A series of spiritual messages on:
THE 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)
- · “Yes, and if I be offered on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” (Php.2:17).
Part 2: Obstacles to the correct operation of the faith
As mentioned before, my intention was and is, God willing, to present you with a series of messages on the Faith in Christ and its Functioning. This part of the series deals with the Obstacles at the existence and the correct functioning of faith: I want to point out right at the beginning that the verse, which will be treated is Philippians 2:17 whose terms “service of your faith” or “ministry for the faith” are biblical terms corresponding to the Greek terms “λειτουργία της πίστεως”, (leitourgia tis pisteos) and which mean “the functioning of the faith”. IF faith does not function well, there will be problems in the secular life as well as in the spiritual one. 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. Let us pay attention to verse John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” This principle is valid for all Christian life and walk as well as for all God’s promises, independently of the adversities of life!
I would like to repeat that two verses have exerted a major influence in my life of faith since the dawn of my Christian life. They are:
- · “Truly, truly, I say to you, He that believes on me has everlasting life.” (Joh.6:47). I already treated it with my preceding message (Part 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d: FAITH: its meaning and importance)
- · “Yes, and if I be offered on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” (Php.2:17).
Now, we will treat this second verse. Notice please that 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).
OBSTACLES TO THE EXISTENCE AND CORRECT OPERATION OF FAITH
An impure heart
Faith in order to function well in a believer, the believer must necessarily meet certain conditions. When faith functions well man can obtain the forgiveness of his sins, the grace of God and all the promises of God! Moreover, on the one hand, he can resist sin and, on the other hand, he can manifest the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible says that “… without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb.11:6). In the same way, it is impossible without faith and patience to inherit the promises of God (Heb.6:12)
It is necessary to refer briefly, in the context of this study, to a very important term that we very often mention: The heart. This term corresponds to the will of man. It corresponds to the capacity to choose, decide and act according to his choice. In certain cases, for example, in 1Jean 3:20-21, the term “heart” refers to conscience. Man has a judge in himself, which is his conscience! And this judge knows, for example, if we lie or if we tell the truth (according to Rom.9:1). All that will follow depends on the choice or the decision of our heart according to Prov.4:23: “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”). There is a difference between these two terms but it is not the proper moment to speak about it in detail. God asks us: “My son, give me your heart (your will), and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Pr.23:26): Here is the reason for which the philosopher Kant said that “there is no substitute for the goodwill.” Paul wrote: “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.” (Héb.13:18). In other words: We have a good conscience because we want, because we desire to have a good conduct in all things
True faith is interwoven with a sincere heart, which has passed and continues to pass through the baptism of repentance and of good choices (continuous conversions). This fundamental principle (Hab.2:4; Rom.1:17; Gal.3:11; Heb.10:38) controls our relationship with God and our salvation granted by Jesus-Christ. When the believer preserves a pure heart and a good conscience, he begins understanding the things of God, which were either hidden before or covered. Also, he obtains force and spiritual authority coming from the presence of the Holy Spirit in him and – he, in a spirit of humility and submission – entrusts all that he is and all that he has in Christ. Therefore, faith leads to the justification of man and his sanctification (Rom.5:1 and Eph.2:8-9) and constitutes the base for the continuation of his justification and sanctification. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:” (1Tim.1:5). Of course, it goes without saying that the base of all what we say, faith comes from the fear of God, which is the greatest treasure of the believer: The fear of God gives to man the necessary wisdom to repent; his repentance breaks up the fallow ground and prepares the ground for the installation and the functioning of faith. Faith adds one Christian virtue after the other, according to the heart’s spiritual needs, and activates them (2Pie.1:5-7). John Bunyan said: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and they that lack the beginning have neither middle nor end.” Then, which are the necessary conditions so that our faith might function well?
That our conscience does not condemn us for abiding in a known sin
It is written: “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight…” (1Joh.3:20-23).
A question: Do you put pure water to drink in a dirty glass? Absolutely not! Thus, our Heavenly Father does not want to entrust faith in a heart, which is not pure! Moreover, if we do not hold faith and a good conscience we will make shipwreck concerning faith (1Tim.1:19). The mystery of the faith cannot be held but in a pure conscience (1Tim.3:9). The good conscience is the result of good choices! This truth was already known since the time of David who had declared: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps.66:18). Would it ever be possible to see faith remaining in me when my heart remains in known sin, without repentance and when my spirit refuses to admit the truth?
A “mistreated” conscience does not have only undesirable effects on faith but it also has other “side effects”, one of which is a blunted spirit, which does not act. When you see people who are deprived of spiritual perspicacity, do not tire to understand the reason. The reason is obvious: It is lack of repentance! They do not obey and do not do justice neither in themselves nor with others nor before God… The expression “excuse me” or “sorry” does not mean “repentance”! Repentance produces fruit; it changes irreversibly man’s life! On the contrary, when his heart is burdened by excess of worries of life or by a deep desire to please people or by the fear of the men or by the success in society, it produces only sin and errors! Those who are afraid of men or want to please people do not fear God and are not interested to please God (Lu.21:34; Mat.13:15). Such people, independently of their words and activities in favor of God to honor Him, their heart is far from God (Mat.15:8 and Mrk.7:6). The solution to this problem must be found in the book of Proverbs 1:23: “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit to you, I will make known my words to you…” If we accept God’s reproofs, God opens our spirit and we understand His truths. Even madness, in certain cases, comes from the heart. The lack of capacity to believe and understand comes from the heart… (Lu.24:25, 32). Sin and faith are incompatible; they cannot cohabit. Faith cannot survive without repentance. The only way out is to obey wholeheartedly to the instructions of the Bible. Thus, let us embrace the well-known currency: “Study the Bible to be wise, believe it to be saved; practice it to be holy.”
That we forgive those who offend us
The Lord taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to say to our Heavenly Father: “…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Mt.6:12). And, just after this taught prayer, He gave us an explanation or rather He made a short but very important commentary: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt.6:14-15). In Mark’s Gospel it is repeated: “…whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mrk.11:24-26). I would like to add to it that the Lord Jesus made another short comment about forgiveness: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Mt.18:35). The above-mentioned verses mean that God requires expeditious reconciliation between brothers and sisters; otherwise, there will be very undesirable repercussions. “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” (Mt.5:25). And you know well, my friends, that there are also spiritual and psychic prisons!
Conclusion: Faith in life of the believer can function well provided that his heart is pure, is entirely given to do God’s will, that his conscience does not condemn him and that he forgives with all his heart all those who have offended him! This conclusion helps us to understand another important truth, i.e.: Forgive an offense and to have brotherly fellowship are two different things.
A brother in Christ behaved badly and in an unjustified way towards my wife and me. After two or three days, he telephoned us and asked us to forgive him. My answer was: “If I do not forgive you, God also will not forgive me. I will have problems with God”! After this event, I began asking myself and I told myself: If a believer does not ask God to forgive him for his known sin, can he have fellowship with God? (1Joh.1:6-7). Mutatis-mutandis, can I have true brotherly fellowship with you, my brother, my sister, without having put the things in order in my heart and with you, and you in your heart with me?
It is necessary to distinguish the difference on this point, which is very delicate: He who forgives forgets the offense! It is written, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1Pet.4:8). BUT, the fact that I have forgiven somebody from the bottom of my heart and I do not think of his offense anymore, does it give me the possibility of having brotherly fellowship with him who sinned against me, when that person refuses, in full knowledge of the facts, to confess his sin and to humble himself before God? God has offered us forgiveness by the cross of our Lord Jesus-Christ, but, can He have fellowship with all those who have not repented, who have not humbled themselves and who have not put their life in order?
The Lord before His crucifixion and at the time of His crucifixion had forgiven all those who wanted to do Him evil or who had done Him evil, saying: “…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…” (Lu.23:34); could He, however, ever have fellowship with the Pharisees and Sadducees? Jesus was preparing for peace but they for war! After His resurrection, in spite of the forgiveness that He had offered to those who had crucified Him, did He have brotherly fellowship with them? No! He had communion and fellowship only with His disciples! The Father of the parable of the prodigal son had no bitterness in his heart against his prodigal son but it was necessary that the prodigal son to come to himself and say to his father: “…Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son.” (Luc 15:17, 21). Then an intimate fellowship was restored between the father and his son!
Let us understand what the Word of God says to us in 1John 6-9: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Let us thank the Lord for brothers and sisters who, in our respective churches, are in good relation with each other! I am, however, extremely afraid, my friends in Christ that, within our churches, there are social rather than brotherly relations, because there are many problems outstanding… May the Lord forgive us! In similar cases, can we have a spiritual REVIVAL? May the Lord help us to have always a pure heart, a good conscience and a spirit open to forgiveness. Then, all will go well so much for us and for the glory of God! Amen!
Unstable faith: Will not given to God
Believers very often face serious crises which shake their faith. If believers are mature and stable, they recover their forces relatively quickly because they know where to go to find peace and rest: To the cross of Christ! If they are not well founded in faith and non-diligent to maintain their conscience pure, they can be relieved temporarily by external sources, such as a good consultation or a good sermon but they rebound to the state of perplexity and depression.
I had the occasion to counsel certain people, guide and comfort them. The Holy Spirit helped me to transmit words of God adapted to their needs; they were relieved and were in joy. Two or three weeks later, I discovered that they were in the same situation of despair and distress; some of them required of me additional assistance but others avoided me. Their consolation was not permanent; it was not stable! What had occurred? Why was their consolation not stable? Finally, I discovered that it was because the person was not separated from his/her desires, his/her own will or because him/her or he/she did not have the patience to wait for the moment of God and because he/she or they wanted to make their own thing immediately (Ps.107). The desires of their hearts and their own wills returned and invaded the spirit and the heart, which was not really invested in the will of God. (It is our pride that does not accept God’s will; this is, therefore, the root of our unbelief!). The faith in God’s promises and His immutable love and faithfulness did not occupy their heart. Why? Because of lack of purity; because the believer, he or she, wanted what he/she wanted… Their will had not been identified harmoniously with the will of God. Thus, the will of God could not reign in a permanent way in their heart. His/her will was not given to God. God comes and gives abundantly His words of comfort, but His consolations cannot be held but collapse! They break down because the heart of the believer does not wait or does not want to wait for the moment of God’s intervention (Ps.106:13) and/or does not want to be comforted with God’s consolations but in his/her own manner and according to his/her personal wishes or his/her own goal! Faith in such people is an unstable faith which cannot be employed and can receive nothing (Jas.1:6-7). The Bible indicates that “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” (Pr.25:19).
We will briefly mention, in conclusion, the reason why our faith does not develop and why we become shipwrecked in the faith. The Holy Bible gives the answer, not with ambiguous words but with a very clear language. The reason is the lack of purity or repentance or “uprightness” or fear of God. The Word of God speaks about an “evil heart of unbelief” (Heb.3:12) or a “perverse heart”. When we accept the perfect work of Christ on the cross but also His Word worthy to be believed by the heart – then, we can stand without fear but with boldness that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph.6:13)… Let us never forget the people of Israel who, because of unbelief, could not enter the Promised Land. You and I, also, have inherited a great fortune! If we do not believe it and do not accept it, we will not have it. It will be made according to our faith or to our unbelief. And which is this heart if not the heart which offers its hospitality to sin? The Bible speaks about a “hardened heart”. And which is the hardened heart if not the result of a continued disobedience, the result of a non-admitted sin, the result of a sin made in full knowledge of cause? In a word, the result of a non-admitted and non-rejected sin! God does not put his faith in a dirty vase, in a dirty heart. Is it ever possible to see faith abiding in such a heart? Listen to what the Bible indicates:
- · “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:” (1Ti.1:19);
- · “…The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2Ti.2:19)
Is it never possible to have a faith, which will be able to withstand while we stick to our own will and desires? No, surely not! If we reject from our own heart our good conscience, we will make shipwreck concerning faith… In such cases, the fear of God is not in us. And a last remark: The Bible says: “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”(Jude 1:21). It depends, therefore, on us to keep ourselves in the love of God. That is why the Lord said: « As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue you in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. » (Joh.15:9-10). God loves all of us and always, but His love cannot do us good if we do not hate sin and if we do not put in practice His commandments. He cannot regenerate us and bless us if we do not repent for our sins, if we do not believe His words and if we do not put our trust in His character.
In closing this part of this series of Bible studies, allow me to make a short exhortation:
The unbeliever is invited to believe in God. He has to believe in the Bible, that Jesus-Christ is born of the virgin Mary and that He is raised from the dead and to accept Him as His Savior and Lord of his life: “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Rom.10: 9).
The believer is called to learn the basic lessons, which are repentance and faith or trust in the love of the omnipotent God and to stop living in a spirit of murmurs… May we all learn which the promises of God are; whether it has to do with His promises of specific character or of generic one, which concern us. Let us find out which is His will for us personally. Let us learn not to postpone the moment of our good decisions or choices… And in conclusion, let us not forget any of His blessings but evaluate and appreciate them. Let us consecrate ourselves, therefore, to God as a faithful Creator willing to do good to us (1Pet.4:19); let us examine our behavior and continue being transformed… Let us trust God who has thoughts for us, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give us an expected end (Jer.29:11). We are for Him like the pupil of His eye (Zec.2: 8). Let us be calm because all that God allows is for our good… Even our afflictions come in our life for our good. Let us not be anxious. God has prepared the solution and knows in advance what He will do… (Joh.6:6). Let us not forget that if a great storm emerges suddenly, so that our boat is covered with waves of trouble and of afflictions and Christ (Mt.8:24) seems to be sleeping, we must be absolutely secure since He is with us in our boat! Let us hope in God and let us not count on our wisdom. Let us not disdain God’s chastisement because that shows that He accepts us as His children to whom He takes pleasure… Let us thank, therefore, God, in advance, for “the surgical operations” which He makes in our spiritual body for our good. Let us not forget the blessings which God projects to grant us if we pass patiently from the valley of Achor, the valley of disorder, as a door for hope (Hosea 2:15).