But He Grew Strong in His Faith

Nearly 30 years ago, when I was a freshman at Sterling College, I was selected as a member of a group of students to take part in a research project about youth and faith. I don’t remember the name of the doctoral student who was doing the research, and I don’t think that I ever saw the results of the study or paper he was writing, but I still vividly remember the conversation, and one particular question that he asked that day.

As I was talking about my “Christian experience” I had routinely mentioned wanting to grow stronger in my faith. At one point the researcher broke from his prepared questions and asked me what I meant by that. I didn’t really know.

And that became a point of concern for me.

I had used the phrase “strong faith” all the time, but I never really stopped to think about what it meant. Did I mean “strong” as in muscular, able to say to the mountain, “Up,” and then watch the mountain walk away? Or did I mean “strong” as in unmoving, resilient, able to face whatever came my way.

Keep in mind, I was only 18 at the time, and barely that. I was naive, having grown up in the church and been sheltered from most of the ugliness of the world. I think I hoped that a strong faith would help me “Just say no!” to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I thought a strong faith meant never having any doubts, never struggling to make sense of things, never wrestling with what I believed and what I saw in the world around me.

In reality, I had no idea what I was talking about. I was ignoring much of the revelation of Scripture, that showed the faith of those who believed but needed God to help them in their unbelief. I overlooked the fact that the disciples, who witnesses the mighty acts of Jesus firsthand, still often struggled to have any faith at all. I was oblivious to the truth that it was these experiences (times of loss, pain, hardship, and doubt) that were often the means through which God worked to strengthen the faith of His people. Consider the example of the passage above: Abraham was as good as dead, but he did not waver, for he considered the promise of God, and grew strong in faith (Rom 4:19-21).

If I could go back and talk to 18 year old me – I’d have a lot to say. But on this matter of a strong faith, I’d try to tidy things up a bit.

For faith to be strong, you must know what you believe. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). To grow strong in faith you must have a thorough and deep knowledge of the Bible, which tells us what God says about who He is, who we are, and how we are to get right with Him. To be strong in the faith is to continue to grow in understanding of God’s Word.

But the other side of this is equally true. A strong faith is not just knowing a set of teachings; Satan himself knows the word of God, probably better than most of us, and yet he has no faith. A strong faith is knowing God as He is revealed in His Word, and trusting God in all that He says. To grow in strength in faith is to take God at His Word. Like Abraham, who had questions and struggles along the way, but he continued to trust in the promises of God, convinced that God could do all that he promised.

But the most essential thing for strengthening one’s faith, and it almost seems contradictory. If you were to start body building, you would want to constantly look to your muscles to see how you are growing. If you want to improve as a runner, you track your miles and times. But that’s not how faith grows – you don’t think more about your own faith.

Instead, faith is a holding on to the faithfulness of God. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “Faith does not look at itself. Faith is never interested in itself and never talks about itself. That to me is a very good test. I always distrust people who talk about their faith. That is the characteristic of the cults. They always direct attention to themselves and to what they are don for have done. You have to be ‘thinking positively,’ or you have to be doing this, that or the other. The emphasis is always upon self. but faith does not look at itself or at the person who is exercising it. Faith looks at God, holds on to the faithfulness of God. The big thing about faith is not what I am doing, but God’s faithfulness. Faith is interested in God only, and it talks about God and it praises God and it extols the virtues of God.”

Beloved, trusting in the knowledge and the promise of God, may you be strengthened in your faith as you glorify Him.

SDG

Lazarus, Come Forth!

In preparation for a youth group lesson tonight on the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11, I turned to A.W. Pink’s wonderful commentary. I thought I’d share some of his commentary on this passage for your edification today.

He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43–44)


Lazarus was addressed personally for, as it has been well remarked, had Christ simply cried “come forth” Hades would have been emptied and every tenant of the grave would have been raised from the dead.

At the sound of that Voice the king of terror at once yielded up his lawful captive, and the insatiable grace gave up its prey. Captivity was led captive and Christ took forth as the Conqueror of sin, death, and Satan. There it was demonstrated that He who was in the form of a Servant, nevertheless, held in His own hand “the keys of death and hades.” Here was public proof that the Lord Jesus had absolute power over the material world and over the realm of spirits. At His bidding a soul that had left its earthly tenement was called back from the unseen to dwell once more in the body. What a demonstration was this that He who could work such astounding miracles must be none other than one “who is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). Thank God for an all-mighty Savior. How can any sheep of His ever perish when held in such a hand.

Whether we view the raising of Lazarus as a figure of the regeneration of a sinner, or the glorification of the believer, the ‘grave clothes’ here and the removal of them, are equally significant. When a sinner is born again, God’s work of grace in his soul is not perfected, rather has it just commenced. The old nature still remains and the marks of the grave are still upon him. There is much to impede the movements of the “new man,” much from which he needs to be “loosed,” and which his spiritual resurrection did not of itself effect.

That the Lord invited the bystanders to “loose him” points a beautiful lesson. In gracious condescension the Lord of glory links human instruments with Himself in the work which He is now doing in the world… The Lord alone can speak the word which quickens dead sinners; but He permits us to carry that word to them. What an inestimable privilege – an honor not given to the angels! O that we might esteem it more highly. There is no higher privilege this side of Heaven than for us to be used of the Lord in rolling away gravestones and removing grave clothes.

Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John. (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981) Pages 205-210.

How have we come to be so blasé about this whole story. Jesus stood at the open tomb of a man who had been dead 4 days, and with the command of His voice He summons the dead to life. He signals the truth that He is the resurrection and the life, and that He would conquer death and hell, in fact, death had no claim upon Him. Not only that, but after giving life to a man who was dead, Jesus then sets him free from the trappings of death, that he might live and that to the fullest.

If the message of the Christian faith seems tried and uninspiring, then I think you have not really heard it. This is the stuff of life, of power, and of glory. If you read this and are not moved to wonder, then you fail to see that you are just where Lazarus was – dead in sin, incapable of doing anything to better your position.

Jesus still calls the dead to life. His Word still moves mightily. He calls us to proclaim salvation in His name, and to loose the bonds of those who have been raised. We share the Gospel, and in doing so we call the dead to life in Christ, and help the living be set free in Christ from the cords of death. What a wonderful word. What a wonderful calling.

SDG