And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11:32-38)
What wonders the saints of the Old Testament wrought by faith in God! But the exploits of New Testament saints, though less visible, should be even more glorious! For they were the disciples of Moses; but we are the disciples of Jesus Christ! They lived in the days of types and shadows; we live in the age of clear revelation. They had the promise of Messiah; now, He has come in the flesh! They hoped for the days of the kingdom; now, the kingdom has come, and Christ, the God-man sits at the right hand of God, on the throne of all power! So we should expect to do more and greater things than these great saints of ancient Israel. But is that what we see? If not, why not?
A disciple is someone who has committed himself to serving a master for the purpose of learning from him a philosophy and way of life. We are not just people who want to learn about Christianity. We are not to be merely knowledgeable about the Christian doctrines. We have taken an oath at our baptisms to live the Christian life — and not only to the best of our ability, but far above our own ability; for without Him we have no ability to live the life He has called us to.
It is therefore imperative that we learn to actually, in practice, trust in Him to give us the ability we lack in every circumstance of life. The Master will not let us off from learning this. It’s basic, it’s essential, and we will, to some extent, learn this lesson if we are really His. That is why we continually find ourselves in situations that we had not anticipated, that make us really uncomfortable, that cause us pain, that terrify us, even. If these things did not happen to us, we would never learn to depend on Jesus!
And yet that is the very essence of the Christian life. “The just shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:17b) He doesn’t just begin it by an act of faith. No! He lives each day by trusting Jesus Christ. As Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
There are four major areas of our Christian experience that I would like to briefly address tonight in this connection:
1. Bearing trials.
2. Resisting temptation
3. Learning the disciplines of godliness
4. Service and ministry
Some people are naturally resilient. They are not rattled by the little irritations and disturbances that are a part of daily life. They are by nature Stoical; and they easily hold on their way in circumstances that would discourage others.
Such people have a peculiar weakness when it comes to depending on others. There will be times when every one of us will have to depend upon others. Pride, and a sense of superiority make this more difficult for some people than for others. But all of us, as sinners, resist depending upon God when we are made to suffer. We use the standard human toolkit, which contains the following devices:
Pretend it doesn’t hurt.
I’ve been through worse.
I’ll handle this my own way.
I don’t need help.
Usually, we open this tool bag first, and try everything in it before finally concluding that we need God’s help after all. Then we pray. But sometimes we are not helped by prayer, either. Why is that? Because we pray without faith. Our prayer is a form of complaining to God, which is not necessarily wrong; but we rise no higher than that.
Perhaps we complain to Him because we would be ashamed that anyone else should hear what we are really thinking. Perhaps our complaint is really a kind of criticism of God in disguise. Sometimes, in my own case, at least, it has been a blatant and blasphemous accusation of God. These “prayers” will neither help us bear our trials, nor get God to remove them. But do not think that you are the only one who has prayed like this, and been disappointed.
What God desires to form in us is an attitude of trust and submission to Him in everything, and at all times. But we can never attain to that unless we know the difference between praying in faith and praying without it. When we pray in faith, we find ourselves feeling that God has heard us, and that brings joy. We feel assured that we are in no real danger, and that brings peace. We feel that our Father deeply cares for us, and that causes our love to stir and awaken in our breasts. We arise from believing prayer with a song in our hearts and on our lips. To do this habitually, consistently, is the goal toward which we are being led.
There is an old hymn that beautifully expresses trust in God:
Whate’er my God ordains is right: Holy his will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth; And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road, He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path: I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent; His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup That my physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew, I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: He is my friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm, Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe, Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew, Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.
By Samuel Rodigast, translated by Catherine Winkworth
Trials are temptations of a sort, as they tempt us to omit duties and ultimately to give up our profession; but the temptations of which I now speak are the kind that tempt us to deliberate sins of commission: acts of lust, dishonesty, hatred, and so forth. I have in mind temptations that are constantly present or of long continuance.
One of Satan’s devices is to tempt us to commit one particular sin just a little, over a long period of time, so that we begin to feel that there is no threat of us ever falling to temptation and committing that sin. We begin to think that we are above it, that we have mastered that lesson, that we are scholars in Christ’s school. Then he sends a fiery, irresistibly strong, furious wave of temptation, and we fall immediately! Has that ever happened to you? It has to me. How do we prevent this from happening again?
Well there are two things. We must cultivate humility, so that we say,”I am not immune to any sin. I may have made some progress in the christian life, but I will never reach the point where I will be self-sufficient in the hour of temptation. My Adversary has been at this a lot longer than I have, and he knows his wicked business. He knows me like a book. I have zero chance of winning every battle, and without God’s help, I am about as secure as a piece of paper soaked in gasoline, lying next to an open fire.” That is the first thing.
The second thing is that I must learn the discipline of watching, of being continually on my guard. Watching is a duty repeatedly enjoined in the New Testament, but it is one that I have never heard a sermon about. Watching has nothing to do with looking up to heaven because Jesus could come today, and I don’t want to miss it when He does. It has nothing to do with that. The Greek word translated “watch” literally means to “stay awake”. It therefore came to mean to stand guard, and so to be alert to danger, ready to respond in the proper way. If we don’t watch, we will not only fall; but we will be to blame for thus ensuring our own failure through carelessness. Further, we will be demonstrating how little we really care about avoiding sin.
We need Jesus’ help to meet temptation. Yes, we are weak in ourselves; but we must believe also that in Him we are strong. Jesus will teach us this lesson; and the sooner we get serious about learning it, the better.
Learning the Disciplines of Godliness
The word, “disciple” is closely related to the word “discipline”. A disciple is one who lives under a certain system of disciplines. Like soldiers who are continually drilled on the things that they must be able to do without even thinking, Christians are to drill themselves in a set of basic and essential spiritual disciplines. Specifically, these are conscious, deliberate acts that are to be practiced regularly, whether or not we feel like doing them, or not. They involve a commitment of time and effort. They include daily Bible reading, meditation and private prayer; but they go beyond that.
Personal Bible study is also essential, for we must search the Scriptures to see if the things we are being taught are so. We are to make the truths of Scripture our own — not just take them on human authority. Each of us will answer to God for Himself for what he believed and taught others, for why he refused to do this, or why he did that.
Parents, and fathers especially must practice the discipline of teaching their families the word of God and the Christian life. A father must insist that the members of his household obey him in all his lawful commands, and he must convince them that they will be expected to obey what they are taught. He must not be afraid of being thought severe. I personally agree with those who make leading daily family worship a duty, as the Westminster divines did. One of the things I lament is that I failed to do this when I had a wife and children under my authority. At the same time, parents must spend time one-on-one with each of their children, and show them all that they are deeply loved.
The discipline of moderation in eating and drinking cannot be dispensed with; and some would include the discipline of fasting on appropriate occasions; especially when the church or other authorities call us to it. This used to be common when Christianity was in the ascendant, and still is in parts of the world where discipleship is taken more seriously.
None of this is easy, and we are prone to neglect the disciplines of godliness because they are hard, because we encounter opposition from our families or others, and because the flesh dislikes being held in check. For this reason, we need to realize that help from heaven is indispensable. We can never hope to advance very far without the grace of God and the power of the holy spirit. Jesus wants us to grow in these things, because they will aid us in everything else we try to do for Him. But just as important, He wants us to glorify God and Himself by confessing our impotence, and trusting Him to make us able and willing to obey.
Service and Ministry
When we have learned something of trusting God in times of trial, and when we have learned to trust Him for strength to overcome temptations, and when we have begun to regularly practice the disciplines of godliness, then we will be on our way to a place of fitness for ministry. If we are continually cast down by every trial, who will look to us for strength in trouble? If we allow temptations to overcome us, who will want to listen to us tell them that they should live holy lives? If we have no discipline or self-control, who will believe us when we tell them how to master themselves? Anything we do for God will be of little value unless we have the respect of those we would influence for good. So we should learn to trust God in these areas, before we should even think about calling attention to ourselves by taking on ourselves a commitment of service, or entering public ministry.
But besides all this, there are great demands placed on a preacher, a teacher, especially an officer of the church, that demand a person full of faith and the Holy Ghost. Ask your pastor what he would do without the firm assurance that Christ has called him to the work, and is with him every day in it.
Faith feeds upon the promises of God: all the promises of God are yea and amen in Him. Peter tells us that these promises are “exceeding great and precious.” (2 Pet 1:4) They ought to be precious to us; for by them faith “calleth those things that be not, as though they were”. It is presumption — not faith — to expect God to do what He has nowhere in His word led us to believe that He will do. But faith takes hold of those things that God either declares or clearly implies that He will do for us, and confidently calls on God to fulfill His own word. Bunyan pictures this in The Pilgrim’s Progress by men “tumbling mountains about with words”.
Living by faith is answering every challenge by bringing to mind and seizing upon the promises! By these promises God reveals His character, His infinitude, and everything that would inspire our confidence; so that whether it be in time of trouble, or in time of opportunity, we can look to Him with assurance. Then we can attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.
Let us learn to bear suffering and various trials patiently by faith, submitting ourselves to the all-wise providence of our heavenly Father!
Let us determine within ourselves that we will meet temptation with heavenly strength born of devotion to Christ, as it is written of the martyrs,”And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” (Rev 12:11) This we can only do by faith.
Let us press on by faith to learn self-discipline in general, and the disciplines of godliness in particular. “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1Tim 4:7-8)
Let us desire a place of wider service in the kingdom of God, and prepare ourselves for it, so that we may make use of opportunity by faith when it knocks. While we pray that the Lord would send forth laborers into His harvest, let us not forget to pray also,”Here am I, send me!”
Brethren, let us pray that God would increase in us the faith without which we cannot live the Christian life! Let us set aside the time we need for personally getting to know our faithful and covenant-keeping God, even if it means getting up in the wee hours, when we can be sure we will not be disturbed. We will have to pay a price to get the grace of faith: it will not increase if there is no effort or sacrifice.
We can do more. We can do better. Will we? Or will we presume upon God that He will accept our complacence, our indifference, our laziness — in lieu of faithfulness?
Does anyone think that this is asking too much of him? Let me ask, how much was Jesus willing to give? Was there anything that He was not willing to do– for us? No, He gave Himself for us. Let us give ourselves for Him in return; and then discover what He can do with lives truly dedicated to God’s glory.
When we have done this, we can face the day of death and the day of Christ’s appearing with confidence, knowing that we need not be ashamed. And we will leave behind us a better world, in which the kingdom of God that we have labored to extend will have grown.
Howard Douglas King
October 10, 2016