A Case for Simple Faith
Jesus told a story about a wayward son who wasted his inheritance on wild living and ended up destitute. Filled with guilt and shame, the young man returned to his father’s house in hopes of working as a servant—he didn’t dare believe he could return as a son. When the boy arrived home, his father rushed to greet him, threw his arms around him, and dressed him in fine clothing and jewelry. The father’s loving response far exceeded anything the son could have imagined (Luke 15:11-32).
This story is a picture of God’s love for us. He allows us to decide whether we will walk with Him or go our own way. And what do we do? Like the Prodigal Son, we wander away and find ourselves spiritually destitute. When we come to our senses, our heavenly Father eagerly welcomes us home. Our part is simple: turn back and trust Him.
Is it really that simple? Is faith enough?
Yes, it’s really that simple. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Ephesians 2:8-9 states it this way, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Beyond trusting Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives, there is nothing you and I must do (or can do) to earn God’s love and forgiveness.
But there’s more.
The Role of Works
The Christian life does not end there, and neither does the passage. The next verse in Ephesians explains the purpose underlying God’s rich kindness: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (2:10, emphasis added).
These works are the natural result of a relationship with God, and He provides the power to accomplish them through His Holy Spirit. When we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, the power of Almighty God is unleashed in us; He energizes us and electrifies us to live a godly life. The strengthening of our faith is a joint effort by our Savior and ourselves, but many Christians miss the importance of adding works to their faith. And without realizing it, they limit the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives.
Three Pitfalls on the Path From Simple Faith to Abundant Faith
Over the years, I’ve identified three pitfalls that limit the spiritual growth of God’s people and prevent them from experiencing His power. They are misunderstandings about the nature of salvation, works, and spiritual growth. Once these misunderstandings are corrected, believers can surge into the abundant life of faith found only in Christ (John 10:10).
1. Our faith is limited by our understanding of salvation.
The moment we truly receive Christ as Savior and Lord, we are instantly and eternally saved from the penalty of sin. From that time on, we’re gradually saved from the power of sin as we grow in godliness.
Philippians 2:12 gives this instruction: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Strong’s Concordance describes the meaning of the original word for work out as to “effect by labor, achieve, work out, bring about.”1 To the original audience, work out referred to those who worked in the coal mines. They mined out of the ground what the Creator had already placed there and then brought those riches to light.
The Christian’s role is to work out what God has worked in us by cultivating the characteristics of a godly life. Salvation from the penalty of sin is a gift. Like any other gift, it is up to us how we use it. We can leave it unopened, or we can unwrap its treasures with fear and trembling. When we demonstrate thankfulness for God’s gift by working to be more like Him, we find freedom from the power of sin.
2. Our faith is limited by our understanding of works.
Good works do not save us, but they are an essential evidence of the salvation experience. James 2:17 states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Think of it this way: if a doctor admonishes me to eat more carefully and exercise daily, I’m more likely to follow his advice after I spot him at the gym than if I catch him in a buffet line. Talk is cheap—our actions reveal our convictions.
Work may be a four-letter word, but it is a blessing. Even the angels work! They are “sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), and they guard God’s children (Psalm 34:7).
Before sin entered the world, God tasked Adam and Eve with filling the earth and subduing it (Genesis 1:28). He placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to “tend it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Conducting business on behalf of the Most High King is a privilege, and it brings purpose to our lives.
Knowing that Christ has redeemed us should increase our zeal to do good works while we await His return. He has equipped us with gifts and resources so that we can accomplish His will. We tend to think of stewardship in terms of money, but our responsibility extends far beyond that. We are accountable for our time and our skills as well.
One day, Christ will judge each Christian’s works (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Enduring work will be rewarded; worthless works—those performed with impure motives—will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). And works performed to serve others demonstrate the presence of God’s love in our hearts (1 John 3:16-17).
God’s grace is not a license for laziness; it should motivate us to please Him. Everything we consider a “good work” for God is best understood as an expression of stewardship. The father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, said that a person is saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. When God’s stewards experience saving faith, their faith produces good works for His glory.
3. Our faith is limited by our understanding of spiritual growth.
We’d like to think that walking with the Lord means our problems will disappear. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Notice that He did not say “if you have tribulation”; He said we will have tribulation. Five different passages of Scripture encourage us not to “lose heart.”
This passage is from Galatians: “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (6:9). Christians have as much trouble as anyone else. The difference is that God has given us the power to overcome our problems, and we experience peace through His promises.
Learning to live an exceptional life is a process that never ends, and it often begins in times of difficulty and chaos. Consider the example of Geoffrey Bull, a British missionary who was taken prisoner when the communists overtook China in 1949. During the first year, Geoffrey was confined to a solitary cell that wasn’t much larger than a phone booth. Convinced Geoffrey was a British spy, the Chinese used all sorts of mental tortures to break him.
After more than three years, Geoffrey Bull was finally released to British authorities. He spent several months recuperating … and then he returned to the mission field. Geoffrey understood his challenges in the context of eternity. He realized they were fertile opportunities for growth in his own life and served as a testimony to others. He knew God had never forsaken him.
We must not allow our circumstances or our emotional condition to drive our commitment level. Many of us don’t pray because we don’t feel like it. We don’t read our Bibles because there are other things we’d rather be doing. In the words of R. C. Sproul,
Relationships require work, and if we only invest in our relationship with God when we feel like it, our spiritual life will suffer.
The Key to Growing Our Faith Is Diligence
There are no shortcuts to Christian maturity. Second Peter instructs us to give “all diligence” to growing our faith (1:5; emphasis added), and Proverbs states, “Diligence is man’s precious possession” (12:27). We bear responsibility for our spiritual growth, but God supplies the resources we need. Diligence is the key to following Him and enjoying the rewards of a life spent with Him.
We have a responsibility to grow our faith, but as we’ll see, God provides the resources we need to be successful. He even promises rewards to those who grow spiritually.
The Responsibility of Our Faith
In the language of the New Testament, diligence means “to strenuously give yourself to something.” It is associated with athletics and conveys the sweat-producing effort that leads to becoming a champion. A secondary meaning is connected to the word “lavish.” As in, to give yourself to something lavishly. This connotation stems from the Greek plays and the patrons who financially supported them. These sponsors would try to outdo each other by financing extravagant props and scenery.
A modern equivalent might be the Olympic Games. Competitors devote their lives to strenuous training in hopes of ascending the gold-medal podium while countries vie for the privilege of hosting the event. The athletes demonstrate their diligence through years of blood, sweat, and tears. The host nation demonstrates its diligence through lavish spending on opening and closing ceremonies that are carefully choreographed to showcase its strengths and disguise its weaknesses.
Have you ever shown up to an elegant event only to discover you are underdressed? It’s a terrible feeling. Imagine how much worse to show up in heaven looking like you’ve just escaped a fire. According to 1 Corinthians 3:15, that’s a real possibility! It says, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” A better option is to prepare for that day so that we can present ourselves before the Lord “without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).
We must strenuously and lavishly participate in our own spiritual growth. In his final days on earth, the apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy. Timothy was like a son to Paul, and this letter contains Paul’s final instructions to his protégé. It includes this solemn charge: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Paul’s instructions apply to us as well. Our life’s work is to rigorously study and apply God’s Word to every circumstance while eagerly pursuing spiritual growth.
The Resources of Our Faith
In 2 Peter 1, we find an astonishing statement about the resources God has placed at our disposal. “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (verse 3, emphasis added). God hasn’t given us some things or most things, He has given us all things!
The next verse tells us where we can find these things: in the “exceedingly great and precious promises” of the Word of God. That means the Bible is a utility kit for everything we need to live with confidence in a chaotic world. There are seven basic tools in our utility kit we can use to build upon our faith.
This is the New Testament word for moral goodness: doing the right thing no matter what the circumstances might dictate. Virtuous people are consistent from one situation to another. Their decisions are driven by their morals, not popular opinion. Meditating on virtuous things enables us to enjoy God’s peace (Philippians 4:8-9).
Our minds are like computers that are constantly processing data. What we put into them programs our decisions, which is why it is so important to spend time in God’s Word on a continual basis. It was by memorizing impressive portions of Scripture that Geoffrey Bull built mental strongholds that his communist prison wardens could not penetrate. Study God’s Word and sit under the teaching of the Word of God every week.
We have the power to choose our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Anything worth achieving in life is the result of diligently exercising self-control by bending our comfort to our convictions. Proverbs teaches that “it is better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (16:32).
In the book of Colossians, Paul instructed slaves to serve their masters with “sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23). We may not be indentured servants, but many of us find ourselves subject to harsh bosses and other difficult people. Responding to these situations in a way that honors God requires careful discipline and restraint.
To persevere means to voluntarily and continually endure difficulties and hardships for the sake of honor. Robert Morgan, my friend and fellow pastor, has said, “We’ll never awaken to a morning in which the Lord has given us work to do or burdens to bear without providing the strength we need.”3
Prayer is, perhaps, the most difficult discipline to stick with as a Christian, but it releases God’s power in our lives and helps us achieve the impossible (Matthew 21:22; Mark 9:29; Acts 12:5-7; James 5:17-18).
The godly Christian is the one who is truly humble before God, who reveres and respects Him, who accepts His holy majesty and anger and judgment as well as His love. In a matter of probably hours, a man named Job lost everything that was important to him except his wife and his own life. Eventually his wife lost heart, telling him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) He did not. Through it all, Job clung to godliness, and he found a pathway nearer to the tender mercies of heaven than he had ever walked before.
Our lives should be visibly different from the world around us in terms of our kindness. While others claw their way to the top, we should be running to the aid of hurting souls. Colossians 3:12 says to “put on” kindness as if it were clothing—it’s the first thing people should notice when they meet us.
In the first verses of Acts 28, there is a brief mention of the natives Paul encountered on his missionary journey to the Mediterranean island of Malta. These people were considered barbarians by both Greeks and Romans, but Scripture indicates they “showed [Paul and others with him] unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made [them] all welcome” (Acts 28:2).
It doesn’t take much to be kind. We are all capable of demonstrating compassion—not randomly as our culture suggests, but intentionally putting the needs of others ahead of our own for the sake of the Gospel.
Jesus said love is the defining characteristic of His disciples. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He also said that loving God and loving others, in that order, are the greatest two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
Many people think of love as a passing emotion, but Jesus described it as an enduring commitment that encompasses our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength (Mark 12:30). It involves our entire being. There are many ways to express God’s love to others, but one of the kindest, most loving things we can do is to share our faith.
Faith is always the prerequisite to our diligence. Second Peter 1:5-6 instructs us to add all these characteristics to our belief, but faith is the beginning of the process. If you examine 2 Peter 1 carefully, you’ll notice that grace and peace are multiplied by God in verse 2, and then we add the seven tools. God does the multiplying, and we do the adding.
We have a role in working out our salvation, but “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
The Rewards of Our Faith
Diligently pursuing a life of godliness leads to eternal benefits. Anyone who earnestly seeks spiritual growth will not be cast away, lose their way, or stumble in their faith, and they will enjoy an “abundant” entrance into heaven (2 Peter 1:11). What is at stake is not our admittance to heaven but the quality of our journey.
There are three types of rewards that result from spiritual growth.
The reward of stability in our Christian life:
“If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8, NIV). Old, unhelpful habits will fall away as profitable habits grow, and we will experience greater resilience through life’s ups and downs. Character is the result of persistent action, and a pattern of diligence will lead to stability.
The reward of vitality in our Christian life:
Vitality is defined as abundant mental and physical energy. It’s the ability to embrace change, not fear it. It’s living with confidence in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and allowing that hope to inspire our work and ministry.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58, emphasis added). To live a vivacious Christian life is to know, as Paul did, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
The reward of reality in our Christian life:
As we grow, we learn to connect the truth of the Gospel to the needs of people around us. Some people believe that faith promotes a fantasy world where we escape our problems, but Peter suggests that faith leads us to greater reality and greater connection with our world. We won’t be escape artists; we will be embrace artists. We will embrace the world’s problems and bring Jesus right into the center of them, which is the only real solution.
It’s impossible to overestimate the potential of God’s power at work in your life and in mine. His power is available to us to meet every need we have as we seek to live a life of godliness in an ungodly world. Experiencing that power is one of the greatest rewards of a faith-filled life.
Digging Up Faith
Travelers from around the world visit Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park to search for diamonds. The park is situated on the surface of a diamond-bearing volcanic crater, and it claims to be the only diamond-producing site in the world that invites the public to sift its soil—and to keep anything they find. A day’s pass only costs a few dollars, and stones are found almost daily.
Since the park opened in 1972, visitors have found more than 33,100 diamonds.4 Access is easy; the only tricky part is finding the diamonds. They are generally about the size of a paper match head, and they come in a variety of colors. Digging for diamonds requires a keen eye and sifting through the dirt.
Jesus paid the “price” of admission to heaven for us. Simple faith is all that is required of us, but vibrant faith requires rolling up our sleeves and digging in the dirt each day as we work out our salvation. Faith in God is more than a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It is a lifelong journey that leads back to our Father’s home, and there are pitfalls along the way. The key to an abundant life of faith is diligence. If we keep a keen eye, we will possess the tools to grow our faith; we will discover hidden gems; and we will find ourselves in the best spiritual shape of our lives.
1Bible Hub https://biblehub.com, “2716.katergazomai,” https://biblehub.com/greek/2716.htm, accessed on May 16, 2019.
2R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 31.
3Robert J. Morgan, The Strength You Need (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 12.
4Crater of Diamonds State Park https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/crater-diamonds-state-park, accessed on May 16, 2019.