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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Furthering Faith




I’ve been reflecting this week on the Lord’s unbelievable kindness and tenderness to us during lockdown.

Particularly, how he continues to sustain us with his abiding Word.

And, how he has strengthened us for the challenges of this long-term isolation.

Needless to say, we don’t deserve his tender loving care.

But, what we’ve received, we’ve received because of his abundant, overflowing grace; and therefore, he gets the glory.

So, our hearts are filled with gratitude as we come to him this morning.


Not a needy God

God is not a God who needs anything.

He is not a God who is served by human hands (Acts 17:25).

He is the creator and we are the creatures.

Whatever he has made is sustained by him.

If he chooses to remove it, it will be removed.

If he chooses for it to remain, it will remain.


That means that when we woke up this morning breathing, it was because he chose to give us breath. And if hadn’t, we wouldn’t.

Therefore, whether we like it or not, our lives are in his hands.


Titus & Paul’s desire for Cretan godliness

Two weeks ago, we started out in the little book of Titus - a letter from the Apostle Paul to his companion Titus.

We learned that Paul deposited Titus on the island of Crete for the strengthening of the infant church there.

And we might say, that Paul’s number one aim for the believers on Crete is that they grow into godliness.


Paul is an ambassador and messenger of the risen Lord Jesus.

His God-given purpose it to assist this young church in realising godliness.


And, we might ask the question why is godliness Paul’s goal for these young believers?

And we wouldn’t need to look far for the answer. Chapter 2 verses 11 to 14 – Paul tells us why.

Jesus Christ gave himself for believers to redeem them from – that means buy them out of – wickedness”.

And,

to purify for himself a people that are…eager to do what is good”.

That is the definition of godliness.

Go back and read verse 11-13 and you’ll see that godliness is right in there in the context of this verse.

Jesus paid a ransom price to purchase for himself a people eager to be godly.

Eager to emulate, eager to reflect, eager to show God’s goodness in their lives.


God is good – that’s true truth.

And therefore, Jesus’ people are to be good too.

Paul is all out for the projecting forth of the truth about who God is.

And to that end he wants to accomplish in these people what Jesus died to obtain.

He fundamentally sees that he and Titus can be instrumental in moving the Cretan believers into ever greater degrees God’s goodness.


Last time we looked at this text, we saw that the apostle Paul identifies two strands to the rope of godliness.

Both serve to make that rope strong.

The two stands that are wrapped around each other and twisted together are faith and truth (v.1).

This morning we’ve got time for faith, and so truth will be next time.


Faith at the outset

We’re used to the idea that faith is the means by which a person is saved.

Ephesians 2:8 famously says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

So, none of us start out on this Christian way without faith.

Hebrews 11 reminds us that, “without faith it is impossible to please God”.

If our salvation depends on one thing from us, it is our exercising faith.

And, according to Ephesians 2:8, if we have exercised saving faith it’s precisely because God gave it to us.

None of us, by nature, believe.

God gifts us something from outside of ourselves, and it’s called faith.


What is faith?

But what is it? What is faith?

I have a simple illustration from our home this week that might help.

My son, who is 7, most mornings sits down for breakfast opposite where my wife makes school lunches.

One for my son and one for my daughter.

We currently have to send the children’s lunches in clear zip-lock bags with their name written on them.

So, one morning this week my son gets to thinking that my wife's made a mistake.

Mummy you’re putting my lunch into my sister’s bag’.

Mummy replies,

no I’m not my darling’.

My son eats some more Cheerio’s and comes back again.

Mummy that’s not my bag’.

No darling, this is your bag’.

It’s not mummy

Look, I’ll prove it to you

and holding up the zip-lock, clearly reveals to my son that his name is on it;

with his lunch in it.

I think I know what I’m doing

says mummy –

somewhat irked.


Normally, when my son comes down for breakfast, he trusts that his mummy is getting his lunch right,

but for whatever reason this particular morning he doubted it.

Normally, he relies on his mummy’s wisdom, but this particular morning, he thought he had the wisdom.

And, mummy was displeased the second time of questioning.

Her ability to wisely put the right things into the right bags was being called into question by her 7-year-old boy.

He should have concluded:

Experience tells me mummy is wise.

Experience tells me mummy knows what she’s doing.

I trust her to get it right.


Faith, Hebrews 11:1 says, is “confidence in what we hope for

(the right lunch in my zip-lock)

and assurance of what we do not see

(the zip-lock face down on the counter that says my name on it).


So, the nature of saving faith is:

Confidence that the sins that separate us from the love God have been erased from our account by the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.

And, it’s the hope that when – in the future –

we stand before a pure and holy God,

that he will be well pleased with the work his son – Jesus Christ –

has done on our behalf,

and he will say: come and eat,

you with me and me with you (Rev 3:20).


And, the nature of faithlessness is this:

Confidence in our own efforts to cancel out the bad deeds we’ve done so that it will go well with us.

What that is, is reliance on our own wisdom and not the wisdom of Jesus.

That’s reliance on our own strength and not the strength of Jesus.

That’s reliance on our own purity (as if we had any) and not the purity of Jesus.


When we go down that route and not the route of faith, we steel from God the honour due to his name.


We make out that we don’t need him, when in fact, we need him exclusively.


We make out he doesn’t know what he’s doing, when in fact, he alone has the words of eternal life.


That makes us robbers.

We rob his Godly right to be honoured by his creatures; to be honoured by them depending on him and not on themselves.

That’s why without faith God can’t be pleased.

That’s why faith is the key to salvation.


When he’s honoured appropriately,

he’s pleased to deliver salvation graciously.


And if we’re tempted to say,

well Ephesians says faith is a gift of God –

he hasn’t given it me yet.

Then we need to get down on our knees before him and beg him, with pouring out of soul,

to grant us the gift we’re lacking.

So, faith is essential to what it is to be a Christian.

But the Cretans have already come via that route – thanks be to God.

Paul wants them to be “furthered” (v.1) in faith.


Furthered in faith

What does that mean?

It sounds like he wants their faith to grow.

Remember, Jesus once referred to faith as a seed.

He said, “truly I tell you if you have faith as small as mustard seed

that’s the smallest of all seeds –

you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’, and it will move”.

Like all seeds, mustard seeds grow.

They grow into trees, that birds perch in the branches of (Luke 13:19).

So, there’s an expectation in Jesus that, that first gift of faith will grow into bigger and greater faith.

Tree-like faith.

And, Paul wants to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord Jesus to cause that small seed of faith in the Cretans to grow.

You know, it would be strange if Christians who have tasted the first fruits of mature faith did not share with Paul in his desire to see their younger believing brothers and sisters in Christ grow also.


Especially, when we consider that growing faith is a lengthening strand in the rope of godliness.

And, that godliness in Jesus’ redeemed people is why he purchased them for himself.

It is Jesus’ delight.

So, when we join Paul in striving to advance the faith of our friends in Christ, we are seeking the advancement of their godliness, and the goal of Christ.

That’s just about the best motive anyone can have for doing anything.


So, I do think we should have the same mind as Paul – we should seek the advancement of the faith of Christ’s blood bought people, for Christ’s sake (1 Thess 3:2).


What does growing faith look like?

That leads us naturally to ask the question, what does growing in faith look like?

At the beginning of our Christian lives, faith looked like trusting Jesus for the work that he did on the cross in our behalf to absolve us of our sins.


That’s not something we ever stop trusting in,

and it’s not something we leave behind.

It is in fact, the foundation of all other trusting.


Chapter 2 verse 11 says, ”the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people”.

That grace is Jesus – he appeared.

Jesus is the grace of God that offers salvation.


Verse 11 goes on, “It

the grace of God –

teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age”.


We could put it like this, “those God justifies he also glorifies” (Rom 8:30).

In other words what accompanies salvation is a progressive life of holiness.


Jesus teaches those he’s purified with his blood,

how to live pure lives.

And, he teaches them here, on earth.

And, he teaches them now, in this present age.


What this verse makes explicit is that believers will live lives that are at odds with the world around them.


It teaches that they will be people characterised by saying ‘no’ to the passions and desires that the rest of the world thinks are normal.

It teaches us that we’re going to look very different to other people.

Different tastes,

different standards,

different attitudes,

different loves, strivings, and ambitions,

different longings and dreams.

And, we’re going to be taught that all of those differences are going to be God-like differences.


Nothing about all those differences is automatic.

That is to say, none of them happen passively.


They happen by prayerful application in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11).

Peter puts it like this, “Dear friends I urge you to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

And, that surely starts with faith.


By that I mean, nobody goes into battle –

when their lives are on the line –

for a cause, they don’t believe in.

People have to be forced to fight for causes they don’t believe in.

In other words, people only fight freely when they believe in the cause.


Christians are those who need to fight freely against the passions that wage war against their souls.



How will we shun the love of money,

like Jesus teaches,

when the whole world is constantly running after it, unless we trust him when he says: “you cannot serve both God and money”?


And,

how will we love our enemies,

like Jesus teaches,

when the vengeful overtones of this world’s music are saying: ‘it’s good to get even’,

unless we trust him when he says: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?


Or,

how will we avoid the media bent towards lust,

like Jesus teaches,

unless we trust him when he says: “anyone who looks at woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her”?


That’s three examples, but there are more.

Jesus teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and we need a steadfast trust that Jesus’ wisdom is better than this world’s wisdom,

in order to stand firm in the flood waters of ungodliness all around us.


Here’s a warning:

that might sound simple as we sit here thinking about it this morning, but it is insidiously hard when we’ve got to do it in practice, 10 mins after we’ve finished here.


I say ‘insidiously’, because half the time we don’t even know it’s happening, before it’s too late.


So, this is more faith than we had at the start.

At the start we had faith in Jesus’ work.

Now we need faith in Jesus’ words.

And, that means faith must grow.

Faith must be added to faith in the Christian life.


Faith like bricks

To change the picture.

Faith is like bricks in a wall, but not all the bricks are faith.

Half are faith and the other half are truth.


I’ll show you what I mean.

If I tell you that an old weather-beaten bridge across a gorge will carry your weight,

you’re more likely to trust me if my name has ‘Master of Engineering’ after it than if it has ‘Master of Art’ after it.

An engineer is qualified to comment on the structural stability of the bridge.

An artist isn’t.

It still takes trust in the wisdom of another to step out onto the bridge, but that other is qualified to comment.

So, here’s the application.

The better we know God’s credentials;

his character,

his power,

his faithfulness,

his kindness,

his love,

his deeds for mankind,

the more foundation we will have for faith in him.

The wall is made up only half of faith;

the rope of Godliness, only half of faith,

because faith builds on knowledge of the truth.


Truth is where we’re going next time.

But for our purposes this morning,

Faith has to be growing all the time in the Christian life because,

it’s faith that keeps us in the fight for Godliness.


Faith in future promises

The last word on faith.

Jesus has made promises to his people about a glorious future.

A future that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, that no human mind has conceived of.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “anyone who comes to him must believe…that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

Colossians 3:24 adds, “you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward”.

So then, faith takes hold of the promises of God. Faith takes hold of the promises about a rich inheritance in the future.

Promises that serve to spur us on to live for him in this present and passing world.

So, may the Lord grant us faith to trust him and, may our faith advance all the more, as we see the day approaching.


Amen.

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