As I prepared a teaching for this year’s Pesach (Passover) service, Elohim reminded me of a profound truth regarding Biblical faith as evidenced by events in the exodus narrative. A brief survey through the book of Exodus and forward into the book of Joshua reveals some telling parallels to our own journey with our Lord. Elohim’s people are stuck in an impossible situation, enslaved by a cruel taskmaster. But their heavenly Father raises up a deliverer from among them in His mercy and sends him to His people with a message: Yehovah cares for you and has planned something better for you than this current life in which you live. By His great love for you, He will go to great lengths to purchase you from your desperate circumstances. He will take you to be His own, and treasure you in return for your faithful service. And He will bring you to a place of security and joy.
The journey begins with the instruction by the Lord to display blood of a perfect lamb over the entryway to each home. All who heeded this instruction and until morning remained under the covering of that door-marked sign received salvation from death, the just wrath of Elohim against the people of this foreign land defiled by sin. The obedient, on the contrary, were given life and as they turned their backs to a world which no longer defined them, they followed the pillar of cloud and fire out of Egypt, marking the occasion by eating bread free of yeast. Yehovah leads them to a body of water and they are confronted with a decision: will we enter through the waters toward an unknown future in the desert and commit to this unknown Elohim who has graciously given us life, or will we turn back toward the land of our past, fearful and unfulfilling but at least familiar? Choosing the former, they arrive on the opposite shoreline of the sea as the waters close behind them, sealing their decision in public view of the surrounding peoples that they no longer serve Pharaoh but Yehovah their Elohim and Father. The intermediary sent to deliver Yehovah’s message of redemption also delivers to the people the teachings Elohim has for His children. He relates a new and good way of living to His family, life as defined by the Father of life. By living according to His instructions, the people come to know the character of this loving Father who purchased them, and as they conform to His words begin to resemble Him more each day. Life proceeds forward year after year, trial after trial, victory after victory, in the wilderness with the presence of Yehovah central in their midst and the children of Elohim patiently longing for the fulfillment of that in which they hope. The day finally arrives after a lifetime of travel when they are met with a decision similar to one confronted all those years before: will we again trust our Father to lead us through the waters into an unknown future? And in faith they step into the river and He clears the path for them to walk into the promised land.
Amazing parallels to our faith journey, aren’t they? It’s almost as if Yehovah knew what He was doing, as if He planned this common thread to be woven repeatedly into His grand design. The method of redemption was the blood of a lamb. It was the tenth and final plague against Egypt in which Yehovah commanded our participation. Why? Could He not have done it Himself? And why did He ask for lamb’s blood over the doorway? Could He not simply have struck the firstborn of the Egyptians causing their resolve to fail and so provide deliverance? Of course He could have. It seems there was a vital truth the Lord wanted His people to understand. Perhaps if they paint the blood over their dwellings with their own hands and retell their story to their children year after year and generation after generation, then they will recognize the familiar thread the next time it appears in the tapestry of history. The divine lesson will be ingrained: Because of the lamb’s blood, we are given life! How well those in Messiah Yeshua understand the symbolism in retrospect! “Behold, the Lamb of Elohim,” proclaims John the baptizer about Yeshua, “who takes away the sin of the world.” By grace the Lord visits His people in their despondency and by grace He provides a way to spare their lives: a lamb which is slain, whose blood serves as a sign to the Almighty that divine judgment shall pass over those covered beneath it. “By grace you are being saved,” repeats the apostle Paul (Eph 2:8). Amen! Glory to Elohim for His merciful solution!
Paul then qualifies the reception of Elohim’s grace by including the phrase, “through faith”. But what is “faith”? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines faith in a handful of ways but it’s interesting to note that each definition seems to fall into one of two groups: adherence to information or observance of conviction. It seems that in the West we have gravitated toward a definition of faith more like the first, more like the Greek philosophers. In our culture, faith is about the knowledge, understanding of, and philosophy of Elohim. We’re like Descartes, “I think [faith], therefore I am [faithful].” Faith is about having the correct facts. While aspects of this definition are true, it is certainly not complete, in fact, it is dangerously incomplete. Faith that saves is faith that obeys, otherwise it was never faith at all and results in death.
Let’s return to our colorful thread in Exodus in which Yehovah says, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” –Ex 12:13. Yehovah placed a condition on the reception of His grace. Israel must demonstrate faith in Him by obeying His command. Would He simply accept their intellect of “faith” that He was Elohim and His word was true? Would that have been sufficient for life? Would He simply accept their thanksgiving for His gracious gesture and allow them to just go about their business? What if they remained in Egypt, following the lifestyle of the Egyptians “so that grace may abound”? What would have happened had they been so cavalier with Yehovah’s grace, if they had had “faith without works”? Death. Their end would have arrived along with the rest of the disobedient in Egypt. Yehovah’s free gift of grace was His visiting Israel in the first place, hearing their cry and providing a way out. This grace was completely unmerited. But if the faith in Yehovah’s grace was not met with obedience, the people would have conclusively refused His gift and received death in return. However, this did not occur. Their faith had hands. Their faith had feet. Hebrews chapter 11 beautifully illustrates this coupling of faith and faithfulness in the saints of history. By faith Abel offered. By faith Enoch obtained. By faith Noah prepared. By faith Abraham obeyed and went out. Similarly, by faith the children of Israel applied the blood and went in. Therefore, faith is the bridge where grace meets obedience. The acceptable faith to Elohim occurs when grace produces action. Why? Because our actions are the inevitable expression of the state of our hearts: commitment to Him or ourselves.
Of course, it pleases the enemy to divert us even slightly out of balance emphasizing one aspect of faith over the other. One way or the other doesn’t matter to him as long as we head toward the gutter. On one side our hearts are tempted toward belief without action. This is the heart of the servant who buried the master’s property (Matt 25:14-30). It is the house built on sand (Matt 7:24-27). Belief without action is like a severed tree trunk. Will the gardener be pleased? A tree without fruit indicates death, as does faith without obedient action. It maintains thoughts of Elohim and attempts relationship but refuses to obey, claiming the Lord judges the heart. Meanwhile it forgets that disobedience indicates a heart’s rebellion and knowledge apart from Yehovah’s law brings destruction (Hos 4:1-6, 2 Pet 3:15-17). It prefers to be comfortably false following its own understanding than uncomfortably true following Elohim’s Word. This is the ditch of lawlessness on the left side of the path. As the apostle John writes, “Whoever says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of Elohim is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2).
On the contrary, consider the other side in which our hearts are tempted toward action without belief. This is the heart of some religious leaders which obeys Yehovah’s commands externally displaying a façade of righteousness (Matt 23:25-28). However, it summarily misses the purpose behind Yehovah’s law which is to love the Lord whole-heartedly and to love the neighbor (Deu 6:5, Lev 19:18, Matt 22:37-40). The method meant to facilitate the goal of knowing Elohim became the goal in and of itself (Hos 6:6, Matt 23:23-24). This heart is pretentious and cold. It is an actor faking trust in Yehovah with a choreographed performance. Action without belief is like a plastic tree. The fruit may look delicious and healthy but it isn’t real. This is the ditch of legalism on the right side of the path. Yeshua calls such people hypocrites, “For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence.” He says of them, “you are white-washed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt 23:25-26).
So which pleases Yehovah more, “belief without action” or “action without belief”? Would He rather have dead trees with no fruit or plastic trees with fake fruit? Neither! Because either way, good fruit is not being produced and such trees are cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt 7, Luke 13, John 15). Clearly both are contrary to Elohim’s will for His people and the true faith He desires. Clearly both are the gutters on the sides of the road whose adherents are deceived, calling themselves servants of the King and claiming all the benefits of the kingdom. Meanwhile they maintain their own authority, subverting Yehovah’s rightful place on the throne of their hearts. We religious folk seem to congregate to one side or the other, turning up our noses and pointing our fingers at the group across the street forgetting that either ditch is equally aberrant to the true path and detrimental to our walk with the Lord. How true it is that many are those who walk in the ditches, destroying themselves and scarring the name of Yehovah in the process. We forget that our Master told us Elohim desires that we worship Him in Spirit AND Truth (John 4:23-24), that our sincere belief of faith produces action of faithfulness. The Lord desires that we remain connected to Him AND produce fruit (John 15:1-6), because good fruit demonstrates the health of the root. It is the evidence of sincerity, loyalty, and sacrificial love, all the things that define true faith. It’s not about lawlessness; it’s about being in relationship, seeking Him (Jer 29:11-13). “It’s not about legalism; it’s about being in love” (to quote my wonderful wife), obeying His commandments (John 14:23-24). May we seek relationship AND lovingly obey, that our root of belief be demonstrated by the fruit of obedience to His Word. This is Biblical faith, the straight and narrow path: By Yehovah’s grace through faith, we obey and are saved.