“For to me life is Christ, and death gain; but what if my living on in the body may serve some good purpose?” The purpose of which Paul speaks is to “stand by [us] all to help [us] forward and to add joy to [our] faith.” (Philippians 1: 25) Paul would rather die and be with Christ, which “is better by far.” (Philippians 1: 24)
Paul calls us to “look to each other’s interest and not merely to [our] own.” (Philippians 2: 4) It is in Paul’s best interest to exit life to be with Christ — for to Paul “death is gain.” Instead, he knows “there is greater need for [him] to stay on in the body.” (Philippians 1: 25) He puts our interests above his own. Paul says, “Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your life in Christ Jesus. For the divine nature is His from the first; yet He does not think to snatch equality with God, but makes Himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave.” (Philippians 2: 5 – 8)
The author of Hebrews writes of men and women of faith who die “not yet in possession of the things promised.” Instead, they “see them far ahead and hail them, and confess themselves no more than strangers or passing travellers on earth. Those who use such language show plainly that they are looking for a country of their own. If their hearts are in the country they leave, they could find opportunity to return. Instead, we find them longing for a better country — I mean the heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11: 13 – 16) For them death is gain. For us, too, death is gain. But we remain in the body so as to serve one another, build up one another, love and care for one another.
“What use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it?” ask James. (James 2: 14) “With faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.”
The author of Hebrews asks, “And what is faith?” And offers this answer: “Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see.” (Hebrews 11: 1)
Abel offers a better sacrifice than Cain by believing God is good. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]; for anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who search for Him.” (Hebrews 11: 6)
Jesus says that faith as tiny as a mustard-seed is able to “give substance to our hopes.” Our faith is not in our good deeds, but in Christ, “for it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied, and in Him [we] are brought to completion.” (Colossians 2: 9)
Our faith is not lifeless, but alive. Though we do not see the realities of which we are certain, our faith does indeed “give substance to our hopes.” And this living faith allows us to act.
What profit is there in denying the power of the risen Christ? What does it matter to gain the entire world — all its riches, its pleasures, its beauties, its powers — yet forfeit your soul, give up your life?
“By faith, after Moses is born, he is hidden by his parents for three months, because they see that the child is beautiful, and they do not fear the king’s edict. By faith, Moses, when he grows up, refuses to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chooses to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasures of sin. For he considers the reproach because of the Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since his attention is on the reward. By faith, he leaves Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses perseveres as one who sees Him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11: 23 – 27)
Jesus tells us to deny ourselves as Moses denies himself, as his parents deny themselves. Jesus says to us, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8: 35)
Jesus says that we must not be ashamed of Him or “of [His] Words.” (Mark 8: 38) If we are ashamed of Him, then He is ashamed of us.
Moses is not ashamed of his God; rather he accepts the reproach associated with being a follower of the Messiah as “greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” In anticipation, Moses leaves his life behind in order to find a greater gift — eternal life.
God “leads [us] in paths of righteousness,” says the psalmist. Noah, “in reverent fear constructs an ark for the saving of his household” when he is “warned by God concerning events as yet unseen.” (Hebrews 11: 7) He is led by God into a path which “condemns the world” and causes Noah to “become an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11: 7)
God marks the paths we are to travel, asking us to follow Him in faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11: 1) Noah believes God, that the flood is coming, that the ark can be built, that he and his family are able to gather representatives of every living thing, that the ark is able to save. Therefore, he acts righteously in this faith. And his faith is based in his trust of God — in the God he knows.
James writes, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” He firmly presents Abraham as a man who is “justified by his works,” writing: “You see that faith is active along with his works; and faith is completed by his works, and the Scripture is fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believes God, and it is credited to him as righteousness.’ ” (James 2: 22, 23)
Our salvation depends not on our will or our exertion, but on God’s willingness to be merciful. If God is not willing to provide us with His mercy, then we are already condemned by our sinful nature, which we recognize as “the fall.”
Without God’s powerful calling, we do not respond to Christ’s sacrifice; rather we run in the opposite direction.
God, the Holy Spirit draws us to Himself. He empowers us with ability to see our sins and to know we need Jesus’ sacrificial death and powerful resurrection so that we might live new lives in God’s grace.
John writes that we “are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 13)
And the author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11: 6)
From whence comes the faith which is required to please God? This faith is a gift which does not come from our parents, nor our friends, nor certainly from our adversary; rather our faith is a gift from God Himself. He gives us this precious faith to believe Him, to know that He exists and to
choose to follow Him.
For our part, we live in gratitude.