The Faith-shaped Life – A Review by John Hooper
What is it that shapes our lives? Is it the all-pervasive influence and philosophy of this world? Is it our own fallen natures? Or is it our faith?
What do we mean by faith? These are days when it can no longer be safely assumed that the language used for centuries will be understood, so even the word ‘faith’ needs to be explained. More often than not it is treated as a synonym for ‘religion’ or ‘belief system’ as in, for example, ‘faith schools’ and ‘Inter-Faith Week’. It doesn’t really matter what you have faith in, it would seem, as long as you have faith in something.
That is not how the Bible uses the word faith. When the Scriptures tell us that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), they are not talking about a man-made and man-centred belief system; they are pointing us to the Lord Jesus Christ. A faith-shaped life is a life that is moulded, influenced and shaped by Christ – and that is what this first-rate little book1 is all about. ‘Faith’s first glance is to Christ’, the author writes, ‘But no less are faith’s continuing glances focused on Christ too’ (pp. 15-16). The Lord Jesus Christ is ‘Faith’s Obsession’ (Ch. 38).
What then will such a faith-shaped life look like? Well, among many other things it will be a life that is anchored in justification by faith alone, nourished by the sweet assurance of the good providence of God, labouring in prayer, enjoying the greatest privilege this side of heaven – communion with God, a life which does not compromise with the ethics and standards of this world but dares to be different, and whose supreme interest is the care of the flock of God. Of course the life of faith has many other characteristics and Ian Hamilton has written about no fewer than forty-three, one chapter for each. Inevitably there is some overlap, and no doubt each of us could draw up his own list of forty-three and they would not be the same as Hamilton’s, but that only goes to show the multi-faceted nature of faith in Christ.
For those who, like me, use the Authorised Version, Hamilton’s choice of the ESV might be a deterrent from reading the book, but that would be to miss the blessing of it. One feature of Hamilton’s writing that particularly struck me is how much it reveals an understanding and sympathetic heart. This runs like a thread through the whole book. While quite properly devoting chapters to the spiritual joy and delight of the faith-shaped life, he also gives space to ‘Faith and Disappointment’ (Ch. 7) and ‘Faith in the Dark’ (Ch. 12). This lends the book a biblical balance. The Saviour himself did not live a life devoid of tears and sadness, and neither do we.
Faith and tears are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they are blood relations. Faith brings us into union with the One who wept. Of all people, Christians should be the most tender-hearted’ (From Ch. 28, ‘The Tenderness of Faith’).
Under the heading ‘Faith’s Great Comfort’ Hamilton reminds us that days come when joy evades us and we need the solace and consolation that only the doctrine of the sovereignty of God can give. Our God really does reign and in the face of dark providences the faith-shaped life will humbly submit and place all its trust in him (Cf. Ch. 29, ‘Faith’s Submissiveness’ and Ch. 41, ‘Faith’s Assurance’).
A chapter that I especially warmed to appears very early in the book, and that no doubt because of the importance Hamilton himself places upon it. It is headed ‘The Holy Trinity: Faith’s Constant Delight’. I wonder how many of us would have included this among our forty-three? If we were honest, the trinity is probably not a doctrine that we would immediately identify as faith’s constant delight, but Hamilton underlines it as ‘the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith’ and challenges us to give much more time and thought to it. Then perhaps we would be able to concur with Calvin that the doctrine of the trinity ‘vastly delights’ us. Hamilton clearly has a great affection for it and confesses, ‘We could go on at length.’ I, for one, wish that he had done so for there is much in this doctrine to thrill the soul, but clearly this is not the book for it. Perhaps we have here a hint of another to come, in which case I look forward to it.
Faith is not something that is simply bolted on to what was there before but is a precious gift of God that radically changes us. The faith that saves us is the faith that shapes us, making us square pegs in the round hole that is this world. It governs and influences every aspect and moment of life – our thinking and behaviour, our attitudes and motives, our desires and aspirations. Read The Faith-Shaped Life and as you do so challenge yourself with the question, What is the shape of my life?
What is it that shapes our lives? Is it the all-pervasive influence and philosophy of this world? Is it our own fallen natures? Or is it our faith? What do we mean by faith? These are days when it can no longer be safely assumed that the language used for centuries will be understood, so […]
This review is taken from English Churchman (18 & 25 October 2013), with permission.
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