer did not believe what God told him. He did not believe that God was telling him the truth when God told him that vanity and violence would lead to Lucifer’s utter misery and unhappiness. He must thought that vanity might lead to greater happiness for himself, and he may have figured that the only way he could find out for sure was to try it. I think he took a calculated risk, the risk that God was telling the truth versus what he thought would be the pleasures of sin if God was lying to him or was wrong. He gambled and he lost. He should have believed God. But once he began to practice vanity, his mind began to become twisted, and there was no turning back. As it says in Ezekiel 28:17, his wisdom became corrupted. The more he sinned, the more perverted his thinking became and the more sinful his nature became. The more his mind and wisdom became corrupted and perverted, the more he sinned. And since sin causes suffering, Satan is miserable. And now he can never repent or go back. And it may all have started with a decision to doubt God’s word and teachings.
I could be wrong about this. I said before this is my speculation. The Bible doesn’t say exactly why Lucifer chose to practice vanity and violence, only that he did. But if he did it because he refused to believe God’s word and chose rather to experiment for himself, that might help to explain why it is so important to God that His children learn the lesson now in this life to believe and trust God implicitly in everything God says. God may have many things to teach us in the eternity to come, and He doesn’t want His family doubting or second-guessing his word like Lucifer may have done.
When I was first learning the truth, I had to make a choice whether to believe God or not. I remember the circumstances clearly. When I first came into contact with the Plain Truth Magazine, like many new readers I eagerly read each issue and wrote in for all of the booklets mentioned, then read each booklet as soon as it came. I read the booklet “Does God Exist?”. With the help of that booklet and with the knowledge of science I had (as a hobby only, I am not a scientist), it took me maybe a few hours to prove for myself beyond any doubt that God the Creator must exist.
Then I set about to prove that the Bible was God’s word. This took much longer, several years in fact. I studied all the prophecies in the Bible and I studied history to see if they came true. I worked in my spare time and took careful notes so each time I began working on it I could pick up where I left off. I used whatever books and booklets the Church published on the subject as well as outside sources. Eventually, I proved to my satisfaction that the Bible is definitely the word of God.
But at the end of this proof I realized that I had not really proved that the Bible was true. I had proved that the Bible is God speaking, because no human could predict future events thousands of years before they came to pass. But by itself that did not prove that God always told the truth. I knew God said in the Bible that He cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18), but that was not proof.
I turned it over in my mind for maybe an hour or two. I realized that no research I could carry out could prove for me whether or not God was infallibly honest and truthful at all times. I knew God claimed that about Himself, and I knew He required me to believe that if I were to be accepted by Him. But I didn’t think there was any logical way to prove it the way I had proved God’s existence or that the Bible is God’s word. I knew it had to be a choice. I simply made the choice that I would believe God. I committed myself to believe that God cannot lie and always tells the truth in His Word, the Bible. I realized that because I am human doubts might come into my mind from time to time and that I would have to try to put those doubts out, but my choice as far as what I willed to believe was to believe God always from that point on, no matter what the cost, and to base all my future actions and decisions on that belief in God’s word and in God’s truthfulness. I made the decision to base all my future decisions and actions on trust in what God says in the Bible.
The faith that God requires of us is the kind of belief in God’s word and trust in God that leads to obedient action. It is not an academic, intellectual belief that has nothing to do with how we live our lives. We obey God because we trust Him and believe what He tells us. That is why the author of Hebrews equates the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness with their unbelief (Hebrews 3:16-19) and why James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:20-24). If Lucifer had exercised the right kind of faith in God, trusted God, and believed what God taught him, that faith in God would have led to obedience, and he never would have sinned and disobeyed God and practiced vanity, violence, and rebellion.
In a sense, believing what God teaches us means that we submit our thoughts to His thoughts and we make His views our views. We learn to pattern our views and thinking after God’s views. We believe whatever God tells us. And as we learn to think as God thinks, obedient action will follow. As we choose to believe what God says in the Bible, we learn to agree with God, and as we agree with God we learn to obey Him because we agree with Him. And in those cases where we may not understand why God tells us to do something, we obey God in trust, knowing that God has all wisdom, righteousness, and love, and that His will is always right. We trust God even though we do not know everything God knows. We trust that what God tells us is right even if we do not understand the reason for whatever it is He tells us. We trust what God tells us even more than we trust ourselves and our opinions (Proverbs 3:5-6). So as we believe and trust God, we submit our wills to Him. This is why godly faith leads to obedient action.
Faith has to be based on a personal relationship with God. Faith in God is not based on a relationship with a body of doctrine. It is not just an academic believing of a body of teachings, even if we are obedient to those teachings. It is based on trust in God, trust in His truthfulness, trust in His righteousness. We have to trust God that He will never lie to us. This basic relationship is emphasized in both the old and new testaments. The Old Testament talks mostly about trusting God. The New Testament emphasizes faith. They are actually very similar, and both are based on a relationship with God.
We have a relationship with whatever we have faith in. If our faith is in our traditions, then we have a relationship with our traditions, not God. If our faith is in a body of doctrine, then our relationship is with a body of doctrine, not God. If our faith is in the authority of the Church or of the ministry and leadership, then our relationship is with the Church and the leadership, not God. If our faith is in our own ideas and opinions apart from the Bible, then we are in love with our own ideas. If we want our relationship to be with God, then our faith better be in God’s Word and we better believe the Bible over everything and everyone else.
So it comes down to not only WHAT we believe, or even just WHY we believe what we believe, but also WHO we believe.
Faith is also a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But our free moral agency is still involved. We must still choose to believe God. There is an aspect of faith that is our free choice, and there is an aspect of faith that is a gift from God. Repentance is also a gift (Acts 11:18, Acts 5:30-31, 2 Timothy 2:25), yet we have our part to play by exercising our free moral agency to choose to repent. Likewise, we must choose to believe God. God does not force anyone to believe Him. It is our choice.