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The Fruit of the Spirit is Faith - Pt. 1

Saving faith is "that firm belief of God's testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation."

Matthew 6:25-34, 8:23-27, 17:14-20; James 1:2-7, 12; Luke 22:31-32

Mar 11, 2012 12:00 AM

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Dictionaries are absolutely wonderful tools.  Last week, because of the dictionary, we learned that the name of a famous murder mystery writer came from the Greek word for “good” - agathos - from which we get the English name Agatha, and thus the name Agatha Christie.

This week we’re looking at the word “faith” and the name of someone else very famous.  If you have a dog, you may want to pay attention.  The Latin form of the English word “faith” is fide, as in ”sola fide”: Faith Alone.  Another form of the word is “fee-doe”, or as we usually pronounce it, Fido, a name that has been given to many dogs on many occasions.  Why is that so?

Because dogs, much more than cats, are known to be faithful companions.  Cats are only faithful to themselves because they typically don’t believe in the existence of humans.  But dogs do.  Thus the name Fido - Faithful.  And when your dog advances a bit in years, you can call him Antiquus Fido, or Old Faithful.  Your friends will think you’re smart.

One of the fruits of the Spirit (or as I like to call them, the Attributes of a True Christian) which we read of in Galatians 5, is faith, or faithfulness.  Faith is extremely simple and surprisingly complicated at the same time.  It is simple in that it is easily defined, unlike some of the other Christian attributes we’ve looked at.  If you have faith, you believe something to be true.  Not a hard concept to grasp.  In fact, in the simplest sense of the word, faith is something all people possess, not just Christians.

But saving faith, belief in the biblical Gospel message, is impossible apart from the grace of God.  Let me say it again: Apart from a gracious work of God upon the heart of an individual, it is impossible to truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I realize that sounds crazy to lots of people.  It seems that we all can believe whatever we want to believe.  But because of faith, because we believe the Bible, we know what I have just said is true.  We believe the Gospel.  We also believe it is impossible to believe the Gospel apart from the grace of God.  We believe that because we believe what the Bible says about it.  That’s a whole lot of believing!  That’s a lot of faith.

Now this next statement get’s a bit complicated.  Today, lot’s of people don’t believe in faith.  OR rather, they believe faith doesn’t work, or more precisely, that faith in God and the Bible is foolish.  In other words, they have no faith in our faith.  They do, however, have faith.  They have faith in science.  Their faith is in the scientific process.  They have faith that they can eliminate the need for faith.  They believe we must prove scientifically what is and is not true in order to believe.  If something cannot be proven by science, then, they say they can’t and don’t believe it.

The theory is that once we undeniably prove by means of unbiased scientific inquiry that God created the world, then we will all have sufficient reason to believe in God.  But that would eliminate the need for faith in God if we proved His existence.  If something is proven scientifically to be true, then faith is unnecessary.  There’s nothing in which to believe except the facts, and of course, the facts speak for themselves.  Faith is not included.

Here’s what Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says about faith:

FAITH, n. [L. fides, fido, to trust]

1. Belief; the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting on his authority and veracity, without other evidence; the judgment that what another states or testifies is the truth.  I have strong faith or no faith in the testimony of a witness, or in what a historian narrates.

3. In theology, the assent of the mind or understanding to the truth of what God has revealed. Simple belief of the scriptures, of the being and perfections of God, and of the existence, character and doctrines of Christ, founded on the testimony of the sacred writers, is called historical or speculative faith; a faith little distinguished from the belief of the existence and achievements of Alexander or of Cesar.

4. Evangelical, justifying, or saving faith, is the assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation, on the authority of God's testimony, accompanied with a cordial assent of the will or approbation of the heart; an entire confidence or trust in God's character and declarations, and in the character and doctrines of Christ, with an unreserved surrender of the will to his guidance, and dependence on his merits for salvation. In other words, that firm belief of God's testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

So there are different kinds of faith.  For example, I have greater faith in some Presidential candidates than others to do the right thing, to tell the truth, and to lead our country in a good direction.  I believe some candidates try to tell the truth while others don’t try quite so hard.  That is one kind of faith.

Another kind of faith is faith in the testimony of the Bible (or any other religious book) that it is true and that there really is a God.  Multitudes of people have faith in the existence of God and they would tell you they believe the Bible is true.  Mormons and Muslims and scores of other religions have no trouble teaching that we should all have faith in a god we cannot see.

Saving faith is another kind of faith entirely.  It is a specific faith granted by God to the elect by means of the gospel message in order that they might repent of their sins, and trust in Christ.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV).  Paul said to the Philippians that God had granted them saving faith (Philippians 1:29).  To the Ephesians he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV).  Grace is a gift from God, faith is a gift from God, the entire salvation package (if I may call it that) is a gift granted by God to all those for whom Christ paid the price for their salvation.  All whom Christ purchased by his blood, in other words, the Church, are granted salvation.

That is the nature of saving faith.

There is another aspect to this idea of biblical faith which is separate from, but certainly related to saving faith.  According to the Scriptures, faith can be quantified.  In other words, there are those who have great faith, and there are those who don’t have so much.  Then there are those who are expected to have great faith that is sufficient for particular occasions, but they don’t.  Look with me for a moment at Matthew 6.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

This is the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is speaking to people who are obviously “concerned” for their physical well-being.  The word He uses is anxious.  Worry.  And their worry is a result of little faith”. He didn’t say they were faithless.  He said they didn’t have much.  But which comes first?  Worry or little faith?  Yes.  Each one causes the other.  Lack of faith produces worry, and the more we worry, the smaller our faith becomes.  We talk ourselves out of trusting God.  Do you worry a lot?  It’s because you don’t have much faith.  Is your faith small?  Well, stop worrying!  Your heavenly Father knows what you need.

Look at another text with me: Matthew 8.  This will sound familiar to most of you.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing." 26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"  Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?" (Matthew 8:23-27 ESV).

As I was thinking about this, it dawned on me that these guys in the boat with Jesus had tons of faith.  Peter could have said to Jesus, “Hey, I have great faith!  That we’re all gonna die!”  That’s exactly what they believed and I can’t say that I blame them.  But what they didn’t believe was what Jesus had told them: “Let’s get in the boat and go to the other side.”  They had greater faith in the power of the storm than in what Jesus had told them.  They had faith, but it was misplaced.  They didn’t trust Jesus, they trusted their own senses.  And their senses were shouting, ”We’re all gonna die!”  They had very little faith in Jesus.

Now I want you to compare this with another text: Matthew 17:14-20.

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly.  For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him." 17 And Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?  Bring him here to me." 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" 20 He said to them, "Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:14-20 ESV)

In this passage, we have a bit of a problem with the ESV.  In verse 20, where the ESV uses the phrase little faith, most ancient texts use the Greek word apistia which literally means no faith, or unbelief (KJV, NKJV, etc.). That is the word used in verse 17 which the ESV renders faithless. So which is it?  Was Jesus rebuking the disciples because they had little faith or because they were faithless?

If they were being rebuked because of the smallness of their faith, it must have been nearly microscopic.  Because He then says, “If your faith was the size of this teeny weenie mustard seed, you could do a lot more than cure diseases!”  If they had faith at all, it was not sufficient to the task which Jesus had commissioned them to do: heal the sick.  Which doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

But!  It may be that that was the whole point.  Are we so foolish as to believe Jesus sent out the disciples to perform a task which He did not realize they were incapable of doing?  Are we to believe Jesus wasn’t aware that their faith was so small and they weren’t up to the challenge?  May it never be!  Look with me at James 1.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3 ESV)

Who did Jesus send out to minister and heal the sick and the demon-possessed?  The disciples.  What are disciples?  LearnersStudents. What did they learn from their excursion into the real world?  That their faith was pathetic; microscopic; nearly invisible, maybe even non-existent.  What did they see when the man brought his son to Jesus?  He spoke a word and the boy was instantaneously healed.

So what did the learners learn?  What did these disciples learn from this experience?  To have more faith. Their faith was tested, and they failed the test miserably.  But the Lord does not send tests just to give us a failing grade.  Presumably these disciples learned from their experience (because that is the job of a disciple: learning) and they walked away from it with a growing faith.  The testing of their faith produced more steadfastness. It produced greater faith.  The testing of our faith is for the purpose of producing more faithfulness.

4 And let steadfastness [faithfulness] have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God,who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith,with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-7 ESV)

The doubtful, virtually faithless Christian worry-wart is unstable in all his ways.  What shall we eat?  What shall we drink?  What shall we wear?  What if I get sick?  What if my unemployment runs out before I can find another job?  What if a certain person doesn’t get elected for President?  What if a certain person gets re-elected for President?  What if the stock market crashes?  What if Iran nukes Israel?  What if Israel nukes Iran?   What are we gonna do?

“O ye of little faith!”  “What are we gonna do???”  We’re gonna keep trusting in God.  We’re gonna keep believing all that He has said, He will do!  We will continue to believe the Scriptures.  We will continue to believe God cannot lie.  We will trust in the faithfulness of God.  When our faith is tested by various trials we can rejoice in knowing that those trials are sent by a loving Father for the purpose of teaching us to trust Him more and remain faithful.  That’s what disciples do: learn to trust their Master.

So if you have a little bit of faith, the trials you face are for the specific purpose of not leaving you there.  It is for your good, that you might develop a strong, unmovable, unshakable faith.  Look at verse 12.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial [under the testing of his faith], for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 ESV)

Turn with me to one more passage: Luke 22.  This should be a comfort to us in the trials that test our faith.

31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

Now listen carefully: Did Peter’s faith fail that night?  Was it not Peter who denied the Lord three times that night?  Who was it that said they would never leave the Lord Jesus?  That he would die for Christ?  Of course Peter’s faith failed.  Partially.  Momentarily.

Do we not see here that Jesus knew full well He was sending Peter and all of the disciples into a test of their faith, a test which none of them would pass?  Jesus was forsaken by them all!  He was sending Peter into a situation that Satan wanted to use to completely destroy Peter’s faith.  That night, they all flunked their test in Faith 101.  BrieflyTemporarily.  Not completely.  They may have flunked the test, but they passed the course!

Jesus assured Peter, and by extension He assures us, that we have an Intercessor, a High Priest in heaven who speaks to the Father on our behalf.  Jesus prays for us perpetually and the result is that our faith never fails entirely or permanently.  But when it does fail, something happens.  Jesus said to Peter, when you have turned again.  When you have repented of your sin.  Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “If you turn from your sin and repent.”  When.

Surely it is true, the testing of our faith produces endurance, patience, steadfastness, and faithfulness.

Now some of you are thinking, “This is all good, and I’m glad to hear you explain some of these things to us.  I want my faith to grow and by the grace of God I’m going to stop worrying and complaining and start trusting the Lord more, even in the worst of situations.  This has been very helpful, Keith.  Thank you very much.”

Well, you’re welcome.  BUT you’re also thinking, “Keith gave us all these definitions of faith from Webster’s Dictionary and he hasn’t once even referred to the biblical definition of faith in Hebrews 11.  He hasn’t referred to Hebrews 11 at all!  Doesn’t he know that is THE biblical text on faith?  Doesn’t he know that’s the so-called ‘Hall of Faith’ with Abraham and Noah and Moses and all those other cats?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know that.  So turn to the book of Hebrews and lets read that chapter and discuss those great heroes of the faith . . . unless you want to save that for next week.

We also haven’t discussed what was supposed to be our text for today, Galatians 5:22 - The fruit of the Spirit is faith.  We haven’t discussed what it means to have the spiritual gift of faith, which is different than the fruit of faith.  We haven’t discussed how those are related to, or how they are different from saving faith.  So there is much more to talk about.  But not now.  I do not have faith to believe you would tolerate another hour of preaching very well.  So we’ll stop here for today.

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Next week: Hebrews 1 & the faith of Abel.  Faith is Fundamental (Hebrews 11:3&6)

Two weeks: Fruit of the Spirit vs Gift of the Spirit


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