Part one is foundational to what I’m saying here. So I suggest you start there.
Remember for the Sake of Faith
There is absolutely a benefit to having knowledge; you need to have something to place your faith in. But one of our greatest issues with knowledge is that we tend to forget or live in contradiction to the things we know. God is totally aware of our weaknesses, thankfully, and provided help where we are weak. I view the following exhortations as a way of God saying, “I know you have a tendency to forget.”
- “I think it right, as long as I am in this body to stir you up by way of reminder (2 Peter 1:13)
- “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16)
- “Remember the words spoken of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:17)
- “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have” (2 Peter 1:12)
Much of the Christian life depends on remembering because faith acts on knowledge we are mindful of. And Scripture provides specific places for us to place our mind’s eye.
Focus on Jesus
If we go back to the examples in Hebrews 11, we will see that all of them are building to a massive exhortation at the beginning of chapter 12. Sarah considered God faithful; Abraham accounted that God was able to raise his son; Moses endured as seeing him who is invisible. And now, surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, we are exhorted to look to Jesus. We endure by placing our mind’s eye on Christ. We will not persevere in a Godward and God-honoring life without a laser focus on the Son of God.
The saints were looking somewhere that guided and strengthened them in their journey, and the focal point is the same. We look to Jesus to run the race before us. Christ himself exemplified the way to live, suffer, and die in a God-glorifying way—by embracing the joy that was set before him. He saw that joy afar off, was convinced of it, embraced it, sought it, and desired it.
This is where I started to have a subtle but transforming shift in my thinking. When I need strength, I need Scripture. But not just knowledge; I need the Spirit for fresh faith in those great and precious promises. This is about placing my mind’s eye in the right place and keeping it there until I see, feel, and live in light of the unseen. I can’t make it far in the dark. I need all three eyes open before I tackle the day. A fresh awareness of God’s glory and plan is where I find sustaining strength.
What This Means in Real Life
Since I feel like a lot has been developed over parts one and two, I think it is helpful to park here with this understanding of faith and discuss what this means in practice.
1. Fighting Habitual Sins
This understanding of faith speaks to our struggle with recurring sins. Why is it that there can be times when we are so sure we will never fall back into a certain sin and yet give in the very next day or hour? Afterwards, we think to ourselves, “I can’t believe I did that. If only I had thought about [fill in the blank].” We acknowledge that we lost our strength because we lost our focus. And, ultimately, what we are saying is that we lost our faith—not that we aren’t “in the faith” but that we were not exercising our faith. When all three eyes are open, both seeing the temptation in front of us and the greater glory ahead of us, we gain strength to fight sin.
I see very few things that bring a more helpful perspective to fighting habits of sin. How do we break the habit? By trying to keep our mind’s eye continually fixed on God and his promises, not settling for anything less than a continual gaze at glory. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the things of the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The question becomes whether or not we’re willing to live with our eyes set on the glorious things above or whether we’re only going to settle with glances.
Fighting sin without faith as the central weapon not only lacks strength but lacks a God-glorifying direction. Another way of saying “without faith it is impossible to please God” is “it is only possible to please God with faith.” So, utilize accountability and try to minimize temptation as far as you see is wise, but don’t try to gain victory by means of your flesh. God-glorifying victory only comes by faith.
2. Good Things Can Be Bad Distractions
The following quote from The Screwtape Letters builds on the previous thought: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Satan has a dangerous arsenal, and one of his most effective tactics is distraction. We need a laser focus view on God. His precious promises need to stay fresh. Take your eye off God and soon you lose your awe of him. And a Christian that is not happy in his God is a Christian most susceptible to Satan’s attacks.
3. Backsliding Will Always Be A Threat
Psalm 119:11 encourages us to store up God’s word in our heart. But if anything is becoming clear, I hope it’s the understanding that accumulating Scriptural knowledge is not a defense in and of itself. This verse in Psalms is encouraging us to build a wall around our heart with the word of God so that no thought goes in and out of our minds without going through the truth of Scripture. That’s not ultimately knowledge at work; it’s faith at work through our knowledge of Scripture. No matter how much knowledge we have accumulated over the years, we are in constant need to actively exercise our faith. Backsliding will come only to those who are content to keep Scripture in back corners of their memory but not on their heart—or mind’s eye.
4. Christian Fellowship Is Critical and Purposeful
This is why we need each other. Remembering can be hard. It’s a discipline that is cultivated and ignited by the Holy Spirit, but we still at times end up defaulting to living by sight. Our hope for those times is that our brothers and sisters will help lift our gaze back to what is unseen. Every member of the body is prone to forget, and we need to constantly remind each other of the glories we believe and live for. This was Paul’s heart, to stir up the body by way of reminder. He says, “to write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). There is no need to be ashamed of telling a brother or sister something they already know. They probably don’t need to be impressed with something they’ve never heard before when they are struggling; we often just need to remember.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
5. The Value of Trials
Faith is so valuable to a Christian that even immense suffering is totally worth the refining effect it has on our faith. “The tested genuineness of your faith is more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7). Leave out the fire and this verse is easier to understand. Just say, “Faith is more valuable than gold” and this verse is easier to comprehend. But to say, not only is faith more valuable than gold, but just like it’s worth it to put gold through fire so that it would be refined, so also it is totally worth it to put your life through fire that your faith be refined—that’s something incredibly different. But this is exactly what can enable someone like Spurgeon to say, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Aches and pains, inconveniences, loneliness, persecution, and even just boredom—these situations can all be counted as joy (James 1:2) if they point you back to the sovereign orchestrator and greatest treasure of the universe. Any situation is worthy to be praised if it draws our mind’s eye back to God.
6. The Thrust of Ministry
If faith is the essential way Christians function for God’s glory, what does that say about the focus of ministry? It means ministry is about more than just the people in front of us. We see and serve people in our ministry all while seeing and serving God through them. Our reward is from God, not from the people, and that is what enables ministry to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
A faith focused on God changes the focus of ministry. Not only is our service to people ultimately about service to God, but we ideally aim for the kind of service that points people to the eternal treasure that is real to us through faith. For example, The Parable of the Great Banquet says,
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friend or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14
The contrast between these two crowds has to do with their ability to repay the invitation. The first crowd is advantageous to have over because they might “also invite you in return and you be repaid.” But the second crowd is filled with needy and repelling people who are not able to pay you back. And that is exactly why Jesus exhorts us to invite that type of crowd—it will require faith in the resurrection and a reward after this life.
Let the accusations that ministry is driven by money, pats on the back, or control be dissolved with a ministry that is so filled with sacrifice and service that it is only explainable in light of the resurrection of the dead and a good God who will reward his followers in the end.
That kind of ministry requires three eyes.
This part two is definitely one of the most transforming lessons I’ve learned in my entire life. Part one and two were an attempt to unfold what I’ve been learning so you can hopefully benefit from it as well. And what’s great about writing these last two posts is that it has now sparked what I’m already excitedly typing out as a part three. I want to prove to you that if this idea of faith really is central to Christian living than we should see the New Testament writers functioning with the same idea of faith in mind.
Quick sneak peak…
If walking by faith is just as much about seeing and embracing the unseen as it is believing, it makes sense that James writes about doers being the ones who don’t walk away from the mirror of the Word, forgetting what they had seen. And if walking by faith is just as much about seeing and embracing the unseen as it is believing, it makes sense why he also says the belief demons have is insufficient. Or why Paul says in Colossians that looking up to where Christ is seated is the continual foundation for Christian living. Or why he also says on the flip side in Galatians that it’s foolish apart from faith to try sanctifying yourself.
I want to fly over the New Testament Epistles with this framework in mind and see how it is the common foundation from beginning to end—as the means by which Christ’s work is applied, sustained, and brought to completion on the day when faith becomes actual sight.