A pivotal element in a healthy understanding of the Scriptures is a willingness to allow the word “faith” to be consistently defined and harmoniously described by the Spirit of God who inspired the New Testament writings. Throughout Galatians 3, Paul speaks of “hearing with faith.”
- 3:2 — Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
- 3:5 — Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
- 3:7-9 — Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
- 3:11 — Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
- 3:22 — But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
- 3:23-26 — Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
As the writer of Hebrews affirmed, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). But that’s only the first half of sentence. The second half continues, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Abraham is consistently offered as Exhibit-A of effective faith throughout the New Testament. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). But practically speaking, what did that look like? Hebrews 11 contains an inspired answer as it repeatedly offers a famous Old Testament man or woman as an example, then consistently attaches those famous names with specific verbs.
- By faith Abel offered (Hebrews 11:4)
- By faith Enoch was taken up (Hebrews 11:5)
- By faith Noah constructed (Hebrews 11:7)
- By faith Abraham obeyed (Hebrews 11:8)
- By faith Abraham lived (Hebrews 11:9)
- By faith Sarah conceived (Hebrews 11:11)
- By faith Abraham offered (Hebrews 11:17)
- By faith Isaac invoked (Hebrews 11:20)
- By faith Jacob blessed (Hebrews 11:21)
- By faith Joseph mentioned (Hebrews 11:22)
- By faith Moses was hidden (Hebrews 11:23)
- By faith Moses refused (Hebrews 11:24-25)
- By faith Moses considered (Hebrews 11:26)
- By faith Moses left (Hebrews 11:27)
- By faith Moses kept (Hebrews 11:28)
- By faith the Israelites crossed (Hebrews 11:29)
- By faith the walls of Jericho were encircled (Hebrews 11:30)
- By faith Rahab did not perish (Hebrews 11:31)
All these, the writer concludes in Hebrews 11:39, were “commended (to God) through their faith.” Faith was the key element in their justification before God. Though dead, they continue to serve as living examples of what it means, practically speaking, to believe that God exists and to diligently seek him. From cover to cover, the Bible consistently refers to traveling such a path as simply “faith.”
Another powerful, God-breathed (and harmonious) description of Biblical faith is provided in James 2:14-26:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
“Look to the recorded examples,” James encourages, “the same examples you can read about in Hebrews.” Both inspired writers clarify the fact that faith as defined and described by God is more than acknowledgment of, belief in, and confession of certain facts. “Faith,” when unaccompanied by works, is dead. “Faith,” without corresponding action, is incomplete and will not lead to the justification we so desperately need. Biblical faith implies, by its very nature, obedience from the heart. Biblical faith assumes belief-based action.
All of which helps us to further understand Paul’s point in Galatians 3. What does “hearing with faith” look like under the new covenant of Jesus Christ? Who are those whom God himself would describe as “of faith”? How can we be “justified by faith” in our own day and age? Galatians 3:26-29 contains the Spirit’s answer:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.