Mustard Seed Faith

I recently became aware of a doctrine on the nature of faith that is apparently widely held by Christian teachers.  One of them wrote this: “An unregenerate person can believe the truth of the law of gravity . . .  Likewise, an unregenerate person can believe the truth of Christ’s gospel . . . Since faith is only the instrument, the response of faith in the gospel is not a special kind of faith. Faith is simply faith. It is the object of faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is special and brings salvation.”

This leading teacher in the so-called “free grace” movement was countering the truth of the necessity of being born again by God’s sovereign will and power, so that genuine faith becomes possible. He makes it very clear by the comparison he uses (above) that they believe faith to be just a natural thing, no different from believing I will fall into the water should I step off a bridge, and that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. He completely discounts the need for any supernatural or spiritual essence to faith when he declares that what is required to believe the gospel is not a “special kind of faith”.

Believing this proposition to be far off the mark from a Scriptural understanding of faith, I felt compelled to write a few words for the benefit of those who may not understand the nature of the faith that justifies the sinner and saves the soul. Hebrews 11 is known by most Christians as the “faith chapter”, and those listed in it are universally believed to now be in heaven with their God, having “died in faith”. Verse 1 of that chapter describes for us the activity of genuine faith:  “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith gives substance to or makes real what God has promised and “prepared for them that love Him”.¹

No natural, unregenerate mind will ever be able, by natural means of perception (eyes and ears), to perceive, understand, or substantiate what God has done and will yet do in the world and in the heavens through His Son Jesus Christ. The Scripture is clear: IF the princes of this world could have understood God’s secret, this “mystery” that Christians have long “hoped for” and “seen”, then they by all means would have sought to preserve the life of the Lord of glory. But it is precisely because the natural man cannot receive nor know the things of the Spirit of God¹ (since they are spiritually discerned), that we can say with confidence that this “hidden wisdom” requires absolutely “a special kind of faith”. It is faith given by the Spirit of God, who uses the Word of God to quicken the soul of a man. Only then can he “see the kingdom of God” with the eyes of faith.²  (I have written more on the subject of new birth at this link.)

I recently enjoyed a few verses in Matthew 17 regarding faith.  The Lord takes care to qualify the faith that is required to move mountains (both physical and figurative).  It’s exactly the same kind of faith possessed by those saints referred to in Hebrews 11:33-35a, who accomplished seemingly impossible things because their faith was of a special variety.  It had the character of a “mustard seed”.  Now some have made much of the minuscule size of the mustard seed, and have felt that the Lord was simply emphasizing the fact that a little faith is enough to accomplish impossible things when the object of that faith is Christ. I will not dispute the truth of that point of view, except to say that there is more in this passage than the effectiveness of a small amount of faith. After all, why did the Lord chide Peter and others for having but “little faith”, seemingly relegating that poverty of faith to a place not much better than being “faithless”?³

It is instructive that the Lord Jesus did not speak of faith using any of the small and lifeless objects He references in other contexts.  Faith cannot be likened to a mote or a mite or a hair.  Real faith, saving and justifying faith, is living and potent in its primordial state as a seed, when its potential is least obvious to natural perception.  There is no doubt that the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, is of supreme importance; but it takes a supernatural work of the Spirit of God in the individual soul (II Thessalonians 2:13) to impart the quality of faith that is pleasing to God, and that lays hold of His infinite provision for our eternal blessing in Christ.

 

¹  I Corinthians 2:6-14    ²  Ephesians 2:8;  John 3:3    ³ Compare Matthew 14:31 and 16:8 with 17:17-20.

Why Do You Go To Church?

This question may strike you in one way or another, depending upon your background and frame of reference. Some might point out what ought to be obvious, that believers in Christ cannot “go to church” because they are the church, or even more properly, the assembly of God. For hundreds of years in the English-speaking world, nonconformist Christians (those who dissented from the great establishment religious systems) spoke of going to “meetings” of the saints, while going “to church” was for those who passed through the doors of ornate or expensive structures they called “churches”. By way of illustrating this, consider this historical fragment: The picturesque and famous Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, was named after the White Meeting House of the dissenting Presbyterian denomination in 1685. Prior to that, Meeting Street was called “Church Street”, because the establishment St Phillip’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church was located there, until it moved a block to the east where it still presides over, that’s right, the current Church Street.

But I have digressed. No doubt it is the spirit of the matter of assembling as Christians, rather than accurate terminology, that is of greatest importance to the Lord Jesus, but our terminology ought to reflect our reverence for the privilege of meeting as members of His body, the church.

Now there are certainly more important questions for believers to think upon with regard to their ecclesiastical associations. Here is one such question:  To what extent should an assembly of Christians be occupied with growing their number, and how should that growth be pursued?  Churches have tried many methods over the centuries for adding souls to their attendance rolls or for keeping them there, often seemingly without considering these innovations in the light of the Word of God. Let’s examine a few of these methods here:

  1. Appointing a minister or pastor to serve the congregation in preaching the gospel, teaching the Bible, administering the Lord’s Supper, baptizing converts, counseling individuals, and more. This arrangement serves to take pressure off those who are called “lay people”, who may then not be encouraged to exercise the gift they have been given by the ascended Christ,¹ since the exhortation given by the apostle Paul to “every one of you” in I Corinthians 14:24-40 is rendered obsolete or inapplicable under a clergy system. Spiritual retirement or relaxation in the care of an ordained clergy or ministry may be attractive to many, for we are all naturally lazy in spiritual things. Even Timothy needed to be encouraged to not neglect the gift within him, and his teaching gift was given in a prophetic manner with the fellowship of elders (I Timothy 4:14-16); how much more do we need encouragement to exercise our gift in the assembly! I ought never to delegate my God-given role to someone else whom the Lord has not gifted to carry on the work He has called me to do for Him.
  2. Replacing what is often called congregational singing with instrumental music, choir singing, or a “music ministry” replete with a worship leader and contemporary band. Our God values highly the singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” for mutual encouragement and in “worship by the Spirit of God”², but the use of instrumental music is conspicuously absent in New Testament assembly worship. It was not until the 10th century or later that instruments were introduced into the Western (Catholic) church, and it is a telling fact that a capella singing is still the norm in the Russian and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Nevertheless, these musical innovations in Christian worship are effective in attracting people to churches, and rare is the Christian group that maintains the old path³ of spiritual worship not enhanced by artificial methods.
  3. De-emphasizing Biblical doctrine or sound Scriptural exegesis, and avoiding the deep, abstract portions of the New Testament, in favor of programs that focus almost exclusively on practical Christian living, or even on a successful natural life in this world.  In many circles, doctrine has the reputation  of causing divisions and strife among believers. Whether or not doctrine is the true root cause of problems, churches often attract and keep members by staying away from difficult subjects like predestination, eternal security, the Lord’s coming, or even justification, sanctification and eternal life. The writer to the Hebrews (likely Paul) lamented this tendency of many early Christians to require and desire an on-going diet of “milk”, while avoiding the “strong meat” of the deep doctrinal principles that go along with spiritual growth (Hebrews 5:12-14). Offering only “milk” in an assembly of Christians may draw crowds, but it has a stunting effect.

There have been many other new ideas and practices brought into the Christian profession over the centuries, and some of them, like the indulgences that Martin Luther preached against, have thankfully fallen out of favor.  But although it may not be popular and attractive to follow the plain and simple “old paths” and the “good way”, yet we have a pattern set clearly before us in the New Testament doctrine of the church, and in maintaining that pattern, earnest and seeking souls may find rest³ and the comfort of the Scriptures.

What ought to attract the Christian’s heart is the Lord Jesus Christ, that glorified Head of the body, who has promised to be in the midst of even a very few saints gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). And where Jesus is, human innovations deserve no place.

 

¹   Ephesians 4:7-16; I Corinthians 12    ²  Ephesians 5:19; Philippians 3:3      ³  Jeremiah 6:16

 

A Flood of Righteousness

In our home there hangs a beautiful photograph of Avalanche Creek flowing through a narrow gorge in Glacier National Park. The Scripture that accompanies the scene is taken from the book of Amos:  “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” That text provides me comfort when I grieve in my spirit over the flood of unrighteousness and humanism that covers our world today, causing a deepening moral darkness even in places where Christianity once had an enlightening effect upon society.  The reason for my hope has nothing to do with man’s schemes or programs, nor has it primarily to do with the gospel of the grace of God, as powerful as those “glad tidings” are now in the salvation of individual souls from despair and judgment to come. The implication of this verse in Amos 5, and of many others like it, is that in spite of man’s blatant disregard for God’s claims on him throughout the ages, there is coming a time when “a King shall reign in righteousness”, and when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”¹

The scriptural concept of righteousness entails much more than a humanistic “no harm, no foul” attitude in which a sin or a transgression only occurs if another person suffers some harm or damage to his or her welfare.  Joseph C. Sommer has described the belief system he is dedicated to in this way:  “Humanism is a philosophy of life that considers the welfare of humankind – rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods – to be of paramount importance.” In this statement we find the claims of a Creator, the living and true God, to be completely set aside.  But the doctrine of the “righteousness of God” maintains that God must act consistently with His own holy character in judging man for lawlessness and disobedience toward his Creator. So, for example, if God forbids and condemns fornication (sexual immorality), as He does consistently throughout the Bible, then He must mete out punishment for that unrighteousness in order to maintain His own righteousness, regardless of whether another person seems to have suffered harm or not (Romans 1:16-32).

In order for there to be an appreciation for the expectation that “the sin of the world” is soon to be taken away by judgment, there must be a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), and it ought to be clear to us that God’s righteousness is the measure or standard here. The Lamb of God was once slain to provide the righteous basis for sin’s removal, which will begin to be accomplished when He comes to “judge the world in righteousness”, ruling the nations “with a rod of iron” for 1000 years.²  For those who now believe on the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no more guilt or imputation of sin, for God in perfect righteousness dealt with Christ on the cross of Calvary, and “raised [Him] again for our justification.”  Justification means God declares the believer righteous because He has accepted Christ’s perfect work on our behalf (Romans 3-5:11).

Do you look forward to that future period when the Lord Jesus will reign in righteousness, vindicating God’s righteous claims on the man He created? Even if you are doubtful about Christ’s reign in a literal millennium, are you not as a believer in Him looking forward to the time when righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth (II Peter 3:13)? Do not be deceived by the humanist deception  that magnifies the importance of real or imagined social evils  at the expense of the truth that all unrighteousness is preeminently an affront to a holy God who dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:14-16).  The Law, the prophets, the Lord Jesus, and the apostles all gave first priority to the claims of God upon His creature man, and references could be multiplied as evidence for that assertion.³

Righteousness will yet vanquish evil in the world, like the waters of a flood (Isaiah 28:1-18), and what a blessed thing that will be for the earth, and for those who love Christ’s appearing. But most importantly, what a glorious vindication of the righteousness of our God, who in love sent His only Son, so that all who believe “might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

 

¹  Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 11:9    ²  John 1:29;  Acts 17:31; Psalm 2:8-9; Revelation 20:1-6    ³  Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 51:4; Mark 12:30-31; Acts 9:4