The Characteristics of Real Faith | Part 1
[Ed. Note: Some time before Dr. Barber preached this message, Michelle, a member of his church, was diagnosed with cancer. She and her husband, Eddie, reacted to the news with a display of “real faith,” which beautifully illustrates this message.]
Will you turn with me to Ephesians 1. I want to talk today, just by coincidence about faith. You know I heard a long time ago, “Coincidence is when God decides to remain anonymous.” I like that. I like that a lot. Just by coincidence the next verse that we’re coming up to happens to be talking about people’s faith. We’re going to be talking this morning about the characteristics of real faith.
Look at Ephesians 1:15-16. He said, “For this reason I too, having of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.” Paul was encouraged by the faith of other believers.
Isn’t it amazing how with Eddie and Michelle we’ve all been encouraged in our walk of faith? You know, it’s been a testimony of faith with both of them since the very beginning. Two people who have been willing to trust God, no matter what. They chose very early on to accept the fact that His agenda was alright to be their agenda. They weren’t here to twist His arm to get Him to do what they wanted Him to do. They were simply willing to trust that whatever God does is right. Both Eddie and Michelle know that His ways do not need defending. They trust Him. Had the report not been what it was Friday morning they would still be trusting Him now. We would still be praising Him, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the God who was, who is and who is to come.” He doesn’t change. We know His heart. They know His heart. His character is holy. His character is pure. They know that He is in control of all things that happen. Now when I see faith like that, and certainly when you see it and when Paul saw it, not emotional presumption, but real faith, it encourages our hearts.
We’re living in a world that’s got this thing turned upside down. They’re preaching formulas that say if you do this and you do that you can make God do whatever. For some reason or another they think that’s faith. No, that’s presumption. Folks, real faith is not telling God anything. Real faith is believing Him and trusting Him regardless of what He does. You see, He has chosen to do what He’s done in Eddie and Michelle’s life. He’s faithful to us to do always what’s right in our life. What we think is right sometimes and what He thinks is right are not quite the same. To always be believing Jesus is Lord and to be totally submissive to Him, trusting Him regardless, is what real faith is all about.
You know, it’s amazing to me how we’ve been teaching verse by verse now for almost 12 years. Have you ever noticed something? Every time we go through a victory or a trial or whatever it is, the next verse absolutely nails it right between the eyes. It seems like it goes along side everything that we’re experiencing. His Word is always right on time. You don’t plan it. He planned it. We just get involved in what He’s doing. I was so encouraged when I began to study this, having the information that I already had before today. It was just exciting in my heart that we could talk about real faith at a time when it needs to be talked about.
Now Paul is writing this from prison. That’s not a very likely place that a loving God would allow somebody to be in, is it? Of any of the saints in the whole New Testament Paul certainly loved God. When he finished his life he said, “I have finished the course, I have fought the good fight. And I’m ready now to go on and receive the crown of righteousness.” He looked back on his life and he said, “You know, I have won the battle over Paul.” And not only that, he said, “I believe God has accomplished through me what He wanted to accomplish through me.” You know he’s in prison when he says this. His life was filled with one trial after another, one prison after another. Here’s a man of great faith, a man who had to be encouraged and was encouraged by other’s faith. I guarantee you, put the faith of the Ephesians beside Paul, and there may be a difference at times because Paul lived it every day of his life. Nobody ever arrives in this thing. You never get to a point when you don’t need to be encouraged in your faith. I never get to a point that I don’t need to be encouraged. Paul certainly didn’t get that way.
Here he is in prison. Paul had so trusted the Lord. As a matter of fact, in verse 15 he says, “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints do not cease giving thanks for you while making mention of you in my prayers.” It encouraged his heart. He had learned in his life earlier that whatever God dealt him in life was alright because God is a good God, and God does what is good in our life. He trusted Him so much that, if prison was what God wanted, then prison was what Paul wanted. When he wrote Ephesians he was in prison in Rome without a single accusation being held down against him. There was not one thing. This was not the first time, because in Caesarea he had the same thing happen to him. I mean here’s a guy that’s been knocked around like a ping pong ball, but everywhere he goes he just thanks God for it and allows that situation to work for him and not against him. That’s a person who lives trusting God. That’s what real faith is all about.
Well, now Paul has just led the Ephesian believers in a time of praise. He starts off in verse 3, and he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “blessed” means “worthy to be praised.” Now why is God the Father worthy to be praised? The whole thing could be summed up in the characteristics of a loving God that has done everything that is necessary so that you and I might be a part of that love, and experience that which He wants us to experience. In love He blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, Paul said. In love He has chosen us before the foundation of the world. In love He has predestined us to the adoption of sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. In love He has seen to it that in Christ we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses. In love He made known the mystery of His will to us. In love He seals us with the Holy Spirit of promise and in love He has guaranteed our inheritance. Now Paul is summing all that up and then he says, “I am so grateful that you’re trusting my loving God and knowing that He’s doing the good things in your life. I am grateful for your faith. You have encouraged me in your faith.”
Are you going through a bad time and you’re thinking, “Oh, God loves Eddie and Michelle, but He doesn’t love me?” Now folks, listen. He’s already proven that He loves you. That’s what Paul is saying. If you believe what the Word of God says, then you know that if He’s faithful to save you He’s also faithful to sustain you. Whatever goes on in your life you know that God loves you. That’s God’s Word. John says, “We love you because you first loved us.” He’s done everything that’s necessary to prove to you that He loves you. Now do you trust Him when bad things go on in your life?
What is real faith?
Just exactly what is real faith? Well, the first point I want to talk about is that real faith, this kind of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, is a lifestyle, every day, every moment, every hour, not just a spur of the moment decision. Faith is a way of life for these believers. Paul says again in verse 15, “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints.” Not just a one time thing. It’s not just when the kids get sick. “Oh, I think I need to trust God. Oh, my marriage is falling apart. I’ll think I’ll come to God.” Or “My bills can’t be paid. I’ll think I’ll run to God.” That’s not faith. That’s not faith at all. All that is is a presumptuous testing of God to see if He is willing to be your cosmic bellhop and bail you out of a mess that you got yourself into. No, trusting in God is in the good times as well as the bad times. It’s a consistent attitude of the heart that has to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That little phrase “which exists among you” really isn’t in the text, but it is so implied by the text that the translators put it down. Paul says, “I’ve heard it.” Oh man, what a testimony. My prayer is we’ll not be known for how great our Sunday schools are or how many people come here or anything that goes on here on Sunday. But boy, the greatest testimony of this church is when we move out in that community, and they say, “There goes a people who have faith in a living Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the key. That’s what encourages believers, not how big we’ve grown. As a matter of fact, every time I share that with churches it discourages a lot of them, especially churches I’ve gone to that have no prospect of growth like we have. What’s growth? Lots of people. Hey, that’s wonderful, if God’s brought you. But listen, the key is our testimony. It’s not how big we get. The testimony is how much we’re willing to trust the Lord Jesus Christ, our faith in Him, that’s what needs to go out from here. The fact that we trust God, not men, but we trust God.
Well, the word for faith is a word that we ought to know by now. We’ve said it so many times. It’s the word pistis. It comes from peitho. Pistis means “to put your trust into somebody.” It means “to believe in somebody,” but peitho carries it even a step further. It means “to so believe in that individual that you’re willing to bow down and cast yourself and abandon yourself to Him and surrender to whatever He does.” That’s faith. That’s trust. That’s believing in someone. It means absolute trust. When it comes to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ it means “absolute trust in who He is and what He does and in what He says.”
Now folks, we’re supposed to be people of faith, people who believe the Book. Hebrews 11:6 tells us something. It says without this kind of faith it’s impossible to please God. It starts at salvation, and it goes right on from there. Look at Ephesians 1:13. It says, “In Him you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed.” Pisteuo, comes from pistis, which comes from peitho. It’s all tied in there together. Once they believed, having heard the gospel of the salvation, they continued to believe. They not only trusted Him to save them, they trusted Him to sustain them in whatever was going on in their life.
I want you to turn to 2 Timothy to see something that I believe relates here, because we need to see that faith can be faked. There are a lot of people who say they have faith. That’s basically what the book of James is talking about. Many people say, “Oh I believe.” Well, do we or do we not? You don’t tell people what you believe. You live it out before them. That’s what shows people what you believe. In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul is writing to Timothy. Paul is in his second imprisonment, perhaps the worse time in his life, and he says in verse 5, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” Now he’s not talking about an inherited faith. Not at all. He’s talking about the fact that Timothy’s grandmother trusted Christ, and then his mother trusted Christ, and because of that it gave him an example. One day he trusted Christ on his own. It’s not because grandmama did it that he got it. That’s not what he’s saying. He said your “sincere faith.” The word “sincere” means “without any pretense whatsoever.” You’re not faking it. You’re not trying to make people think that you’ve got it when you don’t have it. You say, “How in the world do you know that somebody has it?” Well, you really don’t when things are going well. The only time you know they have it is when things aren’t going well. Put a man under pressure and you’ll find out quickly what he’s like.
I’ve been concerned about what’s going on in our world. I don’t know about you. Do you get that on your mind sometimes. I just see some things happening in our world. But listen, I know God’s in control of our world. I know that. From what I’m seeing, folks, I don’t think it’s going to get that much better. All of the reports seem to be glowing right now. Stock markets are up. Interest rates are down. Hey, don’t believe in that kind of thing. That’s here today, gone tomorrow. We’re going to find out one of these days. I’m telling you I’m not a prophet or a son of a prophet. We’re going to find out who is and who isn’t when the pressure gets on all of us. God has a way of doing that. You know, judgment starts at the house of God. He’s going to find out. He has a way of doing that by allowing circumstances to come into our lives, and then what surfaces is what’s on the inside. When you squeeze a lemon what’s on the inside of it is going to come out of it. Are you bitter and critical and judgmental of everything that goes on? If so, does that show you’re really trusting God?
People say, “Oh, we believe God’s in control.” No we don’t! We don’t live that way anymore. He’s got a plan and if it’s not like we think it ought to be then we’re going to change it. And guess what? If it works, we’ll take the credit for it. God gets no glory for that. You see, people who have faith trust Him even when it’s beyond what they think or what they can do. They just trust the fact that it’s God doing what He’s doing.
Faith can be faked
Well, faith can be faked. How do you know it’s faked? Listen to what you’re saying. Listen to how you’re living. It won’t take you long to figure that out. You either believe God or you don’t believe God. I’m so grateful that John the apostle got to go in the throne room. Aren’t you? I am. We’re studying Revelation again, and I’m so grateful that I’m doing it again because the first time I studied it I learned the questions to ask the second time. I’m glad John got to go in the throne room. Man, he got to walk into the control tower of God. When I was fifteen-years-old and in the scouts, I got to go to Philmont Scout Ranch and go up into the control tower of an Air Force base. I got to watch them talk to the pilots. I got to watch them bring those planes in. It was so exciting to see how it all worked. Somebody really was in control of all that confusion up there.
John didn’t get to go into a control tower of an Air Force base. He got to go right into the control tower in heaven. He got to see all the events that we can’t understand because we’re mere men. He got to see the One sitting on the throne. He got to see the lights that emanated from the throne. He got to see the sea of crystal glass. He got to see the jasper and the emerald and all those beautiful colors of the throne. He also got to see the fact that in His hand was a seven-sealed book that was not only going to take care of everything going on now, but was going to bring on everything to conclude this age. A book that was unique. A book that really can’t be read. It had to be opened only by the Lamb of God, standing as if slain. When in the world did you ever see a slain lamb stand up? He’s the resurrected Lord Jesus. That’s who. The Lion who is going to conquer Satan like a lion, and the Lamb who conquered sin like a lamb comes forward, takes that book, and they say, “Oh, He’s worthy. He’s worthy.” Why is He worthy? Because of what He did on this earth. Because He’s the God-man. He’s the one who started it all. He’s the one who can bring it to a conclusion.
Folks, I hate to tell you this, if it bothers you, but He’s in control of everything right now. Whether you think so or not, He is in control. You think God can’t get rid of me in a minute? You think that if He has an elder or anybody else in this church that’s out of whack, you think He can’t move him? If this is His place, He’ll do what only He can do to make sure the people know that He’s God. God is in control, folks. We don’t live by faith. Oh no, we get a little committee and share our ignorance and then ask for the majority rule and then we think we’ve got it all figured out. No sir! Faith is bowing down and knowing He is in control. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. What He says, who He is and what He does is right, even if we don’t understand it. That’s faith.
Paul said to Timothy, “I’m mindful of your sincere faith.” That word “mindful” means “it comes back to my mind.” “Timothy, I watched you, and I watched you live, and the way you live encourages me now as I face death in this prison.” Isn’t that exciting? The way Eddie and Michelle have walked this thing with us, they’ve encouraged all of our hearts to know if they could trust Him in what they’ve trusted Him in, we can trust Him in anything and walk through it. Whatever He does is right. Trusting in what He did.
You know, Habakkuk could teach us that lesson, couldn’t he? He learned it. He learned that whatever God does is right. He came before God and said, “God, when are you going to do something? You know who I am. I’m the righteous prophet. And I’ve been praying, and You’re not listening to me.” And God said, “Oh, I’m listening to you. I’m doing something. But Habakkuk you couldn’t handle it if I told you.” Habakkuk said, “Oh come on. Tell me.” He said, “I’m raising up the Chaldeans.” The Chaldeans? You know we don’t get a grasp for that.
Remember back when Kruschev came over here? Remember when he got on television? Remember? He said, “We’re going to bury you.” Remember that? We hated the Russians didn’t we? Of course, you know times change. God changes our heart, and we see a lot of things. But back then remember how that feeling was in people’s minds? That’s exactly the way it was when God mentioned the Chaldeans. God said, “I’m raising them up.” Boy, Habakkuk didn’t like that. He didn’t understand that. Boy, he goes from being discouraged, to being distressed, to just being disgusted. He doesn’t know what’s going on. Finally God comforts him, and he comes out of it praising Him because whatever God did or whatever God will do was alright with Habakkuk. He said, “I’ll praise Him if the fields are barren. I’ll praise Him when the vine has no fruit. I will wait patiently upon the Lord.” He learned something about faith. What we think is good may not be what God thinks is good.
You see, faith is not trusting in what you think God ought to do. Faith is trusting in whatever He does, knowing that it’s right. Secondly, whatever He says you got, you got. When you walk by faith you trust whatever He says. He spoke to Abraham. He said, “Abraham, I want you to take Isaac up on a mountain, and I want you to kill him.” The Scripture says, “So Abraham got Isaac and went up on the mountain.” I love what he said to his friends. He said, “Hey, we’ll be back in a little while.” Hebrews says he believed that if God told him to kill him, God will raise him from the dead. He knew whatever God said was true and whatever God said was right. You believe that if you walk by faith. You believe who He is.
Trusting God, no matter what
Do you believe in His character? Do you want to walk by faith? Do you believe God would allow everything to fall on its face just because you have people that are imperfect? I love Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were told to bow down to the false god, and they said, “No sir! We will not. We believe our God is able to rescue us. We believe He’s able. But whether He does or He doesn’t that doesn’t bother us because whatever He does is right. We will not bow down to this false god.” Now folks, that’s faith. That’s faith, believing in who He is, believing in what He does and believing in what He’s says as a lifestyle day by day by day. Living by faith is not a spur of the moment decision. It’s a lifestyle.
I want to share something about Eddie and Michelle. All of us know this, but I’m going to tell you again. They didn’t start trusting God when she was diagnosed with cancer. They were trusting God a long time before that. So when the time came to face cancer, that was just another chapter in the book of learning how to walk by faith. That’s all it was. In the book of Jeremiah the prophet says, “You have not yet learned how to contend, how to run with the footmen, what are you going to do when the chariots come?” You know, folks, I think we need to be challenged by this. How do we face a crisis in our life? Do we trust God if He does what we want Him to do or do we just trust God? Whatever He does is right. Whatever He says is true. His character is pure.
Remember that song that says, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart?” That’s what faith does, always, always. How’s your faith-walk? How are you handling pressure? Listen to what you’re saying. Listen to it. Do you really believe God is in control? Or do you think that you’ve got a better idea? I tell you what, I can’t point a finger at you, because I have tried it so many times the other way. It just doesn’t work, folks.
Back in December I ended up with an ulcer and gallstones. Where did they come from? I was told I was as close to burnout as anybody. You know what? I had regressed from walking by faith to starting to walk by sight. When you start trying to figure it out folks, it just doesn’t work. Thank God for what He’s done in Eddie’s and Michelle’s life. Thank God for a couple that’s been willing to walk by faith, trust what He does, trust who He is, trust what He says. We are grateful that it came out like it did. I wonder where we would be if it hadn’t. Could we still praise Him? That’s faith.