Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God … (Hebrews 6:1-2)
In our first installment we covered the first of six basic principles which comprise the “elementary doctrine of Christ” as outlined in Hebrews 6:1-2. We learned that “repentance from dead works” was not a call for new Believers to turn from Judaism, the “Old Covenant” or the commandments of God contained in the Mosaic Law as the majority of Christian teachers and scholars would have us believe. We discovered how this understanding nullifies the very meaning of repentance as used throughout the Scriptures. Once this basic concept of repentance has been destroyed it no longer has meaning and is substituted with shallow imitations such as confession or remorse. True repentance is to stop sinning and turn back to God’s righteous standard of living.
Now, let’s take some time to examine the second principle: Faith toward God.
On the surface this seems like a simple premise — one must believe in “God,” a Supreme Being who created the Universe. It’s a simple, “Believe in God and His son Jesus who died for your sins” Right? Isn’t this the primary message of the church? But is this the faith of which the Bible speaks? And more specifically, is this the faith of which the author of Hebrews speaks? Looking at the Bible as a whole and the message of faith it emphasizes throughout, we would have to answer this in the negative.
The faith of which the author of Hebrews speaks does not refer to the belief in the existence of God to which many would reduce this down. This is a basic supposition of the Bible and its authors. The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning God...” This statement does not call for a leap of faith. This statement presumes a knowledge of His existence. According to James, believing in God is nothing commendable or meritorious. Even demons believe in God, yet they do not have faith.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)
So what does it mean to have faith, according to the definition of the Holy Scriptures? Perhaps looking at an example of a lack of faith might help us determine the reverse.
In days of the kings of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom), there arose a king over the kingdom of Judah by the name of Ahaz. This is recorded in 2 Chronicles 28. He came into his kingship at the age of twenty and reigned sixteen years. However, he was not the model king. The Bible records that he was a king who “did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (vs.1). He did all kinds of detestable things in the eyes of the LORD. He made idolatrous images to which the children of Israel bowed down. He offered up sacrifices on the forbidden high places. He even burned his sons as offerings to his idols. God was not pleased at all with Ahaz and his idolatrous practices.
The Bible records that as a result of his wickedness, “the Lord his God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus” (vs.5). Not only did Syria capture a great number of the people of Judah, but Israel waged war against him as well and took captive 200,000 of the inhabitants. But this wasn’t all. Both the Edomites and the Philistines were raiding the land and carrying away captives as well. Ahaz was waging war on every side. The reason for this was due to his unfaithfulness, as it was written, “For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had made Judah act sinfully and had been very unfaithful to the Lord” (vs.19). But in spite of all of these tragedies, King Ahaz never repented and turned back to the God of his forefathers or to the terms of the holy covenant. Until his dying day he worshipped idols and believed that they would somehow come to his aid. His spiritual philosophy is summarized in 2 Chronicles 28:22, which says, “In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord.”
The story of Ahaz is a reminder of how faith works hand in hand with deeds. Faithfulness is inextricably bound to faith, and ones faithful or faithless deeds are determined solely by faith. In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek there are not two distinct words for “faith” and “faithfulness.” They use the same word for both. This is why one theologian has said, “You can live opposite of what you profess, but you cannot live opposite of what you believe.1 Faithfulness is a byproduct of faith.
The Psalmist emphasizes this by saying,
“I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.” (Psalm 119:158)
This is really the nuts and bolts of faith. When we are faced with various trials and tribulation, what is our response? Do we display faith through our faithfulness during the difficult times? Or do we become faithless, like King Ahaz, in the difficult times? We must remember that our circumstances do not dictate the character of God and therefore should not be our justification for either our faithfulness or faithlessness.
In what has become heralded by Protestants as Paul’s highest revelation, Paul quoted (on a few occasions) Habukkuk 2:4 which states “the righteous shall live by his faith.” Through his exegesis of this passage, Paul connects faith in the Messiah to one’s standing before God in regard to sin. For Paul, a Jew’s covenantal connection and obligation to the Law did not automatically justify a person. He makes it explicit that “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” 2 Just because a person is Jewish and knows the Torah and its expectations, he is not justified through that knowledge. He is only justified through faith demonstrated through obedience. Paul is only repeating the sentiments of the prophet Ezekiel who said if a man, “walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:9). Paul then goes on to give specific examples to clarify his argument.
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24)
In other words, knowing is not the same as doing. Or, as James would say, “faith without works is dead.” James goes on to summarize his argument by saying, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). One who has “faith towards God” will bear the fruit of a life of good works, bore out by obedience to the revelation which he has been given. If we claim faith in God but are walking in disobedience, we are deceived, because “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.3 And as we have seen, sin is merely the manifestation of faithlessness.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
James is challenging the idea that faith is equivalent to gnosis — knowledge about God. Faith to the biblical authors is trusting obedience in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the revelation of His Messiah. Dead faith, however, is fruitless believism. It is a consent to a theological construct. True faith is based on the goodness of God and is demonstrated by working along side the LORD for His purposes of redemption in the earth. Faith towards God then, is a life filled with righteous deeds which reflect the goodness of our Heavenly Father in this earth.
If you enjoyed this teaching, we are in the process of creating a six-part audio series expounding on these “elementary principles.” Parts one and two are currently available for download on our website at www.emethatorah.com.