Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
Defending the integrity of the Christian faith as the witness of what God accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth proved important to the Apostle Paul; most of his letter to the Galatian Christians sought to affirm the Gospel which they had been taught (Galatians 1:1-5:16). Yet witness to the faith in Christ must be lived as well as believed; thus Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians toward faithful living in Jesus in condemning the works of the flesh and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
Love well defined the whole of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace speak to a disposition which Christians ought to maintain; longsuffering/patience, kindness, and goodness well demonstrate an appropriate disposition. Likewise, Christians ought to be marked by faithfulness.
“Faithfulness” translates the Greek word pistis, the word used throughout the New Testament to refer to “faith”; Thayer defined it as:
1) conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
1a) relating to God
1a1) the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
1b) relating to Christ
1b1) a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
1c) the religious beliefs of Christians
1d) belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence)
whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
2) fidelity, faithfulness
2a) the character of one who can be relied on
For far too long and for too many “faith” has been reduced to its first definition: conviction of truth. “Faith” is thus made out to be about whether one accepts a given premise to be true or not; in this perspective, someone who is “faithful” is someone who accepts as valid various premises upheld to be true.
Faith certainly demands conviction regarding the truth; the Hebrews author rightly understood faith as the assurance (Greek hupostasis, “substance,” a word that in its literal form denotes the idea of “standing under” or “setting under)” of things hoped for, a conviction (Greek elegchos, referring to evidence) of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Modern man has not done himself many favors by suggesting the primary means by which we ascertain truth is the scientific method, for most of what we believe cannot be thus proven. Instead, human beings live by “faith”: the human body is confined to the sense perceptions and the mental faculties; we only know with any certainty the things going on around us that we can see, taste, touch, smell, or hear, and the past impressions of what we have seen, tasted, touched, smelled, or heard. Even with these perceptions we can often be wrong, and our reliance on them is in itself a measure of faith. We have faith in our eyes that what we see is truly what is before us; that the vibrations we sense in hearing is truly what another says to us, and so forth. All of our actions in life are based in some measure on faith: we go to work with the faith that we shall be recompensed, and receive that money with the faith that it has value. We cooperate with others in faith, expecting that everyone will fulfill whatever commitments they have regarding us. Even the most “absolute” fields, such as mathematics and science, are really exercises in faith, trusting in the laws of logic and scientific observation to produce valid results. Faith as “conviction of belief” defines our existence.
For good reason the witness of what God accomplished in and through Jesus of Nazareth is considered “the faith” (cf. Jude 1:3): as Christians, we must go well beyond recognizing how our lives are defined by faith more than proof, and maintain confidence and conviction that God has worked powerfully in Christ and continues to do so.
We do well to believe that Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, in whom the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, having lived, suffered, died for our sins, and raised in power on the third day, according to the witness of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Ephesians 2:1-3:12, etc.). We must recognize how God’s work in Christ seems foolish to many in the world, and how many would distort and pervert the witness of God in Christ to accomplish their own purposes, leading those who accept such views to fall away from the living God (1 Corinthians 1:18-32, Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 4:1-4, 1 John 4:1-6, 2 John 1:6-9).
Yet, despite all of this, James’ declaration should resound in our ears: we believe God is one and do well, and yet the demons thus believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! If the acceptance that Jesus is the Son of God were sufficient in and of itself to save, the demons would have no reason to be afraid. Faith certainly demands the recognition and affirmation of what God accomplished in Christ, but must go well beyond it. Those who would come to God most certainly must believe that He exists: yet they also must confess He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
The entire story of Scripture is the story of God’s faithfulness to His people. In the Hebrew Bible this faithfulness is spoken of as hesed, a term which is not easily translated into English: where steadfast love meets covenant loyalty, being committed and loyal with a warm feeling toward those to whom one is “faithful.” Israel continually proclaimed God’s hesed toward them (e.g. Psalm 136). In the Exodus and Wilderness journeys God proved faithful to His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and demonstrated why Israel should trust in Him as the only God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:31-39). As God had proven loyal to His covenant and promises and had proven faithful to Israel, thus Israel was called upon to remain loyal to God and follow His instruction, and not trust in their own strength and power and become as the nations around them (Deuteronomy 8:6-20).
In Christ God fulfilled the promises He made to Abraham and to Israel (Hebrews 6:17-10:25). God demonstrated His faithful love by sending His Son to die for our sins while we were still sinners, and provided hope through His resurrection from the dead (Romans 5:6-11, Philippians 3:21). God, in His faithfulness, rightly expects those who would find salvation in Christ to likewise prove faithful to Him by drawing near to Him and to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, Hebrews 10:19-25). To this end Christians must be full of faith in God in Christ: not just mentally accepting the truth of what God has done in Christ, but to actively trust in God in Christ, relentlessly submitting themselves to Jesus in all things, especially those matters in which culture, upbringing, and temperament would tempt them to follow their own ways or the ways of the world (Galatians 2:20). Christians must manifest Peter’s disposition in John 6:68-69: where else could they go, for they have become convicted that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and has the words of eternal life? While Christians must know what God has done in Christ, they are not saved by knowledge but by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10): we must trust in God in Christ, and we will find that faith tested many times to see what kind of foundation upon which it has been built (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Thus Christians must be marked as faithful people: full of faith and trust in God and what He has accomplished in Jesus. To this end Christians must also be people in whom others can trust: faithful in their dealings, their “yes” as “yes” and “no” as “no,” able to be relied upon as they rely upon God (Matthew 5:13-16, 37). That faithfulness is not rooted in their own inclinations or temperament but in their conviction and the embodiment of that conviction and trust in God in Christ. In this way Christians seek to live according to the new commandment given to them: to love one another as Jesus loved them (John 15:9-17). Thus they will be recognized as faithful.
God is who He says He is: God has demonstrated His power and covenant loyalty to us. We therefore do well to prove loyal to God in faithfulness, fully trusting in God in Christ in all things, proving loyal and dependable to others because of what God has accomplished in Christ. May we all display faithfulness in God in Christ and obtain life in Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry