15. October 2023
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Faith is a struggle. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:12). It is a matter of fighting in the way it is done in a competition, where only one can win the prize. When the Apostle looks back upon his own life, he can declare that he has fought the good fight, he has finished the course, and has succeeded in that on which all depends—he has kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7).
Our faith is the victory which overcomes the world, says the Apostle John. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him… For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4ff)
So, against what must faith fight? First, it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to hinder them from coming to faith. Jesus describes it this way: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18ff).
Thus, the Bible speaks of the enemies of Christ as “the world.” From the very beginning, the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition. It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner” (John 9:24). It could take place under threat of imprisonment and death. Consider how the Sanhedrin put the Apostles in prison, accused them of insurrection, plotted to kill them unsuccessfully, and settled to have them beaten in Acts 4. This is the kind of reception we should expect from the unbelieving world.
But second, we have the resistance to faith within ourselves also. The enemy is not just outside us, it is us, too. Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:7-8). The old Adam must be crucified. But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its refutations of faith and its nature remains at enmity with God. As St. Paul writes, “With the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom 7:25).
How, then, can our faith become so strong that it can overcome the world? It depends first and always on whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5) This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ himself, that is, with him who has overcome the world. If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The victory depends not on our faith but on Christ, to whom true faith holds fast. Therefore, a struggling faith, which feels weak, can be much stronger than a faith that feels strong because it relies on its experiences, feelings, and earlier victories (2 Cor 12:9-10). As soon as you take hold of faith, as if it comes by your reason or strength, it is no longer faith. Faith always has an object, someone, or something that you trust. And if it is not in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, it will find another god. If God permits us to fail, then he wants us to learn to rely entirely on Christ. As the Apostle directs us, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5).
Remember how Jesus warned the “lukewarm” Christians at the church of Laodicea? That harsh Word is the constant call for a vigilant and disciplined life of faith. Our forefathers in the faith chose to put that warning before you every time you gather for Divine Service. It’s right behind me, the window of Jesus before the door. Everyone loves the comforting message of the Good Shepherd window. But have you asked yourself what’s going on in the other? If Jesus is knocking, will you open to Him, your bridegroom who comes?
Hear His preaching again: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:17-20).
Do you notice who is at work to create and sustain faith? Do you see where faith comes from? That which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word. The only way you can hear His voice, open the door, and receive Him is if He creates faith through His gifts of forgiveness, “gold,” and clothed in His righteousness, “white garments,” and healed to see, “salve.” Faith does not come from you. It is given to you by Jesus rebuking, disciplining, converting, and repenting you by His Spirit.
If we want to exercise and strengthen our faith, we must be careful not to neglect His Word and never think we can get along without it. This is why Jesus always speaks to those He would bring to faith, like the woman caught in adultery (John 7:45ff), and the man born blind (John 9:25ff). “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). The gifts of faith are given in Divine Service, the pattern of Christian worship since the Apostles, just as St. Paul described the gifts given to the church of Colossai and the life of the new Adam, Christ in us.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:12-17)
May God give us that it may be said: “The Word of God dwells in you.” And that it may also be said of us: “The word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14). And this Word promises to give faith, faith in the victory which overcomes the world, Jesus Christ crucified for your forgiveness.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin