Is it important for a Christian’s faith to become “stickier”?
Though something of a debated theological topic, we believe that the Bible is clear that once a person places their faith in Christ they have eternal security in God. This doctrine is sometimes referred to as the “Perseverance of the Saints”. This is the understanding that once someone becomes a child of God He keeps them as His child forever and they will persevere in faith until the end. The security of a person’s soul, then, does not depend on their behavior, but rather on Christ’s finished work on the cross, and on God’s unfailing ability to make good on His promises.
In his first letter, John says that believers have received an anointing from the Holy One. He is describing the moment when the Holy Spirit comes to live within a believer permanently and continues to guide them in truth. Once the Spirit takes up residence in a life He doesn’t leave- ever. In fact, this same author, John, mentions the gift of the Spirit in his gospel as a permanent arrangement:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16)
Since this is true, does a Christian really need to be concerned about the “stickiness” of their faith? Do they need to be concerned that their faith continues to gain traction and grow in strength and momentum throughout their lives, or should they simply be satisfied that the Spirit will never leave them?
The answer to that question depends on what is meant by sticky faith.
If having faith that sticks is only thought of as an issue of whether or not a person has any faith at all, then Christians don’t need to concern themselves. The faith of someone who has true spiritual belonging will always stick, in that sense. However, if sticky faith describes the quality of a person’s spiritual devotion- that over time they can either grow closer to God or further from Him- then developing sticky faith becomes vital.
Let me mention three reasons it's important for Christians to be concerned about the “stickiness” of their faith:
We should never be satisfied with the present level of our faith.
Paul was convinced that it wasn’t acceptable for people to remain where they were in their faith walk. In fact, he threw all of his effort into challenging people toward greater spiritual vitality and maturity.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (1 Cor. 1:28-29)
In another letter he speaks of the importance of believers being “rooted and built up in [Christ], strengthened in the faith as you were taught” (Col. 2:7).
It must therefore be the primary concern of every Christian to intentionally strive for spiritual maturity- to actively take those next steps toward Christ which will result in stickier (ie. stronger) faith. Otherwise we are in danger of “faith slippage” resulting in a life that falls short of what God desires for us.
2. Having a heart after the things of God testifies to the genuineness of our faith.
John wrote that “whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1John 4:16). When a Christian’s attitudes and behaviors reflect the God who is love we should not be surprised. John says that it points to the reality of their faith.
Paul confirms that “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom. 8:5).
Practices like cultivating our relationships with other Christians, developing our appetite for truth, and building our friendship with God demonstrate a heart in tune with God’s own heart.
These activities cannot impart saving faith, but they do flow out of saving faith and they lead that faith to greater depths, greater “stickiness”.
3. It's possible for a person to think they're a Christian and not truly be one.
We tend to think we are fairly perceptive at judging the genuineness of another person’s faith, but we may fail to realize that our own hearts have the potential to fool themselves. As the prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
In fact, Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5)
What need, or even desire, would these individuals have had to examine themselves unless they considered themselves to be in the faith? It is possible for a person to assume they have saving faith because they prayed a prayer once, or grew up in a Christ-centered home, or attend church, or live in America, and so on. Paul urges these believers to test their faith because if they don’t have true spiritual belonging then sooner or later that “faith” won’t stick at all and they will be in danger of eternal judgment.
In conclusion, while a true believer can never entirely lose their saving faith, it is possible for a believer to “lose faith” or to find themselves in a place where their relationship with God is not as vibrant as it once was or as God intends it to be. Such a season can not persist for too long before the Holy Spirit within brings conviction, repentance, and restoration. If a person lives far from God indefinitely, with no conviction of heart and no thought of repentance, then there is good reason for that person to question the reality of their own faith (see Heb. 10:26-27).
For further reading on the subject…