Fruits of the Spirit -Faith or Faithfulness
Fruits of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22
Faith or Faithfulness
We have been working our way through the fruits of the Spirit revealed to us in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians – and today’s subject is Faithfulness.
You will be aware that the underlying topic of faith is a massive one that could occupy us for many weeks. I will only be touching lightly on it. However, our understanding of faith is pivotal to our understanding of our christian walk – can I encourage you to study the subject yourself!
Before I address our particular topic, I think it is wise to review the background to the listing of the Fruits of The Spirit.
THE GALATIAN PROBLEM
The Galatians were having problems with bad teaching and this was leading them to move away from the truth of the gospel. In fact this was a problem that Paul had to deal with throughout his ministry and it explains Paul’s attention to the concept of salvation by grace through faith.
You see there was a cultural problem. For all of their history the Jews had seen themselves as the chosen people of God – for a fairly good reason – as God had said that they were. However, they saw it on racial grounds, passed down as an inheritance. In fact, if a person who was not racially of the Jews wanted to worship God there was a requirement that they accept the law, demonstrated in men by circumcision. There was a mark of racial separation. Remember the racial hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus time. This was not just a philosophical belief, it was a very deeply ingrained concept. It was fundamental to their position – the law is God’s love-gift to his people and by fulfilling its requirements they could attain the righteousness of God.
And so now the young church dominated mostly by Jewish christians – that is christians who were of the jewish race – had a problem. They felt that it was necessary that a person first legally become a jew before that person could become a christian! They just couldn’t abandon this concept.
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers:
“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved”
It should be noted that in fact the reality of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was not well understood in the young church – particularly in Jerusalem. Don’t forget that we have all the New Testament writings – and years of theological analysis. They had the teaching of some of the Apostles and not all of them were as theologically astute as Paul became through God’s calling. And even Peter, who had been specifically called to the Gentiles strayed in his application.
Paul had visited the Galatians with Timothy and Silas soon after the issues were raised in Antioch, so you can be sure that Paul would have been most specific in his teaching of them – particularly has he had confronted the issue in Antioch.. So in Galatians 1:6 Paul exclaims
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all!
I don’t think that Paul could have put his concern more clearly.
Paul goes on to establish some important points
- That anybody who is teaching a gospel other than that which they accepted should be eternally condemned.
- That Paul himself is not interested in men’s approval.
- That Paul himself was called by God.
- That Paul himself was accepted by the other Apostles and that they agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles while they concentrated on the Jews.
- That he had to confront Peter for originally he had eaten with the Gentiles but due to perceived pressure from the ‘circumcision group’ had ceased doing so.
- That the difference in teaching was that the false teaching presented that justification could come from observing the law while the true gospel taught that justification comes from faith in Christ.
Paul then makes the basic statement of the whole epistle in 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
In the following chapter, Paul addresses the theological basis of the law and explains the history of it. He establishes that the covenant that God made with Abraham
- Included the Gentiles as well as the Jews
- Was made with Abraham and The Lord Jesus Christ specifically
- Preceded and was not set aside by the law
- Is inherited by faith
This is fairly important for us as Gentiles – the word used for all who are not Jewish.
So now we are all sons of God, in 3:26
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
In Chapter 4, Paul establishes that we as sons, are children of the covenant not children of the law – and that as children of the covenant or promise we are free. If we were children of the law we would still be bound by the law and would be slaves to it.
This point is again summarised in 5:5
But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Paul then goes on to talk about what that freedom means and what it doesn’t mean!
… but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love.
And he gives an instruction in verse 16
So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.
And by way of further teaching he lists for them some of the acts of the sinful nature and then the fruits of the Spirit.
Effectively then he concludes in 6:7 - 10
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Some important lessons are here for us
- It is very important why we do things. If we act to satisfy the law in the belief that following some prescribed rules for life will gain us righteousness, then we deceive ourselves – we are under the law and are condemned by it. If we act in response to the Spirit we can claim righteousness as an inheritance as a child of God – we are under grace and redeemed by it.
- We need to actively pursue what the Spirit wants for us – to sow to please the Spirit. We are not to be passive receptacles, like robots programmed to do the right thing – but active respondents to the moving of the Spirit within us.
- To do this, we need to be able to be moved by the Spirit and so must put aside our sinful nature. This is to be a conscious act – and if you read other epistles such as Ephesians you will find numerous exhortations about this.
So being under grace rather than under the law does not absolve us of striving to live in the Spirit. Paul makes it very clear that we are not expected to sit around waiting for the Spirit to move us but are to actively place ourselves where the Spirit can use us!
FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT – FAITH OR FATHFULNESS
The word used in the Bible is either faith or faithfulness – depending on the translation you use. But the greek word used is that used elsewhere in the Epistles for faith. I expect that various translators use the alternative based on their understanding of the context.
We actually have two different meanings – although they are related.
A dictionary definition of the noun, faith, is – great trust of confidence in something or someone.
Of the adjective, faithful, the definition is - loyal, true or not changing any of the details etc of the orginal, not engaging in other sexual relationship.
And from there the noun, faithfulness, is – the quality of being faithful to someone or something.
When we talk about faithfulness in normal context we think of words like
Fidelity, loyalty, piety, trustworthiness, dependability, constancy
That is, we think about the characteristic as a general characteristic rather than a specific one. The emphasis is on the characteristic and the subject – the person exhibiting faithfulness.
When we talk about faith in normal context we think of words like
Belief, certainty, confidence, conviction, dependence, reliance, sureness, truth
That is, we think about a specific trait rather than a general one. The emphasis is on the process and the object – the specific object of faith.
Now faithfulness does not mean being full of faith! In fact the bible talks about the faithfulness of God but God has no need of faith. But God is trustworthy, dependable, constant, loyal and true – faithful.
I guess the easiest way to explain the difference is to consider trust and trustworthy as similar to faith and faithfulness.
Both of these characteristics are true fruits of the Spirit.
Faith is a subject that pervades the bible. It is found in the Old Testament, in the Gospels, in Acts, in the Epistles and in John’s writings.
We often have difficulties with the abstract and philosophical nature of faith. Some of the other fruits of the Spirit are a bit easier – possibly because we can sense when they are absent as well as when they are present:
- We can often sense when love is expressed and know pretty clearly when it is not.
- We understand joy
- We can appreciate peace and identify it
- We do understand patience
- We can identify kindness
- We may have some difficulties with goodness – particularly if our judgement is tainted
- We know gentleness and
- We appreciate self control
But faith – well that is pretty much totally internal, isnt it? If we are talking about faith in God then its between us and God. For many, what we call faith is merely a fervent wish – perhaps hope as its used in today’s language. It tends to be belief in a single human dimension – the mind.
When God talks about faith – He does so in several dimensions. This is the true nature of faith. God sees faith as total commitment – not some intellectual exercise.
Faith is of the mind, but it is also of the will and the emotions.
And faith is a fruit of the Spirit. A life lived in the Spirit will bear faith and that faith will be demonstrated in our understanding, in what we do, and in what we feel!
I cannot stress enough how important this is. Its about the basis of our salvation. Its about the basis of our lives.
A life lived in the Spirit will bear all the things that are valued by God – love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self control.
The alternative that we find ourselves turning to – and the world turns to in religion – is to find some formula – if we do these things then we will be OK. Even some who understand that they are saved by the blood of Christ fall into this habit. So long as I go Church on Sundays and are involved in the activities of the church – even go to a Home Group during the week – and if I don’t cheat and if I give money to charity, if I am sober and responsible in my habits and so on – then everything is OK.
I am sorry – but without there FIRST being a life lived in the Spirit in faith and by grace then NONE of these things will bring righteousness before God! You see in the end, doing such things is a legal approach. The mosaic law has been replaced by an ad hoc value system but the approach is the same. The law God gave to Moses was good and all these activities are good. But in the end the law and the ad hoc value system condemns, we do not have the power of the Spirit to continue to do the ‘right’ thing and are then condemned by our value system or the law. Paul puts it in black and white in Gal 5:17
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.
But if I live by faith – all three dimensions of it – and live in the Spirit then because of the nature of the indwelling Spririt of God, I go to Church on Sundays and am involved in church activities, I go along to a Home Group, I don’t cheat, I give money to charity, I am sober and responsible in my habits and so much more! This is the way it must be.
So living in the Spirit brings the fruit of faith – and that faith is more than an intellectual exercise, it involves our will.
In the Old Testament, God’s faithfulness and covenant love are closely related
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
The most profound example of His faithfulness is the bond between God and the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. In spit of their unfaithfulness, God reminds them that he is betrothed to them in faithfulness. The Israelites were expected to respond in faithfulness to God because he had acted faithfully to them through the covenant.
In the New Testament, God also acts in faithfulness:
- He provides for both good and evil people (Matt 5:45)
- He rewards those who do his good will (Matt 6: 4,6,18)
- He provides a way out for believers in the midst of temptation (1 Cor 10:13)
- He remains faithful as he fulfills his promises (2 Cor 1:18-19)
- He remains faithful even in our faithlessness (2 Tim 2:13)
Christians, like the Israelites, are to respond to God in faithfulness.
- Trustworthy servants (apostles etc) must prove themselves to be faithful (1 Cor 4:2)
- Epaphrus and Tychius are identified as faithful ministers of Christ (Col 1:7, 4:7)
- Paul remains faithful in spite of tremendous pressure (1 Tim 1:12)
- Paul encourages Timothy to be faithful (2 Tim 1:3 fol)
As we have seen faithfulness is being dependable and trustworthy and as Christians it is particularly important that we remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. And for us to remain faithful to Him we need to properly understand our relationship to Him.
Again this is vital – how can we remain faithful if we are bogged down in some prescribed formula for life? If that were to be our ‘religion’we would not have the basis for our actions so when a situation arose, we might not have the response worked out. But if our faith is based on Christ and on a life lived by the Spirit, then the Spirit will show us how to remain faithful to the Lord.