Faithfulness is a moral attribute of God, an inherent characteristic which is revealed in Scripture and displayed by God’s activity in history. God’s faithfulness means that we can trust Him implicitly; in any situation we can fully rely and lean upon Him. We know and agree that this is true in theory, but the reality of God’s faithfulness is not something we know how to live by in the chaos of our daily lives. Instead, as imperfect Christians, we look at ourselves and become discouraged and wrongly conclude that this attribute of God is for “faithful” believers to experience, not for us.
As they passed a withered fig tree, our Lord gave His disciples a crash course on faith, beginning with these words: “Have faith in God” (Mar 11:22). However, this command is really best understood not as a call for us to develop the personal quality of faith, but rather to hang onto God’s faithfulness.
“The great and saintly Hudson Taylor always said that that should be translated not so much, ‘Have faith in God,’ as, ‘Hold on to the faithfulness of God.’ It became the motto of his life and work. Of course, that is to have faith in God, but, you see, if you put it in that way—‘Have faith in God’—the emphasis seems to be on your faith. ‘It is not that,’ said Hudson Taylor, ‘it is the faithfulness of God that matters. When you have no faith in yourself, hold on to His faithfulness.’ God is immutable. God is faithful. He will never change. That is what faith in God really means. Whatever may be happening to you, wherever you are, hold on to the faithfulness of God.”
In a way, God’s faithfulness is included in His attributes of righteousness, justice and immutability. It makes sense that these characteristics of God are interwoven with each other as He displays each in fullness. They all mean that God is unchanging and constant, yet the Bible reminds us repeatedly and specifically that God is faithful.
Perhaps what stands out uniquely about the faithfulness of God is that it is the quality that we can cling to when difficult circumstances, doubt, or sin cloud our perception of who God is and our trust in Him falters – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23 ESV). It is how God described Himself to Moses at Sinai (see Exo 34:6) as he stood in the presence of God with a second set of stone tablets, remembering the near annihilation of the nation of Israel due to their sin with the golden calf. The faithfulness of God is what encouraged Jeremiah in his personal trial and lament over the destruction of Jerusalem:
“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lam 3:19-23 NLT).
Faithfulness is also an attribute of God that allows us to remain in relationship with Him despite our tendency to sin. Every day you and I face temptation to sin, so Paul writes: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Co 10:13 ESV). Too often, we look inward and see weakness and feel helpless to resist temptation, but that is a wrong perspective that leads to almost certain failure. Instead, if we “hold on to the faithfulness of God” and look for the way of escape or the strength to endure from God, it becomes more than a wishful fantasy to live the reality of “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7). However, when we fail and sin, God’s faithfulness still reaches out to us. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9 ESV). God values relationship with us, and so there is always this provision for the sinning believer to be restored to complete fellowship by Him.
This brings us to consider a possible challenge to the claim that God is faithful: Could our sin render God unfaithful? Paul gives a succinct response: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2Ti 2:13), and illustrates this point in more detail in Romans (3:3-4; 8:35-39). This certainty is not an enticement to sin without fear of consequences, but rather an encouragement to stand firm or return to God from sin (for saint or sinner). God is faithful no matter what you or I do; He is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. This is fundamental to Christian maturity and service – much more important than who I am is who God is.
Notice that the faithfulness of God is always linked to what He says (promises) or does. James tells us that faith without works is dead (2:17), and so it is vital to understand that God’s faithfulness is dynamic, living and working, not something static and impassively unmoved by the ebb and flow of our lives.
The Bible closes with the truth that God is faithful. John sees a white horse carrying Jesus Christ in judgment to the earth, and His first title in the vivid description is “Faithful and True” (Rev 19:11). Christ is, and will be seen to be, the tangible proof that God is faithful. The terrible judgment of the nations, the beast and the false prophet ensues before the institution of His millennial reign. The whole of Scripture is given to us to show that God is faithful – in creation, in His promises, in His words and actions unveiled when Christ walked this earth to the cross, to this time of final judgment. Each of us needs to “hold on to the faithfulness of God” as we live our messy lives, and we will prove that this is the key to receiving the high commendation of God – “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat 25:23)!