What does a mature disciple of Christ look like? Over the past decade Lifeway Research has delved into this with thousands of pastors and church leaders. Culling through the data, we discovered that strong discipleship ministries and practices could be put in eight categories. We call these eight categories the signposts along the discipleship pathway. One sign of growing disciples is that they exercise faith.
Faith may be a common word in our vocabulary, but we don’t all use it the same way. For some people, the concept of faith is essentially wishful thinking. “I have faith that they’ll win the championship.” For others, the concept of faith is tied to a set of beliefs. “I follow the Christian faith.” And others see faith as something they can use to manipulate God. “If you believe hard enough and have enough faith, God will do what you ask Him to do.”
Faith is trust, taking God at His word and confidently trusting that He will do what He said He will do. Faith can begin simply, even as we place our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. But as we mature in our faith, that trust only grows deeper and we are more and more adept at trusting Him.
In the research that indicated a mature believer exercises faith, it was noted that these believes knew the importance of living by faith as opposed to living by their own strength. Trusting in God deepens and reliance on self lessens. Exercising faith means risk-aversion is set aside. Maturing believers concern themselves with bold faithfulness to God’s work. The concerns of personal cost become less concerning. The transformation that occurs because we put faith in God’s power results in faithful obedience.
Two statements were strong among mature believers who exercise faith:
- “I believe God has a purpose for all events in my life, regardless of whether I perceive each event as being good or bad.” Our faith in Christ gives us both new life in the eternal sense and redefines our perception about life here in this world. When we engage our faith in everyday living, it allows us to have a longer view of life’s events. Rather than wishing our way out of difficulty, it gives us the opportunity to simply trust God’s goodness no matter what we face.
- “I express praise and gratitude to God even in difficult circumstances.” The believer who is exercising faith can look beyond the current circumstances to the greater issues at work. They do not ignore what is happening, but by trusting and living by faith, they see life in light of all of God’s providence. Faith looks beyond difficulty and trusts in the character of God.
The apostle Paul gave us a wonderful summary of what it means to exercise faith:
“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Rather than sinking into the doldrums when things go wrong, we keep our eyes lifted toward Christ. Exercising faith is a result of God’s transforming work in our lives. As we grow in our sanctification and walk with Christ, we are able to follow more closely to Him. Our trust and faith only deepens.
Ways the Church Can Foster Believers Who Exercise Faith.
Challenge believers. Challenge people to give as an act of worship and trust in God’s provision. Challenge them to get involved in a mission project or ministry and trust God to work.
Provide opportunities to step out of their comfort zone. Point to specific ministry and mission opportunities and encourage participation. When people step out of their comfort zones, they can experience God’s presence and hand at work. The more they do this, the more they learn to trust God.
Give testimonies. Give a platform for individuals in the church to share how they learned to exercise faith. A testimony of how they learned to trust God in a specific situation encourages others to do the same.