Posts Tagged 'true faith'

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)

Biblical Faith, Part 4

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All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:13, 14 NIV)

“These people,” the people mentioned thus far in Hebrews’ list of the heroes of the faith, were all commended by God as living their lives in faith, and eventually they all – all without exception – died in the faith. They lived and died continually exercising faith without having received what had been promised them by God. Every single one of them. That’s quite a statement to make, considering what we know about these men. Consider –

Noah. He was certainly a man of faith. For 120 years he built a big boat, big enough to house only his family, plus many, many animals, with only a word from the Lord to go on. He had no weather forecasts or anything else; just a word from God. In the face of mockery, he kept on. Yet of this man of God we read this –

When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. (Genesis 9:21 NIV)

When his sons saw him in such a state, they covered their eyes out of respect then covered him. Another son who witnessed the spectacle was cursed by Noah.

Abraham. Sure Abraham listened to his word from God, just like Noah did, and left Ur. But that’s not the whole story, is it? Here’s what God told him to do –

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 NIV)

Here’s what actually happened.

He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:5 NIV)

So this man of faith wasn’t quite perfect. Then there’s this to contend with –

“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

That’s right. This man of faith, when faced with a famine, chose to go down to Egypt but he was so afraid for his life that he got his wife to lie for him. It gets even better. A few years on, we read this –

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1, 2 NIV)

So this “man of faith” had one serious character flaw: he was a liar. And not a very good one, at that.

Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 20:27, 28 NIV)

It’s bad form for a father to favor one son above the other, but Isaac was a real piece of work. He didn’t prefer Esau because Esau was more righteous than his brother. It was because of the food! Isaac was driven by his stomach. He was a man who was motivated by himself; his likes or dislikes, and his comfort.

He was also a liar who was willing to trade his wife for safety. Sound familiar?

Jacob. Here was a man who was bold enough to wrestle with God in order to get a blessing from him. There have been many sermons about how this is a positive thing, still, would you have the nerve to do that? But then there’s what the prophet Micah wrote concerning this esteemed man of faith –

All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel. What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? (Micah 1:5 NIV)

Jacob was a deceitful schemer and that fatal flaw was passed on to the kingdom that bore his name. And he was a man of divided loyalties. While he didn’t use his wife for leverage, the fact is he took four wives, which led to a lifetime of problems which actually outlived Jacob.

These were the men whom God commended as living in faith and dying in faith. It’s difficult to understand the mind of God most times. To lump the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in with Enoch seems unreasonable. And yet, in God’s view, these imperfect patriarchs were as faithful as Enoch, the man who pleased God so much, God transposed him from earth to heaven.

What do we glean from this? God puts a premium on our attitude of faith but understands we are sinners. A moral or ethical lapse doesn’t automatically disqualify us from being people of faith.

…though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… (Proverbs 24:16 NIV)

This might be one of the greatest verses in the Bible and one every believer should memorize. While there is no excuse for sin, and the Bible makes no provision for slipping into sin and remaining in it, it does teach that “you can’t keep a good man down.” In other words, the righteous will always get up.

We all have a problem

Like the patriarchs, we all have exactly the same problem: The sin nature. We are all prone to fall. Amazingly, at the youthful age of 22, Robert Robinson wrote these words many of us sing in church:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love…

While our sin nature has been dealt with by Jesus Christ through His work on the Cross, there is never a moment in our earthly lives when we are completely free from its influence. We may be “dead to sin,” but sin is very much alive to us, and it is always trying to lure us back into its clutches.

Our sin nature always wants that which the Holy Spirits does not want for us. And our sin nature isn’t subject to God and it will never be. That’s why God gave us a new nature: To counteract the downward pull of our sin nature. The good news is that God has made provision for our new nature to win. Our sinful nature wins only when we let it.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 NIV)

There will never be a time on earth when the believer won’t be pestered by his sin nature. But you don’t have to give into it. You never have to yield to temptation. Ever. Granted, you’ll always be a sinner saved by grace, but as far as temptation goes, you have it within you to conquer it every time.

A New Testament example

Peter is a good example of this. Peter, the man whose confession was the foundation the Church was to be built upon, was always falling down.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29, 30 NIV)

Talk about having faith! Peter actually got out of a boat during a storm and, doing what Jesus told him to do, stepped out in faith and walked on the water! He did something crazy; something nobody else had ever done before or since. But Peter did. That is, he did until he stopped walking by faith and started to look around. The storm made Peter sink.

Later on, this disciple of Jesus’ Peter denied Jesus three times. Not once, mind you, in blind panic, but three times. The last time was in a courtyard surround by other people. Peter could have sided with Jesus this time but he chose to side with the society he was with. He went out, and by himself he wept bitterly. He knew he had failed his Lord. And Jesus knew that he knew. Just as Yahweh never gave up on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Lord never gave up on Peter.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (Mark 16:7 NIV)

Peter was given one more chance. Peter’s spiritual growth wasn’t instantaneous. It was slow going. But in spite of his falling down, Peter’s heart was right, and he kept getting up. We like Peter because most of us are so much like him. We love Jesus. We think we’re fiercely loyal to Him. We have faith in Him and His Word. But the cold, hard truth is we do the same things Peter did, only fortunately for us nobody is keeping a record of our failings for generations to read about.

Peter got up and preached some powerful sermons when the Church was born and won many converts for the Lord. Thanks to Peter, the Gospel broke into the Gentile world. Peter laid the foundation for the ministry of the apostle Paul – all because he got up.

God chooses to use people, not angels, to do His work. And as we journey through this life, falling down then getting up only to fall down again, God sees what we will become, not what we are. That’s why men of questionable reputations Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all listed among the heroes of the faith.

Abraham’s token blessing

Looking back at Hebrews 11:13, notice this –

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised… (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

Yet, that’s not the whole story, either. Back a few chapters we read this –

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13 – 15 NIV)

Abraham never received the big promise – the promise of a land and of nationhood. He died a nomad. But God in His sovereignty gave Abraham the tiniest glimpse of that big promise in the form of a son, Isaac. Against all the odds, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and the seed of nationhood had been sown. God saw Abraham, not as a nomad living in tents on the fringes of civilization, but as the father of many nations, and God let him experience a small part of that. Isaac was to Abraham as Mount Pisgah was to Moses.

God sees you as you are in Christ, not as you are today. He sees you in Christ, already in the heavenlies.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:6 NIV)

You don’t see yourself in the heavenly realms yet. You see yourself as you are now; struggling to get through this life, one day at a time. You can’t see yourself as you’ll become because you can’t see the future because it hasn’t happened yet. But God sees the future – He lives in it – and in the future you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms!

And that’s why these men, with all their faults and failings, were commended for their faith. That’s why they are heroes of the faith. God saw what they would become, not what they were.

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 NIV)

Biblical Faith, Part 3

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Having faith is easier said than trying to understand how it works or why it doesn’t. In our previous studies, we concluded that true Biblical faith has nothing to do with whether or not you appear to “get” what you’ve been praying for. The heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews 11 were all commended as having great faith even though none of them received what God had promised them.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

The proof or evidence that a person has Biblical faith isn’t how many prayers God seems to answer or how prosperous they may be or how healthy they seem to be, it’s that they never give up; they never stop believing no matter what. No matter how good they have it or how awful their circumstances, people with true Biblical faith never stop believing in the promises of God. Never.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. (Hebrews 11:13, 14 NKJV)

People with faith are never afraid or ashamed to confess – not their faith – that they are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” What does that mean? How does it relate to the modern Christian?

The patriarchs

Abraham and all the patriarchs “died in faith.” They never stopped believing in the promise God gave them. In fact, we are told, they glimpsed that promise at a distance. God actually planted in their hearts a vision of that promise. In case you’ve forgotten, here is the promise:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1 – 3 NIV)

This was the great promise God gave to Abraham and his descendants. It’s the promise all the heroes of Hebrews 11 held to and believed. It’s the promise that would not be fulfilled until centuries after the death of the very people to whom it was given. Aged and in failing health, still believing in the promise, none of the patriarchs complained, but instead they rejoiced as they looked to the future in expectation. They didn’t run around confessing the promise to anybody that would listen. They didn’t engage in “naming it and claiming it.” Abraham’s response to his wife’s death gives us a clue as to how he confessed his faith:

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” (Genesis 23:4 NIV)

Abraham never denied his circumstances, in fact he embraced them; he owned up to them. He was a foreigner; he was a stranger among the Hittites. He had no property to speak of but he needed a little bit for a grave, and he was willing to pay for It. He didn’t expect God to move on the hearts of the Hittites to suddenly give him a plot of land. He was willing to exchange some of what he had for some of what the Hittites had. It would seem that faith is, more than anything, practical.

The modern believer

A person whose only interest is in the things of this world – prosperity, health, happiness, contentment – will constantly be frustrated because more often than not those things will be elusive. If all you want is happiness, you probably won’t find much of it. If you are looking for more money, you probably won’t find more money, but only more debt. But a person who knows he is a pilgrim here and who is content with being a foreigner in the here-and-now, must have a higher goal.

For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. (Hebrews 11:14 NIV)

Ben Vaughn and Peter Case, in their song made famous by Petra, captured perfectly what the writer to the Hebrews was trying to convey:

We are pilgrims in a strange land/We are so far from our homeland\With each passing day it seems so clear/This world will never want us here/We’re not welcome in this world of wrong/We are foreigners who don’t belong

And that’s the attitude every believer should have. We are strangers here. We are pilgrims here. We don’t belong here. So why are we surprised when our beliefs are mocked or our faith disrespected? Why are we caught off guard when people outside the church don’t side with the church? Why do we work our fingers to the bone just to obtain and hold onto the things of this world? If we are “just visiting this planet,” why are trying so hard to stay here? If we’re “just passing through,” why are we trying so desperately to “fit in” and gain the world’s acceptance?

It’s very hard to live a life of faith when you are too comfortable in the world. Charles Swindoll wrote –

We live in a negative, hostile world. Face it my friend, the system that surrounds us focuses on the negatives: what is wrong, not what is right; what is missing, not what is present; what is ugly, not what is beautiful; what is destructive, not what is constructive; what cannot be done, not what can be done; what hurts, not what helps; what we lack, not what we have. The result: fear, resentment, and anger.

Swindoll isn’t wrong in what he wrote. When our focus is on this world, we become like this world. We become just as negative, just as depressing, and just as faithless as the world in which we live. That’s why our focus needs to be on our homeland, our TRUE, eternal homeland. That’s why John wrote this –

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15 NIV)

Look back at Abraham. He and his family were pilgrims in every sense of the word. They lived in tents and were always on the move. Yet he gave up a lot to live that nomadic life. Ur, the Sumerian city he and his family lived in, had for a century been a hub of commerce and cultural activities. It had schools and temples, there were libraries, and Ur boasted a thriving community of artists and artisans who made and sold beautiful art and fine jewelry. Yet the patriarch chose to give all that up. What if God asked you to give up your comfortable lifestyle to follow Him. Could you? Corrie Ten Boom’s words are hard to read because they hit a little too close to home –

I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!

Abraham and the patriarchs traveled on and never looked back, and they never looked at what they couldn’t have.

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. (Hebrews 11:15 NIV)

In a very real sense, the life of faith begins between your ears. Abraham and his family left the greatest urban center of his day and chose to stay away from all of them. They always stayed on the fringes of civilization. How could they live this way? For them, it was simple:

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:16 NIV)

Literally that verse reads: “the stretched themselves out.” Their devotion was that intense. These ancient people, with no Bible to read or sermons to listen to, somehow had a concept of heaven, a glorious life after life. And it was that belief, not merely the promise of an earthly home, that drove them.

This is the kind of faith that impresses God. In fact, the remainder of verse 16 gives us an idea of how much the faith of the patriarchs meant to God –

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16b NIV)

Can you imagine? God was not ashamed to be known as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” His people became His means of identification in the world. Can we say that about us? Does our faith impress God that much? Or do we disappoint Him to the point where we He is actually ashamed of us? There are many who profess belief in God and faith in Christ who are, by their attachment to the things of this world, an embarrassment to God and a discredit to His character.

In Christ, God has prepared a “a city,” an eternal dwelling place for His people. These pilgrims of faith, because they looked forward in faith, will benefit from the work of Christ just as we will, as we also look forward in faith. We modern Christians with our numerous translations of the Bible, books about the Bible, books and TV shows about how to live the Christian life, and churches all over the place have no excuse for missing that eternal city.

We can learn a lot about how we should live by looking at how these ancient nomads lived so long ago. God made a stunning promise to Abraham, and that promise involved an earthly blessing, the blessing of land. Abraham knew, though, there was more to this promise than just Canaan. Canaan was nice, but it didn’t come close to fulfilling the great inner revelation that God had also given him; that there is life and a land beyond this one. They never felt completely “at home” anywhere on earth because they knew they didn’t belong here. It’s very unfortunate that their descendants lost the vision, as the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews had, and eventually settled in a land that they fiercely cling to this very day. But pilgrims aren’t really attached to anything of this world. They don’t cling to either their possessions or their lives. C.S. Lewis put it this way –

Many a man thinks that he is finding his place in the world, when in reality it is finding its place in him.

Hopefully that isn’t happening to you.


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