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The True Meaning of Faith: Perfecting

Your Faith (Part 1)
Author: Dwight A. Pryor
James 2:20-22 – I want to speak to you on the subject of perfecting or completing your
faith, an I want to o so in the conte!t of you being a part of the congregation or the
community of "o – which is entirely appropriate to call the community of faith# I hear
a story that seems appropriate to the subject# A woman $isite an attorney an was fe
up with her husban an wante a i$orce, an she says to the attorney, %I wish to file for
a i$orce&# 'e says, %o you ha$e grouns&, an she says %appro!imately a (uarter of an
acre&# 'e says, %no, I mean, o you ha$e a gruge)& *he says, %no, but we ha$e a
carport&# 'e thought for a moment an says %well, let me ask you this – oes your
husban beat you up)& *he says, %no, I am always the first one up e$ery morning&#
+inally an frustrate he says, %well, why o you want a i$orce)& *he says, %my
husban oesn&t unerstan me&# *ometimes we communicate but we on&t really
unerstan what we are saying# I ha$e isco$ere that that is often the case with the
concept of faith# ,e say a lot about faith – %faith in "o, faith in Jesus, ha$e faith-ha$e
faith&.but we really are not communicating biblically#
I want you to consier what Jesus sai in /atth 01# +or the first time he is about to
re$eal his estiny to his isciples2 his going up to Jerusalem to be literally lifte upon a
cross# 3ut he en(uires of them 4as is typical of rabbis – they woul begin a iscussion by
asking a (uestion5, %who o men say that I am)& 6eter answers, %you are the /essiah,
you are "o&s *on&2 whereupon Jesus answers, %I am going to buil my church on this
rock an the gates of 'aes will not pre$ail against it&# ,hat is the wor that Jesus use
here) Jesus as a Jewish man, a rabbi in the 0st century, taught in 'ebrew.an that is
often $ery significant to unerstan what he is saying# In this case there are two 'ebrew
wors that he coul ha$e use# 7he more ob$ious choice is the wor kahal, an often
toay you will fin /essianic congregations that will use this wor, like in 8ehilat
*halom – the community of peace# It is a wor use in the 'ebrew 3ible, an it refers to
the community 4assembly5 of Israel – it correspons to the wor %assembly& which in the
97 is known as ekklesia# 3ut :r# ;insay an other scholars in Jerusalem that I work
with belie$e that Jesus in&t use that wor on this occasion, rather he use another wor,
an with $ery important reasons# 7hat wor is the wor eah – it comes from the wor
%e& which means a witness, an the wor eah coul be translate a witnessing boy or
community or congregation#
7his wor is use for the first time in the <7 when the chilren of Israel are in 6haraoh&s
sla$ery an the eath angel is about to pass o$er them.they are about to be reeeme
an eli$ere from sla$ery in =gypt# >orresponing to this ecisi$e act of "o&s
reemption 4his grace coming into their life, his sal$ation being mae manifest to them5 –
for the first time they 4the chilren of Israel5 are spoken of as an eah# 7he wor kahal
can refer to all people that are associate or assemble with Israel, not only the Israelites
but also the sojourners, the aliens, etc# – a kahal is a loose assembly# 3ut it is only when
the spiritual sense of purpose an unity come together that they become a cohesi$e
congregation, characterise by a sense of purpose an calling that they are then escribe
as the eah 4or congregation5 of Israel# Jesus is calling his church to be an eah# ?ou
will isco$er something interesting if you were to rea :eut 1:@ in a 'ebrew 3ible – the
final letter of the first wor *h&ma 4hear5 is the ayin 4A5, an it is printe larger than the
normal letters.the last wor in that statement is echa 4one5, an the final alet 45 on
that letter is larger than the other letters# 7his is the only occurrence like this in the
3ible# ,hy is it one that way) 3ecause when these two letters 4ayin an alet5 are put
together, it makes the wor A 4e - witness5# Accoring to the sages e$ery time you
confess the *h&ma, e$ery time you eclare that "o 4?ahweh5 is our "o an that he
alone is "o an he is one, you are being a witness to his kingship, to his so$ereignty#
Jesus wants you as the church to be his witnesses, but again you ha$e a wor here
4witness5 that oesn&t e!actly mean to us toay what it shoul mean to us from a biblical
point of $iew# ,e think of witness as haning out a tract, or in$iting someone to church
or showing them the roa to sal$ation –- an that is an aspect of witnessing# *o we ha$e
courses on witnessing an the preacher will tell you: %you nee to be a witness&# ,e
always think of that: %well, I nee to go an tell someone about Jesus&# 3ut the wor e
4witness5 or eah 4witnessing community5 is a far broaer wor than that# 7he truth of
the matter is you are a witness alreay# It is a force option, you on&t ha$e an option of
being a witness or not being a witness – you are a witness# 7he only option you ha$e is
to whether you are going to be a goo witness or a ba witness – because literally e$ery
action that you take, e$ery wor that you speak, e$ery thought that you ha$e, either
witnesses positi$ely to "o an his kingship or negati$ely# 7he way you o business as a
businessman witnesses to the kingship of Jesus in your life.an I am sorry to say that
too often >hristian businesses on&t gi$e a proper witness# Just because you put a sign of
a fish on your oor oesn&t mean you are engage in ethical, upright righteous practices –
but you shoul be, because you are being a witness# In your con$ersation, in your
conuct, in your employment, in your relationship at home with your wife, with your
chilren – you are continually being a witness# *o the (uestion is: what kin of witness)
?ou see, Jesus wants to be so$ereign o$er e$ery imension of your life – that is what the
message of the kingom of "o is all about# 'e wants to rule an reign o$er you as king
as you submit to his authority an as you obey his will# An so oing you woul bring
e$ery aspect of your life – financial, spiritual, what you eat, etc# – uner his so$ereignty#
I was just last week at a seminar hel by :r# ,hitaker, an he was teaching on how
important it is for >hristians to eat right# 'e says it is a sin the way >hristian parents are
rearing their chilren# 'e sai, %we are going to see in the ne!t 20 years unparallele
amounts of isease, heart attacks in our chilren as they grow up# 7here has ne$er been a
generation so poorly nourishe# ,hy is it that the boy of >hrist is more sick, less
healthy than the forces of arkness in this worl, like the 9ew Age mo$ement.why is it
they take care of their boies an we on&t)& =$ery imension of your life shoul be
calle into capti$ity# ?our thoughts shoul be hel capti$e to >hrist, your actions, your
wors, your tongue, your time, your eyes.what o you spen your time watching an
listening to) In all of that you are gi$ing witness unto Jesus – an you corporately as you
come together 4corporately5 in a sense of purpose, in a sense of community, in a sense of
calling gi$e witness to Jesus#
I want to speak on just one aspect of this# If we are the congregation 4the eah, the
community5 of "o, then shoul not the chief characteristic of us an of our corporate
life be the witness of faith) *houl we not be known as the community of faith) I
belie$e we shoul, an I want to aress that# ,hat oes it mean to be a person of faith)
'ab 2:2-@ – this passage is cite four times in the 97# It is an important pi$otal passage
– not only in the 97 but also in Jewish literature of this perio# 7he rabbis trie to
conense the essence of our relationship with "o as follows: accoring to careful
calculation there are 10B commanments in the 7orah, but at ifferent times the sages
woul try to conense those by citing other scriptures 4from Isaiah2 6salms5 to a reuce
number that woul gi$e the essence of these 10B# <ne reuce them to C0, an another
to 0D, to 00 an to B – but when it was all sai an one they reuce all 10B to one te!t –
a te!t that they say gi$es the $ery heart of man&s relationship with "o, the $ery heart of
your responsibility# An that te!t was 'ab 2:@ – the just shall li$e by his faith# *o this
te!t is $itally important, not only to the Jewish worl of Jesus, but also to the 97 worl
of 6aul, an to you an to me toay#
3ut what oes it mean, what oes this wor %faith& mean) =#g# 'ab 0:C – I ha$e hear
this te!t use in prophesies in which people woul prophesy, %"o is going to o great
things with this church – they are so great, e$en if you were to see it you woul not
belie$e it&, an then e$eryboy gets real e!cite about that# 3ut the truth of the matter is,
this is a shocking thing, not a blessing thing# 3ecause if you look at the ne!t $erse, the
;or says, %what is this amaEing thing that I am going to o that you are not going to
belie$e) Fs# 1 – %I, the 'oly <ne of the uni$erse am going to use the scourge of the earth
to accomplish my purposes&# An that is why 'abakkuk is staggere by this, that is why
"o says, %you are not going to belie$e this e$en when you see it&# 7his in&t (uite fit
into the theological scheme that 'abakkuk was operating with# 'a$e you e$er ha that
e!perience where your reality oesn&t (uite fit into the theology you think you are
operating with) "o efies limitation – he is so$ereign, he may o as he pleases# An
here he has chosen to use this scourge of a nation to accomplish his will, e$en using them
to punish his people, his elect, his chosen#
3ut the point I want to make here is, %you are not going to belie$e this if you were to hear
it&# Is that wor belief the same wor as faith in ch# 2:@) 9o it is not – it is a relate but
it is a ifferent wor# If I were to ask you where the first occurrence in the biblical te!t of
the wor faith is – probably the thing that woul come to your min woul be in "enesis
0C where Abraham belie$e "o an it was counte to him as righteousness, or in
=!ous where the chilren of Israel belie$e "o# 3ut in the same manner, that wor
belief there is relate to the wor for faith, but it is not the same wor#
7he first occurrence in the 'ebrew 3ible of the wor faith is foun in =! 0G where the
chilren of Israel ha$e just been spare an sa$e by "o&s grace# 7his may be a
theological scheme you ha$e that nees to be correcte . the spiritually mine among
the Jews ne$er taught that you coul earn your sal$ation by works, you are always sa$e
by "o&s grace# It was nothing that the chilren of Israel i that mae "o come own
an sa$e them out of =gypt – he i it by his mercy, by his grace# <nce he sa$es you by
his grace, then he e!pects your obeience, your allegiance, your ser$ice# 7hey ha just
been reeeme by the grace of "o, an no sooner are they set free by the grace of "o
than they run into the enemy 4ha$e any of you e$er encountere that – no sooner o you
get sa$e an get fille with the *pirit, then immeiately the enemy swoops in an tries
to steal that $ictory from you)5# 7his battle in chapter 0G rages between Israel an
Amelek, the Amelekites attack the Israelites at Hephiim an the battle rages# 3ut /oses
staning on the mountain raises his staff towars "o an as long as he oes so the
Israelites pre$ail# 3ut his arms grow weary, but as his arms rop the Amelekites pre$ail#
Fs#02 – %-an his hans were steay until the going own of the sun&# 7he wor
%steay& here is the first occurrence of the 'ebrew wor emunah 4faith5#
,hy oes it matter that this is the first occurrence) 7here is a $ery important principle of
biblical interpretation, an it is this: if you want to unerstan a wor or a concept, it is
e!tremely important that you go to the first occurrence of that wor to set the stage for
the basic meaning of such a worIterm# An so it is in this case – if you want to
unerstan what faith is you must begin with this te!t# ,hat i faith mean to Jesus,
what i faith mean to 6aul – is it the same thing as belief)
7he <7 was translate into "reek 4some two centuries before Jesus5 because many Jews
throughout the worl were not 'ebrew speakers, they were "reek speakers# ,hen the
97 was compose, most of it was compose in "reek# 7he "reek wor that was use for
this 'ebrew wor emunah, was the wor pistes or pisteo.an from its culture it tens to
mean an to emphasise the intellect# It is a matter of what you belie$e in – you belie$e in
this, this or this 4certain propositions, truths5# 3ut the 'ebrew wor emunah has belief as
a component of it, but it is far more than belief# If you think of faith as just a matter of
what I belie$e 4e#g# - I ha$e got to ha$e faith in "o means to belie$e in "o5 you are
missing a $ery important point#
,hen the psalmist says %the fool says in his heart, there is no "o&, he is not talking
about an atheist or about someone who oesn&t belie$e in "o – what the psalmist is
saying, is, Jthe fool says in his heart, %no "o&K# It is not a matter of belie$ing or not
belie$ing . e$eryone in the biblical worl belie$e in gos or in the "o# 3ut what is at
stake here is – the psalmist is saying, %the person who is saying to "o, %no I&m not going
to o your will, I&m not going to submit to you& – he is the fool&# 3ecause you see, the
opposite of the 'ebrew wor %faithL is not unbelief# 7his is what you ten to think
because you think faith is belief, but belief is only a component of faith# 7he opposite of
faith is isobeience, because the 'ebrew wor emunah means steainess, steafastness,
persistence, loyalty, firmness, fielity . or if we want to come up with one wor that
woul con$ey all of this, the best wor for the 'ebrew term emunah is faithfulness# 7he
just, the sa$e, or the righteous man will gi$e e$ience of that by li$ing a life
characterise by faithfulness – that is what 'abakkuk is saying# 7hat is why the sages of
Israel emphasise this te!t#
7he basis of your entire relationship with "o is relate to his faithfulness, which shoul
raw forth your faithfulness# ?ou are sa$e by his grace, but what is commane is your
faithfulness2 because he has sa$e you in orer for you to o the goo works that he has
oraine for you to o# 7he basic meaning of faith is faithfulness# ?es, it is important to
belie$e in "o, to trust him – but what is the basis of your belief in him, what is the basis
of your trust in him) It is his faithfulness# ?ou can count on "o, he will o what he
says2 if he promises a thing he will o it, he is %a man& of his wor 4I wish we coul say
that of all men5# 'is wor is truth, it is light# Jesus says, %my wors are spirit an truth&#
"o&s faithfulness is one of his chief characteristics# *o when it speaks of %faith in "o&
– both in the 3ible an among the Jewish sages that Jesus was associate with, that term
always refers not to belief but to beha$iour# 7o ha$e faith in "o is the beha$iour that a
person e!hibits in a specific situation# If you e!amine 'ebrews 00 4the so-calle faith-
hall of fame5 you will fin that all those men are accounte for us – not for what they
belie$e, but because of what they i# Just as James commens Abraham – his faith
was complete by what he i 4his beha$iour5#
If you coul e$er get this in your min an heart – that faith in "o is more that just a
matter of belief in "o – I belie$e it woul be an important stepping stone towars you
becoming the church that "o wants you to be, because it is not enough to just bring
someboy to belief# 7hat is but the first step in a process of faithfulness."o is looking
for faithful people, he is looking for you an me# +aithfulness 4%the obeience of faith& –
as 6aul calls it in Homans5 is man&s $ery reaction or response to "o&s grace, to "o&s
initiati$e an actions# In other wors, "o takes the initiati$e an then our response is
faithfulness# "race is "o&s han e!tening to man, an faithfulness is man&s han
taking hol of "o# ?ou nee both - you are sa$e by "o&s grace, but your faithfulness
is neee to make the transaction complete#
It is "o&s faithfulness that is proclaime throughout the biblical te!t# 6s DM –
faithfulness is the chief characteristic of "o# Fs#0,2,C,D,0@,etc# In :eut B2 he is calle
=l =munah – the faithful "o, without ini(uity2 he is the rock, his works are perfect# 7he
point is, "o shows his faithfulness in all his works# 6s M2:0,2 – %lo$e& here is chese
which refers to "o&s grace, but it also can be translate "o&s co$enant faithfulness#
7hat is why the psalmist says, %this is better than life&# If "o is not faithful or gracious
in your life, you ha$e no life# ,here woul we be if we ser$e a capricious "o, that
one ay thinks kinly of us an the ne!t ay thinks negati$ely of us) <f all people the
most miserable# 3ut his chese 4his co$enant loyalty, co$enant faithfulness, his grace5 is
better than life, an the wor emunah 4faithfulness5 is parallel to this wor chese# In $s#
2 the psalmist says, %to proclaim your chese in the morning an your emunah in the
night – I&m going to eclare how awesome an wonerful you are "o, I am going to
eclare your co$enant loyalty in the morning an I am going to praise your faithfulness at
night&# Fs# @ – %you make me gla by your ees < ;or, I sing for joy at the works of
your hans&#
'ow o we know "o is faithful) :oes he go aroun saying it all the time) ,e know
"o is faithful by what he oes . what he has one an what he is oing2 what he i in
Jesus an what he will o in you# Is it not the case then that "o will know our faith by
what we o – not by what we say, not by what cree we sign or confess# "o knows
your faithfulness by your beha$iour# It is like a person who is always saying, %you can
trust me, you can trust me& – you ten to be wary of people who say that all the time#
"o oesn&t ha$e to eclare his faithfulness 4his people eclare his faithfulness5, because
there is abunant e$ience of that in e$erything he oes# >an he say the same of you –
that your works, your ees show your faith in "o) I hope so, an I e!hort you to o
so#
+aithfulness is also parallele with the wors for righteousness an sal$ation# 9ot only is
faithfulness the chief characteristic of "o, it is also the chief characteristic of Jesus#
Hom B:22 says the righteousness from "o comes through the faithfulness of Jesus >hrist
to all who belie$e# 7he wor there is %comes through the faith of Jesus >hrist& – or
sometimes it is translate as %comes through faith in Jesus >hrist&# ,e think that te!t
refers to the fact that we share in the righteousness of "o because we belie$e in Jesus#
7hat is a truth – but the eeper truth is that the righteousness from "o comes through
the faithfulness of Jesus >hrist# I am saying that you or I woul ha$e no righteousness to
share in ha Jesus not remaine faithful to his mission an ie upon a cross for you an
for me# It was his etermination, his persistence, his loyalty to "o2 he says, %I o
nothing but what the +ather gi$es me to o, I say nothing but what the +ather gi$es me to
say&# It was the faithfulness of Jesus in obeience unto eath that shows the
righteousness of "o# An when you belie$e in that an accept that, an respon in
faithfulness to that you become the righteousness of "o, you gi$e e$ience of "o&s
righteousness in your life# *o, "o is faithful, Jesus is faithful#
7he writer of 'ebrews lists a whole group of people that are e!tolle for their
faithfulness# 7he whole point I want to make to you is simply this: you are calle to
faithfulness, an that faithfulness manifests in many ways# *ome of us are calle to
greater faithfulness in stuy, some of us are calle to greater faithfulness in worship, in
prayer, in gi$ing, in ser$ing, in walking the walk# ,hate$er it is, I can tell you, "o
esires, "o honours an prospers those who remain faithful# "o wants faithfulness# It
is like the mustar see – he is not looking for great things from you# 7he focus of your
faith is not on your faith, the focus of your faith is "o2 which is to say – you on&t ha$e
to ha$e %great faith& 4to belie$e, just belie$e5 to o something for "o, you simply ha$e
to ha$e faithfulness to a great "o# ?ou on&t ha$e to ha$e great powers of intellect to
just belie$e-belie$e – no it is not that# Jesus sai if you just ha$e the faithfulness of a
mustar see "o can mo$e mountains – because he is faithful#
+aithfulness is neee in times of a$ersity# I am not a prophet, but I o ha$e a
con$iction that not only are we entering ifficult times, but I belie$e times may become
more ifficult# It may be far less popular than it is toay to be a faithful witness to Jesus,
an I want to encourage you the church, that whate$er a$ersity you are in, to fin ways
of faithfulness#
'abakkuk closes his letter with a fantastic statement# 'e was a typical Jew2 he was not in
the least reluctant to e!press his opinion, an irectly to "o – which I think is a healthy
thing# A lot of >hristians woul be far better of if they took their an!iety out on "o
rather than on each other, their wi$es, or on themsel$es by internalising it# If you on&t
unerstan something, tell "o you on&t unerstan it an ask him to make it clear#
'abakkuk challenges "o, %what o you mean, you are going to use these 3abylonians –
that oesn&t correspon to your stanars of righteousness "o&# "o answers
'abakkuk, an what is 'abakkuk&s response) >h# B:01 – when you encounter the holy
"o, you are not (uite as pompous as you are when you are on your own# Fs# 0G-0M –
'abakkuk is saying %though all else fails me I will remain faithful to "o, I will remain
steafast to the "o of Israel# /aybe the oli$e crop is failing, maybe the $ine is failing
4the wine is a type of joy5#& /aybe some of you on&t ha$e the joy that you once ha or
that you woul like to ha$e, or maybe you on&t ha$e the work of the 'oly *pirit in your
life like you use to ha$e 4the oli$e crop that is failing5, or maybe your financial
prosperity 4no cattle in your fiel an no sheep in the stalls5 is not all that you woul like
it to be, or maybe it is failing# >an you say in the mist of all that – %I will rejoice in
"o, I will remain faithful to him&) 7hat is the sign of the true church of "o, the church
that remains faithful in the mist of this#
,hen I rea this te!t I am always remine when Jesus an his isciples ha complete
the *eer at 6asso$er, an they went out to "ethsemane.Jesus, on the way to this
crushing e!perience, on the way to eath, sings 6s 00D – this is the ay the ;or has
mae, let us rejoice an be gla in him# 7he wor bo at the en of the sentence can be
translate either it or him# 9ormally it is translate – let us rejoice an be gla in it# 3ut
listen, there are a lot of ays that on&t spur rejoicing, but regarless of the circumstances
4e$en if you were on the way to the cross5 you can still say, %this is the ay that the ;or
has mae, I will rejoice an be gla in him&# 7hough the oli$e crop fails, though the wine
fails, though the sheep isappear, I can still rejoice in "o my *a$iour.I can still be
faithful because he is faithful#
If you ha$e the faithfulness of just a mustar see in your beha$iour, whate$er it is
4work, at home, at the church5 . if you will be faithful, "o will be faithful, he will
honour your efforts# An remember this, you are not calle to success, you are calle to
faithfulness# 7he success is his to gi$e, an his to recei$e#
?our call is to be faithful# I e!hort you, I encourage you.remain faithful to "o, be the
people of faith#
N 200@ 7he >enter for Juaic->hristian *tuies#
All rights reser$e#