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.

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” . . .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

Spiritual Maturity

The other day I was speaking to a young man, who I admire and love, and  he said something that was startling to me. He told that he had gone to his friend’s church and he said something to the effect that the Spirit wasn’t there. I took what he said to mean that the Holy Spirit was not present at his friend’s church, at least not as powerfully as He is at this young man’s church.

In the past I have been associated with, and for a while, I was taught in the same “belief system” that the young man is now in. It is common to hear those in that “belief system” to say things like “I went this or that church and I didn’t feel the Spirit there” “that church doesn’t have the Spirit” or “We didn’t feel the Spirit when we sang in that church.”

In reality what is being said is “our church is Spiritually superior to those other churches”
and “that other church does not give me an emotional high like mine does.” I have two things to say to this.

First, Jesus and His Spirit are wherever two or three are gathered. Our faith tells us this is true. Even though we never see the Spirit or Jesus we know that they exist, by our faith. Even though the music might be the old songs our grandparent listened to and do not stir us up, our faith should tell us that God is among the body of believers that we are with. The person who wrote Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We need to understand that the certainty of our hope is not in what we see or feel, but in the promises of God. Jesus does show up because a certain kind of music is played or clothes are worn.

The second point I would like to make is about the similarities between us thinking, “our church is spiritually superior to that church” and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee did not know the heart or life of the tax collector and judged on what he saw and felt about the man. Another similarity is the Pharisee lacked true godly humility and the way he judged the tax collector was based in pride.

If a church or a body of believers has doctrine or teaches things that are against scripture then we must speak out against those things. But, if a church’s music and services are different than what we are accustomed to and they don’t evoke the same emotion and feelings that we are accustomed to, we need to understand that they are not wrong. They are only different. Being different is not wrong. Understanding this and accepting our brothers and sisters who are different is a sign of our Spiritual growth and our Christian maturity.

Peace, Steve

“Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.” The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.” Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

Luke 18:9-14

How is competition of Christ?

I just want say a word about living in peace.  Really it goes against everything we’re taught.  We grow up in America where competition is fed to us like a mother’s milk is fed to babies.  If you had brothers and sisters you probably felt compelled to compete with them for everything.  As a result many feel that they can’t rise to the top, without walking on others.  Some have the unspoken opinion that they only succeed when others do not. This competitive attitude makes us critical of others, aggressive, judgmental against those who appear weak or in need. It makes us arrogant, uncaring and cold hearted, unwilling to lift others up.  It’s a lie we’ve all been taught all our lives

Here is why competition is not of Christ, when we compete somebody loses. When we are superior, somebody is inferior.

We should ask ourselves what it matters if we’re better and richer than anybody we know, but we lose our souls.  Jesus teaches us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  There are so many references to peace in the Bible that I couldn’t read them all at one time.

Life is not us against them, life is us and them.  Success is not rising to the top on the back’s of others, success is rising to the top together with mutual respect and help.  All for one, one for all.

Our prayer for each other and ourselves:  Father teach us to continually bless each other in deed and in prayer.  Teach us that true success comes when we learn to put others before ourselves.  Give us your wisdom and heart Oh God.  Makes us feel silly if we look down on others.  Destroy that lie, in us, that competition is good.  Heal us and destroy those ungodly strongholds we’ve been taught.

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Galatians 6:4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else…….

Mark 9:50
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Acts 10:36
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

James 3:17
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.