In our previous post we considered the first of three terms that Paul uses to describe who a Christian is. In this article, we will go on to look at the second — “faithful”.
The proper meaning of the root word used here is that of one who exercises faith or is a believer — someone who is full of faith. Perhaps the best analogy is that which is recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John.
We will recall Thomas, one of the twelve disciples Jesus handpicked. After the resurrection of our Lord, He appeared to the rest of the disciples one Sunday, at a time when Thomas was absent from the evening fellowship. When he was told how that the Lord had risen from the dead, he doubted, and said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (vv 25). Well, the following week, whilst Thomas was with the rest, Jesus again showed Himself to them, and decided to grant doubting Thomas’ request. These were the Lord’s words to him:
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20: 27).
Jesus’ words here could be paraphrased, “Don’t be empty of faith (doubtful), but rather, be full of faith (believe)”. The word translated “believe” here, is exactly what Paul uses in our reference text for a Christian – one who is full of faith (faithful) as opposed to one who does not believe.
This brings into sharp focus the fact that a Christian is one who believes certain things. And the first focus of a Christian’s faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can claim the title of Christian who does not have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Paul in his final address to the elders of the Ephesian Church in Acts 20:21 summarised the Gospel thus — “repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”. To declare that Jesus is Lord is to declare that one believes all that is true about His person, including the fact that He is God. The term “Lord” used for Jesus in the New Testament is the equivalent of the Old Testament name of God “LORD” which is the same as Jehovah, one of the highest titles ascribed to God. To believe that Jesus is Lord is therefore to affirm one’s belief in the fact that He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father, and as the second person of the Trinity, the One who took on human flesh and was born of a virgin into this world in order to die to save man from sin. There, one equally affirms a belief in the Trinity, an essential doctrine of the Christian faith, because the Bible teaches that the virgin birth was only possible by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). So Paul in using this description of a Christian asserts that a Christian is one who believes the right things about God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Yet how many people today deny this doctrine, simply because they can’t understand it? Whether we understand it or not, the Bible teaches plainly that the divine Godhead exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the blessed Trinity, and each person is actively involved in our salvation, as Paul would go on to expound. As noted in our previous article, here in these three terms that Paul uses to describe the believer, we have the barest minimum definition of who a Christian is. Yet how many professing Christians today shy away from doctrine? We easily brush it off as something reserved for theologians or seminary students and pastors only. However, to Paul, a Christian is one who knows what he believes, and can be counted on “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1Peter 3:15).
This leads to the second meaning that is conveyed by the description “faithful”, which is the fact that a Christian is someone who can be relied upon. The test of real faith is our faithfulness in times of persecution and trials. Fox in his book of martyrs describes the fierce persecutions that the early Christians endured for the sake of their faith and how they stood resolute even at the point of death. Emperor Nero at the time used to light some of them as torches for his games in the arena for refusing to hail him as god. Some were skinned alive, and Timothy who was pastor at Ephesus was himself clubbed to death by a procession of idol worshipers when he protested of their idolatrous practices. Yet despite the fierce persecution, the Church thrived and prospered because these men and women stood faithful to the faith.
We noted earlier that a Christian is a Saint, and called to be a Saint. Similarly, a Christian is faithful in that he believes the right things, but he is also called to be faithful. Today we may not be burnt at the stake, nor skinned alive for our faith, but we may be jeered at in certain circles, or become the subject of mockery for living out our Christian beliefs. We may be taunted at work or play for refusing to conform to the ways of the world, and the temptation would be to let go what we believe in order to be accepted in those worldly circles.
The apostle and the example of the early Christians beckon us to stand firm and contend for the faith that we profess, even when it is not popular to do so. This is what it means to be a Christian!
In the next article, we shall go on to look at the third description that Paul gives the Christian in Ephesians 1:1 — “In Christ“.