The Grace of Faith

I’ve been working through my favorite author’s latest work, and recently read a chapter entitled “The Grace of Faith”. It is so rich and insightful and wonderful, that I want to share some of it with you for our Hebrews 11 reflection on faith. Actually, I’d love to share the whole awesome chapter with you, but that’d be a bit much for an email I guess. Therefore, I’ll keep it to a couple paragraphs.

Our having received the gift of faith should not lead us to complacency. We who practice religion should not consider ourselves untouched by the secular skepticism that surrounds us. Our faith, perhaps without knowing it, is not absolute. More often than not our understanding of it is qualified, partial, and undeveloped, and so our assent is incomplete. For example, we will often find ourselves buttressing our presentation of religion by appealing to its visible benefits; its works of compassion and education, its ethical and moral guidance, its role in personal well-being. So eloquent are we in religion’s defense that we may convince even ourselves that its principal value is to be found in these collateral benefits. And meanwhile we become forgetful of the “supernatural” basis of all our faith and practice.

It is possible to admire Jesus as a great teacher of wisdom and as a model of genuine humanity and, with great sincerity of heart, to become his enthusiastic followers by purely rational or historical grounds—just as some may become followers of Socrates, the Buddha, or Karl Marx. Such an adherence is not what Christian discipleship is about. Christianity is more than an identification with an admired leader; it is not merely a philosophy or a code of conduct. Authentic Christianity sees itself as a participation in the life of God through immersion in the mystery of the Word become flesh. At the heart of our adherence to Christ is a truth that surpasses human understanding, one that even we, who accept the truth, cannot fully explain. The gift of faith takes us beyond the known world into a sphere of being that transcends the power of rational thought. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

 

Thankful For…

Philemon 4-5

I always thank my God when your name comes up in my prayers, because I’ve heard of your love and faithful loyalty towards the Lord Jesus and to all God’s people.

I love what Paul is thankful for concerning Philemon.

It’s not, “I thank God that you do things for me, make me feel good about myself, and are so talented and successful in ministry.”

No.

He is thankful because he hears of his love and faith towards King Jesus and for God’s people.

Is there anyone you know that you can thank God for because of their love and faith for Jesus and his followers?

Twisted Division

Titus 3:9-11

But stay well clear of foolish disputes, genealogies, quarrels, and squabbles about the law; they serve no purpose and are worthless.

If someone is causing divisions, give them a first warning, then a second, and then avoid them.

You know that a person like that is twisted, sinful, and self-condemned.

As we wrap up what are called the “Pastoral Letters” (1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, & Titus), one of the things that struck me most was how often Paul wrote about not getting involved with foolish disputes.

It must’ve been quite an issue then, and I am thankful for this instruction because it is still an issue today.

I love how Paul says straight up that they serve no purpose and are worthless.

That has definitely been my experience. I have yet to see someone really start heading in the right direction as a result of quarrels about the Bible or debates on non-core theological issues.

Avoiding them seems harsh, but it’s only after the grace of a first and second warning.

Something I’ve thought of often is that I see no examples in Scripture of how we are to keep pouring energy into people who only want to argue and are not ready or willing to make a change in their life.

If anything, we see the opposite. At times, it almost sounds cold to “shake the dust off your sandals” and leave. Yet I do believe that is proper for those who Paul calls twisted (or warped), sinful, and self-condemned. The original language is such that these are ones who keep on sinning, after knowingly been warned. They keep causing division which is a very serious issue in Scripture, never to be taken lightly. They are in a hopeless state—though they do not have to stay there!

I definitely have fallen into this trap, sacrificing energy to those who had no intention of doing anything positive with it for Christ. And the worst thing about it is looking back only to see those who I missed who were willing do what it takes to grow in Christ.

But this is how we grow, and now I’m better for it.

A person who wants to dispute, quarrel, and squabble does not want to grow in Christlikeness.

I can relate o Warren Wiersbe’s advice and experience:

[A]void people who like to argue about unimportant the things of the faith….I have learned that professed Christians who like to argue about the Bible are usually covering up some sin in their lives, are very insecure, and are usually unhappy at work and home.

Redeemed From..For…

Titus 2:14

He gave himself for us so that he could ransom us from all lawless actions and purify for himself a people as his very own who would be eager for good works.

God has redeemed us, not only in status, but also from a meaningless life of purposeless wandering and ridiculosity.

We are not only in right standing with God because of Jesus’ work one weekend long ago, but we are saved from having to aimlessly search for something to do,  or for what might give us the elusive sense of satisfaction (but probably not).

The way redemption works on a practical level, at least in one way of thinking about it, is that we always have something to think about, always something to do, that is of a higher meaning than anything we can come up with ourselves.

God is the highest thought possible for us.

Thinking of God, conversing with God, working for God—we literally have nothing better to do.

If we pour ourselves into these activities which draw us closer to Yahweh, we’ll have no time, energy, or desire to do anything stupid.

Like my friends with five or more young kids, they don’t waste a lot of time or energy simply because they don’t have any left over to waste!

Train Your Nous

Titus 1:15-16

Everything is pure to people who are pure. But if people are defiled or faithless, nothing is pure for them; even their mind and conscience are defiled.

They declare that they know God, but they deny him by what they do. They are detestable and disobedient, and useless for any good work.

First off, this verse (15) has been misused, abused, taken out of context to justify…whatever. Let’s be clear that Paul is referring specifically to Jewish food laws and ritual purity. Some people were saying that you had to keep Jewish food laws in order to become a Christian.

Well, all foods had been declared clean to eat, sooooo sorry ’bout your old eating requirements.

At the heart of this passage is what Jesus taught—that purity is a matter of inner disposition, not external performance, adherence to ritual, or avoidance of the “unclean”.

The reason everything was impure for those who Paul calls “defiled or faithless”, is because their minds and consciences were corrupted—the place out of which flows who you really are and how you see the world.

The word translated “mind” is the Greek word nous, for which we have no great English equivalent. You might say it is our spiritual receptive capacity, our deep understanding, receptive capacity of the intellect, or the comprehension. It’s like a little radio inside of you which can actually be tuned in to the voice of God (not necessarily audible). The nous can be trained to register or perceive God speaking and moving.

If that is off, everything is off, so that you see the good that God has made as impure or corrupt. Impurity is in their souls, not in God’s created world. Since their nous is defiled, everything appears impure to them, and, therefore needs legalistic regulation.

How ironic that “by avoiding what they consider ritually detestable, the false teachers become detestable themselves….with all their attention to minutiae of the Mosaic law, they are still found to be ‘disobedient’ because they mistakenly reject true Christianity (which centers on salvation by grace through faith) in favor of their own brand of religion.” (Andreas Kostenberger)

Professing to know God, they were not even fit for Kingdom work, since they did not first surrender their internal lives to Christ who announced and inaugurated said Kingdom.

Before You Go To Church

2 Timothy 4:3

The time is coming, you see, when people won’t tolerate healthy teaching. Their ears will start to itch, and they will collect for themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.

It’s interesting to me, as I’ve studied this verse, that it’s not just the obvious “I don’t want to feel conviction, tell me what is pleasant” going on here. Though that is definitely a factor.

The other element is boredom.

There is this underlying boredom, apathy, annoyance.

People were becoming bored with hearing the truth, with hearing healthy teaching, or sound doctrine, as some translations put it.

How do people tire of hearing the deep truth of the gospel? How does one become bored with the incompressible depth and beauty of the incarnation, cross, and resurrection??

By desiring to have your ears tickled—craving something “new”. By developing an insatiable appetite for the novel. To have your ears tickled, as some Bibles have it, is to desire to hear only what one enjoys, instead of desiring to hear the truth, whether enjoyable or not.

We must be so careful of this, and keep ourselves in check.

Do you want to hear from God at the Sunday service? Or do you want to hear a great, interesting sermon with fun stories? We’re not saying they’re mutually exclusive, but what do you crave?

I remember years ago when I first started hearing people say things like, “You should come to our church, the pastor is really funny and tells such good stories.”

Uhhhh, that’s ok, I can buy tickets for when I want that sort of thing. Last time I checked, preaching and teaching was to hear from God.

Are You Susceptible?

2 Timothy 3:6-7

This group, you see, includes those who worm their way into people’s houses and ensnare foolish women who are overwhelmed with their sins and are pulled and pushed by all kinds of desires,  always learning but never able to arrive at the truth.

There are three states of mind which will make you susceptible to cults, false teachings, and false religions. These states will severely inhibit your discernment in life.

Now in Paul’s specific context, there were some (not all) women who were particularly vulnerable to these jerk-face false teachers preying upon them. But I think it is obvious that the principles apply and speak to all of us, men and women alike, across the centuries.

Being overwhelmed with your sin or burdened with guilt.

Some of us are so loaded down, that we literally can’t think straight. It can get to the point of wanting escape from this bondage so badly, that you’ll fall for any teaching that seems promising for relief. With Jesus, there is no guilt or burden because he took it. It is we who choose to carry it, or believe false preachers who work to make us feel horrible. About our sins, our past, and ourselves. Jesus is glad to take your guilt away, and renew your spirit.

Pulled and pushed by all kinds of desires.

Desire is not bad in and of itself, but being enslaved to our desires is pretty sucky because they become our master controllers instead of God. They dictate where we go and what we do, and aren’t always kind about it. We become focused on “What I’m going to do next”, and that determines our day, crushing our ability to discern God’s will and what the Spirit might want us to do next because we can’t hear the still small voice over the roar and screaming of our self-serving desires. Oh how many people and God-opportunities we miss when desire is obnoxiously in the driver’s seat!

Always learning but never able to arrive at the truth.

How ironic, and yet how common. Always looking for the next thing, the newest idea, to learn, to try. We have already arrived at the truth and its name is Jesus Christ. The search is over. But seeking continues indefinitely, because we cannot exhaust or master God or the truth of God. We do keep mining, meditating, applying, deepening, absorbing. But we need not keep searching for the truth. Or for methods. We just keep listening. And out of that can come all sorts of great things–maybe even methods.

God is not looking for better methods, but for men and women sold out to Him.

We are not to be running to and fro, tossed about on the waves of the latest doctrine, dogma, or religion. Rather, we are to be deepening our relationship with God through Jesus the King.

 

The Trap of Unbelief

2 Timothy 2:23-26

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.  

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.  

Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

The core issue of unbelief is not intellectual.

It is spiritual.

This is why the Lord’s servants are not called to win arguments. And I believe we’re called to proclaim the truth of the Gospel more than defend it. That opens the spiritual door for the Spirit to work in someone’s heart…if it is not too hardened.

That is how we can be gentle, because we know the truth from experience, and therefore understand that unbelief comes from the evil one in the spiritual realm, and a person’s spiritual eyes must open for them to see.

The Gospel truth is not about intellectual understanding (Thank God!), but about spiritual sight.

When we genuinely see that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual darkness, it becomes obvious to us that we don’t try to conquer people who are being held captive, we work to set them free!

 

Stir It Up

2 Timothy 1:6

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you…

We all have the gift of God within us, which is the Holy Spirit. We also have other gifts to enact God’s mission in the world. All of us do.

We do not need any new ingredients, we just need to stir up what is already in us.

Some translations have “stir up” or “fan into flame” for “rekindle”.

God has done His part in giving us His Spirit when we believed on Jesus. It is our part to fan it into flame, to stir it up so that God’s Spirit is an active ingredient in our lives and bodies and not a dormant one.

Remember what we said a few days ago, that grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.

Hear what John Chrysostom said of this verse over sixteen hundred years ago:

For it requires much zeal to stir up the gift of God. As fire requires fuel, so grace requires our alacrity, that it may be ever fervent….For it is in our power to kindle or extinguish this grace….For by sloth and carelessness it is quenched, and by watchfulness and diligence it is kept alive. For it is in you indeed, but you must render it more vehement, that is, fill it with confidence, with joy and delight.

Timothy 1:7

for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

If you’re living in fear or despair because of the current political climate, then you need to stir it up.

Stir up the Spirit within you.

Because the Holy Spirit is not cowering in fear at what is going on in the world.

God’s Spirit always operates in power, in love, and in self-discipline (or sound judgment).

But as Chrysostom said, we do have the power to kindle or quench the Spirit of God within us.

Satisfied?

1 Timothy 6:8

If we have food and clothing, we should be satisfied with it.

Do you have anything to eat today?

Do you have anything to wear?

Do you have Christ?

Is that enough?

Are you satisfied?

Or do you [think you] need more?

People who want to get rich, by contrast, fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and dangerous lusts which drown people in devastation and destruction.

And I think we need to cautious not to say, “Oh I don’t want to be rich” thinking always of those who have a ton more than we do. The idea I think is that if we’re wanting much more than basic food and clothing when it comes to material possessions, then we need to take a moment to examine why, and stop ourselves before we fall down the very slippery slope of “keeping up” and thinking we need more than we do to be satisfied in this extremely short life as we know it.

We brought nothing into the world, after all, and we certainly can’t take anything out.

You never see a U-Haul being pulled behind a hearse, as they say.