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

I Am Your Greatest Good!

In the 2004 Disney Movies, The Incredibles, you will hear arguably the best line in an animated movie spoken by a character you never see.

As the final battle begins, the character Frozone frantically searches for his super-suit, so that he can assist the incredibles in saving the city.  Searching room to room, he cries out to his wife, “Honey, where is my super-suit.”  When she won’t tell him, not wanting him to leave, Frozone argues, “It’s about the greater good.” His wife’s reply, “Greater Good?! I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

greatest good

This scene was running through my mind as I was reading the opening chapter of Paul David Tripp’s, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands:

What is the best news you can imagine? What is your “If only….” dream? Is it becoming a multi-millionaire and buying the house of your dreams?  Perhaps it would be the job you have always wanted. Maybe your spouse would suddenly become the person you always hoped for, or your child would finally turn out all right, living responsibly and married to a wonderful person.  What would be your best news?

The way we answer that question says a lot about where we’ve placed our hopes, our expectations, our faith.  Our prayers, our longings before God, are usually fixed on the things we see right in front of us.  We pray for health, that we would know healing, strength, and peace; and we only feel like that prayer has been answered when we feel better.

We pray for our families, and expect that God’s blessing will result in success, a modest level of comfort and tranquility, and the absence of conflict or affliction.

We feel like God has fully blessed us when we have a happy and successful marriage, well-adjusted kids, the bills are paid, and we get along with everyone around us.  We tell ourselves, “This is as good as it gets. Who could ask for more?”

To be sure, all of these good things are blessings from God, who is the giver of every good gift and perfect gift. We should, indeed, be grateful when our lines fall in pleasant places.

Knowing, though, that our hearts are “natural idol factories” (thank you, John Calvin), we must recognize our propensity to turn the good gifts that God has given into gods themselves, thinking more of the gifts than the giver.  We receive His blessings, then think that the blessings are greater than the one who Blesses, and we miss the greatest blessing of them all, knowing and communing with Him.

Abraham was a man who lived trusting in the promise of God – a promise to make him into a great nation, to give him land, family, blessing.  Abraham trusted this promise, even when, after years, there was no fulfillment.  He knew great blessing, he knew victory in battle, he knew God’s provision.  Yet, He had no son.

You can imagine then, that Abraham said in his heart, “This is God’s blessing, this is as good as it gets.” He was grateful, and he didn’t waver in faith. Abraham simply told himself that the descendants would come through his servant Eliezer (Gen 15:2).

But God promised more.

In coming to Abraham, God said, “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.”  Abraham thought he had all he could ask for, but God had a greater blessing in mind. It wasn’t tied to riches, land, or even the coming child, Isaac.  No, God’s greatest blessing was in the giving of Himself.  Abraham had just come through battle; God himself would be his shield.  Abraham had given up all the spoils of war; God himself would be his provision.

We are still like Abraham.  We see the good that God has given, and we become satisfied with the good, while forsaking the greatest good God has in store for us, a closer, fuller, richer communion with Him.  We fill our lives with the good stuff, and leave no room, make no thought, of the great.

Psalm 16:5 says, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.”  What is our chosen portion?  What is our “If only…” dream? It is more than just that job you’ve been hoping for. It is more than a clean bill of health. It is more than finally getting that weekend away, or that cabin by the lake.  Our chosen portion, our greatest good, is God Himself.

He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God, the incarnate Word of God, through whom God was reconciling us to Himself.  Because of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility, the curtain that kept us from God, has been town down, and we can have fellowship with God once again.   There is no greater good that we could know than to know the saving, redeeming, and faithful love of God through Christ Jesus the Lord.

There’s no need to scramble around for the sake of finding the greater good.  Rejoice in God’s goodness toward you, and press on to know Him better.  He is your God, your Creator, your Savior, your Friend. He is the greatest good you’re ever gonna get!

SDG


From the Pastor’s Desk – Here are some of the articles I’ve come across this past week.

Self-Examination – As we just celebrated the Lord’s Supper in worship, I thought this was a timely article.  We call the congregation to examine themselves as they receive the sacrament, so that they may receive in a worthy manner, but what does that really mean?  This brief article gives some helpful insight into our practice of examination.

On Sanctification – What role do we play in our own sanctification? This is a helpful article from Crossway that serves as a good reminder of our part in our own growth in holiness. “The reality is that our sanctification is ultimately dependent upon God. He is the one who brings us moment by moment, day by day, and who enables us to do those good works.”

A Gospel Driven Church – Here is an article that might help us refocus our ministry.  Why do we worship the way we do, do the ministries we do, do church the way we do? If it’s for anything other than the glory of God, we’re missing the point.  “A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing – in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard – so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.”  Amen. Let it be so.