GraceLife Church of Pineville

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Live by Faith: Strengthen Faith (Part 1)

Table of Contents

Scripture Focus: Luke 17:1–6; Jeremiah 3

The promise of the Old Testament is that “the righteous live by faith.”1As discussed in part 1 (“Live by Faith: Seek Faith”), this phrase is found in multiple places in Scripture, including Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38. It’s the realization of the New Testament—the promise realized—that the righteous live by faith. It’s also the challenge of the New Testament, that those who have been declared righteous will indeed live by faith.

The righteous live by faith. What does it mean? It means that:

  1. Through faith, we are granted (eternal) life.
  2. By our faith, we maintain our (earthly) lives.

We began to answer last week how it is that we make this happen—how it is that we, as those who have been declared righteous (the justified of God), live by faith.

That you’ve been declared righteous (justified) is important. While it is true that your life of faithfulness may justify you in the eyes of others (and that’s a good thing), the greater truth is this: Having been justified by God, you are granted the power to become progressively sanctified in this life. Being in Christ and Christ being in you means that living by faith is your calling and birthright. Living by faith is possible. You should pursue this sort of life.

Being in Christ and Christ being in you means that living by faith is your calling and birthright.

We’re in a sub-series discussing three ways that we live by faith: 

  1. Seeking faith
  2. Strengthening faith
  3. Seeing with faith

Seeking faith entailed fleeing certain things, pursuing other things, and fighting the good fight of faith. Now, we will focus on (2) strengthening faith.

What We Mean by “Strengthening Faith”

Before we talk about how we strengthen faith, let’s clarify what we mean by this. Take a look at Luke 17:5–6, where we see a request from the apostles:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord Jesus said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.”

If you’ve heard my past sermon series on Faith Qualified, Faith Quantified,2View here (sermon subtitles in parentheses): September 24, 2023 (“Little Faith”), October 1, 2023 (“Great Faith”), October 8, 2023 (“Sincere Faith, Weak Faith, Strong Faith”). you’ll no doubt recognize what’s wrong with the following commentary quote:

… Luke 17:5–6 … involves a request by the disciples for faith. Jesus’ reply is somewhat frustrating, for he does not appear to have addressed the request.3I’d say that the commentator’s comments are somewhat frustrating for not having understood how it is that Jesus answered the request. Instead, Jesus pointed out that what is needed is not a “quantity” of faith but a “quality” of faith. Even the smallest amount of true faith, a mustard seed’s amount, could do mighty things.4New American Commentary.

The commentator is so close … yet so far. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t address the request. Sometimes in addressing our requests and questions, it’s necessary for Jesus to blow up the faulty foundation of our assumptions. The commentator is right about Jesus clarifying that we’re not talking about a needed quantity—that was the whole point, that there’s not a quantity of faith that we need. But this talk about “quality” and “true faith,” a phrase that I’ve warned you about before, is misleading. The whole point is that the question of quality should be shifted away from the faith of the believer and to the object of the believer’s faith. The question to ask is, Is the object of your faith worthy? Is the object of your faith able to grant that which it is being trusted for?

Jesus is using absurdity or hyperbole to highlight the absurd nature of the assumption that effective faith has anything to do with quantity or quality. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” He says, “you’d say to this plant, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’” (Luke 17:6). Well, that’s kind of a silly example. We’ve seen it elsewhere when Jesus spoke of moving mountains. The point is, quantity doesn’t matter; it’s the object that is important.

But it’s okay to talk this way, about increasing faith or strengthening faith, as long as we have a mutual understanding of what it is that we mean when we speak of a request that our faith be increased. Here’s the clarification: To increase, add to, or strengthen faith is a request to strengthen faithfulness. It means:

  • To strengthen our resolve to exercise faith in situations in which faith is called for.
  • To exercise faith especially in situations when the temptation is great to abandon trust.
  • To sanctify us as a people who consistently live by faith.

It’s not that you’ve got this bucket, and you’re supposed to fill it with faith, and you’ve got just a little bit at the bottom and think, “Hey, I need to fill this up more.” Rather, you need to use it when you’re supposed to use it.

Consider the sort of situations that prompted the disciples to request an increase in faith. Look at the beginning of Luke 17:

[Jesus] said to His disciples. “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come. It would have been better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (vv. 1–4)

Jesus makes two things harshly clear in this context:

  1. Stumbling is inevitable, but death is preferable if the other option is being the downfall of someone else.
  2. You are to repeatedly extend forgiveness if someone wrongs you and repents—again and again. 

How do the disciples respond? We’re not ready for this! We need an increase in faith.

Do we not find ourselves hoping for the same thing? “Increase our faith!” Let me encourage you that what this is referring to, and what you are to aim for, is increased faithfulness. You might still feel faithless. You might lack the confidence and the comfort that faith brings. But there are ways to strengthen faithfulness. There are ways to find pleasure in our God. One of those ways is to take the step of returning to God. Other steps are going to be quite difficult without this recognition that if you’ve been faithless, you need to return to Him.

If you’ve been faithless … return to Him. 

In Jeremiah 3, the prophet is addressing a faithless Israel, a faithless Judah, to learn more about the return of the faithless:

“Return, O faithless children.
I will heal your faithlessness.” (v. 22)

In this verse, the word for “return” is translated elsewhere as “repent.” Actually, the word “faithlessness” also has its root in the same word, and it carries the idea of turning. In other words, Return to the right direction, and I will heal your having turned toward the wrong direction.

So is this a sermon on faith toward God or a sermon on repentance? Yes

Remember, we’re in the middle of a larger study on the oracles of God, with our current focus being the second oracle: faith toward God. And faith toward God goes hand in hand with the first oracle, repentance from dead works. The command here, “return,” is as simple to understand as the command “believe.” It’s a simple command, but it comes with some difficult hang-ups for the one who has been faithless. These hang-ups include attitudes like:

  • I can’t return because my sin is too great.
  • I can’t return because my waywardness has lasted too long.
  • I can’t return because I am too far gone.

I draw your attention to the needed remedy of faithfulness to understand something of its nature. We’ve looked so long at the nature of faith, but we should also understand the nature of faithlessness. So, what follows are seven statements regarding faithlessness. I hope these statements encourage you either to return to God or to remain faithful and never turn in the wrong direction.

7 Statements about Faithlessness

Statement #1: Faithlessness Is a Sickness or a Wound in Need of Healing

What can we conclude from such a statement? There are four sub-points worth noting for this characterization of faithlessness as a sickness or wound.

Faithlessness is not a trivial matter. You need to seek healing.

I’ll tell you a story about not seeking healing. It’s a personal story about an injury, and I will describe it less gruesomely than it actually was.

Heading into my freshman year of high school, I was very excited for the baseball season. I was coming off of my best year and a batting title, and I was going to play All Stars. (This was before the days of travel ball. Back then, you just played baseball. You had All Stars and school baseball.) In that tournament, I completely destroyed my shoulder. My rotator cuff was the only thing left that was attached. You know how it is, you think you’re invincible at that age. You think you’ll come back, it’ll be fine, and you’ll put it all back together.

So baseball season was over, but toward that fall, I was very excited about that upcoming football season. So my question to the doctor is, “Can you get me ready to play football?” He says, “Well, it might hurt, but you’ll be structurally sound.” I tell him I don’t care (if it hurts). He consents and takes off the pins and metal rods and everything else. Once they’re gone, he says, “OK, you can begin to use your arm and go through therapy, but no heavy contact.”

Fair enough, I thought.

I was a wide receiver and my quarterback lived down the street. To get ready for the season, I go to his house. We’ll just run some passing routes, go through the passing tree, I think. This is acceptable. I won’t even run full speed.

I’m in his front yard and going out for some passes, and I trip on a little incline in the front yard that I didn’t see. As I’m falling, I think, Don’t hurt your shoulder. Don’t hurt your shoulder. Don’t hurt your shoulder. So in an effort not to hurt my shoulder, I twist it around and land on the other shoulder … and hear a crack. And I decide, in all my teenage wisdom, that I wouldn’t tell anyone what happened.

The day passed, and it was sore. But when I woke up the next morning, I could not lift my arm. By the end of the day, at some point, I go to my mother and say, “Mom, I think I hurt my shoulder.”

My mom responds, “But Michael, you were supposed to be careful. You had it repaired and …”

“Not that shoulder,” I reply. “The other shoulder.”

I went to the doctor finally, and he looked at the shoulder. I had in fact cracked my shoulder blade. Fracture of the scapula.

Here are some lessons learned from not seeking proper help—from not realizing that this was a wound, an injury, in need of healing.

Without seeking a healer, I was left with these four things:

  • I was left with pain—pain that I was powerless to prevent, pain that was a constant reminder of my own foolishness.
  • I was left with isolation. It was obvious I had an issue that everyone else was going to be able to see. I couldn’t use my arm, and I didn’t want to let other people see that, so I isolated myself.
  • Third, I was left with ignorance. I knew something was wrong. But I didn’t have an accurate assessment of the internal damage that I had done or that, for all I knew, might be worsening.
  • I was left with fear. Would I function normally again? Were my hopes and dreams, my aspirations, lost to me now?

Failing to return to the doctor is much like living in our sin and not returning to God, our healer. It’s choosing pain, isolation, ignorance, and fear over healing, fellowship, knowledge, and hope.

You cannot heal yourself, but you can return to the Healer.

Returning to the One who can heal provides the prescription for healing, and it avoids the damage of a misdiagnosis.

Does this cut need a Band-Aid or stitches? Are antibiotics called for?

Left to our own devices, we misdiagnose and injure ourselves further. We do too little. We allow infection to set in where it could have been prevented. Or we do too much. We amputate areas that only needed a proper cleaning, a suitable dressing, and some medicine.

Refusing to seek healing is a choice for present and permanent damage.

The characterization of faithlessness as a wound or a sickness does not excuse your responsibility.

Understanding our own culpability regarding sin is complex, especially when it comes to this parallel of a sickness. If you were sick with a cold, it would be cruel to blame you for coughing—for something that you can’t control. If you’re sick, what can you do?

But say you were a diabetic and you chose to eat a box of doughnuts. Now you’ve moved into a different category of behavior, and you’d hardly be blameless.

Our individual condition when it comes to sin is something more akin to that latter example. We weren’t born with the greatest advantage; we were diseased to some extent—with a tendency toward self-damage.

Our sin is sometimes given the label of an -ism, and that’s convenient, because it lets us deny our own moral failing. It’s not that the label of sickness-instead-of-sin is completely wrong. It’s actually just applied too narrowly. We’re all sinners because we suffer from the sickness that is sin, some with more specific struggles than others—some with predispositions toward certain faults. Nevertheless, the possibility of responsibility is clear in the command: Return, faithless child; I will heal your faithlessness.

Healing is possible.

I love the way the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, often abbreviated as LXX) chooses to translate Jeremiah 3:22. It bears this idea of “I will heal your destruction” or “I will heal your ruin.”5Arndt, W., Danker, F.W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F.W. (2000). In A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed., p. 976). University of Chicago Press. s.v. σύντριμμα. This source is best known as “BDAG” and serves as the source for most of Pastor Michael’s appeals to meaning.

Let’s move to the second major statement on faithlessness.

Statement #2: Faithlessness Is a Matter of Quality or Quantity; Faith Is Not

In matters of faith, Scripture teaches us to focus on the worthiness of the object of faith. In matters of faithlessness, quantity and quality play a role.

  • Quality speaks to the seriousness of the charge. What kind of faithlessness is this? What kind of sin quality speaks to the seriousness of the charge?
  • Quantity speaks to the frequency of the occurrence. How many times?

Those are the things that haunt us: My crime is too significant. My habits are too established. My addiction is too complete. My identity is already fixed. The Lord is aware of these thoughts, these lies. And He addresses them in ways that, if I didn’t warn you that what I’m about to read is Scripture, you’d probably be upset with me. Some of you might blush, anyway. The preceding verses in Jeremiah 3, and the words and the concepts contained therein, probably aren’t going to be verses that we teach in our children’s services this morning.

Jeremiah 3 was authored by the same man who wrote Lamentations 3. Both are blatantly honest and raw. And something about chapter 3 just gets Jeremiah going. But he’s a prophet, charged with speaking the words of God, and this is God speaking, God revealing, and He is quite aware of our faithless condition.

As a backdrop, you need to understand that Israel was guilty of worshipping other gods. The physical places of worship were often high places (literally, “up on upon hills”). The language is sexual, and it could have been the case that even in the worship of these other gods, not only is it presented as infidelity, as marital unfaithfulness, but several of these cults or religions (whatever you want to call it) were involved with religious prostitution: sexual activity in the midst of so-called worship.

Jeremiah 3 begins:6The base translation used for Jeremiah 3:1–5 is Pastor Michael’s default, the NASB95; however, other translations were consulted too (e.g., NKJV, NET, KJV, ESV, NIV, HCSB, RSV, NRSV, Message, YLT, Darby). Consequently, the quoted verses are a mix of translations. This is because sometimes the literal translation conveys the thoughts well, while other times, an explanation (via paraphrase) is due.

God says, “If a husband divorces his wife
And she goes from him
And belongs to another man,
Will the first husband still return to her? [The implied answer is no.]
The land [if that were to happen] would surely then be completely defiled.
But you [people of Israel] are a harlot with many lovers;
Yet … you turn again to me,” declares the Lord. (v. 1)

That last line in verse 1, “Yet you turn to me,” contains some angst because it’s unclear what kind of words these are. Do they form a question? A command? A cutting comment dripping with sarcasm?

  • As a question: Is God saying, “Yet you’ve done all these things and you’re coming back to me?”
  • As a command: Is God saying, “You have done these things. .. Return to me.”
  • As a cutting comment: God could be saying, “You’re going to go out there and do that and think you can come back to me?”

All three of these options are possible.

Let’s move on to verse 2:

“Lift up your eyes to the high places [the hills].
Where have you not been violated?7An alternative translation: “Is there any place you have not been ravished?” And yet another translation says, “You have had sex with other gods on every hill in this land.”
     [The implication is nowhere.]
By the roads you have sat for them
Like a thief lying in wait.
And you have polluted the land
With your harlotry and with your wickedness.” (Jeremiah 3:2)

The Message translates that last line “like a streetwalking whore chasing after other gods.”8Jeremiah 3:2 in E.H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005). The Message is not a translation but, rather, a paraphrasing of Scripture. Pastor Michael encourages reading it as a supplement to another translation such as the NASB95 or ESV to aid with understanding. The ESV puts it this way: “You have polluted the lands with your vile whoredom.”

Here’s the point: God’s message to the people to return is not a message for just the little-bit-bad. It’s not a message for those who had this one-time minor mess-up. It’s for the extreme case. It’s for the repeat offender.

God knows the vile nature of your sin. Return and be healed.

Statement #3: Faithlessness Results in God’s Judgment

Let this judgment, in turn, be the wake-up call to stop. Let the shame be an alarm.

Jeremiah 3:3 says:

This is why the showers have been withheld,
And why the spring rain is not falling.
Yet you had a harlot’s forehead;
You refused to be ashamed.

You want to know why things are bad? God is asking. It’s because I’m judging you.

And what does “a harlot’s forehead” mean? It speaks to a stubbornness, a shamelessness. As The Message puts it like this: “Brazen as whores, you carry on as if you’ve done nothing wrong.”9Jeremiah 3:3 in Peterson, The Message.

Statement #4: Faithlessness, for the Believer, Results in an Identity Crisis

Look at Jeremiah 3:4–5:

“Even now you say to me,
‘You are my father! You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young.
You will not always be angry with me, will you?
You will not be mad at me forever, will you?’
That is what you say,
But you continually do all the evil you can.”

When we believers carry the name of Christ, are indwelled by Christ, and we live outside of that identity—when we live faithless lives—we create for ourselves an identity crisis. And it’s revealed here in the Scriptures that these things that they’re saying are true:

  • You’re my Father.
  • You’ve been my faithful companion ever since I was young.
  • You’re not going to be angry (mad) at me forever, will you? (The implication is no.)

When we abuse the faithfulness of the father, we live with the inner turmoil of the identity crisis within ourselves because we’re living outside of who it is that we truly are.

Statement #5: Faithlessness Has an Insatiable Appetite

The Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. And I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return …” (Jeremiah 3:6)

Faithlessness has an insatiable appetite. We justify things within our minds. We say things like “just a little more,” “just one more time,” or “I’m the kind of person who really has to hit rock bottom first, so let me just finish this out.”

Faithlessness is insatiable.

Statement #6: Faithlessness and the Failure to Return Corrupts Others, Possibly with Even Worse Consequences

Look at the description of how Israel’s unfaithfulness was repeated by Judah with even more intensity: 

… [Israel’s] sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone. In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord. Then the Lord said to me, “Under the circumstances, wayward Israel could even be considered less guilty than unfaithful Judah.” (Jeremiah 3:7c–11 NET)

Statement #7: Faithlessness, Even When It’s Become a Generational Curse within a Family, Can Be Healed

Look at how Jeremiah 3 closes:

But the shameful thing has consumed the labor of our fathers since our youth, their flocks, their herds, their sons, and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our humiliation cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day. And we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God. (vv. 24–25)

The people are responding to God, saying, It’s affected our family. It’s affected our livelihood. These are people with deep generational sin, and God is telling them to return and be healed.


As we conclude, let’s review the seven statements about faithlessness:

  1. Faithlessness is a sickness or wound in need of healing.
  2. Faithlessness is a matter of quality or quantity, while faith is not.
  3. Faithlessness results in God’s judgment; let it be the wake-up call to stop; let shame be your alarm.
  4. Faithlessness, for the believer, results in an identity crisis.
  5. Faithlessness has an insatiable appetite.
  6. Faithlessness and the failure to return corrupts others, possibly with even worse consequences.
  7. Faithlessness, even when it’s become a generational curse within a family, can be healed.

Going forward, we’re going to explore more ways to strengthen faith before we close out this series on faith toward God. But you need to know that strengthening faith will be impossible apart from the first step of returning to God.

Strengthening faith will be impossible apart from the first step of returning to God.

And although the likelihood of needing to return is perhaps smaller if you’re listening to (or reading) this sermon, let’s be mindful that the worship of God was the purpose of faithless Israel and Judah as well.

If you’ve continued in faithfulness, well done. May this be a reminder that even the called of God might fall. May this also be a reminder of our cooperative need, our need to help each other refrain and return from faithlessness. And our call to remain faithful is possible because our object of faith is faithful.

I encourage you to review that call—the call to return from faithlessness and to remain faithful—by reading the words of the prophet in Jeremiah 3:12–23:

And the Lord said to me . . ., “Go and proclaim these words to the north and say,

‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord;
‘I will not look upon you in anger.
For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord;
‘I will not be angry forever.
‘Only acknowledge your iniquity,
That you have transgressed against the Lord your God
And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree,
And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the Lord.
‘Return, O faithless children,’ declares the Lord;
‘For I am a master to you,
And I will take you one from a city and two from a family,
And I will bring you to Zion.’

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the Lord, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the Lord,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance.

“Then I said,

‘How I would set you among My children
And give you a pleasant land,
The most beautiful inheritance of the nations!’
And I said, ‘You shall call Me, My Father,
And not turn away from following Me.’
“Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover,
So you have dealt treacherously with Me,
O house of Israel,” declares the Lord.

A voice is heard on the bare heights,
The weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel;
Because they have perverted their way,
They have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, O faithless sons,
I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to You;
For You are the Lord our God.
“Surely, the hills are a deception,
A noise on the mountains.
Surely in the Lord our God
Is the salvation of Israel.”

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