This is Part 2 of a three part Bible study on the subject of faith. See also:
Object – Where does true justifying faith look?
Jesus Christ and him crucified
The answer to this is simple: The object of true faith is Jesus Christ and him crucified.
A sinner looking for salvation can find it nowhere other than in the Lord Jesus Christ and his perfect obedience, to both the law and the will of his Father, culminating in his sin-atoning sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. In the Song of Solomon, we read regarding the church,
‘Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?’ (Song of Solomon 8:5).
Christ is the beloved of the church and they lean on him.
Paul writes to the Galatians, ‘…God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ (Galatians 6:14). It is Christ and his cross that is the glory and focus of the church.
Face to Face
It is worth pausing here and thinking in a bit more depth about the essence of faith. Think about what the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth.
‘For we walk by faith, not by sight:..’ (2 Corinthians 5:7)
‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face…’ (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Whilst we are on earth, living our lives, the ultimate goal of our faith has not been realised – ‘But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly:’ (Hebrews 11:16) We are not yet in heaven and we are not yet with the Lord Jesus, hence we need faith. On the other hand, those safe in heaven have no more need of faith as they are now seeing him, who was the object of their faith on earth, face to face.
Looking at this from the other side, it is clear that if faith is directed anywhere other than towards the Lord Jesus, it is not a true justifying faith. For example, faith in our own righteousness, good works, church attendance etc., or faith in the religion of our parents or grandparents is a false faith and can only take us to hell.
Two of the clearest evidences of true faith are that we sincerely look away from ourselves and unto Christ, and that ‘Unto you therefore which believe he is precious’ (1 Peter 2:7).
Is the Lord Jesus precious to you? Can you say about your life that ‘Christ is all, and in all‘ (Colossians 3:11)?
Outcomes – what does faith do?
There are two aspects to this; living by faith and living faithfully.
Living by Faith
We have mentioned a number of aspects of this already.
First and foremost, faith justifies. However, true Christian faith goes beyond simply the work of salvation. What do I mean? The passage in Hebrews we are focusing on in this study begins as follows, ‘Now the just shall live by faith:..’ (Hebrews 10:38). This can be taken in two ways. Firstly, it tells us that the only way we can receive eternal life is if we have faith in Christ. Secondly, however, faith is important for daily life. As Gill writes in his commentary on this verse, ‘it is a living by faith that is spoken of’.
As we saw in Part 1, faith is distinct from hope in that what true faith lays hold of is certain. Therefore, if we have true faith, not only is our salvation certain (through justification), but also the applicability of God’s promises to us is also certain. So, not only does faith justify, it also then enables the just to live day by day. Right through Hebrews 11 (see especially verses 32 to 40) we read of the many things faith has enabled God’s people to do. The same applies today. Life is tough, full of challenges and difficulties, but faith enables Christians to trust in the many promises given throughout the word of God; it enables them to look to Jesus now for help and comfort in the present. Some examples of this are as follows:
Comfort in Trials and Difficulties
In the Psalms we read on many occasions about trusting in God and of him being a refuge, especially in times of difficulty.
‘In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.’ (Psalm 56:11)
‘In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.’ (Psalm 62:7-8)
In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul writes,
‘We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God’ (2 Thessalonians 1:3-5)
Their faith enables them to endure through all persecutions and tribulations, and not only does it help them in these times, it is also an evidence that they are worthy of heaven. Remember also the apostles who having been beaten and imprisoned ‘departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.‘ (Acts 5:41)
In Ephesians the Apostle Paul exhorts us to take ‘the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked [wicked one, the devil].’ (Ephesians 6:16). The shield of faith is a very flexible defence, that can be turned in any direction and used to resist (quench) the temptations, doubts and fears the devil throws at us. How? By faith – looking away from our own strength and up to God.
Answers to Prayer
In answer to prayer, faith enables even the seemingly impossible to happen.
‘And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up’ (James 5:15)
‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you’ (Matthew 17:20)
The crucial factor in this is that our prayers must be made in faith, not just asking, but believing that we will receive answers, ‘But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.’ (James 1:6)
Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul says, ‘And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith’ (Philippians 1:25). Paul is saying that as, through his ministry, their faith increases, so will their joy.
‘But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.’ (Psalm 5:11)
Trusting in God and trusting that his promises are for us brings great joy.
Scripture (particularly the Apostle Paul) is very clear that our own good works cannot justify us before God – justification is by faith alone. However, the Apostle James writes, ‘ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.‘ (James 2:24) There appears to be a contradiction here, but in fact if we read the whole of James 2 we see that the answer is simple. Justification is by faith alone (Paul), but true faith always leads to good works (James). Therefore a faith without works is a dead faith, which cannot have justified. James is saying that good works are an evidence that we have true faith. So one outcome of possessing faith is that we will produce spiritual fruit and there will be an outward demonstration of our faith evident in our lives.
Opposites – What about unbelief and doubt?
The opposite of faith can be considered in two ways. Firstly, there is pure unbelief, the solemn position of all those who do not trust personally in the Lord Jesus – they have no faith. Secondly, as applied to those who do have faith, there is doubt – this can also be called unbelief, but I want to make the distinction between the unbelief of the lost and the ‘unbelief’ of the Christian.
Whilst true faith once received can never be totally lost, God’s people are not immune to doubt – sometimes our faith is strong and sometimes it is weak. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Tempting Christians to doubt is one of the devil’s major tactics. He tries to undermine our faith on many things – for example: our own salvation, God’s love for us, God’s word & promises, God’s willingness & ability to help us etc.
- Our own sin can lead to God’s Spirit being withdrawn from us for a time. This in turn makes us feel far from God and our faith weakens as a result.
- Sometimes, God himself tries our faith by allowing troubles and difficulties to come into our lives. This tests our faith and can lead us to doubt.
In all of these, doubt is not something we should be proud of and God is never the author of it. Even when he tries our faith, it is our old sinful nature that doubts. Never think that doubting God and his promises is in some way holy. In fact it is sinful and is something we should confess, ask forgiveness for and seek grace to fight.
The account of Peter walking on the water is a good commentary on this and Jesus’s loving rebuke is a lesson for us all, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:31)
So, how can we fight doubt?
Firstly, the Bible is full of encouragement regarding the trial of our faith.
‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers [various] temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.’ (James 1:2-3)
’Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.’ (1 Peter 1:6-9)
Secondly, the key way to lay hold of these encouragements is to turn to God in prayer, pleading the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and remembering what he has done for us. If with God’s help we keep our focus on the Lord Jesus, we will be able to say with doubting Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). As mentioned above we should also confess to God when we doubt, asking him to help us to repent of our unbelief and to stand firm in our faith. ‘And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.’ (Luke 17:5)
Thirdly, and it may sound like a circular argument, but the surest way to combat doubt is to maintain faith and this is what Paul is encouraging by his exhortation to take ‘the shield of faith’ (Ephesians 6:16).
Finally, in Mark’s gospel we have a wonderful example of a prayer for those struggling with doubts.
‘And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’ (Mark 9:24)
(To be continued.)
 Saving faith is only given to God’s people and one of the fundamental truths we believe is the final perseverance of the saint – once in him, in him for ever.
See also: Faith #3: Abel, Enoch & You.
[A00031 – 22/04/2017]