The Life of Faith
By William Webster
This article is an excerpt from the book, The Christian: Following Christ as Lord, published by Banner of Truth
The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives always gives rise to a life of faith. In fact, from beginning to end the Christian life is a life of faith. Without it there is no true Christianity. Faith is necessarily a distinguishing mark of the life of the Spirit for it is his gift as well as being exercised by the individual. Where the Holy Spirit is resident, faith will be born. This is of major importance in the Word of God; that it is indispensable to the Christian life may be seen from the following Scriptures:
Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him (Heb. 10:38).
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20).
But the righteous man shall live by faith (Rom. 1: 17).
But what is faith? At first glance it may seem to be a relatively easy thing to define: it is simply believing God. But on closer examination of the biblical descriptions of faith, we find that definition is inadequate. Believing God is obviously involved and is an important element of faith. But it can be a purely intellectual activity going no further than the mind. Biblical faith is much more than intellectual assent to God’s truth, as James makes clear when he defines the nature of saving faith. (Jas 2: 14-26). He makes the point that faith is not only a matter of profession and mental assent to certain truths, for, he says, the demons believe and shudder. He states that there is such a thing as dead faith as well as living faith, and the major distinction between the two is the element of commitment. True biblical faith affects the whole man in his mind, will and emotions and is evidenced by a life committed to Christ. It does involve the intellect, since there are certain truths which must be believed; but biblical faith must also involve commitment, or it will be no different from the faith of demons.
In Colossians 2:6 Paul writes, ‘As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.’ How does an individual receive Christ? The Scriptures teach that he is received by faith. A proper understanding o fhow one receives Christ by faith will therefore define how we are to live the Christian life.
In bringing us to salvation, the Spirit of God reveals the guilt of our sin and shows us our total inability to save ourselves or make ourselves right with God through our own efforts. Then, through the Word of God in the gospel, he reveals the all-sufficiency of Christ as Lord and Savior. And the result is that, by the grace of God, the sinner turns to Christ in faith to receive salvation. What, then, are the essential elements of saving faith?
First of all the sinner is brought to the conviction that the message of God’s Word is truth: ‘And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe’(1Thess. 2:13). Faith’s foundation is the Word of God, faith’s object is the God of the Word.
The sinner is thus brought to the point of believing God’s Word and the essential truths that it reveals about God and Christ, about sin and the way of salvation. He understands that Jesus Christ is Lord and God and the only mediator between God and man. He understands that Christ’s work on the cross in the shedding of his blood in substitutionary atonement, providing an imputed righteousness for all who believe on him, is the only means of forgiveness and salvation. The Spirit of God reveals to him that his own works are unacceptable to God and cannot bring him salvation. These are all important truths.They are essential aspects of faith, yet they are not all there is to true biblical faith. We cannot define faith solely in terms of objective truths. A person can ‘believe’ all the right things about God and Christ and salvation and still be lost, for saving faith also involves several other factors.
As the Spirit of God reveals these truths to a lost sinner he also sets before him the person of Christ as the object of faith. Faith in him means trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, which means coming to Christ in personal repentance, commitment and dependence.Salvation does not consist merely in believing facts about God and Jesus but entering a relationship with the person of Christ.
Furthermore, biblical faith is always accompanied by repentance. There must be a turning from sin as well as a turning to Christ as Lord and Savior, and a cessation of all attempts to rely upon our own attempts at self–righteousness to qualify us for acceptance with God. We turn from all works, be they religious, social or moral, and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ alone as Savior, depending upon him and trusting him to save. In addition, true saving faith also involves the submission of our lives to Christ as Lord. In such a conversion we cannot continue to live a life in sin opposed to God. In repentance we have turned from the world, from our sins and from self–rule and committed ourselves unreservedly to Jesus as Lord. We know the commitment of heart which belongs to every true disciple of Christ.(For a detailed analysis of the teaching of Jesus on this subject please refer to the article on this web page entitled Lordship Salvation: Biblical or Heretical?).
The object of saving faith, then, is always the person of Christ. The foundation of faith is the Word of God, and the exercise of faith involves the elements of commitment, trust and dependence. J.I. Packer makes these comments about the nature of saving faith in his Foreword to John MacArthur’s book The Gospel According to Jesus:
God has joined faith and repentance as the two facets of response to the Savior and made it clear that turning to Christ means turning from sin and letting ungodliness go. Biblical teaching on faith joins credence, commitment, and communion; it exhibits Christian believing as not only knowing facts about Christ, but also coming to him in personal trust to worship, love, and serve him….Simple assent to the gospel, divorced from a transforming commitment to the living Christ, is by biblical standards less than faith, and less than saving, and to elicit only assent of this kind would be to secure only false conversions (John MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), p. ix).
And John MacArthur himself says:
The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy–believism….One segment of evangelicalism. has even begun to propound the doctrine that conversion to Christ involves ‘no spiritual commitment whatsoever.’ Those who hold this view of the gospel teach that Scripture promises salvation to anyone who simply believes the facts about Christ and claims eternal life. There need be no turning from sin, no resulting change in life–style, no commitment, not even a willingness to yield to Christ’s lordship. Those things, they say, amount to human works, which corrupt grace and have nothing to do with faith. The fallout of such thinking is a deficient doctrine of salvation. It is justification without sanctification, and its impact on the church has been catastrophic. The community of pr fessing believers is populated with people who have bought into a system that encourages shallow and ineffectual faith. Many sincerely believe they are saved but are utterly barren of any verifying fruit in their lives (John MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), pp. 21-22).
If true saving faith involves knowledge, commitment, trust and dependence so does the Christian’s life of faith. Conversion is but the beginning of a believing life. As A. W. Pink says:
The Christian life is the habitual continuance of what took place at conversion, the carrying out of the vows then made, the putting of it into practice (A. W, Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1954), p. 729).
Let us look at each of these elements of faith and how they relate to the living of the Christian life.
The fact that faith as a way of life involves commitment is seen from the description Scripture gives of the life of Christ. Hebrews 3:2 says, ‘He was faithful to Him who appointed Him.’ One of the leading characteristics of Christ’s life was faithfulness to God. Faith always involves faithfulness and a commitment to God to serve him, walk with him and love him. Those who come to Christ by faith become like him, in that they become men and women whose lives are characterized by commitment to live for God and his will. As James puts it, their faith will be evidenced by their works. God, his will and the things of eternity will be first in the life as opposed to the interests of self and the things of this world.
Apart from commitment—a life of surrender and obedience —it is useless to talk about trust and dependence. It is extremely important that we understand that the trust and dependence aspects of faith are rooted in and flow out of a life of commitment.We cannot trust God and depend upon him apart from our lives being fully surrendered to him. The life of the Lord Jesus Christ was characterized by perfect trust and dependence and faithfulness. But the reason he could live such a life was due to what he was in his nature as a man. Philippians 2:5-8 tells us something highly significant about the life of Christ and reveals to us the secret to his life in one sense. This passage states:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond–servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
There is an important word in this passage which is used to describe the person of Jesus as both God and man—it is the word form. The word means the innate character of something, with its inner nature. In this case we are given a description of the nature of Jesus Christ. Prior to the incarnation he existed in the form of God. That is, his very nature as a person is that of deity. Likewise, at the incarnation he took upon himself the nature of man. But here we are told that that nature is characterized by a particular state of being. His nature as man is a certain kind of nature—he is a bond–servant of God. The word bond–servant is the greek word doulos, which means a slave. It is descriptive of an individual whose life is lived in total submission to another for the purpose of doing the will of that person. Jesus is not just a man, he is a certain kind of man. By nature, he is a servant of God. This is what he is as a man. This is his nature—his state of being. And out of this relationship with God, he was enabled to live the life that he lived. Jesus is the Son of God and God is his Father, but God is also his master and Lord. So fundamentally, the life of faith lived by Jesus was rooted in a life of submission and commitment to God. This is foundational to understanding the life of faith. If we would live a life of faith we too must be the bond–servants of God. We must commit our lives unreservedly to Jesus Christ so that he becomes our Lord and master and we become his doulos. Just as his life was totally committed to his Father, so must ours be totally committed to him.
This is also seen in the example of Abraham who is called the father of the faithful. Abraham is a pattern of the life of faith, and the descriptions that are given of his life in Hebrews 11 teach us a great deal about the nature of biblical faith:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the- land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:8-10).
When Abraham was called by God, he obeyed. He believed God and his response to God’s revelation of himself to him was obedience, that is, commitment. He committed himself to the person of God and he went forth depending on God to guide him, provide for him and protect him. He trusted God to fulfil his word to him. Bound up with this trust and dependence was Abraham’s life of commitment. Abraham was called to leave his country, his culture and his kindred and to commit himself to follow God. He had to leave the companionship of people devoted to this world, and, in so committing himself to God, he and the other patriarchs like him became aliens, strangers, foreigners, pilgrims and exiles. They lived in tents in the land of promise as followers and worshipers of God. They did not live for this world but for eternity, looking not for an earthly city but for a heavenly one. By faith they committed themselves to God, and the whole focus of their lives was changed. Their perspective became that of the world to come and their hope was in God himself. Scripture assures us that all who are born again of the Holy Spirit follow in their footsteps. That which characterized the life of Abraham and the other pioneers of faith will also characterize the life of every child of God.
The man of faith, the man with a regenerate heart, has a renewed mind and anew perspective. He sees life differently from the natural man, from the perspective of the future. His life is one of faith; he is living for eternity and no longer for this world. Scripture is emphatic in its teaching that a true Christian does not live for the world or the things which dominate the world, for he has died to it and his heart has been given to God:
Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2: 15-16).
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (Jas. 4:4).
But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6.14).
The kingdom of God and eternity, not the kingdom of this world, dominate the heart of a true Christian. The believer has a completely different perspective and focus because he has experienced the renewing power of the Holy Spirit; there is permanent evidence in his life of true faith. It is a life committed to God and his purposes.
We may further see the relationship between commitment and faith and appreciate the importance of a biblical perspective, from the testimony of Paul in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labor, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things (2 Cor. 6:4-10).
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4: 16-18).
Paul begins by saying that he is a servant of God and then he lists the difficulties, trials and hardships confronting him. But it is obvious he is committed to be faithful in the face of it all. No matter what comes against him, he will do the will of God. He may experience sorrow and even depression (2 Cor. 7.5-6), but this does not affect his commitment to obey God for he has an eternal perspective. He realizes that all he is going through will one day issue in eternal glory. He looks, he says, not on things that are seen, which are temporal, but on things not seen, which are eternal. This is faith. It sees beyond this world to an eternal kingdom. And, for God’s sake, the believer will thus live and endure.
This is reiterated in Hebrews 12: 1-2: ‘Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.’
The race the writer had in mind here is clearly the race of faith. The believer is involved in a long distance endurance race. Because of the persecution, hardship and testing the Hebrew Christians were faced with the temptation to turn aside. The author writes to encourage them along the path of faith—the path of endurance and commitment. In the face of harsh experience he calls them to set aside a sin which can easily trip them up—unbelief.
The life of faith is a life of commitment to a person. It is commitment to holiness and endurance, a commitment to live for God’s will above everything else in this world out of love for the Lord. Scripture abounds in encouragement to help us to do this:
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (Jas. 1:12).
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the -revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
These verses tell us that trials are given to test our profession of faith. They try our commitment to see if we will endure, for Scripture says that only those who persevere under trials will receive the crown of life. Therefore only those who manifest a life of commitment have true biblical faith. The New Testament constantly brings us back to the fact that faith is evidenced in a life of commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment which remains through suffering, trial and difficulty. Faith submits to the circumstances of God’s choosing; it endures and trusts him in the midst of all adversities.
The man of faith sees present circumstances from an eternal perspective. He lives looking to God, believing him, trusting him and depending upon him. And therefore his response to circumstances is completely different from that of men of the world. There are certain things a child of God believes about God’s character; he trusts in his promises and depends upon him for strength and wisdom to do his will. The Christian is like Moses who, by faith, left Egypt and ‘endured, as seeing Him who is unseen’ (Heb. 11:27). Faith sees God and endures; its focus is the person of God. No one can walk a life of faith in commitment and endurance who does not trust God and depend upon him. These all go hand in hand.
The life of faith is conditioned by the Word of God. It frames the believer’s perspective on all of life. What the Word of God teaches about the character and being of God controls his thinking and is foundational to the whole life of faith. Hence Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:2: ‘And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.’ The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to renew the mind of the believer and to transform his life so that he fulfils the will of God.
There are certain fundamental truths about God on which faith must depend at all times. The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign and in control of all circumstances (Ps. 104:19; Dan. 2:20-21; Eph. 1:11); that he is good and can do nothing wrong (Ps. 25:8; 86:5); that he is holy and perfect in all his ways and dealings with man (Deut. 32:3-4); that he is love and is vitally concerned for his children (1 Pet. 5:7 1 Jn. 4:8); that he is all–wise and-can never make a mistake (Is. 40.- 13-14; Dan. 2:20-21); that he is truthful and can never lie (Num. 23:19); that he is faithful and always true to his word—he cannot fail (Josh. 1:5-9; Ps. 90:4); that he is omnipotent and able to bring his will to pass in every circumstance (Is. 40:25-26; Jer. 32:7-17); that he is present with his people to undertake for them in every circumstance (Josh. 1:5, 9; Is. 41:10; Mt. 28:20).
The Christian believes these facts about God and responds to circumstances in the light of them. An example of this is recorded in Psalm 22, which is a prophetic psalm about the suffering the Messiah would face on the cross:
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet Thou, art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered; in Thee they trusted, and were not disappointed (Ps. 22:1-5).
In the midst of his sufferings and trials, when it seemed that God had utterly forsaken him, Jesus looked to God and reminded himself of his character—his holiness and faithfulness. He trusted in him.
God is faithful to his promises and is able to fulfil them both for his Son and for all those who are his servants. He promises true Christians that he will never leave them or forsake them; he will empower them, guide them, protect them, provide for them and accomplish his purposes through them. The believer trusts God to do what he said he would do, even though that may appear to be impossible. In both life and ministry, the Christian is called upon to trust the God ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist’ (Rom. 4: 17). Abraham is again an example of faith here. He believed God’s word and trusted him to do what, from a human perspective, was totally impossible:
In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be. And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform (Rom. 4: 18-21).
Abraham was faced with a situation that seemed to contradict everything he had come to believe about God. God had made a promise to him about an heir, but now he and Sarah were beyond the point of being able to be parents. Yet God kept assuring him that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham took a long hard look at his circumstances but he did not waver in unbelief. He looked to God and his ability, convinced that he was able to do what he had promised even though it appeared to be impossible. He responded to his circumstances in faith, allowing God’s word and character rather than his own circumstances to condition his perspective and response. Martyn Lloyd–Jones makes these comments:
Abraham did not give way to weakness, he did not stagger, but rather was ‘made strong’—made strong, either in faith, or else made strong by faith. I believe that both are true. He was made strong in his faith, but also he was made strong by his faith….Abraham, instead of looking only at the difficulties in terms of his own body and the age of Sarah, instead of staggering at the greatness of the promise, Abraham, instead of stumbling at those two things, looked to God and looked at God. That is the real secret of faith. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties which most of us experience in our lives is that, instead of keeping our eyes steadfastly on God, we look at ourselves and our weaknesses and the staggering greatness of the life to which we have been called. We look at these things and we become weak and begin to stagger. Abraham did not stagger for the reason that he gave glory to God. He kept his eyes on God, and he looked to God (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 3:20-4:25: Atonement and Justification (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), pp.220-221).
Abraham was strong because he knew God, he knew his promise and he believed what God had told him and trusted him to bring it to pass. In the walk of faith, the Christian believer must do exactly what Abraham did. There are many promises given in the Word of God which speak of his faithfulness to provide, to guide, to give wisdom, to protect, to strengthen and to empower for ministry. We are expected to know these promises and to trust the Lord to ftilfil them in our lives.
The same can be said about facing difficult and trying circumstances. We must respond to them in faith by trusting God and not doubting him. The Word of God tells us that he has a purpose for all he allows into our life, and it is ultimately for our good and his glory: ‘And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose’ (Rom. 8.28). God is never arbitrary. Beyond our understanding, he has many purposes in the circumstances he sovereignly permits to occur in our lives. He uses trials and difficulties to prune us and to develop our character, to test our faith arid to build it, to keep us humble and dependent, to chasten us for sin, to develop in us an intimate knowledge of himself and, above all, to prepare us for eternity.Paul came to this discovery through a very trying circumstance which he describes as ‘a thorn in the flesh.’ He initially viewed it as a hindrance and three times he asked God to remove and finally God brought him to the place of understanding that the thorn in the flesh had been sovereignly engineered by him for Paul’s good and for the advancement of his faith. And Paul came to the place of victorious faith—of actually embracing the thorn and not resisting it because he saw it from God’s perspective. He could rejoice in the circumstance because he knew God would bring good out of it.here is how Paul describes it:
And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
When Joseph was sent into Egypt by God he was sent as a slave and eventually was unjustly imprisoned, where he remained for many years. But God had a purpose for allowing these circumstances for he eventually delivered his servant and exalted him to the place of highest authority in Egypt next to Pharoh himself. It was the circumstances that prepared Joseph for the place of responsibility and influence that God eventually had for him. There is a passage in the Psalms that describes Joseph’s travails and God’s purposes behind them:
And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested (refined) him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples, and set him free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler over all his possessions, to imprison his princes at will, that he might teach his elders wisdom (Ps. 105:16-22).
Given these perspectives we are called upon to exercise faith by responding to circumstances with submission, trust, rejoicing, thanksgiving and praise because we know the God behind them (Jas. 1:2–4; Rom. 5:3–5). This is the evidence that we are really walking by faith. We are called upon to trust God and not to doubt him. Fear, doubt, anxiety, discouragement, self–pity, disappointment, bitterness and anger are all emotions that must be resisted if we are to walk by faith and glorify God. The servant of God cannot be passive in this life of faith for it is an intense warfare. There must be an aggressive resistance, by the grace of God, to all that is contrary to his will and Word, and an aggressive obedience to all that is consistent with them. Paul exhorts Timothy to ‘fight the good fight of faith’. The life of faith is a life of warfare with the world, the flesh and the devil. The man of faith is a soldier who endures for the sake of Christ, and, while not yet perfect, lives a life characterized by victory. He is an overcomer as Jesus promised he would be. As J. C. Ryle says:
The true believer is not only a soldier, but a victorious soldier. He not only professes to fight on Christ’s side against sin, the world, and the devil, but he does actually fight and overcome. Now this is one grand distinguishing mark of true Christians. Other men, perhaps, like to be numbered in the ranks of Christ’s army. Other men may have lazy wishes, and languid desires after the crown of glory. But it is the true Christian alone who does the work of a soldier. He alone fairly meets the enemies of his soul—really fights with them, and in that fight overcomes them….If you would prove you are born again and going to heaven, you must be a victorious soldier of Christ. If you would make it clear that you have any title to Christ’s precious promises, you must fight the good fight in Christ’s cause, and in that fight you must conquer.
Victory is the only satisfactory evidence that you have a saving religion….You respect the Bible, and read it occasionally. You say your prayers night and morning. You have family prayers, and give to Religious Societies. I thank God for this….But how goes the battle? How does the great conflict go on all this time? Are you overcoming the love of the world and the fear of man? Are you overcoming the passions, tempers, and lusts of your own heart? Are you resisting the devil and making him flee from you? How is it in this matter? You must either rule or serve sin, and the devil, and the world. There is no middle course. You must either conquer or be lost….You must fight the good fight of faith, and endure hardships, if you would lay hold of eternal life. You must make up your mind to a daily struggle, if you would reach heaven. There may be short roads to heaven invented by man; but ancient Christianity, the good old way, is the way of the cross—the way of conflict. Sin, the world, and the devil must be actually mortified, resisted, and overcome (J. C. Ryle, Holiness p. 236).
The conflict of faith involves a temptation to accept the negative emotions of fear and anxiety and doubt in our relationship with God. But we must firmly resist every tendency to give in to the thoughts and emotions which fuel these feelings and attitudes. We must allow our minds to be renewed by the Word of God and in the light of his character and promises begin to thank him and praise him for who he is and for his faithfulness. We will then be strengthened to trust God, and will be set free from a negative depressed frame of mind. We must learn to believe his promises and all that Scripture tells us about his sovereignty, his goodness, his love and faithfulness. We must refuse to allow ourselves to fall into these negative emotions. To give in to them is sin for they are an evidence of unbelief. Do not fear! Do not be anxious! Rejoice! Trust! Give thanks! These are the commands of the Word of God to us in every circumstance.
Amy Carmichael, who served her Lord faithfully for over fifty years in India and experienced much suffering in her life, writes these words about trials and faith:
But perhaps sometimes in an incomparably lesser trial the tempter has disturbed us by persuading us to look for an explanation. We find ourselves saying, I wonder why. Faith never wonders why. ‘I am learning never to be disappointed, but to praise,’ Arnot of Central Africa wrote in his journal long ago….I think it must hurt the tender love of our Father when we press for reasons for His dealings with us, as though He were not love, as though not He but another chose our inheritance for us, and as though what He chose to allow could be less than the very best and dearest that Love Eternal had to give….Thereafter, not seeing, not hearing, not feeling, we walk by faith, finding our comfort….in the Scriptures of truth: ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day….And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.’ With Him who assures us of this there is no variableness, neither shadow that is cast by turning. His word stands true. In that truth we abide satisfied … And so I have come to this: our Lord is sovereign (Amy Carmichael, Rose from Brier, (Fort Washington Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1933), pp. 111-113).
The Christian is thus not only one who trusts God; he is also one who lives in dependence upon God for the strength, empowering and enabling to do his will. There is a conscious turning from all self–reliance to live in a state of dependence upon God. This comes from the inner heart attitude of humility implanted by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. The servant heart is a humble heart.
The Greek word for humility is tapeinos. The root idea is to be low–lying, of low degree, to be brought low. It means having an inner heart–attitude of lowliness, a lowly estimate of oneself. It is the opposite of pride which is the attitude of independence and self–sufficiency; it is ‘poverty of spirit’.
The Christian is conscious of his own weakness, inability and inadequacy and this leads to an increasing dependence on the Holy Spirit. Just as we came to realize that we have no ability or strength to please God or to save ourselves and therefore we cast ourselves upon Christ alone for salvation, so we must depend upon God to live the Christian life. The Scriptures consistently teach that believers do not have the innate capacity to live the life to which God has called them. They are thus brought to depend more fully upon the sufficiency, strength and enabling of the Spirit of God:
Apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself (Gal. 6.3).
I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps (Jer. 10:23).
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom. 7. 18).
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3:5).
And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Col. 1:28-29).
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
J. 1. Packer has written:
There is need for the most deliberate humility, self–distrustful and self–suspicious, in all our fellowship with God. Why? Because, whereas God is perfectly holy, pure, good, and unchangeably faithful in performing his promises, we are none of these things….We were born sinful in Adam, and sinful inclinations, dethroned but not yet destroyed, still remain in us now that we are in Christ. We are constantly beset by the seductions, deceptions, and drives of lawless pride and passion, of defiant self–assertion and self–indulgence….So we need to get down very low before our Saviour God and to cultivate that sense of emptiness, impotence, and dependence that Jesus called poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3) (J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 124).
The Christian life, both in practical day today living as well as in ministry to others, calls for a moment by moment dependence born out of an attitude of lowliness. Too often in modern evangelicalism Christians are unwittingly drawn into a life of subtle self–sufficiency which blunts the effectiveness of their lives and ministries.
One context in which this can occur is where too much emphasis is placed on activities. We begin to equate spirituality primarily with doing certain things. But such activity can very easily displace God from our lives so that we begin to depend on the activity rather than the Lord himself. I remember a very earnest Christian confiding in me that he could not understand why, after he had been faithful to spend time alone with the Lord, that fifteen minutes later he could yell at his wife. His problem was that in a subtle way the activity had displaced God and he had begun to depend on his ‘quiet time’ rather than on the Lord himself. The Christian has to keep constantly on guard against all self–reliance.
Now a Christian should be involved in activities. He should have a ‘quiet time’, memorize scripture, do Bible study, fast and be involved in ministry. But activities do not make a person spiritual. For while a spiritual person will be involved in all of those basic activities and more, one can be involved in those activities and still be terribly unspiritual and proud.
The same can be said of knowledge. We may think that because we have accrued a certain amount of knowledge, or received a certain kind of training, that we are qualified to minister. There can be a subtle dependence on these things with the result that there is no sense of helplessness amd inability. The person feels qualified and sufficient to meet the challenges of ministry and therefore there is no real sense of dependency on the Spirit of God. Now there is nothing wrong with knowledge, degrees or training, but they must never be allowed to produce an attitude of self–sufficiency. The point is, we must constantly be on guard against depending on anything other than the Lord himself in our life and our ministry. We need power for life and ministry and that comes only as we walk in fellowship with God in dependence upon him. All our resources—our knowledge, training, activities, programs, preaching, teaching, witnessing and zeal—mean absolutely nothing unless the power of the Holy Spirit attends them.
‘The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness’ (Ps. 33: 16-18).
Psalm 44:1-3 expresses the same spirit:
‘O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, the work that Thou didst in their days, in the days of old. Thou with Thine own hand didst drive out the nations; then Thou didst plant them; Thou didst afflict the peoples, then Thou didst spread them abroad. For by their own sword they did not possess the land; and their own arm did not save them; but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy presence, for Thou didst favor them.’
What God is saying is that natural ability alone does not equip an individual to be able to do his will. It is not a matter of having all the right resources—a mighty army, chariots swords, horses, great physical strength—these are not sufficient. There must be the power of God and that means we are shut up to a life of dependence.
Gardiner Spring recognized-this need for dependency in the preaching ministry, but his remarks apply to every area of the Christian life:
The dependence of men on the efficient power of the Holy Spirit is one of the great peculiarities of the Christian faith. Human instrumentality is never so effective in this work as when it is most conscious of its own weakness and keeps itself most out of sight. It is the secret agency of God that accomplishes it; and no flesh may glory in his presence….If there be any hope for the anxious heart of a minister of the Gospel, this dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit is the rock on which he rests….No matter how learned or simple the instructions of the pulpit may be; no matter how rich and varied, or how well adapted and spiritual; did it speak with the tongue of Paul, or of angels, it would be powerless without the superadded power of God….Never, till the excellency of God’s power is revealed, is the power of the pulpit known. Nor may we hope that God’s mighty arm will be revealed, until this truth is known and felt. One reason why God’s Spirit is so often withheld is that this great truth is lost sight of; or, if not lost sight of, is coldly recognized, and does but form a feature of that languid and dead orthodoxy, which, while it may govern the views, has very little to do with the heart. This is not the place which such a truth deserves; it must be thought of, and prized, and leaned upon, and prove itself the most delightful of all incitements to effort….The strength of the pulpit is in its own conscious weakness, and in God’s almighty power….There is power in the pulpit when it is thus allied to the power of God. We can do everything through him, without whom we can do nothing (Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1986), pp. 76-81).
We were not created to live in self–reliance and self–dependence. We were created to live in a state of total dependence upon God. This is why Scripture exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), to live by faith in the Son of God (Gal.2:20), to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:2), to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Eph. 6.10) and to abide in Christ (Jn 15:4-5). To live the Christian life the believer must live in God and have his focus on God.
True dependency means much more than simply coming to God to depend on him when there is a conscious need. It means learning to dwell in God in a habitual state of dependence. Deuteronomy 33:27 refers to God as a ‘dwelling place’, a ‘refuge’ as the King James Version translates it. But the word means more than simply a place of protection. It also means an abode, a dwelling place, a habitation. It is used of the temple as the dwelling place of God, for a lair as the dwelling of animals and for a home as the dwelling of men. Thus the eternal God is to be our habitation, our abode, the One in whom we live and who is our very life. Thus Psalm 91:1 says, ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.’ Here again the word ‘dwell’ is used. C. H. Spurgeon says it refers to those who ‘habitually reside in the mysterious presence’. This is what it means to dwell in God; not simply turning to him occasionally when we think we need him, but habitually, unceasingly living in a state of dependence upon him.
Other Scriptures communicate the same truth in different words. For example, Deuteronomy 10:20 says, ‘You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name’ (cf. Deut. 11:22; 13:4; 30:20; Josh. 22:5; 23:8). We are commanded here not only to fear God and serve him, but also to cling to him, in loyalty and devotion. The same verb is used in a different context in Genesis 2:24: ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.’ Here it denotes a physical and emotional intimacy between a married couple. That is but a reflection of our relationship with God (Eph. 5:31-32). Our union with him results in affection, intimacy and dependence. We become one with him.
There are several passages of Scripture which use the word cleave or cling in an illustrative way which will help us to visualize what the word means:
The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land….And He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you (Deut. 28:21, 60).
Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cleave to you and to your descendants forever (2 Kings 5:27).
Who can count the clouds by wisdom, or tip the water jars of the heavens, when the dust hardens into a mass, and the clods stick together? (Job 38.3-7-38).
I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me (Ps. 101:3).
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you (Ps. 137.6).
And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery (Dan. 2.43).
These Scriptures help us to understand the nature of our relationship with God. We are commanded to dwell in the Lord, to cling to him, to adhere to him like glue, to be one with him and to live in him in a state of unceasing dependence. This will mean a constant turning from self–reliance, from leaning on one’s own strength, wisdom, understanding and resources to depend upon God alone. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’ Matthew Henry comments on these verses:
We must repose an entire confidence in the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God, assuring ourselves of the extent of his providence to all the creatures and all their actions. We must therefore trust in the Lord with all our hearts (v. 5); we must believe that he is able to do what he will, wise to do what is best, and good, according to his promise, to do what is best for us, if we love him and serve him. We must, with an entire submission and satisfaction, depend upon him to perform all things for us, and not lean to our own understanding; as if we could, by any forecast of our own, without God, help ourselves, and bring our affairs to a good issue. Those who know themselves, cannot but find their own understanding to be a broken reed, which, if they lean to, it will certainly fail them. In all our conduct we must be diffident of our own judgment, and confident of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and therefore must follow Providence, and not force it .
We must not only in our judgment believe that there is an over–ruling hand of God ordering and disposing of us, and all our affairs, but we must solemnly own it, and address ourselves to him accordingly. We must ask his leave, and not design any thing but what we are sure is lawful. We must ask his advice, and beg direction from him, not only when the case is difficult (when we know not what to do, no thanks to us that we have our eyes up to him), but in every case, be it ever so plain. We must ask success of him, as those who know the race is not to the swift (Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume 3, p. 803).
This constant dependence and trust in the Lord results in joy, peace, security and rest. David proved this:
I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken (Ps. 16:8).
Similarly, Isaiah says:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength’ (Is.26:3-4, KJV).
The Lord is to be constantly before us so that no matter what we face, we know that his hand is upon our lives for our good, and we trust him and consciously depend on him for his love, wisdom, strength, guidance, protection, provision and power. In fact, all through the Psalms, David spoke of the Lord as his helper, his trust, his shepherd, his strength, his rock, his refuge, his fortress, his shield, his deliverer, his stronghold, his portion, his joy, his love, his satisfaction, his chief delight, his counselor, his teacher, his guide, etc. This is what we discover when we are fully committed to the Lord and we walk with him and depend upon him. We can say with David: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I do not want’ (Ps 23:1).
For the man of faith the focus of his life is the person of God. He is to trust him implicitly, just as a little child in all his helplessness and weakness trusts in his father. Whether it is in living as a Christian, or in Christian service and ministry, our need is for a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit to be to us what we need and to accomplish through us what only he can do. This does not mean that the Christian does not work hard and apply himself to the use of God–ordained means. But he realizes that in and of himself he is nothing and can do nothing to bear fruit that will glorify God. He must therefore dwell in unceasing dependence on him.
The life of faith is a life of commitment to, trust in and dependence on the person of Christ. It means far more than simply believing the Word of God. Scripture is obviously of great importance for the life of faith is a life grounded in the Word of God. But the Word of God points us to the person of Christ. The life of faith is primarily a life focused continually on the person of Jesus Christ in love, submission and obedience. As the apostle Paul put it: ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20).