Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
The real test of whether our faith is weak or strong will often come when we face some serious trouble in our life. Weak faith cannot stand in the trials and difficulties of life in this world. Those who have weak faith go to pieces when great trials come; they do not know what to do or where to turn. Our life is full of trials, some greater than others. Almost every child of God will at one time or other have to face great calamities, deep sorrows, and extreme hardships in his life. Do we fall apart when this happens? Are we cast into the depths of despair and depression? This happens because of the weakness of faith. Weak faith fails to lay hold on the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty and the faithfulness of His promises. Weak faith does not rely upon the strength of God to endure hardness, neither does it trust in His goodness and mercy. The proud man can easily imagine sometimes that he can face life alone and solve its mysteries and overcome its great troubles in his own wisdom and strength. But when real trouble comes he finds out the foolishness of this imagination. This is shameful for the child of God to whom the Lord has revealed His great salvation and given the promise of His help and guidance. The world will say to such a one: “Where is now your God?”
Those who go through life murmuring and complaining and yet call themselves children of God are weak in faith. This was the great sin of the children of Israel throughout the wilderness wanderings. God revealed His mighty and glorious presence among His people. In fact, there was, no people in all the world like Israel, who had God dwelling in their very midst. Israel should have known that by faith. God led them through the desert. He wonderfully provided for their every need—daily bread from heaven, water from the rock and, strength to fight with and overcome their enemies. Yet Israel was given to constant murmuring and complaining. How shamefully weak was their faith. What about us? We have a far greater revelation of God than Israel did in the days of the Old Testament. We have the glorious revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Christ has now performed the mighty work of salvation. He has fully accomplished our righteousness. He dwells with us and in our hearts through His wonderful Holy Spirit. He daily pours down upon us the exceeding great riches of the blessings of salvation. He has given His truth to be our guide. What a shameful thing it is for us, then, to go through life murmuring and complaining about the small difficulties we have to face. How miserably weak our faith is when we do that.
Weak faith is faith that has meager fruit. The inspired apostle James says in his epistle that faith without works is dead. A dead faith is really a contradiction. True faith must manifest itself in good works. God comes to every man, especially to those who claim to be Christians, and demands, “Where are your works of faith?” John the Baptist said to the proud religious leaders of the Jews who came to him by the Jordan River, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” Even the child of God can at times show weakness of his faith in the meagerness of the fruits he brings forth. Let us not console ourselves in a life of weak faith by thinking that faith must be entirely passive and so there is no need to strive to bring forth the fruits of good works. This is a perversion of the truth of the Word of God concerning faith and is an evil excuse for a shamefully weak faith.
When a man is weak in faith he compromises the truth of God. This is certainly one of the most shameful of all characteristics of weak faith. God commands His children to confess His glorious truth before men. We are called to maintain this truth steadfastly. We are called to do this not merely as individuals but also as members of the church of Jesus Christ, united with our fellow saints in supporting the ministry of the church.We are called to confess the truth of God with our mouth and to live our whole life in harmony with this truth. The world in which we live hates and opposes the truth. There is a constant and real danger in the life of every child of God to compromise the truth of God. It is much easier to remain silent about the truth of God and to go along with the world in its evil philosophy and life style than to take a strong stand on the truth of God. How often opportunities to testify for the truth of God pass us by and we fail miserably to bring glory to God. Nothing can excuse such weakness of faith or make up for it.
Lively, active, robust faith that glorifies God is the opposite of all the above. Such faith gives the child of God strength to persevere in the deepest of all trials and difficulties of life. Faith does not deny the reality of those trials. One who is strong in faith is not one who is unaffected by the sorrows and troubles of life. He does not live like a stoic. There is no virtue in being a stoic. The Christian is not one who never weeps in anguish over the troubles of lie. In fact there are times when he is troubled in the deepest depths of his soul and experiences inexpressible sorrow. The strong in faith cry out to God constantly for strength in trials. The strong in faith find mighty comfort in God’s sure promises of salvation. The strong in faith steadfastly believe in the sovereign goodness of God in the greatest of life’s troubles. The strong in faith testify of the tender mercies of God even when all things from a human and earthly perspective see bleak and dark. Such faith will not be ashamed before God. God is pleased with such faith. His name is glorified by it. He will reward that faith with increased strength and joy in this life and with His eternal reward in the day of judgment.
The child of God who is strong in faith submits to the sovereign will of God without murmuring. Strong faith is self-denying and ready to bear suffering and persecution and reproach for the Lord’s sake. Strong faith is manifest in quiet trust in the Lord and hearty confidence in Him. It keeps the child of God from despair even when the ways of God are so deep that they are beyond comprehension. It knows for certain that God is good and righteous in all that He does, even when the experiences of life seem to contradict this. Strong faith believes that all things, no matter how difficult, no matter how dark, are ordered by the wisdom and goodness of God for the salvation of His saints and the glory of His name. It is truly a wonderful faith that believes this.
In this connection something must be said about a terribly false notion about strong faith that is current in some circles. This is the notion that strong faith means that a person can do whatever he wants or decides on his own to do. This is the evil idea that strong faith is identified with the power of “positive thinking.” If you want something badly enough, the advocates of this idea suggest, just convince yourself that somehow you are going to get it and that God is going to give it to you no matter what it is. God wants everyone to be rich and prosperous in this world, and if you have strong enough faith you will achieve what you want.
There is hardly a more ungodly idea of faith imaginable than this, and yet there are those who in the name of Christianity promote this idea. Strong faith does not make the Christian imagine that he can get from God anything that he happens to want. Strong faith certainly does not make the Christian imagine that God wants him always to be in health and to prosper. Strong faith means that we believe that also adversity, poverty, and sickness are under the control of God and are ordered for our good and salvation. Strong faith believes that God is the One who determines the course of our life. He alone knows what is best for us. In a very real sense it takes much stronger faith to trust in God in adversity than to trust in Him in health and prosperity. The faith of the child of God shines most gloriously and wonderfully in the greatest of adversity. Strong faith is submitting to God’s will no matter how hard that may be for us personally. Strong faith seeks not the will and pleasure of man but the glory of God, even if that should mean death for us. Strong faith enables the child of God to endure all the sufferings of this present time in the steadfast hope of the glory that God has prepared for him in eternal life in heaven.
Strong faith is the faith that abounds in good works. The child of God who is strong in faith is deeply concerned about good works in his life. The strong in faith do not at all imagine that such good works in any way merit their salvation. The strong in faith understand that the whole of their salvation has been merited by the perfect work of Christ Jesus. But the strong in faith are zealous unto good works in order that they might show their gratitude to the God of their salvation and bring glory to the name of the God they love and confess. In His beautiful allegory of the vine and the branches recorded in John 15 Jesus says, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit.” The Lord has redeemed us to be a people zealous of good works.