How Does Faith Work?: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 4

In class one evening a professor made the remark that he thought that the common translation of Habakkuk 2:4 “…the righteous will live by his faith” might be more accurate if translated something like, “…the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness.” [1] I’ll leave it to Hebrew scholars to discuss which is more accurate, but I think even a layman’s research would show there is a strong chance that professor was correct.  As I researched what he said the thing I never could be sure of was if the scriptures meant the righteous will live by His (the Lord’s) faithfulness or his (our) faithfulness. In the end I think the answer is yes in both instances because every covenant depends on both the Lord’s faithfulness (which is never in doubt) and our faithfulness.

Here’s a simple example of how faith gives us confidence and courage. Imagine you are in a deep well and the only way out is a rope dangling from the surface. You wouldn’t try to use that rope if you didn’t believe it would support your weight. You’d be afraid that if the rope broke you’d fall, injure yourself, and be even worse off. But if you had faith that the rope was strong and that it was tied to something that would hold your weight, you’d start climbing. The more faith you have in the rope the more apt you are to use it. Once you begin to use the rope your faith in it will grow because it’s passing the test and it’s supporting your weight. The further you climb up the rope the more your faith will grow and soon you’ll be out of the hole and saved.

Now if you only believe the rope was there and only believe the rope can save you but you didn’t use the rope the rope would be useless. If you didn’t start pulling yourself up the rope to test it, your faith would not become stronger, you would never have the courage to climb the rope, and you would never get out of the hole. In the end believing in the rope, but not using the rope, will have the same result as not trusting the rope in the first place. This is what James is trying to tell us when he says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Likewise starting up the rope but not climbing all the way out of the hole does no good. Those who start up the rope but go back down because they lose courage won’t leave the hole, and neither will those who near the top and decide they like life in the hole and go back down. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) and Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) These and other scriptures show that enduring in our trust in and our faithfulness to the Lord matters greatly.

“Faith comes by hearing…” (Romans 10:17)  Imagine you are looking at the rope dangling in front of you wondering if it was safe, and a voice from outside of the hole began to assure you that the rope was safe. Would that build you trust in the rope? Or, if another person was in the hole with you and told you they had climbed the rope many times, would that build your trust in the rope? We gain trust and confidence from the stories from scripture, the experiences of others and experiencing the Lord’s faithfulness ourselves. Faith grows even more as we exercise it.

To show the interaction of faith and action James wrote, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:21-23) Offering a son as a sacrifice takes great faith, but Abraham didn’t always have that kind of faith. We can see by some of his choices that his faith was not always as strong as it was when he took Isaac to Mt. Moriah, but as experienced more of the Lord’s faithfulness Abraham’s faith grew. Eventually his faith grew to the point where he knew the Lord would raise Isaac from the dead if he were sacrificed.

When Moses led Israel from Egypt the Israelis were not very trusting of the Lord. Even though they’d seen the plagues He’d sent on Egypt and the miracles He’d done they were still not convinced of His greatness. Not even the parting of the Red Sea and the many other miracles convinced all Israelites of how great the Lord is. Yet some were convinced and they trusted the Lord and we see later that those who did were able to do things and see things that those without faith could not. For example, Joshua and Caleb trusted the Lord and when they went to explore the land of Canaan with ten other men, they were the only ones who saw how good the land was and how easily Israel could conquer the people there and take the land. Ten of the men who went said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31) Caleb and Joshua saw the same things those men saw but they said, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” (Numbers 14:7) The only difference between Caleb and Joshua and the other ten men was their faith. Caleb and Joshua’s perspective, from a position of faith, allowed them to see and realize things that the other ten could not even imagine. Their trust in the Lord equipped them to have courage the others would never have.

The story of David and Goliath is no different. David saw and understood things that no soldier in the Israelis’ camp could. Remember how David recalled the Lord’s faithfulness just before he fought Goliath. “When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” It was the knowledge of the Lord’s faithfulness that gave David his courage.

Hearing those stories of the Lord’s faithfulness helps our faith grow just as surely as exercising our faith does. It’s only by faith in the Lord that we can enter into covenant with the Lord, and it’s only by faith that we will be able to be faithful that covenant. If we choose to believe and to remain in the covenant our faith will grow stronger and stronger just as Joshua, Caleb, David and Abraham’s did. By knowing how we must use faith and action together, we can understand how it’s true that we are saved by faith but not by faith alone. Some want to say the faith produces obedience that’s not quite true, but faith is what makes obedience and love possible. Obedience to the Lord and loving the Lord are not necessarily automatic consequences of having faith. Faith, love and obedience are so intertwined it’s impossible for them to be effective apart from each other.

 


[1] Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®, © 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

Life is about choices: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 3

In the first covenant that God made with man Adam was free to do as he pleased, which he did and mankind has regretted his choice ever since. What we can learn from Adam’s story is that ultimately our eternal future depends upon our belief in the Lord’s faithfulness, and our commitment to entering and keeping our covenant with the Lord.

In the parable of the “Parable of the Bags of Gold” (Matthew 25:14-29) the Master said to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”[1] Notice that the Master did not commend the servants, who returned with a profit, for what they believed; he commended him for what they did. They obviously believed because they chose to act on what they believed. The third servant had the same information as the other two, about the master, yet he decided to believe and act differently. Was that because of what was in that servant’s heart? That third servant had no trust in his master even though he believed his master. Did the servant see the master as being the same as him? (“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.”[2])

In that same chapter of Mathew Jesus told the parable of the “The Sheep and the Goats” that described the final judgment. In that parable Jesus said, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[3] Jesus said to the righteous, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”  In that parable the righteous are those who chose to love their neighbors as themselves.  In other words the people who were faithful to what the Lord said are the ones who were righteous.

All through scripture we see people making choices. Adam and Eve chose to disobey the Lord. Noah, by choice, walked with God. Following Israel’s choices is like taking a wild roller coaster ride, one moment they would choose to follow God and soon after they were sacrificing their children to false gods. King Saul chose to follow God and then chose not to. Solomon chose to follow the Lord with his whole heart and then chose to follow him somewhat. David, on the other hand, followed God and all but one of the Apostles chose to follow Jesus to the end.

One way to view those stories is that they are stories of those who would choose to be in and stay in covenant with the Lord, those who would choose to not be in covenant with Him, or those who would enter and then leave His covenant with them.

There may not be any place in scripture that shows that we must make our own choices better than Joshua 23-24 does. Israel had journeyed from Egypt, wandered in the desert, conquered nations and was able to rest for a moment. Their leader, Joshua, gathered them to hear him speak and after he reminded them of the great things the Lord did for them, that they saw Him do, he reminded them that they must make a choice. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [4]

The Lord doesn’t force us to follow Him and He didn’t force Israel to serve Him. Adam and Eve had to make a choice to obey Him as did Noah, Abraham and many others. The Lord made covenants with them all. Every time we see the Lord making a promise or giving a command, in Scripture, we are seeing a form of a covenant.  The Lord promises His faithfulness to mankind in the Bible through covenants and it is through covenants that He expresses his expectation that man be faithful to Him.


[1] Matthew 25:23 (NASB)

[2] Psalm 18:25-26 (NIV)

[3] Matthew 25:46

[4] Joshua 24:1

The Fad Driven Church

Have you noticed that in Junior High if the latest fad is an iPhone, the skinny jeans and Converse gym shoes, all the kids have to have it? Not long age the fad was for kids to dress like gang bangers with a hoodie and pants low enough to show your underwear. (I won’t say what the fads were when I was in school because if I do you’ll know I’m not young or hip.) For a few years I’ve thought that some parts of the Church are like that. For example look around and you’ll see that some preachers and church goers in certain various social groups will have on the same uniform. For men in one group the uniform is acid washed jeans, shirt tails out and the gel hair thing in another it’s suit and ties. We believe that to be relevant we need to look like the rest of the herd. In many cases that’s true because there are those in our society that judge a church by the cloths the preacher and parishioners wear.

But style of dress isn’t what concerns me most as far as fads are concerned what’s bothered me is people will ignore well known facts and their own well established principles in order to conform to what the latest fad books, trends, and speakers are saying. As bothered as I was  I often kept quiet because I feared I was being over critical. Also, I know that there are two kinds of people in the world, those that get it and those that don’t and I guess I always feared I was a guy who didn’t get it. Who wants to be the guy who tells the Emperor he has no cloths?

Today I read Todd Wilkin’s article named “The Fad-Driven Church” and realized that maybe I do get it.  It’s an in depth look at the good and bad of the fad driven church and it can be found here or an audio version can be found here.

Some excerpts:

“We live in an age of pious distractions. We live in an age of church fads. The fad-driven church has structured its life around the trends and innovations of the day. Christian publishers and the mega-church gurus are ready to provide something new as often as the masses demand it. But St. Paul encourages and warns the Church:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead; and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

“I am always surprised by how uncritically churches accept a fad, how enthusiastically churches embrace a fad and how carelessly churches abandon a fad. That is why this article isn’t about the fads themselves, but about the kind of churches that accept, embrace and abandon fads.”

“The cycle begins with acceptance. The fad-driven church is practiced at this. Too close an examination of the fad at the outset might raise too many questions. ‘After all, this book is a best-seller!” “Thousands of churches are doing it, how can we go wrong?’ Accept first, examine later, if at all. This acceptance may come through the pastor’s active promotion or through grassroots popularity. Either way, the fad spreads like wildfire in the congregation.”

“Some advocates of church fads take the ‘Eat the meat, spit out the bones’ approach to false teaching. They claim that practicing discernment means spitting the ‘bones’ of error while eating the ‘meat’ of truth. There are several problems with this approach. First, it assumes that a church fad contains only isolated false teachings, like so many bones in a fish. But many church fads don’t just contain false teaching; they are based on false teaching… Second, the ‘bone spitting’ approach assumes that the errors of the latest church fad will be obvious to everyone. Often they are not. In the 2nd century, Irenaeus battled the fad of Gnosticism. He observed:

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.

The “inexperienced” are still infants in the faith. Would you give an infant a fish to eat knowing that there were bones in it?

Finally, the “bone spitting” approach fails to recognize that a continuous stream of fads will erode the church’s ability to discern truth from error. With every new fad, the fad-driven church grows less able to recognize the truth. In time, the fad-driven church is unable to discern the true Gospel.”

It’s a Relationship not a Religion: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 2

“The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…”[1]

The thought of obedience to God turns many Christians off. They don’t want to think of the Lord as a taskmaster who will punish us eternally if we are even the least bit disobedient or don’t conquer every sin in our life. The thought of keeping a covenant, to some, may seem like a menial relationship where our only purpose in life is to please an angry old guy who imposes impossible to follow rules on us. What we need to see though is that obeying God has eternal benefits and incredible benefits here in this life as well.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits…[2]

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[3] Today we might call that verse a purpose statement, the atonement of sin and our eternal life was the purpose of God walking among us and dying for us. Jesus died and rose again so that we might, “ obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away….[4] But those eternal benefits are not the only benefits, there are other benefits that we see through scripture. Being obedient to our covenant with our Creator also means we are the sons and daughters of Him. [5]  If we allow it, obedience and faith will change our character and will transform us into being who are more like Christ. [6] If we are in His will we will live life with more zeal, delight and a higher sense of fulfillment and He will give of peace of mind.[7]

There are more eternal and temporal benefits than even these, but there is a certain danger when we start focusing on the benefits of being in covenant with the Lord. We must be careful not to serve Him only for the benefits. Our covenant with God is not like our relationship with an employer where we work for a wage, if we only have faith or only seek to be holy just to get eternal life, we’ve missed the point of Jesus’ death just as badly as the Pharisees did. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[8] Eternal life is a gift and it can’t be earned. We are saved by faith by, but faith without right choices and earnest effort is useless. More importantly we miss the true reason for our obedience, God’s glory. Our obedience causes us to change and become more like Christ. That change and our increasing love for others will bring recognition of the Lord and glory to the Lord. Our obedience says more about Him than any words we can speak. As we live lives that show His love for humanity, the world will begin to see the Lord’s true character in us.

We can see this principle in scripture, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”[9] Notice that Jesus didn’t just say do good works so God will be glorified he said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works…” That statement suggests that there is much more going on than just being good or doing good. The motivation behind our good life and good works matters and can be seen by others. If we just live good lives and do things to earn something or to bring attention to ourselves, others will see our self-centeredness and not our good works. However if our motive is to serve others because we love them and God, then the attention is on the Lord’s work in our lives and He becomes the focus.

Because our culture and the world have trained us to seek attention to ourselves, this isn’t easy for any of us. Our competitive culture makes us want to be out front and in the limelight. We are taught from an early age to do well for a reward and that we need to bring our accomplishment to the attention of the people who can reward us.

The idea that man’s highest purpose is to glorify God isn’t a new one, the Puritans, Reformers and many before them taught that idea and we see it throughout scripture.[10] With that idea in mind we see that being faithful to the Lord and our covenant with Him has less to do with salvation and more to do with our becoming like Christ and bringing glory to His name. It’s our faithfulness and obedience to His word that transforms us and that brings Him glory.[11],[12] 

Notice that I did say, “being obedient to him has less to do with earning salvation” and that I did not say it has nothing to do with salvation. We need to keep in mind that Jesus did stress that faithfulness and obedience are as important as faith. The Lord has always expected men to have faith in Him, and He has also expected men to be faithful to Him. Not only are we are to trust Him we are to loyally follow and obey Him as well. Jesus did not teach that we are saved by faith alone as we can see in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’[13]

The sheep were chosen because of their actions not only by what they believed. We know Abraham was considered righteous because he believed and justified by what he did. In this parable the righteous are those who did the Lord’s will and took right action, in a sense they too were justified by what they did. Jesus also said, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved”[14], in other words we must not only believe we must be stand in the face of persecution. Jesus is speaking about Covenant faithfulness. The essence of Covenant faithfulness is believing in the Lord, believing what He said and then doing His will.

“ But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers,
and is faithful to their descendants,
to those who keep his covenant,
who are careful to obey his commands.[15]

The Lord is a promise keeper; both to those who continue to trust and remain faithful to him and to those who do not. Only Caleb and Joshua, from the first generation of Israelites who left Egypt, were allowed into the Promised Land. (“…showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”[16]) The promise was lost to the others because of their unbelief and disobedience. (“…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me…”18) Later generations of Israelites lost kingdoms and were exiled from Israel for their unfaithfulness and disobedience. God’s covenant with Israel and his promises to Israel were dependent upon their faithfulness and faithfulness always included obedience.

How do we apply what we learn from the Old Testament to our Christian walk? Do we just decide to believe one day and from that day forward all our sin is forgiven no matter what our level of commitment to the Lord is? Can we live half-heartedly for the Lord, say our prayers at night and still be able to say He is Lord? I don’t believe that’s possible. If Jesus is Lord He must be Lord of our every thought, word and action, we can’t really think Jesus is our Lord if we only follow Him on Sundays, holidays, when we have troubles or when our religious friends are over to visit. Seeing our covenant with Jesus covenant through the Old Testament examples given to us in scripture might help us to have a more accurate idea of what our relationship with Jesus should look like. We often look at Christianity through those things that come from outside scripture, forgetting that Christianity is the metamorphosis of Judaism. It’s built on the foundation that Abraham, Moses and the prophets laid. If we can keep this in mind we may find something in scripture we’ve never seen before.

None of our heroes from scripture were perfect, except of course Jesus. Each had their faults and some, like David, were guilty of terrible crimes.  Abraham, Noah, Job, and others were imperfect, yet they were all called blameless or righteous. We can see in their stories that it was their belief in God, their determination to follow Him and their level of commitment that set them apart. In the letter to the Hebrews we learn that, that same level of commitment is needed in our New Covenant with the Lord. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation …[17] As children of the Lord’s we must also learn obedience and our salvation depends not only on our beliefs but on our on our obedience as well. Obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, our faithfulness does. Faith plus our effort to be as Jesus wishes for us to be is how we are saved.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us,

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.”[18]

I want to be very careful about something here; there is a level of commitment and faithfulness to the Lord that we can’t achieve in a moment or by ourselves.  The Apostles were not the people Jesus wanted to be the moment they decided to follow Him. Jesus molded them into the kind of people He needed them to be and He showed quite a bit of patience with them as they learned and developed, and there is no doubt that Grace was continually extended to them. As Peter wrote, to we who believe, the Lord, “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance…” [19]

We are much the same. We won’t be perfect Christians just because we believe, we must be willing to allow God’s Spirit to help us grow and we must be open to seeing ourselves as the Lord sees us. The Lord will patiently forgive us as we grow, but at the same time He will expect a great amount of effort on our part. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”[20] and there’s nothing in that sentence that says Jesus will do our work for us or that following Him will be easy.  On the other hand He also said “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”[21] so we can rest assured that we won’t be expected to become faithful servants with no help.

Possibly the salvation of Israel from slavery in Egypt can help to illustrate what I’m saying. Israel had to believe the Lord before they would have the courage to leave Israel. In fact they had to trust Him just to survive the Passover and the Plague of the Firstborn and they also had to be obedient. So we can see that they believed and we can see that the Lord made it possible to leave Egypt. We also believe and He makes it possible for us to be born again. The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt, took the through the Red Sea, however He did not supernaturally transport them to the Promised Land. He did make it possible for them to have a new life, but their new life was dependent upon their trust in Him and their faithfulness to Him. He made it possible to leave Egypt, but they had to choose to leave, and they had to put forth the effort to leave. Once we are born again we must make the effort to be faithful to Him and to become what He wants us to become, He will be there with us as we struggle and just as He did with Israel he will give us decisive victories. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that even in the victories the Lord gave Israel, they had to have faith and put forth effort. Nothing was easy for Israel and the Lord has never promised an easy walk for His followers. Through thick and thin Israel was to remain faithful to God and His covenant with them, and that is true for the Christian as well.

Ask yourself this, “Does the Lord want me to believe in Him or does He want me to believe Him?” Of course the answer is that He wants us to believe He exists, but He also wants us to believe what He has said. It’s never been enough to just believe that He exists and James, in his letter he made that clear when he wrote “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:18-19)  James also wrote, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8) Quite simply James is saying it’s not enough to just believe there is one God; we must also faithfully obey Him. An old hymn sums up what James was saying, and it also tells us what makes up covenant faithfulness, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”[22]


[1] 1 Samuel 26:23

[2] Psalm 103:2 (NASB)

[3] John 3:16 (NASB)

[4] 1 Peter 1:4 (NASB)

[5] 1 John 3:1 “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (NASB)

[6] Galatians 5:21-23  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (NASB)

[7] John 10:10-11 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV) Matthew 11:28 ” “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

[8] Romans 6:23 (NASB)

[9] Matthew 5:16

[10] 1 Peter 4:11 (NASB) “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

[11] “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NASB)

[12] “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all…” 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 (NASB)

[13] Matthew 25:31-40

[14]  Matthew 10:22

[15] Psalm 103:17-18

[16] Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[17] Hebrews 5:8-9

[18] Psalm 103:8-14 (NASB)

[19] 2 Peter 3:9

[20] Matthew 16:24

[21] John 14:26

[22] “Trust and Obey” Text: John H. Sammis and Daniel B. Towner

Relationship: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 1

But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers,
and is faithful to their descendants,
to those who keep his covenant,
who are careful to obey his commands.

When I was first saved the preacher who baptized me also gave me a Bible and told me to read the New Testament and then the Old Testament. I was able to read through most of the New Testament in just a short while, and as you might imagine I was profoundly affected. As I read I realized that my sins were forgiven and that I was truly born again and though Jesus had done His part I must, with His help, do my part. I was struggling with the sin that was still in my life and that the old man was not going down without a fight. My struggle with that old man wasn’t easy and to be very honest for years I lost more battles than I won. Yet, because the Lord loves me so much, He patiently waited on me to grow strong and to depend on His help. I knew there were things I had to do in my life, but in my early walk I didn’t understand how much my Father in Heaven wanted me to succeed or how far He would go to make sure I did. I thought His love for me depended on what I was accomplishing, however his love for me depended on nothing I’d done, He loved me even before I turned and cried out to Him. But, in those early days I believed the Lord demanded perfect righteousness when in fact he demands an all-consuming commitment to become righteous.

I am now beginning to see that our definition of righteousness is not God’s definition of righteousness. Scripture describes Noah as, “a righteous man,blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Job was “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Even so, Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” How is it possible that those people were blameless and righteous, yet they were also sinners who fell short? Was it only because they believed? Certainly that was part of it we know they all had faith, but in each of those stories we also see they were committed to walking with God and keeping His commandments. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith yet he was justified by what he did. Faith and following the Lord go hand in hand. Those I mentioned weren’t sinless and none were perfect, however they were all committed and faithful. When I was first saved, I entered into a covenant with my Creator. Those men and women who the Bible says are blameless were also in a covenant, and it was their covenant as well as their God that they chose to be faithful to.

In the infancy of my Christianity, and even now, I listened to and read the works many different preachers who spoke from a wide variety of viewpoints. I’ve read or heard views from Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Reformed, Wesleyan, Nazarene and many others. One teacher will say that we only need faith to be saved. Often those same teachers will say that if we only have faith Jesus will do the rest. They make it seem as if all our lusts, pride, and selfishness will just miraculously disappear and we’ll never backslide if we believe in just the right way. Others teach the need for both belief and holiness, and it seems that a failure in faith or a failure in striving for holiness could endanger our salvation. The first teacher says you can’t earn anything by doing the things that please the Lord and the second says you can’t be saved without working to please the Lord. Both teachers have their proof verses and long explanations, and quite honestly any person who is able to look at both views with an open mind will find both teachers to be quite convincing. But, I’ve found a couple of problems with both views.

First, I see extreme legalism in both views. The first preacher uses the Word to show what you do not need to do and he finds “legal” reasons why we have no need to do them. The second finds many reasons why we must do this or that and they can show you his “legal” reasons as easily as the first. Most people won’t agree that the first preacher is legalistic, we’ve been trained by him to think only those who tell us what we must do are legalists. But legalism is legalism whether you are looking for loopholes to not do something or commands that say you must do something.

The second thing I find wrong is that both views deny that they want you earn anything, but they both do. One view wants you to earn salvation by believing while the other wants you to earn it by believing and working. That will confuse some of you because it difficult to see how we can earn something just by believing while it’s easy to see how we can work and earn something. Both philosophies teach that if you do something you will get or earn salvation, we either believe and earn salvation or believe and work and earn salvation. Both views often ignore that no person who does not faithfully love God will be saved.

In the end both teachings can, and have, produced many converts who fail to love God and who don’t serve Him out of love only. A sermon by that great Alliance Missionary preacher Paris Reidhead, that speaks about Christian Humanism, illustrates what I’m saying.

“Now in order to understand the implications of that in the twentieth century, we must go back 150 years, to a conflict that attacked Christianity. Just after the great revivals in America with Finney, the Spirit of God having been marvelously outpoured onto certain portions of our country, there came an open attack on our faith in Europe under the higher critics. Darwin had postulated his theory of evolution, certain philosophers had adapted it to their philosophies, and theologians had applied it to the Scripture. About 1850 you could mark the opening of a frontal attack upon the Word of God. Satan had always been insidiously attacking it. But now it was open season on the Book, open season on the Church, and Voltaire in France could declare that he would live to see the Bible become a relic, placed only in museums; that it would be utterly destroyed by the arguments that he was so forcefully presenting against it.

Well, what was the effect of this? The philosophy of the day became humanism. And you could define humanism this way, humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism, salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. If you’re influenced by someone like Nietzche who says that the only true satisfaction in life is power and that the power is its own justification, and that after all the world is a jungle. And it is therefore up to the man to be happy, to become powerful, and become powerful by any means he can use. For it is only in this position of ascendancy or as we saw in the worship of Molech that one can be happy. This would produce in due course a Hitler who would take the philosophy of Nietzche as his working operating principle and guide and would say of his people that they were destined to rule the world. Therefore any means that they could to achieve this was then salvation.”

The problem doesn’t come from the conflict between faith and “works”, the problem comes from why we do what we do. A “me”- centric Christianity is not Christianity at all, as Mr. Reidhead pointed out it is humanism. This is not the relationship with the Lord that Jesus and the New Testament teachers ever taught us to have. Coming to Christ to be saved is where every Christian starts in their relationship with Jesus, but the relationship can’t stay there. If we believe or work only for our own benefit, to be saved, we’ve missed the point.

The Lord does love us and, again, we have done nothing to deserve that love. But look again at what the Psalmist said. “…the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers… to those who keep his covenant.” Though he loves us all He only continues to extend His love to those who choose to make the effort to obey Him and to follow Him. This principle is found all through scripture, it’s an eternal principle. We can see that principle in the second commandment which says, “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Moving forward to the New Testament we find that Jesus didn’t change that principle, in fact he confirmed it’s eternal nature. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

When we think of our side of our relationship with our Creator the first thing that should come to our mind is obedience and faithfulness to Him. That might seem shocking because the first thing you might think should come to mind is faith. However, if you believe you are in a relationship with the Lord, then you must already believe that He exists, and you must already have faith that His death and resurrection was for the atonement of sin. Christians understand that we have all sinned and that there is a penalty for our sin. We know salvation is only because of Jesus’ blood that was shed on the cross and we know only Jesus can grant forgiveness of sin. Jesus paid the debt for our sin, but our debts are only paid if we believe in whom He is and what He did. We must have faith to be saved. Faith is how the relationship begins, how we begin our covenant with Him, after that we must think about how we stay in relationship with Him.

  1. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  2. Genesis 6:9 NASB
  3. Job 1:1 NASB
  4. Luke 1:6 NASB
  5. Romans 3:23 NASB
  6. Paris Reidhead, “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”
  7. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  8. Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
  9. John 15:10 (NASB)

” . . .set your hearts on things above. . .”

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

If you call yourself a Christian, ask yourself what your heart is set on.

Did you spend more time yesterday studying the stats of your favorite sports team than you spent reading your Bible?

Have you spent more money this month entertaining yourself than you did tithing or giving to charities?

Did you talk more about the new box office hit than you did Jesus yesterday?

To the casual Christian these things seem trivial and unimportant. But according to scripture they show what you are truly passionate about and where your heart really is. Scripture never commends the casual Christian or speaks of rewards for the casual Christian. In fact according to Jesus and the Apostles there is no such thing.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus does not want anyone to hate anyone else. He is using hyperbole to show you that there is nothing casual about being a true Christian. You are either hardcore or you are……………………..

hyperbole |hīˈpərbəlē|
noun
exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Don’t take it literally, do take it seriously.

Christians and Entertainment, what should we be doing on That Day?

I was recently involved in a discussion about the Beatles and their contributions to the world. I left the discussion with some new and some re-evaluated convictions about Christians listening to secular music and in a greater context Christians and how they choose to pleasure their minds and entertain themselves.

I grew up in the 70’s and admired my rock stars. I believed the Beatles had all the answers, the Stones were cool and Dylan had insight that neared genius levels. I went there, did that, bought the tee shirt and partied till I puked (literally). The Beatles wrote about LSD so I took LSD, Dylan was anti-establishment so I fashioned myself to also be. Looking back, I see that my heroes, whose public lives I tried to emulate brought some level of misery for me and all of their followers. You might say that, for me, reality has set in. (Praise God, in the despair that the influence of that culture led me to, I came to know Jesus.)

With the Hippy/rock and roll era came a degree of decadence not seen in the world since Roman and Greek orgies were common. Drug and alcohol use skyrocketed; sexual promiscuity became the norm, and social standards dropped. With those issues came rises in the rates of teenage pregnancy, drug related deaths, divorce, abortion and suicide. I cannot begin to count those that I know who have been and are still being affected by one or more of these problems. Of those of you who of grew up in that era, which of you can count the numbers of friends who died in some drug/alcohol related incident, accident or overdose? For years I idealized the influence that the Hippies and rock n rollers had on me and on the world, I now see the devastation that era has left behind.

So what does this have to do with the well-grounded, mature Christian who is not as easily influenced as millions of teens in the 70’s were? Does secular music or secular movies affect our children or us? Does it matter to God? Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible”, and we must ask how that statement influences how we entertain ourselves and spend our time. Another question we must ask ourselves is do we stop reading at that statement or continue reading to the point where Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:14-33) Does listening to the Beatles, the Jonas Brothers, or Fifty Cent meet the standard that Paul’s statement set? Does what we watch or listen to even matter, because there is Grace after all and God does want us to be happy?

Modern Christians like to think in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. For example some of us convince ourselves that the Beatles singing, “all you need is love” would be appropriate, but Ice T rapping “Die, die, die pig, die! F**k the police!” might not be. If we take an honest look at the “what is appropriate” approach we understand that the standards it gives the Christ follower are ever changing. The definition of “what is appropriate” differs from person-to-person, culture-to-culture and generation-to-generation. In other words the “what is appropriate” approach offers no standard at all that is based in Biblical truth and in the end is not a measure of what is right or wrong Christian behavior.

Modern Christians like to take the Pharisee’s legalistic approach also don’t they? Many Christ followers may say that it’s OK to listen and watch this or that, because there is no law (commandment) against it. That makes for a pretty shallow relationship with Jesus though and it is certainly against everything He taught and teaches through His Word.

Other modern Christians have said “God is an artist and we can learn about God from all art”, but have you noticed that God’s art, (the sunsets, fall leaves, peacocks, etc) is never profane, never vulgar, never sexual and always leaves you wanting more of God? Certainly we can learn some good from some art, however all that is art is good.

It’s easy to believe these approaches are sound, because with Jesus in Heaven and us here on earth we kind of lose our true perspective. He’s so far away and His heartbreak is not evident since we are unable to see the pain in His eyes when we do the things we do. Maybe it would help if we put things in the perspective of Christ being the husband of the church, which of course He is.

If you have a spouse or significant other you might be able to understand what I’m about to say. If I say that I love my wife, yet run off to dance with another woman when I feel the need to dance, is that love? If my wife tells me that she loves me and then entertains herself with my sworn enemies, is that love? If you leave the company of your sweetheart, whom you say you love, to go find pleasure in the company of those who are against your sweetheart, is that true love? What would you think of me if I taught my son to do these things?

Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me”, so those who truly want to love Christ must consider what kind of Christian love it is that runs off to dance with the devil. If love is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13) then can we say we love God when we entertain and pleasure ourselves with the music and movies (or even books) made by and about godless men and woman? What will He think of us if we have taught His children to accept that love is self-seeking?

I know that many will come up with well-reasoned arguments against what I just wrote. If you are one of my brothers or sisters who has already done that or is doing that now, I hope you will ask yourself if you are coming from a self-seeking perspective or a God-seeking perspective. You see our relationship with Jesus is all about love. In every decision we make love will guide the approach we take, if our relation with Jesus is what it should be.

On “The Day of the Lord” when we stand before Jesus, we will no longer believe that listening to our favorite secular music, reading a best selling novel or seeing the newest greatest movie is so important. At that moment all we will see is the opportunities that we lost and the examples we failed to set. We will find that our heavenly rewards and crowns have been lost. Only then will we see that Jesus could care less that some awesome riff or a suspenseful moment in a movie enthralled us. I believe that at that time, on that day, we will completely understand the pointlessness of our quests to find pleasure, when compared to what He has called us to do. On that day we will fully comprehend who it was we served when we engrossed ourselves in the “art” of those who are against Jesus.

Be Relevant, Love Jesus
Steve