Charles Stanley - Advancing in Faith
When you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit came into your life and sealed you forever as a child of God. That was the beginning of a life like you never dreamed of. You've probably heard about people being Christians and wondered, looking at them, what it was like; but for you it was a brand new life. It's a brand new life for all of us, that's why Jesus called it being born again. But that was just the beginning because from that point on, you would begin the walk of a believer, of a Christian. And that walk will take you lots of different places. Take you into difficult situations and circumstances, all kind of situations. But walking with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most exciting life that a person can possibly live because there are no limitations. You're walking with the Son of God. Your destiny is fixed forever. And your companion, it's absolutely unbeatable, it's the Son of God. He says, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you". So, while salvation is a one-time experience, the walk is continuous. So what you can you expect when you think аbout: what can I expect in this walk?
So, I want to put those up on the screen. And one of them is simply this. As we walk with Him, we'll get to know Him in an intimate and personal way. And that's very important, not just as somebody we read about, an intimate and personal way. Secondly, we'll discover His will and purpose for our life, which is so very important for Him and for us. Then, you will learn to listen to Him and obey Him. That's part of the walk, listening and obeying and trusting Him. Then, of course, you'll experience His presence, His power and His wisdom. Because He says, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you," and so all three of those are available to us. Then, of course, you will understand that the Christian life is truly a walk of faith, that it's not something we just feel along, it is a walk of faith. You are saved once and for all and the walk is continuous forever, till He calls us home to be with Him.
So, what I want to do in this message is I want to talk about how, how do we advance in our faith? And the title of this message is "Advancing in Faith". I want you to turn, if you will, to a chapter in Matthew that is a very popular chapter because we know it so well. It's the fourteenth chapter. And there are many, many messages that can come out of a single passage of Scripture. But I want to talk about this whole issue of how we advance in our faith, and I want to use Peter as a good example. Somebody might say, "Well, but Peter had relapses in his faith".
Let me ask you a question. How many of you have suffered faith failures? Come on, yeah, all of us have, we've all suffered faith failures, so don't judge Peter quite yet. So look what's happened in his life. Verse twenty-two, "Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone". Don't you know He enjoyed those moments. "But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.' Peter said to Him, 'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' And He said, 'Come!' And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?' When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, 'You are certainly God's Son!'"
Now, let's think about something, that all of Peter's life, he knew as an absolute fact a man cannot walk on water. He knew that. There was no question in his mind about it. But when Jesus said, "Come"! Peter, he stepped out of the boat onto the water, and began to walk across the top of the water to Jesus. And then, of course, like all of us probably would have done, he looked around and saw this big wave coming and he began to sink and Jesus had to save him. So you say, "Well, he had a faith failure". But look at this. Look at how far his faith had come, from sitting in a boat safe with Jesus, fishing, and now he's out of boat in a storm and walking on water. I say you have to give three cheers for Peter. I mean, look what happened to his faith. Well, you say, "Well, what's that got to do with my faith"? A whole lot, because, you see, most people want to stay in the boat. That's where they want to stay. In fact, a lot of people don't even want to get in the boat. They want to stay on the shore where it's safe and talk about trusting God. But that is not the will of God for us.
Faith is a confident conviction, not a feeling, a confident conviction that God will do what He promised. Now, most people want to go by their feelings. A confident conviction that Jesus Christ will do what He promises to do. That's what faith's all about. And it's interesting to me that many, many people who will trust Jesus Christ to save them, look, they bet their whole eternal future on the fact that by confessing, repenting of their sins and trusting Jesus Christ as their Savior, that no matter what happens in this life, they're going to Heaven. They'll trust Him for that. But on a daily basis, they can't trust Him for simple things, little things, provide things for them that they need, or healing for their body, whatever it might be. So God wants us to grow. The Christian walk is a growing walk. It is to be an advancing walk.
So the question is: how do we grow in our faith? How do we advance in our faith? Now, I'm going to give you ten ways. And first let me say, "I know they work". So I want to give you a list of ten things. Don't miss a one of them, because it'll transform your life, your future, if you will learn to trust Him. And what we're talking about is how to advance in your faith. It doesn't make any difference where you are. You may be sitting on the day that you were saved. You may not have advanced one step. You were just there. But today you can change all of that. And so, the first step is simply this, and that is, remember this: if we're going to grow in our faith, we have to face, listen, we have to face and overcome obstacles, tests, trials, and temptations in our life. That's the way we grow in our faith one way.
Somebody says, "Well, now can't we just pray for faith"? Well, if you mean, just say, God give me faith, and all of a sudden, you have great faith, the answer is no. If you say, "God, I want You to give me faith," get ready because here's what He's going to do. He's going to give you a test, a trial or allow you to have a temptation in your life in such a way that what happens? All of a sudden, you have to decide whether you're going to trust Him or not.
So growing in faith is not simple. Growing in your faith can be painful. But, listen, tell me something any greater than to have great faith in your life. That when you come to God, you have confidence and assurance that this God whom you believe, you're trusting in Him, that He's going to answer your prayer and you stop hesitating about what He may or may not do. And all of a sudden, everything in your life begins to change. Here's what He'll do. He looks at your life, your life, your life, your life, your life, or my life and what does He do? He just designs the test, the trial, whatever it might be, that perfectly suits you, fits you in order to grow your faith, not somebody else's faith.
So God knows exactly how to strengthen our faith and help us to advance in it because He's going to use us in proportion to our faith. He's going to bless us in proportion to our faith. Everything He does in our life relates to our faith. And therefore, if you want greater faith, first of all, recognize that there will be tests, trials, maybe hardships, may not be much of any of that. But He's going to test you in some way, because, listen, He's got to get you off dead center. Something has got to challenge you to say yes to Him when it looks difficult and looks like you can't do it. If it's something that's just a pushover, well, that's not going to build your faith. Building faith brings a test. Then, of course, understanding the very nature of God. Until a person begins to understand who God is, the faith's not going to grow.
Well, you say, "Well, I know that He's omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. But He's more than that. And we forget this: that God is holy; He's righteous. He is also a God of judgment. He's a God of love and mercy and forgiveness and kindness. He is a God that attributes of which are numerous. It's when I begin to understand and believe in my heart that this God in whom I serve, He has all-power. He is a merciful God. He is a loving God. He's an understanding God. He knows it all. He knows exactly what I need. He knows how much I can stand. He knows how hard the test must be, can be, and must not be. And so, it's God working in our lives. And He knows exactly how to do it. If my faith is going to grow, I've got to understand who this God is. Likewise, I must meditate on the Word of God.
Listen to me carefully. Jot that down and then I want you to listen. If you're going to grow in your faith, this is absolutely an essential. Remember what this book is. The Bible, listen, the Bible is the Word of God. God voiced the truth through these who penned it. This is God's book. If I want to know about God, this is the place to go. If I want to know how God acts, this is the place to go. If I want to know what God can do, will do, has done, this is the place to go. You cannot grow in your faith and ignore the reading of the Word of God. And this is why I say over and over again. We should start the morning meditating on God's Word. Or in the evening, or whenever it's convenient to you. But if, listen, if you leave this out, you don't have any direction. God gives direction through His Word.
And you can read one verse of Scripture, and today it may not mean anything. Tomorrow, listen, you read that verse of Scripture and say, "Uh-oh. What's this"? You know that God is speaking to you. And here's what happens. He speaks to us through His Word. And in the process of doing what He brings to your mind and heart, or protecting you in some situation, or providing something that you need. In the process of doing that, it's like God unfolds His Word in actions. And what builds my faith is when I read this and here's what He says, and then I watch it happen.
A person who neglects the Word of God, here's what you're saying. You say, "I want God to do this and not do that, but I'm not interested in what He's saying. I'm interested in what I'm saying". I'm only interested in what He's saying, or proving that I am, when I'm opening the Word and finding out what did He say about this situation? What did He say about that? I don't think you can come up with any situation, circumstance in which God doesn't have, not just an opinion, but the truth about it. So if I want to grow in my faith, I've got to find out how does God act? And when I think about the Bible, the Bible is the fuel for my faith. If I want my faith to grow, then here's the fuel right here. Who is this God? How does He operate? How does He act? How does He work? What did He say? What did He promise? What did He say about my situation, my circumstance in this particular day? Then, of course, we must apply the principles of the Word of God, and that is principles, that is principles by which we live.
For example, a Life Principle Bible. There are thirty principles primarily in the Life Principle Bible that cover just about everything imaginable. For example, one of those principles, it's so simple is, "We reap what we sow, more than we sow, later than we sow". You can't change it, it's a principle of God. There are principles about waiting upon the Lord. There are principles about God answering prayer. There are principles but you see, if you don't apply them to your life, you can read it and it won't work. Application, when you read the Word of God, whether you're reading the twenty-third Psalm, something that's so familiar or some other passage, ask the Lord, "Lord, how do I apply this to my life"? And what happens is when you apply the principle, God honors it, He works in your life.
What happens to your faith? Your faith begins to grow and grow and grow because you see the evidence of God working in your life. Then, of course, observing the ways of God, how does He work? And when you and I begin to understand who God is and how He works, for example. Here's one of the ways that God's works. He uses suffering to strengthen your faith. He uses suffering to bring you to your knees. He uses suffering, for example, to bring you to a fresh new commitment. He brings suffering and trial and hardship to open your heart, to help you understand that you need Him in your life. That's just one way. For example, one of the ways of God is He's silent. Sometimes you talk to Him, silent, nothing happens.
I can remember at one of the critical moments in my life when I was seeking direction earlier in my life, it was a critical moment and God was absolutely silent. He was so silent to me, I'd read the Bible and I'd say, "God, do You see what that says"? And I'm sure He didn't get angry. In fact, I remember getting down one night, I had the hymnbook and I'd read some hymns to Him and say, "God, here's what I've been singing all my life. Where are You"? And God is silent. But then when He answered, He answered in the most awesome way, I wouldn't even tell you this morning, I don't have time. But I can tell you, one of the ways of God is He's silent. Sometimes He makes us wait.
So, there are all kinds of ways of God. I preached a whole series on it, but I'm simply saying the way we grow in faith is when we begin to understand His ways. How does He work? He, listen, one of the ways He works, He uses the most inopportune situation. He operates in the most unusual ways sometimes with the most unusual people that you'd think could never succeed at anything and God uses them in an awesome way. He wants your faith to grow. That's what advancing is all about.
And then, of course, by observing the work in the lives of other people. And I think about how God certainly stimulated my faith to grow by spending one week with my grandfather. You've heard me say that before. I listened to him for one week. He told me how God had worked in his life. They were etched in my mind. And I remember thinking, "Well, God, if You worked in his life that way," and my grandfather was a pastor and an evangelist, and then one of the godliest men I've ever known. I thought, "God, if You work in his life that way, how will You work in my life"? And I began to read the Old Testament characters and my most favorite ones primarily, and I thought, "Well, Lord, if You worked in his life that way, then You worked in their life that way, what will You do in my life if I obey You and trust You? What will You do in my life"? My grandfather absolutely catapulted my faith in one week. We grow in our faith by watching God work in other people's lives, and then, of course, if I could take one statement and if you want to grow your faith, you practice this statement.
Obey God, leave all the consequences to Him. If you will that statement... and I meet people all the time who'll walk up to me and say, "Dr. Stanley, 'Obey God, leave all the consequences to Him,'" to remind me that they heard it and they're listening and they're practicing it. And even small children; their parents have taught them to repeat that. Think about this simple truth: obey God, leave all the consequences to Him. That is faith in perfection. I'm going to do what He says no matter what it costs, no matter what it requires, and then I'm going to let Him work. I'm going to watch Him work. I'm going to leave all the consequences to Him, why? Because I believe that God will honor obedience. That's what that's all about. I believe that God, not will, but always honors obedience. He never overlooks obedience because obedience honors God. It pleases God. We're trusting God when we obey Him. And He says in Hebrews, the chapter we know about faith, that in order to please Him, I must believe in Him, I must trust Him. I must put faith in Him.
So I would ask you where you are in your own faith. Then, of course, I think about through answered prayer. God certainly builds our faith through answered prayer. Listen, this is why we should teach little children to pray about little insignificant things, but significant to them, listen, very early in life, so that they learn if they talk to God, whom they know very little about, but as a good parent you would teach them some things about God through Jesus. If they would do what God says, here's what He'll do. And He answers their prayer. And I can remember both of my kids at times, when I understood, and I realize they knew how to talk to God and how to ask of God and to receive from God they knew how to trust God. The thing that builds faith is not just praying, but praying with expectation; praying with confidence; praying with boldness; praying with assurance.
You say, "Well, sometimes I'm not sure". You keep praying. God'll give you the assurance that you need. It's a matter of trusting Him. And you think, for example, what a simple example this is. Here's a little boy standing up on the ladder and his father says, "Just jump, Dad'll catch you". "Oh, but you may drop me". And say he goes through all of that, and then finally, he looks at his dad and jumps right in his arms. He had to get off the ladder to get in his father's arms. You have to get off of your seat in faith and jump in the arms of God and watch what He does in your life. Listen, my goal is God's goal: that you are able to be and become and do and achieve what God has in mind for you. Do not let anybody tell you you can't. You can do anything God has called you to do, because He, listen, the Word of God says you have all of God's power and Heaven behind you to enable you to do it. That's what He promised His disciples, and every single one of us is just as important. How could you ever deny God the privilege of sharing His message with somebody? Now, one of the ways we also grow in our faith is by worship.
Now, think about this, watch this carefully, we come to church on Sunday morning and one of the first things we do is we sing. And here you are sitting in the pew, or you're standing up and you're singing, "How Great Thou Art". Now watch that, you just confessed and made a statement when you sang that song that God is great, right? That what you said? That's what you said. Now, you said, "Well, I was just singing it". Mm-mm-mm, hasn't got anything to do with it, how you said it. You said it in a song. You said, "How Great Thou Art". You said, for example, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin". What can wash away my sin? You ask that question in a song. "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus". You've just confessed again an awesome biblical truth. You sing, "Jesus Paid it Al," yeah, He paid it all; all for my sin-debt. And here's what you're doing. When you're singing, "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe," when you sing that, you, what are you doing? You're confessing something. And you're confessing truth. And what you're doing, you're building up your faith.
Then I would say this last thing. If you're going to grow in your faith, here's what you've got to do. You have to confess your faith failures, don't try to fool God. He's not going to be fooled. You have to confess them, listen, confess it, deal with it, whatever that means in your life because nobody else knows how that may work in your life. But you confess it, deal with it, be honest. And then, you ask Him to forgive you and you say, "Lord, give me another opportunity. Give me another opportunity to trust You," and He will do it. He's not going to cut you off because you fail at something. He never did Peter. Look, Peter failed over and over and over again. And he's the one that at Pentecost preached that awesome sermon. God is very forgiving. But the important thing I want you to see this morning is this. You have a God who loves you unconditionally, who is willing to forgive you of your sins and save you, if you ask Him to do it. You have a God, once you're saved, who will walk in you and through you; who will be to you everything you need".
What He wants to do is to use you to the maximum of your potential to bring Himself glory. He wants to be good to you. He wants to do good in your life, good for Him, in His mind may be something that you wouldn't consider good. But God knows the end result. What He wants, He wants His people to trust Him, to believe Him so He can bless you to the maximum of your potential. And so, He can use you to demonstrate to others who He is and that He is the person everyone needs: Jesus Christ. That's what He's about. Don't sit on your faith. Don't just say, "Well, it's got me this far". But how far could you go? What can God do in your life? You and I could never estimate that unless we just say, "Lord, here am I". Now, listen carefully. Here's my challenge to you. Take a moment and look in your life just for a moment. Does God bring up anything in your life that you know is not right? Be honest. Don't say, "Oh, well, no". If the Spirit of God brought something up , He's working.
Is there anything in your life that you know is not right? Some attitude? Something maybe you're doing, or something, your attitude toward somebody. Is there anything in your life that's not right? Are you willing to lay it down? Are you willing to ask Him to forgive you and repent of it, which means you change? Whatever that is, you're willing for God to change that. You're willing to deal with it, if it's somebody or if it's something. It could be years ago, it could be today. Whatever it might be, are you willing to deal with it? If you're willing to deal with that and you say to God today, "Lord, I believe the truth that I've heard. And I'm just presenting myself to You, Lord, afresh and anew this morning. I want You to build my faith. I want to see what You can really do in my life. And here I am, I'm asking You to cleanse me because I want to discover what You had in mind the day You set my feet on this earth and gave me life.