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Fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

April 21st, 2008 · No Comments

Purpose

Vol. 2 Issue 8February 21, 2008
The weekly newsletter of True Potential Publishing

Faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary has a pretty extensive entry under “Faith/Faithfulness.” You’d expect that. “Faith” and “faithfulness” are pretty big subjects in the Bible. But here’s the part in the Holman’s definition that caught my eye: “… faith (a human response to God) and faithfulness (a virtue of God and his servants).”

It seems like we keep coming back to the idea that these attributes (the fruit of the Spirit) that God wants us to have are really attributes of God Himself. We’ve lived under this idea (at least I have) that the Bible is a list of rules for human behavior: “God wants you to be good, to be faithful, to be kind, to be gentle, to love, to experience joy, to have peace.” But the bigger message is that God is good, God is kind, God is gentle, God is the author of love, joy and peace. God is saying, simply, “Be like Me.”

It’s a lot more personal than I had imagined.

So, in light of Holman’s definition, what’s the difference between “faith” and “faithfulness”? To me, it’s the difference between an act and a habit.

When I was first presented with the Gospel, the message of who God is and how He wants to interact with me; and I either had to accept that it might be true or might not be true. If I accepted that the message might be true I had to believe in it enough to act on it. When I acted on it, that was faith.

That initial act of faith may not have been too powerful on my account, I probably just raised my hand in public or mouthed a silent prayer; but it was sufficient as far as God was concerned … for the moment.

*****

If you’re old enough, you remember what a “Red Man Writing Tablet” was. It had a red paper cover with a picture of an Indian on the front. The pages were a sort of wood-pulpy grayish-white and they had rows of lines printed on them. Each row consisted of a solid top and bottom line with a dashed line in the middle.

These were the tablets on which we practiced writing our ABC’s in first grade. We were taught to stay inside the lines and that the capital letters reached from top to bottom, but the lower-case letters couldn’t come above dashed line in the middle (unless they had little sticks like b’s and d’s). My six year-old intuition told me that that’s why they were called “lower-case.”

Technically, I learned to write when I was six. Upper-case, lower-case, Aa, Bb, Cc; I knew ‘em all, all twenty-six of them. That was my first act of writing.

As the years went by and I progressed through the first grade, second grade and beyond; I practiced and my writing advanced. By third grade I was learning cursive. By sixth grade I was writing stories. By eighth grade I had a pen-pal in Belgium. The older I got the more I learned what writing was all about.

Today I’m pushing fifty and still writing. Some days I do a lot better than those stories I wrote in grade school … some days I wonder. I know this however; I’m a lot better at writing today than I was that first day I put pencil to my Red Man tablet. I’m hoping that ten years from now I’ll be a lot better at writing than I am today. It’s a progression; a habit. The more I practice it the more I learn.

*****

That’s about as close as I can come to explaining faith and faithfulness. For us, faith is that first act; like the first time I focused all my concentration on making that first “A a”. Then it’s on to the next act and the next. Each act of faith grows us just a little.

With each act of faith we become just a little more comfortable with acting out our faith. By persistence we get better; but then the challenges to our faith tend to get a little bigger too. That’s a good thing.

It’s like writing lessons. The lessons I faced in fifth grade composition were a lot tougher than those I conquered in third grade cursive. They planned it that way. It was a progression. I was supposed to be making progress with each lesson; tackling tougher problems as I practiced.

Faith is a progression. Each lesson is a little tougher than the last. When that progression becomes a habit, or as Holman says, “a virtue,” faith becomes faithfulness. Faithfulness is a kind of running record of acting on faith.

Another thing I noticed was that the Bible mentions God’s faithfulness several times, but never states that God has faith or acted on faith.

Faithfulness is a sign that, through the Holy Spirit, we’re taking on God’s attributes; having faith or acting on faith isn’t an attribute of God. That’s our territory only. God doesn’t need faith and He doesn’t need to act on faith. But He is faithful.

Faith, according to Webster, is “trust, confidence, complete acceptance of a truth which cannot be demonstrated or proved by the process of logical thought.”

That’s why God doesn’t need faith. He’s the author of all truth; He was there at the beginning and He will be there at the ending of all things. As a matter of fact, ideas like beginning and ending don’t have the same relevance to God as they do to us; because He exists beyond our sense of time and space; beyond past and future. He knows the past and future because He is in the past and He is in the future. He’s not “was” or “going to be.” He just is. That concept defies man’s logic; which is exactly why we need faith and He doesn’t.

Faithfulness is another matter. Faithfulness denotes “reliability” or “trustworthiness to adhere to an original precept.”

Faithfulness, on God’s side of the equation, means that He can be trusted to reliably complete what He started or bring about what He promised. Faithfulness, on man’s side of the equation, if faith is defined as “mans response to God,” means a reliability in responding to God.

To respond to God by trusting that what He says is true and then acting upon it is faith. To make a habit of reliably responding to God by trusting that what He says is true and continually acting upon it is faithfulness.

Faithfulness then, in the relationship between you and God, is God reliably doing what He says He will do and you trusting that He will and reliably acting on it.

So how do you develop the “virtue” of faithfulness? Practice, practice practice.

Respond to God. Trust that what He’s saying is true, in spite of your ability to justify it logically. Act (another word for obey) based on what you know God wants you to do and trust that He’ll keep His promise. Do it over and over again until it becomes part of your resume. That’s faithfulness.

God doesn’t expect you to live a life of blind trust though. He’ll throw evidence your way that your faith is working. Be prepared though. Like I said, this faithfulness stuff is a process. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, a challenge comes along that your logic can’t cope with. That’s why it’s called faith; each step gets a little bigger.

I really don’t think that Jesus was just being metaphorical when he told his disciples, “… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

We make it a metaphor because we don’t believe it; it defies our logic. But that’s kind of the point of faith, isn’t it? What defies your logic right now? What’s the thing you know you’re supposed to do that you can’t do because it’s impossible?

If God says that nothing is impossible and you “respond to God” by obeying Him even though the chances of success “cannot be demonstrated or proved by the process of logical thought.” Then you’re acting on faith.

You act on faith, God proves Himself faithful, and the thing your logic told you was impossible yesterday is now possible. Your logic readjusts and you’re ready to move up the next “impossible” task. It’s a progression. Keep at it long enough and moving the mountain doesn’t seem so metaphorical.

*****

By the way, I didn’t learn to write that day I scratched my first capital A on the Red Man page. I haven’t finished learning to write yet. It’s a process, a progression.

If you think “faithfulness” began and ended the day you lifted your hand in church or mouthed a silent prayer, think again. That was an act of faith; your first but not your last. “Faithfulness” is a progression. If you’re sitting fat and happy in the Christian life and your faith hasn’t been challenged for a while, you’d better check your progress.

The Holy Spirit’s job is to mold you into the likeness of God. How you know that’s working is demonstrated when you start taking on attributes that belong to God; kindness, goodness, faithfulness – the fruit of the Holy Spirit. “Fruit” means “produce” or “product” or “result.” The end result of the Holy Spirit doing its work in you is that you begin to take on the likeness of God. It’s not a single event; it’s a lifelong process.

I promise, you’re not there yet; neither am I. But we will be one day. That’s the way He meant for us to be in the beginning and that’s the way we will to be in the end.

Until next week, In Him,

Steve Spillman

Tags: faith · God's purpose · love · purpose

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