Being Firm in Faith
In Peter’s epistle we read the words, “Reist him, firm in faith.” He wrote his letter to believers in Asia Minor who were experiencing persecution. He is teaching them how to endure through suffering. When he says, “resist him” he is talking about Satan who tries to pounce on us when we are in the middle of difficulty. For the evil one the more vulnerable we are the better. He has no mercy. When first hearing an admonition like, “be firm in the faith,” it is natural to think it means something like, “be resolute to believe” and that faith grows in relation to our determination. It is the type of faith many people think Abraham (the father of our faith) displayed when they read “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise,” (Romans 4:20, NLT). The conclusion becomes, “I want faith like Abraham. I do not want to doubt God, and I want to stay the course flawlessly!” We think if we could just be more single minded our life would go better. However, the translation of the verb “waver” means “judging between two things” and for Abraham that decision was between clinging to God and his promises or turning away to look for a better solution. Abraham’s “never wavering” meant he kept responding to God’s help instead of completely giving up. It doesn’t mean he believed God’s promises without fail. In fact, in a moment of doubt Abraham took in Hagar, his maidservant, to have a son through her instead of his wife Sarah (Genesis 16: 1-4). But as God remained committed to Abraham despite his frail faith, Abraham became attached to him and grew confidence in him. Abraham’s faith was not in himself but in God’s character. This grew stronger over time because God kept helping Abraham not because Abraham kept pressuring himself to remember God’s promises. Abraham’s growing and strengthening faith was a response to God’s steadfast love.
The event held up as Abraham’s greatest act of faith came long after God first revealed himself to Abraham. Much later in their journey together, God “tested” Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. As they headed toward the place of sacrifice Isaac asked Abraham a piercing question, “Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. (Genesis 22:7-8, NLT) Notice the object of Abraham’s faith. He was focused on God’s activity on his behalf and not what he had to muster up to solve the situation in front of him. Abraham was not scrambling for a solution because he was attached to God’s love. What Abraham says is, “Isaac I know something about God that you only learn by hanging onto him through all the craziness life throws at you. He is loving beyond words. And his grace has absolutely nothing to do with our goodness or resolve. Time and again he picked me up and helped me when I didn’t deserve it. He came after me when I needed him and was not looking for him. He will do something I cannot conceive. I trust his heart toward me. Let’s keep walking and watch God do something we could never anticipate.”
About 40 years after Abraham left on his journey toward the promised land, we find him responding with rich faith. There are only two times in the Genesis narrative Abraham responds with direct compliance. The first is at the beginning of his journey with God when he leaves the land of Haran for Canaan in Genesis 12:1-9 and the second is decades later when he walks Isaac up the mountain in Genesis 22. His first response is out of naiveté. God had just made resounding promises to him and Abraham was ready to cash in. Yet, by the time Abraham and Isaac ascend the mountain, Abraham had little illusion left about the reality of walking with God. He had tasted difficulty and demonstrated foolishness and faithlessness. But over time something became bigger than all of that. God’s grace. Abraham knew who he was dealing with and his trust was more secure. He was not naively walking up that mountain – he did it grounded in God’s goodness and reasoned that if Isaac died, “God was able to bring him back to life again,” (Hebrews 11:19, NLT). Abraham was so convinced of God’s love toward him he knew God would protect what was important to him even if that meant brining Isaac back from the dead.
Being “firm in faith” means hanging on to God through the difficulty of life and becoming more receptive to what He will do for us that we cannot do on our own. We must afford ourselves time to grow into firmness and remember it happens as we get to know God and trust his character. Consider a more modern example of someone surrendering a loved one. A woman I counseled named Susan, contrary to her initial wishes, decided to eventually walk away from her marriage. She came to me in great affliction because her husband was having an affair. Her world, and the world of her children, was turned upside down. In our first meeting Susan was broken, and I noticed through her sobs and stories that she was also timid and naïve. She did not have very much confidence and for years had acquiesced to whatever her husband wanted. Susan was not in touch with her own dignity and had not experienced much steadfast love from humans. She was resolute on restoring her marriage and covered up her husband’s betrayal. She did not engage my questions or reflections designed to help her express how much she was hurting.
The husband did not leave his mistress, eventually moved out, and Susan slowly awakened to what had been unfolding in front of her. Over time, she realized her husband was lost in his selfishness, and that he was not going to change or divorce her. He had not taken any steps to solidify things financially between them, so Susan began moving in a direction she never wanted to pursue. At the same time, she began to openly disclose and feel the betrayal by her husband, which awakened her to other wounds she had experienced in their marriage and throughout her life. That opened Susan’s heart and exposed spiritual and emotional malnourishment galore.
Slowly, surprises unfolded amid the pain that began restoring her heart. It might have been a conversation with a friend, a kindness from someone in her church, or relating to her soon to be ex-husband with more strength. God revealed his love and grace in a variety of ways, in her and through her, and as she held onto him, the Holy Spirit helped her make connections to his love. As Susan experienced God guiding her and affirming her courage, she saw a different side of his character. God was not just safe and nice, and increasingly, she was not either. She found herself taking risks and demonstrating new strengths that had never been part of her personality. Susan’s faith grew because with each new step she was becoming more receptive to God’s grace that helped her attach to him and trust him. Over the next two years, I watched her timidity grow into strength and her naivete morph into awareness and courage. The loss of relationship with her husband opened Susan’s heart, and as God met her along the way, she became more intimately attached to him. As she nurtured this, it helped her be firm in faith and surrender something dear to her. Filing for divorce and leaving her husband was like Abraham walking Isaac up the mountain. If I were to review our conversations and the choices Susan made, I would not be able to map a linear process from A to B that explained her transformation. She took small steps but the core of her “faith” was responding to God's unpredictable and unmanageable love. If Susan went back to a time years before the affair, she never would have been able to anticipate having the faith to walk up a mountain of surrender. Being “firm in faith” in that moment helped her step beyond the dread of leaving her husband and being alone. That faith grew out of a series of small decisions to receive God’s love and direction that helped her trust his heart toward her and move forward.
We must stop thinking firm faith is about us and our effort or goodness. Strong faith, like Abraham’s is grounded in God’s goodness. In fact, the more we can see where we lack faith or do things wrong and admit we need help the more we grow into the kind of faith Abraham demonstrated. “Not wavering” like Abraham looks a lot like the wise man’s advice, “Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin,” (Proverbs 24: 16, CSB). The righteous person gets up because he or she keeps choosing to let God help them stay on the path they are not good enough to walk alone. That is being firm in faith!