Faith and Hearing. What’s the Deal?

by Jonathan Bailey

Galatians 3.1-5
“1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”

There is this phrase that runs through many of Paul’s letters that is juxtaposed with trusting in the Law to save you or perfect (sanctification, spiritual formation, holiness, etc) you. That phrase is hearing with faith. That phrase annoys me because it is sounds so passive! (and maybe it is). So this post is mainly about this phrase and how passive/active it is.

The Galatian followers of Jesus got blown way off course by the Loyal Jews. Not only were they trusting in circumcision to be the defining mark of God’s people, but also we hear that they are trusting in their achievements of the Law to spiritually transform them into the image of Christ, rather than the Spirit of Christ. So this letter is all about getting them back on course.  The end of the first verse is great. “You saw Jesus ruthlessly murdered.” That was His reconciling work to bring you into a new birth–not the Law. When you receive the Spirit that means you have a new life pulsing inside of your mortal body. That is by grace and I imagine a total joy for God to do it! 

So this leads us to this phrase, “hearing with faith.” Let me give you Eugene Peter’s translation from the Message…

“Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? “

I think that is a good translation. So what exactly are we hearing? News! Good news for that matter. The good news is that the kingdom of God is here and open to all who will through a simple trust turn from their old life and walk into this new life. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The King of this kingdom died for all of his subjects to free them from the fear of death, and thus you are never going to experience death. Also he experienced resurrection and so will you; a new body is coming that will have nothing to do with sin. No habits of lust, arrogance, and pride. All you have to do is have faith.

So hearing is pretty passive, but faith is not. Faith is active. Faith is a mustard seed becoming a massive tree. Faith is a small piece of leaven permeating an entire loaf of bread.

Faith is not just hoping holiness will happen. Faith is not just waiting for spiritual transformation to occur. Faith works. (James 2.14-26)

Faith is a gift no doubt, but that doesn’t make it passive.  If I give a basketball as a gift to my nephew Cade, I am hoping that it doesn’t just sit on his shelf. I want him to dribble, dunk and shoot. Wouldn’t it be awkward though if I came by to see him and I was uneasy that he was practicing his moves. What if I said, “Cade let’s put the ball up on the shelf, this is a gift; I don’t want you to lose it or hurt yourself. I just wanted you to have, look and admire it.” I would be a terrible uncle. When I give Cade a basketball I want him to use it; and when God gives you faith He wants you to use it!

But how?  Dallas Willard helped me tremendously one evening in Houston when I heard him say, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning. Effort is action and earning is an attitude.” 

So what were the Galatian disciples doing? They were earning! 

If we ever think we have earned faith then we need a loving but serious rebuke from other disciples of Jesus. If we ever think that we earned the results of faith such as love, joy, peace, etc then we need a loving but serious rebuke from other disciples of Jesus. All is a gift! All is grace! Jesus came here on his own initiative! He choose the cross, not me! He decided to give me the kingdom, not me! Thank you Jesus! 

Earning means what I am doing requires compensation. God never compensates but gives freely. He owes us nothing, but has chosen to give us everything.

So, maybe what Paul is saying is something like this, “You did not earn Jesus reconciling work on the cross, you responded to it. You do not earn the Spirit’s reforming work in your soul, you only respond to it. You respond repentantly, gladly, joyously, you become a disciple of Jesus. You begin practicing spiritual disciplines not out of legalism but loyalty. You devour Jesus words in the gospel accounts not as a rule but because your in a relationship.

So, hearing with faith means we hear the news and we shoot off like a rocket. Trusting Jesus to complete what He started; He’s faithful and maybe we can be too.

By the way, I could be completely wrong so drop me a comment if you think I am totally nuts.

Seek the kingdom,