Posts Tagged 'biblical faith'

Biblical Faith, Part 9

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  (Hebrews 11:29  NIV)

When we think about the ancient Israelites, the word “faith” usually doesn’t pop into our minds.  “Rebellious,” “contentious,” “grumblers,” and very often “idolaters” are the words we attach to the Israelites.  But here in Hebrews 11, these very people are listed among those in the great Hall of Heroes simply because they got it right once.  They manifested the tiniest bit of faith – and courage – in their obedience to the word of the Lord they were given by their leader, Moses.  The writer to the Hebrews wants us to notice that their faith and not just their courage was important because the Egyptian army that was following the Israelites was just as courageous as they were.  They, after all, attempted to cross the Red Sea just as God’s people had.  But they had no word from the Lord to go on; they didn’t have faith, only presumption, and the result was disastrous.  Regardless of the doubts the Israelites had and in spite of the fact that many of them had to be dragged kicking and screaming into obedience, the fact the whole nation survived shows that the faith of Moses was real and the obedience of the people, albeit grudging obedience, is equated with that faith.  And that should be a comfort to us all.  What we think is important, but what we do is more important.  Your mind will always want to rebel against God’s will.  Your mind will tell you that God’s way doesn’t make sense.  Your mind will almost always give way to doubt.  That’s why knowing God’s will is so vital and obedience to it so essential.  The big lesson in verse 29 is simply that if you want to be victorious in life, do what God wants you to do because He wants you to do it. Don’t give into your doubts.  Your mind will betray you, but God’s will is always dependable and sticking to it will always get you where you need to be.

One more time around the wall

The writer to the Hebrews, in the very next verse, writes this:

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  (Hebrews 11:30  NIV)

These are not the same Israelites that crossed the Red Sea in the previous verse.  It’s the next generation.  The 40 years of desert wandering is bypassed.  The faithless generation, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, has passed away – dead and buried in the desert.  Nothing good can be said about the people who were led out of Egypt beyond their obedience to the Lord’s word through Moses.  These people, once on the other side of the Red Sea, were completely devoid of faith and they died in their disobedience.

But this new, young and energetic generation is marked as being one with faith.  They had learned from the moral and spiritual failures of their fathers.  The Jordan River had been crossed, as the Red Sea, in miraculous fashion.  The only thing between the people of God and the Promised Land was a den of iniquity known as Jericho.  Taking that city was key to the land God had given Israel.

Moses by now is dead.  The people can no longer depend on his faith. But they had Joshua, Moses’ successor, and a man of faith.  Who else, besides a  man of faith could give orders like these:

So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.”  And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”  (Joshua 6:6  NIV)

But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!”  (Joshua 6:10  NIV)

The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”  (Joshua 6:16  NIV)

If these verses teach us anything it’s that sometimes God wants us to do crazy things in order for His glory to be seen.  To their great credit, the people of Israel obeyed the Word of the Lord through Joshua and, once again, the Lord came through.

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.  (Joshua 6:20  NIV)

The crumbling of the walls around Jericho is ascribed to faith.  It wasn’t the vibration of the Israelites’ feet as they marched around and around the walls.  It wasn’t the volume of their shouting.  You won’t find a natural reason for this miracle.  It was faith.  All the histrionics that preceded it were just window dressing.  The key to understanding what happened at Jericho this day is expressed in the New Testament:

Faith without works is dead.  (James 2:26  KJV)

But “works,” those of the Israelites, yours and mine, must be dictated by God, not by man.  That’s the key.  Doing what you think is right will be wrong.  Joshua’s instructions to his people sound ridiculous to us.  Do you think they made any sense to the Israelites?  These were not stupid people.  They could think and reason.  I’m sure many of them had their doubts.  But they obeyed.  They did the “works” God and Joshua wanted them to do.  Faith achieves its goal mediately, not immediately, through two things:  our obedience combined with the power of God.  We as Christians should take a lesson from this incident.  We would be unstoppable if we could just learn how to obey and let God work His wonders.

Rahab

And here’s why so many of us struggle with faith:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.  (Hebrews 11:31  NIV)

She is well-known as the prostitute who had faith.  She’s also listed in the genealogy of our Lord.  But it seems almost incredible that she would be listed among the heroes of the faith.  Consider these things;  Rahab was a pagan; she was a Canaanite; she was a prostitute; she was a woman.  And all this teaches us one extraordinary truth about faith:  It knows NO barriers.  While all her fellow citizens were killed, Rahab and her extended family lived  because she placed her faith in Israel’s God.

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.  (Joshua 6:25  NIV)

Once again, her actions – helping Israel – has been equated to faith.  God didn’t condone her sinful lifestyle – He granted her grace and salvation.  And although traditionally in Israel it was always the man, not the woman, who was heir to the promises of God, when it comes to faith and salvation all distinctions vanish.

But let’s take a closer look at Rahab.  She and her people knew all about the recent history of Israelites.  We might say the reputation of Israelites preceded them.  They knew about the spies and they were scared to death of God’s people.  Here’s what she said:

“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.  When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”  (Joshua 6:8 – 11  NIV)

So do we equate fear with faith?  Or was there something hidden deep in her fear that transformed it into faith?  Consider:

  • Somehow this pagan woman was able to perceive the plan of God.  This is truly astounding when you stop and consider the number of Christians who live an entire lifetime gloriously unaware that God even has a plan!
  • She accepted God’s plan and adjusted her life around it.  Again, many Christians are experts at finding ways around God’s plan.
  • She acted in faith even at the risk of her life.  Rahab didn’t “play it safe.”  She didn’t measure her actions or her words.
  • She gathered her family and hung out the scarlet thread; an act of faith if ever there was one.

James wrote about faith, too.  And he used some of the same examples the writer to the Hebrews did.  Here’s what he wrote about Rahab:

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  (James 2:25  NIV)

“In the same way” are words that point us back to Abraham, whom James had just written about.  They both had faith and that’s just about the only thing Abraham and Rahab had in common.  Rahab was a complete pagan.  She was a prostitute.  Abraham was a mature man of faith, having believed the Word of the Lord for some three decades, whereas this pagan woman had only recently come to faith when the Israelites were surrounding Jericho and sent their spies into the city.

As different as these two people were, they had this in common:  By God’s own declaration, both were declared to be righteous.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6  NIV)

…was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did …  (James 2:25  NIV)

By a decision and pronouncement of God, Abraham and Rahab were declared to be righteous.  Abraham was like a pioneer in living a life of faith.  Rahab was so young; so immature in her faith, yet both did what they had to do – both believed God and their actions followed their beliefs.  Their lives measured up to the faith they had.

Throughout this great chapter of Hebrews, each person’s faith is manifested by his works.  The writer spends a lot of time on Abraham’s works, for example.  Like Hebrews 11:31, James does not speak of Rahab’s justification in the sense of saving her soul; technically her faith saved her from perishing “with the disobedient.” By God’s verdict she was not condemned to die as were the rest of the disobedient in Jericho.  But the fact that she is an earthly ancestor of Jesus Christ shows us that she had a faith that was alive with works.  Or, as we could observe, God didn’t save her life for no reason!

 

 

Biblical Faith, Part 7

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The late Jim Elliot, missionary, once observed,

God always gives His best to those who leave the choice up to Him.

That sounds good and makes for an inspirational meme on the Internet, but it’s not true. It doesn’t make any sense. And it’s also not Biblical. The Bible is replete with examples of people who made choices, good ones and bad ones. God doesn’t and won’t make the choice for anybody. He gave us the ability to choose and as believers it’s up to us to make the right choices – the God-glorifying choices. That’s up to us. Ayn Rand was right when she wrote,

[Man] has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.

We make choices all the time; hundreds of choices every day. There are big choices and small ones but as Christians, all our choices should reflect the character and nature of God.

Moses’ hard choice

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24, 25 NIV)

You’ll recall the amazing story of the faith of Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, as they defied the Egyptian “law of the land,” which called for the killing of all Hebrew baby boys. In faith, they hid baby Moses and then floated him down the Nile, where he was retrieved, unbelievably, by the pharaoh’s daughter! She then raised him as her own, employing Jochebed, Moses’ real mother, as his full-time nanny! You have to shake your head in astonishment at how God honored the faith of those two Hebrew parents. But, then, God honors the faith of all believing parents, as they in faith entrust their children to the care and providence of God. It’s their choice to make.

At the age of 40, Moses made a conscious decision to side with his people, the Hebrews, and to forsake the Egyptians. No other Old Testament character holds such an esteemed position among the Israelites than does Moses. He was their deliverer and their lawgiver. Both inside and outside of the Bible, Moses is the kind of person legends are made of. Josephus, for example, wrote that when pharaoh’s daughter brought the child to the king, he put his royal crown on the boy’s head. Little Moses, though, hurled it to the ground and stomped on it.

That may or may not be Hebrew lore, but what we do know for sure is that Moses made the most important decision of his life as a man, not as an impulsive child. The phrase, “when he had grown up,” it has been suggested, may mean something like this: “having become great.” Stephen in Acts says Moses was 40 years old when he decided to side with the Israelites. In all probability both ideas are true. Moses had become a great man and he was a mature man when he made the choice that would trigger the fulfillment of God’s will, not only his life but for the life of a nation.

Never underestimate the power and influence of a single decision you must make. No wonder the Bible has so much to say about making the right choices! A lot can hinge on making the right one. God is very interested in making sure we do just that, so He leads us and guides and has given us some excellent advice:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6 ESV)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 ESV)

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Very often, in the absence of all the facts or flying in the face of common sense or cultural norms, a decision will have to be made in faith. Such was the decision of Moses, and he was commended for that.

But it wasn’t an easy one for this man to make.

He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:25 NIV)

Facing those consequences

Game developer and atheist Ken Levine, who was so wrong about God, was right when he said this:

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.

Moses, the guy who had such a good life, needed to become a leader and a deliverer. Think about his decision. He knew going into it that the consequences would not be so great, at least in the short term. He could have kept on enjoying the “pleasures of sin,” but he chose to side with those who were facing persecution and hardship. He was going to learn firsthand why his people needed to be delivered; he needed to feel firsthand what persecution and ill treatment felt like.

This man, Moses, was not a reformer or a revolutionary, but a man of pure faith who deliberately sided with God’s people, even though that decision appeared to make no sense, to Egyptian and Hebrew alike.

That phrase, “the pleasures of sin” deserves a second look. It in no way suggests that Moses was some kind of rakish, spoiled party boy. Rather it’s a phrase that carries a much deeper thought. Once Moses was made aware of God’s call on his life, to not respond to that call would have been sinful. To simply ignore the decision God wanted him to make and return to Egypt would have been a sin. He may, in fact, have been a decent and moral man living in the Egyptian court. But if he was there out of God’s will, that would have been sinful.

That’s why making the right decision is so important. Even those so-called “small decisions” should be made, not in the light of the present, but in the light of eternity. Esau is the classic example of the way most of us make decisions. Here was a guy who was hungry who made a choice to satisfy a genuine temporal need he had, but at the expense of taking into consideration how that decision would affect his future.

Moses’ decision made him into the kind of leader and deliverer he needed to be. He already had the right character – his outward and courageous refusal to become part of the Egyptian machine was the result of who he was on the inside. One Bible scholar put it this way:

The ability to make up one’s mind, and to settle always on the right side, is the mark of strong character.

But the Hebrew Christians to whom this letter was written weren’t like Moses. Their faith was wavering. They seemed to be questioning their decision to follow Jesus. They needed to pay attention to the faith of a guy like Moses and emulate his faith.

And we should, too!

Counting the cost

Moses is, perhaps, the first example of a believer who consciously counted the cost of following Jesus:

He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:26 NIV)

David Meece wrote about this idea of “counting the cost,” and the lyrics of his song are right on:

You gotta count the cost If you’re gonna be a believer, You gotta know that the price Is the one you can afford! You gotta count the cost If you’re gonna be a believer, You gotta go all the way If you really love the Lord!

Moses knew the value of “the treasures of Egypt,” but he determined in his own mind that “disgrace for the sake of Christ” was of greater value. We’ve discussed this idea of Moses and Christ previously. Somewhere in the recesses of Moses’ heart and mind, there was the inkling that he was not the final deliverer of God’s people. Moses, using the prophetic insight available to all people of faith, knew he was just a spoke in the great wheel of God’s will. But what he knew of a coming Messiah was enough to help him make the right decision.

It was some choice: “disgrace for the sake of Christ” versus “the treasures of Egypt.” Imagine what would have become of Moses had he not chose to side with his people. Moses might well have become a pharaoh of Egypt. His sarcophagus might have been dug up by Howard Carter and his mummified body on display in some musty museum today. Instead, he chose to become associated with the people of God. He became Israel’s deliverer and lawgiver and here is his name listed among the greatest of all people of faith.

Moses was far from perfect, though. He had a self-doubts. He had a temper. And in the end, he didn’t quite make it into the Promised Land. He died in the obscure mountains of Moab. But, oddly enough, that wasn’t end of Moses.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1, 2 NIV)

What an honor. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews listed Moses as a man of faith.

True, Biblical faith always esteems suffering for the sake of Christ above any kind of riches. James Stephenson wrote:

If you are reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are you; your position is to be coveted.

It’s not that suffering is so great, it’s because of something Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:14 –

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (NIV)

We need to remember this verse, because sometimes the evidence of our faith is seen in our suffering for Christ, not in the blessings we receive from Him.

 

Biblical Faith, Part 6

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We tend to think faith is all about us. We possess it, therefore we believe God has given it to benefit us, the one who possesses it. We’re such a self-centered people. In our previous studies of this topic, we discovered that faith isn’t all about us. It does involve us and faith does benefit us. But faith is primarily about God – God working out His will in our lives for the benefit of, first of all, His kingdom, and secondary, for our benefit. And then there’s this:

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. (Hebrews 11:20 | NIV84)

Did Isaac have that power? Do we have that power? Do believers have the power to bless others? Specifically, does the present generation have the power to bless the upcoming generation? That’s a good question, and how you answer it will determine the kind of parent you are and what the future of your children will look like. The short answer is “yes,” Christian parents do have the power to bless their children. Unfortunately, many Christian parents think so little of their faith, that they rob their children of this essential blessing. They don’t know it. They’re not bad parents. They’re not bad Christians. But they don’t understand the spiritual power that resides within them.

Let’s take a look at how this works by looking once again at the patriarchs.

The blessings of faith

Faith, it has been said, “gives to its possessor the eyes of the seer, and a quiet confidence in the future of God’s people.” That’s a good way to look at the issue. And it hints at the kind of power faith endows its possessor with: “the eyes of the seer.” The ability to see life beyond the horizon. That’s what faith gives us, and that’s part of the blessing Christian parents may pass on to their children. The son, grandson, and great grandson of Abraham span the generations and centuries by faith, and in their declining years with death approaching, the patriarchs Jacob and Joseph passed on blessings and instructions concerning the Promised Land.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. (Hebrews 11:20 | NIV84)

With this verse, the writer of this letter begins to show us what the tradition of the “patriarchal blessings” involves. In the case of Abraham, it was Isaac that received his father’s blessing, not his brother Ishmael. It’s not that there was something wrong with Ishmael, it’s that Isaac was destined to become the son of the Promise. In the following generation, it was Jacob, not his brother Esau, that received his father’s blessing. Again, it wasn’t that Esau was an evil person, it was God’s will that the Promise be passed onto Jacob. And in the generation that followed, it wasn’t Rueben, Jacob’s first-born that received the blessing, it was Joseph who was blessed. And it wasn’t Joseph’s first born who received the blessing, it was Ephraim who received the choice blessing.

What this teaches us about God is vitally important for the modern believer to understand. It is God who is in control, and His sovereign will does not abide by man’s traditions or rules. In other words, regardless of our wants and wishes; regardless of what our society deems to be the norm, God’s will is accomplished as He sees fit.

Yet, God still used those to whom He had given a measure of faith. Each of the patriarchs blessed their children with a prophetic insight, and while each time a single son was blessed with that special blessing related to the Promise, all the children were blessed.

But we notice something else. In addition to passing on God’s blessing to the next generation, something else was passed on:

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. (Hebrews 11:21-22 | NIV84)

Words of worship and instruction were passed on. God’s Word was given to the younger generation by the older one. They didn’t have a Bible – no Old or New Testament to read to them – all they had was the promise given to Abraham. That’s all these patriarchs had, and that’s what they gave to their children. That Word from God was never forgotten; it was so important it was spoken from the deathbed, as it were.

What Joseph taught his family is important. Of all the things Joseph could have talked about; of all his amazing experiences he could have passed on to his family, he chose the Promise, and how his descendants would relate to it. Again, it’s the prophetic insight talking.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (Genesis 50:23c-25 | NIV84)

He actually spoke those words to brothers, though his descendants would have heard them too. The thread of the promise binds the patriarchs in faith that transcends time.

It’s the thread of the Word of God that binds your family together, too, and it transcends time. Of all the things we can pass on to our posterity, none is more vitally important than God’s Word. We want so much to pass on a heritage – usually financial – to our children, without realizing how temporal that kind of heritage is. It’s dangerous too because unearned wealth almost always causes problems. The Word of God, though, is what solves problems. It was Peter who said these words in one of his great sermons:

“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39 | NIV84)

Indeed it is. The Christian parent receives it and passes it on to their children. Or, at least they’re supposed to. If you are a believing parent, hopefully you have or are passing the Word of God onto your children. But even if you aren’t a parent, you’re still on the hook. Others may be blessed by your faith. That’s right! If you are living a life of faith, then all those whom you rub shoulders with, stand to be blessed simply because of your possession of faith.

Now, that’s some kind of power you have!

The secrets of faith

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. (Hebrews 11:23 | NIV84)

The theme of faith working within a family unit is carried on in Hebrews 11:23. Moses’ parents exercised incredible faith when they defied “the law of the land” in hiding their infant son. If Abraham is considered to be the spiritual father of all believers, everywhere, then Moses must be be seen as the father of the nation of Israel. It was essential for him to grow into adulthood. Moses’ parents saw a certain “something” in their infant son that told them he must survive in spite of the Pharaoh’s determination of destroy the Israel within the nation of Egypt by killing all baby boys. What Moses’ parents saw in their son is not stated. Josephus, writing in his Antiquities of the Jews, relates that Amram, father of Moses, had a vision from God, in which he was told not to fear or despair because Moses would be Israel’s deliverer. No wonder, then, they took the chance to let their baby son go, floating down the Nile. They, like Abraham before them, were instructed by God to do something crazy.

There’s the prophetic insight again, working with faith for the blessing of the next (and future) generations. The parents exercised faith, and faith combined with prophetic insight, led to Moses surviving, prospering, and eventually delivering his people out of the land of Egypt and into the land of Promise. But the future had happened yet. It hinged on Amram and Jochebed being obedient to God and risking the very life of Moses.

Because Moses had parents that followed the Word of the Lord, we read this:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. (Hebrews 11:24-25 | NIV84)

Where did Moses get his character? He was the “son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” but he was raised by his own mother. The man’s character descended from his real parents, not his adopted parents. Over in the New Testament, Stephen, who had access to records we don’t, said this of Moses:

When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. (Acts 7:21-23 | NIV84)

Moses had it all going for him. He might have risen to the highest rank possible within his adopted family, perhaps even ascending to the very throne of Egypt. But he would have none of that. He refused to be identified with the Egyptians, choosing instead to suffer along with his people, the people of God. Hebrews says it was “by faith” that Moses came to this shocking decision. At 40 years of age, Moses deliberately and thoughtfully of his own free will chose to side with the Israelites.

Moses’ faith was manifested in a forthright choice. How is your faith manifested? Is it manifested in eternal pursuits or temporal ones? The pleasures of Egypt would have lasted just a short time. Association with God’s people might bring some hardship, but it would be temporary, with a bright future waiting just over the horizon.

He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:26 | NIV84)

This is fascinating verse for three reasons. First, the writer to the Hebrews mentions Christ. Of course, Jesus Christ hadn’t been born when Moses walked the earth, so why mention Him at all in relation to Moses? It has to do with that prophetic insight. In the original Greek, the definite article is there, making it “the Christ.” Moses did what he did for the sake of the Christ, the writer of this letter wrote. Moses never used the name “Messiah,” but clearly his actions were motivated by an awareness that at some point in the future, the Messiah, the Christ, the Final Deliverer, would come. Christ, like faith, transcends time.

Second, we have a stark comparison between spiritual riches (disgrace for the sake of Christ) and earthly treasure (the treasures of Egypt). Spiritual riches are infinitely more valuable than earthly ones, and often come disguised as persecution. Jesus clarifies this for us in Matthew 5:11, 12 –

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12 | NIV84)

Moses did what he did – he gave up everything he had in the world and risked his life – because he was pursuing a spiritual objective which would end in his “reward.”

And finally, what about this “reward?” Scripture teaches in the clearest way possible that salvation cannot be earned. Yet we see the word “reward” all over the New Testament. No man can earn salvation, but God rewards man on the basis of divine sovereignty, not merit. Simply put in a way our finite minds can grasp, the believer’s reward has everything to do with his obedience to the Word of God.

We’ve looked at how faith works within the family. Christian parents have a responsibility to bless their children by passing on to them the Word of God. It’s that Word that activates God’s richest blessings in their lives. The power you, as a believing mother or father, have is to bless your children with the Word of God. It’s life-changing. It’s life-preserving. In the case of Moses, it’s life-saving. The faith of his parents translated into a godly character, which in turn caused Moses to become a man of faith; a man who in turn would bless an entire nation because he exercised the kind of faith he learned from his real parents.

Biblical Faith, Part 5

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In Matthew 17:20, our Lord made a statement that has echoed on and on for two thousand years and, generally speaking, it has been misunderstood for that long.

“It was because you haven’t enough faith,” answered Jesus. “I assure you that if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this hill, ‘Go from here to there!’ and it will go. You could do anything!” (GNB)

Really? I’d wager you’ve had the exact opposite experience at least once in your life. Jesus wasn’t lying or exaggerating when He spoke those words. We simply don’t understand them. More often than not, we think with our hearts and not with our reasoning minds, so that we believe – we honestly believe – we can treat faith like a sort of magic charm, hauling it out when we get into trouble. But that’s not what faith is at all. Nor is faith a reward from God for our having faith. Some Christians actually believe this. Maybe you do; maybe you believe God rewards us when we exercise our faith. Granted, there is a germ of truth in this. In the initial stages of our walk of faith, God teaches us many things about our new Christian life, including how faith works. But as we get on in our Christian lives, we should quickly learn the inescapable fact that we do not earn anything through faith. Indeed, the real power of faith is that it brings us into a right relationship with God and it gives Him the opportunity to work in our lives as He sees fit.

Your experience, Matthew 17:20 notwithstanding, is probably the same as mine: God has to let you get to the very precipice of despair or hopelessness so that you will finally come into direct contact with Himself. God does this so that we will learn how to live a life of faith rather than an up-and-down emotional life based solely on the enjoyment of His blessings. Oswald Chambers said this:

The beginning of your life of faith was very narrow and intense, centered around a small amount of experience that had as much emotion as faith in it, and it was full of light and sweetness. Then God withdrew His conscious blessings to teach you to “walk by faith.”

Perhaps Chambers had in mind the words of the apostle Paul –

For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV)

“God withdrew His conscious blessings.” A test of your faith. Faith by its very nature is so easily taken for granted, or taken advantage of, it must be tested. But really the testing of our faith is much more than that. We are a very self-centered people. We think everything is about us. But as far as the testing of our faith goes, it has more to do with God’s character being proven to be completely trustworthy under any and all circumstances, than whether or not our faith passes muster. We must know – we must be convinced in our own minds – that God means what He says He means and that He will do what He promises He will do.

Abraham had his faith tested like none other.

While God was testing him, Abraham still trusted in God and his promises, and so he offered up his son Isaac and was ready to slay him on the altar of sacrifice; yes, to slay even Isaac, through whom God had promised to give Abraham a whole nation of descendants! He believed that if Isaac died God would bring him back to life again; and that is just about what happened, for as far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was doomed to death, but he came back again alive! (Hebrews 11:17 – 19 TLB)

The greatest trial of all

Taylor’s paraphrase bings out an interesting fact. Abraham’s whole life was essentially a test. Every movement Abraham took from the moment he left Ur was a test. Part of that test was the greatest trial any man could ever endure: God demanded that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Can you imagine the stress this caused in the patriarch’s mind? Here’s what he had been told by God –

Isaac is the son through whom my promise will be fulfilled. (Genesis 21:12 TLB)

All of the promises God made to Abraham were 100% dependent upon Isaac. He would grow into maturity and pass them on to his children. If Isaac were to die, God’s promises would simply evaporate; they would be meaningless. Can you see the conflict that surely must have been waged in the man’s conscience; the conflict between love for his son and his duty to God? Not only that, God had promised him an uncountable posterity through Isaac. So why would God now call on him to offer the boy as a sacrifice?

The simplicity of faith

Abraham didn’t have all the answers. He didn’t have any answers! Nor did he understand. All Abraham knew for sure was that he had to obey God in this. He’d already gone through something like this before, remember?

God had told Abram, “Leave your own country behind you, and your own people, and go to the land I will guide you to.” (Genesis 12:1 TLB)

Abraham was issued an impossible command, but he obeyed. And here, years later, God gave him another impossible command. Abraham knew what he had to do. He had to obey. But Abraham knew something else. After all the years of wandering, he knew God. He didn’t know how, but by now he had enough faith to know that God would work things out regardless of what happened to Isaac.

He believed that if Isaac died God would bring him back to life again

At the time of the patriarchs, this kind of miracle had never happened. Where did Abraham get this idea? Such was his faith. He reasoned with his mind – not with his heart – that God wouldn’t have him do anything that would jeopardize the promise. If Isaac died, then God would just bring him back to life. That’s the simplicity of faith in action. Abraham simply knew God would never do anything against His character. There was another man who had such faith: Job. In faith, he could write these words after he had lost everyone he loved –

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,” he said, “and I shall have nothing when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 TLB)

Of course, in Job’s case, the death of his family was “accidental.” But here, Abraham was being asked to take the life of his son. He was obedient. He fully complied with God’s command. In fact, had not God intervened at the last second, Isaac would have been killed.

It’s a powerful lesson to be learned – a lesson not only dealing with faith, but another mystery: love. Abraham’s faith was surely tested. To his great credit, Abraham demonstrated that in spite of his shortcomings, he had unwavering faith in his God. But he also demonstrated something else every modern Christian needs to understand: he loved God above anything else in life, even his son Isaac. Abraham’s faith was vindicated because his special son hadn’t become an idol to him.

A reasoning faith

But Abraham’s faith wasn’t a blind faith. Nor was it a slavish, robotic devotion. Abraham knew precisely what God’s Word to him involved: The promise would come to fulfillment through Isaac, and his descendants. His faith was based on that word. It wasn’t based on emotions or feelings; it was based solely on what God had told him. How different we are from Abraham! Our faith more often than not is motivated by things as flimsy as how we may feel at any given moment. We “feel” therefore we pray and have faith. If we don’t “feel,” then we don’t have faith. Abraham had the same feelings and emotions we all have, but his faith wasn’t based on the love he had for his son or how he felt at the moment. It was based on the Word God had given him. That’s all Abraham needed. His faith was objective, and that object was the God. That’s why we read this:

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:19 NIV)

“Abraham reasoned that God…” Abraham knew God. He knew the power God had – power to even raise the dead! When faced with his test of faith, Abraham “reasoned.” He recalled everything he knew about God. He didn’t just blindly rush headlong in obedience. He thought, then he obeyed. He was convinced in own mind as to the character of God. And based on what he knew about God, he knew he had to obey. He knew he couldn’t lose. This is some powerful faith Abraham had. Remember, he didn’t have a New Testament to read. Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead yet. This patriarch simply knew God so well, that as far as he was concerned, God not only could raise the dead, but that He would raise the dead.

Abraham’s faith vindicated

As is His custom it seems, at the last second God intervened and provided a ram for the sacrifice. He instructed Abraham to offer that ram instead of his son, Isaac. The young man was spared, snatched from the jaws of death by an act of God. And Abraham’s faith was vindicated. So was God’s character, by the way. That’s not an unimportant thing. When a believer obeys in faith, God’s character will always be proven.

We sing a lot of hymns about faith. There are many Gospel songs and even secular songs that speak of faith. There have been many movies made about faith. Even a movie about potatoes and faith! But if this story proves anything, it’s that there is a strong connection between faith and obedience. Or, put another way, they are two sides of the same coin. One can’t exist without the other. Abraham learned that lesson thousands of years ago, yet it so often goes unnoticed today so that many Christians haven’t made that vital connection.

Simon Kistemaker shows us the sequence of events in Abraham’s life that allowed him to have the kind of faith we all desire:

Abraham believed and loved God, who promised him a son. After many years of waiting, Abraham received this promised son and loved him. Then God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. If Abraham sacrificed Isaac, he would keep God but lose his son. If he disobeyed God, Abraham would keep his son but lose God.

Indeed.  The problem so many Christians have is that they would rather have the blessings given them by God than God Himself. Faith, true Biblical faith, is faith in God exercised against everything that contradicts Him. True and lasting faith is faith that trusts and obeys God “no matter what.” Maybe the greatest expression of true faith in the Bible is this one:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him… (Job 13:15 AV)


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