We continue our exploration of faith, so let’s begin with what should be a very familiar from the King James Version.
Last week we talked about faith and things not seen. We discussed nailing our old, worldly self to the cross and saying goodbye to that person forever. We affirmed that by faith in Jesus we have truly become a new creation.
We live untethered to who we were. That doesn’t mean that you are void of those life lessons and experiences. It means that old person is not who you are now. You are made new.
Your identity is wholly, completely in God. Christ lives in us. Hence the name, Christian. I belong to the Christ. I not only follow him, but he lives in me.
This new creation comes through faith in Christ Jesus. And we must .
We can’t make ourselves new by what we do. Salvation is a gift of God . He did it all. The only way we receive this gift is by faith-- the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Once we have received this gift, we spend most of our time doing 3 things. Trusting God. Obeying God. Loving God and each other. At least we try to do well at these things.
It sounds simple. Sometimes it is. Sometimes our faith is tested.
Sometimes the circumstances of the world deny what we believe and they test us. Sometimes, seeing is believing is so much more tempting that believing is seeing.
Sometimes we just want to go with the flow.
Sometimes we don’t want to be a stranger anymore.
Sometimes we just want to fit into this world to which we have been admonished not to conform.
But always we are called to faith. Last week, we discussed repentance. I asked you to consider both the Hebrew and Greek root words.
Repent is an interesting word. In the , it most often means to turn away from or to return to. In the , the word that we translate as repent is to change your mind or to change your inner self.
What should we know about repentance? We are to turn away from the world and return to God. That sounds like what I have heard all of my life, but that alone denies that what we turned away from isn’t following us everywhere we go.
When we turn away, we are to behind and receive and embrace the new. We and we live as a new creation.
I challenged all to remain untethered from who we used to be. The challenge is to make a wholesale exchange of old for new. And everyone says Amen, Hallelujah, and Praise the Lord!
Then life happens. Then we are tested in our faith. We try to be optimistic. We try to see the good wherever we can, but there are days when our faith is tested.
There are days when our faith is put to the test. We can’t explain why the child died and just hearing that we live in a broken world doesn’t help. We don’t understand cancer. We work hard and still have bills to pay. Why are people mean to my kids? Why can’t I sleep. I memorized the right verse, …but I am having a hard time living it.
How do I get through this—whatever this is—and maintain my faith?
How do I get through this and maintain my faith? The answer is: You don’t! By that, I don’t mean that you don’t get through it. You do but you don’t maintain, you grow.
James tells us to consider it pure joy when the world throws all sort of trouble at us. When I think of pure joy, I’m thinking weddings and OSU victories and ribeye steaks and grandkids.
All sorts of trials and troubles just don’t seem to fit together with pure joy, great joy, nothing but joy to reach into the translation range. There should be some sort of oxymoron or incompatibility here.
But James tells us to count it as joy when we face trials. If he left it there, I might think that he missed the mark, but he goes on to say that the testing of our faith produces perseverance and we need to let the whole process do its thing.
In the process of honing our perseverance, we must press on, stay the course, and not give in or give up. When we do this, we grow. When we continue in faith we grow. When we let perseverance do its thing, we grow.
We would say that we grow in God’s grace. We are not working for our salvation. We are . The blood of Jesus took care of our salvation but living out that salvation sometimes comes with trials and obstacles and even persecution.
But when we persevere in our faith, we grow. We continue in faithful obedience to God and we grow.
These all sound good, at least conceptually, right? How about something more tangible? Let’s look at three areas where we can practice faith that produces perseverance and perseverance causes us to grow.
The first is the tithe. Nobody is shooting at you. Nobody is dying. Nobody is in jail. It’s the tithe, not combat.
How many have been tested in continuing in the tithe? You think that I know tithe means tenth, but I don’t know how we are going to make it on 90% of what we receive. Surely, the Lord knows that I need at least 95% just to make ends meet.
I think that the Lord knew our struggles and weaknesses in this area. That’s why . He even challenged us to continue in the tithe. He double dog dared us—test me in this is what he said. See if I won’t open the floodgates of heaven.
I use the example of the tithe because it tangible. It is count and measure. The struggle might be one that you have not conquered yet. It is a test of faith.
One a little less tangible is prayer. We pray and somebody dies anyway. We pray but it doesn’t rain, or the rain comes with hail. We sure didn’t need that. We pray and get exactly what we asked for and wonder what I did differently this time?
Sometimes that’s even tougher. Let me copy that formula. Let me make prayer a transactional thing. OK, what did I do differently with this prayer?
We pray and sometimes wait and wait and wait for an answer. We would like our prayers to be like the tithe—count and measure—something more tangible. We would like to get our minds around prayer much more than we have now.
The test of our faith is will we keep on praying? We don’t always know or see or understand what’s happening but our faithfulness in prayer causes us to grow. It produces perseverance and perseverance brings us to maturity and completeness. We grow.
We are taught to pray continually. When we pray even though we can’t always see the results, we grow. We persevere. We grow.
The third area that I ask everyone to consider as we explore testing our faith is the reading and internalizing God’s Holy Word. I am talking Bible reading, memorizing scripture, discussing scripture and reaching the point where his word does dwell richly within us.
You might think, well, that’s an easy one. There are no laws against reading the Bible in this country, at least not yet. The things that might test your faith here are not laws but logistics. If you could stand back and observe your own life for 6 months or a couple years, would you see the important things getting squeezed out?
Might you see yourself going from reading a chapter a day to being content with the verse of the day and staying awake for most of the sermon on Sunday morning? Are we holding on to what’s important? Do we persevere when the world keeps demanding more and more of our time and attention?
Would you see a workman approved ready to put the Master’s words into practice or a timid soul who is still waiting to get around to it when it comes to living out what we are called to do as a new creation?
Do you see growth or atrophy when it comes to internalizing and manifesting God’s word into your character?
These three things are areas to start with as we examine having our faith tested. Spend a little time and consider your tithe, your prayers, and your Bible reading.
What do you see? Are you faithful in all circumstances and growing as you persevere? Are you shrinking back when it comes to matters of faith?
We haven’t even stepped into the realms of evangelism and witnessing and loving our neighbor. These three areas that we look at briefly are those where we don’t have to venture far from home.
But what if I don’t know what to do?
James tells us that’s an easy one. Ask God for wisdom and he will give it to you generously.
But there is a stipulation. When you ask, you must believe. Faith leads to more faith and blessings. When you seek God’s wisdom, you must have faith that he will provide it. Faith must win out over doubt if you want to receive his wisdom.
If doubt is ruling instead of faith, don’t expect God to do great things in your life. Your trials and tribulations will be just that—tribulation. But when faith governs, trials of all sorts are just grist for the mill in your education and growth. You will persevere. You grow in grace.
Sometimes we discount perseverance. We think, and rightly so, that Christ did everything needed for my salvation. He did, but this life continues and often with trials and struggles and all manner of problems thrown at us.
Our faith is tested. Part of the problem is that we sometimes see this as a problem. James says otherwise.
Imagine if you will practicing football or basketball or baseball some other sport where you were mentally and physically challenged for 40-60 hours a week to get ready for the game. Now imagine that you never played the game or any games. Would you grow?
Maybe a little, but not nearly like you would in live competition—in a game—in a test. We are made to be overcomers. We are designed to put our gifts and talents to work. We are designed to grow and blessed to grow in God’s grace.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It’s game time. The testing of our faith produces perseverance. Perseverance lets us grow into completeness.
You have crucified the old self. Christ lives in you. Now let’s be faithful in our trials and grow in God’s grace. We are overcomers. Because of our faith, we will persevere whatever the world throws at us. We will grow in his grace, mature, and become complete.