Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 16: Clarity About the Fruit: Faithfulness
In the story about Rilla, the youngest daughter of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery brings the reader to a decisive moment that was steeped in tragedy. WW1 is raging and Rilla’s brother, Walter, is in the thick of it. He writes the night before he is to ‘go over the top’ that he expects death will claim him, but urges his sister to keep faith with the deep values that compelled him to fight against tyranny in the world. She cries when she hears of his death, but grieves deeper when his final letter comes into her hands. Drying her eyes, she stands looking over their childhood playground and vows that she would keep faith with Walter to the covenant they made before he was shipped to Europe. She will not forget and she will stand with him against the worst that is found in mankind so that a better future will be realized.
This portion of Rilla’s story captures much of what we need to understand about Faithfulness as fruit of the Spirit. Faithfulness guides us in decisive moments, where we choose God’s way over all other alternatives. When we are tempted to take the easier way, believe the pretty lies of the enemy over the hard truths of the cross and suffering and resisting temptation, faithfulness is given to us to hold on to the righteous reign of God over us and our world.
The guiding word for faithfulness is covenant. God made covenant with us through Jesus. This covenant is not like the one He made previously, because to accomplish it, He came to live in His people with power in the person of the Spirit.
Here is where faithfulness comes in. God is always faithful to His covenant. But He made covenant with His created beings—people who have in every way been affected by the Fall. Our personal strength to be faithful to this covenant is zero. You know this to be true because you witness your own failures and see this played out in the church body with sad frequency.
God, knowing we were not able, gave us the Spirit for this very reason. We have no hope in ourselves, but every reason to boast in hope of the glory of God as this “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2, 5 NIV)
Faithfulness means we are made able to take a decisive stand for truth, holiness and love even if we do not know how things will turn out.
Think of Abraham. God promises Abraham an offspring that would result in descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky,” then asks him to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham kept faith with God because he “reasoned that God could even raise the dead.” (Hebrews 11:19 NIV)
Moses kept faith with God when he “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (Hebrews 11:26 NIV) He never entered the Promised Land, but the covenant God made with Israel through him would set the stage for the Messiah.
Faithfulness is not demandingness such as someone who follows a made-up god might experience—the I-will-follow-you-if-you-perform-as-I-expect-you-to kind of believing. It is a ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’ faithfulness. When confronted by Nebuchadnezzar with the choice of bowing or burning, they unhesitantly responded that their God would deliver them. But even if he did not, they chose Him over bowing to anything else. They were convinced of the reality of their God no matter how He decided to act in their situation.
In a time when cultural shifts are confusing and voices are shouting their version of truth from both sides of the political and social spectrum, faithfulness directs your eyes to God’s reign over all He has created. You are a stranger and a pilgrim (words I learned from my KJV years ago) in this world. Peter’s use of this peculiar expression was to remind us that our real home is not the one we find ourselves living in, but God’s kingdom. The foundational truths of the kingdom spring from the very character of God.
When you come to your crisis moment, when you have to decide where you stand, what you value the most, how you will then live, rests in the assurance that God has given you His Spirit. Before that moment comes, the Spirit is already shaping your character. In his strength you will find the ability to keep faith with the covenant God has made with you.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)