The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 displays the radiance and reality of faith through the stained-glass portrayals of real men and women, exhibiting what faith looks like as it is fleshed out in the choices and actions of those men and women. But how do we cultivate that kind of faith? The answer is simple, but not easy. The same way they did—through hearing and acting upon the explicit statements of God (Rom. 10:17). (See endnote) We have far more of God’s Word upon which to base our faith than they did, yet they put most of us to shame. But what is to our shame God intends to turn to our encouragement and resolve. Look, for example, at one man of faith—Noah.
The building of the ark was the magnum opus of Noah’s faith—the grandest, most tangible demonstration of his faith in God and in His Word (Heb. 11:7). But a brief glimpse at the background in Genesis 6:8–22 reveals that before Noah had the faith to build an ark, he had been laying a foundation in his life on which great faith could be built. “No Christian character can be built on a foundation of neglected duty,” B. B. Warfield once observed. Likewise, no Biblical faith can be built on a foundation of neglected revelation.
The Acquisition of Faith
Genesis 6:8 holds the key without which one can neither obtain nor cultivate faith: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” That does not mean that Noah attracted God’s attention or merited God’s favor because he was so good. Rather, he was “good” because he sought grace from God and found it. It was the grace of God operating in him that made him the man of faith that he became. Faith is not a feeling we work up; we cannot psyche ourselves into an attitude of faith. Faith is ultimately not humanly produced at all. It is not attained by human effort but obtained by grace from God (2 Pet. 1:1–2). Recognizing our dire dependence on God and on His grace working in us is the first and crucial step not only to salvation, but to daily Christian living (Gal. 2:20–21; Eph. 2:8–10; Phil. 2:12–13; Col. 2:6–7).
The Cultivation of Faith
Genesis 6:9 portrays the growth of Noah’s faith through three descriptive terms. First, Noah was “a just man”— that is, he was careful to meet his obligations to God and to fulfill his responsibilities to others. Second, Noah was “perfect in his generations”—not flawless or sinless, but blameless and outstanding among his contemporaries for his integrity. Third, Noah “walked with God” in the tradition of his greatgrandfather Enoch (see Gen. 5:22, 24). In fact, the text records emphatically that, in contrast to those around him, “it was with God that Noah walked.” What did this mean for Noah? He had no Bible to read. Walking with God does not come naturally and does not happen haphazardly. The Puritans called it “practicing the presence of God,” cultivating a consciousness of the Lord amid the deeds and decisions of daily life. “Personal communion with God,” writes H. C. Leupold, “was the taproot of this outstandingly good life.” Griffeth-Thomas adds:
The idea [of walking with God] is that of friendship and fellowship with God, and it is noteworthy that such a position was possible amidst the very difficult, practical, everyday life that Noah had to lead. It meant courage and independence, for no one else was walking that way. When a man walks with God it necessarily means that he cannot walk with any of his contemporaries who are going the opposite direction.
These noble qualities are highlighted by the dark description of Noah’s contemporaries as thoroughly “corrupt” (repeated three times) and his surrounding environment as “filled with violence” (repeated twice; Gen. 6:11–13). But Noah does not stand out merely because of the bleak backdrop of the society in which he lived. “In a corrupt world,” Derek Kidner remarks, “Noah emerges not merely as the best of a bad generation, but as a remarkably complete man of God.” Given our access to the full revelation of God and the abundant resources at our disposal to read and hear and study His Word, what excuse do we have to be any less in our generation?
Responsibility, integrity, and walking with God in the midst of a corrupt world are choices that both require and reflect faith. It is only out of this reservoir of faith, carefully dug and gradually deepened over years of practice, that Noah’s faith could rise to embrace an impossible assignment in the face of an improbable judgment and despite incredible odds and opposition. Great faith is not a sudden burst of unshakable confidence. Great faith is the gradual culmination of small faith that is consistently grown, carefully nourished, and regularly strengthened through exercise and use. Every small action or decision taken on the basis of faith in what God has said, rather than on the basis of what sight and sense would seem to dictate, honors God, strengthens our faith, and emboldens our confidence in the trustworthiness of God.
The Manifestation of Faith
When the time came, “by faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark . . . by the which he condemned the world” (Heb. 11:7).
Despite the fact that he was virtually alone in his beliefs and practices, despite the laborious work involved in such a monumental task and long-term goal, despite the raucous ridicule of others, despite the fact that his life and work was a visible, potentially offensive condemnation of the beliefs and lifestyles of those around him, and despite the almost absurd improbability and lengthy delay of what God said would happen (“Just how do you plan to get that thing down to the water, Noah? A flood? What’s a flood? Now why would God want to destroy everything He made? You sure you heard God right, Noah? I think you’re crazy, Noah, that’s what I think!”)—despite all odds and opposition and opinion to the contrary, Noah submitted to the explicitly detailed instructions of the divine blueprint for his life.
What is faith? It is stated with startling simplicity in Genesis 6:22—“Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded Him, so did he.” Simple obedience itself demands faith because the promised results, punishments, and rewards are often neither immediate nor apparent.
The essence of faith is to order my life according to God’s Word, God’s values, God’s directives, God’s promises, and God’s warnings regardless of how difficult, unpopular, or contrary to “common sense” or experience doing so may seem to be. By faith I rear my children as God says they are to be reared, regardless of how our generation says they ought to be reared. By faith in God’s warnings I resist the urgings of world, flesh, and Devil to strong drink, to adultery, to dishonesty, to evil company, to compromise any Biblical principle, however fun or alluring or profitable sin might seem to be. By faith I carry out God’s ministry according to the message and methods delineated in God’s Biblical blueprint, however “successful” alternative methods may appear to be which compromise God’s message or distort God’s character. By faith I cling to the future and to the unseen as promised by God, however fanciful it may seem to others. Faith is my “Yes” to the words of God.
The word “faith” appears only twice in the Old Testament. Once we learn to recognize what it looks like when we see it, however, we discover that the concept of faith abounds where the word may not be found. Biblical faith includes two components: belief and trust. Intellectual assent and certainty (belief) is only half the formula; personal reliance and commitment (trust) complete the circuit of Biblical faith. Faith is my positive response to God’s Word—accepting God’s person as trustworthy; assenting to God’s revelation as true; appropriating God’s Word as personally applicable; and yielding to its demand to govern my life, direct my choices, influence my attitudes, and affect my actions. The name Noah means “rest.” Faith is coming to rest, like Noah, in the words of God.
Dr. Layton Talbert is a Frontline Contributing Editor and teaches theology and apologetics at Bob Jones Seminary, Greenville, SC.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)
Two primary Greek words are translated “word” with reference to God’s Word. Logos is the “larger” concept, referring to the message or content of God’s communication to man. Rhema denotes the explicit, individual statements themselves which make up the general message or content. The word in Romans 10:17 is the latter. In other words, faith is not produced merely by hearing the overall message of God’s Word, but by hearing and believing the explicit statements of God on every subject.