He abideth faithful

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13

I recently read The Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor. The life of Hudson Taylor is an amazing one and quite inspiring–not so much because of his external accomplishments, but because of the love and integrity exemplified in his private life. There is one letter in particular in which Hudson relates a profound realization about the nature of holiness and abiding in Christ. I personally related to his situation and found great encouragement in his revelation. What follows is a personal second-person description of how this revelation came about.

Praise the Lord! The Holy Spirit convicts you of your brokenness and sin and need for a savior, and you call on the name of Jesus in your need (Joel 2:32). You are amazed at Jesus’s love and grace to you as shown through His crucifixion. You wonder that the Lord of the universe, the Logos incarnate, would humiliate Himself in such a way, and choose to exchange His life for yours. As you study His word, you are assured of His promises for your salvation and the consummation of your relationship with Him in the days to come. His resurrection is proof to you that all His promises are true. You grow in your understanding of God and His ways as you read the Bible.

Yet as time passes, you slowly forget your first love. Like the Ephesians two thousand years before you, you become busy with churchianity and religious duty and forget the awe-inspiring nature of the love of God (Ephesians 3:14-19; Revelation 2:4). You hunger and thirst for His righteousness less; you do not live for His every word as you once did. You are as lukewarm as the water served at ancient Laodicean house parties. 

But then Jesus speaks to you as He did for the Laodiceans. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. Oh, that you were either cold or hot!… Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to you and will dine with you, and you with Me” (Revelation 3:14-21). 

The Holy Spirit convicts you of the need for deeper fellowship with Jesus.

Heavenly Father (you pray with sincerity),
"Be gracious to me, O God,
according to Your mercy.
According to Your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
4 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me….
13 Do not cast me from Your presence
take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me.
14 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
and sustain me with a willing spirit." 
(Psalm 51:3-4;12-14)

"Teach me the way of Your decrees, Adonai,
and I will follow them to the end.
Give me understanding,
that I may keep Your Torah
and observe it with all my heart.
Help me walk in the path of Your mitzvot
for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to Your testimonies
and not to dishonest gain.
Turn my eyes away from gazing at vanity
but revive me in Your ways." 
(Psalm 119:33-37)

Such is the cry of your heart.

In this fresh zeal for a pure heart and holiness, you apply yourself to a diligent regime of action to kill the sin in you. You pray, read, fast, meditate, etc. Yet no matter what you do, it seems that it’s never enough. The prayer you uttered this morning or the bible verse you repeated seemed to have no effect on the impure thought or unkind word that spawned later in the day. The selfish spirit in you is invincible!

“I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for meditation—but all without avail. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me”.1

Yet reading the word you know that you have been granted the ability and power to live in holiness, to live as God’s son (2 Peter 1:3; John 1:12)! Why does it then always seem impossible to carry out the will of the spirit instead of the flesh (Romans 7)? If only you tried harder, applied yourself more, were more disciplined…

You slowly understand that you, having been saved by faith, are also sanctified by the work of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 5:1-6). (Not merely a passive, intellectual belief, but an active and passionate conviction and clinging.) You know you are perfected not by works of the law but by the spirit. Christ is the one who is strong, rich, mighty, full of righteousness, grace, and truth; you, the sinner, are weak, selfish, poor, needy through and through. It is clear, then, the means of abiding, of getting the “abundant fatness” of the root and stem into your “puny little branch” consisted of faith (John 15). 

This truth you assented to in your head long ago, but as your destitute state becomes more apparent, it slowly seeps down into your heart, and you understand it as a mantra that transforms your whole outlook. The question becomes, how do you secure this precious faith? By more striving? Was the error before not that you were striving, but that you were striving for the end instead of the means?

“I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of  unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was I felt the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?”.1

Nay! The whole problem is that you are too weak. You are powerless against yourself. It is clear that faith is a gift of God. God promises faith and victory over sin to all who ask for it. Did Jesus not promise you rest for your souls: to take your burden (Matthew 11:28-30)? Why then does this faith, this victorious living, still elude your grasp? It simply cannot be that Christ has died for our sins and risen from the dead, and promised us personal victory over our sins and failures in addition to life beyond the grave, only for us to experience constant defeat, with no hope for victory in this life. No, eternal life begins now. God is faithful to His promises. Yet your experience appears to rebut His lofty and too-good-to-be-true promises. In your efforts to grasp faith you begin to lose grasp of whatever faith you already have. What now?

Then your weary and cynical eyes rest on the words of 2 Timothy 3:13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.”

As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, He abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.”  “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me—never to leave me, never to fail me?” And, dearie, He never will.

Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in  wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not  the root merely, but all—root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone—He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and  enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.1

Here, then, is the recipe of unexplainable peace and power! This truth takes away the pressure of your victory, holiness, and joy being dependent on your ability to perform. Even when you fail Him, He does not fail you. If you truly are a member of Christ’s body, then He can never and will never deny you, for that amounts to denying Himself. 

Perhaps one evidence of chewing on, swallowing, and ingesting this truth is how it transforms your prayer life. We have full assurance that whatever prayers we ask in Jesus name are granted to us–how would He never deny Himself?

Oh, my dear Sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, “It was only your hand, not you that wrote that check”; or “I cannot pay this sum to your hand, but only to yourself?” No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e. not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ’s credit—a tolerably wide limit! If we ask for anything unscriptural, or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that. But “if we ask any thing according to His will . . . we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him”.1

As you abide in the truth that not only is Christ in you, but you are in Christ, you experience a peace that transcends understanding, the rest Jesus promises (Matthew 11:28-30). In every circumstance He supplies you with all the resources and strength and grace you need (plus more!), for you are His, He is yours, is with you, dwells with you, and all His resources are freely available to you (Romans 8:32).

Do not let us continue to say, in effect, “Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above).” In other words, do not let us consider Him as far off, when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body. Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as for the few. They are the birthright of every child of God… The only power for deliverance from sin or for true service is Christ.1

The Christian walk is not one in which God pours our grace upon us to forgive us of our sins so that we can now have a clean slate to enter heaven, only to leave us to struggle in our own strength and devices to merit victorious (that is, holiness–victory over sin and fear) and abundant life (John 10:10). The path of holiness–of not sinning–victorious christian living–of attaining abundant life–of experiencing the blessings of peace, joy, love, faith, hope–are not contingent on our ability to strive and somehow merit or earn these blessings commensurate to our effort (Galatians 5). Rather, these gifts are exactly that–gifts; gifts that we experience the more we deeply identify and focus on Christ and who He is and all that He is for us. The “disciplines of grace” are valuable mostly insofar as they help us to focus on Christ and fall more in love with Him; all that remains is coming to and full identification with Christ (John 5:39).

The Christian walk is defined by grace upon grace. When you repent and become saved, it is grace. When you live your whole life, being sanctified and learning the ways of holiness, it is grace! When you stumble and deny Jesus, it is grace! When you suffer and have no strength left, it is grace! When by your Spirit you do mighty exploits, it is grace! When you die and ultimately confront your savior, that too, is grace! Grace is not only the doorway, it is the whole corridor of our relationship with Jesus. And the more we realize this, the more we understand the sweet nature of our relationship with Jesus, and are filled with His love and all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).

“For from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”
 - John 1:16

Special thanks to Full of Eyes for the beautiful image used in this article.

1 Taylor, Howard, and Geraldine Taylor. Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret. Moody Publishers, 2009: 156-167.

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