Faltering Faith and Failing Faith
What a tremendous blessing to hear how God has worked in your lives. This morning, we have been privileged to hear these testimonies. Sometimes when people transfer membership they ask, “do we have to give a testimony?” and my response is, “It is a blessing for us to hear how God has worked in your life.” We rejoice to hear your faith biography, thanks for sharing. This morning, we have seen how God has worked and how people have responded to His work.
It seems kind of appropriate that on a morning when we have heard a number of faith biographies that we want to start a series on faith biographies. Over the next 4 Sunday’s, we want to examine how people in the Bible have responded to the grace of God.
We know that it is by faith that we come to Christ in the first place. When we come to realize that we are helpless, when we understand that we sin and can’t stop, when we understand that we will die and can’t prevent it then the good news that God has for us is that He has provided a way for us to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The good news is that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for our sins and rose again from the dead to provide the way of eternal life. In order to receive this good news, God invites us to trust Him for forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life. He promises in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But faith is not only the starting point of a life with God. It is also how our life with God is to be lived. John A. Toews wrote that faith “…is the universal and indispensable condition of all experiences of God’s grace - not only in conversion, but also in all subsequent experiences of Christian growth and development.”
This morning as we begin a series of faith biographies we will examine what it means to have faith and I hope to encourage and challenge all of us to a deeper faith.
To start with, we will look at two stories, those of King Saul and of King David. What we notice is that neither of them had a perfect faith. They sinned, became discouraged, went through hardship and experienced loss. This is encouraging to us because we all still sin, we all doubt, we all struggle with trusting God in the challenges of life. I want to look at three areas in which faith can be challenged and notice how faith acted in these two stories. We will learn that in the case of Saul, faith failed and in the case of David, faith was strong to the end. As we examine their stories, we will learn the difference between a faith that fails and a faith that falters but remains. I hope it will be an encouragement to you, Carl, as you continue in your walk of faith, to you who have joined to continue to develop a deeper faith and indeed to all of us as we walk in faith.
I. How Faith Responds to Sin
The first area that often challenges our faith is the area of sin. Both Saul and David, like we, faltered in their faith when they sinned. What is the difference between failing faith and faltering faith when we sin?
A. Failing Faith
The sins of Saul are recorded in a number of places, but we will examine just one story which takes place in I Samuel 15. Let me briefly tell you this story. The story is the story of a battle. When Israel came up from Egypt many years earlier, the Amalekites had attacked them. For this reason, God told Saul it was time to punish them for their evil. The battle was to be one in which everything in that nation was to be totally destroyed. God’s command, given in verse 3 was to destroy everything. This was a very serious instruction from God. When God wanted everything destroyed, He meant everything.
Saul and his army went to the battle and destroyed the Amalekites, just as they had been told to do. They completely destroyed everything, except, they did not destroy the king of the Amalekites and they did not destroy the best of the sheep and cattle. In verse 9 we read that “these they were unwilling to destroy completely.”
This was Saul’s sin. He failed to fully obey God in a command that he knew and that he knew was serious.
When Samuel, God’s prophet, came to Saul after the battle was over, Saul greeted him cheerfully and had the audacity to say to him, “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” The response of Samuel was, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears?” In response to this, Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them…” In this conversation we see that Saul was unable to see his sin and unwilling to accept responsibility for it. In verse 19 when Samuel asked Saul directly, “Why did you not obey the Lord?” Saul responded in verse 20, “But I did obey the Lord.” More of his heart is revealed later in the text. When he is confronted with the evil of disobedience, he does finally admit that he sinned. This looks like a good thing and we think that perhaps he is on the right track, but we see the depth of his sin and the shallowness of his repentance when later on he asks Samuel to come and “honor me before the elders.” At this point we see that he was not concerned to deal with sin in his heart, he simply wanted to look good.
It is in Saul’s response, when he is caught in sin, that we see the difference between failing faith and faltering faith. At first he did not see his sin, then he blamed others for it, then he made excuses and finally he glossed it over in favor of being honoured before others.
B. Faltering Faith
How different the response of faith that may falter, but remains true.
David also sinned and in a way that may even seem worse to us. His sin is described in II Samuel 11,12. One day when his army was at war and he should perhaps have been with them, he was walking about on the roof of his house. Looking down, he saw a woman bathing. He was attracted to her and since he was king he used his power to get her to come over and he had sex with her.
When that encounter resulted in pregnancy, David called for her husband to come back from the battle in hopes that he would get together with his wife and cover David’s sin. When that didn’t work, he sent her husband’s death sentence back with him to the front and in a planned military manoeuvre, he was murdered.
David may have seemed to be getting away with murder and adultery, but God’s concern was evident. II Samuel 11:27 says, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” For over a year nothing happened. Can you imagine the gossip? This was not hidden. There were people who knew about it. However, from Psalm 32:3 we know that David’s heart was not immune to guilt. There we read, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”
Some time after the child was born, Nathan the prophet came to David and told him a story with the intention of confronting him with his sin. Nathan, probably in fear and trembling, said to David, “you are the man” and pronounced judgement on him.
The two stories are similar. A sin is committed. The one who sins does not recognize or admit the sin. A man of God comes and confronts him with the sin.
In David’s case, however, the response is completely different. Immediately, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He does not make excuses, he does not try to shift blame on someone else. He understands and admits the evil of his sin right away. In these stories, we see the difference between faith that falters, but holds on and faith that falters and fails. The difference is in the response to sin. In the one case, it is defensiveness, fails to recognize sin and seeks to save face. In the other it is full confession of sin and falling on the mercy of God to forgive.
It seems to us that David’s sin was far worse than that of Saul. That should encourage us that it is not the depth of our sin that shows whether or not we have true faith. Rather it is the depth of our repentance and the fullness of our receiving the forgiveness of God that shows who has true faith in God.
What kind of faith do you have when you have sinned? Do you accept God’s judgement on your sin? Are you quick to accept your wrong doing and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness? True faith accepts God’s opinion of us and receives his forgiveness.
II. How Faith Responds To Difficulties
A second challenge to faith is the difficulties we face in which we are sure that our resources will not do. How does our faith operate in those difficulties?
A. Failing Faith
Let us look once again at the lives of Saul and David.
It was another situation of a battle in which the weak faith of Saul was revealed. In I Samuel 13, the Philistines had been attacking Israel and so finally Saul gathered his army in order to face the enemy. Although the enemy was strong, the crisis that pushed Saul even more was that his army was slowly dwindling down. Soldiers were going into hiding, some were deserting and slowly his army was shrinking.
It was customary, in those days, to inquire of the Lord by holding a sacrifice to see what God’s direction would be. The responsibility of making the sacrifice and inquiring of the Lord was that of the priests, and in this case, Samuel, God’s prophet. In fact, they were the only ones who could do it. But Samuel did not come! As Saul watched his army get smaller and smaller and the Philistine army look larger and stronger, he became more and more fearful and finally got impatient and took matters into his own hands and began to offer the sacrifices.
While he was in the midst of this, Samuel showed up and once again confronted him with his sin. In verse 13, Samuel said to him, “You have acted foolishly, you have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you.” He goes on to say, “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart…”
Saul’s faith failed when difficulties came. Instead of trusting God to deliver him and to do what he said he would do, he was overcome with fear and took matters into his own hands. This shows that he did not really trust God. Samuel’s indictment indicates that he was not a man after God’s own heart.
B. Faltering Faith
What a contrast we see in the life of David. In I Samuel 17, we have the familiar story of David and Goliath.
Once again we have a story in which a person is faced with a great enemy. Goliath was huge and the contrast between David in his shepherd’s clothes and Goliath in his massive armour couldn’t be greater. It would be like the Canadian men’s hockey team facing the Rosenort 8 & under team.
But David had been a boy of faith and now on the verge of manhood, he was becoming a man of faith. He did not allow the enemy to cause him to be fearful but trusted in God. When Saul questioned him about his willingness to face the enemy, he said in verse 37, “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.” When the Philistine mocked and laughed at the puny thing coming toward him, David said in verses 45,46, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me…”
In these two stories, we see the difference between faith that fails and faith that may falter, but stands strong to the end. Faith that fails sees the enemy and is filled with fear and seeks to handle it alone. Faith that is true sees God and all that he can do and is ready to trust God fully especially in great weakness.
What do we do when faced with a challenge? Do we run to God or try to solve it ourselves? Do we believe that God will help us or do we take matters into our own hands?
III. How Faith Faces Loss
A third point at which our faith is often tested is when we experience loss. It may be the loss of a loved one or loss of something else that is valued by us. How do we handle that loss in faith?
A. Failing Faith
Saul was about to face the loss of the kingdom and the loss of his life. In I Samuel 28 we have a story in which once again he was in a battle. Because of his previous sins, he knew the judgement of God on his life. He knew that he was going to lose the kingdom and that he would likely lose his life soon. God was not communicating with him any more. His last communiqué had been that he would lose the kingdom and God had nothing more to say to him.
In the face of this potential loss, Saul wanted to know how he would fare against the Philistine army, but God was not giving him any new information.
He was not content, however, to leave things like that and so he once again sinned. He had done a good thing by removing all the mediums from the land. But now he thought he needed one, he looked for one and found one. He went to her and asked her to bring up Samuel from the dead. When the séance apparently succeeded, Samuel simply repeated the words he had already given him. We read that answer in Samuel 15:26, 28. God’s Word had not changed.
The story reveals that when Saul faced loss, he was not interested in seeking God, nor was he interested in following God. All he was interested in was answers. And worse than that, he was willing to do anything to get those answers. Saul was willing to compromise with evil in order to avoid the Word of God.
B. Faltering Faith
In the later part of his reign, David also faced a loss. In II Samuel 15:25,26 we read a story that tells of what happened when his own son tried to take the kingdom from him. For many years, he had ignored Absalom and Absalom had slowly tried to get the popular support of the people. People liked him and one day, Absalom decided it was time to take over the kingdom.
It must have been a difficult time for David. The whole event was evidence of a broken relationship with his son. It was also a point at which he as the anointed head of Israel would be forced to give up the role he had had successfully for many years.
We read in 15:6 how Absalom stole the hearts of the people. We read in 15:12 how the conspiracy grew and his following increased. Finally, when Absalom thought it was time to take over, we read in 15:16 that David left Jerusalem with a few loyal followers to flee the coupe.
How did David handle this potential loss? In the context of this story, one event shows us the faith David had. The priests took the ark of God out of the temple and with them so that it would be with David in his flight from the city. When David found out about this, he told them to take the ark back to Jerusalem. We see his faith when he says in 15:25, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”
His faith was such that he trusted that no matter what came into his life, God would do what was right. Saul was at a place where he wanted answers. He was not really interested in knowing God or doing what God wanted or seeking God in the midst of loss. David, on the other hand, was willing to accept loss because he trusted that God would do what was right. Above all, he was interested in God and would accept whatever he brought into his life. Faltering faith may face loss. It may not be easy, but at the core, it shows itself to be true as it accepts what God brings. Failing faith does not seek God, but merely seeks answers. What kind of faith is in your heart as you face loss?
In the book, Fresh Faith, the writer says, faith is “confidence in the faithfulness of God.” The stories of Saul and David reveal that. In sin, true faith repents and accepts forgiveness. In difficulties, true faith trusts that God will guide. In loss, true faith accepts God’s plan.
In the stories we have heard this morning from those who shared testimonies, we have seen the work of God. We have seen struggle but we have also seen faith expressed.
All of us wrestle with trusting God. At times, we trust God, at times, we falter in our trust. At times we walk in obedience, and at times we sin. At times we accept loss and at times we fight against it. I hope that the life of faith we see in David will help us and encourage us to trust God at all times. I hope we are encouraged to admit our sin and trust God’s forgiveness, to face difficulties and challenges knowing that God is looking after us and to accept loss if God wills it, knowing that God is guiding us.
The invitation to all of us is to grow in faith, to learn to have a true faith in God that although it may falter, will live in trust.