Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States

Not Your Own

We often hear that faith must be personal. “My faith,” they say. People might tell us they’ve persevered through trials due to their faith. Were it to have failed, they would’ve been lost. But they had enough. At least that’s what they say. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression that they think this faith is their own, as if they produced it. As if it were due to strength of character or moral upbringing.

On the contrary, though we must hold faith individually:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

It is not our faith, it is a gift of God so that we might not boast about ourselves.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this verse:

For by grace are you saved. …God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own…

Not of works. …Many persons restrict the word ‘gift’ to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith [only] is the gift of God, but that salvation [entirely] is given to us by God…

For we are his work. …The apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul’s argument would have no force.

Created to good works. …[Paul] says, that, before we were born, the good works were prepared by God; meaning, that in our own strength we are not able to lead a holy life, but only so far as we are formed and adapted by the hand of God. Now, if the grace of God came before our performances, all ground of boasting has been taken away…

To reiterate, faith is not a result of human will:

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy Romans 9:15-16 (ESV)

To this, Calvin comments:

It is not then of him who wills, etc. …That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favor of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts…that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing… [Emphasis mine]

Therefore faith is not subjective. It is not of ourselves so that we may not boast. Just like the scriptures, faith is not a matter of one’s own opinion.

***

Now, if we accept that faith is not of ourselves, we who profess faith must also realize that we, ourselves, are not our own, either.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

77s – The 77’s – Bottom Line,   Uploaded to YouTube on Apr 6, 2008, posted by Neamberthal, Lyrics

Gullible

Many think that those who follow Christ are hopelessly ignorant and gullible. They’ll believe anything.

I was reminded of how gullible I am by this video. It purports to show an F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps fighter takeoff, falter, and make a remarkable recovery to flight from a ship at sea.

F-35 Unintended loop right off the carrier deck during vertical take-off, December 15, 2009

Is it real? It sure looks real on the surface. But the answer is no; it’s a doctored frame sequence from a video game. Once you see how the F–35B actually takes off and lands, you’ll note many obvious discrepancies.

Are those who follow Christ gulled into believing? Are they rubes unworthy of being taken seriously? Are they insufferable? When you see what’s involved in true belief, you’ll note the impossibility of it.

We’ll take the Lord Jesus Christ’s testimony as evidence. Speaking in His own defense before the Council of Elders at Jerusalem, they ask if He is the Messiah and He responds to them:

“If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe” Luke 22:67 English Standard Version (ESV)

Their refusal to believe was ordained. John explains this clearly in his gospel account. After Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His performance of many attesting signs, when the people still did not believe in Him, John tells us:

So that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,

   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes

   and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

   and understand with their heart, and turn,

   and I would heal them.”

John 12:38-40 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus picked up on this theme when He told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to His disciples, the Pharisees, scribes, tax collectors, and sinners [a derogatory term the religious elite used for commoners as if they were not the same].

And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:30-31 (ESV)

From elsewhere in scripture we know that Moses and the Prophets spoke of Him. I always imagine he delivered this punch line to the parable with dramatic irony.

While speaking with His disciples about the difficulty of entering the Kingdom of God, His disciples questioned Him:

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:26-27 (ESV)

So, by His own admission, entering into belief is impossible for humankind on their own. The Apostle Paul reiterates and expands on this truth:

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:15-16 (ESV)

So belief is a gift of a merciful God to individuals, not something we can adopt like a political party affiliation or can attain like elected office.

But we may be assured that:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 (ESV)

And we know that this gift is certain:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11 (ESV)

Please, believe in Him.

Sanctification

Paul writes to the church in Rome:

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:19-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Westminster Confession Shorter Catechism Question and Answer number 35 states:

What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

What does John Calvin say about these verses in Romans here and here?

I speak what is human, etc. He says that he speaks after the manner of men, not as to the substance but as to the manner. So Christ says, in John 3:12, that he announced earthly things, while yet he spoke of heavenly mysteries, though not so magnificently as the dignity of the things required, because he accommodated himself to the capacities of a people ignorant and simple.

…As though [the Apostle] had said, “I might, by comparing sin and righteousness, show how much more ardently you ought to be led to render obedience to the latter [righteousness], than to serve the former [sin]; but from regard to your infirmity I omit this comparison: nevertheless, though I treat you with great indulgence, I may yet surely make this just demand — that you should not at least obey righteousness more coldly or negligently than you served sin…”

As you have presented, etc.; that is, “As you were formerly ready with all your faculties to serve sin, it is hence sufficiently evident how wretchedly enslaved and bound did your depravity hold you to itself: now then you ought to be equally prompt and ready to execute the commands of God; let not your activity in doing good be now less than it was formerly in doing evil.” He does not indeed observe the same order in the antithesis, by adapting different parts to each other, as he does in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, where he sets uncleanness in opposition to holiness; but the meaning is still evident…

For when you were, etc. He still repeats the difference, which he had before mentioned, between the yoke of righteousness and that of sin; for these two things, sin and righteousness, are so contrary, that he who devotes himself to the one, necessarily departs from the other. And he thus represents both, that by viewing them apart we may see more clearly what is to be expected from each; for to set things thus apart enables us to understand better their distinctive character. He then sets sin on one side, and righteousness on the other; and having stated this distinction, he afterwards shows what results from each of them…

What fruit, then, etc. He could not more strikingly express what he intended than by appealing to their conscience, and by confessing shame as it were in their person. Indeed the godly, as soon as they begin to be illuminated by the Spirit of Christ and the preaching of the gospel, do freely acknowledge their past life, which they have lived without Christ, to have been worthy of condemnation; and so far are they from endeavoring to excuse it, that, on the contrary, they feel ashamed of themselves. Yea, further, they call to mind the remembrance of their own disgrace, that being thus ashamed, they may more truly and more readily be humbled before God…

Ye have your fruit unto holiness, etc. As he had before mentioned a twofold end of sin, so he does now as to righteousness. Sin in this life brings the torments of an accusing conscience, and in the next eternal death. We now gather the fruit of righteousness, even holiness; we hope in future to gain eternal life. These things, unless we are beyond measure stupid, ought to generate in our minds a hatred and horror of sin, and also a love and desire for righteousness…

For the wages of sin, etc. …This verse is a conclusion to the former, and as it were an epilogue to it. He does not, however, in vain repeat the same thing again; but by doubling the terror, he intended to render sin an object of still greater hatred.

But the gift of God. They are mistaken who thus render the sentence, “Eternal life is the gift of God,” as though eternal life were the subject, and the gift of God the predicate; for this does not preserve the contrast. But as he has already taught us, that sin produces nothing but death; so now he subjoins, that this gift of God, even our justification and sanctification, brings to us the happiness of eternal life. Or, if you prefer, it may be thus stated, — “As the cause of death is sin, so righteousness, which we obtain through Christ, restores to us eternal life…”

I Could Laugh (feat. Chris Taylor) performed at BD’s House, 2014, by Michael Roe