It is a peculiar thing, knowing that
…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6
For we seem to always seek to live on our own resources. As we grow in faith, we become complacent. We think we have matured. The thought comes to mind, we can stand alone. But the temtpation needs a justification: One wants to be neither a dependent nor a leach. Indeed, in human relationships, one who seeks to much from others is rightly condemned (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
Yet, when it comes to one’s relationship with God in Christ, such self-reliance is precisely wrong. The trouble with our excess dependencies upon other human beings is that in such relationships we seek something which need — yet comes only from God. Human beings are necessarily dependent, contingent creatures.
That God requires of us – faith – also supplies our greatest need. In our state of dependency upon God we must honor God and do ourselves good:
“They are strong in him, living upon his promised strength, and by faith receiving it. They live not upon any thing in themselves, but whatever they stand in need of, and whatever they have a promise for, that they expect shall be be given them by the power of God their Saviour. They see themselves poor helpless creatures, full of continual wants, and no means in their own power to supply them. The sense of this empties them of self-greatness and self-dependence, and the abiding sense of this keeps them humble and dependant upon Christ. Thus the Lord teaches them how to live out of themselves, and to be always receiving out of the Saviour’s fulness grace for grace. They have his infinite storehouse to repair to, in which there is treasured up for them every thing, that they can possibly want. Happy for them, their God has promised to supply all their needs out of the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus, and by faith they have an abundant supply to the praise of that God, who keepeth his promise for ever.”
William Romaine Treatise upon the life of faith.
And yet, as we grow in our dependence upon Him we think ourselves to be strong; we think we can walk alone, that we can gin up the fruit of the Spirit; we think that love, joy, peace now springs from us. But such thoughts are futile and we fail. God in his mercy may even see us fall that we know ourselves to be reeds and not oaks (as Richard Sibbes put it).
And it is exactly upon this point that temptation falls. Temptation must draw us off from faith — for in faith we have strength: not our own, but the strength of Christ:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, Jude 25.
Such power resides in Christ that we can never fail in his power. The power of grace that begins the Christian life continues the Christian life:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5
Romaine explains it thus:
“He that is able to keep believers from falling, will keep them until they receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls. Thus the life which Christ begins by his grace, he continues by his strength; and every act of this spiritual life is from him. The will, the power is his : for he doeth all, and in all. These young men were so well assured of this, that they lived upon Christ for strength, and they received it; they were strong in him. Their faith viewed him in his exalted state with all power in heaven and earth, and engaged as their covenant head to use it for them, to make them and to keep them alive to God.”
And thus temptation must first land on faith. It must come as a whittling knife, and then it comes in boldness:
“When the enemy sees them thus strong in the Lord through faith, it stirs up his devilish malice, and makes him burn with envious rage. He leaves no temptation untried to draw them from Christ. He is well skilled in cunning wiles and sly devices for this purpose. He does not begin with tempting them to open sin; that would at once discover his wicked design: but he artfully tries to sap the foundation, and to weaken their faith. If he can get them from their dependance upon Christ, he carries his point; and too, too often he succeeds”
What then must be the defense? Faith — for only faith can succeed:
“Oh beware, reader, of every thing suspect it, let its appearance be ever so fair and good, which in the least tends to weaken thy fast hold of Christ. Cleave to him with full purpose. When the thought arises, Whether thou art in Christ, because of such failings, thou wilt know from what quarter it comes, and wilt immediately resist it. So that the temptation will make thee stand faster: it will drive thee closer to Christ, make thy dependance stronger on his blood and righteousness; put thee upon making more use of him, as thy intercessor and advocate with the Father, and help thee to live more out of thyself by faith upon him. Thus Christ becomes precious, thou art more humbled. The snare is broken, and thou art delivered.”
“Treatise upon the life of faith.” What strange alchemy of Christ: to be humble is to be a tower; to be dependent is to be strong without bound.