Faith is a word that believers use with great abandon, yet often we do not use it correctly. When Vivien and I were first courting, I said to her, “You look beautiful… by faith”, and then I would add the lines from the old hymn that says, “Faith, mighty faith the promise sees, And looks to that alone, Laughs at impossibilities, And cries, ‘It shall be done’.” She knew what I was like before she married me! So often we use the word “faith” incorrectly and do not realize how tremendous and powerful is the faith resident in a believer.
I want to emphasize this as I share with you the record of Abraham in Romans 4:16-21 (NIV). I would like you to read the whole passage, and note in particular verse 17b, “… God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Abraham is set before us as an example of a person who lived a life of faith, and made things happen by using the faith resident within him. In Genesis 12:2 God first promised him that his seed (children) would develop into a great nation.
Many years later, in Genesis 15:5, God “took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’.” That is, the extended family that would develop from his children would in time be a tremendous multitude of people.
Then God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, meaning “the father of a multitude”. Now Abraham is 99, and Sarah is long past the age of child-bearing, today known to be between 15 and 45. (Sarah was 90, Genesis 17:17.) Abraham did not have any children from his marriage with Sarah. What an age to think about having children! I’m sure when I get past 99, having children will be the last thing on my mind.
The incredible promise
I wonder what you would think if you were given a promise like that. It almost sounds impossible. It really is an incredible situation — God promises children to an old couple, very much senior citizens. Yet Abraham is set forth as an example of faith to us, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a tremendous example.
Notice in Romans 4:16, “But also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” In verse 11 we read that he “is the father of all who believe”. Abraham is the ancestor of all those who exercise the faith resident in them. So if we want to know how it works, it would be right to go back and see how our ancestor made it work. Since it worked for him, it should work for you and for me. Yet, when you think about it, faith is the one aspect of Christianity that most Christians find the hardest to put into practice. It can only be because our minds get in the way.
Romans 4:17 states: “As it is written: ‘I have made you…’ ” Did you notice the tense? It is not, “I’m going to make it possible for you to be…” As far as God is concerned, it is already done. “As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Our God is “the God who… calls things that are not as though they were”. I want to keep repeating that last phrase until you believe it — “as though they were”, “as though they were”. That is an incredible phrase! Underline it in your Bible, so that it jumps out of the page next time you open it.
The God kind of faith
The God kind of faith “calls things that are not as though they were”. God’s example is Abraham, to whom He said, “I have already made you a father of a great multitude”. Abraham was 99 and Sarah was past the age of child-bearing, but God called “things that are not as though they were”. The operation of faith that makes the Christian life productive is based on that one principle: calling “things that are not as though they were”. The Living Bible says that God “speaks of future events with as much certainty as though they were already past”. That is how we must operate our faith in God. That is how we will shape our future.
Now I doubt if anyone reading this has a challenge like that of Abraham and Sarah. But perhaps you are looking at “impossibilities” at this time. Some of you have problems in your business, or with your health. Some of you find it hard to get sufficient support for everyday things. How can you break out of it, forge ahead, and enjoy the very best that God has for you? Simply follow in the footsteps of our father Abraham, the ancestor of those who believe. Start calling “things that are not as though they were”.
Now somebody is sure to say, “Well, I just can’t do it. I just can’t say that something exists when I’m not sure.” Others might be thinking, “But I can’t do that; that would be telling a lie.” But I want to remind you, I am talking about what God says. Is God a liar?
Titus 1:2 speaks of “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…” It is impossible for God to lie. Yet God “calls things that are not as though they were”. So if God does not lie, then surely you can follow His example. When in faith you call “things that are not as though they were”, you are not lying; you are speaking the word of faith. You are saying what God says, and until you do, it will be hard for you to enjoy what God has made available.
God’s faith in action
In Hebrews 11:3 it states, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” How did God create the universe? He called “things that are not as though they were” — and they became the universe. When God spoke, it became a material reality. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). God said, “Let there be a moon in the sky for the night, and a sun for the day”, and there was a moon and there was a sun (Genesis 1:16). They are there because God called “things that are not as though they were”. God was not lying; He was creating. God was bringing into evidence that which was necessary for our enjoyment of life.
Ephesians 1:4 states that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” We were not born. We were not even a gleam in our father’s eye (to use a cliché), yet God chose us in Him before the creation of the world. How could God do it? He called “things that are not as though they were”. He spoke the word of faith. Are you beginning to understand that phrase? It’s powerful and tremendous!
The necessity of faith
Let me now quote Hebrews 11:6, a powerful verse, and show how it fits in with this concept from Romans. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
For the purpose of teaching, let me replace the word “faith” with the phrase that I’ve emphasized from Romans, and it reads: “And without calling things that are not as though they were it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…” No one can see God. Yet millions of people spend every Sunday morning in church listening to someone talking about a person they cannot see. How do they do it? By faith. It is said that wherever you are, God is. How can this be? Because He is in you and we are calling things that are not, as far as our natural eyes are concerned, as though they were — and they are.
Faith is always a leap into the dark in some respects. If you are on the end of a limb and do not know where to go next, faith is taking that next step. Do you realize that when you take even one step in walking that you put the whole body off balance? You will never go anywhere unless you take a step of faith. It was faith this morning for you to swing your legs out of bed and touch the floor. You had to believe that the law of gravity would keep you in the right position. Everything you do in life is an application of the principle of faith, and in the spiritual life the object of faith is God; it is faith in the God Who calls “things that are not as though they were”.
I’ll use another verse to illustrate how this statement about faith is so effective. James 5:15 says, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” The prayer of calling “things that are not as though they were” will save, deliver, and bring wholeness to the sick. It is not praying, “Lord, we trust that our dear brother or sister hangs in there and endures this sickness.” That’s not the prayer of faith; that’s the prayer of futility. The prayer of faith is to say, “Father, we thank you for the perfect health of our brother or sister.” This is a prayer that they might manifest the perfect health which they have already resident within. “Call things that are not as though they were”, and you will have them.
Abraham and the promise
I can just imagine that Abraham, having received the promise, would have said that statement time after time during the many years that passed since the promise was first made and then also during the nine months of pregnancy. Perhaps he mentioned it to others, but right until Sarah’s pregnancy started to show, I think Abraham had to keep saying: “I’m going to be the father of a great multitude. I’m going to call things that are not as though they were.” A verse that sums up the truth is this one: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).
Make a quality commitment today to call “things that are not as though they were”. God has not only planned the very best for your life, He has provided the very best for your life. Yet the provision is in a spiritual form, and you need it in a material form. The only way to bridge that gap is to affirm your faith and call things that are not in the material as though they were, and they will be. That was Abraham’s first step of faith.
The book of James takes the truth of calling things that be not as though they were a step further. This book is about faith and action. James 2:14-20 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”
Let me focus on James 2:17: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” In 1903 a new Bible translation came out that caused a real storm. It was the first of the modern paraphrases. Up to that time, most Christians used the King James Version. Then the English brought out the Revised Version in 1881, and the Americans were not happy with that, so they brought out their own American Standard Version in 1901. Then a scholar named Richard Weymouth published The New Testament in Modern English. It took the Christian world by storm because of the very expressive phrases he used. A great example is his translation of James 2:14-22.
He translates in verse 14: “What good is it, my brethren, if a man professes to have faith, and yet his actions do not correspond?” Then in verses 17 and 18: “So also faith, if it is unaccompanied by obedience, has no life in it — so long as it stands alone. Nay, some one will say, ‘You have faith, I have actions: prove to me your faith apart from corresponding actions and I will prove mine to you by my actions’.” The expressive phrase I want you to keep in mind is “corresponding actions”. Faith must have corresponding actions. If you call “things that are not as though they were”, you must act as if they are. All faith must have an action that corresponds to it.
Let me quote one more verse from Weymouth; James 2:22 concerning Abraham: “You notice that his faith was co-operating with his actions, and that by his actions his faith was perfected…” Faith co-operating with actions. What does that mean? When Abraham took a step of faith, he acted the way he expected it to happen, and his faith co-operated and brought it to pass. There are two stages to faith: speaking words — calling “things that are not as though they were” — and then taking corresponding action.
I could buy you a first-class airline ticket to send you around the world, and if I did, you would probably say, “Terrific”. Yet unless you took the action of walking up the steps of the plane at the airport, the ticket is not going to get you anywhere, is it? I can recall the first time I went to the United States. I was 32, a minister of a small church in Western Australia seating only 75 people and usually about half full. I had been corresponding with a teaching ministry in America from time to time. Then one day a letter came saying, “If we sent you an airline ticket, would you come for three months and study in our summer school?” And I thought, “Terrific.” Then challenges set in, and it looked for a while as if it was not going to happen. The ticket did not arrive.
I had to take an action of faith. I obtained my passport and then a visa from the American consulate in Perth. I obtained an international health certificate and had the smallpox injection that everybody had to go through in those days. I took all the steps that were possible while I was waiting for the airline ticket to come. And even though I received a letter stating the ticket was not going to come, I had taken all the steps I could, for I believed that God wanted me to go and learn more about His Word at this particular institution.
Very late on a Friday night, just two days before I needed to leave, I received a phone call from the airline saying that they had just received a telex message about me. It was marked as “Urgent” and their orders were to call me immediately and issue me with a return ticket to the United States. Now, what if I had waited? What if I had not obtained my passport, or the visa, or health certificate? My faith co-operated with my actions, and by my actions my faith was perfected.
James says, “If you say you are a man of faith, show me your faith without actions.” Can you do it? No, you can only talk about it. You cannot demonstrate your faith unless you can show an action that has proved your faith. Faith is a mental capacity, and an action is in the material world. It is not possible for a man to say, “I have faith. I’m OK,” and not take any action.
The example of Abraham
James gives the example of Abraham, whom God told to offer his son on the altar, which would have delayed the fulfillment of the original promise of an extended family. Abraham and his son journeyed with his servants to the foot of the mountain. He said to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey; we will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). After they had constructed the altar, the son said, “What are we going to use for an offering?” Abraham replied, “God will supply the offering.” Did he only have faith in God? No, he had faith with corresponding actions. He went up the mountain without an offering, not knowing how it would work out. Yet he did what God had told him.
We say we have faith in God. We say we believe God for finances, yet we sit at home worrying about how we’re going to pay the bills and wonder why our faith doesn’t work. Faith must have corresponding actions. We say we believe God for our physical health, and yet we talk about our pains, our age, and so on. Faith without corresponding action is dead. It’s useless; it’s not going to produce anything. It is what I call mental assent. You merely say that it’s possible, that it’s true, but you are not willing to do anything about it, so you do not get the result that it promises.
The key to the passage in James 2:14-20 is back in chapter 1, where it says, “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (verse 22, KJV). “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (NIV). A listener, a hearer, is one who says, “I have faith.” A doer is one who says, “I have faith, and I’m taking the corresponding action.” Just listening to the Word and not doing anything is to deceive yourself. It is self-delusion to say, “I have faith in God” but to do nothing about it. Who are you kidding? Yourself. If you want your faith to work, or as it says in Weymouth’s translation, if you want your faith to co-operate, then produce some corresponding actions. That is the Biblical principle.
The modern day “how-to” books by Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar or whoever you want to name, pick up that principle and say, “Decide what you want and act as if it is true.” It is a Biblical principle, and one that you and I must apply in every situation if we want the success that God’s Word says we can have. It’s not enough just to call things that are not as though they were, as we saw from Romans 4:17, but we must also take a corresponding action.
If you believe God for good health, then don’t lay on the bed moaning about your headache. Where’s the corresponding action? Get up and do something. If you have bills that you’re worrying about, then thank God for finance. Worry is not going to help it, is it? Worry will kill you and your estate will have to pay the bills in the long run. Maintain your confidence as you apply the principles of God’s Word and take an action.
The houses on rock and sand
A great example of faith with corresponding actions is seen in Matthew 7:24. Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…” Can you see those two aspects there: faith and corresponding action? “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
What was the difference? The man who built his house on the sand had warmed the pew, sat on the premises, listened to the teaching, but had done nothing about it. On the other hand, the one who built his house on the rock had done all these things, but had also put into practice God’s Word.
Everybody is subject to the storms of life. Those who can withstand them and be victorious are those who have faith with corresponding actions; people who hear the Word and do it. And when problems come, when ill health comes, when lack of finance comes, you may go under if you have not applied the principles of the Word of God. You can hang the Word around your neck on a chain, you can keep it in your wallet, but it doesn’t do you any good until you apply it. Can you see this simple truth? There’s more truth in that parable, of course, but I’m just illustrating the truth from James 2:17 — faith without corresponding action is dead.
You have God’s faith
Let’s tie all this in with the Romans passage again. Abraham had the same kind of faith that God had, and God’s faith was that which called “things that are not as though they were”. You have the same kind of faith that God has, and now you must take the second step in the same way that Abraham did. Abraham not only called “things that are not as though they were”, but he also produced the corresponding actions.
Genesis 13:2 says that Abraham was a man of great wealth, a great cattle man. He had a private army and many servants. How did he get all this? He applied the principles that God had laid down. He had the faith of God, and he took the action that was necessary.
Paul, who wrote the statement in Romans, was also a great man. In Philippians 4:13, Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul did the doing, but Christ did the strengthening. That’s a great principle. When you became a believer you received faith from God (Romans 12:3) and now have His strengthening within. What is God waiting for? He’s waiting for your corresponding action. Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” There was nothing that Paul could not do. He could do everything because he had Christ resident within and he matched his faith with actions that corresponded.
You worship the God that “calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). Now apply the corresponding action (James 2:18), and then receive the results that God has promised.
Copyright © 1991 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/. It is not available in print.
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