Installment 12 of 20, translated from the book Christ Is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Writings on the Basics of Faith and Doctrine. (Ed. Ari-Pekka Palola, SRK, 2018)
Faith is not a human work but rather a gift from God. At its core, it is trust in God’s Word and a source of strength for one’s whole life. Without faith
it is impossible to be acceptable to God. As owners of faith we feel in our hearts righteousness, peace and joy, but also weakness of faith, temptations
and oppression (Christian Doctrine, item 84). We are sinful but at the same time we are righteous.
The Bible describes the fruits of faith that through the Holy Spirit are visible in a Christian’s life. When we read or hear these descriptions, we feel like we lack these fruits and we long for the comfort of the gospel. Faith needs care. Only by faith of the heart will we one day reach heaven.
Fruits of Faith
Jesus compared Himself to a vine, the branches of which are cared for by His Father. He urged His followers to remain as living branches in the vine because otherwise a branch cannot bear fruit. A tree is known by its fruits: a good tree brings forth good fruit (John 15:1–8). Living faith is followed by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance (Gal. 5:22,23). Hope is also a fruit of faith. Love, joy and peace are the first fruits that are visible in the life of a person that has received the gift of faith (Acts 16:33,34).
Love is the greatest fruit of the Spirit. The 13th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians is called a song in praise of love. According to this passage, even great gifts are nothing without love. Love remains even when all the other gifts cease to be. True love is a fruit of the Spirit that comes from faith, a fruit that comes from God. The lack of love is a sign that a person is not righteous (1 John 4:7,8).
God’s love came to earth in Jesus Christ, so that no one would perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The Savior taught that love born of faith is that by which His disciples are known here on earth (John 13:34,35). Jesus Himself gave an example of ministering in love by washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:4,5). As partakers of righteousness of faith we feel love for our heavenly Father, who has taken us as His children, and for our friends in faith, who are owners of the same gift. This wondrous bond connects us to each other. We believe the same way, we experience brotherly, mutual love and we wish to support each other on the way to heaven. We are neither strangers nor foreigners, but rather one big family of God’s children (Eph. 2:19).
Jesus taught us to love all people, even our enemies (Matt. 5:38–48). Being affected by heavenly love, we wish all people could partake of God’s grace and the gift of righteousness. Therefore, through our behavior, speech and our entire lives we wish to convey to them the call to God’s kingdom. As humans prone to sin, we are all of equal value before God. We are saved only by faith, by grace and for the sake of Christ.
The gospel is a message of joy to us all the days and moments of our life. We have especially experienced it in the hearing of God’s Word and when forgiveness is preached to us. Joy has filled the heart. Already in paradise God proclaimed to the sin-fallen human pair the message of joy regarding the seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:14,15). Prophet Isaiah prophesied of a time when God would give great joy and jubilation (Isa. 9:1,2). On the first Christmas, God’s promises were fulfilled.
The Savior preached the gospel of the kingdom, called people to repentance and forgave the sins of those who were remorseful. He urged His followers to rejoice above all because their own names are written in heaven (Luke 10:17–20). When we are inspired by the love of God, we rejoice over our loved ones, friends and other believers – our brothers and sisters. Paul called the fellow congregation members his joy and his crown and encouraged them, “Rejoice in the Lord always…Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:1,4,6). God’s congregation rejoices over every lost sheep that is found, and the angels of heaven join in that joy (Luke 15:5–7,15).
Sin and trials can take away the joy of believing. However, we should still rejoice even when we have to suffer for faith’s sake (Matt. 16:24). They who sow with tears can joyfully reap; once in heaven we shall rejoice and exult unceasingly (1 Pet. 4:12,13).
Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). Living faith brings into the heart that peace of God which surpasses understanding. No one can achieve such peace through his or her own efforts, because true peace is based on having been justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). In opening prayers at services we often pray that that peace would protect our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:7). We wish to be peacemakers and express that with our speech and our lives, for the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace (James 3:18).
Despite having peace in our hearts, we are personally and collectively as God’s people always battling. We have three enemies: the devil, the world and our own corrupt nature. We wish to fight against these with the power of God and God-given war weapons.
On the other hand, we have always been taught in Christianity that we would not purposely seek to create conflict or cause unrest. Jesus instructed His followers to maintain mutual peace (John 13:35). Paul instructs us to do what we can to live peaceably with all others (Rom. 12:18). Our personal battle ends only when our life ends in faith. Once in heaven we will not even remember that we have ever been at war.
Hope of heaven is our life’s steadfast and sure anchor. We are not drifting with the wind, for hope encourages us to look forward to where Jesus has gone. Hope is something that we cannot see, and therefore we must be patient (Heb. 6:11,12). Living hope is based on the fact that God will once awaken us from the dead, as He has raised His dear Son (1 Cor. 6:14). Peter encouraged Christians to place their hope on grace offered through Christ (1 Pet. 1:13). The foundation of God’s Word stands fast.
When one who has fallen into unbelief believes sins forgiven in the gospel of the kingdom, his or her heart is filled with peace and the living hope of heaven (1 Pet. 1:3,4). A person who has hope in Christ wants to battle against sin and travel with God’s children. That hope is fulfilled once in heaven’s glory where we will see the fount of love face to face (Heb. 6:19).
According to the Bible, faith is a firm trust in that which is hoped for (Heb. 11:1). As owners of faith, we carry in our hearts the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are God’s children, our sins are forgiven and we will reach heaven one day. We have received all of this as a gift through faith, by the grace of God and for the sake of our Savior’s atonement work – through no merit of our own. Trusting in and knowing God’s grace personally brings us joy and happiness. We feel gratitude toward God. We wish all people could become owners of this same gift, but it is impossible for one who relies on his or her own works to enter into the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25).
God speaks to people in many ways but especially through His Word written by believing people as inspired by the Holy Spirit (Christian Doctrine, items 5 and 6). The Bible is the highest authority of faith and life and its promises are trustworthy and sure: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isa. 54:10). Faith is born and refreshed in the hearing of God’s Word. The heavenly Father knows all and like children we can trust that the Holy Spirit opens the written biblical Word according to the listeners’ needs.
Although we experience God’s peace and the joy of believing, our lives are mainly a daily endeavor that in addition to reasons for joy includes temptations, trials and sorrow. Amidst those things, we need to trust in God’s guidance, assistance and strength. The apostle encourages us that we may in prayer, supplication and thanksgiving leave all our needs to God (Phil. 4:6). We have to ask: Lord, increase our faith!
Maintaining mutual trust among believers is especially important in the work of God’s kingdom. This strengthens mutual love and wards off the attacks of the enemy of souls.
Caring for Faith
God guides the phases of nations and an individual person’s life, but caring for one’s faith life is each individual’s personal matter. God works in us and gives us the will and the strength to do so (Phil. 2:13). The teacher of a believing person is not the law, but rather God’s wholesome grace, which instructs us to abandon ungodliness and to live in this world in accordance with God’s will (Titus 2:11,12).
Christian doctrine instructs us to diligently read and hear God’s Word, partake of the communion, pray and maintain fellowship with believing friends (Christian Doctrine, item 77). We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). The voice of the Good Shepherd is heard there where the Holy Spirit opens the message of the Bible, i.e. in His congregation. The fellowship of the congregation means that we would “not despise preaching and His Word, but deem it holy, and willingly hear and learn it” (Small Catechism, explanation of the Third Commandment). The services of God’s children are important to us for there we hear God’s voice and the gospel of forgiveness frees our conscience of unnecessary burdens. Among the believers we also find our closest escorts, with whom we can share life’s worries and joys.
We also hear the voice of God in our conscience. It demands that we do that which we know is right and forbids us from doing that which we know is wrong (Christian Doctrine, item 16). The conscience must nonetheless be bound to God’s Word and the instructions of the Holy Spirit based on God’s Word which are heard in God’s congregation. Otherwise the voice of the conscience will not guide us to do right. Faith is preserved in a good and unharmed conscience, but a neglected conscience and living a sinful life cause faith to become shipwrecked (1 Tim. 1:5,19).
Caring for faith also includes the grace privilege of confession. We can tell of those sins, deeds and neglect that weigh on us to a trustworthy brother or sister, who preaches our sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood. Peace returns to the conscience. We are believers both before and after confession, but we wish to lay aside that which besets us so we would not tire on the journey (Heb. 12:1). It is also good to offload those burdens that make our journey slow even when it is not a question of sin. It is important to keep a connection with the congregation where God cares for His children with grace and truth (Heb. 10:24,25).
To support the endeavor in faith, God has given His own spiritual weapons with which we can deflect the enemy’s attacks. The most important protective equipment is the shield of faith which protects us from the enemy’s fiery, wounding arrows (Eph. 6:10–17). Spiritual weaponry is intended for protection; only the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, is a weapon of battle. It is necessary to read and know the Bible, for there we find weapons against the enemy of souls, the world and our own temptations. Jesus also deflected the devil’s temptations with God’s Word (Matt. 4:1–11). One cannot, however, gain faith by reading.
The sacraments – baptism and communion – strengthen faith but do not give birth to faith. According to Christian Doctrine, the sacraments are sacred acts of the congregation, which Jesus Himself has established. He Himself is present in them and distributes His grace to us by visible elements (item 56). God has given us the sacraments as reminders of His promises. When faith clings to God’s promise, the sacrament supports and strengthens faith. The sacraments are necessary for us to support us in our endeavor.
In baptism, God takes a child into a covenant of good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). Jesus teaches, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). A person is saved by faith, and by the faith of a child even an unbaptized baby is heaven-acceptable. However, contempt for the sacrament and leaving a baby unbaptized is against the Word of God. After baptism the important duty of the parents and loved ones – the baptismal instruction – begins, in order to preserve the child in the care of the Savior and His congregation.
We wish to go to the Lord’s Holy Supper with believing hearts, encouraging one another with the gospel. Communion has been given to us to strengthen our faith. It is meant to be partaken of often (1 Cor. 11:26). According to the Small Catechism, proper partaking of communion requires a believing heart.
In prayer we can tell God our matters, ask for His blessing for ourselves and others and also thank Him. The Savior comfortingly stated that the heavenly Father knows all our needs even before we have asked for them (Matt. 6:8). The Bible encourages us to be diligent and persevere in praying and to pray even for our enemies (Matt. 5:44). In prayers of intercession we remember our loved ones and when we embark on a difficult task we ask for our friends to pray for us. God hears all our prayers, but He answers them in His own way and in His own time (Christian Doctrine, item 81). He does not justify anyone in prayer.
Obedience of Faith
Faith of the heart causes one to be obedient to the Word of God, the voice of one’s conscience and God’s congregation. Peter encouraged Christians to place their hope on grace merited by Christ “as obedient children” (1 Pet. 1:14). There is no true faith without obedience. Obedience of faith is obedience to the truth, for Christ is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). The Savior prayed to the Father that His own would be preserved in the truth (John 17:17).
God expects obedience of a person (Phil. 2:5–8). Abraham was obedient to God’s call and trusted in His promise. He was righteous, meaning acceptable to God, through faith, but by his works his faith was made complete. His works showed that he was righteous (Heb. 11:8; James 2:21–24).
As a result of the fall into sin, human will is turned toward evil and a person attempts to trust his or her own reason and understanding. Disobedience is a sin against God. It hardens the conscience and separates a person from God and His congregation. A sobering example of this is King Saul, who acted against God’s will and refused to admit his deed, but rather defended it and tried to pass blame on others. He was rejected by God (1 Sam. 15).
Faith joins a person as a member to God’s congregation. The congregation has great significance in helping the person remain righteous. According to Paul, God’s congregation is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). This means that the congregation must always hold forth the truths of God’s Word and base its instruction on them. Our rational minds battle against the will of God, but faith enables the understanding that in the instruction and advice of the congregation is heard the voice of God and Holy Spirit, a voice which it pays to obey. When a person obeys God, God’s blessings follow.
- Christian Doctrine Briefly Presented. Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, 1948.
- Luther, Martin. Small Catechism.