Exploring Faith – Covenant Faith

January 16, 2018
 
Last time, I asked how you would picture faith. One of my favorite pictures is sitting in a chair. An illustration of Biblical faith is not simply to say I believe that a chair could hold me if I were to sit in it, but actually to walk over and sit in the chair. As we continue our study, I want us to look at covenant faith, the faith in God that brings us into relationship with Him and helps us live out that relationship.

 

Old Testament verses concerning covenant faith reveal several themes:

  • Covenant faith is grounded in an understanding of God’s unique place as God, His nature and character, His expectations on humans, and the fact that He knows how life ought to work.
  • Covenant faith is grounded in an understanding that humans have the responsibility to respond to God in worship and obedience, are in need spiritually and in other ways, and are inadequate apart from God.
  • Covenant faith is grounded in an understanding of life and eternity that it is best lived according to God’s will and in a right relationship with God.

 

New Testament verses reveal three broad themes in addition to the same understandings about God, humans, and life / eternity:

  • Covenant faith must be faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
  • Covenant faith cannot be in works but is only salvation by faith in Jesus.
  • Covenant faith is not a onetime-only transaction but is to be nurtured, grown in, fleshed out in obedience / surrender, and to be guarded and maintained so that we remain in it.

 

Covenant faith is a big deal. It is not a business arrangement but a joining with God in surrender, trust, reliance, and life-changing and eternal worship, surrender, and loyalty through Jesus Christ.

 



Exploring Faith – Looking at Product Faith

January 16, 2018

When I say “faith” what comes to mind? If I asked you for some pictures of faith, what would you tell me about? Bible verses about faith fall into several categories, one of which is what we might call “product faith” or faith for God to give us something or do something for us.

 

I cannot list the verses for you here, but there are observations we can make based on those passages.
  • We see “faith for” in line with what God said through Word and prophets.
  • We see “faith for” being a matter of trusting who God was, what God had revealed about Himself, and what God had said and acting on that.
  • We see “faith for” connected with the covenant realities of being God’s people.
  • We see “faith for” relating to God’s purposes.
  • We see “faith for” connected with extending the Kingdom of God.

 

So, based on these things, let me make some suggestions for Biblical faith for God to do or give things.
  • Let God be God rather than trying to use faith to make Him your servant.
  • Keep faith and your requests submitted to Scripture.
  • Keep faith submitted to the Kingdom purpose of God.
  • Understand how God works.

 

It seems  sometimes product faith is faith that He can; sometimes it is faith that He will; and sometimes it is just reliance and trust. If it is faith that He will, it should line up with who He has shown Himself to be and what He has said He wants.

 



The Difference in a Christian

January 09, 2018

1 Thessalonians 5:21-24 & 1 John 2:15-17  What do you think about people who are different? What kind of difference should characterize Christians? The Bible calls for a difference in Christians, and that is both encouragement and challenge.

Looking not only at our key verses, but at John 17:14-17, Acts 26:17b-18, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 1 Corinthians 6:11,   we find sanctification (being set apart for righteousness and thus different) is God’s will for our lives and is a matter of God’s work in our lives. It is a matter of a new identity, status, and position. It is the work of Jesus, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and it has two parts – when we get saved and as we grow in Christ. Sanctification is not only God’s work,    but it is our call and decision also (Ephesians 4:22-24 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). So, it is a fundamental difference in thinking, living, being, and associations that involves God’s work and our choices. There are, however, some challenges to and complications with sanctification:

  • As we get sanctified, we may become self-righteous instead of remaining humble.
  • We may slip into legalism, trying to earn God’s favor.
  • We may begin trying to live sanctified lives in our own strength.
  • We may get frustrated in the effort toward sanctification and stop trying.
  • We may forget there are disputable matters that Christians will disagree about when it comes to choices and actions.
  • We may forget we are called to help each other with holiness or slip into judgmentalism in that process.

Some need to celebrate our growth in sanctification, humbly thanking the Lord for His work of grace and maturation in our lives. Some of us have fallen into being overly critical, self-righteous, etc. (see above complications). How will you grow in being Biblically different in the days ahead?

 



Preparing for His Coming – Pictures of Readiness

December 12, 2017

Matthew 24:36 – 25:46  As we walk toward Christmas, we are looking at Scriptures that help us be ready for Jesus’ return. In Matthew 24:36-42, Jesus expresses His love for God the Father and for people by issuing a warning about the sudden, unexpected nature of His return and calling people to be ready. He then gives five pictures of readiness.

First, Jesus pictures readiness in terms of a homeowner who cannot know what time a burglar will come. Next, He pictures readiness in terms of contrast in a servant who either is faithful until the master’s return or begins to presume upon the master’s delay and becomes abusive and wicked. Third, He pictures readiness in terms of having the wisdom to be prepared vs. the foolishness not to be. I think of the unprepared partly as those who do religious things but have not use for a real walk with the Lord or who delay getting right with Him. Fourth, Jesus suggests accountability for how we use what we have been given. Finally, Jesus contrasts sheep and goats (righteous and unrighteous) in terms of caring practically for those in God’s family. What are the themes we find?

  • Jesus calls for more than “once and done” with no changes kind of faith.
  • There is a call for watchfulness and faithfulness.
  • There is a call to follow Jesus in a life-impacting way.
  • There is the reality of His return at an uncertain time and judgment.
  • Jesus expects the depth of your profession of Him to connect with actual repentance, surrender, and faith that changes who you are and how you live.
  • If who you are and how you think and live is not affected, there is a problem.


Preparing for His Coming – The Issue of Fruit

December 05, 2017

Matthew 3:1-12  As you think about the holidays, how do you prepare? How do you know when you are ready, and what happens if you are not? When we think about Jesus’ return, what checklist are you using to make sure you are ready? At what points might God’s list and yours differ? What is the cost for getting it wrong?

When John the Baptizer came proclaiming the Kingdom and calling for readiness, it was a message of hope after 400 long years of prophetic silence while God’s people waited for the promised Messiah. So, today, we wait for Jesus’ return. As the people of John’s day heard his call for repentance, their hearts were stirred, and many of them repented because they realized their need to be right with God. Others, like the religious leaders, assumed they were already right with God, but John challenged them and, so, challenges us with the question of adequate preparation. Instead of things like church membership and religious knowledge, God is looking for real fruit: things like the fruit of the Spirit, a heart that delights in God, reflecting God’s character in our lives, love for God and others, and more.

In John’s words, we find God expects our faith to make a difference in our lives, and a distinction and judgment is coming. One of the great things about God’s Kingdom economy is that barren trees can become fruitful, and chaff can turn into good wheat with repentance and real faith in and surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. What would it look like if the things we know about Jesus and claim to believe were allowed to really change us? True faith produces results.



Living as Strangers

November 28, 2017

1 Peter 1:13-21  In movies, it is common to see a stranger arrive in a town and hear, “You aren’t from around here, are you?” How do you feel about strangers? When have you been a stranger? A stranger doesn’t fit because they look different, act different, talk different, etc. Our main passage calls us to live like strangers, but what does that mean?

Peter’s instructions are a call on our lives that is grounded in a mindset of hope, a lifestyle resulting from our new identity, and the fundamental change in who we are that happens when we get born again. The motivation includes the nature of our Father God and the high cost of our salvation. The good news that makes it possible is the person and work of Jesus and our faith in Him. If we look at some other passages, we find four characteristics of Christian strangers. They have different values (1 John 2:15-17), different allegiances (Matthew 10:34-38), different priorities (Matthew 6:33), and a different way of seeing things    (2 Corinthians 5:16). As we strive to live as strangers, there are several challenges we face. There is the desire to fit in. There also is the pull of the flesh that might still desire un-Godly things and be tempted by them. There is the danger of having blind spots to our own shortcomings and becoming self-righteousness as we compare ourselves to others.  Finally, there is the tension of trying to be different and yet connect with people to lead them to Christ.

The normal direction is to move from being a stranger to becoming an insider. The call of Jesus is to move from being a native insider to living like a stranger.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – What is God Doing?

November 14, 2017

Acts 28:11-31  To what extent do we tend to hear these stories about Paul and think, “That’s a neat story, but I’m not Paul”? What if God wants to reign in your life more fully and wants to use where you go, what you say, and who you are to increase His reign in those you influence? Years ago, I said of this passage that God is always up to something to advance His reign, and we each have a choice every day whether to get in on it or stay out of it.

In vv. 11-16, we see God’s Kingdom purpose. We see divine favor and the support of fellow Christians as God fulfills His promise and furthers His purpose in and through Paul. Think about how God might further His purpose in and through your life and the kind of character that will bring divine and human favor for God’s glory in your life. Continuing, we find God’s Kingdom witness and message in vv. 17-28. We may approach this from Paul’s perspective, realizing we must be faithful, but some people will shut out the message of God’s grace. Taking it from the Jews’ perspective, we Christians are exposed to the Word each week – do we receive it and let it change us, or do we shut ourselves off from its teaching   effect on our lives? Finally, in vv. 28-31 we find God’s Kingdom advance. Have you ever been in a situation where you wonder how God could possibly advance His Kingdom? What is your current Kingdom opportunity, and what might God be doing through you, even that you are not aware of?

What is God doing? He wants to further His Kingdom purpose through the Kingdom witness so He reigns more fully in our lives, homes, church, and world. How might you be a part of that?

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Believing God and Following Jesus

November 07, 2017

Acts 27:1 – 28:10

 

Have you ever been sailing? What must it be like on the water with only the wind and skill to get you where you are going? Although some over-spiritualize our current passage, it is a real story of a real man on a real ship in a real storm who believed God and followed Jesus. What guidance do we find? Here are some themes.

  • God’s Involvement in Kingdom Advancement – Notice God intervened as Paul was in God’s will and intervened to further His Kingdom purpose. In our lives, we may ask for God’s involvement as it furthers His purposes and as we are walking faithfully with Him.
  • Grounded in Christ When Nothing Else is Tied Down – Sometimes, our lives are in chaos and turmoil, and Jesus may be the only certain thing. Notice Paul’s groundedness because of Jesus.
  • The Interplay Between God’s Part and Our Part – Notice Paul’s very practical advice at key points. The people on the ship could do certain things but could not do others. In furthering the Kingdom, God has a part, and we have a part.
  • Leading by Example – Notice how Paul led by example in trusting God and in eating and showing the others the example of what they needed to do. Who is watching you, and how are you leading by example?
  • Staying on Task Wherever We Are – Paul and the other believers could have done all sorts of complaining in their unplanned detour, but they ministered to people instead. What do we do with detours?

What is life like right now? How do we need God to intervene to further His Kingdom? Are we grounded in Jesus? What example are we setting? What is God’s part and ours? What does faithfulness look like where we are?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Our Jesus Story

October 24, 2017

Acts 26:1-32   As we find ourselves in yet another courtroom with Paul, hearing his Jesus story,  I want you to think with me about the things we hear and about your Jesus story. We hear about…

 

A Life Lived in the Wrong Direction (vv. 1-11) – As we compare and contrast our stories to Paul’s, we think of those who are passionately wrong about the Lord, those whose knowledge is extensive but inadequate to bring them to Christ, those who are interested in God and those who are not, those whose lives seem “together” and those who are not. The point is, before Jesus, we were all headed in the wrong direction, whatever that looked like.

 

A Life Re-directed by Jesus (12-18) – Think through the drastic re-direction in Paul’s life as he came under the Lordship of Jesus. The same should be true for us. We repent of sin and surrender to Jesus in faith. Then, things in our lives get retired, re-tooled, or re-purposed to line up with Jesus’ heart and plan.

 

The Call of the Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus (vv. 18-23) – In Paul’s testimony, we hear God’s purpose that we come out of darkness into righteousness and light and stop living under Satan’s power. We also hear the method of that deliverance in the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and faith in Him. Is that your story?

 

The Issue of Response (vv. 34-32) – As you heard about Jesus or as you hear His truth about your life as a Christian, there is the issue of your response. You may surrender and obey, or you may, like Festus, dismiss and disdain or, like Agrippa, suffer the spiritual near miss. You may divert and avoid the truth.

 

Listening to Paul’s testimony is a chance for us to think though our own faith and Jesus story and to pray for those who don’t yet have one.

 



Advancing the Kingdom: God’s Work Behind the Scenes

October 17, 2017

Acts 25:1-27 In  Acts 25, God’s work is not mentioned directly, even though Paul was going through difficult times, but God’s purpose was advanced. Sometimes in our difficult times, God is working behind the scenes, and here are some themes to think about.

  • The Reality of Difficult Places – Paul was being faithful, yet he was suffering injustice and accusation. Sometimes, we are in difficulty because of faithfulness, because of others’ evil toward us, or because of our own choices.
  • Questions Raised in Difficult Places – When we are in hard times, we may ask: How will I get through this? What do we want God to do, and what does God want to do? What do we want to do, and what does God want us to do? What is going on spiritually, and how might God’s Kingdom be advanced?
  • What Doesn’t Change in Difficult Places – Just like turning the lights off in a room doesn’t change where things are just because you can’t see them, difficult times don’t change certain things. The nature and purpose of God, the truth and content of the Gospel message, and our call and identity in Jesus don’t change in difficult places.
  • God’s Work in Difficult Places – God works (sometimes in discrete ways) to fulfill His promises and further His Kingdom purpose. He may do this even working through non-believers unbeknownst to them, and He may work with, through, or in spite of our decisions.
  • Our Faithfulness in Difficult Places – Our call is to partner with God in difficult places in order to realize the potential in these times, be people of integrity, sense what is happening spiritually, and demonstrate / share Christ with others.

How might God be working behind the scenes in your life? What does faithfulness to Him look like for you at this time?