Part one is foundational for following along in part two. I recommend you visit that article before moving onto this second portion.
Remember for the Sake of Faith
The difference between having knowledge of God and faith in God is key to this discussion. There is absolutely a benefit to having knowledge; you need to have something to place your faith in. But one of our greatest issues with knowledge is that we tend to forget. God is totally aware of our weaknesses, thankfully. And He has provided help in His word. So how does the Bible exhort us in light of our propensity to forget?
- “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder.” (2 Peter 1:13).
- “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16).
- “Remember the words spoken … of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:17).
- “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” (2 Peter 1:12).
The word “established” in the previous verse is an important word—it means to be grounded firmly. It is used here to describe believers that had the truth with them and were established firmly in the doctrine of that truth. In other words, they were not new converts or novices with truth. They were solid and stable believers. And Peter states that they are the very ones who need regular spiritual reminders.
Much of the Christian life depends on remembering. Faith can only act on knowledge that we are mindful of, but what is it specifically that we are often exhorted to remember and keep in mind?
Focus on Jesus
If we go back to the examples in Hebrews 11, all of them are building to a massive exhortation at the beginning of chapter 12. Sarah considered God faithful, Abraham accounted that God was able to raise his son, Moses endured as seeing him who is invisible, and now surrounded by so great a cloud of witness we are exhorted to look to Jesus. We endure by placing our mind’s eye on Christ. We will not endure as a Christian in this life without a laser focus on the Son of God.
The saints were looking somewhere that guided and strengthened them in their journey, and the focal point of where we are to look that will help us run this race is Jesus. Christ Himself exemplified the way to live, suffer, and die in a God-glorifying way—by embracing the joy that was set before Him.
This is about placing your mind’s eye in the right place and keeping it there. To go back to 2 Peter 1:3-4, in order to receive “divine strength” and “all things needed for life and godliness,” we need to stay freshly aware of Christ and His promises. In other words, don’t tackle the day until all three eyes are open.
What This Means in Real Life
Since a lot has been developed over parts one and two, I think it is helpful to park here with this understanding of faith and discuss some different implications and applications.
1. Fighting Habitual Sins
This understanding of faith speaks to our struggle with recurring sins. Why is it that there can be times when we are so sure we will never fall back into a certain sin and yet give in the very next day or hour? Afterward, we think to ourselves, “I can’t believe I did that. If only I had thought about [fill in the blank].” We acknowledge that we lost our strength because we lost our focus. And ultimately, what we are saying is that we lost our faith—not that we aren’t in the faith, but that we were not exercising our faith. When all three eyes are open, both seeing the temptation in front of us and the greater glory ahead of us, we gain strength to fight sin.
I see very few things that bring a more helpful perspective to fighting habits of sin. How do we break the habit? By trying to keep our mind’s eye continually fixed on God and His promises, not settling for anything less than a continual gaze at glory. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the things of the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom. 8:6).
2. Good Things Can Be Bad Distractions
The following quote from The Screwtape Letters builds on the previous thought: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” At times Satan attacks with doubt, but often he attacks with distraction. And the way to handle both of those attacks is by maintaining that laser focus on God. His precious promises need to stay fresh. Take your eye off Him and soon you will lose your awe of Him. And a Christian that is not happy in His God is a Christian most susceptible to Satan’s attacks.
3. Backsliding Will Always Be A Threat
Psalm 119:11 encourages us to store up God’s Word in our heart. But if anything has become clear over these past two articles, I hope it’s the understanding that accumulating Scriptural knowledge is not a defense in and of itself. This verse in Psalms is encouraging us to build a wall around our heart with the Word of God so that no thought goes in and out of our mind without going through a Scriptural grid. That’s not ultimately knowledge at work; it’s faith at work through our knowledge of Scripture. No matter how much knowledge we have accumulated over the years, we constantly need to actively exercise our faith. Backsliding will come only to those who are content to keep Scripture in their head but not in their mind’s eye.
4. Christian Fellowship Is Critical and Purposeful
This is why we need each other. Remembering can be hard. It’s a discipline that is cultivated and ignited by the Holy Spirit, but at times, we still end up defaulting to living by sight. Our hope for such times is that our brothers and sisters will help lift our gaze back to what is unseen. Every member of the body is prone to forget, and we need to constantly remind each other of the glories we believe and live for. This was Paul’s heart, to stir up the body by way of reminder. He says, “to write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” (Phil. 3:1 KJV). There is no need to be ashamed of telling a brother or sister something they already know. They probably don’t need to be impressed with something they’ve never heard before when they are struggling; we often just need to remember.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
5. The Value of Trials
Faith is so valuable to a Christian that even immense suffering is totally worth the refining effect it has on our faith. “The tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.” (1 Peter 1:7). Leave out the fire and this verse is easier to understand. Just say, “Faith is more valuable than gold” and this verse is easier to comprehend. But to say, not only is faith more valuable than gold, but that just like it is worth it to put gold through fire so that it would be refined, so also it is totally worth it to put your life through fire that your faith be refined—that’s something incredibly different. But this is what can enable someone like Spurgeon to say, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Aches and pains, empty bank accounts, people mocking your faith, your car breaking down—these situations can all be counted as joy (James 1:2) if they point you back to the sovereign orchestrator and greatest treasure of the universe. Any situation is worthy to be praised if it draws our mind’s eye back to God.
6. The Thrust of Ministry
If faith is the essential way Christians function for God’s glory, what does that say about the focus of ministry? It means ministry is about more than just the people in front of us. We see and serve people in our ministry all the while seeing and serving God through them. Our reward is from God, not from people, and that is what enables ministry to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
A faith focused on God changes the focus of ministry. Not only is our service to people ultimately about service to God, but we ideally aim for the kind of service that points people to the eternal treasure that is real to us through faith. For example, The Parable of the Great Banquet says,
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friend or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
The contrast between these two crowds has to do with their ability to repay the invitation. The first crowd is advantageous to have over because they might “also invite you in return and you be repaid.” But the second crowd is filled with needy and repelling people who are not able to pay you back. And that is exactly why Jesus exhorts us to invite that type of crowd—it will require faith in the resurrection and a reward after this life.
Let the accusations that ministry is driven by money, pats on the back, or control be dissolved with a ministry that is so filled with sacrifice and service that it is only explainable in light of the resurrection of the dead and a good God who will reward His followers in the end.
This kind of ministry requires three eyes.
This article was coauthored with seminary student, Garrett Martin.