Posts Tagged 'faith and belief'

Our Great Salvation, 2

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John 20:29

In the late 1800’s, Jemima Luke wrote these sentimental words that are still sung today in churches all over.

 
I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children like lambs to his fold;
I should like to have been with him then.
I wish that his hands had been placed on my head,
That his arms had been thrown around me,
That I might have seen his kind look when he said,
“Let the little ones come unto me.”

Those are sentimental words, but like so many hymns and Gospel songs, they have absolutely no basis in Scripture. They make you feel good and touch your heart, but they are subjective and they give credence to feelings or emotions you have have that stop your brain from remembering the more important teachings of Scripture.

In opposition to the words of Jemima’s song are the words of our Lord:

You believe because you have seen me. But blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.” (John 20:29 TLB)

We who believe in Jesus Christ 2,000 years after the fact are infinitely MORE blessed than those who lived with and talked to Him. How is this possible? What did Jesus really mean? Let’s look at the context of verse 29.

Thomas started it all

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He appeared to His disciples a number of times, but only John records this appearance that has to do with the faith—or some might say lack of it—of Thomas.

Over the centuries, good old Thomas has gotten a bad name—nickname, really—because of what he said in verse 25:

I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands—and put my fingers into them—and place my hand into his side.”

Doubting Thomas” is what we have come to call this man, but if you look at his words carefully, this disciple was only asking for the same evidence his fellow disciples had already received. They had seen the scars. They had heard the Voice. They had been visited by the risen Lord previously. So, it’s wrong to come down hard on Thomas because he asked for proof of something that had never happened before. No, in fact, we should come down hard on Thomas for another reason—as a Christian, at this point in his life he was really pathetic. Consider these two observations. First, we see how unreasonable this man really was. For Thomas, the unanimous testimony of his FRIENDS, whose character and honesty he knew so well, amounted to nothing. Did he really think they were all lying to him?

But second, and most important, for some reason not given, Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them.

One of the disciples, Thomas, “The Twin,” was not there at the time with the others. (John 20:24 TLB)

He was absent from the gathering on the first day of the week. We know that Thomas was a loyal, if not pessimistic, follower of Jesus, and this may be why he stayed away. What was the point of gathering together when the Leader of the group, Jesus, was dead and buried? William Barclay observed:

Thomas made a big mistake. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness.

The fact is, if a Christian is to grow in grace, he must have regular fellowship with the Body of Christ. Christians grow TOGETHER. Remember the words of Hebrews 10:25—

Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (TLB)

If you are a Christian and you aren’t in your church when you should be there, you are being disobedient to the plain teaching of Scripture and you are short-changing yourself and your fellow church members. You need them and they need you to be in church. Staying home and cooking a big breakfast for your family is not a substitute for fellowship with the saints of God. It’s not a question of “the church not being a building,” which is true. It’s a question of obedience to the Word and commitment to its admonitions.

Thomas, because he skipped out of meeting with other believers, missed out on experiencing the risen Lord. He missed out on the tangible presence of Christ.

God’s grace

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them and greeting them. (John 20:26 TLB)

A lot of Bible teachers think that Jesus really acquiesced and did what Thomas asked, but if you read verse 26 carefully, you’ll see He really didn’t. He did NOT appear to Thomas personally, but He appeared the very next time the disciples met together as a group. This time, however, Doubting Thomas was there; he was there where and when he should have been, and the Lord honored him.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger into my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 TLB)

This statement of Jesus’ must have blown Thomas’ mind. Jesus approached Thomas and spoke to him as though He had heard what Thomas had said a week ago. Blown his mind? Maybe “pricked his conscience” would be a better way to describe how this stubborn, pessimistic disciple felt. Look at what Jesus did: He met the ridiculous demands of this man to the letter. How foolish Thomas must have felt. He should have just had faith.

The inspired record does not say that Thomas reached out to touch our Lord. But he didn’t have to. Jesus proved His point and Thomas believed. How many people today say things like Thomas said? How many times have you heard something like this: “If I could just see Him.” “If God would just heal me, I’d believe.” The reason people don’t believe is not because of a lack of evidence of God’s existence or of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it’s a problem of the human heart. People don’t want to follow Christ and live in obedience to the Word of God, and it’s not an intellectual problem they have with God, Christ, and the Bible, it’s a moral problem they have. They don’t want to change their way of living. They don’t want to surrender their will to God’s. They prefer their sin to the new life they could have in Christ.

The issue of faith

Now, Thomas believed, as he should have all along. And Jesus, being the kind of Person He is, didn’t rake Thomas over the coals. But He did say this:

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. But blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.” (John 20:29 TLB)

It was a blessing for Thomas to have seen the risen Lord. But his and the disciples’ blessing was not the highest blessing. That is reserved for people like US. We who have never seen Jesus; heard Him teach; walked where He walked; are most blessed because:

(a) Our faith is genuine and true. It takes a leap of faith to believe in Someone you can’t see. It takes real faith to believe He said the things He said and that the Bible is an accurate record of His life. You may think your faith is pathetically weak, but if you are born again and if you have faith in God and Christ and the Word, you are blessed beyond the disciples and anybody who lived when Jesus lived. Many Christians don’t think like this; they have the Jemima Luke syndrome—believing how much better and easier it would have been for them to have been with Jesus when He walked the earth. They don’t stop and think about what Jesus said in this verse! He’s not lying when He says believers who have never seen Him are more blessed than those who did. We need to understand and appreciate how blessed we are and how powerful our faith is, even while we struggle with doubts and questions.

(b) Our faith honors Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. Our faith is satisfied with the proof of Christ’s resurrection and the testimony of His Word and of the Holy Spirit. What’s more, as we honor Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord honors us in return.

(c) Our faith leads to sight. Thomas needed to see before he believed. Sight aided his faith. But his was wrong-headed thinking. Faith leads to sight; faith is, in truth, an aid to sight. Lots of people talk about “blind faith,” but faith sees what cannot be seen.

I had fainted, unless I had believed… (Psalm 27:13 KJV)

A Christian may not have all the answers; he may not see solutions; hope may not be on his horizon at the moment, but one thing is absolutely certain: a believer sees more on his knees than a non-believer with the sharpest intellect can discern using all the resources available to him. Faith leads to sight.

(d) Our faith leads to our justification and salvation. Nothing is plainer:

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and your entire household.” (Acts 16:30, 31 TLB)

This is the Gospel in a nutshell! This is what salvation is, expressed in simplest form: faith, Jesus, salvation. To “believe” always means to put one’s full trust and confidence in Jesus Christ. This was the one thing the jailor was to “do.” He, like all human beings, must do the believing, but we do not produce the faith. Faith and confidence is awakened in us by the One in whom we believe: the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are brought into contact with Him, we are moved to trust Him. This is why unbelief is so serious and such a crime against God. It is the stubborn refusal trust Him who alone is worthy of trust.

The Lord Jesus Christ has salvation. He offers it to sinners. And He gives it to them. To trust Him is to receive that gift of salvation. To refuse is mistrust and distrust Him. Remember, His very name means “Savior.” To believe in and to trust Jesus is to accept His gift of salvation immediately. Faith leads straight to salvation.

Thomas had his doubts. He didn’t trust his friends or his Lord. But Jesus was gracious and met Thomas where he was. He is still doing that, today. The greatest blessing of all, though, belongs to those who have believed in Jesus without seeing Him.

HEBREWS: THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH, PART 2

A lot of Christians wrestle with what Biblical faith really is. Is it the old “name-it-and-claim-it” idea; calling your new car into existence before you get it? Is it the “prosperity Gospel” that was so popular in the 1980’s, where believers as King’s Kids would never dream of being poor? Or is it the Word of Faith movement, where you run around making positive confessions about your bad health and eventually you’ll be healed? There are so many ideas about faith floating around the Church, it can make your head spin. But genuine Biblical faith, though incredibly significant and profound, is not all that difficult to understand. All it takes to understand Biblical faith is…faith.

When you stop and think about it, all of society functions on faith. The employee working all week for his pay check does so because he believes he will receive that pay check. Those who are fortunate enough to board an airplane after their TSA groping do so believing they believe they will get safely from point A to point B without their airplane dropping out of the sky. Our whole monetary system functions on credit, which assumes the debtor will meet his debt obligations. Most of us have some sort of pension plan, which assumes steady growth, providing us with a retirement income when we are no longer working.

So everybody exercises faith to one degree or another in their daily lives and most of us don’t even think about it. It should be that simple for the Christian; we should be living by faith everyday just as naturally as we breathe.

In looking at faith in general, we can apply some basic principles to Biblical faith. There are three ingredients that make faith work.

  • Someone must make an engagement or a promise to another;

  • There must be good reason for believing in the integrity and ability of the person making the offer;

  • The one accepting the offer must be comfortably assured that the promise will be made good.

These three ingredients make Biblical faith functional. God has made an offer to human beings; in fact, beyond salvation, which is the greatest offer of all, God has made all kinds of promises to human beings.  His Word is full of them. Believers who have Biblical faith have entered into the contract with God—they have accepted Him at His Word and they believe that God is able to make good His promises—His will—for them. And finally, the believer has a calm reassurance that no matter what the circumstances may be, God is faithful and dedicated to fulfilling His Word to them. These three ingredients work in concert with knowledge of God’s Word and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Biblical faith sees things that cannot be seen with the natural eye. J.B. Philips catches the essence of that thought with his very simple translation of Hebrews 11:1—

It means being certain of things we cannot see.

Biblical faith is not wishful thinking or wistful thinking. It is knowing what God’s will is because you know what He has said in His Word and believing that God’s will is being accomplished or will be accomplished in a given situation. Biblical faith is as simple as that.

However, as simple as Biblical faith may be, the writer of this letter well understood that it is still hard to grasp. So the remainder of Hebrews 11 is devoted to examples of great men of faith. Without a doubt, faith makes men great. The thing that makes these men in Hebrews 11 heroic, is their faith. We might say, faith is its own reward.

1. The righteousness of faith, 11:4, 5

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (verse 4)

The story of Abel and his offering is found in Genesis 4:3—7, but nowhere in that text or anywhere else in the Old Testament is it ever explained why Abel’s offering was more acceptable than Cain’s. It isn’t until we get to verse 4 in Hebrews that the reason is given: Abel showed faith. The very fact that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice showed that God was pleased with Abel’s whole attitude of mind. Since we can’t read God’s mind, we don’t know exactly why God was not pleased with Cain’s offering; perhaps Cain approached God with a bad attitude or perhaps Cain was holding something back. 1 John 3:12 gives us a small glimpse into Cain’s character:

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.

Cain’s actions—his works—we evil. This is not referring to his murder of Abel, by the way. Cain seemed to have definite personality problems before becoming Earth’s first murderer!

What’s significant, though, is the fact that even though Cain murdered Abel, Abel’s faith continues to speak to this very day. Even murder couldn’t muzzle the message of faith! Abel’s faith teaches us two important lessons. First, having faith in God’s goodness does not make anybody righteous. Faith justifies a person indirectly; it approaches God through a sacrifice. Abel’s offering was the demonstration to God of his faith; he did something that God approved of because it showed God he had genuine faith. There are many who claim to have faith—they “believe in God”—but they don’t demonstrate that faith because they have never approached God by way of Christ’s sacrifice. This kind of faith is full of pride and presumption. God wants faith by way of Calvary.

And second, Abel was commended for having genuine faith, yet his faith didn’t keep him from being murdered. His faith, in other words, did not materially change his life, as far as we know. He was commended for having faith; he was not blessed for having faith.

2. The walk of faith, 11:5, 6

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam (Genesis 5:1—24), is given as an example because his whole life exemplified a life of honest dedication to God. In the historical account of his life, we are told that Enoch “walked with God.” What does that phrase mean as it relates to the Christian? It means that a believer lives a spiritual life in which he tells God everything; he is in constant fellowship with God. Enoch lived a normal life, he had a family and raised them well, but his whole life was marked by his devotion to God.

In fact, Enoch’s fellowship with God was so complete that, as one author wrote, “his journey from time to eternity was not interrupted by the detour of death.” He was “taken from this life.” The Greek word translated “taken,” metetehe, means “transposed,” like the in music when a lower key is transposed to a higher key.

Now, as far as we know, this has never happened to any human being since; this was a singular act never repeated to teach us a most profound truth. This truth is so profound that if you can latch onto it, never let it go, and practice it, you will please God just as much as Enoch did. Verse 6 tells us how to please God in three beautiful points:

  • We please God by walking with Him in faith. That means trusting God completely and having an active confidence in Him. It means regularly talking to God as though He were your closest friend, which He is.

  • We please God by praying to Him. When we pray to God, we must believe that He exists. For Christians, the existence of God is an established truth, yet many of live as though we don’t believe He exists. How many believers go days without praying? How many believers go weeks without opening their Bibles? Believing that God exists necessarily means that we will fellowship and communicate with Him. It means having a relationship with Him.

  • We must pray and seek God earnestly. “Earnestly” means with full confidence and full honesty.

Taken all together, then, pleasing God as Enoch did means that Biblical faith is far more than merely an intellectual or emotional exercise. It is not a form of “theism,” which acknowledges God. Acknowledging God is NOT having communion or fellowship with Him. At some point, “theism” must give way to a relationship with the Almighty. Who is it that pleases God?  Not the one who believes in Him, but the one who humbly and faithfully walks with Him.

Do you want to please God? Then you must want God, not just for what He can give you or do for you, but you must want God—seek Him out—because of Who He is. God is seeking you out, but you must take some initiative, as well. That is evidence of your faith.

The significance of this verse is not Enoch was “beamed up,” but that his life was marked with a humble dedication to walking with God.

3. Obeying and working by faith, 11:7

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

If one person demonstrated his faith in the face of impossible odds, it was Noah. He is the classic example of Biblical faith in action and his story, which is familiar to all, is found in Genesis 6.

When we think of Noah, we think of the ark he built. But we should note that the initiative to build that ark was not his, but God’s: Noah was warned about “things not yet seen.” He was given in glimpse into the mind of God and what he saw filled the ark builder with fear. God was going to destroy all life on earth because of man’s sinfulness. Noah had absolutely no evidence of what was to come, except God’s promise. Noah’s response was simple, common sense, and obedient: he built an ark for himself and his family and a whole lot of animals.

But is fear compatible with Biblical faith? Sometimes it is! This “holy fear” that gripped Noah produced in him an implicit confidence in God’s word. He believed a great deluge was on its way and fear of that flood propelled Noah to action and obedience. If he didn’t have confidence in God’s Word to him, why did he spend 120 years building a boat on dry land? In a time when it had never rained before? Facing the ridicule and jeers of his neighbors?

The result of his belief in God’s promise of impending disaster was the salvation of his family. This is the big lesson in Noah’s example of faith: when a person believes God and then acts appropriately, salvation results, both physically and spiritually, in his life and in the lives of those around him.

Conclusion

The great men of faith who lived before the flood were true pioneers in every sense of the word. Abel, Enoch, and Noah took a standd for God in a time when there was no law or true religion on Earth. Violence, unbelief, and disobedience surrounded these men and there was no church to encourage them.  Yet they walked with God. These three men teach us a lot about Biblical faith. Consider:

  • To be faithful, Abel paid the ultimate price: his life.

  • Enoch was taken from his life, from his family, from the world he knew, by his faith.

  • By faith, Noah saved his family’s life.

(c)  2012, WitzEnd

GOD’S GREATEST CREATION, Part 2

An early American church, somewhere in the mid-west.

THE CHURCH, Part 2

In Part 1 of our study of God’s Greatest Creation, we discussed the various terms used in the New Testament to describe what we call “the church.” We discovered, among other things, that “the church” is a “called out” and “separated” group of people; called out from and separate from the rest of the world. What separates “the church” is what distinguishes it from all other groups or associations: a faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and a desire to abide by His teachings, and in fact all the teachings, in the Word of God.

You will recall that in Acts 7:37, 38 Stephen referred to Israel as being “the church in the wilderness” (KJV). Of course, Israel wasn’t a “church” in the way we think of what a “church” is; Stephen was describing the nation of Israel as a “church” in the non-technical sense as a nation that had been “called out” and “separated” from all other nations in the world at that time, specifically Israel had been “called out” of Egypt. In fact, the Church as we know it is not seen anywhere in the Old Testament at all. Paul wrote that “the church” was a mystery, a hidden thing to people in the Old Testament, not revealed until the New Testament. The Church is not “spiritual Israel” or Judaism re-worked. The Church is a special creation of God, separate and distinct from Israel.

We also looked words used in the New Testament to describe members of the church; Christians. From these words we discovered that members of the church are like a family, bound together by their unwavering faith and belief in Jesus Christ.

Lastly, we looked at how the New Testament used metaphors to describe the Church. It is “the Body of Christ” with Christ as its head. It is “the Bride of Christ,” with Christ having that kind of intimate, compassionate, living relationship with it. And the Church is also referred to “the temple of God” or “the temple of the Holy Ghost,” indicating a location where the presence of God dwells.

1. A special place

That the Church is a very special creation of God is born out by these facts:

Christ loved the Church so much, He gave Himself for it, Ephesians 5:25

The primary purpose of God in this present age is the building of the Church, Matthew 16:18; Acts 15:14

Paul’s greatest sin was his persecution of the Church, 1 Corinthians 15:19; Galatians 1:13

Paul suffered greatly for the sake of the Church, Colossians 1:24.

2. The Founding of the Church

Prophetically

As stated previously, the nation of Israel is described as a “church” in the Old Testament because it was a nation “called out” from all other nations by God to serve Him (Acts 7:38). In the LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word for “congregation of Israel” was translated from the original Hebrew into Greek as ekklesia, which we know means “church.” In the non-technical sense, the whole nation of Israel is an ekklesia, a congregation or “church” of Yahweh.

When Israel failed to recognize Jesus Christ as their true Messiah, He predicted the founding of a “new congregation” or “church,” a whole new group of believers that would continue His work of Earth.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it. (Matthew 18:18)

Contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, Peter was NOT the rock upon which the church was to be built. According to Paul, Christ is clearly the foundation of the building of God (1 Corinthians 3:11) and He is the Chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:20-22). Theories abound as to what Jesus meant in Matthew 18, but perhaps a clue is found in the following verse:

I will give you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven…

Of note in this phrase is that Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, not the keys to the church. Jesus gave Peter the keys to “Christianity,” a way of saying that because Peter was the first person to confess who and what Jesus was, he was given the privilege of unlocking the door of faith to all would hear and respond to his confession. In other words, the church was to be built upon Christ as the Son of God, which Peter proclaimed.

When we consider the church prophetically, we don’t mean that it was prophesied in the Old Testament. In fact, the church was hidden from the prophets of the Old Testament. According to Ephesians 3:1-6, we learn this. Nobody, not even the godliest prophet of the Old Testament was given so much as a glimpse of a congregation of believers made up of both Jews and Gentiles, the group we call “the church.” Jesus Himself spoke of founding a church, but the nature of this new congregation was not revealed until it started to grow and spread among all people.

B. Historically

Just when did the church start? While Jesus mentioned it during His earthly ministry, it wasn’t founded until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit not only descended upon and filled the 150 believers gathered in that Upper Room,  He consecrated that relatively small group of people.

The church didn’t evolve or grow up, it quite literally sprang up in a moment, in the simplest of ways. In the very earliest days of the church’s existence, there was virtually no organization, only a bond of love, fellowship, and a common destiny. Because it grew so rapidly, that loose organization didn’t last very long. It was superseded by a very structured organization of leadership. That structure was definitely man-made, necessitated by the needs of the congregation, Acts 5 and 6.

In the beginning, there was only one local church, the one in Jerusalem, even though they seemed to have met in a number homes. The initial membership numbered 150, then 3,000 joined, then 5,000 more joined but the historical account (Acts 2:47) indicates that new people were joining the church every day.

As the Gospel spread and the believers left Jerusalem due to persecution, new local congregations were founded every place the displaced believers found themselves, in Judea and Samaria at first. Just how these new local congregations came about is not known. Paul writing to Titus gives him this piece of advice:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town as I instructed you. (Titus 1:5)

So it seems, then, as soon as a group of believers had been formed in a community, elders were appointed to lead them. In the verses that follow, Paul gives Titus the qualifications of the kind of men that could be appointed.

3. Membership in the Church

In simplest of terms, the Church of Jesus Christ is made up of believers in Christ, called out from the world of sin, separated unto God, be they Jews or Gentiles.

However, the New Testament does, in fact, lay down certain conditions for membership in a local congregation.

a. Faith in Jesus Christ and the Word of Gods

b. An understanding that Jesus Christ is the only Savior

c. Submission to water baptism as a public testimony to faith in Christ

d. A verbal confession of faith

The earliest days of the Church must surely be considered its “golden age.” The entire membership of the church was truly born again:

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)

Becoming a member of the church didn’t involve filling out forms or taking classes; it was a matter of confessing faith in Christ. With the passage of time, however, as the church grew and became more popular, bureaucratic, and institutionalized, water baptism became a condition of salvation and catechizing took the place of conversion. The result was a congregation made up of a “mixed multitude,” an influx of people who were not Christians at heart. This has been the condition of the church for centuries: true, possessing Christians in the midst of confessing Christians.

4. State of the Church today

There is the “church invisible,” which is made up of true Christians from all denominations from all time, and the “church visible,” which consists of all those profess to be Christians. The “church invisible” is made up of members whose names are written in heaven, while members of the “church visible” have their names on the church books.

The distinction between these two versions of the church is taught in Matthew 13, made up of a series of parables, often referred to as the “mystery parables.” All of these parables deal with mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which we know corresponds to the present state of Christianity. These “mystery parables” accurately describe the state of Christianity between the First and Second Comings of Christ. There is a strange mixture of good and bad, believers and unbelievers, in the church until the Lord returns, at which time He will purify the Church by separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false. The apostle Paul taught a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:19-21:

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for disposal of refuse. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

This is the present state of Christianity, as manifested in the church.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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