Great Is Thy Faithfulness
March 23, 1997
How many people do you know who do exactly what they say? Before you answer, let me rephrase the question? How many do you know who do exactly what they say every single time? Now before you answer, let me rephrase it again. How many people do you know who do exactly what they say every single time and do it with such thoroughness and perfection that you never have to worry about anything they say or do? Again, before you answer, let me ask it one more time: How many people do you know who, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how they feel, will always do exactly what they say they will do every single time and do it with the some thoroughness and perfection that you never have to worry about anything they say or do because you know if they say it, they will definitely do it without fail, without change and without excuse?
OK, how many people like that do you know?
The answer to any question depends on how you ask it. Most of us probably think we know some people who do exactly what they say. That is, we all know some reliable people who seem very dependable to us. But in the end, the question is not about reliable or very dependable people. It’s really not about people at all because no person could meet all the qualifications of the last question, which is really about God. The only person you know who can meet every qualification is God himself. He alone is 100% faithful 100% of the time.
A World of Broken Promises
To say it that way is not an insult but simply a statement of fact. We live in a world of broken promises. That’s why President Clinton and President Yeltsin are meeting in Helsinki this week. World leaders have to meet to stave off total nuclear destruction. That’s why bombs go off in Tel Aviv restaurants. Men pledge peace but then make plans for war.
Recently I happened to catch a few minutes of a national radio talk show hosted by a man whose name I did not catch. Judging from some of his comments, he happens to come from the liberal side of the political spectrum. He began by discussing the O. J. Simpson trial and remarking that despite his natural likeability, O. J. Simpson is not what he appeared to be. Then he commented on the revelation that Bill Cosby had an extramarital affair some years ago. This in spite of his image as a loyal family man. “Is there anyone out there who is what he claims to be?” he asked.
Defining the Key Terms
What a question for Palm Sunday. “Is there anyone out there who is what he claims to be?” I’d like to suggest one name you can trust-Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 he said, “I am the truth.” In John 18:37 he told Pilate, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
The Bible contains several words for truth, the most important one being the Hebrew word emet, which means stability, firmness, or certainty. We get the English word “amen” from the Hebrew emet. Every time we say amen we are really saying, “It is certain” or “Yes, it is absolutely true.”
Therefore, to say “God is true” is the same as saying “God is faithful.”
Here’s a simple definition. God’s faithfulness means that because he is the truth, everything he says and does is certain. That means he is 100% reliable 100% of the time. He does not fail, forget, falter, change or disappoint. In the words of Lewis Sperry Chafer: “He not only advances and confirms that which is true, but in faithfulness abides by his promises, and executes every threat or warning he has made.” He says what he means and means what he says and therefore does everything he says he will do.
Looking at the Central Passages
Let’s look for a moment at some of the key verses regarding God’s faithfulness:
Exodus 34:6 – He is “abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Deuteronomy 32:4 – He is a “a faithful God.”
Psalm 89:2 – “You established your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
Psalm 89:8 – “Your faithfulness surrounds you.”
Psalm 89:33 – “Nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.”
(God’s faithfulness is a major theme of Psalm 89. It tells us that God’s faithfulness flows from his character, that heaven is the ultimate display of God’s faithfulness, and that he will never betray his Word under any circumstances.)
Numbers 23:19 – “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”
John 17:3 – “The only true God”
1 Corinthians 1:9 – “God … is faithful.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 – “And God is faithful.”
1 John 1:9 – “He is faithful.”
1 John 5:20 – “… Him who is true.”
These verses when taken together establish that God’s faithfulness is not some minor or secondary part of God’s character. To say that God is faithful goes to the core of who God really is. He keeps his word because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be God!
Seven Facts About God’s Faithfulness
Consider the following facts:
1. His word is eternal. “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).
2. God is as faithful today as he was yesterday. “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 119:90).
3. He is reliable in all his works. “The works of his hands are faithful and just” (Psalm 111:7).
4. He is faithful even when we are not. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
5. Our salvation depends on God’s faithfulness. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
6. Our sanctification depends on his faithfulness. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
7. Our future resurrection depends on God’s faithfulness. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
These verses could be multiplied in every direction because all that God does rests on his faithfulness and every blessing we receive comes because he is faithful to keep his promises to us. If God were not faithful, we could not be saved, would not dare to pray, would have no sure hope for the future, and would go down to death in desperate fear wondering if God will keep his promises. But we live in faith and die in hope precisely because our God is faithful.
Applying the Truth to Life
Since this is a vast topic, let’s focus on five specific areas of application.
A. When you are discouraged, remember God’s faithfulness.
Do you remember the story of David and Goliath? When Saul asked David why he thought he could slay the giant, the young boy replied with a story about God’s faithfulness. He recalled God’s faithfulness during his days as a shepherd and that faithfulness gave him courage to believe God would deliver once again. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). David simply extrapolated from the past to the future on the basis of God’s unchanging character. He knew God could deliver him in this situation because he had done it so many times in the past.
When you are discouraged, remember God’s faithfulness. Quote the great promises. Remember how God has answered your prayers. Reflect on his mighty deeds. Consider who it is who fights for you. Then pick up five smooth stones and get ready to defeat the giant.
B. When you doubt your salvation, remember God’s faithfulness.
Many Christians secretly doubt their salvation because they do not feel like they are good enough Christians to get into heaven. But getting to heaven has nothing to do with being “good enough” since none of us ever qualifies. In John 10:28 Jesus said of his followers, “I give them eternal life.” And in 1 John 5:13 we are told that “you may know that you have eternal life.” God wants you to know that you are saved. The Bible doesn’t say “that you may hope you have eternal life” or “that you may wish you have eternal life.” No! The Bible says you can know you are going to heaven.
This week I ran across this encouraging statement: “God not only keeps his promises, he also keeps his people.” That’s why my friend Jack Wyrtzen could say, “I’m as sure of heaven as if I’d already been there 10,000 years.” To the unsaved that sounds like presumption and many Christians would agree. But it’s true. If you know Jesus Christ, you are certain of going to heaven.
When you are tempted to doubt your salvation, remember God’s faithfulness. Consider his promises. Contemplate the Cross. Gaze upon the dying form of the Son of God. Think of all he did for you. Then recall the moment that you trusted Christ as Savior. Let the facts of the gospel be your strength and then rest your weary soul upon the Rock of Ages.
C. When you are tempted to sin, remember God’s faithfulness.
Here are two wonderful verses to remember in the moment of temptation:
“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In both cases God’s faithfulness is tied directly into the temptations of life that trouble you. Notice also that it is not God’s purpose to deliver you from temptation, but it is his purpose to give you the strength you need to stand up against satanic attack. Just as Jesus had to endure temptation, so will we. But just as he resisted and triumphed, so may we. God will give you whatever you need in the moment of fierce attack.
Recently I ate lunch with a friend who told me how he has been experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in his life in a powerful way. As we talked, the discussion turned to the Holy Spirit’s promptings that lead us away from sin and toward the power of God. Both of us know a certain pastor in the east who had to resign his church several years ago because of moral indiscretions. His name came up and we talked about what we might learn from his sad experience. My friend commented on how important it is to remain open to the Holy Spirit so that we might see the “way of escape” in the midst of the battle. But what if it’s not there? “When we get to heaven, we’ll discover that there were more than enough warning signs if only we had heeded them,” he replied. That strikes me as a very good application of these two verses.
No one ever needs to sin-not even once, not even a little bit. There are always more than enough warnings and more than enough ways of escape if only we will take them.
D. When you have made a mess of your life, remember God’s faithfulness.
How many times have we heard the blessed words of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “He is faithful.” Those three words guarantee God’s forgiveness to his erring children.
Have you made a mess of your life? Would you be ashamed for others to know everything you have said, done and thought in the last seven days? Or the last three months? Or the last five years? Who among us dares to say, “I don’t need God’s forgiveness?” If you know yourself at all, you know how much you sin and how desperately you stand in need of God’s mercy.
But will it be there when you need it? Thank God the answer is yes. But what if you have sinned too much? What if God says, “I’ve had it with you?” The truth is, as long as your heart is tender and open before the Lord, you can always be forgiven. A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.
Think about your life. Now think about God’s faithfulness. And then bring your faults and failures and foolish ways to the Lord. Ask for his forgiveness. Then believe that you have received it. And as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, go and sin no more.
E. When you feel unequal to your tasks, remember God’s faithfulness.
Consider Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” What wonderful words these are. All of us will face moments sooner or later when we simply cannot find the strength to go on. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by circumstances or perhaps life begins to tumble in around us. What do you do then?
Cindy Keating found out the answer firsthand when her young son, Collin, was badly bitten by a German Shepherd dog. The dog mauled the side of his face, leaving deep gashes down to the bone. When Cindy saw Collin, he was in shock, covered with blood, and was not responding to her. “The wounds looked pretty severe, the dog’s fangs had severed a gash into Collin’s right temple down to his skull.” She immediately called an ambulance and rushed with him to the hospital.
Let’s pick up the rest of the story in her own words:
On the way I had a few moments to regain my composure, to search for perspective, to call on a trusted friend (in other words, I knew this was the time to pray). You see … as a single parent, I have called upon the Lord daily since I began my walk with him, just before my divorce. Despite the fact that I was baptized 12 years ago, I never really … really trusted the Lord until just about three years ago. And (I bet you know what I’m going to say next, Pastor Ray) MY LIFE HASN’T BEEN THE SAME SINCE!!! He has been my husband, he has been a Father to my children, our trusted provider, our faithful consistent ONE AND ONLY! I’ve learned there is little I can do without him, so I needed him now.
Then Cindy shares a bit about the nine hours she spent with Collin at Loyola Hospital. Finally the surgeon stitched everything back together and sent them both home. “He couldn’t eat much the next couple of days, and his face turned funny shades of blue and green through the initial healing process.”
As Christians, we are still shy of pain and struggle. Do we get less of it because we love our Father? I think not. But I am so glad to know how much he loves us, and that when I’m falling, he’s been waiting, prepared, with his arms open wide. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).
It’s been just over four weeks now, we’re all doing much better. I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky. God has truly blessed me with three wonderful, compassionate children. Collin was recently asked, “Are you afraid of dogs?” “Only one,” he replied.
What a wonderful testimony to God’s amazing faithfulness to his children. Because he is faithful, we can trust him even in the most desperate moments of life.
Whose Side Are You On?
Let me end this sermon where I began. How many people do you know who always do exactly what they say? No matter how many qualifiers you put on those words, the answer is always the same. Only God is always faithful. Jesus Christ is truly the name you can trust. He is the answer to the question: Is there anyone who is what he claims to be?
Ponder again the words of Jesus: “I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Whose side are you on?
Sometimes people ask me how I have the strength to keep believing in the midst of a world filled with pain and suffering. Today is a wonderful day to answer that question because this is Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. On Thursday he meet with his disciples in the Upper Room, on Friday he died on the cross, and on Easter Sunday morning he rose from the dead. What a wonderful week this is. All that we believe finds its foundation during these holy days. If these things are true, then all else must be true. No wonder Jesus said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).
If you find yourself weak in faith, look to the cross. Ponder the bloody visage of the Son of God. Gaze upon the empty tomb. Read again those ancient accounts of Holy Week, of Good Friday, of Easter Sunday. Consider what the Lord your God has done for you. Think what this means. If God can raise the dead-and he can-and if Jesus is alive-and he is-then why are you worried about anything at all?
Bob Loro and Gary Olson
One final story and I am done. On Friday of this week I was invited to speak to the local chapter of the Christian Businessmen’s Committee. Although they don’t usually have pastors to speak, they asked me to talk about my book Man of Honor. They also asked me to conclude with a brief gospel invitation. I arrived a few minutes before the meeting began and as I walked from my car to the restaurant, I happened to see my friend Bob Loro, who owns Loro Auto Works here in Oak Park. We chatted for a moment and I commented that I hadn’t been to a CBMC meeting for about five years, since the time I went to hear Gary Olson give his testimony. Bob looked at me with a smile and said, “I remember that very well because that’s the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”
When I got to the end of my message, I told that little story and then said, “Has that ever happened to you? Has there ever been a moment in time when you trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” Then I led the men in a prayer of commitment.
As you come to the end of this message, I’d like to ask you the same question. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and trusted him as your Lord? That’s the single most important decision you could ever make. If you’ve never done it, I urge you to bow your head, pray to God, open your heart and invite Jesus Christ to rule and reign in your life.
I’m asking you to trust the most trustworthy person in the universe. May God help you to do it and to make your peace with him right now. Amen.