The Work of Faith

Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 in Preaching, Sermons
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In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul wrote the following words to the church, “We give thanks to God always… constantly bearing in mind your work of faith.” One of the rally points of the reformation was concerning the doctrine of justification  The Reformers conclusion from Scripture alone was that justification was through faith alone, sola fide.  Saving faith, or justifying faith, is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith in Christ alone (soli Christo) – not by our works, it is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9.  Faith is the means or the instrument that God has provided to bring us to Christ, and it is a gift of His grace.

However, the Reformers also taught that though we are justified by faith alone, we are not justified by a faith that remains alone.  James was clear, James 2:17 – “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  The problem for many interpreters comes with James 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  However, when we consider James 2:26 – “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead,” we see in this discussion that James was looking at works of faith as logical evidence that one has in fact been made alive in Christ.  Just as the spirit is the animating life of the physical body, so works is the evidence of faith in Christ.  By works of faith one is shown to be righteous.  Hence James conclusion, James 2:20 – “Faith without works is useless.”

It is this sanctifying “work of faith” that Paul says he often remembered of these at Thessalonica in his prayers.  What did their “work of faith” look like?  What had Paul heard back from Timothy while he was in Athens (see 3:1-2, 6) that spurred him to write these things?

1.  Trusting work

Faith is taking hold of all that God has done in and through Christ.  It is trusting in God and His way of salvation, Christ finished work, rather than in our own works.  Christianity alone provides the only hope for a desperate people.  All other world religions are based upon the works of man, which are nothing more than filthy rags in God’s sight.  The Christian can have hope because his faith is in the merits of another, the righteousness of Christ.  If your trust is in anything or anyone other than Christ alone, then you should examine yourselves to see if you are even of the faith.  In our pluralistic age, we are led to believe that all roads lead to salvation.  As long as you are seeking to do good then everything will be all right in the end.  But that is not what Scripture says, Scripture that proclaims the redemptive history of man in Christ alone from beginning to end.

However, flowing from this initial faith is a real trust in God and unwavering commitment to Him that is evident in the life of one who is submitted to the righteousness that God has provided in Christ.  It is to live as the proverb says, Proverbs 3:5-6 – 5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  One writer put it this way:

A true church is made up of people who have faith in Jesus Christ. People without such faith are not Christians, and any collection of individuals without it, however religious they might be, is not a church. Faith includes the idea of confidence; it is convinced that Jesus can be trusted.[1]

Of course, the works that stifle this faith are born out of doubt.  We see this in Matthew 14 in the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water:

Matthew 14:28-31 – Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So Paul commends the Thessalonians for their confidence in Christ.  They were struggling.  They were being persecuted by the Jews and others.  There were probably times with which we could identify, times where they did not know whether they could make it through the day.  Their trials and sufferings seemed more than they could bear.  But they did not doubt!  They trusted God.  They walked by faith and not by sight – not a blind faith, not a let go let God faith, but a trusting faith.  They believed God!

2.  Battling work

One of the titles that Paul used of the early church believers was that of “soldier” (Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3,4; Phm. 2).  Paul calls the soldier to put on the full armor provided by God (Eph. 6:10-17).  As such, the believer is called to battle, as Paul put it, to “fight the good fight, keeping faith” (1 Tim. 1:18).  The work of faith is a battle: a battle against the flesh (Rom. 7 & 8); a battle against the devil, who is called our “adversary” (1 Pet. 5:8), and a battle against the world, over which the apostle John reminds us that we are “conquerors” or “overcomers,” 1 John 5:4 – “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”  Then in Revelation each of the seven churches is called to “overcome” and the promise of the inheritance is granted to those who do so (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7).

This is exactly the faith that Paul had heard from Timothy concerning the saints at Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 – 1 Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, 3 so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.

So as you put on the armor today, may you figth the good fight of faith in Christ – by His grace and for His glory – Amen.

[1] J. Philip Arthur, Patience of Hope: 1 & 2 Thessalonians simply explained, 25 – italics mine.


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