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

” . . .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.

Jesus Was An Extremist, We should be too

What would the Body of Christ be like if Christians were as extreme as Islamic Jihadists are? In fact ask yourself what the world, and not just the Church, would be like today if Christians were that extreme.

When we think of Islamic extremists the picture we see is that of a crazed and violent person reeking havoc upon infidels and the thought of Christian extremists brings to mind those among us who say they are Christians, yet they blow up abortion clinics or murder in the name of Jesus. Those actions go against everything that Jesus taught and we must ask if they are truly in Christ. A person who has devoted himself or herself to imitating Jesus to the most extreme measure possible will never fit that image.

The extremism that I’m speaking of is the extremism that Jesus spoke of when He said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21) In Luke chapter 19, we read that Zacchaeus the Tax Collector climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Eventually Zacchaeus met Jesus and he responded with the type of extremism that Jesus spoke about and expects from us. Zacchaeus not only repented, he also gave half of everything he owned to the poor and to those people he cheated out of money, Zacchaeus gave four times the amount he had taken from them back to them.”

Jesus was describing extremism when he told His disciples, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:12-13)

Early Church tradition is full of stories about men and women who stood firm to the end. Most Christ followers have heard how all of the Apostles, except John, were murdered for spreading the story of Jesus Christ. History books are replete with stories of Christians, who would not renounce their faith in Christ, being thrown to the lions by the Romans. Even today Christians are being killed and persecuted, in every sense of the word, in China, India and parts of the Islamic world. Fervency and devotion of that kind is what spread Christianity to every corner of the known world. It is that kind of passion and commitment that drives the Muslim extremist and is why Islam will rule Europe in just a few short years.

But, I do not want to address the apathy and unbelief that allows a pagan religion to take over a continent. I want to ask, “How do those Christian extremists of old compare to the American Christian of today?” In the seeker friendly, feel good church of today many American Christians are misled to believe that Jesus is only about grace and that His grace requires no sacrifice or change on our part. Many define their religion by the big sins that they avoid committing, going to church and throwing a little something into the offering plate.

I have to be honest, it’s easy for me to sit in a warm comfortable house and write about being an extreme Christian, but I find that must ask myself, “if Jesus asked me to sell everything I owned and give the money away to the poor as He did the rich young man in Matthew 19, could I?” Instead, I might begin to count off the reasons why I am free from sacrificing half or all that I own. I might tell myself that I rule my possessions and they do not rule me. After all it is “the love of money” and not money itself that “is a root of all kinds of evil.” You see I too have been conditioned to believe that God wants me to have a big nice house, lots of stuff and the best of everything. I have earned my time off and vacations are God’s blessing to me. My collection of material goodies is essential to God’s Kingdom, the money I may spend on a 50 inch TV is not needed by the poor and the hungry and I gave my ten percent (and a little more!) already. Besides that, those homeless guys and the welfare mothers all deserve to be where they are anyway. What does it matter to the Kingdom if the unused space in my house is greater than the size of homes in poor nations or that my car has better housing than many people do? The fatherless, the widows and the lonely elderly will never see God’s glory if I live in a smaller house in a poorer part of town. (And what would others think of me if I did.)

Many of us won’t even give God our time much less half of what we own. We feel that if we make it to church on Sunday we are doing well, if we make it on Sunday night also then we are doing extremely well. How many of us would give up our recreation time and devote that time to serving God? How many would pull their kids from all sports (or other activities) and devote their kids to serving the Lord? Not many of us would do these things, even though that is completely in line with what Jesus asks of us.

Those of us who have gone into debt to buy our stuff are indeed ruled by our possessions and we are slaves to the lenders. We couldn’t give half away if we wanted to, because we do not really own it. Even worse, we believe that the work we must do to service the debts we have acquired has earned us the right to not serve God on our time off. That time and money is reserved for R and R (relaxation and recreation). For generations we have convinced ourselves that competitive sports, secular movies, secular reading, secular music and most any other secular extracurricular activity are of extreme value and that somehow they advance the Kingdom of God. As if any activity that makes us feel good or arouses emotion is of God. In short the Kingdom is all about us.

It’s time we ask ourselves what eternal value those things have, not only to us but to everyone. Where does all this self-indulgence and striving for more and better stuff fit into Jesus telling us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Sadly, we are so conditioned by our society’s materialism we now believe that the pursuit of more stuff is God’s will. We need to think in terms of how our allegiance to the NFL, our child’s soccer league, our house or our own entertainment fits into the Gospel picture. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with Jesus to see what it is based on. Do we bring up our kids for the sole purpose of what will bring the most glory and be most pleasing to He who we call Lord, or do we teach them to put themselves first and give Jesus what is left? The real question becomes, “What is it that we truly desire?”

I believe that there is one thing that Americans covet more than anything else, and that it is that “one thing” that drives us to accumulate more stuff and causes us to neglect those things that Jesus told us to hold dear, “image” is everything isn”t it. What Americans spend on make-up, hair dye, the latest fashion and keeping up with the Jones, annually, could possibly feed most of Africa’s hungry. It has been estimated that America spends more on landscaping and lawn care than it does on foreign aid. How much more could we give if we had not addicted our children to designer that and brand name this? Oh God, please forgive us and create new hearts in us!

If we could somehow convince ourselves and the mainstream American Christian that they are not divinely entitled to large homes, extreme (by third world standards) comforts, three cars, season tickets and a vacation home, then the churches of America could have an incredible impact on the world. Yes, I know we do have an impact on the world, but not anything close to the impact that Jesus expects or the impact that those book of Acts Christ lovers had.

Extremism starts with you and I. American Christians must divest themselves of their comforts, large homes, expensive cars, video games and the wide screen TV’s. God’s Kingdom is not advanced by any of these things. Wake up sleepy Christian. We have been lulled into believing lies excusing self-indulgence by advertisers, prosperity preachers and Satan himself. American culture drives us more than the Gospel of Christ Jesus does. We must wake up from our worldly slumber and be about Kingdom business. Jesus does not want us to conform to this culture or live our lives by its standards; He wants us to create a Kingdom culture here on earth. Many of us know what needs to be done, and we want to do it, but we just do not want be seen as fanatics by our friends and families. Jesus expects us to be fanatics though, so stop living for rewards that are not eternal or in Heaven. Jesus wants us to love and give so fanatically that even other Christians think we are too extreme.

Be relevant, be extreme.

No Comprimise, No Retreat

Endeavor, as much as you can, to keep clear of everything, which may prove injurious to your soul. People may say you are too conscientious, too particular, and ask where is the great harm of such and such things? But don’t listen to them. It is dangerous to play tricks with sharp tools: it is far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul. ~J.C. Ryle

There are those who would convince us that it’s OK to compromise. Also, we each have some in our circles who would convince us to tone down the talk about Jesus and who are embarrassed that we seem extreme. In reality they convince us that it’s normal and proper to not “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

How many of us were once on fire for God and refused to compromise what we believed, only to have our resolve chipped away by “well intentioned” others, who convinced us to “tone it down.” Some of us never had the chance to live uncompromised lives; we may have lived in a compromised position, around compromised Christians, our entire Christian walk. If we fall into either group it’s time for us to turn around and start living lives of uncompromised purity and righteousness. No matter what the anti-Christians and the world have convinced us of, Christ still calls us to a different standard.

We live in a world where Christians are taught early not to be dogmatic about their beliefs, because it may offend others. We feel embarrassed about telling others about Jesus. We feel that it is improper to tell others that He is the only way and the Hell awaits those who do not believe in Him. The Grace of christ is lost on those who remain unconvicted of their sin. Christians explain that they do not witness to unbelievers because they “do not feel led to.” The Holy Spirit of God did not stop them from witnessing, what stopped them was compromise and complacency. Compromise broke their will and complacency sapped them of their boldness.

Modern Christians have been taught that it’s OK to walk with one foot in the world. Many of us know Christians who compromise themselves, in small ways, to save or make some amount of money. We know those who spend more time watching world events on the news, playing video games or being entertained by sports than they do praying or reading God’s Word. We see our Christian brothers covering themselves with tattoos, and our Christian sisters wearing cloths designed to highlight their sexual parts. To many Christians this is perfectly normal and acceptable. Anti-Christians have convinced them, in conversation and by example, that these things are quite acceptable.

These or other compromises are not acceptable, except by the world. Christians must redefine what is acceptable and what is not. Many of us define what is acceptable by whether or not it is sinful, or whether or not we will get caught. That is legalism. Some allow modern culture to define what is right or wrong. Fear of being unacceptable to friends and the world motivate us. That is worldliness.

To us Christians those things that are acceptable should be those things that bring glory to God. Acceptable things are those things that we know would please God and best represent the nature of God. Our obedience should come from love and not fear of reprisal.

God loves us as we are. He loves us though we are still sinners; God’s love for us is not in question. The questions are these. Do we love God as He loves us? Have we been convinced to love both Him and the world? Are we convinced that we must live our lives for our own comfort, our own self-image and our own sake? For whose or what’s sake do we make our choices?

We must live our lives and make our choices only for the honor of His name. We must die to the expectations of the anti-Christians and the world, and we must begin to live for the sake of His name. What we do to our bodies, what we watch and listen to, what we say and do; these things all represent Christ to every one who sees us.

Be relevant, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

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