The Outward Design of Faithfulness

by | Aug 31, 2020 | Knowing the Faithfulness of Christ in All of Life, Featured

As Christian, we all know the mundane, daily plodding along of faithfulness. The early morning rising—perhaps before the sun kisses the horizon—to pray and read our Bibles. The ordinary work of discipling our children in God’s Word. The every day choice of obedience over sin, of thankfulness rather than complaint. The walk (or perhaps light jog if you’re running late) to the pew each Sunday. These are some of the ordinary acts of faithfulness we do throughout our weeks.

These acts of faithfulness can, at times, seem so personal and pertinent to only ourselves, that over time our eyes slowly turn inward. Our self-centered hearts have a habit of turning us inward, even when something is meant to drive us outward to our neighbour and upward to God. How do we recognize this self-centered bend? How do we keep our gaze where it’s supposed to be in this daily plodding along?

The Tempting Inward Bend of Faithfulness

We each know the temptation to make everything about ourselves. Much of life today comes with the option of personalizing it to our liking. There’s a lot of focus on discovering who we are and our own identities. We want things done our way and on our timing. If we trace many of our sins back to their root, we can often find a selfish intention from which they sprung up.

We are likewise tempted to do the same with faithfulness. We easily turn inward and make faithfulness to God less about God and more about proving our own worth and abilities. We examine our faithfulness to boost our self-esteem and confidence. We employ faithfulness to make us more knowledgeable and wiser for our own sakes. We compare our faithfulness with that of our siblings in Christ to see how good we are in comparison.

And as we harness faithfulness in these ways, we dig deep inside ourselves for our own strength to do so. We put our heads down and plow through the rocky soil of our hearts and minds, wiping the sweat from our brows and telling ourselves, “Just keep pushing.” As Michael Horton wrote, “Rather than placing our trust in God, we learn to trust in our own piety and devotion. Our tireless service is driven more by a desire for self-justification and self-acclaim than by being secure in Christ enough to tend now to the actual needs of others.”[1]

But what if faithfulness has much less to do with ourselves? What if faithfulness wasn’t only for our own good? What if faithfulness wasn’t accomplished by our own brute and muscle?

Faithfulness in God’s Power

While there’s an aspect in which we need to be killing sin, picking up our Bibles, pausing to pray, and doing the ordinary disciplines of the Christian life, we must recognize that those habits aren’t accomplished by our own abilities. As Nick Batzig wrote:

We do not come to Christ by faith for justification and then depart from Him for sanctification. In Christ our sins are pardoned, and in Him the reign of sin is overthrown. The same Christ who justified us also sanctifies us; therefore, the same faith that justifies us also sanctifies us (John 15:1–5). John Owen captured this truth magnificently when he wrote, “While by faith we contemplate the glory of Christ as revealed in the Gospel, all grace will thrive and flourish in us towards a perfect conformity unto Him.” By union with Christ, believers have power to put indwelling sin to death (Col. 2:20–3:17). With the apostle, we answer the question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” with the joyful exclamation: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[2]

We were saved by the grace of God for good works and called to be saints. But he didn’t save us and leave us to sort it out by ourselves. Rather, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). Our faithfulness is through Christ. By being united to him in salvation, the grasp sin once had on us is broken. “Christ came not only to cancel sin’s debt; he came also to break its power.”[3] We are able to obey faithfully because God is working in us and through us.

Early on in my faith, I believed my faithfulness was all up to me. I frequently—perhaps even daily at times—examined myself and questioned my own salvation. Was I trying hard enough? Was I doing enough? Was I proving faithful to God? It was agonizing to look at my heart each day and see how I continued to fall short. Each day felt like a dreary plowing forward through muck while I only sank deeper with each step. Though I finally understood that I was saved by grace alone, I had yet to realize I was sanctified by grace alone too.

In order to live faithfully, we need to rely on Christ. We won’t make any progress in faithfulness by our own sweat alone. It’s only by first resting in our union with Christ.

Faithfulness to God’s Glory

Faithfulness isn’t only in God’s power, but it’s also to his glory. Though we may not recognize it, we sometimes yield our faithfulness into something to bring us glory. We use it to prove our goodness and worth—to our neighbour and God. Faithfulness becomes a tool for our own glory.

But faithfulness isn’t intended for our glory. We belong to God as his workmanship, created for his glory, to do good works in service and worship to him. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[4] All that we do, whatever we do, should first be for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we lose sight of this, our faithfulness becomes faithfulness to and for ourselves.

Yet we are far from deserving of any glory. Each of us has fallen short of God’s design (Romans 3:23). To bring glory to ourselves is futile and foolish. But as those who have been graciously redeemed despite our sins, we should love to bring glory to God. We don’t work to prove ourselves faithful to God. We step forward in faithfulness because he first loved us (1 John 4:19), and so we want to bring glory to his good name.

Faithfulness in Community

While faithfulness may seem like a solitary work—the daily work of waking up early to read our Bibles and pray, mortifying personal sins, finding ways we can love and serve our neighbours—it’s a work we’re called to do in community with our siblings in Christ. As the writer of Hebrews reminded his readers, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).

It’s easy to draw inward on ourselves as we seek to be faithful, even to the point of neglecting fellowship. But we need one another to encourage, guide, correct, and at times even carry us. Let’s go deeper than surface-level accountability, simply asking each other if we’ve been faithful in our spiritual disciplines. Let’s get to the hearts of one another and redirect one another’s gazes to our hope in Christ’s return.

I’ve been tempted to neglect fellowship both at times when I’m doing well and when I’ve been neglectful. During the times of the easy plodding along, we don’t think we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. And during times of negligence, we want to hide our lack of faithfulness. But in all seasons, of both lack and plenty, we need our siblings in the faith to keep us focused on Christ—to remind us of the grace that we have in him when we fail, and the grace we need to continue when we’re doing well.

Together, let’s press on in faithfulness—by the power of the grace we have in Christ, and for God’s glory alone.

[1] Michael Horton, Ordinary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014), 36.

[2] Nick Batzig, “The Secret of Sanctification,” Ligonier Ministries, August 14, 2020, accessed August 14, 2020, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/secret-sanctification/).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 1.

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