Faith and Faithfulness: Salvation and Growth: Part I
Introduction: The five-part series: Faith and Faithfulness: Salvation and Growth unpacks the meaning of Jesus’ words: “O you of little faith.” God created man a faith-base being. Every person has beliefs and he acts on those beliefs. God gave the believer and only the believer, saving faith. Faith, saving or non-saving, is never divorced from reason and always produces fruit – faithfulness. The person proves faithful according to his faith.
At least four times in the gospel of Matthew, Matthew records Jesus’ statement: You of little faith (6:30; 8:26; 14:14:31; 16:7 and perhaps in 17:20). What does Jesus mean in general and in each of those particular events? I will address the latter issue next time. For now consider the following thoughts.
Man is a faith-based being as noted as above by God’s design. God gives saving faith as gift to the believer and He gives grace that enables the believer to properly use what He has graciously given – prove faithful (Ephesian 2:8-9). These two truths indicate that faith itself in not the issue. Generally there are two types of faith: saving faith (believers have this) and non-saving faith (unbelievers). In addition, a third truth is critical: faith and faithfulness are linked.
The Bible uses various descriptions of faith: strong faith (Romans 4:20); great faith (Matthew 8:10; 9:22; 15:28); complete faith (James 1:2-4; 2:22); failed faith – disbelief (Hebrews 4:2): little faith (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8); weak faith (Romans 14:1); dead faith (James 2:26); firm in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13); full of faith (Acts 6:5); and growing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
Faith of any kind has an object, standard, content, and expression. Faith has an object. Man believes in something and someone: God or self (one’s ability to think apart from Scripture). Belief always has a standard or basis. Either, it is the Word of God or one’s feelings, experience, and reasoning unaided by biblical truth. By the term content, I am speaking of the essence of faith. Faith is characterized by thoughts, ideas, and presuppositions. There is a knowledge component to faith such that all faith is informed. A person knows or thinks he knows what his faith is based upon. He knows (or thinks he knows) something about the object of his faith. Lastly, faith is expressed. The term for this is faithfulness. All men live as faith-based beings. What they do is an expression of what they believe and the intensity of that belief.
Before sin, Adam and Eve were in perfect communion and relation with God, each other, and self. Their faith was in sync with God’s truth. As creatures, they knew God but as dependent beings. Initially, they expressed “their faith” – they were faithful – as God-honoring people.
Since man was created a faith-based being, it is not a matter of faith or no faith. Rather, it is a matter of the kind of faith and how – in what ways – it is expressed. Post fall, man did not stop being a faith-based being. As an unbeliever the person has and expresses faith in something other than the Triune God. He has allegiance and devotion to self through things and others. Moreover, his knowledge of God is counterfeit and bogus. He has attempted to make God in his own image.
Since creation, man, both believer and unbeliever, expresses his faith. He is faithful to someone and thing. There is fruit of his faith that is observed. The unbeliever rests his faith on himself even though he denies that fact (Romans 1:18-23). Self becomes the final judge of everything including God and what He has said in His Word.
The believer by virtue of a new heart, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and a relationship with Christ can and does think and desire what God thinks and desires. He has saving faith and the grace to exercise it – to prove faithful. However the believer has ways to go until his sight with physical and spiritual eyes are in perfect sync. Only Christ had this perfect synchrony. The believer is growing in his faithfulness even though we often say his faith is getting stronger. The only way to know if a person has a gift is evidence of his use of it. The more faithful one is the greater is his faith and the greater one’s faith is, the greater will be his faithfulness. It is hard to separate the two and as the study will show it is not important for you to do so. Faith is to be informed and active.
Returning to Matthew’s gospel, in each instance, Jesus was calling the disciples to faithfulness – the proper use and stewardship of the saving faith that each had as God’s gift to them. Saving faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Therefore, the gift of saving faith and the Giver (God) are never the problem. It is the receiver of the gift who is responsible for faithfulness. The key for the believer is the use and expression of God’s gift of saving faith (see Ephesians 5:15-18 where Paul exhorts his people to redeem the time by wise, faithful living). It should never be “my faith has gotten me through.”
Rather, it is God’s gift of faith properly utilized by grace through the Holy Spirit that is preeminent. Getting through is never God’s goal for the believer. Becoming more like Christ is. Jesus did not have the gift of saving faith – He needed none – but He did have the gift of faithfulness. In fact, His whole ministry could be summarized in terms of covenantal faithfulness: was Christ in sync with the Triune God? Would the Triune God through Christ prove faithful? The answers are a resounding YES!
1. Saving faith is expressed in various ways but centers on one object: Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
2. How is your faith when compared to the demons (James 2:19)?
3. Saving faith is to be an intelligent faith. What truths do you carry with you daily for application and faithful living (Psalm 119:9-11)?
Living by Trust: Part II
Continuing our thoughts on faith and faithfulness, remember everyone is faith-based by God’s creational design. The issue is not faith but which kind – saving or non-saving faith – AND its use. When Jesus speaks O you of little faith, He is not referring to the gift or Giver (God – Ephesians 2:8-9) but to the recipient – you and me – and the use of that gift – faithfulness. Jesus is not speaking of salvation but sanctification – living as a saved person.
Armed with saving faith (via a changed heart, a right relationship with Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit), what are reasons a believer would not be faithful? One answer is found in Matthew 5:8 and 6:24-34 (see verse 30). In this portion of Scripture Jesus teaches the doctrine of two ways. In verse 8 of chapter 5, Jesus speaks of the pure in heart – those with undivided loyalty, allegiance, and devotion. The person described by Jesus in this passage is Jesus Himself! He is the One who had one mission in His life – to please His Father and fulfill the Intratrinitarian program of saving a people for the Triune God.
In verse 24 of chapter 6, Jesus states the doctrine of two ways in terms of masters and service. It is impossible to serve two masters. It is impossible to give allegiance to more than one master. A middle-of-the-road approach to living is impossible and attempts at it complicate living. Who are the two masters? One is self via stuff – that which you can feel, taste, hear, see, and feel. This characterizes pure sensual living. A person takes in information by his five senses and interprets the information without biblical truth as a standard. He may use his feelings, previous experiences, a desire to have something he does not have, or more of something in any form. As a result, that which is outside of a person is felt inside. I call this sensual living and the true object of this kind of living is the person himself. Stuff in whatever form is geared to give something to the person who is serving himself through stuff.
The other master is God and the key is service to and for Him. Jesus put the choice before His audience as Joshua did in Joshua 24:14-15. This type of living I term suprasensual living. The person interprets himself, God and God’s providence through the eyes of saving faith. The believer has knowledge of God and knows Him as trustworthy and good. He is aware that God is up to something in circumstance of life and something is for His own glory and the believer’s good (2 Corinthians 5:7-9; Romans 8:28-29). The key question for every person is which one he will choose: self and self-pleasing or God and pleasing Him. Jesus moved to the heart of the problem – a person’s heart.
The doctrine of two ways centers on choice. In the context of Matthew 6, choosing those things over God is choosing to please self. It is what unbelievers do (v. 32). Jesus is speaking about worry a type of thinking and wanting – in verses 25, 27-28, and 31. Worry is what pagans do (and too often what believers do as well) when they are faced with God’s providential ordering of their lives. Worry is an expression of unfaithfulness – O you of little faith. It is a control/controller issue: God’s vs. the person’s. Jesus declares that worry is unproductive, unnecessary, and in reality, unbelief. In fact, it is idolatry because worry focuses on the sinner and his wants rather than on God and what He deserves.
Jesus gives God’s answer for control. It is given in verse 33: as a priority, seek the kingdom of God and His pleasure. Jesus added a promise: there is uncertainty in the result that you seek. It is God’s prerogative not yours. Worry is the result AND the source of sinful thinking and wanting (culture and too often calls this anxiety or my worries). You have the kingdom – seek more of it by seeking God and not what you want.
What does Jesus mean when He tells the people to seek first the kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3). Faith/trust and worry are contrasted. Saving faith is trust in a good God because of what you know about Him and you. Worry is trust in yourself because you might not get what you want or think (“feel”) you deserve or is best for you. The battle is in the inner man. There is a moral drama going on in the heart of every person. It is played out moment by moment. In one sense it is the Lord’s – the Holy Spirit who works in you and with you but never for you or against you. But in another sense, it is also yours. You can either fight the Holy Spirit or rely on Him to help you call to your thinking God’s wisdom. God knows best and has ordained what is best. Moreover, the results belong to Him. The believer is to trust and obey out of awe, respect, thankfulness, and joy for God and what He does. You do that because you know circumstances never trump the cross, resurrection life, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and Scripture.
1. Record all the reasons it good to trust God. What makes God trustworthy and untrustworthy?
2. Record all the reasons to trust yourself. What makes you trustworthy and untrustworthy?
3. What does trusting God and self look like in your life and what are the results of each?
Trust and Obey: Part III
We continue the series: faith and faithfulness. We come now to a third passage in which Jesus rebukes someone by saying, O you of little faith. Previously, we looked at Matthew 6:30 and 8:26. In each instance, Jesus rebukes the disciples, His inner circle – those who have saving faith. Now we consider Matthew 14:22-33 especially verse 31 (see parallel accounts in Mark 6:45-51).
The context is the storm on the lake. Their situation was not new for these hardened fishermen. The disciples were in the boat in the early morning. They were in the midst of an unfriendly sea. Things were chaotic and they were tired. They had not made headway in moving towards the shore. A figure appears as if it is walking across the water. Matthew writes that the disciples cried out in fear. Jesus acknowledges their reaction with the following comforting words: It is I. Don’t be afraid. Imagine that: Jesus was in the midst of His disciples and in the middle of a sea and storm beckoning them not to be fearful. In essence Jesus counseled them to be wise – fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7)!
Yet His words and His presence were not comforting. Peter asked for a sign (see Gideon in Judges 6). As you reflect on Peter’s request ask whether Peter had the prerogative to demand a sign. Jesus’ presence and words were not enough. The fact remains he did ask and Jesus gave him one. Apparently, the disciples, like the Pharisees, wanted Jesus to prove Himself. Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign (Matthew 16:1-4) but He gave them to the disciples. He gave Himself. He invited Peter to come to Him. Peter took Jesus at His word.
There were two people who walked on water! This must have been an amazing experience! The waves and sea buffeted the boat yet Jesus stood steady. For a few steps Peter was steady and moving in the correct direction – toward Jesus. As Peter advanced the Bible tells us that Peter changed his focus. He looked away from Jesus to the waves and the circumstances. He was naked and afraid. Death by drowning seemed to be his fate.
Please note that as a believer Peter had the capacity to focus on Jesus in the midst of the circumstances which he did initially. However, when Peter considered the waves larger than himself, he chose to focus on his perceived lack of resources. In the presence of Jesus, he perceived danger larger than himself and perhaps larger than Jesus. When he did, Peter began to sink. As he began to disappear into/under the sea, Peter changed his focus and cried to Jesus for deliverance. His focus changed dramatically. It was now firmly planted upon Christ.
Peter showed himself to be faithful as he was sinking but he did not when he was walking on water. Peter cried out for salvation. Jesus did not disappoint. Notice, in the midst of drowning Jesus rebuked Peter with the words, O you of little faith. Faith-in-action is an expression of a vital relationship with Christ. Jesus returned Peter to the boat and they joined the disciples. Jesus rebuked the wind. Nature’s response to Christ was immediate and complete modeling Christ’s response to His Father and in contrast to Peter. Peter had no business asking for a sign. Jesus’ presence and His words should have been more than satisfactory to trust Jesus. Instead, he trusted self and feared the storm. We learn a number of lessons:
• Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings. He has absolute authority which He wielded to honor His Father and benefit His people. That fact is a nonnegotiable truth which should motivate the believer to remember and to rely on God in any and every circumstance.
• Jesus is the Faith-Giver and He gives gifts and grace to be used for His glory; the believer benefits as he becomes more like Christ as he honors God.
• The exercise of one’s gift of faith is a powerful antidote for fear. It is based on love, trust, and knowledge (1 John 4:18-19; John 14:1-2; Psalm 56:3-4).
• Faithfulness always involves a proper vertical reference. God is transcendent – awesome and distinctly other. In His transcendence God reminds His people that He is immanent – He is present with His people. For us today the means of Christ’s presence is via the indwelling Holy Spirit.
1. List your circumstances both “good” and “bad.” Define the terms good and bad.
2. Depending on God and His Word through the Holy Spirit is expressed as you trust rather than live by feelings. Feeling-oriented living is a control issue. This type of living is often expressed as anger, fear, worry, and depression.
a. Therefore review Romans 8:28, 29. Notice that “ALL THINGS” in verse 28 includes circumstances – God’s providence.
b. God’s purpose for believers in “ALL THINGS” is given in verse 29: to become more like Christ which is accomplished by using and responding to and in all things as a God-pleaser rather than as a self-pleaser.
c. How do those truths help you prove faithful in any circumstance?
3. The exercise if the gift of saving faith is an expression of the acknowledgement of God’s awesomeness and goodness – His presence, promises, purpose, plan, and power.
a. Record every time you remembered and acted upon the fact that God is and His control is good (Psalm 46:10).
b. Record who God is, what He has done, what He is going, and what he will do for His people and record how acting on those facts simplifies life.
Faith and Faithfulness: Part IV
In our study of faith and faithfulness, we come to a fourth passage from the gospel of Matthew 16:5-12 (Mark 8:14-21). Matthew begins by establishing the fact that the disciples had failed to buy bread (v.5). They had one solitary bread-cake (Mark 8:14). This fact seemed so insignificant. Jesus made the most of it. He taught in the milieu (v.6). What did He teach?
First, Jesus gave the disciples a warning: be aware/watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. Jesus did not want the disciples to be deceived. By leaven, Jesus referred to the teaching of Pharisees and their spiritual bread – doctrine – and their hypocrisy (Luke 12:1-2). The disciples were to guard against hypocrisy that was embedded in false teaching (Matthew 5:20; 6:5-18; 23). As typical of both His disciples and enemies, the disciples reasoned physically and literally. Their line of thinking was flawed: Jesus had wonderfully provided for them physically (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:29-39)! In response to Jesus’ warning the disciples wondered if the warning was due to their failure to bring bread (16:7).
Jesus reminded them of who He was by referring them to the feeding of the 4000 and 5000. He abundantly supplied food and provided for physical needs. Jesus was the great Provider, the God of the seemingly impossible. The disciples had not learned that lesson. In this instance, Jesus explained to the disciples what He taught in Matthew 11:28-30. In that passage Jesus contrasted Himself and His teaching with the religious leaders and their teaching. Their teaching was a burden to already-burdened people. What was the burden? It was the hypocrisy of self: self-salvation and sanctification through personal lawkeeping. The mainline teaching of the day was work your way into God’s favor and work to stay there. Their mantra was: we have the rules and we are His chosen people. We are our own spiritual messiah. We only need one who will rescue us physically.
Self-salvation and self-sanctification stem from a wrong view of God and self. God is considered a debtor God who can be manipulated by what a person does or does not do. He may be considered a degraded God who really does not deserve perfection – anything will do (see Cain in Genesis 4). It is a wrong view of self. The person believes he should and can provide what it takes to be in right standing before God. A right standing before God “is nothing that my works can’t accomplish and that my works don’t deserve” (Luke 18:9-14).
Jesus corrected their wrong reasoning/thinking: O you of little faith (Matthew 16:8). They had faith but they had not used it wisely. They were in danger of being seduced by false teaching and living. Jesus had them draw the connection between the bread/leaven (doctrine – teaching) of the Pharisees and its implications. Interestingly, they got it (Matthew 16:12)! Saving faith is informed – its object is Christ and its content is God’s truth. Jesus had demonstrated through His presence, power and provision that He was the Messiah. That truth would continue to saturate their brain and hearts – their whole person – as Jesus prepared them for His death, burial, and resurrection.
1. What biblical truth are you applying today? You should be able to name at least two non-negotiable truths about self and God that you are applying daily. They may be in any area of life.
2. Relate the truths to faithfulness remembering that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Saving faith is always a working faith.
3. How is your faithfulness? What do you need to be a faithful child of God?
Faith and Faithfulness: Part V
As we continue the topic of faith and faithfulness, consider Jesus’ words spoken in various circumstances to various people regarding their faith and faithfulness: your faith has made you well (or healed or saved) and similar such words.
In Matthew 8:5-13 especially v.13 (see Luke 7:1-10) a centurion who was a Gentile, came to Jesus seeking help – his servant was ill. Jesus told him He would go and heal his servant. Jesus was amazed at the response of this Gentile: “I am not worthy.” In other words the man indicated that he didn’t deserve Jesus’ direct attention but he trusted that if Jesus only spoke, it would be done. This Gentile’s response was an expression of an active, informed faith based on his understanding of who Jesus was, what He could do, and what Jesus had done for others. Jesus called this response “great faith.”
In Matthew 9:2 (also Mark2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26), four men brought their paralytic friend to Jesus through the hole in the roof. Upon seeing this action Matthew records Jesus’ response: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Take heart son, your sins are forgiven. We learn that faith is not invisible or silent. The faithful person has a proper vertical reference and purposefully and objectively moves toward Christ. The men, expectantly, put forth an effort as they entrusted themselves to the Lord’s care. Jesus taught a spiritual truth: physical healing is a picture of spiritual cleansing: salvation and sanctification. Saving faith has an object – Jesus Christ. It motivates the believer to seek Him as found in Scripture by the work of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 9:22 (Mark 5:22-43; Luke 8:41-46), Jesus encountered a woman who had been bleeding for years. In spite of earnest searching she had found no physical cure or relief. She sought Christ – a piece of Him. The mere touch of Jesus’ clothes by her invoked a response by Jesus: Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you. She sought out Christ for a resolution of a physical problem. She found and received much more. She found Christ – really Christ found her. She found a solution to her physical and spiritual problems.
In Matthew 9:27-34, especially v. 29 we read that two blind men sought out Christ. He did not disappoint them. They called out for mercy thinking in physical terms. Jesus was merciful but not before He probed their hearts with this question: Do you believe I am able to do this. After receiving a “yes” answer to His question, Jesus restored their physical sight. He remarked: According to your faith will it be done to you. Was it their faith that was the key? Yes and no. As we have said, everyone is faith-based – either saving or non-saving faith. Everyone demonstrates faith toward an object. Each faith-based person is faithful to his system of thinking and wanting. In each case so far discussed each person had a need and each looked to a person for a solution. Jesus woos people to come to Him for He is meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:28-30). This same call is offered throughout Scripture (come and taste the Lord’s goodness: Psalm 34:8; see Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 3:7-11). God calls us to Him for a saving faith-based experience which is far superior to physical healing (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith is to be intelligent, personal, and active. Jesus wants His people to move from physical eyes to spiritual eyes. They will still use their physical eyes but they will interpret the information via their spiritual eyes – saving faith and biblical truth. Faith, reason, and knowledge are linked.
Moving to Luke’s gospel (7:36-50), Luke helps us to understand the link between faith and faithfulness. Luke writes that Jesus was anointed by a woman who had lived “a sinful life.” Jesus was in Simon’s house (he was a Pharisee). Simon judged Jesus and the woman and excluded himself in that judgment. He reasoned: Jesus should have known better than to be defiled by the unclean woman, a sinner. Simon was saying that he himself was not unclean.
Jesus, knowing his heart, asked him a question regarding indebtedness and forgiveness. The question: which of these men loved more: the one forgiven 500 denarii or 50 denarii? Simon answered correctly: the man with the biggest indebtedness. Jesus corrected his thinking about himself, the woman, and Jesus.
Jesus explained. The woman, who Simon disparaged, had given of herself out of a real understanding of her own indebtedness and the cost of her deliverance (remember the lady’s actions were before the cross!!). Exercising intelligent, humble faith, she came to Jesus and gave herself to Him. Simon, on the other hand, distanced himself from Christ and the woman. He had not extended simple courtesies such as providing water and a towel to cleanse Jesus’ feet. The conclusion that Jesus wanted Simon to draw was this (we don’t know if Simon had or was to have saving faith): Simon demonstrated that he did not understand the depravity of his own soul, his indebtedness, and the power of God to deliver him and be forgiven. Simon needed forgiveness and was arrogantly ignorant of that fact. In contrast, the “sinful” woman understood the link between love, forgiveness, and faith. Being forgiven, she objectively and actively thanked her God for who He was and for what He did.
Believer: you are not saved by works of personal lawkeeping (Galatians 2:16). You are saved by your faith. It is yours but it has been gifted to you. Saving faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Gifts are to be used properly. As a saved person you will exercise your gift of saving faith. You will be proven faithful. God is the Giver of all good gifts and He is trustworthy. As a believer, you are to be growing as a God-truster and God-pleaser. Obedience is one manifestation of trusting God. Obedience, trust, and knowledge are linked.
1. What are the areas in your life in which you trust yourself in place of trusting God?
2. What makes it easy to consider God untrustworthy and to trust self?
3. How does trusting self and trusting God look in your life?