The Gift of Faith
Scripture: Philippians 1
Text: Philippians 1:29 and Lord’s Day 25
Sermon by Rev. James Reaves
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Kelowna, British Columbia, 2001
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 18, No. 3
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
For years as a young Christian, I thought that believing was something I had been busy doing on my own. I believed in Jesus. The people around me believed in Jesus, and I wanted to be like them, so I believed too. It was my activity. I did a lot of things by myself in those days. I got out of bed in the morning, I put on my own clothes, I went downstairs and ate breakfast, I brushed my teeth and I went out the front door and off to school on my own two feet. This was the kind of thing I was expected to do and I did it. It was my activity and I thought of my faith in very much the same way. It was something I did. At least that is the way I understood my faith. Nobody around me bothered to ask the question, “Whence comes this faith?” and it never occurred to me to ask the question either.
It wasn’t until years later, when I became a student at Westminster Theological Seminary, that I discovered people who had a different idea about “Whence comes this faith?” They taught that faith was a gift of God, and it was a whole new idea for me to think about. Could these people be right? I wondered. And to find out I turned to my Bible to see what it had to say on the matter. It was then that I found out that these people were right. The Bible does teach us that faith is a gift that God gives to us. One place where the Bible teaches this truth is found in Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” It is granted or given to you to believe. This verse is deserving of all the attention we can give to it this morning. It speaks clearly that faith is a gift.
Allow me to point out to you:
I. The reason faith is given;
II. The manner in which faith is given, and;
III. The accompaniment with which faith is given.
Philippians 1:29 tells us that faith has been granted to us “on behalf of Christ.” Faith is given on Christ’s behalf. He is the reason faith is given. Elsewhere in his writings, Paul takes us back before the foundation of the world, and there we find the Father out of His great heart of love choosing a people in His Son. These are the people God wants for His Son, and these are the people God gives to His Son. Jesus makes reference to this gift in John 6:37 where He speaks of those “that the Father gives Me.” So we have this great company of people God wants His Son to possess, and the Son, for His part, very much wants to possess these people also.
But there is a problem here. The chosen ones were part of a sinful fallen humanity, and were doomed to destruction because of their sin. That sin, that condemnation, that destruction had to be removed before these people could ever be embraced as the Son’s people. Something has to be done about the people’s sin. And so great is the Son’s interest in these chosen people that He comes to this earth in the person of Jesus Christ to give His life as a ransom, to redeem His people from destruction. The Son was here, born of the virgin Mary, and known to us by the name of Jesus. He fulfilled all righteousness and pleased the Father in all that He did.
And then we come to the cross where He took upon Himself all the sins of His people, and bore them on that cross, dying the death they deserved. Their redemption was now accomplished. Their sin could now be removed. They could be forgiven and embraced as the Son’s very own. He could take possession of them.
But this accomplished redemption needs to be applied. These people need to be introduced to their Savior. They need to be cleansed of their sin and become united to Christ. And how is that to happen? They are still sinners. They are not interested in either forsaking their sins or coming to Christ. Something else needs to be done if they are ever to become Christ’s people, and God’s solution to this problem is to give them the gift of faith.
We will get around to the manner of this giving shortly, but for the moment we need to observe the initiative of God in granting faith “on behalf of Christ.” It is God’s way of uniting the chosen people to the Savior, Jesus Christ. As faith is given they become aware of their sins and repent of them, separating themselves from sin as best they can. They also become aware of Jesus and turn to embrace Him by faith, thus becoming united to Him. Now they belong to Him. It is done by faith and this faith is given or granted by God “on behalf of Christ.”
Today this faith is offered to everybody who wants it. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says our Lord Jesus Christ. You can have life, rest, and faith simply by coming to Me. Do you have it? Are you a believer? Are you one with Christ today? Has God given to you the gift of faith? Don’t try to live without it another moment. Come to Christ. This gift can become your present possession today. Turn to Him and it will be granted to you on behalf of Christ to believe in Him. There is nothing you need do to deserve it. There is nothing you can do to deserve it. It is granted simply and solely “on behalf of Christ.” Come to Him, and become a believer.
Now that we have established the fact that faith is given, we can turn our attention to the manner in which faith is given. First of all, let it be said that faith is given freely. The Greek word used in this text for giving carries with it the meaning of giving freely or graciously. As I mentioned a moment ago, it is completely undeserved and unmerited. God is even more ready to give this gift than we are to receive it. He is ready to give it away freely. There is nothing you could offer to God that would in anyway make Him more willing to give this gift or help cover its cost. Christ, in giving Himself for us, covered its cost entirely. So the gift of faith is totally free. This may almost sound repetitious, but it is worth making sure that everybody understands that this is a completely free gift. That certainly comes under the heading of the manner in which faith is given, but it doesn’t really explain how God goes about giving it, and the text before us doesn’t give us much help in this respect. At this point the catechism comes to our aid, for it sums up the teaching of all of scripture when it answers the question “Whence comes this faith?” Listen to the answer: “From the Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.”
There are three things we want to notice about this answer. First, the giving of faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is given to the Holy Spirit to apply God’s salvation in our hearts. As Paul points out in Titus 3:5, salvation comes to us by “the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” God does His work in our hearts by the Spirit. And it is the Spirit who gives us faith. We come to faith as a result of God’s Spirit working in us. We need to observe that.
The secondly, faith is given and worked by the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we hear and give attention to the Word of God, and as we listen to “the preaching of the holy gospel.” Romans 10:17 assures us that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The Spirit of God works to create faith in us as we listen to the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The Spirit is the agent who works in our hearts; the reading and preaching of God’s word is the external event that accompanies the Spirit’s inner working.
Thirdly, we observe that the faith thus created can be further strengthened by the use of the holy sacraments. Baptism strengthens the faith of the baptized at some point in time and it also serves to strengthen the faith of those who observe it taking place. Similarly, the Lord’s Supper strengthens the faith of those who partake. So then, if you find yourself outside the community of faith, if you discover that you do not have faith, what should you do? You can certainly pray and ask God to send His Spirit to you to work in your heart. And you can put yourself where you can give attention to God’s Word. Read God’s Word, listen to God’s Word, and listen to God’s Word being preached. Sooner or later, and most likely sooner, you will discover that the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart and you have become a believer.
Consider in this respect the story of the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out in a most remarkable way and people started asking, “What is going on?” Then Peter stood up and started preaching the Word of God. And what happened? Many were cut to the heart by what they heard, and asked what they should do. They were told in effect to repent and believe the gospel, and three thousand people became believers and were added to the church. How did these people become believers? The Spirit of God was at work. The Word of God was proclaimed, and faith was given. That’s the way it always is. That’s the way faith is given. And if you want this gift, you know what to do. Ask God for His Spirit to work, and get to where you can hear the Word of God. It works the same today as it did on the day of Pentecost. If you should find today that you are not a believer, now you know what to do.
But when you ask for the gift of faith, it would be well that you take note of what God is pleased to give in accompaniment with the gift of faith. Listen to Philippians 1:29 again, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” God in His wisdom is pleased to give suffering along with the gift of faith. Now if you are like me and many other people, you might say, “Wait a minute, what kind of a gift is a gift of suffering? Gifts like that I would just as soon go without, thank you very much.” But before you react too strongly, may I suggest you consider why God might give to you a gift of suffering? I can give you four reasons why God would chose to do so, and He could well have more.
In the first place, suffering brings the soul nearer to Christ. Christ suffered for you, and if you should find yourself suffering for Him, you will find yourself in very close fellowship with Him, and you will understand better what He went through for you. That is a plus and hence can be viewed as a useful gift.
Secondly, suffering will bring with it a greater assurance of your salvation. Peter tells us in I Peter 4:14, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” It is a blessing to suffer for Christ, because when it happens, you know that the Spirit is resting upon you, and you are assured of your salvation. That’s a plus too, and also a useful gift.
Thirdly, suffering for Christ will bring its own reward. Paul writes in II Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Paul is saying, the Lord has a reward for those who suffer for Him. In fact, the suffering you face will likely be of short duration, but the reward will be eternal and will far exceed the measure of the sufferings. That is a good return for your effort—a very good deal! In this light, suffering really is a gift.
Fourthly, suffering for Christ often wins others to Him. Look at verse 12 in this same first chapter of Philippians, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Paul is saying, “My sufferings made the gospel go further and actually brought more people to Christ.” You see, it is not for nothing that we say “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Sufferings for the gospel tends to make the gospel go further. That is a good thing and hence enables us to view suffering as a gift.
So there is no shortage of scriptural reasons for viewing suffering as a gift. But whether you view it as a gift or not, Philippians 1:29 says God grants or gives it along with the gift of faith. God does this all the time. II Timothy 3:12 tells us, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It is going to happen to you if you are a believer, and you might just as well welcome it and enjoy its blessing, as fight against it and be miserable. Some, of course, will suffer more than others. It seems that Paul himself had more than his share. He gives us a glimpse of some of his sufferings in II Corinthians 11 where he says, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” And that is but part of his story. He says nothing there about his imprisonments. So he knew very well of that of which he spoke. So do many of the Christians in the Sudan today—how much hardship they are going through. Beside Paul and the Sudanese we have it rather easy. Yet we will suffer some too. Believers today tend to be shunted aside and left out of the mainstream of society. In subtle ways unbelievers let you know that they are not with you. And if you don’t like abuse, make sure you never run for political reasons. You will get taken apart. But we will suffer some if we are believers. God gives suffering along with the gift of faith. Like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.
So that is the message of Philippians 1:29, and yes, it does say that faith is a gift, something that God grants. And yet believing is something we do. It is something I do. But it is not something we do on our own. We do it only as God grants to us the ability. How I trust that God has given you this gift, for it will surely lead you into glory. And you know how to get it now. Seek from God the moving of His Spirit upon you, and give yourself to hearing His Word. In God’s time the gift will be given to you. Amen.