Posts Tagged ‘God’

Live Strong by Faith

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Hebrews 11:1–3 (NLT) Great Examples of Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

Hebrews 11, called the “Hall of Faith,” is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible.  In Heb. 10:37, 38, the author quotes from Hab. 2:3, 4 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.  And my righteous ones will live by faith…”

As he thinks about living by faith.  He begins with a definition of faith.  He says, “Faith is resolute confidence…”  The word translated confidence in the NLT is hupostasis.  Hupostasis is a noun meaning ‘resolute confidence,’ literally, standing under or understanding; assurance.  The word translated as “conviction” is elegchos, meaning certain persuasion.  In this case, “Faith is the resolute confidence of what we hope for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (v. 1) The author’s 2 fold definition suggests that if we can see it, then it is not faith.  Faith is acting on what God has revealed about God’s will and character.  “For by it the people in days of old gained a good reputation.”  (v. 2)

In v. 3, the author begins to repeat this phrase, “Pistei…” meaning “By faith…” “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”  This is a fundamental belief of both Judaism and Christianity (Gen. 1:1-3).  God created everything in the universe that we can now see, and it was all created out of nothing.  A life of faith understands that, by analogy, God’s promises are real and will be called into reality by God, even if at present they are unseen.

The normal Christian life is a life lived by faith.  This is the main point of the text.  God is faithful and can be counted on to bring to completion all of God’s plans and promises.  The normal life of faith means living in the light of eternity.  All of the examples that follow (vv. 4-31) demonstrate this life of faith.

The remainder of the chapter can be divided up into 3 sections and a conclusion:  Introduction (vv. 1-3); I.  Examples of faith from Abel to Abraham (vv. 4-12); Interlude:  Faith of pilgrims (vv. 13-16); II.  More examples of faith from Abraham to Rahab (vv. 17-31); Conclusion:  Overview of the history of OT faith (vv. 32-40)

For example, Enoch was taken up into heaven and did not face a normal death.  (Gen. 5:24).  The author uses Enoch as an example to cite this principle in v. 6:  “And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who sincerely seek God.”  The author alludes back to his theme verses from Hab. 2:3, 4 (Heb. 10:37-38).  The belief that God exists is a properly basic belief.  And the second belief follows it, that the God in whom we believe is able to fulfill all God’s promises.  God is faithful and trustworthy.  God will fulfill all God’s promises.  In all our difficulties and trials, we can trust in God and anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises.

In the example of Abraham, the author cites 2 events in Abraham’s life:  the calling of Abraham (vv. 8-10; Gen. 12:1-2; 10:-13:18); and the birth of Isaac (vv. 11-12; Gen. 22:17)  The OT account tells us that Abraham obeyed God, and God counted his obedience as righteousness.  Abraham stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going, but only obeying God as he understood that God promised him a land which not he, but his descendants would possess:  the promised land (a major theme in this text).  And the author identifies the Promised Land with “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” to which Abraham was confidently looking forward.  He takes the Promised Land to be, not the physical land of Canaan, but the heavenly Kingdom of God.  (v. 10)

In the interlude (vv. 13-16), the author says that “All these people died still believoing what God had promised them.  They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.  They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”  (v. 13)  They were strangers (xenoi) and exiles (parepidemoi).  Xenos means a guest, stranger, meaning a friend although a stranger.  Parepidemos means a stranger, a sojourner; not simply one who is passing through, but a foreigner who has settled next to native people.  This points out a basic understanding of the nature of the Christian life.  This world is not our home, rather we are here as strangers and foreigners, immigrants if you will.  We are passing through this world until we get to our real heavenly home.

Living strong by faith involves resolute confidence in response to what God has made known (11:1-3).  As seen in the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, living strong by faith is the normal Christian life.  We live in the light of eternity.

Living by faith as demonstrated in the example of ch. 11 shows how faith worked in the lives of Abraham, Moses, and the other OT saints.  The danger is that we might say, “I’m not like Abraham, or Moses, or David.  They are in the Bible.”  But when you examine the biblical record you find that Abraham was a liar as was Jacob. Sarah was a doubter.  Joseph was a tattle-tail.  Moses was a murderer.  David was an adulterer.  The account ends with Rahab the prostitute.  These were just ordinary people living ordinary lives, until they responded to the call of God.  And even after stepping out in faith they still struggled.  They never received the promises of God, they lived in the light of those promises, understanding that God is faithful.  And the faithful God who calls us to step out in faith, will also be faithful to fulfill his promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  So the author concludes:  “For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”  (v. 39)

 

 

Our Blessed Hope

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Titus 2:11–15 (NLT) For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.

In Titus ch. 2, Paul provides Titus with instructions on relationships in the church.  How should older men, older women, younger men, and slaves live the Christian life in a pagan culture?  He commands older men to exercise self-control to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely.  (v. 2)  He tells Titus to teach older women to live in a way that honors God.  (v. 3)  In the same way, he tells Titus to encourage the youg men to live wisely, and to be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.  (vv. 6, 7)

Why should Christians live wisely, the kind of life that reflects wholesome teaching?  (v . 1)  The rationale for right living is in vv. 11-14.  “For the grace of God has been revealed bringing salvation to all people.”   (v. 11)  Paul literally says, the grace of God has appeared, meaning Jesus Christ.

And Paul summarizes the teaching of Christ as “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  (v. 12)  Paul emphasizes the positive virtues:  wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  In the Greco-Roman world, these three virtues represent virtuous conduct in general.  These virtues counter the vices of the Cretans.

The adverb translated “sensibly” or “wisely” is sophronos, meaning soberly.  It suggests the exercise of self-restraint of all types of passion and desire, which enables the believer to be conformed to the mind of Christ.  Dikaios is the adverb translated “righteously” or “justly,…in accordance with what is right.”  God is righteous, so righteous behavior is that kind of behavior that is in accord with God’s will, especially God’s will as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  Eusebos is an adverb meaning “piously, or godly.”  (Vine)  To live a godly life is to live in a holy manner (2 Tim. 3:12)  Righteous and godly living renders to God the reverence and worship that comes from a holy life.

Paul sensibly tells Titus to instruct the church to live in a way that pleases God and even ungodly people would approve of this kind of living.  These three virtues were the same virtues that the Greek and Roman philosophers praised for the person who would live a wise life.  Likewise, these virtues are also praised in the Hebrew wisdom literature.  (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Eccles., and Song of Songs, also Book of Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Sirach)

For Christians, our blessed hope is “that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”  (v. 13)  Christ’s epiphaneia, his appearing or manifestation, can refer to Christ’s first appearing, but Paul only uses this word to refer to Christ’s second and future appearance (2 Thes. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1).  (Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary)

We shouldn’t miss the fact that in this verse (v. 13), Jesus Christ is called God.  This is one of the few verses in the NT, where Christ is called God outrightly (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1).  Yet this claim is consistent with the roles and attributes of Christ and the worship that is given to him.

V. 14 summarizes the saving work of Christ:  “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”  We are no longer our own.  We have been redeemed from sin, bought with the blood of Christ.  We no longer are slaves to sin, but now are slaves or servants of righteousness.  Paul’s whole argument here is that we should live up to our calling, our blessed hope.  We should not live as we used to live, doing the sinful things we used to do.  But as citizens of heaven, we should live into the hope of eternal life.

Salvation produces a people who have the desire and capacity for good works.   Those who follow Christ are now God’s people.  As God’s people, the Holy Spirit leads us into keeping God’s covenant.  And this covenant is no longer written on stones, but the new covenant is written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  If you want to live a holy life, you should live in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit day by day and moment by moment, following the Spirit’s leading and teaching.

Lord, help me to live a life of total commitment to you.  Help me to walk in the way that you have called us to walk, as Christians, as the wise, not as we formerly used to walk, but with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  Help me to live a wise, righteous and godly life through your Holy Spirit in me, the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.

 

 

The Riches of God’s Grace

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Ephesians 1:19-23 (NLT) I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Ephesians is one of the so-called Prison Letters (along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon).  Traditionally, these letters were supposed to have been written while Paul was in prison in Rome from AD 60-62, before Paul was executed around AD 64-65.  So these would be some of Paul’s final thoughts.

The church in Ephesus was one of the churches founded on Paul’s third missionary journey.  He spent some 3 years in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41) from about AD 53-56.  Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, which is located in what is now Turkey.  It was an important port city with a population of perhaps some 500,000.  It was a Greek city, and the home to the famous temple of Artemis.  The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

More than any other book of the Bible, Ephesians is filled with thanksgiving for the saving grace of God for those who believe in Jesus Christ.  One of the key themes in Ephesians is the richness of God’s grace.  Paul begins his letter with a greeting (vv. 1-2), and as is usual, a prayer for thanksgiving, but Paul’s prayer for thanksgiving seems to get away from him as he is overcome by speaking about the richness of God’s grace, so the prayer goes from v. 1:3 to the final “Amen” in v. 3:21.

In v. 18, Paul is thinking about the confident hope that believers have in anticipation of Christ’s return and his future blessings that they will share joined with Christ.  He calls us “his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.”  (v. 18)

Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is also Paul’s prayer for us today.  He wants us to understand the richness of God’s saving grace, which is “God’s power for those who believe him.”  This power is the Spirit of God at work in and through God’s people (Rom. 6:4-14; Col. 2:12).  Paul wanted to experience this same power in his life (Phil. 3:10).

Paul says something about Christ since his resurrection and glorification.  We often think of the blessings of heaven as being something for the future.  But Paul says:

1.  Christ is presently seated on the throne in heaven.  He is currently seated at the right hand of God. To speak of Christ seated at God’s right hand is an analogy, as God is Spirit.  In Biblical times, the place of honor was always on the right hand of the person (Ps. 110:1; Acts 7:56).

2.  Christ is far above all other authorities in heaven or on earth, not only in this world, but in the world to come.  (v. 21)  Jesus’ power and authority transcend all rival powers, whether human or spiritual, in this age and in the coming age.  (Rev. 12:7-9)

3.  God has already put everything under the authority of Christ and has made him the head over all things for the benefit of the church.  (v. 22)  The text says literally that God has put everything under the feet of Christ.  Paul pictures the practice in the ANE of conquerors symbolically.  Victorious kings would demonstrate their power and authority over those conquered by forcing them onto the ground in front of them and putting their feet on their necks.  What Paul means is that Christ has already defeated all his enemies and already reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  All of God’s enemies were defeated by Christ upon the cross.  There downfall is already secured and certain.  The wedding party of the Lamb is simply the final victory celebration.  (Rev. 19-21)

4.  The church is the body of Christ.  (v. 23)  Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ.  The body of Christ is a metaphor for the whole church, a unity of believers connected with and dependent on Christ, who is the head (1 Cor. 12:27)The first use of the Greek word for church (ekklesia) is in Matt. 16:18, where Peter makes his great faith statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus responds, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church.”

5.  The  church as the body of Christ is the full expression of Jesus Christ in this world.  In some way, the church expresses everything about Christ (apart from sin).  The church is not perfect.  But someday the church will be perfect.  But even in its imperfection, the church is still the body of Christ.  Christ’s presence and power are still felt in and through the presence and work of the body of Christ in the world.

Many people say that they love Christ, but hate the church.  But how can you say that you love Christ and hate the body of Christ.  Certainly, the church is not perfect as it is now expressed through sinful humanity.  But the church is filled with redeemed sinners who are being made holy through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit day by day.  The church is not yet who it will be, but when the church is revealed as the bride of Christ at the end of the age, then we shall the see the church as Christ intends it to be.

 

Good, Good Father

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Matthew 7:7–11 (NLT)
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
This is the second teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7).  In ch. 6:5-15, we have the Lord’s Prayer.  The teaching in ch. 6 is primarily about avoiding showiness in prayer, but rather taking the posture of humility (Matt. 6:5-6), and about the content of prayer (vv. 6-15).
v. 7 suggests persistence in prayer:  asking, seeking, and knocking.  To ask naturally indicates prayer, but seek and knock are verbs which are metaphors for prayer. Ask indicates coming to God with humility and consciousness of need, as a child comes to their father.  Seek links one’s prayer with pursuing after God and the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).  Knocking reminds me of the passage in Rev., where Jesus says that He is the one who is knocking, seeking entry into our hearts.  (Rev. 3:20)  The triple word play here suggests the intensity ad persistence with which we are to pray.
But v. 8 is a promise.  Everyone who asks receives and everyone who seeks finds and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Our God is not like a negligent parent, but rather like a good parent.
I worked in a maximum custody prison for many years.  Even these hardened criminals would often be very loving and kind toward their children.  They would write letters to them, call them on the phone, hug them and hold them on visiting days, and try to maintain good relations with them to the best of their ability.  Even evil people will not be cruel to their own children.  How much more will our heavenly Father, who is a good, good Father, be good to His children?  God’s desire for HIs children is for the best.  We need to be assured in our hearts of this.
This picture of God as a good, good Father contradicts the view that many of us have of God.  Those of us who grew up with an abusive parent struggle to see God the Father as loving and kind.  Instead, we see Him as harsh and cruel.  Yet, God desires us to know that He loves us, and desires the best for us.  The knowledge of God’s essential goodness underlies Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  And we have this knowledge also:  We are privileged to call God, “Daddy!” or “Papa.”  That is the sense of the address in the Lord’s Prayer.
Chris Tomlin sings a song I love entitled “Good, Good Father.”  The song, written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown, finds its roots in Tony’s story of growing up without a dad. The only person he’s ever called father, in his life, is God.
The same was true for me.  I grew up in a home with an abusive man.  My mother had gotten into a relationship with this man who abused us sexually, physically, and mentally.  I was abused from age 5 to 13.  After his death in 1975, my grandfather who I love deeply also died.  I felt lost and alone.  I was in the attic of our house considering suicide.  As I sat there in the dark crying because I had never known the love of a father, I heard God speaking to me out of the darkness, “I will be the Father you never knew.”  In that moment, I felt the love of God the Father flood my soul.
Good, Good Father
I’ve heard a thousand stories
of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father,
It’s who You are.  It’s who You are.  It’s who You are.
And I’m loved by Yopu
It’s who I am.  It’s who I am.  It’s who I am.
Thank you, Lord, for being our good, good Father.  You promise to never leave us or forsake us.  You promise that you love us and will give us good gifts.  Even so, Father, give us the Holy Spirit.  Amen.