Factors of Faith

Faith is a progressive work of God Whose divine action is met with human response—either to restoration or to resistance.

  1. Content: Belief is always in something and saving faith begins with hearing and understanding the Gospel.
  2. Consent: But intellectual assent is not faith. Only when the heart is warmed and the Gospel is received does faith begin. Receiving necessarily also means repenting, which entails the confession of all that is broken and wrong, all that requires forgiveness and healing.
  3. Commitment: Even now, a third element is critical to the continued life of faith. There must be a choosing of Christ forever, a commitment that will anchor the soul in the Lord.

Then, the more central a belief is, the greater the impact it will have on our world view, the way you and I see things. So how central was belief and faith in God to Isaiah’s audience? What did God’s people really believe when the chips were down?

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
    and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
    and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel    or consult the Lord!

Isaiah 31:1 (NRSV)
By Lucien Cavro (1905-1973) : fac-similé – Photographie d’une copie du fac-similé : Zunkir, Public Domain

They had misplaced their confidence in earthly allies and earthly resources, the military strength of Egypt. They were eschewing God’s wisdom and banking on worldly wisdom instead. So often that feels like the realistic, reasonable option. 

Fear of Faith

You and I may stake our hope in things that we feel we can control, because we are afraid that God will not bring about the outcome we want. Somehow, deep down, we think if we go our own way, we will be able to get the result we want, without having to risk surrendering to God’s will in the matter.

We fear the Lord may ask us to wait when we want action, or God may call us to sacrifice, or do some other thing that will require our surrendering our own will and desires for God’s. And the truth is, the outcome God wants may very well be entirely different than what you and I have in mind.  So we go for the horses and chariots of Egypt, which are easier to manage, more apt to accomplish the goals we have in mind.

Or so we think. 

Isaiah’s voice spoke on behalf of God, for God alone was able to save and protect Judah.

Like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of hosts
    will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
    he will spare and rescue it.”

Isaiah 31:5 (NRSV)

God alone could protect Judah from invading armies, deliver Judah from those who would conquer and exile them, spare them from the treachery and trauma of war, and rescue them from those who would exploit and victimize them.

Then Isaiah pointed out what may have seemed obvious.

The Egyptians are human and not God;
    their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
    the helper will stumble, and the one helped will fall,
    and they will all perish together.

Isaiah 31:3 (NRSV)

His listeners must have looked at him with puzzled expressions and asked, “What is your point?”

If they had, I imagine Isaiah would have replied, My point is that God, who is Spirit, is profoundly more powerful than anything in the created world. And to prove it to you, the Lord is going to once again defeat your enemy without any human help. God caused the drowning of all of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. Now God will once again display the Lord’s mighty power on your behalf in what God is going to do to the Assyrian armies.

Fortitude of Faith

The prophet exhorted the people to return to God, their true defender, far more powerful than even Assyria, let alone Egypt. For the day they returned to God would be the day God supernaturally overcame their enemy.

“Then the Assyrian shall fall by a sword not of mortals,
    and a sword not of humans shall devour him;
he shall flee from the sword,
    and his young men shall be put to forced labor.”

Isaiah 31:8 (NRSV)

The empire that had sown terror and horror throughout the known world would now themselves experience shuddering fear before Almighty God.

His rock shall pass away in terror,
    and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
says the Lord, whose fire is in Zion
    and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 31:9 (NRSV)
By Clare, Israel Smith, 1847- [from old catalog] – Public Domain

Turning to the “chariots and swordsmen of Egypt” happens when God does not feel very real, when there seems to be an unbridgeable divide between spiritual matters and the cold reality of earthly matters. How could the people then, and how can we today find our way to the kind of vibrant life of faith that Isaiah was teaching? 

The answer begins in making ourselves open to having our perspectives altered, by being teachable and by starting on a course of study with an attitude of inquiry. We place ourselves in a position to undergo a change in the content, strength and centrality of the beliefs we already have.

Up to this point Isaiah’s audience was unwilling to do that.  They did not want to hear it, they felt patronized by Isaiah, they were tired of getting the same sermon every time, they did not want to be bothered reading God’s word for themselves, they were content with empty religious ritual, and they even pressured their teachers to give them messages that made them feel good about themselves instead of telling them the truth.

Perhaps the apostle Paul was thinking about this very problem when he urged his own readers to be teachable.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of Gods mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

It is one of the passages in scripture I have committed to memory, and why studying scripture is so important. The words of God act as an antidote to the constant immersion our minds already have in our culture’s belief systems, and our culture’s values.

Replica of Tutankhamen’s chariot | By Carsten FrenzlCC BY 2.0

Fact of Faith

Faith is belief in God and acting on that belief

The reason why going to Egypt for help was wrong was because it was not God’s plan. 

God had not even been consulted. 

The people had put their faith in human power, not God’s power. 

Your crisis and mine is not going to be the troubles that come to us out of life. Our real crisis is always going to be about faith, about being more impressed with human plans, human ingenuity, and human control rather than God’s wisdom, God’s character, God’s promises, and God’s will.

As I read through this chapter I wondered what alliances with the world I might continue to make, rather than trust in God.

When the Lord corrects God’s people the Lord promises a good outcome. Sometimes God does serve us meals of the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, encouraging us to consider what steps of faith we could begin to take to walk before the Lord, in step with the Spirit.

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