The Work of the Faith

Discussing faith and works together has become a difficult, anxiety-inducing exercise for most of the Body of Christ. This is not so much due to an identifiable point of disagreement as to the subconscious suspicion that what the other believes may be different and/or challenging to something we have been told. This again is a ploy of our carnal minds – to protect closely held convictions and opinions; to maintain control and comfort.

Rigid mindsets are generally dangerous things, built on arrogance and fear. There is nothing wrong with strong convictions – as long as those convictions are constructed on the diligent and humble study of God’s word.

Sadly, most of us lack the time required for diligent study, having given said time over to worldly pursuits. Consequently, we are left with someone else’s word as the final word for the doctrine of Jesus Christ (2John 1:9). This is particularly troublesome in regards to the foundational subjects of grace, faith and works.

At a minimum, every disciple of Jesus Christ should recognize and accept that there is more truth than they have yet learned. At the same time, they should be prepared to humbly offer what they have come to understand. And so, with a desire to learn more, I offer here my humble understanding of the work of faith – taken mostly from Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:14-26, and other noted NKJV passages).

Grace, faith and works cannot be understood apart from each other. Our faith – which is a gift of God – appropriates the grace of God. The grace of God manifests itself in His good works. His good works perfect (i.e., complete) our faith, as we walk in them. Faith without these works is dead (i.e., without effect). Because these works are His, we have no claim of credit for them.

God’s grace is the source and strength of His good work for both salvation and the ongoing good work that God does through and for us (Philippians 2:13). When the Scriptures speak of “your good works” (as in Matthew 5:16), it is speaking of the good works God is doing. We are instruments only. His good works are, therefore, justifiably for His name, kingdom and glory.

Work done without faith is also dead – dead works (Romans 14:23). It is possible to do great works that are dead to Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). The only way to ensure the works we are doing (i.e., walking in) are good is to know they are God’s. We must know His voice and obey when we hear Him. This level of intimacy is a critical success factor for our salvation, for the perfecting of our faith, and for reaching our potential as His workmanship.

With that out of the way, let’s look at a couple of passages that speak to the work of faith.

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 1Thessalonians 1:2-4

Notice that the first thing Paul remembers and acknowledges is their work of faith.

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2Thessalonians 1:11-12

Here we find Paul praying for God’s power to accompany their work of faith; and this, for the glory of Jesus’ name. This is “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. We are reminded that He is the God of all grace (1Peter 5:10) and our sufficiency is from Him (2Corinthians 3:5; 9:8).

The work of faith is described in Ephesians 3:20 as exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. This is the grace of God at work in and through us. Recognizing that nothing is impossible for Him, consider for a long moment that the “exceedingly abundantly above all” is “according to the power that works in us.”

The power that works in us is His working to will and do to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). It is the reason we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Why fear and trembling? I think there are at least two reasons. First, there is the obvious and natural fear that comes with being in the presence of His power.

Less obvious, but just as important, we should fear our carnal mind’s ability to inhibit His work. Few would knowingly and purposefully interfere with God’s work. However, many have failed to recognize the necessity of our participating with Him. He will not force Himself on us. We must surrender, sacrifice and submit.

And so we come to four disciplines for the work of faith.

The Disciplines for the Work of Faith

Trust – Trust is the door between obedience to the faith and the work of faith. The psalmist encourages us:

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Psalm 37:5-6

When it comes to trusting the LORD, the carnal mind is a puppet to Satan and the world. Satan repeats the same old lie, “You can’t trust Him. You can be your own god.” The world vigorously waves its hand, eagerly volunteering as a suitable substitute for our hope, security, and power. Our carnal mind plays along, desiring to maintain some level of control. This, of course, must be resisted.

On another front, the world endeavors to isolate us from the brethren and God. It persuades us that trusting someone other than ourselves is not worth the risk. We grow suspicious of others; faults and injuries are highlighted. We build walls and moats. We become protective and defensive.

And yes, this cancer has found its way into the church, where our carnal minds have become quite sophisticated at hiding our isolation. Tragically, we are playing right into the enemies’ hands.

The work of faith is very rarely done in isolation. Christ’s vision of the church is a closely-knit body (Ephesians 4:16) and a Bride that is without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27). The Bride making herself ready requires a cooperation beyond our capabilities.

Jesus prayed for the Father to unify us (John 17:21-23). We seem to be working against, rather than participating in His work. To right the ship, we must discipline ourselves to trust the Christ in each other.

Trusting Christ in others and trusting God for the outcome is an on-the-job discipline. You just have to get in there and do it. You have to step over the threshold, into the work of faith. That is the discipline: taking the first step, and the second, etc.

It will help to recognize that you and those you are with will fail along the way. We are all in process. The grace of God never fails and He never forsakes His own. He is faithful and fabulously our Father.

Practice – I admire people that are natural risk takers. I believe they have an advantage when it comes to the work of faith. They don’t have that built in streak of caution like so many of us conservative folk. They go with their gut (i.e., not with their head).

In many respects, this is the crux of our dilemma. In this age of reason, the head has gotten in the way of the heart (i.e., where man believes). Our thinking it through has mucked up the works. It is time for most of us to just believe, trust, and step into the work of faith.

There is an interesting conundrum here. Almost all of us fall victim to it. We feel a nudge, and our mind jumps in, “What should I say? What if their offended? Maybe it wasn’t God after all. What if…?” It’s called analysis paralysis. Analyze long enough and the opportunity is gone.

It helps to remember that we are children, and the LORD God Almighty is our Father. If we fall, He will uphold us (Psalm 37:24; 145:14). It’s true: Not all who fall hit the ground. Furthermore, the work of faith does not have to be perfect or successful to perfect our faith. God has grace for our well-intended failures.

Once again, we find that the discipline for appropriating God’s grace for the work of faith is walking. Grace for our efforts is appropriated by our efforts. God meets us in the work. In the process, we learn to hear His voice.

Fast – In the Old and New Testament, to fast means to do without food and drink for a day, or from customary and choice nourishment for a longer span of time. God has made it clear, through the prophet Isaiah (chapter 58), that fasting has been prescribed for specific spiritual and physical outcomes – and these are predominately not for ourselves.

Several people I highly respect use fasting to help them hear from God. I would not suggest this is a misuse of the discipline. However, it seems to me that a careful reading of Isaiah 58 suggests fasting is for the work of faith more than the hearing. God uses fasting to prepare us to be His instruments and weapons.

Fasting also teaches us that sacrifice has its rewards. It is hard to imagine a greater lesson for today’s Christian – a much needed defense against the consumerism of Western society that severely threatens the church.

The power of fasting is evidenced by our reluctance to do it. It is a weapon against our carnality. Consequently, our carnal minds resist it with great diligence. We must meet it with discipline and determination.

To live a life that confesses, “Doing without is good for you”, marks us as unique people and enemies of this world. In this regard, fasting is a physical manifestation of our repentance.

Fellowship – The desire to be alone is not a desire that God has placed in our hearts. He does not make “loners”. The New Testament consistently encourages our desires for fellowship.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You… John 17:20-21

…so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Romans 12:5

…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Ephesians 4:13

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42

Being in fellowship and gathering with a crowd are not the same. Fellowship in the kingdom of God is marked by our being unified unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We are to be as much members of one another as the Father and Son. Granted, this is beyond our ability – even our imagination. It is for this very reason that we are encouraged to steadfastly participate in Jesus Christ’s work to build His church.

The truth of the matter is this: Fellowship is indispensable when it comes to discipline. True fellowship affirms and encourages personal relationship with God, as He knits us together for His purposes and glory. We need others, close by, to encourage and protect us along the way.

The discipline of fellowship involves recognizing those whom God has drawn near, investing in their lives, and inviting and allowing them to invest in ours. This will require many to think differently about the church and their church relationships. It may require a rejection of the crowd for the closeness of a small group. For many, this will be the hardest – and most rewarding – discipline of all.

Conclusion

The work of the faith is not possible without the hearing of faith and obedience to the faith. Conversely, the process of faith – for the overcoming of our carnal minds – is ineffectual without the corresponding work. This leads to two concluding thoughts:

  • Disciplines are something you do. They are not attitudes, graces, or character traits. They are not mental assents, hopes, nor dreams. They require action.
  • Many of the disciplines work together. For example, the truths born out of repentance must be reckoned as our own – a means of participating with the Holy Spirit’s efforts to renew our mind.

As we have tried to stress throughout this series, God desires our faith and orchestrates journey through the faith process. We can trust Him to identify and encourage us in the most profitable disciplines. Some disciplines are for a season. Others – particularly the foundational ones – are for a lifetime.

God bless you with listening ears and obedient hearts. Let the adventure begin!!

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob