A series of messages on:
FAITH IN CHRIST and ITS FUNCTIONING
“…The just shall live by faith.” (Rom.1:17)
- · “Verily, verily, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47)
Part 1a: Faith, its meaning and importance
My intention is, God willing, to present you with a series of messages on the subject of faith in Christ. This series is focused on a simple and practical exposition of three verses:
- · “Verily, verily, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (Jean 6:47)
- · “But if also I am poured out as a libation on the sacrifice and ministration of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice in common with you all.” (Php.2:17)
- · “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?” (2Cor.13:5)
With the first verse John 6:47is examined the “ABC” of Christian faith and life, which though very simple it is, at the same time, VERY IMPORTANT! Very important, both for unbelievers and for believers. I cannot forget that before I was converted to Christ, I was living in atheism. I was not a simple unbeliever but, in reality and without my knowledge, an atheist. Since the moment I was converted to Christ I have not stopped speaking of Him who saved me. I do say that it is He Who saved me! I have not saved myself. I humbly glorify in Him! He saved me from my sin, from the power of sin and from my troubles; He healed me from my sickness but He also and mainly saved me from Hell where I was heading to in my sins and unbelief. My intention since then was, is, and will always be until the end of my days, here on this earth of pain, affliction and frustration, to honor and glorify:
- · Jesus Christ, WHO, by his redeeming death, became my personal Savior and the Lord of my life;
- · God’s Word, the precious and worthy of all acceptation Bible, which is the unique book in the world that can truly enlighten the eyes of the soul and can …make us wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus…” (2Tim.3:15-17). Someone said: “Study the Bible to be wise, believe it to be safe; practice it to be holy.”
- · The role and the help of the Holy Spirit for the regeneration, sanctification and service of the believer.
With the second verse Philippians 2:17 and particularly the expression “service of your faith” or “ministry for the faith”, which are biblical terms corresponding to the Greek terms “λειτουργία της πίστεως”, (leitourgia tis pisteos) and which mean “the functioning of faith” are examined the most widespread erroneous teachings, interpretations and opinions. IF faith does not function well, there will be problems not only in the spiritual realm but also in the secular life. It is not enough that man has faith in God but it is necessary that his faith functions well according to the spiritual provisions of the law of Christ contained in the Bible. The theme of faith is treated in a practical way referring to the application of Christian faith in the everyday life of the believer. Paul used this phrase because he wanted that the recipients of his letter might understand that he had sacrificed and he had been sacrificed in order to transmit to them spiritual principles and truths that could help them in the good functioning of their faith (Rom.15:29).
Finally, with the third verse we will examine the reasons why the apostle Paul was exhorting with 2 Corinthians 13:5 to do a detailed self examination. Paul was calling them (after he had previously reproved them for their gross sins, on account of which he was afraid that that he would mourn for many of them who had previously sinned but had not repented), to stop doubting about his apostolicity, to examine themselves if they live “in the faith” and if they had a good conduct in Christ. One of the reasons why Paul calls on them to examine themselves was because many of them had been deceived. He was afraid that those men had not only lost the correct doctrine of the Gospel but also their self control and that they were in danger of perishing. This fear had made him to begin a campaign of their restoration by his letters. It was for this reason that he exhorted them to examine themselves and prove their own selves. What should they do? Surely, first, to examine what they believed in and second, to find out whether their conduct was worthy of the Gospel of Christ! This exhortation is valid for each and every Christian. Let us examine, we ourselves, for our profit, because our self examination should be one of our continuous duties in Christ Jesus. Without a continuous self-examination and our compliance to the truths of the Gospel it is impossible to have a real spiritual progress.
Let us examine these verses in detail beginning with the first one:
“Verily, verily, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (Joh.6:47)
1. “VERILY, VERILY”: a double affirmation
The verse we are going to study constitutes a declaration that Jesus made, but it is, at the same time, a glorious promise. He wanted to introduce this declaration and promise by a double affirmation, saying “Verily, verily” (AV)! A declaration that inspires assurance and conviction to all those that hear it. This repetition puts the emphasis on the declaration that follows it. If His words even without any affirmation could give us an absolute certainty, how much more could they make us believe them with two affirmations! What God says He does it. This is why we treat the future as present and the invisible as visible, because “believing” is “seeing” (Joh.11:40 ).
- · The Lord Jesus Christ said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mt.24:35; Mrk.13:31; Lu.21:33);
- · The Holy Spirit said: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num.23:19);
- · God the Father confirmed it by an oath: “…God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath” (Heb.6:13-17); and
- · The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: “… all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2Cor.1:20).
Conclusion: The Word of God is immutable; whence, we may place our full confidence in God! But, what these statements mean, exactly, to me and to you, personally?
2. “HE who believes in Him…”: all men are included
When Jesus says “he who believes in Me,” HE means that all men are included, you and me and everybody else: The man, the woman, the young, the old, the white, the black, the small or the great sinner, the poor, the rich, the educated, the illiterate, provided he:
3. “BELIEVES in HIM”: that is, in His Words and trusts His character.
Let us see what the words “BELIEVE IN HIM” do not mean and what they mean:
3a) What the words “BELIEVE IN HIM” do not mean:
“Believe” does not mean what I “see with my eyes”
What does the word “believe” mean? He who sees the forgiveness of his sins or his salvation? Absolutely not! “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Rom.8:24-25). And elsewhere it is written that faith “…is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb.11:1). Faith makes invisible things visible, absent things and very far off to be very near to the soul! The apostle Paul says: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor.5:7).
Someone sent me the following dialogue among a teacher and two school children:
<<<The teacher was going to explain evolution theory to the children. The teacher asked a little boy: Tommy do you see the tree outside? TOMMY: Yes.
TEACHER: Tommy, do you see the grass outside? TOMMY: Yes.
TEACHER: Go outside and look up and see if you can see the sky. TOMMY: Okay. (He returned a few minutes later) Yes, I saw the sky.
TEACHER: Did you see God? TOMMY: No.
TEACHER: That’s my point. We can’t see God because he isn’t there. He doesn’t exist.
A little girl spoke up and wanted to ask the boy some questions. The teacher agreed and the little girl asked the boy: Tommy, do you see the tree outside? TOMMY: Yes.
LITTLE GIRL: Tommy do you see the grass outside? TOMMY: Yessssss (getting tired of the questions by this time).
LITTLE GIRL: Did you see the sky? TOMMY: Yessssss
LITTLE GIRL: Tommy, do you see the teacher? TOMMY: Yes
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see her brain? TOMMY: No.
LITTLE GIRL: Then according to what we were taught today in school, she must not have one!>>>
“Believe” does not mean “feel”
What does the word “believe” mean? Does it mean that he feels the forgiveness of his sins and his salvation? Absolutely not! Feelings change as the weather. God exists whether I feel His existence or presence or not! God’s promises are valid whether I feel them or not. We simply accept them on the basis of God’s Word, which is faithful and worthy of all acceptance (1Tim.1:15). Faith built on emotion is resting on a very changeable foundation. Jesus died on the cross for my sins whether I feel it or not, believe it or not. The Holy Spirit lives in the believer whether he feels it or not. Facts are not influenced by our feelings. If we sincerely repent and believe that our sins are forgiven and we are saved, then, feelings of joy and peace etc., prevail in our heart and in our life!
We must, at this point, add that it is a great mistake to confuse faith in God with “positive thinking” or with an optimistic view or with a vague optimistic hope of events and circumstances of life when one’s life has nothing to do with God or when there is known sin in his life. “Positive thinking” and vague hopes can save nobody from Hell! True faith is beyond feelings, circumstances and human logic (Joh.6:6).
“Believe” does not mean legalistic piety
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Pharisees, was a devout man according to the Law of Moses but he had not had the experience of the new birth that could renew him by the Holy Spirit, justify him by God’s mercy and grace and render him heir of the hope of eternal life. We know “… that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal.2:16). No one can ‘buy’ “heaven” by his so-called good works because “… all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isa.64:6).
“Believe” does not mean “sing, dance and shout halleluiah and amen”
Singing hymns, shouting “hallelujah” and “amen” and dancing dances or ballets before the Lord do not guarantee or prove that we worship the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth (Joh.4:23) No! True worship is to live in “fear and trembling”, in repentance, in purity, in gratitude, in reverence, in prayer, in meditation and in complete dependence on God and most of all in obeying His Word! A true Christian worships God whether there is Christian music or not; whether he is in church or not. He does not need to be taught how to worship the Lord because his sincere faith in God and the Holy Spirit abiding in him push him to a continuous obedience, to an endless worship and to a continuous fellowship with God and with his brethren! “…You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.” (Lu.10:27). Love God and not our own interests, this is true worship! “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (Joh.14:15). This is true worship! “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Th.5:16-18). This is true worship! “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb.13:15-16). This is true worship! To love God’s truth and the truth that concerns us above all other things! This is the believer’s true worship!
3b) What the words “BELIEVE IN HIM” do mean:
The word “believe” means:
Man has a confident assurance, that he has faith in God’s Word and that he trusts His character: His love, His justice, His holiness, His omniscience etc. He that considers all His statements and His promises entirely worthy to be received and solid to lean and rest upon them! Unbelief is a great sin as it considers God as a liar and that He does not love man! On the contrary, the true believer has an attitude of confidence towards God who has sent His Son Jesus Christ for his salvation and the Holy Spirit to illuminate and guide him, etc. A trust that implies the acceptance of Christ as Savior AND as the Lord of his life. A trust, which incites to obedience coming from a sincere love that leads to good works. The Word of God confirms what I have just told you:
- Ø “He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son. ” (1Joh.5:10)
- Ø “…as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Joh.1:12-13)
The word “believe” means to trust, to depend on, and to rely on God
To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ means that I accept the fact that I am a sinner, that as a sinner I am worthy of the sin penalty, and that Jesus Christ died on the cross in my stead, was buried, and arose again on the third day to pay the moral debt I owed. It means that I completely trust Christ to save me and keep me, and that I will depend on Him alone. The Holy Spirit is my Helper in everything in order to live a holy life and to serve the Lord and His plans.
Salvation is not given as a reward for the faith that has been applied. Faith is the instrument by which man receives his salvation and appropriates all that salvation contains. Unbelief means rejection and faith means acceptance. Faith is, therefore, a conductor. Grace the source. Faith’s function can be compared with the function of eyes which brings things near that are far, with the function of the hand that touches and takes, with the wings of a bird and the sails of a boat. It is the key that opens the door. Our faith is focused, therefore, on the Father God of the Holy Scriptures and on the Lord Jesus Christ, whom He sent (Joh.1:12;5:49;6:29; 14:1). Faith, consequently, admits whatever Jesus said about Himself, accepts whatever He said that He will do and finally waits for the accomplishment of God’s promises.
Consequently: Faith does not save but it is God who saves through faith in HIM! Then, if faith does not save but you are saved through it, you should not lift it more than the source of all blessings, which is God. The same thing, mutatis mutandis, holds good about prayer. We are called to have our eyes fixed on Jesus and not on our own faith. We can do all things through faith but our strength is not in our prayer but on God on whom our faith rests. It is worth noting what the Bible says, that “If we believe not, yet he stays faithful: he cannot deny himself.” This means that even if our faith is weak, God is not hindered to bless us in whatever situation we are, provided we are sincere towards God and towards ourselves.
And something else: Faith on an error does not save you but faith on Jesus Christ saves you. Put your faith on a lie and you will be imprisoned in it. Put your faith on a truth and you will be set free. What counts is the object of faith. Moody used to say: “Trust yourself and you are doomed to disappointment. Trust your friends and they will die or they will abandon you. Trust your money and it may be removed from you. Trust your good fame and a wicked tongue will blow it up. But trust your God and you will never be ashamed neither now nor in eternity.”
On the other hand, let us not forget that there are different kinds of faith:
- · The negative faith or the faith of demons, which believe but tremble before God’s holiness (Mat.8:29 and Jas.2:19).
- · The theoretical or dead or idle or hereditary faith, that have those who are theoretically convinced about the Gospel truths, without, however being so strongly convinced that their will may be pushed to take decisions and act accordingly. Such men know and accept everything by logic, but in order not to lose the thing that they love, they do not let their heart to speak up and bring them to the light of the Gospel’s saving power.
- · The temporary faith, about which our Lord spoke concerning the second case of the parable of the Sower.
- · Finally, the saving or living faith, which exerts its power on the sinner, which convinces him for the love of God in Jesus Christ, so that he is reconciled with God. The result is that his sins are forgiven; his heart is purified and overcomes the world and its lusts. This faith is manifest with a holy life and with good works. This kind of faith adopts all God’s promises and waits for them patiently; also, in state of peace of mind, man accepts the will of God, which might be either according to His perfect will or according to His permissive will irrespective of the difficult circumstances of life.
The word “believe” means also “to repent”
In John’s Gospel as well as in his epistles the word repentance does not exist. Yet, it is included in faith. It is contained in the notion of faith, because faith contains it. A faith worthy of its name obliges the one that has it to a confession of his sins and to a complete abandonment of them… as well as to an absolute surrender to God and to His will… It suffices to read the book of Acts of the Apostles, the epistle of James or the first epistle of John to understand that Biblical faith does not exist without repentance, without the spirit of mourning for one’s sins. To make this truth more explicit, I will mention 1Jo.1:9 that says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We will come back to this point later and in a, relatively, detailed way.
The word “believe” means to walk by God’s statements
Man usually walks or lives by sight, that is to say, by the things he sees and feels. He bases the decisions of his life on his circumstances, on his five senses and on his ambitions and objectives. On the contrary, true believers walk or live their lives on the basis of a sixth sense, granted to them by the Holy Spirit, which is called “faith” and by which they can ‘feel’ God’s character: Faith in God’s Word, in God’s statements and promises… He applies in his life a new spiritual logic. To walk by faith is also to wage a continuous spiritual war throughout his life by faith. This war involves many battles: “And that you should visit him every morning, and try him every moment?” (Job 7:18). This is why we must fight by faith, contend for the faith, and preserve the faith, which was delivered to us… (Jude 1:3).
Conclusion: “…The just shall live by his faith” (Hab.2:4). The true believer lives and faces all his problems by saying: “Thus saith the Lord…” This is the way the believer faces his external problems as well as his anxieties, cares, fears etc. This is the only way to live. When man honors God by faith, God honors his faith and rewards him (Heb.11:6).
God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that we may be able to bear it (1Cor.10:13). This encouraging promise also means that when we fall into diverse temptations and testings, if we sin it is our responsibility. We cannot blame God! The temptations that God permits in our life are never beyond our ability. When we believers are in temptations and testing, we should have in mind to pray, and apply something that someone said that “When we pray, we talk to God; when we read and meditate on His Holy Word, the Bible, God talks to us; when we obey we give our testimony; and when we witness we talk for God!” Very effective is this way of resistance!
The Bible says: “…do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb.6:12). What a basic text! When one has faith, I mean true faith, confidence and assurance, the same has endurance and can patiently wait for God’s promises to be accomplished! He sees the invisible and waits for Him to come and keep His promises. He knows that He is faithful and that He will keep His word! Adversities and vicissitudes do not affect him! Faith produces peace, patience (Rom.5:1-3) and endurance. Lack of faith makes people impatient… Faith can function provided that our conscience does not condemn us and that we forgive from all our heart all those that have offended us!!! Sin and faith are incompatible. They cannot coexist. Faith cannot survive without repentance.
Conclusion: Faith is the means by which we receive our forgiveness, our salvation as well as God’s promises in our life. I would like, without entering into detailed commentaries, to refer to two passages of the NT that I consider of great importance:
- · “…Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.» Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: «Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.” (Rom.4:1-8). When God sees the heart of a believer turn toward Christ in sincere faith, He forgives his sins, credits his faith as righteousness and accepts him as His child.
- · And elsewhere it is written: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Tit.3:5-7).
May God bless us with a sincere faith.