23. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
When God predicts that He will cause a son to be born to a husband and wife who are nearly one hundred years old, more than just His power is in question. His credibility is likewise at stake. Is He reliable? Is He trustworthy? Can we expect Him to do what He says He will do? When that promise was made to Abraham, he literally fell on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). Abraham had not yet fully come to believe that God’s Word could be trusted. And neither had Sarah, his wife. When she heard the same promise, she too laughed (Genesis 18:12). Her faith had not grown beyond the example she observed in her husband.
The narrative in Genesis does not record specifically when it happened, but at some point in their walk with God, both Abraham and Sarah became convinced that God would do what He promised to do. The Apostle Paul told us about Abraham: “And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:19-21).
The writer to the Hebrews tells us the story from Sarah’s perspective: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). She not only believed that God could give her a son, but also that He would because He is a faithful God. His Word is reliable and His promises are trustworthy.
The faith of Abraham and Sarah was not misplaced. “Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2). It happened just exactly as God said it would and when He said it would. God is truly faithful.
The Explanation of God’s Faithfulness
The Old Testament word for faithfulness is related to the word for truth. They both come from the same root which means “firmness” or “stability.” Faithfulness actually grows out of truth. What is true must also be trustworthy. Even a pagan soothsayer named Balaam had to admit that the God who tells the truth will also keep His Word. He said to the king of Moab,
God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)
Since God cannot lie, we can count on Him to do exactly what He promised—to be perfectly reliable, always steady and stable, never fickle or vacillating. That is His faithfulness. His Word is infallible and unfailing. Since it is without error, it will surely come to pass.
It is interesting to note how often faithfulness and truth are used together in Scripture. For example, Isaiah said, “Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1 KJV).
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
The Apostle John also said that God’s words are “faithful and true” (Revelation 21:5; 22:6). He said that Jesus Christ, the living Word in flesh, is “the faithful and true Witness” (Revelation 8:14), and that at His return to the earth He will actually bear the title, “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).
All of God’s attributes operate in conjunction, never in isolation. If everything about Him is true, then He has no alternative but to be faithful. We sometimes go back on our word because we are unable to do what we intended to do, such as when we have been hindered by a storm from taking our children on a picnic we promised them. But God is omnipotent. He can do anything He pleases, even control the weather. He has no reason to be unfaithful. We may also be unfaithful because we are influenced by others. For instance, a wife may have promised her husband that she would prepare his favorite dish for dinner. But some socially prominent women, whose acceptance and friendship she desires, have invited her for coffee. The time has gotten away from her and it is too late to keep her word. But God is totally self-sufficient. He does not need anyone else’s approval to meet His needs. He is His own reason for everything He does.
We may fail to keep our word because we lose interest, like the husband who promised his wife he would build her some new kitchen cabinets, but simply got tired of carpentry and sold his tools. God never loses interest. He is immutable. He never changes His mind. We may not follow through because it no longer suits our selfish purposes. One couple said they would assume responsibility for a Sunday school department, but failed to follow through because they acquired a new motor home and decided they did not want to be tied down on weekends. But God is love; He acts for the good of others rather than for His own selfish interests.
Scripture extols God’s faithfulness. The Psalmist said it surrounds Him (Psalm 89:8); that is, it is part of His being and affects everything He does. Moses assured the people of Israel that because God is faithful He could be expected to keep His covenant and carry out His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). He has done exactly that. For example, He gave them the land He promised them, He gave them victory over their enemies, and He gave them rest from their conflicts just as He said He would. “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). That is the essence of God’s faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises is assured even if His people forsake His law, refuse to walk in His judgments, violate His statutes, and break His commandments (Psalm 89:30, 37). Although He will discipline them, He will not violate His covenant, alter the utterance of His lips or, as He says, “deal falsely in My faithfulness” (Psalm 89:33). He can be counted on to do what He promises.
God’s faithfulness is unlimited (Psalm 36:5). The Psalmist went so far as to say,
Forever, O LORD, Thy word is settled in heaven.
Thy faithfulness continues throughout all generations (Psalm 119:89-90).
Because God has spoken in truth and His word is sure, every generation can count on what He has said. No wonder Jeremiah exclaimed with joy, “Great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23).
The Extent of God’s Faithfulness
Since God’s faithfulness is part of His essence, it affects everything He says and everything He does. Several specific applications of His faithfulness are made in the New Testament.
First of all, He is faithful in assuring our salvation. The spiritual lives of the Corinthian Christians left much to be desired, but Paul commends them for “awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). Paul is confident that the Lord will make them steadfast and preserve them from falling away, right up to the moment they enter His presence. That confidence does not rest in the strength or ability of the Corinthians, but in the faithfulness of God. If He promised eternal life to those who receive His Son, then He will deliver what He promised. He will never allow them to perish.
A similar assurance is expressed about the Thessalonians: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Paul longs to see every one of them standing before the throne of God, wholly set apart unto the Lord, perfectly pure and blameless. He is confident that they will, not because they have the innate power to make themselves holy, but because the One who called them is faithful. God promised to glorify every person He called and justified—every one without exception (Romans 8:29-30). God does what He says He is going to do.
What a satisfying assurance! Once we have acknowledged our sin and trusted Christ as our Saviour, there is no need ever again to worry and fret over our eternal destiny. Our faithful God confirms us in Him forever, and with that issue eternally settled, we can give our attention to growing in our knowledge of Him.
I have talked to people who have struggled for years about the assurance of their salvation. They have been perpetually preoccupied with whether or not they really are saved, and this has hindered them from growing in God’s grace. They will not graduate from that plateau until they take God at His Word and realize their salvation is settled forever. It is like a marriage in which the wife is asking herself, “Does my husband really love me? Is he really committed to this marriage?” As long as those doubts persist, she will never be free to grow in her relationship with her husband. Similar doubts keep us from growing in our relationship with the Lord. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). A faithful God will do what He promises. He will save you when you trust His Son. You can count on it, because He is faithful.
Secondly, He is faithful in providing for our victory. God wants us to enjoy victory over sin and triumph through trials, but He has not left us on our own to achieve it. He offers us help. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The word temptation may refer either to a trial from God who seeks to purify and strengthen us, or a solicitation to sin from Satan who seeks to destroy us. In either case, God promises to protect us from more than we can bear and to provide with every temptation or testing a way of escape. His faithfulness guarantees it.
The term way of escape was used of a narrow mountain pass through which a trapped army might escape an impossible situation. God always has an escape available when temptation strikes. When we yield to temptation, it is because we have ignored His provision and refused to take His way out. In the case of trials, the way of escape may simply be the strength to endure, but it will be there. We can count on it. A God who never fails to keep His Word has promised it.
A similar promise was made to the Thessalonians: “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). God promised to guard them against Satan’s attacks by strengthening them, buttressing their faith, and providing the support they required. When I have succumbed to temptation, it has not been because God failed to keep His Word, but because I chose at that moment to ignore what He had made available. The mountain pass to freedom was in sight, but I closed my eyes to it and walked headlong into Satan’s trap. God’s strength was accessible, but I chose to handle the situation myself.
God has been faithful to His promise. He has given us His Spirit to live in us and help us, and He is the Spirit of power. He has equipped us with His Word which sets Satan on his heels. He is continually available for communication through prayer. He has created us with a human will by which we may choose to flee from the enticement to sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). When we step out by faith to obey Him, He meets us there with His strength. These are resources which He has faithfully provided, and when we use them we enjoy His victory.
In the third place, He is faithful in forgiving our sins. Unfortunately, most of us only use God’s resources for victory intermittently, and as a result we sin. But God’s faithfulness reaches us even then. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In that verse our sins are viewed both as a debt that needs to be forgiven and as a stain that needs to be cleansed. We can enjoy blessing in both of these circumstances, when we acknowledge our sins to God, when we agree with Him that they are vile and repulsive, an offense to His holy nature.
God forgives us on the basis of two aspects of His character. One is His righteousness or justice. He has already punished His Son in our place, so justice has been served and He now has no reason to withhold forgiveness. The second is His faithfulness. When He looked ahead to Israel’s new covenant nearly six hundred years before Christ, He said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). We share in the benefits of that new covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). Though our sins seem so horrible that God could never be expected to forgive them, He says He will, and He is always faithful to His Word. Confess your sins to Him, then take Him at His Word. Believe that He has forgiven you and cleansed you from all unrighteousness.
Finally, God is faithful in sustaining us through suffering. One of the times we are most tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness is when suffering strikes our lives. It often makes no sense to us and we see no reason for it. We may search our lives, and although we find some sins which we have previously overlooked, we still cannot believe we deserve what God has allowed to happen to us. We begin to think that He has forgotten us or really does not care about us.
The people of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day were beginning to think that way. Israel was a tiny nation surrounded by giant powers which were continually menacing her. Listen to her complaint:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14).
But the Lord was right there with words of encouragement.
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me (verses 15-16).
He had allowed them to suffer, but He could never forget them in their suffering because He is faithful. And He does not forget us. He really does care.
How can we appropriate this great doctrine of God’s faithfulness and enjoy calmness and contentment when hard times come? The only way is to do what Peter suggested: “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). As the Creator, God has the power to carry out His perfect plan for our lives and to accomplish His perfect purposes through our suffering. And as the faithful Creator, He can be counted on to do it. Therefore we can consciously entrust ourselves to His care with complete confidence, and hand the safekeeping of our lives over to Him, believing that He will do what is best. When we do that, we will have peace in the midst of adversity.
I recently met a successful salesman who was struck totally blind at the age of forty-four. Not only was his sales ability hindered but his enjoyment of sports and his capacity to appreciate the great outdoors seemed to be terminated. His anger with God was intense. On one occasion he laid on the floor and cried, begging God to take his life and threatening to commit suicide. It seemed as though God said to him, “Don, trust Me. I have a great plan for your life.” But still the resentment lingered.
A short time later he insisted on going for a walk. When no one in the house was free to take him, he angrily fumbled around and found his cane, located the front door, and against his wife’s protests made his way down the front steps and across the yard, determined to prove something to himself and his family. He crossed the road, and in a state of disorientation accidentally stumbled into a creek. As he sat there waist deep in the water, it seemed as though God was saying, “Are you cooled down now, Don? Trust me. I have a great plan for your life.” That was the moment he entrusted himself to his faithful Creator. A few years later he was serving the Lord effectively as a representative for a mission to the blind, finding more joy and satisfaction in his Christian life than he had ever known before. God is faithful in sustaining us through suffering.
The Encouragement of God’s Faithfulness
God will not only be faithful in assuring our salvation, providing for our victory, forgiving our sins, and sustaining us through suffering, but He will also be faithful in keeping every promise He has ever made. That is the greatest encouragement we could possibly have. The Bible contains thousands of precious promises from God, and at least one of them will have application to every conceivable situation we can possibly encounter—financial reversal, terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, family tensions, or anything else. A faithful God can be trusted to keep every promise. The writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers with these words: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
After assuring the Corinthians of God’s faithfulness, Paul makes this astounding statement: “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The words “in Him” refer to Christ. Jesus Christ is the absolute certainty that all God’s promises will be fulfilled. A God who loves us enough to give us His Son will certainly keep all His other promises as well. Christ’s coming was as though God had written beside every promise in the Bible, “Yes, so be it, I will keep My Word.” When we believe His promises, our lives bring glory to Him—as Paul said, “to the glory of God through us.”
People in the world today are fed up with empty religious claims. They want to see something that does what it says it will do. Few things give evidence to the reality of life in Christ more powerfully than a believer who exhibits genuine peace in trying circumstances. That is the by-product of knowing a faithful God and believing His promises. When we are assured that He cares because He is loving and good; when we are convinced that He is in control because He is omnipotent; when we believe that He is with us and knows all about the problem because He is omnipresent and omniscient; when we believe that He is working everything together for good because He is sovereign and wise; then we will have peace when things around us are falling apart. And that will make a powerful impact on the world.
It is important to understand that some of God’s promises are conditional. If we fail to keep the conditions, and as a result God does not fulfill the promise, His faithfulness obviously cannot be impugned. We must study the context to see if there are any conditions stated or implied.
Many other promises in the Word are absolute and unconditional. God is going to keep them whether we believe He will or not. He will fulfill His Word whether we are faithful to Him or not. The Apostle Paul said, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). To be faithless may also mean to be unbelieving. When God’s promises are unconditional, neither our faithlessness nor our unbelief will affect His faithfulness. They will rob us of our peace, our joy, and our testimony, but He will just keep right on doing what He promised to do, keep right on being faithful to His Word. What a wonderfully faithful God! Believe Him. Experience the peace, the joy, and the power which faith in His Word will bring. Then you too will exclaim enthusiastically, “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Action To Take:
Think back to a time in your life when you doubted God’s faithfulness. Now list the ways He has since proven Himself faithful, the things He has done which He promised in His Word He would do.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)