“THE SKILL OF LIVING BY FAITH” Part 1
1. In Habakkuk 2.4, the prophet declares, “the just shall live by his faith.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” In his letter to the Galatians, he again wrote, “The just shall live by faith.” Finally, and for the fourth time in God’s Word, we read in Hebrews 10.38, “the just shall live by faith.”
2. The just, of course, is the designation given to those sinners who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. But what is abundantly clear in the Bible? Even if it is not recognized by so-called Christians these days, not only are individual sinners justified by faith, as a single legal forensic transaction that takes place when Jesus is believed on to the saving of your eternal and undying soul, but after that justifying event occurs that just one, that saved individual, that Christian, begins to live out the rest of his life by faith as well.
3. That is to say, this modern notion of someone who is supposedly justified by faith in Jesus Christ and who never after that lives the Christian life of faith is not Biblical. And how about that person who is supposedly justified by faith and who lives for Christ for several decades, but who closes out the last portion of his life not living by faith and not serving the Savior, though he is still physically and mentally capable?
4. Jesus said, “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Are we then to overturn the words of the Savior by denying what He said? Many these days do just that. But if enduring to the end is a sign of those who will be ultimately delivered to glory during a time of terrible persecution and tribulation, should we expect less during our own day and in this easy time?
5. No. It is very clear that God’s Word shows, with undeniable force, that the just (that is, those who are justified) live by faith, not only at a point in time of life when they become Christians, but also over the course of time for the rest of their Christian lives. That said, and remembering that the just shall live by faith no matter what period of history God has placed them in (which is to say that the just of all ages have lived and will live by faith), please turn to my text for today, Psalm 37.19.
6. It is the second half of the verse which I have selected for today’s text: “in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.”
7. My desire, this morning, is to help the poor doubting Christian to acquire greater skill in living by faith. Christian? There will be times of feast, and there will be times of famine. Keep in mind that even in the days of famine you shall be satisfied. How can you know? God has promised. And what God promises to do you can fix your faith upon. Amen?
8. Let me illustrate by having you turn to First Kings 17.8, where we will read of the widow of Zarephath:
8 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,
9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.
15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
9. Since Zarephath was a town located on the Mediterranean coast about 7 miles south of Sidon, well outside of Jewish territory, we can be quite certain the widow of Zarephath was not Jewish, but was a Gentile woman. Yet in her days of famine she was satisfied, was she not?
10. How could it be that she, a Gentile woman, was satisfied in those days of terrible famine? She lived by faith. She was a just woman who lived by faith. So you see, though she was a Gentile woman and not a Jewish woman, she was a just Gentile woman. Therefore, our text, “in the days of famine they shall be satisfied,” fully applied to her, because the just live by faith.
11. Christian, you are no different in this respect than the widow of Zarephath. You are no different in this respect than the Christians in Rome that Paul wrote to, or the Christians in the Galatian churches that Paul wrote to, or the Christians written to in the letter to the Hebrews.
12. The just live by faith. This does not mean the just will not stumble in their faith and occasionally fall. This does not mean that the just will not see famine. This does not mean that the just will not see hardship. This does not mean the just will not sometimes feel abandoned and isolated. I am sure the widow in Zarephath felt abandoned by God as she prepared what she thought was her last meal for her and her son.
13. But God had not abandoned her. She had not been left to fend for herself. It only felt that way to her. What she probably had not realized until Elijah arrived on the scene with her instructions was that God had put her into special circumstances so He could use her as an example of the just living by faith, and fulfill in her His promise to satisfy her in the days of famine.
14. Poor doubting Christian, there are times when you feel alone. There are times when you feel isolated and think that you have been left to fend for yourself. But that is not the case with any child of God. What is the case, rather, is that you have been placed in a location or in a circumstance to live by faith. In such a circumstance, keep in mind God’s promise to you and to the rest of the just who live by faith, that “in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.”
15. Are you experiencing a famine of sorts? Do you feel starved? After brother Isenberger comes and leads us in a hymn, I will bring a sermon that I trust will help you to sharpen the skills needed to live by faith.
16. As brother Isenberger comes, please stand.
1. How shall a man be trained so that he may get the skill of living by faith?
2. Keeping in mind that it is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness, it must be understood that to continue the life of faith is also a matter of the heart.
3. Therefore, the skills associated with living by faith are skills that must be honed in one’s heart, not only in your mind.
4. There are three particulars for training your heart to learn this skill of living by faith:
1A. First, YOU MUST PROVIDE PROMISES FOR YOUR FAITH TO FUNCTION
Let me liken a man’s faith to a carpenter whose job it is to construct a building. We know from First Corinthians 3.10 that Christians are constructing a spiritual building, and who can deny that it should be done by faith? So, you see the analogy. But what happens when the carpenter finds himself without materials, without wood? Unless he possesses wood to shape and form and saw and join he cannot function. So it is with faith.
What is the material that faith makes use of like the carpenter makes use of wood? The truths of God’s Word, more specifically the promises contained in God’s Word. Now, you know from your own experiences that reading and studying the Bible with the mind only enables you to acquire dry facts and useless information. But when you lift from the Scriptures with your heart the succulent juices of truth that are dripping with nutrients and sweetness, then you are providing material for your faith to function with, like a carpenter who suddenly finds at his disposal a shipment of cut and cured lumber on which to apply his skills.
Do you want help in lifting from the Bible the materials, the promises, that your faith needs to properly function? Two rules to help you:
1B. Rule #1: Labor to learn God’s Word with daily devotions and study.
1C. Do you know what specific things are going to happen in your future? Do you have any idea what things will befall you without time to prepare? You don’t know how much time you have, do you?
2C. Proverbs 22.3, where we read that “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself,” shows us the wisdom of getting ready for something that you anticipate, preparing yourself for bad situations that you see approaching. But what about those unseen events that come upon you suddenly and without warning?
3C. My friend, when your baby is in the emergency room and you don’t know whether he will live or die, it is a bit late to begin thinking about studying God’s Word to find the promises to claim, is it not? To be sure, I can be comforted by what I learn, and I can attempt to comfort you, but are you always comforted by what promises I can claim? No.
4C. Therefore, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” Get ready for the winter while it is yet summer.
5C. Now, when you are healthy and able, use your time wisely to read and study God’s Word every day, to feast upon the truths of Scripture, to store up now for the winter. There will come a time when your faith will be called upon to function, and the only question will be whether you have provided material, whether you have learned God’s Word, whether you have searched out now those promises that you will need to rely upon then.
6C. Use your seven good years to grow and store up as much corn as possible so you will be ready when the seven lean years come upon you.
2B. Rule #2: Labor to build a reservoir of personal experiences in relying upon the promises of God.
1C. It is wonderful to observe how God has kept His promises in the lives of others. It is better to dredge up your own memories of answers to prayer and promises kept. You do not have to be an old Christian to keep such a storehouse of memories, but should begin to keep your own book of remembrances straightway.
2C. David wrote, “I remembered thy judgments of old, O LORD; and have comforted myself.” Do you see the value of such personal memories? Let me read something Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and then something he wrote to Timothy shortly before his martyrdom: First, to the Corinthians he wrote about God, “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” To Timothy he wrote, “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
3C. Such memories are not the privilege of great men of God only, but the treasure of any Christian who purposes to store up treasures of memories of God’s faithful dealings with him in the past that he can use to strengthen his faith in the future.
4C. Are you a guy who is socially awkward, and you find that you have rather poor people skills and don’t really know how to make small talk and chit chat with people? I have an idea that will make you a great conversationalist. Keep track of God’s faithfulness to His promises and recount those wonderful events to people when you have a chance. You still may not make interesting conversation with others, but you will keep before yourself material for your faith to function with.
2A. Next, YOU MUST PREPARE YOUR FAITH TO FUNCTION
A person can have saving faith, but that does not mean he has a faith that is agile, a faith that is nimble, a faith that is adaptable to different situations. Jesus once said to His disciples, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” So you see, it is not enough to have faith. You must train your heart to believe quickly. Thomas Hooker wrote, “It is with the hand of faith as it is with the hand of the body: if it is numbed, stiff, or frozen, a man must rub it or warm it before he can hold anything. So it is with the hand of faith, for faith is the hand of the soul: it takes hold of that mercy which God has provided for us in Christ Jesus. Now faith is some times numbed and stiff through carelessness and looseness. Therefore it is not enough for a man to have faith, but he must” exercise and stretch his “faith so that he may more freely take hold of the promises of life, and receive comfort from them.”
In order to do this, three things must be done:
1B. First, you need to work to maintain the faith that you have.
1C. Human nature is such that trust can ebb, much as a tide recedes from the beach. Therefore, it is important that you work to keep the faith you have.
2C. Consider faith as a weapon that must be cleaned and serviced in order to function properly. When it is fouled as the result of misuse and inattention it can become worse than useless.
3C. So, how do you maintain the faith that you have? Use it. Make demonstrations of your faith so plain to your soul that your possession of faith will be undeniable. How can you persuade yourself that you really do believe that Jesus came into the world to save sinners unless you labor to get sinners under the preaching of the gospel where they will get saved?
2B. Next, you need to work at being still in your heart and soul.
1C. I am persuaded that God moved me to Brawley to pastor for 7 years, in part, so that I would learn to be still, to be quiet inside, to meditate, to reflect; to do what Moses directed the children of Israel to do when they were fretful and nervous, even though they were being delivered from the Egyptians by God. He told them, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day.”
2C. Turn to the Psalms, where I will ask you to read three verses with me. Psalm 42.5, 11 and 43.5:
5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
3C. To be cast down means to despair. To be disquieted means to murmur in discouragement. So, in both psalms the psalmist is asking himself why he is so discouraged and why he is murmuring so within? And his solution in all three instances? “Hope thou in God.” “Hope thou in God.” “Hope in God.”
4C. My working definition of Biblical hope has for many years been, “The confident expectation of the future blessing based upon the promises of God.” That fits here, where the psalmist encourages himself by focusing his attention upon God, Who he knows will bless him, because He has promised to do so.
5C. I contend that you will not be able to “hope in God” quite so well as when you work at learning to be still in your heart and soul, as Moses directed the children of Israel. For it is only when you “stand still” that you will most clearly see “the salvation of the LORD.”
3B. Third, to prepare your faith to function, you need to work now on what you will do then.
1C. What are you going to do when the wheels come off your wagon? What are you going to do when you suddenly find yourself in a predicament that requires faith? What happens when you don’t know what to do, or how to react, church isn’t for a couple of days, you can’t get the preacher on the phone for some quick counsel, and you find yourself without a Bible?
2C. The various means of grace are all good in their proper place. It’s good to go to church and to listen to the preaching. It’s good to read and study your Bible. It’s good to seek a pastor’s counsel. But the use of means such as these are for before or after. What do you do during?
3C. My friend, when you are right in the middle of it, when you get that phone call to come immediately home, to meet your loved ones at the hospital, what do you do right now? Do you pray? Of course, you pray. Do you ask? Of course, you ask. But upon what basis do you ask God, do you plead with God, do you turn to God? On the basis of His promises.
4C. “Father, you said in your Word . . . .” “Father, when David cried out to you he was confident you would . . . .” “My Lord, you promised that if ever . . . .” So, decide now, Christian, that you will go to God then, that you will claim His promises made in Scripture, and that you will do that before you do anything else.”
3A. Finally, YOU MUST DIRECT YOUR FAITH TO FUNCTION
You should observe by now that the life of faith is not a passive life, but an active one. You should not simply wait for things to happen, but live and plan and prepare the way soldiers prepare for combat and the way doctors prepare for emergencies. Three rules have proven effective in getting your soul to the promises that God has made to you:
1B. Rule #1: Look always to other than yourself.
1C. Listen to what Paul wrote in Galatians 2.20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
2C. Listen to what Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 10.23: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
3C. “The just shall live by faith” because there is no other way to live. The alternative is to die. But faith must have an object. During the trials and testings of life faith can properly fix upon a promise that God has made. And it must be so, since you and I are, if anything, incapable and incompetent to achieve or to accomplish anything of value and benefit ourselves.
2B. Rule #2: Take God’s promise to your heart. That is, personalize it and make it your promise.
This concept can be illustrated in two ways:
1C. First, there is Genesis 45.26-28, where Jacob is told that Joseph, the son he thought for many years was dead, was still alive:
26 And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not.
27 And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:
28 And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.
Liken those wagons that came to Jacob to the promises of God that come to a Christian’s heart. When the wagons came to Jacob he was then able to believe. The promise coming to him, he was then able to go to his son. So, every believing soul is poor and feeble, and unable to go to God and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when you take the promise to heart the promise will then convey you to its realization.
2C. There is also the experience of Zacchaeus. Luke 19.9 reads, “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” He did not come to salvation, but salvation came to him. How so? First the promise of salvation, then that promise conveyed him to salvation.
3B. Rule #3: Let God’s promise deliver you.
1C. When the promise gets hold of you, and you see the sufficiency and authority of that promise, and its applicability to you, then all you have to do is this: Let it carry you through.
2C. The problem that many people have with this matter of faith is knowing when to do something and when to do nothing, when to depend upon God and when to exert yourself. This is the only time in this message when I have counseled you to do nothing, for this is what only God can do. Only God provides deliverance.
3C. In the parable of the lost sheep, what did the lost sheep do? Nothing. The shepherd left the 99 so that he might find the one lost sheep. And so it is. When you have some skill at walking by faith you know that the actual deliverance must come from, and can only come from, God.
1. When you find your heart to be feeble and weak, and yourself unable to believe, as with Jacob, look to the wagons of God’s promises coming toward you. Then let those wagons of God’s promise take you from the famine to the food, and from the desert to the dessert.
2. The skill to live by faith, which skill I do not claim to possess a great deal of, can be acquired and honed by doing three things: First, you must provide promises for your faith to function. Second, you must prepare your faith to function. And third, you must direct your faith to function.
3. We are but poor humble Christians. But perhaps, with God’s help, we can grow stronger in faith.
 Romans 1.17
 Galatians 3.11
 Romans 5.1
 Matthew 10.22
 See footnote for 1 Kings 17.9, John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 504.
 Romans 10.10
 Proverbs 6.6-8
 See Genesis 41
 Psalm 119.52
 2 Corinthians 1.10
 Second Timothy 4.18
 Luke 24.25
 Thomas Hooker, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), pages 79-80.
 Exodus 14.13
 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: 1979), page 1006.
 Ibid., page 242.
 Luke 15.4