The Growth of a True Faith

The Growth of a True Faith

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 Part 3)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Not everyone who hears the gospel, and discovers what the Bible actually says, believes it. Of those who say they believe it, not everyone really trusts in it sincerely and with confidence. The problem is not found in their lack of intelligence. It cannot be blamed on those who have influenced them or raised them. It has to do with the state of their soul.

In previous studies we have seen how the guilt and effects of Adam’s sin have infected and condemned the whole human race descending naturally from him. They are unable to do what is truly good by God’s definition of it. However, their moral inability to understand and to trust in what God said in his word does not make them excusable for their rejection of what is right and true.

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed in Matthew 13

Jesus had been teaching in Galilee. Crowds followed him wanting to hear more about what he had to say. From a boat along the shore he taught another of his parables about the Kingdom. Most of the teachings of Jesus during his time on earth centered around the Kingdom of God. However, the message was not going to take effect the same way in the lives of everyone who heard is lessons. Interest in the Kingdom of God would fade away in some who seemed interested at first.

In the parable of the sower, there are four kinds of soil that receives the seed. Jesus started the Parable saying, “Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Matthew 13:4, “… some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”

Theses seeds fell in places on the side of the prepared fields. They landed on the path. The narrow foot paths that go through fields dividing the sections were made of packed down dirt from people walking on them. Birds would easily find these exposed seeds and eat them.

Matthew 13:5-6, “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.”

These seeds fell in areas where there was a thin layer of soil over an underlying rocky foundation. Seeds planted here would sprout and start to grow but would not be able to put down firm roots. The growth was superficial. Without a root system there was no supply of water and other nourishments. The rock under them would get hot in the sun. The heat from below and above would dry the young plants out, and they would die.

Matthew 13:7, “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.”

This third group of seeds fell in a place where weeds were growing rampantly. These thorns were weeds that took the nourishment away from the planted seeds. They also produced shade on the ground that blocked the sun from the seeds that fell under them. These seeds were choked by the unwanted wild growth around them.

Matthew 13:8-9, “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

These seeds landed in soil which was rich with nutrients, and had the right consistency to support growth. These were the seeds that produced a good, healthy crop.

A few verses later, Jesus himself explained what his parable meant. He made it clear that the seed was the word of the Kingdom of God. The soil represented the hearts of those who hear that word. The growth of the seed depended upon the soil prepared for the seed.

Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.”

Like the seed that landed on the hardened paths, the message about God’s Kingdom sometimes falls upon hardened hearts. The natural heart of every person lacks the ability to understand kingdom truths as they really are. They do not have confidence in the truth of God’s promises. They lack that saving faith which grows only in the hearts of those redeemed by Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

In these hearts, the truth about God’s Kingdom and the ways it teaches us to think and to live are replaced by worldly habits and myths which are preferred by the hardened heart. The truth God reveals is distorted by spiritual blindness and confused understanding. The promises of the Kingdom are snatched away and never really take root.

Matthew 13:20, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

Someone can appear to be a true child of God for a time, even if it is only superficial. They seem to receive God’s word with joy. They endure for a while but then turn away. They might be discouraged by persecution, trials, and temptations of various kinds. Since there is no real root to what they believe, they abandon their professed convictions. In difficult times a person’s true character is revealed. Some show that their faith was not the kind implanted by grace. It was a trust in their hopes of personal benefits, not a trust in the redeeming work of a Savior who calls us into service with the family of God.

1 John 2:19 makes it clear that this happens, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

In Revelation 2:9 the Bible shows us where these false believers have their real church membership, “… I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

Matthew 13:22, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”

The thorns are the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of material riches. A heart set upon self-satisfaction is not dedicated to the service of Christ as Lord of his life. A person like that is shallow, and lacks evidence of a true Saving Faith. The person who receives the word among thorns lets his personal goals and comforts crowd out his service for God’s Kingdom. With no sound foundation, the truth is choked out in his life, and becomes unimportant to him.

This is the tragedy of many who put other values above the supreme value of trusting and honoring the Creator. There are many important responsibilities God gives us, and many wonderful blessings he bestows upon his children. They all must be handled with the right outlook. Our jobs are important to provide what we and our families need, but we should be careful to keep God’s priorities as we set up our budget and advance in our careers. Our families are important too, but we do the family no good if we elevate family fun or prosperity over helping one another grow into mature Kingdom workers in all we do, declaring God’s glory and living with a true trust in all he said is right and good. When our jobs or families are valued above God’s Kingdom Principles, they become a form of idolatry and a great evil. The same is true of education, social status, sports, hobbies .. all the good things God lets us enjoy in this life.

If the Principles of God’s Kingdom become secondary, then the weeds of this world are choking it out and the person is unfruitful. The word is choked out by foolish distractions, and their lives become spiritually unfruitful. In those who live this way, there is no evidence of a true saving faith.

It’s ironic that one of the greatest reasons given for people skipping worship and church involvement is family activities. As a Pastor I’ve seen some families stop attending worship, or avoid involvement in other activities of the congregation. I’ve seen some of those families break up horribly, or pay the sad price of children who have no interest in living for the glory of God. I remember one family where members became involved in illegal activities and were arrested shortly after a pastoral visit in their homes where they said they needed Sundays for family time, so they decided they were not going to continue to come to Sunday worship. We do our family no good, if we teach them that our own enjoyment is more important than obeying the ways our Loving Lord teaches us to live as his children. If our faith is not a firm confidence that God’s ways are the best ways for us, then we do not have the kind of faith that evidences the work of grace.

Finally, Jesus explained the seed that fell on good ground.

Matthew 13:23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

What made this soil good and productive? The soil was prepared for the seed. The good news of God’s Kingdom only takes root in hearts God has prepared to receive it. Only those transformed by his grace and given the quality of a true faith in God’s word, are made able to understand it, and to bear fruit in their lives to the glory of their Creator.

As we tell people the good news about being made right with the King of kings by grace, we have to remember that we cannot change the soil the seeds fall upon. We cannot prepare the hearts of those who need the gospel. That is God’s work. Our duty is to receive the word of God ourselves, and to sow the seed prayerfully where we can.

We are to live by what God says in his written word, and by putting those principles to practice in our lives above everything else. Not to do so is not just a poor choice — it’s tragic!

Knowing that success is all a matter of God’s grace, that we are not the ones who make it effective, does not mean we give up our efforts to proclaim the good news diligently. Just the opposite. Grace at work produces fruit in us. It makes us trust what God has promised, and it stirs in us a concern for the proclaiming of the Gospel of the Kingdom in Christ. Our concern should be a reason to rejoice over the evidence in us that we are prepared soil.

If we are prayerfully trying to live as God says we should, then we see evidence that a true saving faith is at work in us, growing in us, and that we can know that we are the objects of his grace.

In Philippians 1:6 Paul wrote, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”

A true faith is a growing faith. Our confidence matures as we are made to conform more and more into the image of Christ. More and more we humbly realize that left to our own ways we will fail. As we strive to do what is right, it is by resting in what God has done, not by hoping in our own efforts.

Dr. Charles Hodge in his commentary on the Book of Romans calls it a “lamentable mistake” that we should ever assume that God loves us for our goodness. Nothing contradicts the gospel more than for us to make God’s blessing into something we earn. Hodge explains that this unbiblical idea leads us to believe that it is up to us to cling to God, and to maintain his love by our own efforts. We do not make ourselves worthy. The soil which represents our hearts produces fruit because it is prepared by our Redeemer.

When we see a concern in our hearts, when we sincerely desire to put God first, and when we strive to tear out the choking weeds, we have evidence from God’s own word that he loves us deeply, and has caused that concern and trust. It shows that the message of God’s Kingdom has fallen on prepared soil. It should humble us and make us all the more grateful for his undeserved love.

Rather than worrying over what kind of soil your heart is made of, focus upon getting your priorities right and getting busy doing what you say you believe is right. Put the principles of God’s Kingdom in first place, and fit the rest of your life around them. Then you will be demonstrating that you received the seed on good soil, and that God is busy at work in your heart.

When you bring the word of Christ’s Kingdom to others, when you challenge them to live as God commands, when you encourage them to put their eternal trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, be patient for this good work of God to do the convincing and convicting.

Good seed grows when it falls upon good ground with all the right conditions. The sower does not have to make it grow. He makes sure he has the right seed, then simply casts in on the good soil. Since this is not just literal seed, and God calls us to be part of his work in prayer, we also beg him to make our hearts and those we evangelize to be good soil.

Faith always has an object. A true saving trust rests in the promises of God, and shows that it is genuine by acting confidently and boldly upon what is claimed to be believed. This is what evidences a true saving faith.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

A Practical Kind of Faith

A Practical Kind of Faith

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 Part 2)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Faith in the most general sense of the word itself is a trust we put in something. The kind of faith that delivers us from sin and restores our fellowship with our Creator is special. It is a certainty God puts into our hearts when we are restored to fellowship with him. The barrier of our guilt is removed because Jesus Christ paid our debt of sin, and clothes us with his perfect righteousness.

This restoration opens our minds to see things as they really are. This true saving faith has God’s revealed truth as its object, and his promises as the rest for our souls. There ought to be practical outworkings of it in our lives and attitudes.

Faith that does not lead us to act upon that in which we say we fully trust, is a rather empty concept. Either we trust in God’s word or we don’t. We may have in immature understanding of what the Scriptures say, but once we know what God has said, we either trust it or dismiss it. There is a practical side of a true saving faith that continues to work in our lives after being adopted into the family of God.

Hebrews 11 is a good place to start in appreciating
that continuing work of Saving Faith.

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11 is about the practical side of what faith does, rather than defining what faith is. It is a chapter about the heroes of the faith God implants into our hearts. They are individuals who in spite of their backgrounds, trusted what God made known to them, and acted upon it faithfully.

Sadly these words that begin the chapter have been misused to promote and to support a very unbiblical concept of faith. This verse gives us a helpful introduction to an important chapter of God’s word. If we misinterpret it, we confuse all that follows. This verse shows what a true faith accomplishes in us. It is a practical definition, rather than a strict explaining of the meaning of the word.

The verse begins with the word “Now.” This connects back to the previous chapter. There, in 10:38, the writer quotes from the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet had learned that instead of questioning God when troublesome things occur, we should live by faithfully trusting in his promises.

The verse quoted is Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” There the word translated “faith” is the Hebrew word emunah (אמוּנה). It is usually taken as meaning, “to be firm, faithful.” The upright, instead of being proud and trusting in himself or in his own judgment, trusts in God and in his promises without wavering from them.

This genuine kind of faith is also what James had in mind in his epistle. In James 1:22 it warns us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Then in the next chapter, James 2:17-19 says, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!”

When someone says he has faith in God, but lives as if his Creator was just a factual part of his life, he does no better than the demons. Simply trusting something to be true is not what saving faith means. Those who have a true kind of faith, show by their lives that it is genuinely produced by God. God never gives true faith to a person without also making changes in his heart and life.

The text tells us that true faith gives a foundation for our hope. It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, … .” Faith is not just things we hope will happen. It is not a mere wish, fantasy, or dream. It is the “confident reality” of things hoped for. The NASB translates it, “… the assurance of things hoped for …”

The Greek word that modifies the things hoped for in the originally inspired text is hupostasis (ὑποστασις). It is a compound word. “Hupo-” (ὑπο) is that which lies under something as it’s foundation. the word “stasis” (στασις) is that which exists, or stands upon it. Faith is that well supported hope God gives us in his word. True faith gives us confidence in the reality of the things God promises. It applies God’s words personally in our hearts. It goes beyond reciting theoretical creeds.

This confidence is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Faith is listed among the elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

1 Corinthians 12:3 shows that this inner trust comes only from the Spirit. It says, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

This verse is not just talking about saying the words “Jesus is Lord”. It means that no one can actually mean that they trust in Jesus as their Lord, unless the Spirit enables them by applying the finished work of Christ to them.

Jesus explained that this coming in faith is exclusively a work of God. In John 6:44-45 he said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”

Faith is not just a blind trust. It is always faith in something in particular. The only proper thing for true faith to trust upon is the word of God. That is why in bringing the gospel to somebody we should not just ask them to have faith in whatever it is they believe God is. We need to make sure they are trusting in God’s promises in Christ as revealed to us in Scripture. We always need to explain to people what the Bible says. They are to trust in what the gospel says, not just in some vague concept of God.

Romans 10:13-17, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

When the Holy Spirit implants this saving faith in someone’s soul, he will believe whatever he knows God has said. Our duty is to point people to that truth. If they truly believe God and take him at his word, they will not only trust in the promises about salvation, they will trust all the moral principles and truths they know are revealed in the Bible.

There’s another practical outworking
of true faith in Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is, “… the evidence of things not seen.”

There are things we are not able to take into the science lab, things we cannot see, touch, or measure. Spiritual realities are just as real as physical ones. They are not seen with our five senses, or measured with scientific instruments. God testifies in his word. That becomes confident certainty to us.

This is not saying that faith is in itself evidence of unseeable things. We live in an age of religious existentialism and nihilism. Those are fancy words for complicated philosophies. They reflect some very popular opinions which are promoted in movies, music, books, and in our public schools. They teach that just deciding that something is true is all the reality we can know. Having faith in your faith is meaningless nonsense. The Bible does not teach that here or anywhere.

The word for “evidence” here is elenchos (ελεγχος). It means evidence in the negative sense of correcting wrong impressions or understandings of something. It is often translated as “reproof” or “conviction of sin or wrongdoing.” When truth is brought to the light, wrong things are exposed for what they are.

This text in Hebrews 11 teaches that what God says becomes our firm conviction when the Holy Spirit gives us a true faith, confidence that what God says is right, and that anything contrary to it is wrong. This living inner testimony from God is better evidence that scientific measurements. It gives us an inner assurance that God’s written promises can be counted upon and live by.

Saving faith is that convincing proof that makes our hearts accept and trust God’s word simply because we know God said it. It exposes errors and myths about things that come from the vain imaginations of lost hearts.

Faith in what God says brings comfort and confidence which are available nowhere else. Upon divine authority believers take action based upon what God tells them is best. They organize their lives around his advice. They begin to realize the rich spiritual blessings that come to us by grace alone.

Jesus said in John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Principally, faith is the accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace (WCF 14:2).

This true faith produces a confidence and certainty that makes us thankfully obey God. We obey with more confidence than what any human reasoning could ever give us.

People are often quick to take human advice and risk all they have by resting upon it. Some make risky investments in the stock market because of a tip or hunch. Some take unproven medicines because of desperation and some partial research findings. People trust their lives to surgeons, pilots, bridge inspectors, restaurant cooks, and to thousands of other drivers when they take their cars out on the interstates. They trust TV infomercials, ads on coupons, the advice of friends who are no wiser than we are, and celebrities who not only act and sing, but tell us who to vote for, what soap to buy, and what foreign policy we should support for America’s future.

Even the best of human advice cannot compare with the confidence we should have in the words of God himself. If he made us and rules the entire universe, it makes no sense for anyone to hesitate to take his advice about the lessons of Scripture that effect our daily lives. He teaches us about responsibly managing our finances, about how his Sabbath Day should be honored, about how we should worship, about sexual morality and the preservation of our families and marriages.

The faith that comes to us by grace in Christ directs us to the one perfectly sure and secure foundation of truth — the word of God. We are fools not to fully entrust all we have and do to that perfect counsel.

Keeping these principles in mind, take a fresh look at Hebrews 11. Notice that each of the heroes of the faith did not simply have a blind or undefined ability to hope all things work out in the end. They did not have a leap-in-the-dark attitude which convinced them that God will do what they wanted him to do. They had a trust, a full confidence, in something specific that God had said. They believed his promises and spoken assurances. Beyond that, they showed the sincerity of their faith by acting upon what God said to them. They each did something in response to the promises of God. Their faith did not stand in a vacuum. It was such a firm trust that they could put their lives on the line knowing that if God said it, it was true and reliable.

This is the fruit our faith should have too. We do things God’s way, trust in his promises, act confidently in all we set out to do, because we are following the instructions and assurances of our Creator, the one who redeemed us undeserving sinners, and adopted us to become his beloved children forever.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

How We are Made Right with God

How We are Made Right with God

by Bob Burridge ©2010

The good news of the gospel isn’t anchored in our own efforts or feelings. It’s anchored in the work of Christ in fulfillment of God’s promise.

The person who needs to hear about Christ needs to be taken beyond his sorrow for sinning. If we just scare him with the fires of hell we drive him to whatever he believes is the escape. Often that’s not to the true deliverance they can have in Christ.

The statistics of emotionally charged revival campaigns are not very encouraging. The large majority of those who allege to come to Christ under those conditions show no change in their lives. After a few weeks they are never heard from again by the churches.

We need to point them to the work the Savior did, not to an emotional leap in the dark. They may come to God for mercy, but mercy comes only through Christ. Cries for mercy based on anything else are not the way to salvation.

First we need to be sure they understand the atonement. They may not know the word. You may not know the full theological definition of it yourself. But you need to lead them to the truth of it.

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit”

The Demands of Justice
This verse begins with these words, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, …”

We humans are all unjust. We are sinners who stand accused before God. We are law-breakers.

As we see in Romans 3:23, “… all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Sin has a penalty as the Apostle Paul explained in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

As those who sinned in Adam, and as those who sin by our own imperfect moral nature, we are guilty and condemned in the eyes of God.

Satisfying Those Demands
1 Peter 3:18 gives more detail about how that gift of God can benefit the sinner. Jesus died for the unjust. He was just one, innocent of any moral guilt. He suffered for the unjust. We are the ones who are not innocent.

Jesus only had to suffer once for all. He was that infinite sacrifice needed to cover so much guilt. The infinite God who is infinitely powerful, absolutely innocent and just, took on a full human nature to represent us just as Adam did.

Only the Messiah, God and man in perfect union, could stand as our representative. Adam represented the human race. Jesus represented those chosen by God. They weren’t chosen because of anything good in them. They were chosen by grace alone (Ephesians 1:4-5) — an act of a perfect love.

Our Savior died in the place of those God called to life by taking on their guilt and penalty. He suffered infinitely to pay our infinite debt. With the barrier of guilt removed we can be reconciled with God. This is what today’s verse teaches us, “… that he might bring us to God”

The guilt barrier is removed. God is reconciled with us and we with him. Aside from his atonement God is offended by us and we are alienated from him. In Christ there is reconciliation: The offense is removed so that God is not separated from us any longer.

With the separation between us and God ended, we have life in Christ.

The Benefits of Satisfied Justice
This important verse ends with this promise, “being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

Jesus died in the flesh. His human body and spirit were separated as a consequence of our sins. Then Jesus was made alive again by the act of the Triune God. His body was raised as ours will be some day. It was reunited with his human soul because the sin that caused physical death was paid for.

In him we are made alive again too because the guilt of sin has been removed. We are re-united with God by being born-again, made alive spiritually, regenerated. At death our bodies will be separated from our souls only temporarily. At our resurrection our bodies will be glorified and re-united with our souls forever. That union will be in full fellowship with God eternally.

This is the good news the person who doesn’t know Christ needs to know. We need to explain it in the best way we can and urge others to trust in it.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)