Faith Comes by Hearing

Faith is required to please God (He 11:6), so, what is faith, and how do we get it?

It’s easy to mistake presumption for faith, blocking other possibilities out of our minds and hearts, willfully determining for ourselves what must be, refusing to consider contradictory evidence. This is darkness, the flesh, lacking the deep assurance of the revealed Word and Will of God, and will eventually be exposed as willful blindness and arrogance.

Faith is supernatural assurance, the divine impartation of knowing with absolute confidence and certainty, a knowing which doesn’t require further proof or evidence. It’s the gift of God (Ep 2:8), which comes by hearing God with a trusting, believing heart (Ro 10:17a), and this kind of hearing with this kind of heart comes by the decree of God. (17b)

Faith doesn’t come by hearing the Word of God. It’s necessary to hear the truth to grow in faith, but this in itself is insufficient. What the text says is: “hearing (comes) by the word of God.” (Ro 10:17)

We tend to hear what we want to hear, not what’s actually said. (Jn 8:43) So, God must not only send us the message of truth, He must also give us hearts to perceive, eyes to recognize and ears to receive and accept the truth. (De 29:4)

Submitting to God is a prerequisite for understanding and knowing Him (Mt 13:15), and this requires a new nature; our old nature is incapable of submitting to God. (Ro 8:6) God chooses the poor in spirit rich in faith, electing us to be heirs of His kingdom. (Ja 2:5)

This may seem unreasonable, that faith in God comes only by the decree of God, as if we have no choice or chance in faith, at pleasing God without His aid. It’s as if we think God’s choosing who will have faith is the same as Him choosing who won’t have it, and accuse God of being unrighteous (Ro 9:14), wondering why He finds fault when no one resists His will. (19)

God does choose who has faith (2Th 2:13), but He does not cause anyone to not have faith: rather He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe. (Ac 17:30)

God makes no one distrust Him; in fact, anything other than trusting God and taking Him at His Word is insane wickedness. How can God lie, or be unfaithful, or malicious? Not trusting God is accusing Him of being evil, and God never promotes or encourages this: we do this all on our own, when He leaves us to ourselves. And, of course, no one can please God while accusing Him of malevolence.

The election of God isn’t the arbitrary choice among good, ignorant but well-meaning people, but among the wicked, those who hate Him. (Jn 15:18-19) It’s an election of pure mercy and compassion (Ro 9:15) in which God transforms some wicked souls into saints – vessels of mercy. (23) God quickens the disobedient, those dead to Him in trespasses and sins, children of wrath. (Ep 2:1-3) God’s intervention in our headlong dash away from Him is entirely undeserved, total mercy. (4)

The mercy God shows us in salvation is remarkable indeed, infinite in every respect. He doesn’t need to save anyone; He doesn’t owe us anything: none of us deserve it in the least. Let us glory in the salvation of God and be thankful for His mercy. (Ro 15:9)

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Add to Your Faith

In drawing us toward Himself, God tells us to add a number of personal traits to our faith, and to do so in a particular sequence, or with a given precedence or priority: first virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and finally charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

He says that with this interlocking foundation solidly in place we’ll be successful and productive in our spiritual life (8), but without this entire footprint in our character we’re blind, ignorant of the basics of our salvation. (9)

The implication is that if we’re missing one or more of these building blocks, or get them out of sort in some way, then we have an incomplete, improper foundation: we’re building on sand, and the result won’t play out well. (Mt 7:26-27) Perhaps it’s good to focus on each of these qualities and see how they interrelate to faith and to each other.

Virtue is moral excellence, Christ-like character, a willingness and intent to pursue the highest possible standard. Having virtue in faith keeps us from pride as we add knowledge (1Co 8:1) – not to impress but to enable us in worship (Ps 119:7) and service. (105) Apart from virtue we’re oblivious (Jn 1:5), ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2Ti 3:7) To presume we can rightly comprehend the very first principles of the Kingdom without deep, practical reverence for God is deception. (Pr 1:7) Without virtue firmly in place, adding anything else to our faith is pointless.

Knowledge is critical as a next step; ignorance of God, of ourselves, of our enemy, of the first principles of our faith, it alienates us from the life of God (Ep 4:18), incapacitates us and wastes our virtuous passion and skill on distractions and dead ends. (Ho 6:4) The enemy is quick to exploit our ignorance and capitalize on it to sideline us. (2Co 2:11) Faith and virtue in themselves are insufficient for the journey ahead; we must diligently pursue truth, to understand and apply it, to show ourselves approved of God. (2Ti 2:15)

Temperance keeps us balanced as we walk out our faith. It’s so tempting to become overly obsessed with minutia and lose the big picture in our walk. Even with all confidence, virtue and knowledge, it’s self-control, self-mastery (Pr 25:28), the ability to moderate and adjust our behavior (Php 4:5), to re-focus, re-calibrate, re-align and continually fine tune our motives as we learn and mature, this keeps us out of the ditch. (1Co 9:27)

Patience, cherishing God’s goodness through trial, keeps us from bitterness and equips us with endurance and tenacity, so we’re perfect and entire, lacking nothing for the long journey home. (Ja 1:4)

Godliness, a faithful orientation towards God and His testimonies (Ps 119:24, 31, 36, 59, 99, 111, 129) in this journey orders our steps in holiness such that we’re ever growing more and more into the likeness of Christ along the Way.

Brotherly kindness bears with others (Ga 6:2) in the confines and abrasions of close community with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2Co 10:1), maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. (Ep 4:2-3) Without this we may ultimately do more harm than good, causing others to stumble and making their journey much more difficult. (1Co 8:12)

And finally Charity, the unconditional benevolence of God, is the capstone, the greatest of all (1Co 13:13), coloring and accentuating all our activity (1Co 16:14), keeping our motives rightly aligned with God’s heart. Without this, we are nothing. (1Co 13:2-3)

Each of these additions to our faith are the fruit of the Spirit working in us; they compliment faith to complete us in our maturity in Christ. Which piece can we afford to omit or neglect without the whole edifice collapsing? None? Let us then attend to this with all diligence, dig deep, and build on the rock as the Master bids. (Mt 7:24-25)

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How Can Ye Believe?

Christ asks how we can believe in God when we’re more concerned about Man’s approval than God’s? (Jn 5:44) The implication is we can’t: before we can believe in God we must be seeking God’s kingdom and pleasure first and foremost as a manner of life. (He 11:6) If we’re out to please others we aren’t servants of Christ (Ga 1:10); and if we aren’t obeying Christ we aren’t seeking Him – we’re His enemies, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

This follows from the fact that esteeming Man’s approval above God’s is to trust unfaithful sinners more than the Holy One; it’s believing in Man rather than God, disvaluing God by serving the creature more than the Creator. (Ro 1:25) So, preferring the praise of men is unbelief in God by definition.

This begs the question: what other conditions preclude us from having saving faith? Any disposition to sin intentionally, on purpose, means we don’t fear God (Ro 3:18): we don’t revere Him as our King. This also is to mistrust Him, to reject Him, to disbelieve in Him. Salvation is far from such a heart. (Ps 119:155)

Is believing in and trusting God even something we can decide to do? Is this subject to the power of our will at all? (Ro 9:16) Believing God exists is certainly a necessary first step, but that’s not the same as believing in Him, trusting Him, receiving Him as He has revealed Himself to be. (Jn 1:12-13)

Suppose a man stretches a tightrope across Niagara Falls and balances a wheelbarrow across the raging torrents. To cheering spectators he yells, “Do you believe I can push a man across in this wheelbarrow?”

How do you respond?  Can you make yourself believe? Is this an act of your will, like scratching your nose? Maybe you figure he can, so you nod in subtle agreement, but then, pointing directly at you he commands: “Get in!”

Ah! Now we’ll see if you believe! Perhaps you’d be willing to risk your life, but if you’re shaking like a leaf … if you have any doubt at all (Mk 11:23), any hesitation at all (Ja 1:6), any fear at all, this isn’t trust, belief – faithFaith is knowing you’re safer in that wheelbarrow than anywhere else in the universe – perfectly secure, chill enough to fall asleep. That isn’t something you can just will yourself into knowing. Faith in God is a miracle: it’s supernatural assurance. (He 10:22)

Consider, if placing saving faith in God is an act of our will then it’s a work; for if an act of the will isn’t a work, then nothing is a work. Acts of our will are works by definition.

However, believing on God saves us from sin (Ge 15:6), yet no work can save anyone from sin. (Tit 3:5) Since no work can save anyone from sin, experiencing saving faith in God can’t be our work; so faith can’t be an act of our will; this must be the work of God. (Jn 6:29)

Yet God commands us to repent and believe on Christ (Ac 17:30), so how can this not be an act of our will?

Well, God requires us to be perfect (Mt 5:48); this isn’t an action, but a state of being from which our actions originate, and one clearly beyond our reach. (Pr 30:29) God’s command doesn’t imply our ability; it’s righteous for God to demand perfection of us: He can’t rightly accept anything less. (Eze 18:20)

The reality is that faith and repentance aren’t things we do, or actions we take, but characteristics of our state of being as we’re transformed by God; they’re two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21) – both are gifts of right beliefs, affections and desires, a new heart, a Godward disposition. We don’t do faith, we have faith … to trust and obey God when our blind heart is healed to see and know Him more as He truly is.

And to repent, to stop believing lies, to have faith and start believing truth, God must intervene: He must give us repentance and faith so we can identify and dismiss the lies as we acknowledge the truth. (2Ti 2:25) So, while God may command us to be a certain way (1Pe 1:15-16), this doesn’t imply that we’re actually able to obey; our will is broken and corrupt. (Je 13:23)

Faith is rooted in the divine nature from which godly action springs (Ja 2:18): what we need in order to believe in God is a new nature (Ga 6:15), and we just can’t decide to have one.

Our inability to align with holiness lies in our being in a state of unbelief and enmity against God (Ro 8:7); in this state we deliberately choose patterns of disobedience which further enslave our will. We are, in our broken state, eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices. (Pr 1:31) Engaging sin leads to deeper bondage, the continual weakening of our ability to resist sin and choose good. God isn’t responsible for this condition, for our inability to choose good: we are.

Alienation from God is the result of our own ignorance and blindness (Ep 4:18), which comes upon us as we reject the light (Jn 3:36) and respond inappropriately to God. (Ro 1:21) In blindness we make more choices which alienate us even farther from God (Ps 73:27), leading to ever deeper sin and bondage (Ro 1:24), such that we’re continually becoming more irrational, confused, deceived, believing more and more lies about God, others and ourselves. (2Ti 3:13)

We can no more escape this spiraling descent into bondage and corruption through the effort of our own will than a rotting corpse can raise itself up from the grave (Ep 5:14), or the non-existent can conceive and birth themselves (Jn 3:7), or the wicked can give themselves new hearts (Ez 18:31) – yet God requires this of us.

God isn’t cruel to command the impossible – He does this in mercy, as a promise: if we hear His command, humble ourselves and seek life from Him (Ps 119:107), trusting He’s faithful (1Co 1:9), He quickens us (Col 2:13), conceives us with the truth by an act of His own will (Ja 1:18), and gives us new spirits and hearts (Ez 36:26) which delight in His Law. (Ro 7:22)

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To Be Saved

The question of the ages: “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:30) has a straightforward answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (31) Salvation isn’t complicated; little children can get this.

Yet, as simple as this is, we may miss it by changing believe on Jesus for something else. For example, we could say as Billy Graham did, believing on Jesus means repenting of our sins, asking Christ to come into our hearts and save us, and committing our lives to serve Him.

Just one little problem: no one in the Bible was saved like this, and in the end it didn’t even work for Dr. Graham himself (he had no assurance of Heaven). With the world ablaze in the wrath of God (Ro 1:18) and nowhere to hide (Re 20:11), we can’t afford to get this wrong.

To help us understand, God describes believing on Christ from multiple angles. It’s receiving Christ as He claimed to be (Jn 1:12a), believing on His name (b) … totally convinced He will do as He says He will do (Ro 4:21), that He’s trustworthy and perfectly good. (Ep 1:13) It means entering into His rest (He 4:3), ceasing from dependence upon our own works to gain acceptance with God (10), trusting implicitly in the finished work of Christ for our redemption (1Th 1:4-5a), the total payment of our sin debt to God. (Is 53:11)

God says we must be born again (Jn 3:7), conceived by God (Ja 1:18), quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ep 2:5), made a new creation. (Ga 6:15) We’re saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8), supernatural confidence that only comes from the enabling power of God. This is a miracle, not a human work (Jn 1:13); only God can do this, with Man it’s impossible. (Mk 10:27)

So, if we don’t have supernatural assurance in the finished work of Christ, resting confidently in Him as our only hope of eternal salvation, trusting Him and believing in Him as He has called us to, knowing we are as safe from the wrath of God as Jesus Christ Himself, this then is our greatest need. Let us not go back to a memory of praying to receive Christ, or pray again to receive Him now, but let us look to the cross itself (1Co 2:2), asking God to reveal the Lamb of God to us (Jn 1:29), to give us faith in His blood. (Ro 3:25) Let us seek the Lord until we find Him (He 11:6), striving to enter the narrow gate, until we know He has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, and has set us eternally right with God. (1Pe 2:24)

Give diligence to make your calling and election sure – we cannot accept “not sure” for an answer. (2Pe 1:10) His death is available to us all (2Co 5:15) that we may know for certain that we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13)

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The Books

God has a library: He’s having it all written down, everything we do and say. (Re 20:12) Every idle word we speak, all our feelings, motives and thoughts, things we aren’t even aware we’re doing … it will all be publicly scrutinized. All is recorded here, in the books; nothing is forgotten, and we’ll answer for all we’ve done. (Mt 12:36)

This must be an immense work, The Encyclopedia of Humanity, precisely documenting every nuance of every act of every person who has ever lived. As our minds capture everything we experience, making the more significant events available to us for our inspection and reflection, these volumes perfectly preserve all the same data, but make it all available for everyone to peruse. (Mk 4:22) Nothing will be hidden (Mt 10:26); secrecy is an illusion, a temporary one. We’ll all be participating in judging each other, thoroughly apprised of all the facts. (Lk_11:31)

Yet there’s another book, The Book of Life (Php 4:3), or The Book of the Living, listing those who are righteous before God. (Ps 69:28) Some names are engraved into this book before Creation (Re 17:8), others are evidently penciled in afterward, only to be finally blotted out (Ps 69:28) due to their ungodly lives. (Ps 69:26)

We should all rejoice, at least for now, that our names appear in the Book of Life (Lk 10:20), the precious token given to every one of us that there’s a place set aside for us in God: God is graciously willing to receive any soul that turns to Him in faith. (2Pe 3:9) Those who do so, who seek Him until they find Him (Is 55:6-7), the elect chosen from eternity past (Ep 1:4-5), are counted righteous (Ro 4:3), and will never be blotted out of the Book of Life. (Re 3:5)

The only way to survive this searching, exhaustive, judgement, to avoid an eternally fiery end, is to be found written in The Book of Life. (Re 20:15) Only those written in the Lamb’s Book survive; everyone else is corrupt, polluted, unworthy to enter Paradise. (Re 21:27)

Let’s be diligent to make our calling and election sure. (2Pe 1:10) It isn’t so much what we know, as it is Who we know. To have eternal life is to know Him (Jn 17:3), to be known by Him (Mt 25:12) and transformed by Him (Ep 2:10), inscribed indelibly into God’s Book of Life.

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Be Content

The key to living in contentment, free of covetousness (Ep 5:3) and lust, lies in a promise: God has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (He 13:5)

This promise is found in multiple places, as a promise to His people as an holy nation (De 31:6) comprising all of God’s children (1Pe 2:9), and to individuals (Jos 1:5) called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28) How does this great and precious promise enable us to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), curing us of covetousness?

Covetousness is an unholy wanting, seeking after that which is forbidden us in Torah (Ro 7:7), pursuing what is contrary to God’s purpose and will for us. (Ro 12:2) It’s ultimately a form of idolatry (Col 3:5), creating a god of our own liking, a fundamental denial of the infinitude of God, an attack upon His goodness and faithfulness, rooted in that primal lie that God’s Law is keeping something good from us. (Ge 3:5) Lust is the desperate heart cry of one who fails of the grace of God (He 12:15), who’s forgotten the power and wisdom of God. (1Co 1:24)

Knowing that God is with us, that He is sufficient to supply all our need (Php 4:19), frees us from all unholy desire: if God has forbidden it we don’t need it, and it would ultimately harm us and dishonor Him. Trusting God is knowing His pleasure is ultimately for our welfare and His glory, that He’s sovereign, and that He’s perfectly good.

Being content with such things as we have, in having our basic physical needs met (1Ti 6:8), is not merely a reference to the material things of life; it extends beyond to all that we need. By His Word through His Spirit, God is equipping us with everything we need to live for Him. (2Ti 3:16-17) We aren’t perfect, for sure, and while we should ever be striving to add more virtue and knowledge to our faith (2Pe 1:5), we can be content that God is our sufficiency (2Co 3:5), that He has designed us with the gifts, experiences and temperaments that are perfectly suited to His unique and glorious purpose in each of us. (1Co 12:18).

Grasping the infinite treasure that is ours in God leaves no room for unholy passion; the cure for our covetousness is found in His promises. Contentment is an enabling grace that’s learned (Php 4:11), a soul discipline, a pillar of spiritual health.

Let’s ask God to incline our hearts away from covetousness towards His testimonies (Ps 119:36), and then apply ourselves to root out every trace of lust with the very nature of God, by letting the truth of His Way penetrate every crevasse of our mind and soul. Every step toward godliness and contentment is great gain. (1Ti 6:6)

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Salvation Is of the Jews

When Jesus Christ challenges Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee, in  relating with God, He says, “Ye must be born again.” (Jn 3:7)

Since this is in the New Testament, and we never hear it taught from the Old, it’s easy to think that being born again is relatively novel, something Moses, David and Abraham knew nothing about.

But Christ is speaking before the Cross, before He dies and rises again, so nothing has actually changed since Mount Sinai, when God revealed His Law, or really even since Adam. There’s no New Testament scripture at this point in time, yet Christ acts as if Nicodemus should already know about being born again, as if it’s obvious from the Old Testament. (Jn 3:10) How significant! If we don’t see being born again in the Old Testament like Jesus expects, what makes us think we understand it?

In a similar encounter, Christ challenges a woman and says something just as striking. “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) He’s saying that if we don’t understand the salvation presented in the Old Testament, the oracles of God committed to the Jews (Ro 3:1-2), then we don’t understand salvation at all; we’re worshiping in ignorance. Not a good place to be.

In a third encounter, Christ tells an equivalently insightful story of a rich man suffering in Hell, concerned that his family will follow after him into its flames. He asks Abraham to send an acquaintance back from the dead to warn them. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (Lk 16:29) The claim is that Old Testament scriptures are a sufficient witness of the gospel. But the rich man pleads, convinced that the Old Testament is insufficient; if someone they knew rose from the dead to warn them, then they would repent and be saved. But Abraham is firm: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Not only is the Old Testament a sufficient witness of the gospel, it is so overwhelmingly sufficient that if one isn’t convinced through it, then nothing will convince them.

Salvation is of the Jews: accomplished by Christ, a Jew, and revealed by and through Jews, God’s chosen people, in the scriptures God has transmitted to us all through them. This doesn’t mean we have to become Jewish in order to be right with God (1Co 7:18-20), but it does mean that the gospel of the New Testament is exactly the same as the gospel of the Old Testament. If the gospel we believe in isn’t an Old Testament gospel, then it’s a false one. (Ga 1:8)

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God Is Just

The human heart longs for justice, to see evil punished: we say, “Don’t get mad; get even!” We demand that wrongs against us and our loved ones be righted, that sin be paid for, that the crooked be made straight. Our sense of injustice, that evil goes unpunished in this life, can be maddening, driving us to both wrath and  bitterness.Lightning

Our instinctive longing for justice is beautiful; it’s God’s image at work in us, even proving His existence, but there’s a problem: we’re unjust. We seldom see our own sins rightly, and our response to evil is usually warped; we exact more than we should.

So God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Ro 12:19) He wants perfect justice more than all the rest of us combined, but only He knows what it looks like.

God is perfectly just, and only God is perfectly just; He will make all the crooked places straight (Is 40:4); He will right all wrongs … even our own. It’s an awesome mystery how God’s justice and mercy work together (Ps 89:14), how He can offer eternal salvation to sinners, His own Son taking our place and satisfying His own indignation against us. We do well to receive His mercy rather than the second death, and to rejoice when others do … especially our enemies(Mi 6:8)

How and when God makes everything right is up to Him; when He does it will be supremely satisfying, beautiful beyond thought! (Re 15:3-4) Enjoying it now in hope, before He does, glorifies Him and gives us peace.

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The Second Death

EtnaEruption
Mt. Etna, Sicily

Yeshua uses unmistakably graphic language to describe Hell. (Mk 9:43-44, 45-46, 47-48) He’s warning us to do all we can to avoid it. Who among us will go there? (Is 33:14) What would it be like do die the second death?

Before coming to faith I dwelt here, meditating on the terror of the Lord; it moved me to repent and seek God until I found salvation. This is, in fact, God’s norm in evangelism. (Jud 1:22-23)

The Lake of Fire is the dreadful fate of all who fail to find their eternal home in Christ. (Re 21:8) Fear of spending eternity in Hell drives the wise to ensure their election, until they’re as sure of Heaven as Christ Himself. Take no chances: perfect assurance of eternal salvation is available; nothing less is acceptable.

Only a few diligently secure their place in Heaven; whatever it takes, strive to enter: be one of them. (Mt 7:13)

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God Is Faithful

RainbowDoubleGod is faithful (1Co 1:9): true to His word, keeping His promises, trustworthy, dependable; we can safely trust Him to do what He says He’s going to do.

We can see this both in Scripture (2Th 3:3) and in Nature: for every need He’s designed fulfillment. YHWH is good; we need Him to be faithful, and He is, more than we can know. (Je 17:7-8)

But the enemy lies to us about God’s nature, twisting God’s promises and promoting wrong expectations so when God doesn’t meet them we’re tempted to mistrust Him. Falling for his lies steals our joy and traps us in bitterness; it’s too painful.

So God set His bow in the clouds to remind us of His faithfulness (Ge 9:13); scientists still don’t fully understand how He does it. Jehovah’s gone out of His way to assure us that He’ll never break His Word; He makes no promise lightly; He puts His reputation on the line in every single one. God’s promises are exceedingly precious gifts, open doorways inviting us into His nature. (2Pe 1:4) 

As we wait on the Lord, expecting Him to be faithful, we’re saved by hope; it’s an abundant life of faith rooted in the character and nature of God. (Jn 10:10) 

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