“Salvation is not from anything we do, but by faith in what Jesus has already done”
By faith. Sometimes those two words call great fear into my heart. Faith, believing and resting in the work of Christ, should be a ceasing from labor and an entry into blessed rest. But for me, as someone who struggles with doubt, dullness, and depression– often all three at once– faith can feel like the hardest work of all.
Is there rest for the doubting Christian, who strives earnestly for a rock-solid faith but finds it elusive? One who tries his best, but after giving all can only cry “I believe, help my unbelief” and “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Mk 9:24, Jn 6:68). What does it mean for him when Christ makes the invitation to: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30)
Here is a brief thought from a passage that has comforted me as I’ve wrestled and struggled these past few months. It comes from God’s words in Isaiah 46, when he entreats the Israelites to lay down the idols they’ve been trusting for life and strength, and to return to him. He says:
“Bel bows down. Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnants of the house of Jacob, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear. I will carry and I will save.” (vs.1-4)
The thought is this: the Gospel does not tell us, “God sent his Son to forgive your sins and grant salvation, but you must believe (as if faith were a kind of work). Trust in this love, cherish this love, walk always in it and when you do, it shall be yours and you will have salvation. No, Israel’s frail idols could not grant this new life of rest and peace that Jesus offers in Matthew 11, nor can we attain it by the strength of our own faith. But rather, the Gospel tell us this, “If you were to bear your own faith it would weigh you down like a heavy burden on a weary beast. Faith is both given and sustained by God. And the only reason it survives is this– he has borne you from before your birth, he has carried you from the womb, and he will see you through, even until the end.”
Oh, what a comforting thought this is for the doubter, who at times feels his faith is too frail to make it through the day, sometimes even through the hour. Praise be to God that it is not his burden to bear, this heavy load of faith, but the Lord’s. Surely he can carry it and ensure that his saints cherish, trust, and grow in the Savior always. As Jesus promises, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10:28-29). And as the great apostle echoes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ” (Phil 1.6). And in this knowledge comes the rest of true faith– that same rest Jesus promises in Matthew 11– that strange paradox that we are not saved by the strength of our faith but by the unshakeable love of God; but because of this love, we can finally have faith– rest, trust, and peace– in him. When doubts come, when despair rises up, and when dullness obscures the face of God, I can still confidently say, “Though sorrows are many and though all around my soul gives way, I am safe. Not by my strength, nor by the merits of my belief, but because I am held by my Father in the love of Christ. This Great God, though I cannot now see him or praise him as I ought, he will bring me all the way home.”
I confess I write much better than I live. And during the dark nights of soul, I cannot preach as boldly or as confidently to myself as I do here. But slowly I’m learning by God’s grace those great truths that John espouses in his 1st epistle: that “whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” and “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 3:19, 4:18). “We love because he first loved us”, not because of our ability to trust him, but purely by his grace– “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God;and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1, 4:19)
I have shared my greatest fear: that my faith will fail. Because of his promises, however, I know he will not let me go. So, in closing, I will share my great hope: Paul’s declaration that, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24). O, that I would be faithful even til the end! By the grace of God and through the power of his keeping love, may it be so.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 2:24-25)
One of my favorite songs of the year! It’s catchy and the lyrics are particularly relevant here. The chorus goes, “O this God, is our God, even til the end. Standing strong over us time and time again, even til the end” Beautiful. Amen, Matt Redman!