The Faithfulness of God
The faithfulness of God is his attribute that displays his trustworthiness based on his unwavering commitment to his people through his promises and covenants that find their ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
What we notice from the beginning of all things is that our God is a relational God. Out of his overflowing love, he created all things and committed himself in a covenantal relationship with his creation (Gen 1-2). However, because of the entrance of sin (Gen 3) the people of God do not faithfully commit themselves to this covenant-keeping, promise-keeping God. Still, God proves himself to be trustworthy and faithful to his people over and over again. How can this be? How can a righteous and holy God continue to remain faithful to his people who constantly turn their backs on him? Where will this relationship end up? Will there be any resolution to this? This essay seeks to address these questions and demonstrate the nature of our God who is faithful to his wayward people even to the point of embracing and absorbing the penalty of their sin of faithlessness in himself through the death of his son, Jesus Christ.
The faithfulness of God is his trustworthiness, a commitment to keep his promises to his people. The picture that we have of God from the beginning is that he is not a cold, distant deity who demands that his needs to be met by his creatures, but a loving and relational God who creates all things out of his overflowing, dynamic love within the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In other words, all of creation is born out of this perfect loving relationship within the Godhead that overflows into the very relationship between God and his creation. The faithfulness of God is to be understood in light of this relational reality and foundation. God has always been and therefore will always be faithful to his people. The entrance of sin in humanity (Gen. 3) brings with it a certain tension: God’s people are often not faithful to him. And so the question is raised: How can a holy, righteous God remain faithful to his unrighteous and unfaithful people?
The Faithfulness of God in the Old Testament
The idea of faithfulness in the Old Testament is often understood as steadfastness, truthfulness, covenant-faithfulness, and righteousness.1 That our God is faithful is a theme repeated throughout the Old Testament. The clearest demonstration is evidenced in his willingness to enter covenantal relationships with his people (e.g. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David). God willingly binds himself to committed relationship, a gracious move from his side that prompts his people to rely on him.
Abraham’s relationship with God provides a good example. Abraham’s acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness can be seen in his response to God’s call to leave his home (Gen. 12:1,4) and in his confidence throughout life that God will do what he has said (Gen. 12:2-3). This trust in God’s faithfulness freed him to offer up his own son of promise, Isaac (Gen 22). Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, recognized God’s faithfulness to Abraham and declared that God had not forgotten his steadfast love towards her master (Gen 24:27).
We also see that God is faithful even when his people are not. For example, we must understand Abraham lied about his relationship with his wife to Pharaoh in fear of his life (Gen. 12:11-20; 20:2-18). He also questioned God in his ability to give him a son through his wife, Sarai (Gen. 15:8). In these places of uncertainty and doubt, Scripture tells us that God met Abraham where he was and remained faithful to his promise. In Genesis 15, God responded to Abraham’s doubts by carrying out a covenantal ceremony, affirming that he doesn’t make empty promises. This relational dynamic of God’s faithfulness is carried all throughout Abraham’s life and in all of Scripture.
One of the ways that we see this continual faithfulness of God in Abraham’s life is in the growth of his descendants who became the Israelites (Exod. 1:7). To these descendants of Abraham, we see that God continues to reveal himself as one who relentlessly pursues a relationship with his people. He reassures them that he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:5-7). The description of God’s overall character in Exodus 34 captures this idea of God’s faithfulness in multiple expressions. This was an important anchor for the Israelites to hold onto especially during times of continual faithlessness and wandering.
As we trace the story of redemption further, we see that God continues to reveal his faithfulness to his people by allowing kings to come through Abraham’s lineage (Gen. 17:6). The record of these kings, overall, is that of unfaithfulness, and yet through these unfaithful kings God directs his people’s faith to himself, the faithful king (1Sam. 8:6-9). Indeed, God had made a covenant with David (2Sam. 7). This Davidic covenant promises that there would be another son in David’s lineage whose throne would be established forever for ever (2Sam. 7:16) and that God’s steadfast love would not depart from him.
The notion of an eternally reigning king signals that this promise went beyond his immediate son, Solomon, and becomes the ultimate hope of Israel that the prophets announce repeatedly. Jeremiah speaks of this type of hope during the time of exile: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-22). The ultimate expression of this hope is also given to Jeremiah as he is given the word about a new covenant that will be established unlike those of the past. God promises that under this new covenant he will forgive sin, write his law on the hearts of the people, and establish his faithful presence among his people (Jer. 31:31-34).
The realization of these promises is announced in the pages of the New Testament and the arrival of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 1:1).
The Faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ
As mentioned above, Exodus 34:6 states: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steafast love and faithfulness.” The final two phrases in this verse – “steadfast love and faithfulness – become a common theme in the Old Testament. The word “faithfulness” means “truthfulness.” God is a God of “steadfast love and truthfulness.” The (Greek) Septuagint translates this verse with the terms “grace and truth” – which shows up in the announcement of Jesus’ incarnation in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth.” That is, Jesus is himself the realization of God’s steadfast love and truthfulness / faithfulness.
We have in Jesus, then, the answer to the question, How can a faithful, righteous God dwell with an unfaithful, unrighteous people? The answer is Jesus, the demonstration par excellence of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. In him all the obstacles of his people’s sins are overcome through his sacrificial death. It is supremely in the cross of Christ that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness come together.
This idea is affirmed prospectively in Psalm 85:10: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” Just how do God’s righteousness and mercy intersect? It is in the person and work of the redeemer, Jesus Christ.
It is because of God’s faithfulness, evident throughout Scripture and demonstrated supremely in the cross of Christ, that we, a faithless people, can be restored to him. United to Christ Jesus we may be confident that God accepts us. He has been faithful to his promise – a promise that remains until the Lord Jesus returns, and the consummation of all God’s promises will be realized (Phil. 1:6; 3:20; James 5:7-9; Rev. 22:12-13; 20-21). Because God has proven faithful, we may trust him with confident expectation that all he has said, he will do.
- Sustained by the Faithfulness of God – John Piper
- We Are Gomer – Brandon D. Smith
- The Faithfulness of God – Ligonier
- Rehearsing His Faithfulness – Jason Helopoulos
- Faithful Through the Ages – Ligonier
- Our Faithful God – Ligonier
- God’s Covenant With David – John Piper
- “Faith, Faithfulness” – Stephen. S. Taylor in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- “Faith” – Leon Morris in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
- “God” – Donald Guthrie and Ralph P. Martin in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
- God’s Unfaithful Wife – Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.
- The Christ of the Covenants – O. Palmer Robertson
- Introducing Covenant Theology – Michael Horton
- The Old Testament in Seven Sentences – Christopher J.H. Wright
- A Faithful God and His Unfaithful People – Mary Willson
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