“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”– Romans 4:2-3 ESV
Let me first offer a biblical definition of faith from Hebrews 11, verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Now I ask—how does faith operate? In a real world, in real time, what are the mechanics to experiencing an operational faith? Here are three systematic elements: Hearing God’s Word, Believing God’s Word and Acting On What We Believe. The first element:
Hearing God’s Word
In Romans 10, verse 17 we read: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Faith starts with hearing God’s Word! It would be slick to say faith starts by looking at creation, or working good deeds; this way faith could be tangible. But the simple fact is, Abraham discovered faith by first hearing God speak to him; Genesis 15, verse 7 reads:
And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
Those words were presented to Abraham in Genesis 12, verse 1 where it reads: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” Abraham heard God’s Words way back in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans!
God has words for the 21st century man or woman. There’s a book God uses to bring His Word to humankind, it’s called the Bible. Within the living pages are words of God’s active thoughts and plans for us. If not ignored they’ll produce instruction and consolation in life. In Romans 15, verse 4 we read:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Does life present difficult challenges for you? God’s Word gives answers and direction! Hearing His Word is the first systematic step we can take for experiencing faith—by choosing to read the Bible; the more often the better. The second element is:
Believing God’s Word
At times we’re a little slow to believe. Don’t feel alone, apparently Abraham had his issues, too. In Genesis 11 we find the man known as ‘the father of faith’ didn’t actually leave for Canaan until much after God’s call to move. In verses 31 and 32 we read that Abraham’s father:
“Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.”
A pit-stop in Haran was not on God’s agenda. Not until after Abraham’s father dies does the great patriarch choose to move on to Canaan! You see, though God’s Word came earlier to Abraham, it took him awhile before actually choosing to believe what God was saying. To be affective, believing must accompany hearing. In Acts 7, verses 2 through 4 we learn through a man named Stephen:
“… The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.”
God’s Word came to Abraham early. But it’s not until his father was removed that the patriarch believes what God was asking. Stuck in Haran, the father of faith had lessons to learn.
I understand that situation. There are times when moving forward happens from concepts, ideas, grit and miscalculations—anything but faith. Abraham was stuck in Haran until he believed God’s Word was trustworthy and then we discover, as Stephen notes in Acts 7, verse 4, that:
“…God removed him [Abraham] from there into this land in which you are now living.”
Paralysis occurred until Abraham believed, and then we read God operates to get him into the land of Canaan. Once we hear God’s word, the second systematic step is to believe what God says is true! This leads to the third element:
Acting On What We Believe
To summarize so far, we hear God’s Word, we learn to believe that His Word is dependable, and finally, we take action upon what we believe. James puts it this way in James 2, verses 21 and 20:
“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;”
These are actions born out of hearing and then believing in God’s Word, and not the other way around! The order is not, hear; and then act—that’s how Israel failed with the Law of Moses! The systematic steps are hearing, believing and then acting upon what you believe. This, and this alone is how we experience faith! Faith is completed by works that are based only upon what one believes about God’s Word—Hear, Believe, then, Act in Faith! Then they are not our works, but God’s works that He’s prepared for us to walk in. Now we discover it’s God’s faith at work for us and in—as Stephen says: God removed him [Abraham] from there into this land.”
Finalizing the experience: God’s Word creates the ability to believe what He says is true, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And once we have learned to believe what we hear from God’s Word, then we’re prepared to act on what He has promised. How does faith operate? Faith is experienced as we believe God’s promise and then it’s credited as righteousness.
J Robert Hanson
 Ephesians 2:10, ESV; For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.