By Chuck Sackett
“Why didn’t someone tell me it was going to be this hard?” Mike asked. No doubt someone did. We often tell people that living as a Christian requires more effort than becoming a Christian. But Mike, like many others, lost that message in the emotional excitement of finding forgiveness and freedom. A few weeks after his baptism, he was discovering the challenges. He was learning the need for faithfulness.
In 1991, the Boston Globe carried a half-page ad the day of the Boston Marathon with the header, “How to Run the Boston Marathon.” The remainder of the page consisted of the simple, understated truth: “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right . . .” Running a marathon is nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other—about 45,000 times. The Globe was describing the need for faithfulness.
Recently I spoke at a seniors fellowship group at our church. These older folks are the heartbeat of our history. They have sacrificed their pews, their songbooks, their style of worship, all for a new generation. And still they hang in there. I asked the group of 28 how long they’d been believers. Their combined years of commitment to Christ totaled 1,607. These seniors were declaring the power of faithfulness.
Faithfulness, the seventh characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit, has been defined as “the absolute confidence in God that keeps us going no matter what.” Like the other aspects of the Spirit’s fruit, faithfulness strikes a contrasting image to the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). The flesh is anything but faithful. The flesh seeks its own welfare and its own gratification. It asks nothing about loyalty to family, community, or God.
Some works of the flesh can be masked as counterfeit fruit. People seek to pass off lust as love, gratification as contentment, ambition as self-control. Several works of the flesh are diametrically opposite this seventh fruit. Disloyalty to marriage and family (sexual immorality), to community (discord, jealousy, dissensions, factions), to self (ambition, envy, hatred), and to God (idolatry, witchcraft) stand in contrast to faithfulness (covenant loyalty).
Reflection of God’s Character
The reason the works of the flesh are opposed to the fruit of the Spirit is because the fruit of the Spirit is a reflection of the God who gives it. Faithfulness is no exception. Scattered among the implicit references to God’s faithfulness (see Exodus 2:23-25) are numerous explicit references (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 40:10; 88:11; 89; 92:2; 96:3: 98:3; 100:5; 119:90; Isaiah 11:5). Consider these examples.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23).
“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God is characterized by faithfulness. He is never disloyal, never apathetic, never disengaged from his relationship with humanity.
God’s loyalty is the foundation of our faithfulness. Texts such as “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5) articulate God’s loyalty to his people. His command to Hosea, “And the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins’” (Hosea 3:1 English Standard Version), characterizes him as faithful. Not even a “legal” reason to abandon his people could lead him to do so. Everything we know about God shouts of his faithfulness.
Unfortunately, we can’t produce fruit. Fruit naturally accompanies the presence of God’s Spirit residing in us, identifying with our spirits that we are his children, born of his seed, and therefore carrying his DNA. If God is by nature faithful and we are born of his seed, bearing his image and breathing his Spirit, we also will become faithful.
While we may not be capable of producing the fruit of the Spirit, we are, however, responsible for making sure the conditions are right for the crop to grow. We ruthlessly reject the unwanted works of the flesh and unrelentingly cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. In every Spirit-filled believer resides an uncompromising rejection of apathy, indifference, and disloyalty, having been replaced by an unconditional surrender to the work of God. That is our responsibility. We do the plowing and the weeding while God does the seeding and the growing.
A Very Taxing Year
1985 was a difficult year for our family. While dealing with my father’s cancer, we learned in August that my mother was expected to succumb to liver cancer within 60 days. After a hasty trip home in August and again in September, I returned October 1 to bury my mother. On that same visit we discovered my father-in-law was not well. Ten days later on October 11, we buried my father.
At that time we determined to bring my father-in-law to our home for rehabilitation. After preparing and selling my childhood home, my wife and I returned to Illinois and brought her father to be with us. Within three weeks he was in the veteran’s hospital in St. Louis and would go to the Lord the next fall. On December 4 we awoke to a fire in our home that required five months of rebuilding. About a month after moving back into our home, the upstairs flooded and we were forced out once again.
Needless to say, I was angry and frustrated. Early in the morning on December 4, God and I had a very one-sided conversation. I released a torrent of frustration, grief, and anger. I went numb. Nothing made sense. Nothing felt good. Nothing seemed to help. My heart had gone to sleep and was devoid of feeling. It seemed God had become silent.
I grew up outside the church. I’d seen the seedy side of life without Jesus. My decision to follow Christ was simple but solid. I knew the life of an unbeliever provided no hope, no resources to deal with the issues I faced. But at the moment of the fire, it didn’t appear believing was providing much help, either.
Then God, in his grace, provided an answer. It was there in the response of Peter after Jesus fed the 5,000. The crowds returned wanting more, but Jesus refused and so they left. Jesus asked his disciples if they would also leave, and Peter provided my life-preserving reply: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of life.” I returned again and again to that verse until May of 1987 when life slowly seeped back into my body.
Once again, God proved his faithfulness. All I had to do was reject the unfruitful pursuit of self-pity and cultivate reliance on him. I could trust God today because I’d seen his faithfulness yesterday. He had not, could not, abandon me; therefore I would uncompromisingly surrender to him. Relentlessly cultivating the fruit of the Spirit by repeating the practice of ruthlessly rejecting the works of the flesh (the temptation to abandon Jesus) and unconditionally surrendering to his will (trust in Scripture) has made it easier to be faithful today than it was then.
Joni Erickson Tada details one of her trips to Peru to distribute wheelchairs. Angelica’s brother carried her on a mattress to the Joni and Friends distribution site where Angelica received a reclining wheelchair. Her mother’s comment captures the essence of the relentless cultivation of faithfulness. “God has answered my prayer!” she sobbed. “I have been praying for 20 years for a wheelchair for my daughter. Now I can take her to church. I don’t have to worry about carrying her.”
God longs to reproduce himself in us. God’s Spirit produces God’s character in all those who uncompromisingly reject the works of the flesh, unconditionally surrender to the Spirit, and relentlessly cultivate the presence and activity of God. Just ask Angelica’s mother, or me, or the seniors in our church.
Chuck Sackett is a freelance writer in Quincy, Illinois.
1. Learn to rely on God by faithfully praying and reading the Word. You can’t be faithful to others with being faithful to God.
2. Show up to work, church, and social events even when you don’t feel your best physically or otherwise. (Of course, don’t go if you’re going to make others sick.)
3. Take on a commitment outside your normal routine and strengths. Work in the nursery. Start running. Mentor a teenager
4. Think about the parts of your life you often dread or avoid. Find ways to relish them more fully. Make cleaning the house more engaging. Balance the checkbook as a way to thank God for his provision.
5. Choose a person to support through your presence and companionship, even if he is not the most pleasant to be around or is going through a difficult time. Be willing to bear his burdens with him.