Word Generated Faith (Revisited)
Originally published on November 18, 2011
Robert Wurtz II
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah said, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:16-17 KJV)
Led in the Steps of Faith
In our previous entry entitled, “Testing the sweetness” we discussed how God desires to speak to individuals personally in order to lead them into His perfect will. If we need a “prophet” between us and God to speak directive prophesies, we are no different than the Jews going to their Rabbi or a Roman Catholic going to their priest for instruction and direction. But in order to see folks come under the leading of the Spirit we must know that Christ’s Sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. This is the Great Shepherd working in believers “one on one”, leading and guiding them into His perfect knowledge and will. As our Great Elder Shepherd, He leads on softly at just the right pace (Genesis 33:13-14). If we will understand this we will cultivate an attitude that trusts God to do this job. He will lead them to walk out the steps of faith, even as He led Abraham in the desert (Romans 4:11-12).
The Ancient Question: What is faith?
What is faith? This is one of the great questions of our times; and it is an ancient one. Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on the subject; and a multitude of sermons have been preached on it. If we get the answer correct we gaze into the scriptures rightly; if we get it wrong our understanding will be skewed on every hand. Our passage sheds light on this timeless question by showing us where faith originates and what must be employed for it to become effectual. Let me say in passing, that sometimes it is necessary to read the scriptures backwards (in reverse) to get the meaning. If we employ this technique in Romans 10:16-17 we find God at the beginning of faith. God initiates the process of faith by speaking a Word. As it is written, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The possibility of faith begins when God speaks. This means that faith cannot be manufactured by man. Keep this very clear. To move when God has not spoken is not faith at all; it is powerless presumption. Why? Because God does not anoint man to put words in God’s mouth; but to say what He is wanting said. Unless the word of His grace is in our mouth, our words are utterly impotent and completely incapable of bringing grace and faith.
As we discovered in our previous studies, Eli’s sons lost the throne of God’s presence (the Ark of the covenant) when they acted when He had not spoken. This is why we have focused so much on God’s authority: you simply cannot understand faith unless you understand that God, and not man, is the one in charge and calling the shots (speaking the words).
The great debate
There is a great debate in the churches of God as to the nature of faith. Some have wondered where Abraham got his faith? Did he and others like him somehow reach inside themselves and “self-generate faith”? These opt for the view that faith is a gift from God and cannot be exercised unless God gives it. God favors some and gives them the free gift of faith and He leaves others to languish under the burden of their unbelief. On the other side there is a view that faith is a force that has to be cultivated. If you “build your faith” you can speak your own words and determine your own reality. Because faith is seen as a force, you can move mountains and prophesy into existence things that are not as though they were. The power of life and death is in the tongue; but not in the sense that our words have creative powers. This is heresy. This latter view comes in many forms, but was most popularized with the phrase, “name it and claim it.” The problem is that folks presumptuously and superstitiously try to exercise faith as man wills and not as God has spoken. As we examine the scriptures we will find that faith comes through hearing God’s Word; and that His Word is the vehicle by which He dispenses His grace (Ephesians 3:2, Colossians 1:25).
The Spirit of Prophecy
And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10).
Will you notice that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” That is to say, the one prophesying is made consciously aware of the mind of Christ at that particular moment of time, and is capturing and conveying that reality in words that bespeak of Christ’s own experience. When David stated in Psalm 22, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint…”, he was not giving his own personal testimony, but the testimony of Jesus several hundred years later. David was articulating realities that had not yet taken place, not from his own mind, but by the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Keep that very clear. When a person is made aware of the mind of God at a particular moment they are are “seeing” and hence, were known as “seers.” This is why John stated in 1 John 1:2, “For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” This is more than eyesight; it was insight. Christ opened their mind and gave them understanding in the things that they had seen and heard and how their eyewitness account of events was foretold through the testimony of Jesus, the spirit of prophecy. They suddenly could “see” the life that was manifested. This is more than information, it is revelation.
Faith and Grace Both “come” to You
Wherefore having girded up the loins of your mind, being sober, hope perfectly upon the grace that is being brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:13 YLT)
I have opted for Young’s Literal Translation here because it corrects some of the verb tenses that are essential to understanding this passage. I want to focus on the phrase, “hope perfectly upon the grace that is being brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The great 19th century Greek Scholar A.T. Robertson comments saying that the phrase, “That is to be brought” (tēn pheromenēn) is the present passive articular participle of pherō, picturing the process, “that is being brought.” (end of quote) The grace of God is being brought to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Grace, another word that is often abused, is more than God’s Divine favor or attitude towards us; grace is God’s Divine enablement. Simply put, grace enables; it enables us by the power of God to do or be what we could never do or be without that grace. In this way faith comes by hearing and grace comes in the revelation of Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s word contains within itself the power to do what He sent it forth to do. It will not return unto Him void if it is mixed with faith. Perhaps we need to answer the question now; what is faith?
What is Faith?
Man may give a word, but only God can bring revelation. If the Holy Spirit is involved in the process, revelation will come with the hearing of the Word of God. The person will suddenly “see” what God is saying to them. This is why we read in Proverbs 29:18 ESV, that where there is no revelation (prophetic vision) the people cast off restraint. The Kiel and Delitzsch Old Testament critical commentary notes that “the prophetic revelation in itself, and as the contents of that which is proclaimed” are in view. “Without spiritual preaching, proceeding from spiritual experience, a people is unrestrained.” This is why G.W. North has stated that “preaching without Fire is spreading death.” Not the fire of enthusiasm, but the Fire of God. God can use any means He desires to bring faith and revelation but it will typically be brought through the preaching of the Gospel. When the word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, faith cometh.
Faith has two components: revelation and right response (see Hebrews 4:2). God initiates the process of the generation of faith by revealing His word to a person. This has always been how faith “comes”. God’s word contains within itself the grace (divine enabling) needed to accomplish what God has said. It is no more complicated than that. God has enabled everyone that hears His word to believe no matter how depraved they may be. Even a reprobate can and must obey God when they receive revelation of His will. In fact, when God speaks, the dead can come forth from a grave! Men can walk on water when God speaks to them to do so. This is the key factor; Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
No Word From God Shall Be Without Power
For no word from God shall be void of power. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37-38 ASV)
I have chosen this passage to illustrate the point that faith and grace come when God speaks. This truth is utterly essential to understanding Christianity. Miss this and you will wonder like a vagabond through the New Testament. Luke 1:37-38 as translated in the KJV and most all editions since, have greatly obscured this passage. I have said in the past that, “Whole sections of seminary libraries could be taken out and burned had this one passage of scripture been translated properly and the reality behind it understood.”
Observe: here we have a virgin woman being told she is going to conceive a child. We all know that in the natural order of life this is impossible. So how is she going to do the impossible? That is to say, how is she going to fulfill God’s will? The information forms the revelation from God that contains within itself the necessary grace to perform the task. Once she believes and responds rightly to what God has said, she possesses the grace to accomplish the task. Keep that clear. Grace is more than unmerited favor; it is unmerited enabling. We do not deserve either one.
Notice in our text that in Luke 1:37 we have the KJV English rendering, For with God nothing shall be impossible. Most all mainstream translations follow this rendering in so much that it is a common line quoted in Christmas stories and plays thousands of times each December. The statement is true, but it is not what the text actually says. If the translators had been a bit more consistent with the Greek words, the whole of Christendom could have been spared a lot of confusion. But it is too late now except to try and teach the right rendering. The American Standard Version gets it right; for no word from God shall be void of power.
No Word From GOD is Void of Power
The KJV translators opted to translate the Greek word rhema as “thing” in our text. No “thing” (nothing) shall be impossible with God. They did this because the word “thing” represents the whole of what God said to Mary and determined to do. There are other times when the KJV uses “thing” in this way, where the word “sayings” should have been used in order to maintain continuity with the principal faith coming by hearing the word of God. A simple search of the word RHEMA in the Greek New Testament will show this. As a simple exercise insert the word “sayings” or “word” in the passages that employ the English word “thing” and see how much more sense those passages make.
For those that wish to look at this more technically, we observe that the Greek text reads, ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ πᾶν ῥῆμα (Luke 1:37). Here we have ῥῆμα (rhema) that is usually translated as “word”, “say” or “sayings”, but is distinguished from λόγος (logos) that is also translated as “word”. Renowned Greek scholar Marvin Vincent (1834-1922), who lived long before the Charismatics of our time, stated: “In classical Greek, ῥῆμα (rhema) signifies a constituent part (essential part) of a speech or writing, as distinguished from the contents as a whole. Thus it may be either a word or a saying. Sometimes a phrase, as opposed to ὄνομα, a single word. The distinction in the New Testament is not sharp throughout. It is maintained that ῥῆμα in the New Testament, like the Hebrew דָּבַר, stands sometimes for the subject matter of the word; that is, “the thing”, and so the KJV translators used “thing” to translate rhema in some important passages.* But there are only two other passages in the New Testament where this meaning is at all admissible, though the word occurs seventy times. These are Luke 2:15 and Acts 5:32. “Kept all these things” in Luke 2:19, should clearly be “all these sayings”, as the KJV itself has rendered it in the almost identical passage in Luke 2:51. In Acts 5:32, the Revised gives “sayings” in the margin. In Luke 2:15, though the KJV and the Revised render the text as “this thing”, the sense is evidently “this saying”, as appears both from the connection with the angelic message and from the following words, “which has come to pass”: that is to say, “the saying which has become a fact.” The Revised rendering of this passage is, therefore, right, though a little stilted: No word of God shall be void of power; for the KJV errs in joining οὐκ and πᾶν, not every, and translating it as “no-thing”. The two do not belong together. The statement is, Every (πᾶν) word of God shall not (οὐκ) be powerless. The KJV also follows the reading, παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, with God; but all the later texts read παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ, from God, which fixes the meaning beyond question.” (Vincent) Here is the text as it should read:
For no word (rhema) from God shall be void of power. (v37) And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (rhema). (Luke 1:37-38 ASV)
The translators variety of words has caused the masses of English readers to miss the precious link between Verse 37 and 38. Had all of the passages that contain rhema been translates with “saying” or “word” English readers would have a much better understanding of the New Testament. “Thing” is used just enough to break the continuity and introduce confusion. Unfortunately the new translations still do not correct this as we see in the NASB, NKJV, NIV and ESV. This is either due to a lack of understanding of the principal that “no saying” or “word” from God shall be void or power or the use of “saying” or “word” to translate rhema has serious doctrinal implications and is not admitted.
Why Does it Matter?
It may seem as though we have belabored the point, but it is well worth belaboring. Unless we understand that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God we will wonder where faith comes from and how it works. God speaks His enabling word and all we have to do is respond rightly. When God speaks you absolutely can and you absolutely must. Again, notice our text in Romans, But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah said, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:16-17 KJV) Notice the text says that they that heard did not all obey. In fact, the words obey and believe are here synonymous. Some will say, “But I can’t obey and I can’t believe!” Really? God said, No word of God shall be void of power.
Grace for God’s will
It is important to learn scripture verses. We need to put to memory as much scripture as we possibly can. God has said a lot of things and made a lot of promises. The challenge is to know when a particular promise applies to us as individuals. God is the Creator and can do all things; but He is also moving in an immutable will. When we pray, we are to pray that His will be done. In the words quoted in “Shadowlands”, the biography of the late C.S. Lewis, “Prayer does not change God, it changes us.” We can quote passages back to God and pray them to Him, but until He quickens that Word to our heart we cannot apply it in faith. We cannot put words in God’s mouth, nor can we apply promises to ourselves that were addressed to someone else, at a different place and at a different time. It is a hard saying, but we cannot prophesy our own reality. God is moving in His own purposes. No amount of faith can change God’s plans, unless He has already determined to change in response to faith.
The sin of presumption
God almost always gives direction when He sets out to do something miraculous. His directions have expiration dates. We have an example from Numbers chapter 14 that is written for our example and learning. You will recall that when the twelve in Israel went to spy out the land they had an opportunity to believe God in faith; He had spoken a Word to them. Ten came back with an evil report and the people believed that evil report rather than God who was in the mouth of Joshua and Caleb. God killed the ten spies and pronounced a judgment of forty years of wondering on the people. They were grieved and then decided to go up and take the promised land. But it was too late. The promise had reached its “sell by date”. Moses warned them not to try it. We have this passage that is insightful, “But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.” The throne of God’s glory; that is to say, God’s authority was not with them. It remained in the camp. We have this sobering conclusion, “Then the Amalekite came down, and the Canaanite who dwelt in that mountain, and smote them and beat them down, even unto Hormah.” (Numbers 14:45 NKJV)
Praying for direction
When we need something from God we need to pray and ask God for direction. As I stated before, God almost always gives direction when He sets out to do something miraculous. Why? Because it is His Word that comes to us by revelation that carries the grace necessary to effect the miracle. We have in Psalm 107:20, “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” Here the verb “sent” is in the imperfect denoting a process of sending. We have to have ears to hear what God is saying to us. He may not be saying anything at all about our situation, but looking for us to simply trust Him. But we will never know unless we seek God for direction. The Bible is replete with people having a need and God giving specific instructions to be responded to in faith.
No formula for healing or miracles
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
I wish to close with a personal testimony of Divine healing. Let me say first that nobody knows “a formula” for Divine healing. If they did, they would be immortal. God has already appointed that man will die and after that the judgment. The world is under the consequences of sin that resulted in the fall of man and will suffer those consequences until the regeneration. Many people get sick, even the most godly of Saints. Death is one per person. If the Lord tarries we will all die from our last disease or an accident. As the Lord has enabled me to be with many dear Saints at end-of-life I can say that sickness falls on saint and sinner alike; even the most terrible of sicknesses. I am sorry to tell this, but few people will just go to sleep and pass away without some form of suffering.
During this interim period where we await the redemption of our bodies, God in His infinite wisdom and purpose heals some. The gift of healing in its purest form is a very rare thing. Jesus healed some and passed by the rest. Only God knows why. But for those that He did heal, He gave them some instructions that they could respond to in faith. When He spoke, the impossible became possible. Please see some examples below of the Word of His grace being spoken and the people responding in faith. A man with a withered arm could not move it until Jesus spoke the word; then He could do what was said. When God speaks, we can and we must. We can take up our bed or we can walk on water. But God has to speak.
Appendix (a few examples)
1. And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Luke 6:10)
This man could not stretch forth his hand as it was withered until Jesus spoke. His very word enabled the impossible.
2. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. (John 5:6-9)
Observe that the man was a long time unable to rise from his bed. Jesus spoke the words, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. The grace necessary to fulfill the command was resident in the words.
3. Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God. (Luke 18:41-43)
Here is a man that by implication had ‘heard’ about Jesus. He cried out in faith. Jesus spoke the words, ‘Receive thy sight’. The man immediately received because he was prepared to mix faith (right response to revelation) with the words spoken.