Faith is like a muscle; it gets stronger the more it is exercised and pushed to the limit. Though the nature of faith includes the element of submission (as we saw yesterday), this submission is not flawless, complete, or without moments of stumbling. James, the brother of our Lord, speaks of the testing of faith that produces endurance (1:3) and reminds us of the faith of some famous Old Testament saints (2:20, 25), which, though placed before us as an example, was hardly presented as flawless in other parts of Scripture. Instead it was often weak and in need of further development.
The Apostle Paul calls believers to live by faith (Col 2:6-7), as did the author of Hebrews, who made it clear that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (11:6). Peter challenges us to be strengthened by faith (1 Pet 1:6-9; 5:9; 2 Pet 1:5), as did John who is convinced that believers can overcome the world by faith (1 John 5:4). Perhaps no clearer testimony of living by faith can be found than Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Since Jesus Christ lives within each believer by faith surely this faith is alive and growing, not static and unproductive. It is a muscle that grows the more it is exercised, especially in times of trial.
In his excellent book Trusting God, Even when Life Hurts, Jerry Bridges provides a compelling illustration of the necessary relationship between experiencing trials and growing toward spiritual maturity. He writes:
One of the many fascinating events in nature is the emergence of the Cecropia moth from its cocoon—an event that occurs only with much struggle on the part of the moth to free itself. The story is frequently told of someone who watched a moth go through this struggle. In an effort to help—and not realizing the necessity of the struggle—the viewer snipped the shell of the cocoon. Soon the moth came out with its wings all crimped and shriveled. But as the person watched, the wings remained weak. The moth, which in a few moments would have stretched those wings to fly, was now doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God created it to be.
What the person in the story did not realize was that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was an essential part of developing the muscle system of the moth’s body and pushing the body fluids out into the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence.
Bridges then rightly makes this application to believers.
We can be sure that the development of a beautiful Christlike character will not occur in our lives without adversity….However we shrink from adversity and, to use the terms from the moth illustration, we want God to snip the cocoon of adversity we often find ourselves in and release us.
Unfortunately, this is true. Too often we do not fully submit to the trials God sends our way—choosing instead to be free from pain and difficulty. As a result we forego opportunities to have our faith-muscle exercised, strengthened, and developed. In contrast, the more we choose to submit to the Lord’s gracious, but sometimes painful, work of sanctifying our hearts and lives the more our faith is perfected. No wonder then that James exhorts us to respond to trials with joy, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, which then finds its “perfect result,” that we might be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).