My Dear Friends,
“Faith” is perhaps the most used word in the evangelical vocabulary. Without “faith” it is impossible to please God. We are justified through “faith”. We know that the “righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It is by “faith” that we stand firm. We are to resist the devil “standing firm in the faith.” It is our “faith” that overcomes the world. Indeed, “we live by faith and not by sight.” Faith is basic and absolutely essential to authentic Christianity. The Bible could not be clearer or more emphatic in its teaching on faith. So far, so good.
There is, however, a problem here that needs to be addressed. When many Christians think about “faith”, their tendency is to think first about the “quality” of their faith and not about the “object” of their faith. This leads to a skewing of the Christian life and a lack of personal assurance. I am not saying that we should never reflect on the quality of our faith. Our Saviour rebuked his disciples for their “little” faith. My concern is to remind myself, and those of you reading this, that faith, to quote John Murray is “essentially extraspective” (you could have guessed it was John Murray without me telling you!) Murray’s telling phrase highlights the primary movement of true faith. It does not look into self, it is not principally “introspective”, it looks out and away to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the focus of faith. Who he is and what he has done is where faith casts its anchor for the soul.
To grasp this basic (indeed, very basic) fact, will transform our lives. It is undoubtedly one of the devil’s stratagems to turn the Christian in upon himself/herself (Incurvatus in se, to use Luther’s words). Once he gets us preoccupied with looking in, the clouds of our many sins and failures hide the precious and perfect justifying righteousness of our Lord Jesus from our view. We fret over the inconstancy of our faith. We become distressed by the shallowness of our faith. We are humbled by the coldness of our faith. You may now be already asking: But is it not right and good that we do this? Yes - and no! Yes, if we do it “looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” If we do it with both eyes on ourselves, the devil will cast us into the deepest of pits. John Rogers' words are always timely: “Weak faith is true faith - as precious, though not as great as strong faith: the same Holy Ghost the author, the same Gospel instrument... For it is not the strength of our faith that saves, but the truth of our faith - not the weakness of our faith that condemns, but the want - of faith.”
Faith is “essentially extraspective.” Faith’s first glance is to Christ. But no less is faith’s continuing glances focused on Christ. Faith is nourished, not by looking in to find crumbs of spiritual comfort, but by looking out and feeding on the “Bread of Life.” He is our great encouragement. His love to me, not my love to him, supports my soul. His faithfulness to me, not my faithfulness to him, will bring me safely home.
In no sense am I seeking to diminish the importance of spiritual responsibility. We are called to “add to our faith” and to “grow in faith.” But first, we are called to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Where are you looking as you read this letter? Where am I looking? May the Lord give us all the grace, and the wit, to look out and up (I am speaking theologically, not spatially!), to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” He is our everything.
Yours in the bonds of covenant love