Growing in Faith

Growing in Faith

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"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).

In the previous chapters we saw the Bible's definition of faith. We considered examples of faith in action in the people of God. We learned that we must have faith to receive God's gift of salvation. In our faithless age (Luke 18:8), how can we develop living, active faith?

Don't be discouraged if you think you lack faith. Sometimes people who profess belief in God are deeply ashamed when a crisis occurs and they find their faith is weak. This may happen to you. But don't despair. The Bible shows that even men and women of powerful faith struggled at times with faith-testing challenges.

The Bible relates their anguish as they wrestled with their trials. Hebrews 11:34 tells us that "out of weakness [they] were made strong." These men and women grew in faith through the crucible of challenges and—at times—setbacks and failures.

Jeremiah's example

The prophet Jeremiah was just such a man. He was one of the people listed in the faith chapter who suffered "chains and imprisonment" (Hebrews 11:36; compare Jeremiah 37:15-16). Jeremiah's captors not only imprisoned him, but they lowered him into a "dungeon"—an abandoned cistern that was deep with mud at the bottom (Jeremiah 38:6). This was the third time Jeremiah was imprisoned and the most harsh. His situation was so dire that he nearly died (Jeremiah 38:10).

Jeremiah’s captors lowered him into a “dungeon”—an abandoned cistern. His situation was so dire that he nearly died, but Jeremiah triumphed through faith in God and was delivered from the dungeon and from death.

Jeremiah's undeserved imprisonment was the culmination of a long period of abuse he suffered at the hands of his own people. God had called him to prophesy and warn the people of Judah that, because of their sins, their kingdom would fall to foreign invaders. Rather than repenting and heeding God's warnings, the people turned on Jeremiah and hated him. They tried to assassinate him (Jeremiah 11:19-21). They accused him of treason; they arrested him, brought him before the king and imprisoned him.

In the face of such determined opposition, Jeremiah struggled spiritually. He had not wanted to prophesy in the first place (Jeremiah 1:4-8). He voiced his misgivings and essentially accused God of forcing him to be a prophet (Jeremiah 20:7). At one point he decided he would no longer speak God's word (Jeremiah 20:9), yet he found his convictions compelling him to continue. As his struggle continued, he wished he had never lived (Jeremiah 20:14).

Jeremiah's life was an endless struggle. His was not the smug, sunny faith of a man impervious to doubt. The Bible instead records the all-too-human battle of a troubled and sometimes weary man. But Jeremiah triumphed through faith in God. He cried out to His Creator: "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved . . . You are my hope in the day of doom" (Jeremiah 17:14-17).

God delivered Jeremiah from the dungeon and from death. Today we recognize Jeremiah as a great Hebrew prophet. More important, he gained the approval of God and awaits the resurrection of the righteous. Jeremiah's life was not easy, but his faith matured throughout his trials.

Many other men and women of the Bible who professed faith in God cried out when their belief wavered in difficult times. Choosing to obey and serve God will lead to difficulties that challenge our faith. Paul tells us that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). We need to go to God asking for His help to build a loving, trusting, faithful relationship with Him that will enable us to endure such trials.

You may find yourself like the father who came to Christ with a severe problem: His son was demon-possessed, and the father wanted Christ to heal him. When Jesus told him "all things are possible to him who believes," the man knew his faith was weak. In his anguish and tears he cried out to Christ, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24).

Jesus did not condemn or refuse to help the man whose faith was weak. Nor will He turn us away when our faith is weak. But there is something we should do under these circumstances.

Grow in faith

God expects us to grow in faith. It is crucial that we grow in faith, because it is impossible to have a relationship with God without it (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is one of our most precious possessions and a key to everything important. It is because we have faith that we can receive the commendation and approval of God. Those whose examples of faith are recorded for us in Hebrews 11 were "commended for their faith" in God (Hebrews 11:39, NIV).

Because they had faith, God will resurrect them at the return of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). Faith is a crucial key to the Kingdom of God and eternal life.

As discussed earlier, we cannot muster up faith on our own and determine we will never doubt or question again. Instead, true, living faith emerges as a result of a maturing relationship with God. Let's notice what we can do to strengthen this most important of all our relationships.

Vital importance of prayer

We begin our journey to living a life of faith by asking God for it. It is His will that we have faith, and He is willing to give it to us (Luke 11:9). We should pray to God for faith, and we should pray for it often (Luke 18:1). Prayer for faith should be an integral and regular part of our lives.

Many scriptures show that we need to maintain daily contact with God (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3; 2 Corinthians 4:16). King David, to ensure a close relationship with God, prayed three times every day (Psalm 55:16-17). The prophet Daniel similarly prayed three times daily (Daniel 6:10).

Prayer, along with study of the Scriptures, is a vital part of conversation with God. It is a way of expressing our love, as well as our concerns, to Him. This heartfelt communication with God increases faith.

Prayer also results in God responding to us. Notice this promise from Scripture: "You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29).

If we devote ourselves to earnest prayer and ask for faith, God will not refuse us. He wants to give us spiritual gifts just as a loving parent wants to feed a hungry child (Luke 11:11-12). Jesus promised that whatever we asked in His name God would grant to us (John 14:13; John 15:16; John 16:23).

Read the Bible regularly

In prayer we talk to God. When we read the Bible, we let God talk to us through His Word.

The Bible tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Let us remember what faith is. In its simplest form, faith is believing God will do what He says He will do (Romans 4:20-21). To know what God says to us, we must read the Bible, God's revealed words to man. It tells us how He wants us to live. It tells us what He will do for us. It includes many accounts of His dealings with and intervention for individuals and all mankind.

As you regularly read the Bible and pray, you will grow in faith in two ways. First, you will learn what God promises. He makes promises you can claim. Second, the inspiring stories of the Bible will reassure you and help strengthen your faith.

Speaking of the Holy Scriptures, Paul said, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4, NIV). As our hope increases, our faith increases. The two are intertwined. (Read the free Bible study guide booklets Is the Bible True? and How to Understand the Bible. They can help you learn more from your study of the Bible, strengthening and building your faith.)

Obey God

Another necessary step to grow in faith is to do what God says. We must heed His commands.

Many people do not have a proper understanding of obedience. On the one hand, some think they can earn eternal life by their deeds. They fail to understand that salvation is God's undeserved gift to us (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8) and that we could never earn this priceless gift by our own efforts. At the other extreme are those who want God to accept them just as they are and have no intention of making any changes in their lives.

A bricklayer knows a wall doesn’t spring up in a moment. He must build it a little at a time, brick by brick. In the same way, we develop and enrich our faith through frequent, regular contact with God.

Heartfelt obedience is a statement—an expression—of faith. It is empowered by faith—being, with the help of God's Spirit, our grateful response to all that God has done and promises He will yet do for us as well as the way of life we now want to live (drawing near to God and becoming more like Him). Jesus promised that any who obey Him will enjoy a special bond with Him and the Father: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23).

This shows us we can grasp the reality of the presence of Jesus and the Father if we obey Them.

The link between obedience and faith is evident throughout the Bible. If we have faith, it should be evident by our conduct. (See "How Faith Empowers Obedience—and More Faith".) The faithful men and women of the Bible had this in common.

However, heartfelt obedience to God requires a good understanding of His law. To learn why God gave us His law and to understand the fundamental principles found in the Ten Commandments, read the Bible study guide The Ten Commandments.

You'll walk with God

If you live a life of prayer, studying the Bible and obeying God, you will develop a close relationship with Him. As you walk with God, your faith will grow. To walk with God is to have deep faith. Enoch and Noah are two examples in the Bible described in just such terms (Genesis 5:22; Genesis 6:9).

Walking with God means a daily relationship with Him of earnestly and consistently seeking His will. When you live a godly life, walking with God with a pure heart, you grow in faith.

Frequent, regular contact with God is essential because faith is a by-product of godly living. Faith increases over time. A bricklayer knows a wall doesn't spring up in a moment. He must build it a little at a time, brick by brick. In the same way, we develop and enrich our faith through frequent, regular contact with God.

When your faith is tested

Everyone who has faith is tested. The Bible says such tests of our faith, which is "more precious than gold," are necessary (1 Peter 1:6-7). Although gold will ultimately perish, our faith will forever be a part of us when we are resurrected at the return of Jesus Christ.

Trials and problems are not pleasant. When they hit us, they may at first seem terrible, traumatic and even devastating. But trials are opportunities to build faith and grow spiritually.

When the guards cast Daniel into the lions' den (Daniel 6:1-28), he didn't know what his physical fate would be. He had been commanded to pay idolatrous homage to a man. He refused. Although he didn't know what would happen to him, he knew the only right thing was to obey God, even if it meant his death. He refused to compromise, and God saved him from the lions.

However, before God delivered him, Daniel had to put his trust in God. He knew that, even if God did not deliver him from the lions right then, God would nevertheless deliver him ultimately, as his future with God was assured for eternity.

Anyone who decides to follow Christ will eventually face tests. You may be asked to compromise with the truth God reveals in His Word. The genuineness of your faith may be tested in such a moment of truth. How will you fare?

As we have learned, God is kind and understanding toward our weaknesses, but He nevertheless requires that we go forward in faith. In times of testing we must seek His wisdom even more earnestly. We must pray for Him to show us His will.

We should seek wise spiritual counsel (Proverbs 24:6). Then, with His courage and faith within us, we should move forward.

Since God may allow smaller trials to fall on us to prepare us for bigger trials that lie ahead, we should daily strengthen our faith. If we do not practice trust in God until a major crisis arises, we will find the going much more difficult.

Living a life of prayer, Bible study and humble obedience to God clarifies and strengthens our faith. We can't always choose the time in our lives for a faith-testing crisis, but if we seek God now we can be much better equipped when such a test arises.

Faith in the promise of the Kingdom of God

Like the prophet Daniel, we should have faith and hope in the promise of the Kingdom of God and all it entails. The Kingdom of God is the eternal realm that Jesus Christ will establish on earth at His return. It will supersede all other earthly governments and last forever (Daniel 2:44).

Before God delivered him, Daniel had to put his trust in God. He knew that, even if God did not deliver him from the lions right then, God would nevertheless deliver him ultimately.

The saints—the servants of God—will rule forever in that Kingdom (Daniel 7:18). Any sacrifice we are called on to make for that future reward will pale in comparison to the greatness and magnificence of the reward God has in store for us (Romans 8:18). (To better understand the awesome truth about the Kingdom of God as Christ taught, be sure to read the Bible study guide The Gospel of the Kingdom.)

We will inherit the Kingdom in the resurrection to eternal life at Christ's return (1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Our belief in this coming Kingdom is, in itself, an act of faith. This is because we do not now see the Kingdom of God, but God tells us it will be a reality. To inherit a future of such magnitude and glory calls for us to live by faith.

A life of faith may require that we, at times, step into uncomfortable situations. We may find ourselves in circumstances in which we can no longer be assured of our customary comforts. Even our personal safety may be threatened. In such times we must stay focused on the Kingdom of God. After all, "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, NIV).

Our faith takes its stand based on the sure Word of God, which stands forever: "All flesh is as grass . . . But the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25). The people of faith whose stories the Bible preserves for us took their stand on the Word of God. They believed God.

God promises a better reward (Hebrews 11:40) for those who devote their lives to seeking the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Even though this life has its pleasant moments, Paul kept the proper perspective: "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8, NIV).

God promises us eternal life at the resurrection. In the meantime, He will comfort us when serving Him brings painful sacrifices (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Maintaining a clear vision of the magnificent future and remembering God's promise of comfort help us develop living faith.

The calling to a knowledge of and faith in the Kingdom of God is a precious one. Not everyone is called to understand or receive it in this age (Luke 8:10).

Understanding these truths of God is a gift from Him. If you understand them, God is calling you to participate in His great plan. To claim this gift you must act on it. Follow the advice of Hebrews 6:12 and "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Begin now to develop the living faith that will see you through the trials of this life and into the coming Kingdom of God!