Increasing your faith through Spirit and Truth
Two key elements combine to build our faith: Understanding of truth about who God is and what He says about Himself; and a spiritual awareness and reliance on this God who is real. In today’s blog, we see how Jesus uses this couplet of Spirit and Truth to remove our barriers to God and give us access to greater faith.
Faith, the first of the three core elements that God is growing within each of us who are called by His name, is active reliance on God. Everything about the Christian worldview and practice is built on the fundamental premise of this thing called faith. Faith is not merely believing in something you cannot see or prove. It is relying on something or someone in a way that goes beyond mere theory or hope.
Faith has a substantive element to it in that it is not complete unless we actually lean on our belief in some way.For example, when I go to sit on a wooden chair, I first assess and hope that it can hold my weight. If I believe it to the point that I actually sit on the chair, then I am exhibiting my faith in it. By the same token, when I examine the gospel message, I might cognitively agree that Jesus died for my sins, but until I place my salvation and eternity in His hands unreservedly, I have not exercised faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for. We act on what we believe, and so James 2:18 can rightly say, “I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
Have you ever wondered how your faith levels are going?
In our last session, we saw a man who exhibited a great deal of candour before Jesus saying, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). He, like most of us, probably didn’t realise he needed more faith until his current level was put to the test.
We normally build our lifestyle, career, ministries, and spiritual expression around the level of faith we currently have. We seldom consciously stretch our faith – either because we don’t realise we should or we just don’t know how.
God, however, will constantly be presenting us with situations that require us to adopt a new level of faith. He knows that the faith we had yesterday won’t cope with tomorrow’s situations, so He continually seeks to grow the faith that is in us.
The Apostle Paul, with his legal mind, clinically summed up the process God uses to build faith in Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
There are two elements here: the word itself, and our hearing of the word. For us to hear in a biblical sense, it takes more than listening. We must understand, process, and apply that word which we ultimately come to believe is true. But we also need God to reveal truth. We cannot constrain truth to the limits of our human capacity.
Jesus said that no one comes to the Father lest He draw Him, thus there is an inescapable spiritual component at play in this digesting of truth.1Spirit and Truth combine to become a catalyst for faith.
Let’s see how Jesus applied this at ground level. In the fourth chapter of John, we read about the encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman who was drawing water from the local well. She had a degree of faith already. She acknowledged God and knew the basics about the Messiah who was coming, yet her lifestyle was disconnected from the ramifications of that. Her numerous marriages had ended and her life was defined as a failure by those of her community. She showed hope in God, but no personal faith in Him.
As Jesus zeroed in on the woman’s heart, she threw out a distractive argument, saying that to worship God, one had to go to the temple in Jerusalem. In John 4:24, Jesus countered her side-track with a principle, the ramifications of which go wider than a surface reading would present. He said, “God is Spirit, and His worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
This couplet of Spirit and Truth that Jesus used came off the tongue so naturally we might assume He had used it before, or certainly thought it through.
We know that to please God or even come to Him, we must have faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” yet Jesus says that the worshippers God seeks are those who worship in Spirit and Truth.
Could it be that, as with the disciples who lacked the faith to deliver the boy in the previous session, Jesus is giving us a mechanism that leads to faith through engaging God? In yesterday’s session, Jesus recommended prayer and fasting, but in this case He is suggesting worship that is based in Spirit and truth.
In both cases, He is pointing people directly to the face of God as the answer to their lack of faith. He knows that time spent in the shadow of the Faithful One will always grow our faith.
But what was Jesus getting at by using the term Spirit and Truth with the Samaritan woman? Unlike the disciples, she had held up a belief-blocker in the form of religious rules that the Jews had imposed, which inhibited where she could worship even if she had wanted to. She was believing a lie about God, and Jesus was setting her straight with truth. His point was that you can worship God anywhere and anytime because God is Spirit and we come to Him at that level. If you are to worship Him, do it based on who He really is, and who you really are. Come to Him spirit-to-Spirit.
Jesus used this little couplet of Spirit and Truth to remove the woman’s barrier to God and to give her access to faith, but there is so much more to be found in living by Spirit and Truth.
What God has joined, let no man separate
As a pastor, I spend a lot of my time in the church world surrounded by Christian believers. As with any voluntary gathering of people, like attracts like. People of common belief and culture tend to like each other’s company. We have groups, churches, and even whole denominations created around similarity rather than diversity.
One of the more natural, sociological polarities we form is our preference for either a thoughtful, word-centred culture or an expressive and emotive, Spirit-centred culture. Because of our personal preference, we gravitate to one side or the other of a perceived line in the sand, and potentially justify it from scripture or anecdotes of the “errors” of the other side.
In essence, we divide what Jesus had put together – Spirit and Truth – as if they are combatants, or at best opposites. Yet they are not; they are complimentary and dependent on the other to find their fullness. To separate them robs each of their full potential. I have studied and fellowshipped at both word-centred and Spirit-centred churches, and for all their strengths, they both inevitably lack what the other brings.
As Jesus repeatedly said, “the Spirit leads us in to all truth,”2and the truth about God will always point us directly into His presence. Look for example at this simplest of illustrations of the Samaritan woman coming to a saving faith in Christ. Jesus got her attention initially by listening to the Spirit and sharing knowledge about her previous relationships, information that He could never have naturally known. Then He debunks with truth the myth she held about localised worship. With this one-two combination of Spirit and Truth, her final barriers to salvation evaporated. Spirit and Truth definitely built faith in her case.
But what about her own inner experience of salvation? The Spirit of God was at work in her inner world, convicting of sin and revealing the Father. As she had her rational arguments removed, she saw and believed the truth: Jesus was the Messiah she was hoping for. Spirit and Truth combined to release saving faith.
The Apostle Paul was the all-star poster child for Spirit and Truth, in particular with evangelism. He preached the word zealously, and demonstrated the gospel with Spirit-empowered signs and wonders. In Romans 15:18-19 he said of his own ministry, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimedthe gospel of Christ.”
Did you get that? The gospel was only fully proclaimed when both word and (Spirit-empowered) deeds were seen – in other words, Spirit and Truth.
Engaging in God’s Rhythm
In next weeks blog, we delve even deeper into the dynamic of Spirit and Truth, but before we do that, let us recap how the rhythms of grace apply here, and why the symbiosis of two apparently contradictory elements is so powerful.
The fundamental principle at play in the rhythms is that God partners with us in fulfilling His plan for us to have fruitful lives. He predominantly works withus, not forus, since we are meant to be co-workers and friends with Him.
Having God working with us means that He has His part to play, and we have ours. God’s grace gives us what we can’t give ourselves, and yet He works with willing partners who seek Him and make room for Him. The rhythms of grace are the demonstration of this dynamic where each role is fulfilled in partnership, and we enjoy a life of fruitful rest.
With this specific rhythm of Spirit and Truth, God Himself meets us on a spiritual level, revealing Himself, encouraging and saving us. We must come into alignment with Him by searching out and believing the truth about who God really is. By combining these two elements, we can’t help but grow in faith.
You may also notice that in each of the rhythms of grace, there is also an element of rest. There is a time to press forward and a time to lean back.
Sabbath rest is a major point of the whole thing. Remember Jesus words in Matthew 11:28 MSG: “I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The Rest of Faith
The essence of faith is to rely on God and not ourselves. It is a life that is not forced, nor reliant on our own strength. As we look at the interaction between Spirit and Truth, we can see that our part is to look for truth about the nature and goodness of God, and believe it. That might not seem to be a great deal of work, yet many struggle to do it.
The Pharisees knew every part of the Old Testament Law, which was the sum total of truth as they knew it at the time, yet they still relied on their own self-righteous work to earn favour with God. They quizzed Jesus, saying, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”3
Pontius Pilate, a man entangled in the power and politics of his day, could not disengage from it long enough to look into Jesus’ eyes and discover meaning and salvation. “What is truth?” he muttered while at the same moment turning His back on Jesus. His life was so complex, and his need for the rewards of position so strong he could not afford to hear the answer to his own question.
Will you pause long enough today from your own life to dwell on the truth of who Jesus is? Remember what He has done. Meditate on the ramifications of His eternal gift of salvation and grace and how it determines the meaning of your life. Does the work you invest in so heavily really matter?
Then, invite His Spirit to give you counsel. Ask Him to reveal more of the Father to you.
The Sabbath rest available to you is one of faith. Faith that God is enough for you, and enough to take care of the situation you find yourself in – whether it be relational, vocational, or internal.
Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His.“
Rest today in who God is, and what He is doing for you right now.
Our faith in God grows when we know the truth about who He is, and engage with Him through his powerful Holy Spirit.Romans 8:16 says that the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. In regard to Spirit & Truth, which of the two elements does your personality type more naturally embrace? What are some ways that you could develop the other facet of this rhythm of grace?
- John 6:44
- John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13
- John 6:28-29