Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’

The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/12/17; THCF 10/15/17

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

Last time we talked about “what Faith is”, (and what it is not): The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes on to speak more about what Faith does, than what Faith is. Faith is believing; that’s all. But Godly Faith is “believing God more than I believe Me.” It means taking God’s Word as being infinitely more dependable than my own thoughts, feelings, and reasoning. I am actually commanded to think, to reason, and to respond with my heart. But I am warned that my old sin nature is so devious as to be the single most likely source of my downfall. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. So, I need to learn to believe God first, and then to reason within that framework.

I am not told to come up with my own ideas, stamp “God’s Will” on my own presumption, and then expect God to honor it. There have been a few (very few) cases in Biblical history where it seems as though something like that may have happened: places where a passionate servant of God called out some impossible thing, and God pulled it off for him. Now—did God inspire that prayer, or declaration, or prophecy—whatever it was? I don’t know for sure in every case. But I also do not know that He didn’t. The times when God clearly did NOT authorize such a prophecy or whatever the statement was, then it simply didn’t happen. I have known people, personally, who said they “believed God” that they were sent to accomplish some special thing, but when it didn’t materialize, they either made excuses or blamed God, or blamed those around them. That is not faith; it is presumption. So, how does faith behave? What does it look like?

The Response of Faith

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sara judged God to be faithful. That is a good response. I would not have seen that from the exchange in Genesis 18, but I have God’s Word, here in Hebrews Eleven, to inform me of what Sara’s inner thoughts were. She believed God because she considered His character to be reliable: she judged Him to be faithful. Abraham had already decided the same thing, and now the two of them were in agreement that this unsolicited promise of God (a promised child—an heir to the promise of the land and the eternal blessing) was before them, and they believed His spoken Word. Notice that this was not a “feeling,” nor a vision. In this particular case (Genesis 18—read it!) God showed up in person, in the form of a man, and only later in the conversation revealed His identity. He spoke with them both, in person, and He made a verbal, solid promise. There was no presumption on their part. Consider, too, the fact that earlier, when Abram had changed his name to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”), it was because God told him to do so. It was an obedient response to a revealed truth: in other words, faith; not presumption. And what was the result of this sort of response?

The Result of Faith

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

The Birth of Isaac was by Promise. It was a miraculous event, even by God’s reckoning. We tend to yell “miracle” when anything unusual happens; but God does not. This was not a case of a “surprise baby” of which we have all seen examples. This was a case of a miraculous rejuvenation of two very elderly human bodies, resulting in an otherwise normal conception, pregnancy and birth. And God says that it was supernatural, not just unusual. Bear in mind that God made the promise first; Abraham and Sara simply believed the promise. They did not conceive the idea on their own and then try to stamp “God’s Will” on it. It was God’s plan and God’s Promise. All they did is believe it.

By the way, consider the contrast regarding the birth of Ishmael: A few years earlier, they had come up with their own idea as to how to bring about the promise of God that had been given years before, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was the result. The entire Arab world calls Ishmael their forefather today. This was not the result of faith, but a result of unbelief (a lack of faith) and presumption. And the warfare and hatred that has resulted will haunt Israel until the day the Lord returns.

We see all these events through the eyes of Moses, as an accomplished feat, but Abraham saw it through the eyes of faith, and had believed the promise for years, even changing his name in accord with God’s command, as an outward statement of faith. We can read about it as a historical fact, but Abraham had to face it as a present reality. So did Sara. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt, emotionally, to watch their own bodies being restored to functionality, and a normal pregnancy and birth resulting.

And yet, God says in the following verses, “these died in faith, not having received the promises!” What promises was he talking about, then? I thought they just received the promise! Isaac was the promised Son, wasn’t he?

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

This word “persuaded”, here, is important: The Greek root peitho means “to be persuaded”…and it is from this root that both the Greek words “pisteuo” (to believe) and “pistis” (faith) arise. We need to become persuaded in our own hearts that God is good: that He is faithful. That His character is, beyond question, excellent and Gracious. From that foundation, we can believe that His Word is trustworthy and true…and that we can trust in it, implicitly. We are not to be crippled by unbelief, unable to respond in faith, through obedience; nor are we to run ahead of the Great Shepherd with our own presumptuous plans. We need to open the eyes of faith, and, day by day, look to Him for guidance. Look to His written Word for principles by which to live, and pray for direction by His Holy Spirit, for the particulars of life.

When we begin to walk with God in obedience, regarding His Word as true, we find ourselves estranged from the World around us. We no longer fit in. Eventually, we accept the fact that we truly have changed citizenship, and that we now belong to God’s kingdom. With that realization, and having embraced that truth, we begin to release our grip on this World, and we begin to look beyond it.  The Old Testament believers were also looking beyond this world with the eyes of faith: Evidently the promised Son (Isaac) was not where they had their hopes set. (Abraham and Sara did receive him.) Nor, even, was the physical land of Israel their real hope. They were looking to an eternal fulfillment, through a supernatural relationship with the supernatural, eternal, invisible, omnipresent God who created the universe. They looked with the eyes of faith.

The Eyes of Faith

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

These folks were looking beyond this world, just as we are! But in their case, they had a physical place to which they could have returned…their hometown, in most cases, was still there, and their extended families, in some cases, were all there, as well. But when they had abandoned their old life to follow the God who had called them, they had also abandoned the gods of their old lives, and the values they once held dear…and their extended families and friends had not followed their example. So a huge barrier was there, against a return. They really couldn’t go back comfortably, even though the physical places still existed. So that is not what they did: they kept looking forward, and did not go back.

Remember, in the previous chapters, that the writer had cited some who “fell away because of unbelief.” We can read in the book of Exodus that the people of Israel were frequently guilty of “wanting to return to Egypt.” I have to shake my head over that one, and wonder what in the world they were thinking: they could not go back!  Even had God permitted it, they seem to have forgotten that Egypt had been literally destroyed on their account, and the Pharaoh and his entire army had died in the Red Sea because of them. What kind of welcome would they have found, if they had returned? It was simply an impossibility, even for those who wanted to return.

But God commends those who did not want to return, who wanted to press on to receive the promise. Abraham was one of those, over 400 years before the Exodus. Even in his later life, when he sent his servant back to Haran, to find a wife for Isaac, he warned him that he was absolutely not to take Isaac back there. He stayed committed to the promise. God commended people throughout the Bible, who clung to Him against all odds, and chose Him over all else.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I have no idea what the eternal state will be like beyond the tiny amount of information we are given in scripture. And, beyond that, He clearly says that none of us have seen it, none of us have even heard a reliable account of it, except the little bit God has told us, and He further says that none of us have correctly imagined it. (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what the Father has in store for them that love Him.”) But I believe in His character, and I trust that what He has prepared will turn out to be something unimaginably good, and that He will change my heart from what I now consider good so that I will see it through His eyes, and recognize that Eternal Goodness and Blessing. 

I really don’t spend a lot of time “daydreaming about heaven:” I know that I have no idea what it will be like. So I have abandoned the fruitless behavior of imagination, and am embracing the stance of faith…waiting on God for that unseen future, and confessing that I have no real idea what it will be. That is a choice I make. I choose Faith. I choose to believe God.

The Choices of Faith

In the meantime, Faith has some things for me to do…to choose to do:

  • Trust the Lord!
  • Obey God’s Word!
  • Love my neighbor!
  • Love my wife!
  • Study the scriptures,
  • Feed on the Word,
  • Feed the Flock!
  • Serve with Joy!
  • Rejoice always!
  • Pray without ceasing!
  • In everything, give thanks!

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They ought to! They are all general commands given to all believers. And what Jesus said about that, in John 14:21, is that the one who has those commandments and keeps them, is demonstrating love for Jesus, personally. And those who fall into that category will find that God is loving them back! Jesus went on to say that he would “manifest himself”, or “make himself known” to that sort of individual.

If you want to see Jesus at work in your life, try walking in obedience, by faith. This is not a way to “earn God’s Favor.” If you have placed your trust in Him as your savior, then you already have His favor, in Christ. You are already His Child. If you have not placed your trust in His blood at the Cross for your salvation, then all the works in the world will do no good. Only the blood of Jesus will suffice.

This message is an invitation to believers to join with Jesus in the Service of God, and be blessed with supernatural Joy. The invitation to all others remains the same: “Look, and Live! Turn to Jesus personally for eternal life, and receive it from Him as a free gift!” In both cases, however, the choice is personal. An unbeliever can choose to reject God’s offer. And a believer can choose to stay on the fringes of God’s blessing, and not serve with Jesus. But, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” We are invited to join Him in the work.

All of the behaviors of Faith are a matter of choice. Faith is a choice! Either choose to believe God and do as He asks, or choose not to do so. The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to serve you and to obey by faith the rudimentary things of the Christian life, so that you can draw us along into deeper things as we draw close to you. Help us to see life as you see it, and to make our choices as you direct us to choose.

 

 

 

 


Feeding the Whole Person At Easter

Feeding the Whole Person on Easter

© C. O. Bishop 4/13/17 THCF 4/16/17

1st Thessalonians 5:23, and others

Introduction:

One of the interesting things we learn in the Bible is that the human being consists of three parts…one could say we are a triune being, as is God…but it is not quite true. My body is not the real me…and, even my soul is only part of me. And my spirit is not intended to exist separate from a body and soul.

God says that He knows the difference (completely) between the soul and the spirit of Man. He says that we believers are to be preserved complete—body, soul, and spirit—until the coming of the Lord. (1st Thessalonians 5:23   And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)

So, though we have some confusion about the differences, God does not. He will give us new, immortal bodies, and our spirits and souls will be eternally in tune with His Spirit. We look forward to the fulfillment of these promises.

We show our confusion about the invisible portions of a human in that we tell people to follow their heart, when God says our heart (soul) is deceitful…that it is not to be trusted. In fact, over in James, where God gives us some New Testament truth about wisdom, he specifically says that the soul is not a good source for wisdom.

James 3:13-15

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

The word translated “sensual” in that verse, is the Greek word “psuchikos”—meaning “soulish”: coming from the soul. We can easily be deceived by our own souls, even as believers. I have heard people say things like “Eat chocolate! It’s good for the soul!” when evidently they only mean “it makes you feel good about life.” After I had heart-surgery, they gave me oxycodone—that made me feel good about life, too…but it was deceitful, and potentially addictive. I needed genuine healing, not just medicine that made me feel great for a while! As soon as I could, I got off that medicine, but it was hard, because, just like everyone else, I like to feel good. I needed physical nourishment and healing. But I am not just a body: I am also a soul, and a spirit.

So, how do we feed the whole person: body, soul and spirit…especially at Easter?

Feeding the Body

Feeding the body is no great trick, but it can be done well, or it can be done badly. There are tribal people in South America (Venezuela– the Yanoamo people) who chew certain leaves because they stave off hunger and thirst, and make them have a lot of energy. I’ll bet you can guess what those leaves are: Yep, they are coca leaves. They know they need food, water and rest, but on a long hike through the jungle, they take those leaves along, knowing that they will “feel better” as they travel. It is a pretty mild dose of cocaine, but still not a healthy choice.

So, we make healthy choices in food as best we can, in varying degrees. Some people are simply thinking basic food groups, and some not even that. Some folks, if you aren’t a trained dietician, you will not even understand what they are doing when they plan a meal. And some folks just eat whatever they like, whenever they are hungry. We vary all over the board on that, but we all feed our bodies. We get hungry, and we seek nourishment. This morning, for instance, we began with a fellowship breakfast downstairs, and everyone fed their bodies, and felt satisfied. But what about our souls? Perhaps our souls were being fed, as well, if we engaged in fellowship.

Feeding the Soul

How do you feed a soul? Our souls look for peace, and happiness, and feelings of fulfillment. Fellowship can provide that. Some folks enjoy the catharsis of a good cry, and they watch a tear-jerker movie. Some people thrive on adrenalin, so they either take risks themselves, or watch videos of those who take such risks… they watch action movies, or horror movies, thrillers, chillers, or something. They like the feeling of drama, so they read books or watch plays or movies that fill them with the sensations they crave.

Are these healthy diets for a soul? Well…depending on the subject matter or the activity, actually, yes, they could be. Engaging in competitive sports, running, whitewater rafting, or skiing could be quite healthy. Making things that require skill and patience, whether in stitchery or carpentry, can “feed the soul” on the satisfaction of a job well done. Enduring the daily drama of rearing children, and seeing those children grow to be productive members of society, and then feeling the satisfaction and relief of their maturation process, is a healthy sort of drama.

But there are unhealthy dramas, too, and some people feed their desire for drama on social conflicts, politicking, and gossip, or bullying and manipulating those around them. That is pretty bad food for the soul, and addictive, as well, as it feeds our sin nature’s desire for power.

Can we have unhealthy food for the soul in church? Some people would say we had an unhealthy physical meal this morning, because it wasn’t tofu and greens…but that meal was a special treat, and one we don’t engage in every day.

We could have an especially heart-rending story in a sermon or a testimony that wrings us out emotionally, and moves us at a soul-level. That can be perfectly healthy…or not.

The problem is: emotional drama is addictive, and we mistake it for spiritual food. On a once-in-a-while basis, there is nothing wrong with emotional drama, but as a matter of habit, it tends to take the place of healthy food, just as the coca leaves took the place of healthy food, water and rest, for the jungle tribesmen. But they knew not to do it all the time. We don’t seem to know the limit…we look for more and more emotional highs, and hope for more “signs” from God.

But God says that such things are not necessarily from Him. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s time had dreams and visions…but God says that they caused those dreams, themselves. They deceived themselves and others. He was not the source. (Jeremiah 23:25, 26)

We have read sensational books and watched movies about Jesus, which itemized every blow, every wound, and every drop of blood during the crucifixion, and stressed the emotional impact on the lives of the disciples, as well as upon Jesus himself. We agonize with Jesus at Gethsemane, and cringe at the deadly pain he endured for us. All of these things are true, and, to some extent, they are healthy soul-food, so long as you equally rejoice at the resurrection, and are galvanized to action by His ascension, His final commands, and His indwelling Holy Spirit.

But if all we want is the emotional drama, then, in the long run we are not much better off than the folks watching sad movies, and the like. I am covered by the blood of the cross…I don’t need to “have my nose rubbed in it” on a regular basis. I remember His sacrifice, and I am overwhelmed that He chose to die for me. I don’t see myself as someone that would even be attractive to God. But for some reason, “God so loved the World…”

I don’t have to understand it…I don’t even have to “feel” it. I only have to choose to believe it by faith, and receive His gift of eternal life. My soul will be fed as I walk with Jesus. I will experience all the reasonable, valid emotions just as He did, without any false drama, or self-induced emotional turmoil or ecstasy. But…How do we feed the Spirit?

Feeding the Spirit

When each of us who are believers placed our faith, individually, in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross, as being full payment for our sins, we were born again, as children of the living God. And He says, that, as babies, we need to develop an appetite…that we must sincerely desire… what? Not emotional upheavals and turmoil of the soul, but rather “the sincere milk of the Word” of God, “that we may grow thereby.” (1st Peter 2:2)

What part of us does God’s Word primarily “feed?” It primarily feeds the spirit. We are born again with a new nature, and our spirits are alive to God, and hungry for His presence. Can it also feed the soul? Absolutely! As we read His word, we can be thrilled by the exquisite joy of seeing God at work. We are grieved at the hardness of the hearts of humanity. We are fearful of the judgment of God, and desire to be freed from our sins and our guilt. All those feed the soul.

We feed our spirits by taking in God’s Word. So, when we consider the Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and Ascension, we need to apply our attention to what God actually says about it, so that our Spirits are fed: not just “how do we feel about it”, which excites the soul, but leaves the inner man un-nourished.

So, What Does the Scripture Say?

  • To begin with, it says that the entire human race fell into sin with Adam. He was our representative, and when he fell, we fell with him. (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12)
  • Then it says that the result of sin is death: separation from God. That was our natural state…and, had we died in that position, we would have been eternally separated from Him. (Romans 6:23a)
  • It also says that God reached out in Love, to save the whole human race…he offered a free gift of salvation to anyone who trusts in Him. (Romans 6:23b)
  • That gift is offered in the person of His son. God says the eternal life he offers is in His son. Whoever has the Son has the life. Whoever does not have the son, does not have the life. (1st John 5:11, 12)
  • He says that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, and that he came specifically to do that, in the course of offering us eternal life. (Luke 24:25-26)
  • God says the good news (the Gospel) of salvation is of first importance, and that it consists of the following truths:
    • Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.
    • He was buried in fulfilment of the scriptures.
    • He rose again the third day, also in order to fulfill scripture.

The Death and Burial and Resurrection of Jesus are the core issues of the Gospel, which, being believed in, is the power of God, to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16)

We understand the death of the savior, that it had to happen, or we would still be in our sins; unforgiven, and hopelessly lost. We see, too, how the burial at least gave testimony that Jesus really died—he was not just “playing possum”, or even in a faint. He was dead. And he spent three days and three nights in the place of the dead, fulfilling yet another prophecy, that he would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

But, what about the Resurrection?

Here’s what the Apostle Paul said about it:

1st Corinthians 15: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

So, the resurrection had to happen too, or we would still be in our sins, just as surely as if he had never died for us. But he’s Alive! He is Risen! Not only He is alive, but He has ascended to the throne beside God the Father, and eternally represents us there, as our advocate.

Folks, these are facts!  I honestly don’t care whether you are “moved”, or stirred by these words: what is important is that you believe them! That you choose to place your dependence on Jesus’s shed blood at the cross as full payment for your sins, personally!

Sometimes I ask people, “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” and they reply, “Oh, I believe He died for the sins of the whole world!” So, I ask again, “But did He die for your sins, personally?” And they repeat their creed that he died for the sins of the world. Do you see the problem? They know the facts, but they are not willing to apply those facts to their own specific case. Perhaps they don’t believe they need a savior. Perhaps they feel that they don’t understand it all. (Well guess what! I don’t either!) We are not required to understand it all. We are required to accept it by faith, apply it to our own personal case, and receive the gift of eternal life. It is just that simple.

The Resurrection is God the Father’s “stamp of approval”, showing us that Jesus was really who He said he was, and that His death and burial really accomplished all that He intended. And we are resurrected with Him, to live our lives for God! Let’s embrace the resurrection in our daily lives, and live because He lives!

Lord Jesus, strengthen us to do your will, and to follow you in our daily lives. Help us to embrace the full value of the Resurrection!


Sheep Food!

Sheep Food!

© C. O. Bishop 9/9/2016; THCF 9/11/2016

1st Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 15:16;

Introduction:

We read in the scripture that the elders are to feed the flock. We also see that the flock is commanded to “feed” as well…and that the food is specifically the Word of God. So, we need to give some attention as to how that feeding is to occur, and when, and by whom, etc.

In 1st Peter 2:2, the newborn believers are told to hunger for the “milk” of God’s Word; but in Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer complains that the particular believers to whom he was writing should have graduated from “milk” and should now be consuming solid food…and it is still referring to the Word of God. Jeremiah 15:16 makes the statement that feeding on God’s Word was the joy of the heart of the prophet, because he himself belonged to the family of God…he was called by God’s name. These sort of passages lay out the normal life for believers: we are to feed on God’s Word. And it should become a joy to our hearts simply because, as believers, we are His children. We should be growing stronger in the Word, so that we move on from baby food, and feed joyfully on the tougher things of the Bible, while not forgetting the foundation that was laid in the simple truths of the Gospel.

So…what does it mean, to “Feed on” God’s Word? Do we simply read it? Is hearing it on the radio enough? Do we have to attend Bible College? Do we have to memorize the Bible? What does it mean when the Psalmist says he “meditated” on God’s Word? Do you have to sit with your legs contorted, and your eyes closed while you think about the Bible?

I would like to suggest, as a starter, that there are at least five ways the Scripture tells us to feed upon the Word of God:

  1. Hear
  2. Read
  3. Study
  4. Memorize, and
  5. Meditate

Probably that is actually an ascending order, each attaining a deeper, stronger grasp of the Word.  Let’s look at each of them and see how they apply to us as believers.

Hear the Word

Deuteronomy 6:4 begins with the words, “Hear O Israel…” This passage is well-known to all orthodox Jews…it is called the “Shammah”, because the word “hear” is translated from the Hebrew word “shammah”. Over and over, Jesus said “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” The willing reception of the spoken Word of God is what is in view. Hearing it has an impact all by itself, without study, without comment, without further reflection, even. God’s Word does not return to Him void. It always has an effect. Bear in mind that the sun, shining on potter’s clay, has the reverse effect of the same sunlight warming wax. One grows harder, while the other grows softer. The difference is in the character of the material. “He that hath an ear to hear” will be changed in a positive way by the reception of God’s Word. A person who only receives the Word because of a sense of social responsibility or, worse, to look good among his peers, may find that he is gradually inoculated against the influence of the Word, because he has privately, habitually rejected its teaching. He is gradually given over to a reprobate mind, so that he becomes blinded to the truth of God’s Word, and deaf to the pleading of God’s Spirit.

Luke 8:18 says, “Take heed therefore how ye hear….” Hearing the word is important, and how we hear it is important. We need to hear it with a willing heart, and look for ways to apply it to our lives…not dismiss it or critique it as if it were the writings of men. It is the Word of God. Take heed how you hear. Apply your heart to the Word as you hear it. Hunger for it. Allow it to cleanse you, and purge you.

Read the Word

It is interesting and instructive, to see that long before a king sat on a throne in Israel, God commanded (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) that that future king was to write for himself a copy of the Law of God, out of the scrolls possessed by the Levites, and that he was to read that copy all the days of his life! Every day, as long as he lives!

We in the Church age, as believers, are called “kings and priests.” How might that Old Testament command apply to us? Although I doubt we are called to personally write out our own copy (the printing press and movable type seem to have freed us from that), I do think we might be admonished to be in the Word on a “steady-diet” basis, rather than a “once-in-a-while nibble.”  The results God predicted for those kings are interesting, too. Five results are listed:

  1. That he may learn to fear the LORD his God, and
  2. To keep all the words of this Law, and these statutes, to do them,
  3. That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and
  4. That he turn not aside from the commandments, to the right hand or to the left;
  5. To the end (result) that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Now, I am not an earthly king, especially not a king of Israel, but I can see from the rest of the Word of God that those predicted results apply to all who apply God’s Word to their lives. The Psalms state that the Word “is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” They further state that a man can cleanse his way “by taking heed thereto according to God’s Word”.  (Psalm 119:9, 105) Simply reading the Word daily, as a steady diet, providing constant contact, will have eternal results.

Study the Word

This one is a little harder, but the word “study” in Old English, and in Greek, means to “apply oneself diligently.” So, when Paul says (2nd Timothy 2:15) “study to show thyself approved unto God…”, it means “make this a priority, and apply yourself diligently to that end.” But; the rest of the verse says “…a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So, applying oneself diligently to learning to rightly divide God’s Word would necessitate the kind of thing we call “study,” today, as well, would it not? Paul also exhorted Timothy to give himself to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine. This meant not only the public reading of the scriptures, but a constant ministry of encouraging others and teaching them to understand and obey God’s Word. That requires study, too.

The Bereans were commended (Acts 17:11) as being “more noble than those in Thessalonica”, because they “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” That is study, folks! Searching the scriptures, comparing scripture with scripture, looking for understanding. That is study!

Could it mean going off to school and applying yourself to nothing but study for a period of time? Certainly, it could, but that is by no means necessary. Bear in mind that Paul was trained by one of the most famous educators of his time, but considered that whole experience to be rubbish. He did not rest upon his credentials. He rested upon the credentials of Christ. He rested upon the truth of God’s Word.

But we are exhorted to apply ourselves to the goal of understanding the Word of God. The result is supposed to be the collective maturity and stability of the church…so that we believers will not be easily swept away by every novel doctrine that comes along; so that we will be well-equipped ministers of God’s Grace, and so that we are able to build up the body in the Love of God. (Ephesians 4:12-16) These are all the result of absorbing God’s Word, through hearing, reading and studying. What else can we do?

Memorize the Word

Psalm 119:11 is the best verse for this, though there are many others. The psalmist said “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Later, in Jeremiah 31:33, God promised that (during the coming Kingdom age) He himself would “…put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”, with the result being holiness of life and a wholesome, continuing walk with God. He says, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

When Jesus refuted Satan, during the temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), he did so with the Word of God, citing (and reciting) appropriate passages to defend against the attack of the evil one. I use this tool daily, when tempted to be angry, or in some other way, reciting to myself the passages that strengthen me against sin. David did the same thing. He remembered the precepts of God, and drew upon them for strength.

Solomon commented upon this concept: Proverbs 4:4, 5 says, in part, “…let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments and live. Get Wisdom, get understanding, forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.” This is not just rote memorization, but the overall absorption and retention of God’s Word. It takes time, and it takes deliberate work.

When I was in school we were required to memorize hundreds of passages; sometimes single verses, sometimes short passages, some whole chapters, and one whole book (Ephesians). Do I still remember then all? Nope. But the result has been profitable, and I still know how to apply myself to memorization.

After my mother died we found her written memory-aids (stenographer’s tablets full of them, all written by hand), and we realized just how much she had applied this concept: she had memorized several whole books of the New Testament, and was working on more, right up until she could no longer function to do so. Not everyone is gifted equally in this regard, but virtually anyone can repeat back to you, nearly verbatim, a conversation they had yesterday or last week, with another individual. So it is certainly possible to consider the Word of God a series of “conversations” between God and man, and recite portions of those conversations as needed…and it is not an unreasonable expectation at all. You can do this!

Meditate upon the Word

When people today use the word “meditate,” they usually mean meditation in the sense of some Eastern religion; Hinduism, or its off-shoots; Buddhism, the Hari Krishna cult, Transcendental Meditation, or something similar. In each of these cases, one is encouraged to empty one’s mind of conscious thought and open oneself to whatever comes in. Biblical meditation has nothing to do with this practice.

Joshua 1:8 is the first command regarding Meditation. Let’s see what God told Joshua about it.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

How much of that is a promise to me? None of it! This is a command with a promise to Joshua… not even to Israel as a whole; just Joshua. But how much of it could be applicable to you and to me, at least in a general sense? Every bit of it!

We are not to depart from God’s Word, the Bible. It is to be our first and final authority in all things. And, we are to dwell upon its precepts, considering how to rightly apply them to our lives. Meditation is not empty-headed open-mindedness! It is deliberate, conscious thinking about the content and concepts of God’s Word. It is pondering, and comparing scripture to scripture, and considering whether there is something you have missed, in reading it.

Sometimes I have used an elementary trick of reciting a passage slowly, repeating it with a different word emphasized each time, to see if that sheds a different light. But it is always a slow, conscious rumination…a “chewing of the cud”, so to speak. A careful digestion of the Word of God, being anxious not to miss anything.

There are two primary words in the Old Testament, translated “meditate”. Together they are used 12 times. There is one word in the New Testament, translated “meditate”, and it is used twice: both times in command form. Joshua, as a servant of God, was commanded (Joshua 1:8) to meditate upon the Word of God. Timothy, as a servant of God, was commanded (1st Timothy 4:15) to meditate upon the things taught in God’s Word. David, a servant of God, testified that he meditated upon the precepts of God’s Word, and mused upon them, pondering their meaning.

How much more do we need? This is how the servants of God strengthen themselves for the service of God. They were feeding upon it deeply and continually.

So—Who Does the Feeding?

The answer is, “We ALL do!” Every believer is called upon to feed on God’s Word to whatever capacity he or she is gifted to do so. No one is exempted. Everyone can at least choose to hear it, and take heed how they hear it.

If you can read, you are called upon to read it. If you can read, and can at least think clearly, you are called upon to study, and to feed at that level. We are called upon to attain to solid food, not continuing to consume only the simple, baby-food portions over and over.

At whatever level we can do so, we are called upon to memorize God’s Word. And we are called upon to spend time meditating upon it: deliberately thinking, praying and considering how to understand and apply what we have heard, read, studied and memorized.

How Important is the Written Word?

God says (Psalm 138:2) that he has magnified his Word even above his Name. That is an incredible thought, as His name is Holy, and not to be taken lightly. It could be a reflection of the fact that Jesus Himself is identified in a few passages as being the Word of God, in Person. John 1:1, 14 “In the Beginning was the Word…The Word became flesh, and dwelt among Men…” And when he comes at last, as the triumphant King, it says (Revelation 19:13) that “His name is called “The Word of God”.”

Jesus, during his earthly ministry stated clearly that every word of the Scriptures would be brought to pass…fulfilled to the letter. Peter says (2nd Peter 1:19) that the written Word is our only light in this dark World, until the Savior returns for us, and we have His Light in Person.

I am personally convinced that how a believer responds to the Written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately how he or she also will respond to the Living Word, Jesus. Give that some thought!

If you are a leader, a teacher, a parent, or are in any other way responsible for the spiritual well-being of another person, then you are doubly accountable to these precepts. You can’t feed others if you are not feeding yourself. And you can’t feed them clean food, unless you are applying the Word well enough to understand what you are teaching. Jesus confronted the teachers in Israel for failing to understand and for failing to obey. He said they had become blind guides. We really do not want that charge to be laid upon us. We want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Take heed how you hear! The way you choose to respond to this message will definitely have an effect upon your life.

Lord Jesus, teach us to hear your Word with the intent to apply it to our lives, to think on it, and obey it. Let us be doers of your Word, and not forgetful hearers. Teach us to feed on the clean food of your Word, and by it to grow strong!


Abraham’s Saving Faith: Grace and Imputation

The Faith of Abraham

© C. O. Bishop

Romans Chapter 4

Introduction:

In Chapters 1-3, Paul has just finished explaining the Salvation offered through Grace…and the fact that it is the only solution offered by God for the completely epidemic Sin of the human race. All are involved; all are infected; all are guilty; all are condemned. So…all are included in the offer of salvation through the single sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God completely “levels the playing field”, in terms of a person’s eligibility for the gift. No one is excluded for reasons of origin, depth of depravity, or relative personal worth (as humans see worth). We are told that the whole world is condemned already. (Jesus confirmed this, and said that believing in Him is the way to accept God’s offer of salvation.)

Paul stated that justification (which means “being declared righteous”) is available strictly on the basis of faith in Jesus’ shed blood. (Romans 3:25) He further pointed out that the teaching of Grace, far from annulling the Law of God, confirms its truth and authority. The Law is what sheds the light of God’s spiritual “pathology” on the life of every human, and declares that we are all fatally infected with sin. One can either admit that truth, or deny it. We can “demand a second opinion”; but the only other sources of such information are either consciously subject to the will of God, and will cite his Law as their authority to diagnose, or they are in conflict with the Law of God, and will either attempt to set aside the authority of God or deny it completely. We eventually have to choose who to trust.

What Saved Abraham?

1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Paul raises Abraham as a case in point, through whom he simultaneously explains the principle of Grace and the principle of Imputation. He poses the question, “Was Abraham justified by works or by faith? If it was by works then he had something to boast about.” But God doesn’t permit boasting, in regard to Grace. Paul points out that Abraham was declared righteous when he believed God, not when he began doing the things he was famous for. The works were a result of faith. The faith was what moved God to declare him righteous. (See Genesis 15:6)

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Paul follows this with the statement that (obviously) when a person works, their reward is wages, not a gift. If I work for employers, they owe me my wages. They are legally bound to pay me. I do not consider my wages a gift. But Grace specifically means “un-earned favor”. If you can do anything to earn it, then it is not Grace. You cannot mix Grace and works. Either God’s Grace is what saves you or you think you can earn his favor, and will try to save yourself by works. There is no middle ground.

What is the Weak Link?

Where I work, we build ocean-going barges. The chain “towing-bridles”,  attached to the barges, are huge… they have to be, to pull the enormous weight of the loaded barge, and not snap in heavy seas, as they are slacked and jerked taut again by the waves and the raw power of the sea-going tugboat. (How huge am I talking about? Each separate link weighs 126 pounds or more. Each link is cast in a mold that encapsulates the next link, so that the whole chain is a series of 126-pound cast-steel links. There are much bigger ones out there: these are just what we use.)

Now, consider: if I took one of those links out, and replaced it with binder twine, what would the strength of the chain be? Obviously the weak link would be the binder twine, and, in fact, it would not even hold the weight of the chain, let alone pull the barge. In fact, if I ran hundreds or even thousands of loops of the twine through the two adjacent links, it would still be impossible to approach the strength of the chain—and the twine would be decidedly the weakest link.

So what is the point of this illustration? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If my works are, at any level, responsible for my salvation or my security in Christ, then, ultimately, my security is completely dependent upon my works, as they are undeniably the weakest link. When God says salvation is “by Grace, through Faith”, what possible value can my works add? God’s Grace, by Jesus’ finished work at the Cross is the power of God for salvation. If it is not enough, then I am lost. It is as simple as that. I cannot add to Grace by works…but I can respond to Grace by works, because of faith…just as Abraham did. Grace is what saves us…not works.

So, what is “Imputation?”

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Paul introduces a Old Testament truth, here: the idea that one thing can be “counted for” another; that, by faith, righteousness can be “added to the believer’s account.”

This is an accounting term: when I take a paycheck to the bank, it is just a piece of paper: it has no intrinsic value. But it authorizes the bank to “post value to my bank account”, and, based on that posting, I can make purchases or withdraw cash from that account. This is a fairly important idea, because there is a parallel in the salvation offered at the Cross. When Jesus died for me, he wrote a “check”, in His own blood, payable to the bearer, for the value of “eternal life, and eternal righteousness”. Now, consider: when I take my paycheck to the bank, if I fail to endorse that check, they will not honor it. The value of the check will not be posted to my account.

So how do we “endorse” the “check” Jesus wrote for us at the Cross? By faith: By placing our trust in His finished work. The facts are simple: Jesus really did write the check, if you want to call it that, in His blood, at the Cross, and he offers it to us as a gift. Now: you can do whatever you want with that check…you can toss it aside, judging it worthless; you can set it aside, thinking you may want it at some more convenient time (which still does not get you the value of the gift); or you can place your faith in that blood sacrifice, and the righteousness of Christ is instantly and permanently imputed (posted) to your account. God will eternally see you in the righteousness of Christ…He will never again see you as a condemned sinner.

Let’s look at 2nd Corinthians 5:21 “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him

This is the ultimate substitution. In Abraham’s later story, we see that God provided a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac. A ram was offered in his place. Throughout the Old Testament, we can see that all the blood sacrifices were a substitute for the sinner, at one level or another. And that is why Jesus was called “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He is the substitutionary sacrifice through whom we can be made righteous before God. He did not become a sinner for us: He became sin. We do not imitate him to become righteous. His righteousness was applied to our accounts by Grace through faith, and, by faith we imitate him, honor him, and depend on His righteousness in our accounts; not at all upon our own works.

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
David also described the blessedness of a person whose sins are covered…who has had righteousness “imputed” to him without works. The doctrine of imputation means that God has “posted righteousness to my account”. He has counted me righteous. Not because of anything I have done or can do…I am a sinner, and my whole character apart from Him is to rebel against the righteousness of God. God says in Romans 8 that my sin nature not only is not subject to the law of God, but it cannot be. So how could I be declared righteous?

How is Righteousness Imputed?

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
Paul takes his time getting to the explanation, but we already had a clue back in Romans 3:25—Jesus was the propitiation (the sacrifice that satisfied the righteousness of God) for our sins through faith in His blood.

When Abraham first “believed God”, it was simply regarding the promise of a coming “seed”; that his progeny would be without number. But the specific singular word for “seed” is used. Remembering that Paul used and quoted the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, just as Jesus did, I looked up the word for seed in the Septuagint…and it turns out that the word used there is very specific, the promise of the land is to a specific (singular) seed, while the promise of numerous offspring is plural. It gets more specific later on, but Abraham was looking forward to Christ, just as Abel did, and as did the other men and women of faith.

We look back to Him, and we believe—they looked forward and they believed. They understood enough of the gospel and the character of God to make a decision: so do we. The book of Job was possibly the earliest book of the written word of God, and he knew about the resurrection, and the second coming, and redemption, and life after death. The Old Testament saints were not ignorant.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul carefully reminds the readers that Abraham was still an uncircumcised heathen when God made his promise and Abraham believed. He points out that God declared him righteous then, not 25 years later when he was circumcised. So his circumcision was an outward mark of something that had been an inward reality for 25 years.

Paul says that those who believe are the spiritual offspring of Abraham, whether or not they bear the physical mark of Judaism. In fact, the whole point is that the two ideas are almost unrelated, as there are thousands upon thousands of people (millions, actually) who bear the mark of some sort of faith, but do not have that faith. Jews who did not trust in the Messiah, as Abraham did, but only had the mark of circumcision, were just as lost as the millions today who have been baptized (or circumcised, or both) but have no relationship with the God who chose that sign. Not all Jews were saved, and not all members of churches today are saved… even if the church they attend is faithfully preaching the Gospel. It completely depends upon the individual: do you or do you not place your dependence on Jesus’ finished work—his shed blood—at the Cross?

If someone attends a church that does NOT faithfully preach the Gospel, it just means it is less likely that the person is saved…but not impossible; they may have heard the good news elsewhere, and may already have personally placed their faith in God to save them via the shed blood of Christ. One by one, God saves those who believe…not those who attend a particular church or wear a certain kind of clothing, give money, were born of a certain family, etc. He saves them one by one, by Grace, through Faith alone.

But a real believer has literally been born again, and has a new Father and a New Nature. A baby Christian is hungry for the Word of God; the milk of God’s word. So a genuine believer will not remain comfortably in a church where God’s Word is not taught. He or she will increasingly grow hungry and dissatisfied in the absence of sound teaching from the Word of God.

14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

 

Law and Grace are Separate, but they Work Together

Paul emphasizes the mutual exclusivity of Law and Grace: he says that if the promise was based on Law, then Faith is made void, and the promise has no effect, because the truth is, the Law brings judgment, not salvation. If there were no rules, there would be no consequences for breaking rules; but there are rules, and there are consequences for breaking them. So he concludes that it is by faith, not law, so that Grace is the only means by which we can receive that promise. The result is that all those who hear and believe the Gospel are saved by Grace, and Abraham has literally become the father of many nations, by faith. People from every nation on earth have heard and believed the Gospel.

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
He also reminds us that Abraham was no dummy—he knew the odds of his becoming a father at that age—but he rejoiced. He was strong in faith…he did not even consider the deadness of his own reproductive organs or those of Sarah, his wife…he believed God’s promise. Specifically, he believed that God was able to fulfill His promises, and that His character was such that he would do so. Paul concludes that on that basis, his faith was accounted to him as righteousness.

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Paul goes on to say that this was not written just for Abraham’s sake, but for ours, that we might have God’s righteousness applied to our own accounts, as we place our trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead. He says that Jesus was Crucified for our sins—but he was resurrected so that we could be declared righteous…the Resurrection was God’s declaration that He was satisfied with the payment. (Romans 1:4)

From the Cross, Jesus said “It is Finished!” At the Resurrection, God said “Amen!”

Conclusion:

So how will you respond to the promises of God? To begin with, you have to know what He has promised to you. But then, day by day, you can choose to believe Him…or not.

Jesus said “he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life…”; (that’s present tense: “…has everlasting life”.) Do you trust him for that promise? If so, then you have eternal life now.

What about where he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you: let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Do you believe that one, too? Just as you have been once-for-all born again by faith, and you trust in his promise to keep you, for eternity, you can daily experience His peace by faith, trusting in His wisdom and strength to guide and protect you.

Lord Jesus, grant us the Grace to hunger for your Word, and to be filled with your Spirit and your Wisdom. Draw us into an ever deeper relationship with you.

Amen!