Living by Faith

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there were several things I’ve learned this year that have helped me to cope with fear.  In the post, I only mentioned two of them:

  • The passing of time.  As time passes, the things we fear tend to move by us.  However, this doesn’t work well if more fear causing things line up in front of us.
  • Take no counsel from fear (or arrogance).  This was the main subject of yesterday’s post.

But there is a third thing that I’ve learned this year that has helped me to cope with fear and many other things:  learning to live by faith.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago something that I heard from James Macdonald:

Everything is a test of faith.  Everything.  Therefore, everything will either grow our faith or shrink our faith.

Letting this permeate my being has been huge.  I also discussed this in a post a couple of weeks back and wrote this:

When we believe this, it changes how we see the things happening in our lives — i.e. we see things as being allowed by God — and that change[s] the way we react to things. If we view events as us vs. life, our reactions can be hostile and volatile. But when we see things as being allowed by God, we are more likely to respond in a way that pleases God (or at least our chances better).

I haven’t lived this out perfectly, but I do live better and handle things better when I do remember this.

 

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Do Not Deliver My Soul to the Wild Beasts

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.  (Psalm 74:19 ESV)

Life can be very hard.

Personally, this particular season in my life is hard.

Right now, thankfully, it’s not filled with sickness, but it is filled with anger and anxiety and frustration.

Usually, if I follow my typical pattern, I won’t respond to the hard season very well.  The anger and anxiety and frustration are caused by certain things and I let the anger and anxiety and frustration rage against those things.  That’s the easiest thing and the thing that makes the most sense.

But life doesn’t have to be that way.  Even though it can be very hard, there’s a different plan that God has for us.

In Psalm 74:19, the psalmists cries out to God during a particularly bad time.  For the psalmist, it seemed that his foes had overtaken everything and that God had forgotten His people.  In this state, the psalmist pleads to God to protect “the soul of your dove” and to “not forget the life of your poor forever.”

Do you ever feel that your very soul is about to be trampled by wild beasts and that your life has been forgotten by God?

I’ll admit it: I do.

But here’s the thing: when I feel this way, it’s not because God isn’t around or because He has forgotten me.  When I feel this way, I’m like Peter who hopped out of the boat and walked on the water — but then took his eyes off of Jesus and sunk.

When I take my eyes off of Jesus, I sink into the mire.

So, what should we do when we feel we’re about to be trampled and feel that we are forgotten?

We should cast our cares on Jesus because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  In Christ, we have a friend that will never leave us or forsake us.  In Christ, we have someone who will complete His good work in us.  In Him, we have someone who will never let us be snatched out of His hand.

Life is hard, but it’s harder when we take our eyes off of Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith.

Amen and amen.

 

Monday Colossians: “So Walk in Him” (2:6)

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” – Colossians 2:6 ESV

Need some encouragement?

Need a reminder of how to live?

Need a purpose?

Well, the Apostle Paul gives us a heaping dose here in Colossians 2:6 and there are three main points to consider:

  • “Therefore…” – The message that Paul is about to give comes as a direct result of what he has just told us.  And what has he just told us?  Well, let’s look back a few verses and see verse 1:28, that one of the main purposes of Paul’s ministry is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”  Then, we are told in verse 2:4 that Paul is writing this message so “that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”  So, if we want to be presented mature in Christ (v. 1:28) and if we want to avoid the deluding message of skeptics, we need to listen up to what follows!
  • “…as you received Christ Jesus the Lord…” – How did we receive Christ Jesus our Lord?  The short answer:  through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God calls us to Himself and through this call, we see that we are desperate sinners in need of a Savior.  And we haven’t just sinned against ourselves and caused a mess for ourselves, we have sinned against a holy (separate from us and set apart) and righteous (perfect) God.  This holy and righteous God is also just, which means that though He loves us, He must punish sin – the guilty will not go unpunished.  So, He sent His Son – His holy and righteous Son – to take our place.  He lived the perfect life we could not live and died the death we should have died.  Then, through His resurrection (Easter), He declared victory over sin and set us free from the power of sin.  Through His work, we can be reconciled to the Father.  And we receive this free gift of salvation by simply acknowledging our sin, confessing that we need a Savior and by trusting in the perfect work of Christ to do what we could not do.  As it says in Romans 10:9-10: “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  This is how we received Christ Jesus the Lord!
  • “…so walk in him.” – At first glance, I suppose this idea of “walking in him” might seem a tad weird.  However, this doesn’t mean to trample on Him or to imitate His gait, or style of walking.  It means this is our manner of following Him, or the “how” we follow Him.  Therefore, as we are instructed, our manner of following Him should be in the way we received Him.  And how did we receive Him?  Via the gospel.  Therefore, our walking in Him should mirror the gospel.

Coming to Christ via the gospel includes a humbling of ourselves because we know we have sinned against a holy and righteous God and we know that we do not deserve to be forgiven.  After all, if we are forgiven, we will go right back out and sin again!  But through Christ, we are forgiven – once and for all and to the uttermost.  So, regardless of our lot in life or our personalities, or whatever else makes us different, walking in Christ should reflect a recognition of what Christ has done for us.  Our lives should be a “thank You” to God.  Our lives should reflect the humbleness of Christ.  And our lives should reflect the grace and mercy and forgiveness that has first been shown to us through our Heavenly Father.

We are not called to live a life of trying to earn our salvation.  We are not called to live a life of doing a bit more good than bad.  We are not called to live a life of “being a good person.”  We are called to live a life of “walking in Him,” of walking in Christ.  This is our encouragement!  This is our reminder!  This is our purpose!

Thursday Hebrews: Things that Belong to Salvation (v. 6:9-12)

Let me remind us all up front that today’s passage should be read in the context of what is being said in the entire book of Hebrews and, specifically, what is being discussed in verses 5:11-6:8

In the previous passage we studied – Hebrews 6:1-8 – the writer urged readers on toward maturity in Jesus Christ.  The early audience had displayed a lack of maturity that had two possible causes. One was related to being in Christ, but not growing once in Him.  The second could come from not being in Christ at all.  After delivering this exhortation, the writer uses verses 9 through 12 as a sort of encouragement to the reader:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. – Hebrews 6:9-12 (ESV)

 (v. 9) “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved…” “In this way” refers to the language used in the previous passage.  This language, as noted above, was was questioning the audiences lack of maturity in Jesus Christ. The writer expected the audience to be further along in their relationship with Christ than they were. 

(v. 9) “…we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” – In the immediately preceding verses, the writer seems to question whether the readers are actually in the faith. Here, the writer addresses the issue again and notes that surely the audience is actually is.

(v. 10) “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” – At first glance, this passage is a bit troubling because of the writer’s association of the audience’s works with salvation. But we need to pay close attention here. Back in verse 6:1, the writer mentions leaving such practices as “repentance from dead works.”  This is a clue that the writer isn’t talking about salvation by works. So what does he mean?  He means that whatever “work” we do should flow from our salvation and whatever work we do will be recognized by God. He isn’t an unjust God and whatever is done in His name will be remembered. 

(v. 11) “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,” – Here the writer displays his true feelings for the audience and we get an idea why this book is being written. The audience is being introduced (or re-introduced) to Jesus Christ. The writer wants each person in this audience – then or now – to know Jesus and to live with the “full assurance of hope” that comes through this relationship.

(v. 12) “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – There are two important things to note here. One is the continued encouragement that we also saw in verse 11. The second is the mention of “faith.” The writer, obviously, doesn’t want the audience to experience a lifeless, or sluggish, relationship with Jesus. No, he wants them to be “imitators.”  As we read on through the book of Hebrews, we will be introduced to those whom we should emulate.

As Jesus tells us in John 10:10, He came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Here, in Hebrews 6, the writer is pushing us on toward that abundant life in Christ.

Control Freak

Yesterday was quite the day in Alabama.

A “winter storm event” was supposed to swing lower in the state, but instead decided to sit and spin a while over the north central part of the state.  And it caught us all by surprise.  Snow started just around 10 a.m., and shortly thereafter every business and school in this part of the state decided to close around 11.  That meant every road in the area was jammed with folks trying to get home or get to school to get their kids.  The snow, ice and a bunch of well-placed wrecks meant for a long day on the road for most folks.  For many students and teachers, it also meant spending a night at school.

That was the case for our youngest child.  She was stuck at her elementary school, along with about 399 other students, and forced to spend the night.

We knew she was safe, but we also knew that we could not get to her.  Unless we walked a round trip of about 20 miles in the ice and snow and freezing temperatures, with the wind blowing I might add, we couldn’t wrap her up and hold her in our arms.

That was an unusual feeling and it was quite unsettling.  And it made me remember what a control freak I am.  And that made me think of what it means to live life by faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

When I can see things and when I can touch things, I’m not usually living my life by faith.  When I can control things, I’m not usually living a life by faith.  Now, that doesn’t mean something hocus pocus-like.  It simply means that when I can see and touch and control things, I don’t need to look beyond myself.  If I’m not looking beyond myself, I’m certainly not living by faith.  And if I’m not living by faith, then I’m not living a life to please God.

In the case of my daughter, we did all that we could to fetch her from school.  We tried the roadways.  We tried other people with four-wheel drive trucks.  But, the reality was that the roads were impassible.  The safe thing for all involved was for her to stay safe and warm at her school with a few of her classmates and the rest of the children at the school.  We had done what we could do.  I guess it took us (me) to that point to realize that God was actually in control of this situation as well.  Was it only at this point that I looked to God?  Is it only when I can do nothing else that I look to God for help?

That’s so and likely true in many situations.  But that’s not how God wants us (me) to live.  As Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, it’s impossible to “please” God without faith and He rewards those who seek Him.  That’s not “a new Cadillac showed up” kind of reward, but a close, intimate relationship with God kind of reward.

We won’t forget this winter storm for quite a while.  My hope is that when I reflect back on this time, I’ll remember that my hope should be in God all the time.  Not just when I’m in a ditch.

Today, If You Hear His Voice…

Our next study takes us through the remainder of Hebrews chapter three:

 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways. ’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest. ’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV)

Verse seven begins with another “therefore“:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, (Hebrews 3:7 ESV)

Again, the “therefore” is pointing us back to the point previously made, in this case the points made in verses 3:1-6. What are the main points of that passage?  Let me give three quick reminders:

1)    Consider Jesus. This isn’t a passive, non-confrontational, non-offensive way to slip Jesus in the back door.  No, this passage reminds all that if we are going to have a relationship with God, it will come through Jesus, “the apostle and high priest of our confession.”

2)    Jesus is greater than Moses because He is the Builder. The writer presents an analogy of a builder and a house. The house represents God’s people and the builder represents God (v. 4 – “…but the builder of all things is God.”) Who is greater? Obviously the builder and Jesus is equated with the builder.

3)    Jesus is greater than Moses because He is faithful as a Son.  The “house” represents those called by God into His family and Moses served the household as a faithful servant. But Jesus served the household as a faithful son.

These comparisons with Moses were not meant to demean Moses, but to make much of Jesus, the “apostle and high priest of our confession” (v. 1).

So, the “therefore” in verse seven is pointing us back to these reminders from verses one through six, and then points us toward the message the Holy Spirit is delivering.  What did the Holy Spirit say?  Well, actually the Holy Spirit has authored all that we are reading here in Hebrews, but, specifically, the writer has included a portion of Psalm 95 in verses 3:7 through 3:11 and then again in verse 15 to deliver a stern message.

The message in Psalm 95 is God reflecting back on the days of Moses and the people of Israel just after they had been brought out of Egypt (as told in Numbers 14) and were on the footsteps of the Promised Land.  Moses had sent spies into Canaan and after 40 days they returned to report a land flowing with milk and honey, but also filled with strong people and fortified cities.  Though the people had been brought out of slavery – in miraculous fashion – that was quickly forgotten and the congregation began to grumble as they worried about their safety.

In return for their faithlessness, God promised judgment for the people.  In return for their grumbling, God promised that everyone over 20 years old would wander in the desert for 40 years and would not see the Promised Land (except for Caleb and Joshua).

This is the “rebellion” as described in verses 3:7 through 3:11 and 3:15 and the writer also reminds us in 3:16-3:18:

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?

Ultimately, this grumbling prevented the Israelites from entering God’s rest.  Lord willing, we shall discuss the idea of God’s rest in greater detail in our chapter four study, so for now, let’s note that God’s rest refers to a relationship with God.  This relationship has present and future benefits and both types include a provision of God’s rest – provisions that are both present and eternal.  (Again, Lord willing we shall discuss this further later…)

A final warning is delivered in verse 19:

So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19 ESV)

Why did this grumbling anger God?  It was because this demonstrated a lack of faith.  It’s rather easy for us now, but we read through the Scriptures and see example after example of God’s faithfulness to His people.  We can see example after example of mighty works He did to magnify and glorify Himself – works that ultimately were designed to show Himself to the Israelites.  But it was not enough for them.  Instead of seeing a crisis as a time to look and see what God would do, the people, instead, chose to grumble, complain and talk about how they were cared for and settled back in Egypt.  Ungrateful?  Yes.  Disrespectful?  Yes.  But in the end, this shows and amazing lack of faith in almighty God.

This seems like an easy lesson for us to learn and apply to our lives, right?  Unfortunately, this problem of “grumbling” still happens in our time, but, thankfully, God has provided an exhortation to remind us and to encourage us to not let this happen:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV)

1) (v. 12) Take care – Could this happen to us?  If there is an “evil, unbelieving heart” in us, yes, we will “fall away from the living God.”

2) (v. 13) Exhort one another – How important the body of Christ is for each of us!  We see here the encouragement that should exist among believers on a daily basis and we see the benefit from this relationship: “…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

3) (v. 14) Hold firm – Some may come to Christ, but only genuine followers of Him will persevere to the end.  Those that fall away were never true followers.

For some of us, there’s a need to periodically ask “am I really saved?”  One of my children, in particular, ponders this from time to time.  Though it is my child’s relationship with Christ, when this occurs, I remind her of the gospel and remind her of the profession she made.  I remind her of Christ promising that nothing will snatch her out of his hands and I remind her that God will complete His good work in her.  But this is also an excellent reminder.  Is our heart hard and lacking faith?  Are we allowing ourselves to receive exhortation from other believers to help us along in our walk?  And finally, are we holding firm until the end?

If you are in the faith, let these be constant reminders as you walk with the Lord.

If you are not a follower of Christ, I encourage you, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  Today, hear His call and come to Him.

Faithful as a Son

Chapter three begins with the exhortation in verse one to “consider Jesus.”

As we noted in our last study, this exhortation calls together everything presented about Jesus in the first two chapters – superior to angels, Founder of our salvation, made perfect through suffering, Who sanctifies us, our merciful and faithful High Priest – consider these things.

Consider not as if giving a passing glance as we walk by, but consider them as if our eternal state depended on the outcome.

The writer continues to encourage our consideration of Jesus in the next passage as he compares Jesus to Moses:

“who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.)  (Hebrews 3:2-6, ESV)

The importance of Moses to the Israelite people cannot be overstated.  In a picture of what Christ would later do for us all, Hebrews 11 describes Moses forsaking his royal status in order to be used to deliver his people:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24-25 ESV)

Because of Moses’ role in the heritage of the Jewish people, it is a huge deal for the writer to invoke this comparison:

who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. (Hebrews 3:2 ESV)

But it is a comparison that ultimately doesn’t hold up; Jesus is far superior to Moses.  How so?

The writer notes two key ways.  First,

For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) (Hebrews 3:3-4 ESV)

I believe this first comparison points to Jesus as God.  The writer notes the “builder of all things is God,” while Moses is compared to the created, or “house.”  (And as we shall also see below, “house” refers to God’s created children.)

And secondly,

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:5-6 ESV)

(Note also that the word “Christ” first appears in Hebrews in verse six.)

This second comparison is between a servant and a son.  There is stark difference between these two.  A servant, hired or owned, is obligated to the task.  A son, as an heir, will eventually own.  Moses’ perspective and obligation was different as a servant.  The writer notes Moses “was faithful in all God’s house as a servant.  Jesus, on the other hand, “is faithful over God’s house as a son.” (italics added)

This is not meant to take away Moses’ important role in redemptive history – not at all.  After all, this is a man included in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up,refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. (Hebrews 11:23-28 ESV)

The writer’s point is not to belittle or take away from Moses, but to make much of Jesus.  The writer obviously includes Moses later in chapter 11.  No, the point isn’t to make little of Moses, but to make much of Jesus.  For all that Moses did – and that was a lot – he was only faithful as a servant.  In all that Jesus Christ did for us, He did with the faithfulness of a son.

In the second part of verse six, the writer also gives us an incredible reminder:

And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:6b ESV)

Note the promise here: if “we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” then “we are his house.”  Whose house?  “His house” – Jesus’ house.  Is the writer talking about a building of wood, concrete and steel?  No.  Here “house” refers to believers and God residing with us and in us as is noted in Colossians:

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 ESV)

What a wonderful reminder.  This Jesus – far superior to the angels, a merciful and faithful high priest, who is also superior to Moses – can reside with us and in us if “we hold fast our confidence” in Him.