Sunday, November 20, 2022

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

Samuel Rutherford once wrote to his friend, “I find it most true that the greatest temptation out of hell is to live without temptations ... Faith is the better for the free air and the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withers without adversity. The devil is but God’s master-fencer, to teach us how to handle our weapons.” The Lord has used that last sentence more than once to lift discouragement and despair from my shoulders. I believe it expresses the truth.

So tell me, what kind of faith do you have?

1/ A Common Faith

“I have my own faith” is a statement sometimes heard when a person wishes to end any further discussion of religion. Taken literally, it is the most dangerous confession a person could make. All those entering God’s kingdom confess the common faith. The word common does not suggest it is either popular or cheap. It has never been popular in this world and its cost was enormous; it only came into being through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It speaks of that body of truth which was “once for all delivered to the saints”, resulting in a common salvation. Thus, Timothy was Paul’s own son after the “common faith”. In short, it is the truth about Christ as expounded to us in the scriptures. It is the original faith because it is the one taught by eyewitnesses of Jesus and the first generation authors of the New Testament.

However, we avoid using the term “original” regarding what is to be believed. According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, “original” may also refer to what is novel or invented (as in “he/she has a lot of original ideas”). There is no room for imagination, invention or supposition regarding the truth that is to be believed. The Divinely commissioned Paul brought under a curse those guilty of preaching a different gospel to that which he proclaimed. He wrote, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

How well acquainted are we with the common faith? Does Christ hold such a high place in our hearts that we are ready to give a defense to everyone that asks us a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and respect? Or, if young believers, are we at least steadfastly associating with and supporting those who uphold and proclaim our common faith?

2/ An Enduring Faith

Does what we say we believe have any lasting effect on us? We may deceive ourselves by reciting “I believe in God the Father...” each weekend in church, or by attending the Breaking of Bread regularly while having no communion with Christ in between, or by clinging to a commitment made under pressure as a child. We can hardly blame people if they remain privately cautious when they hear someone say, “I know Jack never gave any evidence of being born again, but I understand he made a commitment in earlier years.” Such caution may not mean they mistrust early age professions of faith in principle, but that they are wishing for some signs of it in this particular case.

Promises relating to eternal life are not spoken to those who “once trusted Christ”, but to those who believe (note the present tense in John 3:16, 18, 36; 6:35 and Acts 10:43). True personal faith is not simply a once-upon-a-time experience; its very nature is to endure and bear fruit. Faith will have a time when it first manifests itself. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved.” That is foundational. But real faith will go on to express itself in the enjoyment of things for which the truly saved have an appetite — in revised priorities, in new friendships cultivated, etc. These things, along with the fruit that develops in their characters as the Holy Spirit urges and energizes them to become more Christ-like, show faith to be genuine.

3/ A Growing Faith

Of the Thessalonian believers we read, “Your faith is growing abundantly” and, along with that, “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing”. Both these “fruits” provided the apostle with solid evidence of the genuineness of their faith. What was the secret of their growing faith?

This desirable growth was in spite of (or because of?) the adverse winds blowing on this young plant. This letter was apparently written within a year or so of the conversion of many if not all in that church. Two related factors are mentioned: persecutions and tribulations. The first of these was external and spoken of in some detail. It is common knowledge that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. The word ‘tribulations’ is less specific; we do not know of what sort they were, but it was their faith that brought them into sharp focus.

Not long after we confess Christ as our Lord and Savior, we learn from the word of God and in our experience that we have to face trials on three fronts. At first, we may blame all our personal tribulations on the devil — and, of course, he is behind all that is opposed to our development. More visibly though, tribulation will come from “the world”; we become aware that the atmosphere is more poisonous than we thought and former friends have become foes. Then there is treachery from within often referred to as “the flesh”. We are deeply troubled by something within us that pulls, sometimes successfully, in the opposite direction to our desires to please the Lord.

Struggles are a sign of life. You never had them in such strength and shape before you became a child of God. In all our tribulations, whatever their source, God says to each of his own:

Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed,
For I am your God, I will still give you aid,
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
Upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.

— Colin Anderson, “What Faith Is Yours?”, December 2013

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