One frequently misunderstood Bible passage is Romans 1:17, which states: “The just shall live by faith.” Some interpret that to mean that you do not need to plan for the future, you just have faith and everything will work out. The summer before I entered seminary, I found myself in the living room with some sales prospects to purchase insurance products. Since I was in training as an insurance salesman, I simply observed the whole process. The conversation turned to me as the mentor was explaining to the prospects that I was about to enter seminary. They asked me why I was learning to sell insurance if I was going to enter seminary. I told them that I needed to make a living somehow while attending class. They literally asked me, “Can’t you just live by faith?” I said, “I have to live like everyone else. The money has to come from somewhere.”
Several years later as I was conducting a Bible study class for young married couples, one of the young men asked me, “Why don’t we all sell everything we have and just live by faith?” My answer was the same. The money has to come from somewhere. People think that if you just “live by faith,” money just somehow magically appears in your bank account allowing you to pay your bills. So, what is faith? Just believing something and hoping it comes to pass?
Imagine farming by faith. A farmer lies in his hammock every day believing that one day he will reap a harvest. He actively visualizes his crops. He does not cultivate; he just farms by faith. He does not plant; he just farms by faith. He does not irrigate; he just farms by faith. It does not matter how strong his faith is or detailed his visualization is; he will still not reap a harvest if he skips all the steps necessary for a harvest.
Romans 1:17 quotes a passage from Habakkuk 2:4. There the prophet says, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” Psalm 96:13 uses the same Hebrew word, but translates it as “faithfulness.” Living by faith is not living with no cares, and hoping that circumstances will somehow work themselves out. It is not living by emotions, passions, or impulses over which you have no control. It is not capricious living doing only what you feel like doing. It means being faithful despite feelings. In Sentimentality or Spirituality, I wrote about persons who were driven by feelings and passions. If they do not feel like doing something, they simply do not. They only do what they feel passionate about.
Living by feelings can lead to depression. For example, Christians may struggle with feelings of acceptance by God. Since they do not feel close to God, their feelings lead them toward sadness. Rather than trusting by faith what God has said in His word, they rely on their own feelings. Believing your feelings rather than God’s word is calling God a liar.
If you feel that God has not accepted you, you are not living by faith. Ephesians 1:6 says that God has called us to be adopted as his children, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” His word said that he has made us accepted in Christ. We are accepted in Christ. If I do not feel accepted by God, then I am the one at fault, not God or his word. I am not a child of God, dearly loved and accepted by him because of what I feel is true. It is so because his word says so. To follow my feelings and feel depressed is to call God a liar.
Living by faithfulness means living according to God’s word and promises regardless of how I feel about circumstances. When you begin to feel depressed or anxious, go to God’s word and find a truth to trust. If you feel anxiety, for example, go to First Peter 5:6-7, which says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (NKJV). Focus on the meaning of these words. You are to humble yourself before God, casting all your anxiety on him. Trust what it says, then go to God in prayer and do that.
If you feel guilty about sins you committed in the past, turn to First John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). Focus on what it says. If you have confessed your sins to him, he has cleansed you from all sin. This should eliminate guilty feelings. Believe what these words say and act accordingly.
Living by faithfulness means living to please God despite how you feel. Rather than following your heart, or your emotions, focus on the facts of God’s word. Several years ago, Campus Crusade for Christ put a diagram in one of their tracts. It was a drawing of a steam engine train with three parts. They labeled the locomotive Fact, the coal car Faith, the passenger car Feelings. They said that the engine could run with or without the passenger car.
Another book used a similar drawing. It showed three people walking along the top of a brick wall. The first was Fact, the second was Faith and the third was Feeling. The book said that if Faith kept his eye on Fact, he would not fall off the wall, but if he looked over his shoulder at Feeling, he would fall off the wall. Remember that Christians are to live by faithfulness, not feelings. If you look to feelings for assurance, you will be derailed. You can always trust God’s word no matter how you feel.