You have often heard me say that the Christian life has two dimensions: the first is faith, and the second is good works. A believer should live a devout life and always do what is right. But the first dimension of the Christian life—faith—is more essential. The second dimension—good works—is never as valuable as faith. People of the world, however, adore good works. They regard them to be far higher than faith.
Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry. This has occurred both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works.
Faith should be first. After faith is preached, then we should teach good works. It is faith—without good works and prior to good works—that takes us to heaven. We come to God through faith alone.
Many have come to Jesus and at this moment, they can tell you that they are satisfied in Him. If other people have found such peace, why can’t you? It is the honor and glory of Jesus Christ to receive those who humbly rest in His sacrifice. What is holding you back? Charles H. Spurgeon writes:
Does the Spirit of God within you … make you say, “I will arise, and go to my Father?” Oh, if there is such a thought trembling in your soul, do not quench it, obey it, arise and go, and may your Father’s arms be wrapped around your neck before today’s sun goes down. Meanwhile, permit me to say, what a hardening process is insensibly going on within! … Why, those promises that cheered you … now yield no comfort! Those threats, which once startled, now cause you no alarm! Will you dawdle any longer? You have waited to be better, and you are growing worse and worse. You have said, “I will come at a more convenient season,” and every season is more inconvenient than the one that came before it. You doubted then – you are the victim of deeper and more dastardly doubts today. Oh, that you could believe in him who must be true! Oh, that you could trust in him who ought to be trusted, for he can never deceive! I pray the day may come, even this very moment, when you will shake yourself from the dust, arise and put on your beautiful garments, for every hour you sit on the dunghill of your soul-destroying doubts you are being fastened by strong bands of iron to the seat of despair. Your eye is growing dimmer, your hand more palsied; and the poison in your veins is raging more furiously. Yonder is the Savior’s cross, and there is efficacy in his blood for you. Trust Jesus now, and this moment you will enter into peace. The gate of mercy swings readily on its hinge and opens wide to every soul, which casts itself upon the bosom of the Savior. Oh, why are you waiting? Mischief will befall you. The sun is going down; hurry, traveler, in case you are overtaken with everlasting night. (Advice for Seekers)
“To give up faith in Christ is to give up faith in humanity; to believe in Christ is to believe in the redemption and final glorification of men; and this faith is the best inspiration to a holy and useful life for the good of our race of the glory of God.”
When I was a monk, I didn’t accomplish anything through fasting and prayer. This is because neither I nor any of the other monks acknowledged our sin and lack of reverence for God. We didn’t understand original sin, and we didn’t realize that unbelief is also sin. We believed and taught that no matter what people do, they can never be certain of God’s kindness and mercy. As a result, the more I ran after and looked for Christ, the more he eluded me.
When I realized that it was only through God’s grace that I would be enlightened and receive eternal life, I worked diligently to understand what Paul said in Romans 1:17—a righteousness from God is revealed in the gospel. I searched for a long time and tried to understand it again and again. But the Latin words for “a righteousness from God” were in my way. God’s righteousness is usually defined as the characteristic by which he is sinless and condemns the sinner. All the teachers except Augustine interpreted God’s righteousness as God’s anger. So every time I read it, I wished that God had never revealed the gospel. Who could love a God who is angry and who judges and condemns us?
Finally, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I took a closer look at what the prophet Habakkuk said: “The righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). From this, I concluded that life must come from faith. I therefore took the abstract to the concrete level, as we say in school. I related the concept of righteousness to a person becoming righteous. In other words, a person becomes righteous by faith. That opened the whole Bible—even heaven itself—to me!
Faith’s work is to make the soul to plead with God. Faith looks to what God has promised as you approach Him in prayer. William Guthrie writes:
Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 ESV)
Faith’s work in a soul in prayer is to make it importunate in pressing for that which it prays for. Having the word of God for its ground, and the name of Christ for its encouragement, it importunately presses for the thing desired, and when He seems to say, “Ye shall not have it ;” it says, “I will not let Thee go.” It was faith that made Jacob wrestle that night with God; says the angel, “Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” And, “Moses,” says the Lord, “will ye let me alone, that I may destroy this people.” But says Moses, “If thou wilt forgive their sins; and if not, blot me out of thy book, which thou hast written.” And the woman of Samaria, say what He would, harped still upon this string, “Lord, have mercy upon me.”
Faith’s work in prayer is to undertake for the soul to God, and for God to the soul. This is the very kernel of prayer. Faith says to the soul, “I assure thee that whatsoever God hath promised in His word, that He will give and perform.” Faith says to the soul, “There is not a promise made to the Church, but it shall be accomplished; nor to itself in particular, but it shall be performed.” So that this is the work of faith in prayer, to engage for the Lord that all the promises that He hath given shall be made out and fulfilled unto them. On the other hand, faith engages the soul to wait patiently on for the accomplishment of all that the Lord bath promised. So that this is one of the mysteries of God; and it is lamentable that so many souls live strangers to God and to this work of faith, and do not consider the worth and excellency of this grace of faith. I dare say that we, His Church and people, would be as far above trouble this day as we are under it if we had faith and the lively exercise thereof. Those that have this are of all men the most happy, and those that want it are of all men the most miserable.
There are no mercenaries in God’s army. The Christian soldier fights for the One he loves most. His resolution is steadfast. According to William Gurnall:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV)
He that knows not well what or whom he fights for [may] soon be persuaded to change his side, or at least stand neuter. Such may be found that go for professors, that can hardly give an account what they hope for, or whom they hope in; yet Christians they must be thought, though they run before they know their errand; or if they have some principles they go upon, they are so unsettled that every wind blows them down, like loose tiles from the house top. Blind zeal is soon put to a shameful retreat, while holy resolution, built on fast principles, lifts up its head like a rock in the midst of waves. ‘The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits …’ (Daniel 11:32)
Let a man be never so knowing in the things of Christ, if his aim is not right in his profession, that man’s principles will hang loose; he will not venture much or far for Christ, no more, no further than he can save his own stake. A hypocrite may show some mettle at hand, some courage for a spurt in conquering some difficulties; but he will show himself a jade at length. He that hath a false end in his profession, will soon come to an end of his profession when he is pinched on that toe where his corn is — I mean, called to deny that [which] his naughty heart aimed at all this while. Now his heart fails him, he can go no farther. O take heed of this squint eye to our profit, pleasure, honor, or anything beneath Christ and heaven; for they will take away your heart, as the prophet saith of wine and women, that is, our love, and if our love be taken away, there will be little courage left for Christ. (The Whole Armor of God)
It is not always easy to have faith. As a Christian, there are times when it seems I am plagued by doubts in various areas of my life. Many people have doubts about their faith in God. Some begin to doubt if the Bible is really the Word of God. Some believe there is a God, but have doubts that He is personally concerned about them. It is easy to doubt when you see evil men prosper and good men tortured by injustice. It is easy to doubt when it seems that the whole world is running in the opposite direction from God. It is easy to doubt that the Christian way is the right way, when the culture tells you that your irrational selfish desires are all that matter in life.
James spoke rightly, when he said, “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (1:6) The troubled soul has many doubts which keep him from communion with Christ. If you doubt, you must run to Christ for the remedy. You will be strengthened there. Charles Spurgeon directs this question to each of us: “Where do you live? Many a believer lives in the ‘cottage of doubt,’ when he might live in the ‘mansion of faith.’”
Paul reminds Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’. . . .” (1 Timothy 6:20) We must ever be on guard against the doubt, which destroys faith. Jesus describes what happens to the good seeds of faith when not tended properly: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) The thorns of doubt are planted by Satan and they grow quickly when the garden is not weeded.
Therefore, guard your faith through regular communion with Christ. Pray and study that your heart would be full of the Scriptures. This will enable you to fight the doubts of dark times through confidence in the Word God.
How do you believe in God? Some believe about and others believe in God. Martin Luther explains his thoughts on this below:
There are two ways to believe. The first way is to believe about God, meaning we believe that what is taught about God is really true. It’s similar to believing that what is taught about the devil or hell is true. This type of belief is more a statement of knowledge than an expression of faith.
The second way is to believe in God. This not only includes believing that what is taught about God is true, but also includes trusting him and daring to be in relationship with him. It means believing without any doubt that he really is who he says he is, and he will do all he says he will do. I wouldn’t believe any person to this same degree, no matter how highly others might praise him. It’s easy to believe that someone is godly, but it’s another matter to rely completely on him.
Those who believe in God believe everything written about God in Scripture. They dare to believe this in life and in death. This faith makes them true Christians and gives them everything they desire from God. A person with an evil, hypocritical heart can’t have this type of faith, for it’s a living faith, as described in the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God. . . . You shall have no other gods” (Exodus 20:2–3).
Therefore, the little word in is well placed and should be carefully noted. We don’t say, “I believe God the Father,” or “I believe about God the Father,” but “I believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” Only God can give us this type of faith.
We must set before our congregations the scriptural distinctions between a true believer and a false believer. This type of preaching never harms the true child of God. The only thing that stands to be harmed by an inspection is the counterfeit. According to Al Martin:
[One] area where the content of our preaching is weak in specific application, is in the matter of presenting the whole Christ to the whole man. It is to be feared that we have returned to a Romish concept of faith in our day. We must never forget that one of the great issues which the Reformers brought into focus was that faith was something more than … a mere nodding of the head to the body of truth presented by the church as ‘the faith.’ The Reformers set forth the biblical concept that faith was ‘fiducia’. They made plain that saving faith involved trust, commitment, a trust and commitment involving the whole man with the truth which was believed and with the Christ who was the focus of that truth. The time has come when we need to spell this out clearly in categorical statements so that people will realize that a mere nodding of assent to the doctrines that they are exposed to is not the essence of saving faith. They need to be brought to the understanding that saving faith involves the commitment of the whole man to the whole Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, as He is set forth in the gospel. If this is done, we shall no longer hear all this talk about ‘believing’ but not ‘surrendering.’ Our evangelical circles are filled with evidences of unbiblical attempts to divide Christ as Savior and as Lord. Much of the deceptive heresy based on this concept of a divided Christ would be swept away by the dear preaching of the whole Christ to the whole man.
[Another] area of weakness is content. This is a very sensitive area, and one in which we are woefully weak in contemporary Reformed circles. The area to which I refer, is that of the necessity of setting forth the distinguishing traits of a true believer. Involved in this is the need for dearly stating the difference between the grounds of salvation and the assurance of salvation. I have found in my experience of moving in Reformed circles, that the moment a few people begin to do some scriptural self-examination, when they begin to obey II Corinthians 13:5 that men look upon this scriptural exercise as second cousin to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. People look upon doubt as the most terrible thing in the world. What we fail to realize is that doubts which are produced by honest self-examination in the light of the objective standard of the Word of God, may be the best thing that ever happened to some people. I have often said that doubts will never damn a man, but sinful presumption will. As long as the Scripture says again and again, ‘Let no man deceive you . . . let no man deceive himself . . . be not deceived,’ we dare not presume or lead others to presume that all is well. What are these exhortations for? If self-deception is not a very real possibility, then why is the Bible replete with exhortations against self-deception? All of these warnings become meaningless gibberish if they are merely talking about a hypothetical possibility. However, if people could come into the circle of the external church and be deceived under the ministry of the apostles, so that they felt it necessary to say, ‘Brethren, make your calling and election sure’, much more do we ourselves need to face up to the fact that we may have some deceived people coming into the professing church under our anemic ministries. When this conviction grips us, then we will cry out to them, exhorting them to make their calling and election sure, to examine and prove them selves whether they be in the faith. (“What is Wrong with Preaching Today?”)
“Don’t follow a defeated foe. Follow Christ. It is costly. You will be an exile in this age. But you will be free.”
“There is a warning. The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy.”
Faith assures the soul that what God has promised in His Word, He will provide and carry out. William Guthrie writes:
Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 ESV)
Faith’s work in prayer is to take hold of the least meaning, may-be, or intimation from the Lord, and to lay hold of the least ground of hope of mercy; as a poor man takes hold of the least meaning of mercy from man. It was the exercise of the woman of Canaan in her prayer, when Christ upbraided her, saying, “What have I to do with thee? Should I give the children’s bread to dogs?” “Truth, Lord,” says she, “Thou hast given me some ground to expect help from Thee.” Truth, Lord, I acknowledge that I am a dog; but it is as true that dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Whereupon Christ says unto her, “0 woman, great is thy faith. Thy faith hath taken hold of the least intimation, or may-be, as a ground of hope. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” And this reproves those who fret if they get not what dish of meat they please; or if it pleases them not – they cast it from them. But if thou knew what thou art, and how little thou deserve, thou wouldst bless God, that thou art not in hell already.
Faith’s work in prayer is to enjoin every praying faculty, or all that is within the soul, before God. For faith sets its desires in order. Faith makes it desire nothing but what God hath allowed in His Word and it will be nothing short of this. Again, it orders our zeal, so that it is not blind and preposterous: where faith rules it orders humility, so that the soul does not say in a sullen fit, “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man.” It orders sorrow for sin neither to be too little nor too great. It is faith’s work to make the soul sorrow heartily before God: on the other hand, it makes us guard against anxious sorrow. Then it orders hope that the soul may wait patiently for the answer or accomplishment of prayer. Thus, it is faith’s work to order all things within the soul, and put all things in a composed temper. So commanding is the grace of faith in a soul where it is, that it will let nothing be out of order.
Jim McClarty helps us to understand the meaning of the words above.
Personal condition does not prohibit you from coming to Christ. The sad condition of those who, in Luke 14, became guests did not disqualify them from the supper. Some were poor and doubtless miserable and shabby. They did not have a penny to their names. Charles H. Spurgeon writes:
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:16-21 ESV)
Where the Lord has been pleased to touch the will so that man has a desire towards Christ, where the heart really hungers and thirsts after righteousness, that is all the readiness which is wanted. All the fitness he requires is that first you feel your need of him (and that he gives you), and that secondly, in feeling your need of him you are willing to come to him. Willingness to come is everything. A readiness to believe in Jesus, a willingness to cast the soul on him, a preparedness to accept him just as he is, because you feel that he is just the Savior that you need – that is all: there was no other readiness, there could have been none, in the case of those who were poor and blind, and lame and maimed, yet came to the feast. The text does not say, “You are ready, therefore come”; that is a legal way of putting the gospel; but it says, “All things are ready, the gospel is ready, therefore you are to come.” As for your readiness, all the readiness that is possibly wanted is a readiness which the Spirit gives us – namely, willingness to come to Jesus.
Now notice that the unreadiness of those who were asked arose out of their possessions and out of their abilities. One would not come because he had bought a piece of land. What a great heap Satan casts up between the soul and the Savior! With worldly possessions and good deeds he builds an earthwork of huge dimensions between the sinner and his Lord. Some gentlemen have too many acres ever to come to Christ: they think too much of the world to think much of him. Many have too many fields of good works in which they are growing crops on which they pride themselves, and these cause them to feel that they are persons of great importance. Many a man cannot come to Christ for all things because he has so much already.
Others could not come because they had so much to do, and could do it well-one had bought five yoke of oxen and he was going to prove them. He was a strong man well able to plow; the reason why he did not come was because he had so much ability. Thousands are kept away from grace by what they have and by what they can do. Emptiness is more preparatory to a feast than fullness. How often does it happen that poverty and inability help to lead the soul to Christ? When a man thinks he is rich he will not come to the Savior. When a man dreams that he is able at any time to repent and believe, and to do everything for himself that is wanted, he is not likely to come and by simple faith repose in Christ. It is not what you have not, but what you have that keeps many of you from Christ. Sinful Self is a devil, but Righteous Self is seven devils. The man who feels himself guilty may for a while be kept away by his guilt, but the man who is self-righteous will never come; until the Lord has taken his pride away from him he will still refuse the feast of free grace. The possession of abilities and honors and riches keeps men from coming to the Redeemer. (Advice for Seekers)
Christians, God and angels are observing you as children of the Most High God. Your every exploit of faith against sin and the devil results in a shout in heaven. William Gurnall writes:
The fearful are in the forlorn of those that march for hell, Rev. 21; the violent and valiant are they, which take heaven by force: cowards never won heaven. Say not that thou hast royal blood running in thy veins, and art begotten of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by this heroic spirit, to dare to be holy despite men and devils. The eagle tries her young ones by the sun; Christ tries his children by their courage that dare to look on the face of death and danger for his sake, Mark 8:34, 35. O how uncomely a sight is it to see, a bold sinner and a fearful saint, one resolved to be wicked, and a Christian wavering in his holy course; to see guilt put innocence to flight, and hell keep the field, impudently braving it with displayed banners of open profaneness; [to see] saints hide their colors for shame, or run from them for fear, who should rather wrap themselves in them, and die upon the place, than thus betray the glorious name of God, which is called upon by them to the scorn of the uncircumcised. Take heart therefore, O ye saints, and be strong; your cause is good, God himself espoused your quarrel, who hath appointed you his own Son, General of the field, called ‘the Captain of our salvation,’ Heb. 2:10. He shall lead you on with courage, and bring you off with honor. He lived and died for you; he will live and die with you; for mercy and tenderness to his soldiers, none like him. Trajan, it is said, rent his clothes to bind up his soldiers’ wounds: Christ poured out his blood as balm to heal his saints’ wounds; tears off his flesh to bind them up. For prowess, none to compare with him: he never turned his head from danger: no, not when hell’s malice and heaven’s justice appeared in field against him; knowing all that should come upon him, [he] went forth and said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ John 18:4. For success insuperable: he never lost battle even when he lost his life: he won the field, carrying the spoils thereof in the triumphant chariot of his ascension, to heaven with him: where he makes an open show of them to the unspeakable joy of saints and angels. You march in the midst of gallant spirits, your fellow-soldiers every one the son of a Prince. Behold, some, enduring with you here below a great flight of afflictions and temptation, take heaven by storm and force. Others you may see after many assaults, repulses, and rallying of their faith and patience, got upon the walls of heaven, conquerors, from whence they do, as it were, look down, and call you, their fellow-brethren on earth, to march up the hill after them, crying aloud: ‘Fall on, and the city is your own, as now it is ours, who for a few days’ conflict are now crowned with heaven’s glory, one moment’s enjoyment of which hath dried up all our tears, healed all our wounds, and made us forget the sharpness of the fight, with the joy of our present victory.’ (The Whole Armour of God)