Conversations About God 3:5
Now how much “faith” do we have to have? Must we trust completely, or even perfectly, to be right with God? Couldn’t we get away with a little unfaithfulness now and then? Have you husbands ever said to your wives, “Wife, how much could I cheat on you and this marriage still survive?” Would that make any sense? What if a friend should say to you, “How much could I lie to you or hide the truth—and this friendship still last?” Frankly, that would make no sense at all.
Does God need to leave a little room for unfaithfulness in our relationship? Is a “perfect relationship” asking too much of us? Does it make sense to even ask the question? When we “cheat” on God, and cheat we have, God remains our constant friend. But we may be destroying our side of the friendship. You see, if what God wants is friendship, a loving, trusting relationship; then what He wants is obviously not a requirement demanded, but an absolutely voluntary experience.
This long debate regarding faith, works and obedience has troubled saints through the years, but it could be so readily resolved if we looked at the Biblical word for obedience, which is hupakoē (four syllables, one for each vowel). The first part, “hupa,” means “under.” And the second part, “akoē” (three syllables), means “hearing.” The Greek word literally means “listening under.” It describes a humble willingness to listen. If we truly love and trust God, we’ll be willing to listen. It wouldn’t make sense for us not to listen to one we love, trust and admire.
Now could God’s expectation of our willingness to listen be one hundred percent? Our performance may be weak. We may stumble as we leave our doctor’s office. But a willingness to listen? Is that demanding too much of us? Is it too much to say, “Don’t cheat there. Let that be one hundred percent!” Is it expecting too much of us to ask that we be completely committed to listening humbly to our Friend?
Let’s go back to Hebrews 11, the chapter that opens with a definition of what faith is. It surely is encouraging to read about the heroes and heroines of faith celebrated in that same chapter. Hebrews 11 uses the stories of the Old Testament as illustrations of what faith is and what it is not. Look at Hebrews 11:31-32:
By faith the prostitute Rahab escaped the doom of the unbelievers, because she had given the spies a kindly welcome. Need I say more? Time is too short for me to tell the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets (NEB).
Was Rahab’s life at the time she welcomed the spies in perfect harmony with God’s will? Was Gideon’s trust in God perfect when the angel came to him (remember how he needed at least two miracles before he was willing to listen)? Was Samson’s life an ideal you would teach to your children? Was David’s life a model of Christian perfection? Yet Hebrews 11:39 goes on to say, “These also, one and all are commemorated for their faith” (NEB). Is God too demanding? With all their faults and sins, God holds these people out to us as models of being willing to listen. They were far from perfect, but evidently, at least at some point in their lives, they loved and trusted God and were waiting for Him to heal the damage done. And God puts them in Hebrews eleven for our encouragement.
Surely no Bible story is more encouraging than the story of the thief on the cross. What did he do for Jesus to respond with those wonderful words in Luke 23:42-43? “And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, . . . ‘You will be with me in Paradise'” (RSV). Jesus was hanging on the cross between two thieves (the Greek word tells us they were not just burglers, but violent criminals) who were cursing and swearing, and also mocking Jesus along with the crowds.
Then something happened to one of these thieves. He listened to Jesus say “John, please look after Mother when I’m gone” (John 19:25-27). Perhaps the thief thought of his own mother, and that really touched him. He had heard Jesus saying “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Then he learned from the placard above Jesus’ head that the one saying “Father forgive them” was “The King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). So the thief thought to himself, “If Jesus really has a kingdom, and rules over it with forgiveness, that’s just the kind of kingdom someone like me needs.” I’m a thief. I need to be forgiven. I wouldn’t be safe in any other kingdom than a kingdom where the king says, “I forgive you. I forgive you.”
So he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, if that’s the kind of kingdom you’re going to reign over, I’d like to live in it. Please, could you remember me?” I suspect he was a little tentative in saying that. He didn’t know how Jesus was going to respond. But then he heard the words that confirmed his trust. “Yes, I’d be pleased to remember you.” And then the thief died, with his tithe unpaid, and probably all kinds of unclean things in his stomach. He never made restitution to anyone for his crimes. He was never baptized. He never kept a Sabbath. But he’ll be in the kingdom! The next moment of consciousness after his death will be in the resurrection, and he will come face to face with that same person in the middle. Jesus will say to him, “You have a lot to learn.” And the thief will say, “If you say so, that’s all right with me.”
If anything should happen to any of us tonight, I would hope that we would die God’s trusting friend. Because if we do, we will arise in the next moment of consciousness face to face with God. And we will not be afraid, because we will know the truth about God. We will trust Him, know Him, love Him, and all those other things. We will have been set right. And if He should say to us, “You know, there’s a great deal for you to learn,” we would say in response, “I’d be pleased to listen, because I trust and admire You. I want to be Your friend.”
You see, faith is just a word we use to describe a relationship with God as with a person well known. The better He is known the better this relationship may be. Faith implies an attitude toward God of love, trust, and deepest admiration. It means having enough confidence in God – based on the more than adequate evidence revealed – to be willing to believe what He says, to accept what He offers, and to do what He wishes – without reservation – for the rest of eternity. Anyone who has such faith would be perfectly safe to save. This is why faith is the only requirement for heaven, and for salvation.