A Life of Faith & Faithfulness
As children of God who live under the domain of grace and are empowered by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:14; 7:6) – our lives are meant to be lived by faith. The struggle for us – at its most basic – is trusting. Trusting that God is right with us through Christ’s work despite what we feel and trusting all He’s doing is for our good despite what pain we’re experiencing. He is faithful even when we are not. This is the baseline of a life of faith. This also what it means to be a “person of faith.” It is trusting in the promise of God – ultimately fulfilled in the Gospel – at all times.
In all this – it is essential a distinction be made here between “faith” and “faithfulness.” This is usually where we have things backwards. A life of faith as described by the Word of God is a life lived trusting God’s goodness and sovereignty despite our failures, or difficult circumstances. The Bible has two threads here – our failure and His faithfulness. The difference here is the story of redemption itself. His people are faithless despite His promises. He is faithful to His promises despite His people’s faithlessness.
Again, this is where we consistently get the story wrong. We think faith is about us. But, faith is really about Him. Usually, when evangelicals are talking about a “life of faith” we’re talking about our “faithfulness” to God, rather than His “faithfulness” to us. It’s more about “being faithful” than it is about being “people of faith.” There is a major difference between these two ideas. The former (faithfulness) is about our commitment to Him. The latter (faith) is about His commitment to us. Rather consistently, what we focus on is our faithfulness to Him rather His faithfulness to us. The difference between these two ideas is the difference between a pietistic theology and a reformed one. Pietistic theology points in. Reformed theology points out. To put this yet another way – the difference is between placing our faith in our faithfulness and placing our faith in His faithfulness to us.
The tendency to focus on our faithfulness rather than His is virtually ubiquitous within evangelicalism. The vast majority of Christian publications and sermons focus on our commitment to Him and not His to us. “Pointing out” is rare. “Pointing in” is epidemic. Consider the difference between two modern Bible versions and how they translate Habakkuk 2:4.
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” (NIV)
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (ESV)
The first – the New International Version – is a popular evangelical translation. As such, the emphasis is on our faithfulness. The second – the English Standard Version – is a reformed translation. As such, the emphasis is on God’s faithfulness. That’s what’s meant by “faith.” “Faith” in this context is trust in God. When we speak of faith what we are actually referring to is our trust in the faithfulness of God and not our faithfulness. This is “faith” as opposed to “faithfulness.” The implications between these two ideas could not be greater. Over the years our eye has trained to read “faithfulness” when “faith” is the actual point. In contrast to this – the Bible’s undeniable point is God’s faithfulness to the unworthy (faith) and not His relative approval of the above average believer (faithfulness). To miss this is to miss almost everything – including the Gospel itself.
When Paul opened his treatise on the Gospel in Romans he quoted this passage from Habakkuk.
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)
Given the central message of Romans – one is justified is by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ (cf. Romans 3:23-25) – his point here with reference to Habakkuk is obvious. In context, what he means is that a person is found to be righteous before God by faith alone. He goes on to explain this very point in chapters 1-5 of the epistle. Paul’s point is not faithfulness. He cannot mean faithful people live faithful lives (as implied in the translation above) since this would completely contradict the message of Romans itself. His point is faith. Those who are righteous are such by virtue of faith and not by works.