THE FAITHFULNESS FACTOR
BY: JAN ANTONSSON
JULY 6, 2013
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
God blessed me with Christian parents who taught me to pray, to read the Bible, to go to church and to serve God. I will be eternally grateful to Him for placing me such a good home. Yet for all its blessings, there were a few troubling issues along the way.
The fundamentalist church I grew up in majored in Bible study, certainly a blessing over all. A frequent way to end a prayer at that church was to pray “Father, if we have been found faithful, take us home to heaven when we die.” That sounds righteous, but the downside of it is the implied threat that if we are NOT found faithful, we won’t go to heaven and we all know where that leaves us.
My grandfather was most anxious that all his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren be found faithful. Those of you who know me have figured out that I’m a dedicated Bible student. One reason for that diligence, bottom line, was the fear I would end up in hell because who knew if my piddly faithfulness would pass muster or not? I surely didn’t.
What does it mean to be found faithful, I wondered. Reading the Bible and listening to the Sunday school teachers and the preacher, I came to the conclusion that being faithful was something that I had to do, something that depended entirely upon my works or lack of same.
Even though I was very sincere and diligent in my efforts, there was no way that I could convince myself that I had satisfied what it means to be faithful. A major problem for me was Jesus’ words, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) That triggered the fear factor in me.
Most of you reading this know that we can’t become perfect just by reading the Bible; we need the Holy Spirit to impart life from the written word. And more than that, we need the life of Christ flowing in us and through us out to others, in order to live the life that is pleasing to God.
Jesus told some of the people that he healed, “Your faith has made you whole,” which would seem to indicate that faith is the commodity that we need in order to receive favor from God.
We’ve all heard a lot of advice on how to build our faith, But none of it seemed to do me any good. I didn’t feel like I was doing enough to please God.
And that reminds me of a story about a Christian man who died, and upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, he knocked loudly. St. Peter opened the gate a crack and said, “Before I can let you in, I have to give you a test to see if you have earned enough points to qualify. It takes at least 100 points to get in. Tell me what good works you have done.”
The man thought about it for a minute and answered proudly, “I have been a Christian for 50 years, never missing church and Sunday School in my life.”
“Very good,” said St Peter, “that’ll give you 10 points. What else?”
“I have always helped the poor and needy and visited the sick,” he answered.
“Very well I’ll give you 30 points for that,” said St. Peter.
The man was getting frustrated and a little nervous at this point because he thought surely he would have earned more points than that.
He forced a smile and added, “I have been a good father to my children. I have loved my wife taking care of her and never cheated on her once in all the 40 years we were married.”
“That’s fine” said St. Peter, stifling a yawn while looking at his watch. “I’ll give you 10 points for that.”
The man was angry by this time. He stifled the urge to shake his fist in St. Peter’s face, but he pouted, “This is so disappointing and quite ridiculous because the only way I can EVER get in is by grace.”
“Hallelujah,” exclaimed St Peter. “You finally got it! Go on in.”
I’m sitting in Lenny’s hospital room dictating this writing into my iPhone. God’s grace has held me up at every turn in the process of helping Lenny to get better and kept me from collapsing in a heap at the thought that the love of my life is on his way out of this life. I did ask Lenny if he wanted to go home and be with Jesus or did he want to come home with me. He answered, “I want to go with you.” I asked him that because I don’t know how he bears all the pain that his body is feeling.
Yesterday, they did a bone scan test. What they were looking for was cancer, though they were reluctant to tell me. Finally, I said to the doctor, “I know you’re looking for cancer, but he doesn’t have it. God told me so.”
A big grin spread across the doctor’s face, but I didn’t know if he thought I was a flaming nut case or he was a believer who agreed with me. I assured him that God is never wrong but sometimes I am. Another grin came across his face.
After blurting that out, I regretted having said it to him, lest he think I was boasting, though God actually did tell me several times when I was skirting the dark place of fear, that Lenny did not have cancer. I used to think I had a lot of faith, but whatever pitiful measure of it I do have is NOT sufficient to meet the many crisis’s we have been through, but God is faithful. The bone scan found no cancer in Lenny.
In His mercy and unfailing, continual, bountiful grace, our Father showed me that it is Christ’s faith which counts, not mine. If you take my faith plus $5.25, you can get a Cappuccino at Starbucks. Anytime a person in the Bible showed faith, you can count on the fact that God gave it to him to take him through the problems he or she faced. Then, as in the case of Abraham, who believed God (because the Father had planted the faith to believe in his heart), all of us are reckoned righteous by God through faith, which is a huge miracle.
Christ is the SEED which God promised Abraham would be blessed, and we and everyone in the world who ever lived or ever will live, are the recipients of that blessing. The marvelous thing about grace to me is that it doesn’t depend upon me or anything I do or can’t do. It depends only upon God Himself. The Hebrew writer said that “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants. And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (Heb. 6:13-15) And so have we all received what was promised. This is why the Christian life depends upon Christ Himself living His life in us and through us.
Most of us belong to the group that the Hebrew writer said “were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (2:15) Christ became flesh and it was “by his death that he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Vs.14) The death He died, He died once for all (Rom. 6:10), which frees us all from the threat of death, and by implication, the fear of hell in case we are not found faithful. In case I didn’t make it clear, let me say it again. All of us will be found faithful because it is Christ’s faith, not ours on the line!
Christ left the portals of glory and became flesh for us. There was nothing we did or said to persuade Him to do that. He is God’s gift to us, His FREE gift. We need only receive Him and if we’re too weak in faith to do that, He gives us His faith to believe that we are God’s children. We just can’t lose! That’s the GOOD NEWS!
Father we thank You for Your faithfulness to us which the Psalmist said “reaches to the heavens.” Because You are faithful, we need never fear death or hell or the grave. Because of Your unconditional love poured out on us, we can move through our lives as Your sons and daughters, and by Your grace, bring light to the dark places, healing to those who are sick, comfort to the depressed and lonely, and encouragement to those for whom the heat of the noon day sun has caused them to wither on the vine. You ARE the vine and we are the branches. You are the life force flowing within us and You are the gift that all men seek. Open our eyes to see you as You are, Father, that we may be like You. In Christ, we ask it, amen.