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Archive for Christians – Page 2

First Comes the Root, Then the Fruit

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in Him (Colossians 2:6). How do we receive Christ? We receive Him by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8).  The Christian life is to be lived by faith alone. We are to walk (one moment at a time) by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). I’ve often asked God to allow me to see. Faith does not need to see. It is not blind faith, because we trust the One who guides us even in the darkness – one step at a time.

God has given to every believer a special task to accomplish for His glory. This is what James is teaching (James 2:14-20). I call it our faith-work!  James immediately gave two clear illustrations that saving faith will be productive. He used Abraham’s offering of Isaac his son on the altar (James 2:21). Abraham had already received life before God by faith (Genesis 15:6). The object of Abraham’s faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed in Jehovah. Jehovah of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ of the New (John 14:9). Abraham’s faith righteousness becomes the pattern for all of us(Galatians 3:5–13; Romans 4:1–5; James 2:23).

But what about Abraham’s faith-work? God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son. Abraham grew old and Sarah was barren. After trying to help God help them, they finally had to rest all their hope in God. If Isaac was to be, then God alone must make him happen. God responded by miraculously giving Sarah a son. No child could have ever been treasured more.

God then asked Abraham to do something incredible. He asked him to make an offering, not of an animal but of his most cherished possession: his son. What? This seemed completely irrational from man’s view, but Abraham had learned to trust totally in the Giver and not in the gift. He realized that as long as he had the Giver, he could never lose the gift.Abraham rose early in the morning, took Isaac, and departed to do what God had instructed him to do. Evidently there was no reluctance, and there were no second thoughts.

Just before Abraham was to take his son’s life, God miraculously stepped into the picture and spared Isaac (Hebrews 11:17). God said that He knew that Abraham feared Him (Genesis 22:12). In Abraham’s mind, he had actually taken the boy’s life. Abraham’s offering of Isaac was his faith-work. It was the work that God had planned for him to do long before Abraham was born (Ephesians 2:10). Abraham and his son walked together down that hill that day. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac had died and was now alive. What a beautiful picture of the resurrection! Wow! That work confirmed that his faith was genuine (James 2:14). The act of offering Isaac did not justify Abraham before God, but offering Isaac was clear evidence that Abraham had truly learned to trust in the Giver of life (James 2:22; Genesis 22:12). Amazing!

James continued with another illustration: Rahab the harlot (James 2:25). Rahab also illustrated that saving faith is productive faith. The Jews had left Egypt, winding their way to Canaan. They came to a small bump in the road called Kadesh Barnea. There they had a committee meeting. They decided to send twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against. In the city of Jericho, some of the spies were discovered and the authorities attempted to capture them. A harlot named Rahab hid the spies, sparing them from certain death. God amazingly used this woman, a harlot of all people, to preserve the entire Jewish nation. This was her faith-work (Hebrews 11:31). There is no written record that Rahab had ever believed in the Lord as Abraham had, but obviously she had. Why? Her faith-work proved it. She hid the spies because she had believed in the Lord. Her work revealed that her faith was a living faith in the living God. The seed of the Word of God in her had produced fruit after its kind.

Both James and Paul were right! Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the root of our salvation, our faith-work is the fruit. God leaves us in this world to produce fruit for His glory. First comes the root, then the fruit. God’s faith-work is proof that the seed of the gospel has been germinated in us. God has foreordained it to be so. Our work may not be giving to the poor, as in James’s day. Attempting to recognize the faith-work in our life or in the life of others is futile. We are never given the responsibility to become fruit inspectors. God alone knows when, where, and how our faith will become productive. We see this divine formula being played out through the list of faithful believers found in Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews said that faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). This hope becomes the evidence of things not seen. Stay safe and stay tuned.

A Faith That Works

The Word of God makes abundantly clear that human works have no part in God’s saving grace. If a single work is added to the work of Christ for salvation, no matter how sincere, grace is nullified, and life will not come (Romans 4:4–5). The obvious reason is that by adding works to grace, we diminish the precious value of the work and worth of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 11:6).  However, we are saved by faith in order to work for the God that saved us.

Works do not save, but we are saved to work. Christians are not given God’s life to simply sit in a pew and listen to sermons their entire Christian life. Someone has accurately said, “Christianity is not a spectator sport.” Christians are saved to glorify God within the generation in which they live. To glorify is to “shed light upon.” Said simply, Christians are saved to serve the God who has given them life. Every Christian has a divine destiny to fulfill.

Though we cannot work for our salvation, the faith that saves us will be productive. The very next words after Paul’s declaration that we are saved by grace through faith attest to that fact. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB). We were created in Christ for the purpose of walking in good works. Notice the small line that jumps out at us. “Which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us to accomplish. As we have already learned, “It is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  He works in us, executing that which pleases Him.

James made a heart-stopping point. He said that as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26). Wow! Was James contradicting Paul’s teaching that we are saved by grace alone? Absolutely Not!  

Follow the context of what James was saying. Just prior to writing this section, he had taken believers to task for treating the wealthy differently from how they treated the poor. They ushered rich people down front in their meetings, giving them the best seats, but the poor had to take what was left. James appealed to the believers to reach out to the poor among them (James 2:1–5). In fact, he insinuated that how they treated the poor revealed the kind of faith they had. Dead faith is faith that does not produce (James 2:14).

James illustrated his point by referring to the unbelieving, arrogant Jews who said they had faith in God yet made no attempt to meet the physical needs of the poor. This religious crowd, when approached by believers in desperate need of clothes or food, responded with words like “We’ll pray for you, brother.” They made no attempt to help. They were good with their words, but they were always careful to separate themselves from the Christians in need. The obvious reason is that this self-righteous crowd were not Christians. They said continuously that they believed in “one God,” indicating that they felt the Christians wrongly believed that Jesus Christ is God. Yet their works spoke so loudly that their words concerning their belief in one God fell on deaf ears.

James emphasized that faith that is not productive in some way is not saving faith. The Jews reminded the Christians often – as they do today – that they believed in the Old Testament Shema. “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God.” They did this so they could biblically counter the Christians claim that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. James reminded these religious hypocrites that the demons also believed in God, and they trembled (James 2:19). The demons obviously are not saved. To profess belief in one God is good theology, but it is not saving faith. Saving faith must be centered in the gospel and faith must be placed in the right object: the Lord Jesus Christ.

James went on to illustrate his point by saying that in this particular incident the way believers show their faith is by treating the poor fairly (James 2:15–20). Again, James was not teaching that we are given life from God by faith plus works. He was saying that God will work out the salvation that He has placed in us to will and to do of His good pleasure(Philippians 2:13). A living faith in Jesus Christ will be a living, productive faith.

That is exactly what Paul said in Ephesians 2:10. Believers are created in Christ for the purpose of producing good works – not to be saved, but because they are saved. The germinated seed of the gospel will produce God’s life in the believer, and this life should produce fruit. This is at the heart of what James taught. James quickly gives can’t miss illustrations. Stay safe and stay tuned.

 

Eternal Security vs. Personal Assurance

I can’t leave the subject of the gospel without a word on being saved forever – or as we say in the south, “Once saved, always saved.” There are passages in the Bible when taken at first glance have the tendency to shake our security. Come to think of it, we looked at one yesterday. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). But Paul quickly added, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (verse 13). We quickly realized the extreme value of the passage. It did not threaten our eternal security at all.

God’s word is very clear that the moment we believe in Jesus Christ we will never perish, but we will have eternal life (John 3:16). Think on this! If one truly possesses eternal life, then it is life that is eternal – it lasts forever. If eternal life could ever be lost for any reason, then it was never eternal life at all. It was probationary life! What a difference this makes. The truth is this. On the one hand, there is eternal security (God’s part of the eternal life question), and on the other, there is personal assurance (how we personally feel about God’s part in our salvation).  I have to admit that there have been times in my life when I did not feel saved. If my security was based on my feelings, I would have been a spiritual schizophrenic, never convinced.

First, let’s think of our Savior’s side of this equation. Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd (John 10:14).  Hear His words. “My sheep hear My voice, and they know Me and follow Me. I give them (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish.” I’m not a Greek scholar, but His words “never perish” are the strongest possible way to say “no, not ever.” One may say it like this, “No not ever under any circumstances, no matter what they may be, no matter who these circumstances may be happening to,” perish. That’s strong! 

And then the Good Shepherd says, “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” He holds us in His hand. He holds on to us. We do not hold on to Him. If my salvation rested on my ability to hang on to the Savior, I would have been lost many times. But He holds me fast. And then He said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all.” He is the almighty, all powerful, never-changing God. No one or nothing is able to snatch believers out of the Father’s hand. We are held tight in a double grip – the Son holds on to us (one grip) and the Father holds on to us (two grips). Praise His holy name!

“I and My Father are one.” This is an amazing statement confirming the deity of Christ. The Father and Son are one in essence and two in person. This is a hard saying, but the Jews got the meaning, even if we do not. The Jews picked up stones to kill Him. Jesus made a point followed by a question. “I have performed many good works for you, for which good work do you stone me?” Their answer was crystal clear and very powerful. I will quote it letter-perfect. “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33). Wow!

Quickly think back to the personal assurance side of eternal security. We now have an understanding of God’s side, but what about our side – what about our thinking? We best get this from the apostle Paul written just after His powerful explanation of God’s order of salvation (Romans 8:29-34).  He closed his argument with this statement:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). Then he goes immediately into a long list of possible ways that we could be separated from Christ. Shall tribulation (separate us) or distress, (separate us) or persecution, (separate us) or famine, (separate us) or nakedness, (separate us), or peril (separate us) (the Covid virus could be added here)? Finally, he mentions a sword (could death separate us)? His answer: “As it is written: For your sake we are killed all day long: We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Paul ended his entire position on security with these incredible conclusive words that should never be very far from our thinking: “I am convinced,” meaning I am persuaded. Why is Paul convinced? Because his personal assurance is based on God’s assurance. This states how Paul feels about God’s security: “I am convinced (persuaded) that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Like Paul, one must be convinced (persuaded) that eternal life means what it says.  When we are convinced of this, then we can begin to study the Bible as we should – knowing that our eternal security is never in doubt. Stay safe and stay tuned. 

 

Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Control (part 2)

Still pondering! Our subject is the control of the Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for learning to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance. We are told to walk by means of the Holy Spirit and not by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17). We are told to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not to lean not on our own understanding.  In all their ways we are to acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). We are to learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The more time we spend in the Scriptures, the more we have the tendency to become doers of it.  The longer we trust God’s Holy Spirit to help us do what God’s word tells us to do, the more we will do it.  Said another way, the more we learn to lean on the Holy Spirit’s control, the stronger our faith becomes.

A friend once shared with me that the most terrifying thing he had ever done was fly an airplane by instruments. He spent months learning how to use them. He worked hard imagining what it would be like to depend solely on the many gauges and dials in front of him. He said the first time he actually put into practice what he had learned was a heart-wrenching life changing moment. He took off from the airport and for the first time had to fly into a cloud bank at over three hundred miles per hour. He could see nothing past the windshield of the aircraft – nothing.   

At first, he felt the overwhelming tendency to panic and revert to flying the airplane by sight. He took a deep breath, steadied himself, and focused on the instrument panel in front of him. The instruments were all he had to tell him how fast he was flying, how high he was flying, whether he was right side up or upside down, and in what direction he was going. It was extremely exhilarating as well as terrifyingly scary!

Operating by the instruments alone, he came out of the clouds, hoping that the airport was where the instruments said it was supposed to be. And there it was! He had the overwhelming desire to shout. I think he probably did. Success after success taught him that he could rely on the airplane’s capability. The airport was always there. The more he flew using this method, the more confident he became. He learned to trust that the instruments were telling him the truth.

That accurately describes how Christians learn to live by faith. Believing that God’s word is telling the truth and trusting the Holy Spirit to give us the power and the encouragement to live by it. At first taking small steps of faith, we learn to rely upon the sound teaching of God’s Word, not our own human desires or inclinations.

This works well as long as God’s Word goes along with our human desires. When we can clearly see out of the windshield. But when there is clash and life gets a little testy, when God’s Word often goes contrary to our human inclinations and tendencies, we have an overwhelming inclination to revert to flying by sight.  For instance, when God’s word tells us to serve those that we wish to lead – that goes against our human inclinations. Our success is not found through self-promoting pride and arrogance but through submission and humility. When we begin to align a ourselves with God’s word, we can see through the windshield. Then we begin to give Him honor when we can’t see. We become consciously aware of His continuing presence 24/7. And our goal is to honor God in private as well as publicly.

My pilot friend said that when flying by instruments, he could not allow himself to revert to what his human inclinations were telling him, not even for a moment. He had to train himself to depend solely on the instruments. The same is true when living by God’s Word. As we learn to walk by faith, we discover that God is always faithful to do what He says He will do. We can trust Him with our very lives.

This does not mean that we do not fail. We do! We sin because we are sinners. We are to quickly right ourselves by confessing our sin to God and putting our eyes back on the instruments (1 John 1:8-9).

As the disciples spent personal time with Jesus Christ every day, their faith grew. They walked with Him, talked with Him, and learned to put their confidence in Him. They grew to love Him. We can do the same thing today—by faith.

By faith, we can attend the wedding at Cana in Galilee, where the Christ turned the water into wine. By faith, we can sit beside Him in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, when He stilled the storm with the words “Peace, be still.”  By faith, we can observe the faces of the blind man that the Christ caused to see, the leper that He cleansed, and we can rejoice with the crippled man as he walked for the first time in his life. By faith, we can stand with Him under the sycamore tree when Jesus called old Zacchaeus.

By faith, we can be there as He cursed the fig tree and as He talked with the woman of Samaria.  By faith, we can stand with Him and sense His grief as He wept at the death of His friend, but then we can stand amazed when He called Lazarus to life. By faith, we can observe Him on the cross as He cried out, “My God, my God why have your forsaken me?” By faith, we can hear Him say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” By faith, we can stand by the two Mary’s at the mouth of His empty tomb and hear the angels say, “He is not here, for He has risen as He said He would.” By faith, we can walk with Him along the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. By faith, we can touch His resurrected body as Thomas did. By faith we can stand with Him and watch Him ascend back into heaven with His promise to return ringing in our ears. By faith, God’s airport will always be there. Stay safe and stay tuned.

     

Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Equipping (part 2)

It is a beautiful day at the Ponderosa. I am still pondering the equipping ministry of the Holy Spirit. After the original apostles and prophets had done their part in laying the foundation for the church (Ephesians 2:20), God brought in the rest of His construction crew who are still building on the foundation today.

There are workers with the gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). These believers are equipped by God with an over-the-top ability to trust Him regardless of the turmoil that is happening around them. They take God at His word regardless of apparent odds against them. Other believers weak in faith observe their ministry and follow their lead and in the process learn that God is faithful and they grow in their faith.  During the time when our lives are in jeopardy is when those with the gift of faith shine.

Those with the gift of teaching (Romans 12:7) have an insatiable appetite and ability to study the depth of the Word of God and have the capacity to communicate its meaning to others who have the desire to know. The Bible is their textbook, not a quarterly. New believers have the chance to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth because of the ministry of these gifted believers.

Helps (1 Corinthians 12:28) is the gift of serving the body of Christ behind the scenes. The person with this gift makes an excellent deacon, serving unselfishly. The work is often tedious and thankless.

The gift of administration (1 Corinthians 12:28) is the ability to organize the local church ministry. Those with this gift are God’s efficiency experts. They have a desire that God’s work be carried out decently and in order (2 Corinthians 14:40). They go about their business with such love and reverence for the Lord that they are a blessing to everyone.

The gift of exhortation (Romans 12:8) is the gift of encouraging. The word literally means “to call to one’s side.” This is a great complementary gift to teaching. The teacher brings one to the point of saying, “I see that.” The encourager brings him to the point of believing, “I can do that.”

Those with the gift of giving (Romans 12:8) are able to give to the Lord’s work consistently, liberally, and cheerfully. They go far beyond what they feel God requires. The giving is done without any secret reluctance or false pretense. There are people who give as long as others know that they are giving. This is not Biblical giving at all, and it is certainly not the gift of giving. The gift of giving is not reserved for the wealthy only.

The gift of mercy (Romans 12:8) is so necessary yet so misunderstood. Mercy is not justice. Justice is to give one what is felt to be deserved. Mercy is to give what is not deserved. Expectations are not placed on those who receive mercy from those with this gift. If the recipients in some way deserved acts of mercy shown them, it is not mercy.

Those with the gift of evangelism (Ephesians 4:11) have the ability to present the gospel of God’s grace with extreme clarity to anyone, anywhere, at any time. They also have an overwhelming desire to do so.

The gift of shepherding (Ephesians 4:11) is the ability to guide, feed, and guard the church of Jesus Christ. This is the ideal gift for a pastor.

The motivation that drives all of these gifted people is the conscious awareness that they are serving not only the sheep but its Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is continuing to build His “living temple” through these construction workers.  The only prescription given in the entire Bible for the growth of the church is found in Ephesians 4:15-16: “Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Most of the organizations today calling themselves churches are trying every worldly method under heaven to grow a congregation. These schemes draw crowds, but they will not call sheep, feed sheep, nor build the flock. As soon as the unbiblical methods wear thin, the crowd will leave. On the other hand, when the last member of the true body is in place, the Head—the Lord Jesus Christ—will return and remove His church from this planet (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).  Stay safe and stay tuned.