Whenever somebody asks me how they can live the Christian life, or can actually do what the Bible talks about, or can start doing good works, or start producing good fruit, I will inevitably respond with something to the effect of: “By faith”. As the old Reformed slogan goes: “Faith Works”. This is something which, according to a blog I did a number of months ago on Faith and Works in the Letter of James (which can be found here), the New Testament agrees with.
But, have you ever paused to consider how faith works? How is it exactly that faith produces works? What does faith actually do? To say it in an even more complicated, but poetic, way: How does faith work to produce works?
Faith works by believing in something.
For example, say that you are hopelessly struggling with pornography, desperate for freedom from this horrendous sin, praying and pleading with God to help you. And, you come across Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How does this verse affect you?
It could make you feel sad or guilty, but that isn’t the point of the verse, it is supposed to result in ‘blessed-ness’, not guilt and sadness.
Or, it could challenge you to buck up and put to death the desires of the flesh. But, the question is, “Why would it result in this second response?” The only possible reason that it could result in that kind of response is if you want to “see God.” And, according to the verse, the only people who get to “see God” are those who are “pure in heart”. Now, you know that you aren’t pure in heart, but, by gum, you want to “see God”.
So, the verse works by promising all those who are pure in heart, ‘You will see God’. If you are pure in heart, the Lord Jesus Christ promises you today, you will see God. And that’s how the verse works. It makes a promise to us. And faith grabs onto that promise with both hands and says I want to see God. Faith clasps, clings and cleaves to that promise, preaching to itself, “Self, I need to see God. And the only way I will be able to see God is if I’m pure in heart. So, flesh, I am putting you to death, because I want to be pure in heart, so that I can see God.”
Faith apprehends the promise of being able to see God, and faith turns it into purity! That is, faith takes the promise, and turns it into works.
Let’s look at another example: Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
Read that passage again. How was Moses able to refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter? “By faith”. How was Moses able to choose to be mistreated rather then enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin? “By faith”. How was Moses able to consider reproach as being more valuable than the treasures of Egypt? “By faith”.
But how did Moses’ faith work to produce all of these things in his life? “For he was looking to the reward.” You see, Moses lived with one eye on the future. He lived his life with an understanding that “God exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6) And so, Moses wanted to be rewarded, and so he was able to seek God. He was able to refuse the fleeting pleasures of sin, because he believed that God would reward him.
Moses had faith. And that faith grasped onto the promise of a future reward. And, in so doing, that faith worked to produce fruit in Moses’ life. Moses’ faith converted the promise of a future reward into good works.
So, here’s the thing: If you want fruit in your life, give your faith something to work with. Give your faith something concrete to actually believe in. Find a promise and cling to it with dear life. Preach that promise to yourself. Spur and urge yourself to fulfil the condition of that promise.
Here’s an example promise that you can preach to yourself: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11). I preach that promise to myself all the time: Jason, walk uprightly, because if you do, God’s not going to withhold any good thing from you. You won’t miss out if you walk uprightly. You won’t be worse off for walking uprightly. God has already given you his Son, so of course he is willing to give you all things as well (see Rom 8:32). So, Jason, walk uprightly!