Growing up in the Lord’s church, I would always hear people use the phrase “faithful” to describe other Christians. Typically, it had to do with their spiritual health, although in many cases I suspect it was based on whether we saw them at worship every week.
“He’s a faithful Christian. She’s faithful to God.” Or sometimes, “This is a faithful church.”
So I think sometimes we tend to define “faithful” in the Bible as one who is full of faith; someone who is devoted to God. And there’s a sense in which that’s indirectly true. But that definition doesn’t quite work when we note that the word is applied to God or to Christ some 15 times in the New Testament. Clearly this isn’t about “faith” as we typically use the word.
It’s really defined the way we’d use the word outside the confines of religion: God is trustworthy. God is dependable. God will do what He says He will do.
Understanding the faithfulness of God
The scriptures emphasize the faithfulness of God over and over, particularly to people who were undergoing difficulties, reminding them that they can depend on God, even when things don’t seem to be going God’s way at the time.
- God is faithful to guard us against the adversary as we do His work, II Thes. 3:3, I Peter 4:19
- He is faithful to forgive our sins when we walk in the light and confess when we do sin, I John 1:4-9
- He is faithful to deliver on His promises, Heb. 11:11
- He is faithful to deliver us from death into salvation, Heb. 10:23
That’s an important concept to remember when we read a verse like II Tim. 2:13. In context, it reads:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful —
for he cannot deny himself. (2Ti 2:8-13)
Notice that God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on anything other than His own character. God will always perform what He has proposed to do, regardless of what man may or may not do on his end. Many will take this to say that even if someone turns away from God, God will not allow that person to be lost. But notice that being faithful doesn’t have to correspond to something or someone else – in other words, this passage doesn’t say God is faithful to man. It says He is faithful to Himself. To His own nature.
God is who God is, and He will not change in that regard. “He cannot deny Himself.” And he will deny us if we deny Him, because that’s exactly what He has said He will do. (Mtt. 10:33)
This passage does not teach that God will save who He has decided to save whether that person wants to be saved or not, or whether they have done what God has required or displayed the proper faith. God’s promises about our salvation are conditional, and always have been (Matt. 7:21, I Peter 3:10-12, Mark 16:16).
If we deny Him, He will also deny us
Paul addresses this in Romans 3 when he discusses the idea of the Jews falling short of God’s righteousness. God had promised to make them a great nation and to bless them and protect them from enemies surrounding them. But they were continually carried away into captivity. Why? Not because God had forgotten or broken His promise. “Does their faithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3-4)
The Hebrew writer makes this point:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.(Heb 3:12 – 4:1)
It is the faithfulness of God that teaches us that He requires us to be faithful to Him. His promise is no different than it has been from the beginning. “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people (Jer. 7:23).” If God wasn’t faithful, then none of these examples would be meaningful at all. God would do whatever He wanted, whenever He wanted, with no consistency or predictability, and no way for man to know what is expected of him!
How God’s faithfulness saves me
Have you ever been frustrated in a relationship or a job or a project where it seems like the rules are always changing? Isn’t it helpful to have an agreement in place that says “this is what is expected. This is what you should do, and this is what you will receive if you complete the task.”
God has done that for us – if we place our faith in Him and do what He tells us to do, then He has promised to forgive our sins and grant us a place in His heavenly kingdom. And the best part is that God tells us that He knows we won’t do this perfectly. We just have to keep trying.
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). And we know it’s true, because the Faithful Witness said it.