By Hearing Alone?

Is just hearing enough?

Get a group of Christians and ask them how one develops faith, and I bet you a good number of them would say “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” It’s an oft repeated phrase drawn from the 17th verse of the 10th chapter of Romans:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about ChristNIV

However, we would do well to read a little bit more than this particular phrase in Romans 10:

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,

“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

20 And Isaiah boldly says,

“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But concerning Israel he says,

“All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

In Romans chapter 10, Paul was explaining the state of the nation of Israel vis a vis the plan of salvation. If you were to title Romans 10 and 11, you wouldn’t be far off if you chose “Why Israel does not know Jesus.” Paul carefully walks through his argument like an orchestra building towards a climax. In one of the major building blocks, he quotes Isaiah (v 16) saying “LORD, who has believed our report?”, and rightly makes a conclusion that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. This is however only one of his conclusions and it is by no means the final one. Verse 18 gives us a jolt when it says “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed.” The statement is surprising because it almost seems to rebut what Paul just said. For if faith came by hearing and hearing alone, then the Jews ought to have faith. Compared to the rest of the world at that time, they had no equal in the knowledge of the word of God. They had heard it, memorized it, studied it, and bound it to their heads (literally and figuratively). You could not compare them, dare I say, with a couple thousand immoral & idolatrous Corinthians who made their way from idol-laden temples to listen to a street preacher named Paul, and consequently decided to submit their lives to Jesus. No, the Jews were different. The word of God was known to them. They had heard it and heard it well.

As we read through Romans 10, we see the culmination of Paul’s argument. In Romans 10:19, Paul asks:

19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand?

Verse 19 and subsequent verses help us to understand that you can hear the word of God until you are blue in the face (for my kinfolk who have more than a fair amount of melanin, I understand this is a challenging imagination…but I digress), but if you do not understand i.e. if your heart is not prepared for the revelation of the word, you cannot develop faith to believe. Paul’s major point in Romans 10 and 11 was that Israel did not develop faith because they did not understand that which they had heard, memorized, and thought they understood.

It’s a sobering thought to think that you can be in position to receive copious teachings on salvation, sound health, deliverance from sin, and blessings, and still not develop the faith for it.

In my next piece I’ll take this further and explain revelation and its centrality to the development of faith.

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