Posts tagged ‘faith’

Does He Know You?

There is a vast difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing the person. I could spend the next few years in researching the life of George Washington for a new book. I could read his personal journals and everything discovered by historians. And even if I feel like I know him, I will never be able to say that George Washington is my friend and we know each other! While a relationship certainly involves learning about them, gaining that knowledge is no substitute for know the actual person.

Jesus, in Matthew chapter 7 talks about this, and it is a passage that is cause for serious reflection by Christians. Jesus is talking about the judgment, and differentiates between the two groups of people in a very revealing way.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

There are some important things to notice here.
1. Both groups, the saved and the lost, were verbally calling Jesus “Lord”. Jesus is not diminishing the importance of being our Lord, but is rather emphasizing that just saying the magic words is not what means you have a relationship with God.

2. If we look at the entire passage, keeping His commandments is a sign of one who is saved. If I can say this in a positive sense, obedience is a symptom of having a relationship with Christ.

3. But here is the danger. If you look at what the lost ones say, they were doing all the right things as well! What causes their confusion is that they thought that if they did all the things they were supposed to be doing, they would have a relationship with Christ and go to heaven. If their checklist was complete, someone told them, then their performance was satisfactory and they would make it in.

4. From the passage, what is stated as the determining factor was whether or not Jesus knew them. Did they have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? What got them into heaven was not what they did, but who they belonged to. According to John in 1 John 2,

“He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (I John 2:4-6)

If we concentrate on deepening our relationship with God, the good works will be a natural reflection of the vibrancy of that relationship. Our lives will show the power of the love of God working within us. But if we lack that love, we run the danger of doing the works out a need to be right with God through our performance and not have that relationship. Our lives will not be characterized by “faith working through love”, and whatever is not of faith is sin. Even the seemingly good things we do will be sinful because they weren’t done in faith and love. We will be practicing lawlessness and not even know it. If it takes the threat of losing your salvation and going to hell to motivate you to obey God, then you are already backslidden in heart. Are there things you are doing because God said to do it or else, you have fallen away.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must make our aim the same as that if the apostle Paul — to know Him!

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

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Fulfilling the Law

There are two types of leaders that really bother me. One has all the authority they need, but refuses to use it. The other is someone with no authority, who thinks he has it anyway. Both usually result in a train wreck. Jesus Christ was neither of those. He had full authority from the Father, and used it perfectly! This astonished those who heard Him teach.

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28, 29 NKJV)

Does this just mean that He was assertive in His tone, or pontificated with skill? No, I believe it goes deeper than that. The previous verses come at the end of the “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in Matthew chapters 5 – 7. And unlike the scribes, who would just read the Law, Jesus was actually expanding upon it! Let me show you what I mean by that.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)

The word translated fulfill there is the Greek word pleroo (play-ro-o) which includes the concept of completing or filling up. What kind of man would dare to say that he was coming to complete that which had been handed down in fire, earthquake and smoke at Mt Sinai? Only God could do such a thing! This begins the anger in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees that will one day lead to His crucifixion. They never dispute Jesus’ miracles, and never try to. This assertion of power equal to that of God was enough to incite hatred in their hearts and charges of blasphemy.

Jesus fills out, or completes, the law in a series of “you have heard” and then “but I say” statements. These serve to bring the Law from the outside (mere physical performance) to the inside ( the condition of our hearts). Appropriately, Jesus starts with the Ten Commandments. He takes the commandment on murder and fulfills, or completes it.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21, 22)

Next, Jesus fulfills/completes the commandment regarding adultery by making it a heart issue first and foremost.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28)

Then we come to bearing false witness. Jesus fulfills/completes the commandment by saying not to swear by anything, but to let your answers stand on there own veracity.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

In dealing with our enemies, Jesus again takes us to the heart of the matter.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. ..
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matthew 5:38, 39, 43, 44)

But why do this at all? Why not just say that He was coming to replace the Law with a new one? Because we need the Law to demonstrate to ourselves that we are lawbreakers, already sentence to eternal death by a just God. Without that, the Gospel will be an abstract concept, and not the truly “Good News” that it is. We need the Law to show us our need of a savior and to take us to the cross to find Him.

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:22-24 KJV)

The Law gets us to the cross, where grace takes over and leads us to God by faith. We don’t abandon obedience to the commands of God, but are rather changed from the inside out. On the inside, we are justified by faith, and on the outside, we are clothed with Christ at baptism for all the world to see. Just like putting clean clothes on someone covered in mud doesn’t make the person clean, we clean up the inside by justification (Romans 5:1) and only then have them put on Christ in baptism for all to see (Galatians 3:27). Christ is put in before He is put on!

But again, we must begin with the Law, and the realization of the just penalty for sin. Only then can, or will we want to, go to the cross for payment of our due penalty. Then, and only then, are we reconciled to God.

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach- (Colossians 1:19-22 NASB)

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Offend In Jesus?

There is an interesting passage I have been meditating on that has always seemed odd to me. John the Baptist is a prophet whom I have always admired, especially since Jesus spoke so highly of him. But there is an incident that occurs when John is in prison that I have always interpreted as a time where he was having doubts about his ministry. That never made complete sense to me, since Jesus was the same man John had called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”! After taking another look at the accounts in Matthew and Luke, I have come to another conclusion for you to consider. Let’s look at what Luke said.

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ” And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Luke 7:20-23 NKJV)

I think one problem was that I would stop at the end of verse 22. But in verse 23 Jesus not only reassures John that He is in fact the Messiah, but also reminds him to focus on the big picture of His mission, and not be offended because someone else is getting a miracle deliverance and seemingly John is not. What do I mean by that?

Well just a few chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus gets up to read in the synagogue from Isaiah and fulfills a prophetic picture of what His earthly ministry would be.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18, 19)

Jesus, by giving the answer He gave about the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lepers being cleansed, and the poor having the gospel preached to them, is reminding John of a couple of things.
1. It’s not about you.
2. Focus on and give thanks for what God is doing, not on what He is seemingly not doing.
I believe John asked the question, not because He was starting to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, but because he knew the prophecy Jesus was fulfilling from Isaiah 61. John was trying to say, “the sick are healed, the lame walk, but what about delivering this captive?” And that is why Jesus added verse 23 to His reply to John’s disciples and reminded him not to be offended.

So what are some applications of this for us today?

Have you ever been striving for something in prayer with God? Maybe it was for restoration of health. Perhaps you were struggling financially, or were battling an addiction. And in the heat of the battle someone comes along that prays one time, and gets an instant reply. They quickly return to health, or get an inheritance from a long lost uncle, or are delivered from an addiction. Or a marriage or other family relationship is healed. While all of this is going on, you are still in the trenches doing battle and calling upon The Lord for deliverance. In times like these, it would be easy to resent what God has done for the other person rather than “rejoicing with those who rejoice”. Rather than focusing on what God has done and being thankful, we are tempted to turn inward and focus on what has not been done and become offended. This is dangerous ground, for a root of bitterness will defile us and those around us if we do not dig it out. (Hebrews 12:15) We are serving a Savior who has promised that He will never leave us, and will be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and that is a promise we can rest in.

Another application of this principle of not being offended when someone else gets an answer from God can be seen in two other miracles that Jesus performed. I would like to call attention to how these stories would have changed if resentment and bitterness had been harbored and offense had been taken.

In Luke chapter 8, Jairus comes and begs jesus to heal his little girl. When Jesus was walking with Jairus to his house to heal her, a ceremonially unclean woman with an issue of blood causes Jesus to stop when she reaches out, touches His garment, and is healed. While Jesus is ministering to her, Jairus’ servants come and tell him that his daughter had died. Can you imagine how different things would have been if he had become offended and lashed out in anger because this woman’s miracle had delayed Jesus from getting to his daughter before she died? He would have gone into unbelief and lost a daughter.

Or what about the man who was lame from birth, who sat at the Beautiful Gate by the temple in Acts 3? What if, when Peter and John mentioned the name of Jesus, the beggar had been offended because Jesus was a frequent visitor to the temple, and had healed thousands of people, but had never stopped and healed him? His miracle would literally have passed him by.

So don’t short circuit your answer from God by becoming offended when someone else’s prayers are answered. Rejoice with those who rejoice and gain courage from the knowledge that Jesus knows exactly what He is doing. Be heartened in the promise that He will never leave you or forsake you. You have not been abandoned. And in contentment, rest in the assurance that God is working all things together for good for saints like you that love Him. (Romans 8:28)

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Hope Fully Living

Hope is one of those words that can be difficult for someone to define. If you have hope, you know it. If you don’t, and are hopeless, you know that, too. But what is hope? How would you define it? More importantly, how does God define it in the Bible? Let’s take a look in Romans chapter 15.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NKJV)

The first thing we need to realize is that Jehovah is a God of hope. He has so much hope that it is a part of His very nature. That means He is the source of all hope for His children. Biblical hope can best be defined as “a confident expectation”. God does not wish for things. No, that implies that He is uncertain of the outcome and is just “hoping it all turns out right”. No, God knows the end from the beginning.

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ (Isaiah 46:10)

God is the God of hope precisely because He is certain of the outcome of things that have not yet happened from our perspective. So we can anchor our hope in the one who isn’t up in heaven crossing His fingers and hoping for the best.

But how does God give that hope to us as His children? By “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). You see, nice we come to a realization of the nature and character of the One in whom we have placed our trust, we can experience deep joy. Because of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross, we now have access to God. In prayer and in reading, studying and meditating n His Word, we can daily come into his presence and have that faith built up and our hope reaffirmed. As The psalmist David wrote:

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalms 16:11)

We not only have joy, but with God, we have fullness of joy!

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: (1 Peter 1:8 KJV)

Another byproduct of the hope we have in God is peace. Even in the midst of life’s darkest hour, we can be at peace with God. We have a calm assurance that God is on our side because if He was willing to save us by His death, He will also see that work through to the end by His life, and constant intercession for us. God gave us grace to save us, but that same grace goes on to change us as well.

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 KJV)

So as we increase in peace and joy, we increase in hope. They all go together and build upon each other. So no matter what you are going through (and some of us are really going through it), even if it is the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, for God is with us (Psalm 23). We know that we receive our hope from Him who is the very “God of hope” and can rest in His love and will for us.

that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus,(Hebrews 6:18-20a NKJV)

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Faith Without Conditions

Faith. It is a fruit of the Spirit that is essential to our spiritual progress, and even our salvation. Much is said in the Scriptures about having faith enough to receive whatever we ask of The Lord. And it is correct to say that God rewards the faith of those who diligently seek Him.

But there is a deeper level of faith than the one required for receiving an affirmative answer to our requests. A question we all need to consider is this: “Do I have enough faith to get a ‘no’ from God?” Please let me illustrate what I mean.
If you are faced with a terminal illness, do you have enough trust and faith in God to continue to follow Him if you are not healed? Do you trust Him enough to die if that is His will? I submit to you that this takes more faith than receiving an instant healing.

That kind of faith was shown by the three Hebrew young men who refused to worship the golden statue of the king.

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17, 18 NKJV)

Did you catch what they said? They believed that God could protect them, but were determined to follow His commandments even if their deliverance did not come. That is the kind of faith God is looking for — unconditional faith! I think it was there “no matter what” attitude that helped them to be delivered from the fiery furnace without even a hint of smoke on them. You see, faith is not belief without evidence; it is obedience without reservation.

In the Gospels, Jesus showed that same kind of faith in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. ” (Matthew 26:39 NKJV)

Jesus’ depth of faith and trust was displayed by His willingness to receive form The Father whatever the divine will entailed. It involved subordinating His own will to that of the Father. It begs the question about our own faith. Am I willing to not shrink back in my faith if it means the will of God leads through the valley of the shadow of death? When it all comes down to it, will we be able to say what Job said? “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15a).”

Too often today, the lost are told that they need to come to Christ because of all the things He will do to make life better for them. It’s a “me” centered message that is both harmful and unbiblical. Television preachers talk incessantly about how healing or deliverance hinges on how much faith they have. But salvation is not about having “our best life now” or being a success in business. It is about complete and utter surrender to the will of God, no matter where that leads us. That is why we need to be able to put aside what we desire and accept what He desires without reservation.

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Real Faith Works!

Ever since the days of the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on teaching that salvation is by faith. Given the unhealthy stress placed on works at the time, this was a normal reaction. What is needed is a healthy, and accurate, view of the relationship between faith and works if we are to be spiritually healthy and balanced. When James, the Lord’s brother, wrote his letter, the Spirit inspired him to address the subject this way:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:17-20 NASB)

There is no contradiction here with the message the apostle Paul would later give to the church at Ephesus. Read carefully what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

He is saying, correctly, that our salvation does not come from our performance, or from working our way to God. No one can will ever be able to say that God owes them salvation. But also notice what Paul goes on to say in verse 10.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We were created in Christ when we are born again, for the uprise of good works. Do you see the order here? The works don’t cause faith and salvation; the faith and salvation produce the works! Furthermore, God has it planned that way.

God always connects a truth to believe with a command to obey. While “faith” and “obedience” can be defined as separate terms, they are inseparable as realities. To put it succinctly, real faith, works!
That being said, faith has to come first. We can have works without having faith (i.e. dead works), but we cannot have faith without works. Build your faith and the works will follow. It is a trap to suppose that we can reverse the polarity of our spiritual power by putting works as a higher priority than cultivating intimacy with God and strengthening our faith.

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5, 6)

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Circumcision of the Heart

The Old Testament is replete with types and shadows that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. One of those Old Testament symbols of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was so integral to the Old Covenant that the concept of an uncircumcised Jew was unheard of.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he says that baptism is the spiritual fulfillment of circumcision.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11, 12 ESV)

Now that we are in the New Covenant with Christ, we experience a circumcision that is spiritual and of the heart. And according to Paul, this spiritual circumcision occurs at baptism. Fittingly, the concept of an unbaptized Christian is just as foreign to the New Testament as an uncircumcised Jew was to the Old Testament.

But is this verse in Colossians saying that baptism is what saves us? Well, was Abraham declared righteous before being circumcised or afterwards? According to Romans chapter 4, at what point was Abraham declared righteous?

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:7-10 ESV)

It was Abraham’s faith that caused him to obey the commandment of God and be circumcised, and it would be accurate to say that if Abraham had refused to obey God that he did not have faith. His obedience proved his faith. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we have faith, and that faith is proven, or validated, by our submitting to baptism.

Thus, salvation is by faith, and that faith is shown by our baptism. Righteousness comes by faith, and is not of works. We are saved by faith, not by faith plus a ritual. But that sign of the covenant must not be diminished or disregarded, either. Just as faith without obedience is out of context, obedience without faith is useless as well. But the connection of the old circumcision to baptism is clear. And Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God before he was circumcised. In the same way, we are declared righteous when we believe, and we submit to the sign of our covenant relationship when we are baptized. Failure to do so proves we didn’t really believe in the first place.

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