Surely a phrase that is repeated four times in the Bible must contain one of God’s most important teachings. The life God gives is only for the just —but who is just ? The Bible leaves no doubt as to the answer: “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes:7:20); “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans:3:23). God’s law demands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke:10:27). By that standard we have all broken God’s law repeatedly and are condemned.
Nor is there any way that we, as sinners, could become just . Living a perfect life in the future (even if that were possible) could never merit forgiveness for sins already committed or deliver from the judgment which God’s justice righteously demands. Saving a million lives in the future, for example, could never atone for having taken just one life in the past. Only God could declare a sinner to be “just”—but how could He, when His irrevocable law condemns us? For God simply to forgive the sinner would violate His own law and in itself would be unjust.
Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, explains how God can justly justify sinners: “Being justified freely by his [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…for the remission of sins…that he [God] might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans:3:24-26). Forgiving the sinner and declaring him just comes only on the basis of Christ having paid the full penalty demanded by God’s justice against sin, and the sinner having personally accepted that payment by Christ. Forgiveness cannot come about through good deeds, church attendance, sacraments, baptism, scapulars or medals, prayers, tears, promises, charitable gifts—or anything else that pastor, priest, church, or Mary could do. Only the infinite God Himself, coming as a sinless man through the virgin birth, could bear, in our place, the infinite penalty we deserved.
New Life in Christ
One cannot even begin to “live by faith” while “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians:2:1), which is mankind’s natural condition. One must be made “alive from the dead” (Romans:6:13) by receiving God’s forgiveness in Christ. The Christian life of faith is only for those who are “in the faith” (2 Corinthians:13:5). Living “a good Christian life” is not the way to become a Christian. Only those who already are Christians can live that life. Nor is it lived in order to earn heaven, which is impossible, but out of gratitude to Christ for having paid the penalty for sin.
A Christian has been “born again” of the Spirit of God (John:3:3-8) through “the Word of God” (1 Peter:1:23) by believing the gospel (Romans:1:16) and is a “new creature” (2 Corinthians:5:17) in Christ, having been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians:2:10). If we trust Him to do so, surely God will open the right doors, guide each step of every Christian’s life, and provide the means of fulfilling the “good works” that He has ordained for each of us.
Clearly, one must first enter upon the Christian life by faith in Christ in order to begin to “live by faith.” Paul exhorts us, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Colossians:2:6). And how did we receive Christ? As helpless, hopeless sinners who could do nothing for our own salvation but had to look entirely to Christ to save us. In that same attitude of unworthiness and complete dependence upon God for His grace and upon Christ to live His life through us, we live by faith the Christian life.
Christ told Paul that His strength was perfected in Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians:12:9). We must stop trying to be strong in ourselves, and “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians:6:10). The battle with the forces of evil, God assures us, will be won “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit…” (Zechariah:4:6). There is great joy, even in great trials, in trusting Christ and seeing what He can do.
That the Christian life is to be lived by faith tells us that it comes supernaturally, not naturally, as we trust God and know and obey His Word. It cannot be by our own direction and strength but only under the leading and by the power of God, who alone is the proper object of faith. Yes, the Christian life is miraculous. Expect it to be. Beware, however, of the widespread unbiblical emphasis upon, and insatiable desire for, the miraculous, which foster delusion. One of today’s most prominent televangelists and proponents of signs and wonders has written, “you can perform miracles if you but understand…the laws…that unlock God’s power…the flow of God’s energy….” In another book, he asserts, “We speak to money, and it comes. We speak to storms, and they cease….” Money comes from his mailing list, and this country has recently experienced the worst storms in years without any intervention from him.
The most powerful evidence of God’s supernatural work in our lives is found in the transformation of our character to Christlikeness. The “fruit,” not of “therapy,” but “of the Spirit,” is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians:5:22,23). The “works of the flesh” (Galatians:5:19-21), no matter how exemplary, are not acceptable to God (Romans:8:8). To live the Christian life, one must learn to “live in the Spirit” and “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians:5:25).
This is not to deny the benefit of education, diligence, hard work, prudent investment, experience, and sound practice in earning one’s “daily bread” (Matthew:6:11). Earthly success, however, though legitimate, is not the Christian’s goal in life. Christ declared, “…a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke:12:15); “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew:6:19-21).
The Trial of Faith
The fact that the Christian life is supernatural does not guarantee the “financial success” promised by today’s false prophets—nor that we will be free of trouble, sorrow, or pain. Positive confession leaders forget that it was from prison that Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13); and in the same context he declared, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (verse 11).
The Christian life is too glorious to be easy. It must involve trials and testings. This was true of Christ himself as well as of the apostles and early church. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John:16:33); “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (15:20).
Avoiding this uncomfortable truth, a “user-friendly gospel” is preached by thousands of pastors. Mega-churches are created by offering an appealing “Christianity” that is guaranteed to bring success and popularity with the world, but which would not be recognized by Paul or the other apostles as the Christian life they knew. Celebrities popular with the world are paid to enter today’s pulpits to endorse Christ; thereby they entice multitudes into a false Christianity. Once upon a time the Christian’s heroes were missionaries and martyrs. Not today. Believers and the world now share the same role models. Today’s successful church offers a Christianity guaranteed to be comfortable and which provides numerous services, from 12-step programs to psychological counseling, to escape every possible trial.
The faith by which the Christian life is to be lived and which is described as “more precious than gold” must be tested by temptations, trials, and difficulties. Why? So that when the faith by which the just live comes through the fire of adversity it will “be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter:1:7). Of Christ, who left us “an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter:2:21), it was said, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews:12:2). We are able to endure earthly trials because our hope lies beyond this brief life: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians:4:17).
Those who have trusted God through a deep trial testify that their faith has been strengthened and their joy increased. Having to depend totally on Christ draws us closer to Him and increases our love for Him. Any counsel, help, or support we offer to those in distress should bring them through the trial of faith with their roots deepened in Christ (Isaiah:43:2), rather than enable them to escape the very challenges God intends and the work He desires to effect in their hearts. By allowing us to face seemingly hopeless situations, God intends to move us from mere intellectual belief to practical trust in His provision.
In The Power of the Spirit William Law writes, “Whenever a man allows himself to have anxieties, fears, or complaints, he must consider his behavior as either a denial of the wisdom of God or as a confession that he is out of His will” (pp. 20,21). Many who call themselves Christians say they have trusted Christ with their eternal destiny, but seem unable to trust Him in this life—a fact which casts doubt on their relationship to Him.
God wants to test our faith now—and for good reason. Moses told the Israelites, “The Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy:8:2). Oswald Chambers said, “God wants you to understand that it is a life of faith , not a life of sentimental enjoyment of His blessings….Faith by its very nature must be tried…. ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him’—this is the most sublime utterance of faith in the whole of the Bible” ( My Utmost for His Highest , p. 305).
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” wrote David (Psalm:23:4). He did not expect, much less plead, to be given another path that would bypass that terrible valley, but only that God would be
with him through his trial. Living by faith involves confronting the difficulties of life, which indeed may have been allowed of God to test and correct us. The Christian life includes learning where we have gone astray and being willing to be corrected and brought back into obedience to God and His Word. It is often in times of distress alone that God can break the hold of that which has drawn our affection away from Him, perhaps without our even knowing it.
Committed to Christ Come What May
As we walk by faith, and experience God’s faithfulness in trials, praise and worship well up within us. Indeed, praise and worship are to play a significant role in the Christian life. Sadly, so many of today’s praise and worship songs reflect the lack of depth in current Christianity. Congregational singing often consists of empty, repetitive choruses which have taken the place of the old hymns of the faith. Phrases are repeated again and again, such as “We worship You, Lord, we praise You, Lord, we lift Your name on high, we lift our hands, we exalt You,” and so on. There is much clapping and swaying to the catchy tune and beat. Yet the congregation and the “worship team” seem oblivious of the fact that instead of truly praising and worshiping, they are merely singing words about praise and worship, without mentioning God’s character, qualities, and deeds which evoke worship.
Sound doctrine, too, plays a vital role in the Christian life of faith. Paul’s life sets the example for us all. In describing his life to Timothy, he put doctrine first: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions….Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy:3:10-12). He also warned that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (4:3). We are in that day. Doctrine is despised. Entertainment and sermonettes are more popular with today’s Christianettes (loosely quoted from A. W. Tozer).
One well-known Christian leader writes that “the Bible is not an impractical book of theology, but rather a practical book of life containing a system of thought and conduct that will guarantee success….” His idea that theology is “impractical” is shared by millions. And “success”—which he, as a multimillionaire, enjoys in abundance—is now measured by the world’s standards instead of by God’s.
Our hope is in heaven and in the imminency of the rapture which will transport us out of this evil world into His presence. In the meantime, our confident trust in our Lord through the trials of this life of faith demonstrates the reality of our trust in Him for eternity. A true story about Blondin, who walked back and forth on a tightrope across Niagara Falls, illustrates the point.
One day, in the crowd watching Blondin, a spectator was trying to explain to a younger man what it means to truly trust Christ. “What do you think of Blondin?” he asked. “He’s the greatest!” came the enthusiastic response. “Do you think he can carry a man across and back?” “Of course,” was the immediate reply. “I’ve seen him do it.” Looking the younger man squarely in the eye, the questioner said, “When Blondin comes back from the other side, he’s going to call for a volunteer. Will you be the man?” The young man turned white. “Not on your life!” he exclaimed.
Many have a similarly theoretical faith in Christ. They can sing enthusiastically about salvation, but when life’s adversities strike they have no real peace and joy and run to the nearest therapist instead of to the Lord. May He give us grace to live by faith as true Christians; and may earth’s trials strengthen our faith, deepen our love for God, increase our fellowship with and joy in Him, and bring honor and glory to Him for eternity.