Cultivating Faith – Part 5

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Patience (Genesis 15.1-21)

Have you ever struggled with what you know to be the promise of God, but it doesn’t seem to be a present reality?  As Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “No doubt the trouble is with you!”  God provided Abraham with a great promise in Genesis 12, but he was struggling with present reality by the time we reach Genesis 15.

After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir (Genesis 15.1-3).

Abraham is fearful and wondering what happened to the promise of God.  God responds by telling him that He is his shield, his exceedingly great reward.  God is both the protector and fulfiller of promises.  However from Abraham’s perspective, the proof is in the pudding.  There is no son …no natural heir.  Perhaps Eliezer is to be heir, but that cannot be because he is a servant and not a son.  Perhaps Abraham should adopt his faithful servant to be a faithful son.  But God will have none of this.

God mercifully reiterated the promise He had made earlier.  It will not be an adopted servant but an actual son as an answer to the promise God made.  God used the stars of heaven as an object lesson (Genesis 15.4-5).  This will be the number of Abraham’s actual descendants.

How does Abraham respond to this?  “And [Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15.6).  Abraham’s belief or faith is the key in this verse.  He trusted in God.  This has been and always will be the way of deliverance, whether it comes to the deliverance of a man’s eternal soul or deliverance from agonizing adversity.

When did Abraham believe to the saving of his soul?  It was when God called him out of Ur in Genesis 12.  The writer of Hebrews speaks:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.8-10).

Abraham is not circumcised until Genesis 17.  He is 99 in that chapter of Scripture.  This is several years after his actual conversion.  Circumcision is a sign of Abraham’s faith, but it is not the basis of his justification.  The same could be said about Christian baptism.  Baptism is a sign of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it does not justify anyone.  Paul said, in Romans 4.9-12:

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Just as Abraham, we are justified by faith in the gift of God.  The gift of God is the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.  Faith is not a work of man; faith is man’s acceptance of the work of God.  Romans 4.3 clearly tells us that Abraham believed God and that that belief was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  As we work backwards in Romans 4, we find that Abraham was not justified by works or else he would have something about which he could boast (see Romans 4.2).  Therefore faith is not a work of man but acceptance of the free grace of God.  Faith is not work but resting in God’s work.

Man has always been saved by grace through faith.  If faith is a work, then man would be justified by works.  However man is justified by faith not works.

[Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4.20-22).

Galatians 3.6 adds that Abraham believed God and that his belief was accounted to him for righteousness.  That is why only those who believe are truly sons of Abraham.

Salvation is offered by God; it is all of His grace.  Faith is man receiving the free gift of God.  The believer trusts or rests in the work of Another not in himself or in his own work.  I don’t believe God causes men to believe; however, I do believe God grants to mankind the avenue of faith.  We take it or leave it.  This understanding of faith means that when I meet God before His throne, I will have no one to blame but myself for rejecting His gracious avenue of faith.  The time for faith is alway when you cannot see.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).

Abraham believed God.  He looked for a Savior to come.  We believe God and look back to a Savior who has already come.  Abraham and New Testament believers are saved the same way:  By grace alone through faith alone!

The context of Genesis 15 indicates that Abraham’s faith must be in the promise of God.  This faith is cultivated and strengthened by yet another revelation of God:

And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it (Genesis 15.7-8)?

Abraham desired confirmation or a sign.  God does not rebuke Abraham for this.  As a matter of fact God provides a sign for him and for many saints in the Scripture.  These signs strengthen the faith of believers.  Gideon (Judges 6) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20.8) are examples of believers strengthened by the signs God granted them.

Ahaz (Isaiah 7) is an example of a sanctimonious king who snubbed God’s prophet by saying, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord” (Isaiah 7.12)!  But the Lord gave him a sign anyway.  When the sign was rejected, Ahaz expressed unbelief.  There is irony here for those who carefully follow this thread of thought.

Abraham asks for a sign, but he expresses faith in doing so.  He is longing to see the promise God made him fulfilled.  So God graciously replies:

And [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

This seems strange until you understand that God condescended to the practice of men who cut a covenant but literally cutting an animal in half.  Both parties involved in the covenant would pass between the halves of the animal in order to confirm their agreement.  But God alone walks between the halves of animals:

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Genesis 15.12-21).

God appears as a smoking furnace or oven and a burning lamp or torch passing between the halves and cutting the covenant with Abraham unconditionally.  God had Abraham set things up and protect the slaughtered animals from vultures, but He alone passed through the halves.  God is pictured as a smoking oven and burning torch to symbolize His great power and holiness (cp. Exodus 19.18; Isaiah 6).

Abraham fell into a deep sleep before this unfolded.  It is the same kind of sleep Adam fell into when Eve was created in Genesis 2.21.  Great darkness overwhelmed Abraham.  The darkness filled him with horror.  God is a God to be feared, a consuming fire.  Abraham was overwhelmed by the powerful and holy God!

God promised and foretold many things in Genesis 15.  But still Abraham is looking toward an uncertain future at the end of this covenant.  The promise remains elusive to him; it is not a present reality.  God is cultivating a life of faith within him.

We have a lot in common with Abraham when it comes to cultivating a life of faith.  We look toward the future even as he did.  We look for a continuing city …for Heaven and a bright and glorious reign.  But this is not a present reality.  Yet we patiently wait as we cultivate a life of faith.  How do we patiently abide in Him and in His promises?  God has given us nothing less than His powerful and holy presence.  He dwells in each of us, affirming that His revealed Word is completely true.  Paul wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5.1).

Do not fear or be discouraged when the promises of God do not seem to be a present reality in your life.  Simply believe.  Abraham patiently endured and then he obtained the promise (see Hebrews 6.15).  We must patiently endure until the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6.9).  Cultivate a life of faith by imitating those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6.12)!  The patient cultivate a life of faith!

Cultivating Faith – Part 4

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Courage (Genesis 14.1-24)

The Courage of a Rescuer (Genesis 14.1-16)

Every Adventure Story Has a Villain (14.1-11)

Every good adventure story has a villain, a victim, and the courage of a victor.  There is also a catalyst, circumstance and/or event that sets everything in motion.  Look beyond the names that are difficult to pronounce in the opening of Genesis 14, and you will find four kings invading Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities.  The invasion was successful and the defeated kings served Chedorlaomer and the other victors for twelve years before they finally rebelled in the thirteenth year.

Genesis 14.5-11 describes the rebellion.  This rebellion led to the second battle described in the chapter.  The kings are back in the Valley of Siddim – four against five.  The rebels are put down decidedly.  It is at this point that we remember that Lot is dwelling in the land of one of the defeated rebel kings.  All the goods and provisions of Sodom are taken.

The large epic battle between the kings is a macrocosm of the situation.  It’s one thing to talk about general sweeping movements (like in the miserable days of the Judges); quite another to talk about how specific people and families are affected (viz., Ruth and Naomi against the bleakness of the day of Judges).  We speak excitedly about the War on Terrorism.  However, a day like Patriot Day in America, marking the terrorist attack in New York, is a great and poignant day of grief for individual families of those who died on September 11, 2001 or those families of soldiers who died in combat since that time.  We marvel at an earthquake, but the victims have had their lives completely changed.  While every adventure story has a villain…

Every Adventure Story Has a Victim (14.12)

“They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed” (Genesis 14.12).  This is the same Lot who chose poorly because he was occupied too much with this present world and too little with things above.  At first blush, we might just think that he is simply getting what he deserves.  But the courage of a rescuer has uncommon valor and is decisive in this particular story.

Every Story Has a Victor (14.13-16)

One of Lot’s family escaped and reported to Abraham what had happened.  Abraham responded by arming 318 of his trained servants to enter the fray because it involved his family.  This is true patriotism.  He armed servants born in his own house.  These men were very loyal to Abraham, and he cared for them.  Genesis 17 tells us that both son and slave would receive the sign of circumcision in Abraham’s house.  There were 318 of them.  If you add the individual digits in the number 318 (3+1+8), they equal 12.  That means absolutely nothing.  There were simply 318 of them!  But one thing is absolutely certain:  Abraham cared about them but was willing to sacrifice them and himself to get Lot back.

The fact that the text says Abraham and his men pursued the victorious kings and their vanquished victims as far as Dan actually means as far as Laish.  Moses simply updated the name under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Abraham attacked by night with a divided force and won the victory.  He brought back his nephew Lot, Lot’s goods, and the women and the people of Lot’s family.  This is evidence of Abraham’s good character.  He was a sacrificial, compassionate, and courageous man.  In him we see the courage of a rescuer, but we also witness…

The Communion of the Righteous (14.17-24)

The King of Salem and Godly Righteousness (14.17-20)

Apparently, the kings came out to meet Abraham when he returned from the battle.  Two are singled out in our text:  Melchizedek, the King of Salem and the King of Sodom.  Both form a definitive contrast between godly righteousness and ungodly perversion.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, brought Abraham bread and wine, something for which Abraham and his men would have been grateful after a long, arduous journey.

Melchizedek is not only identified as a king but also a priest.  The fact that he received a tithe from Abraham speaks of his superior position to Abraham.  This is an abrupt and brief scene is Genesis.  The next time he is mentioned is in Psalm 110:4.  But it is Hebrews 7 that gives us the most information about this mysterious figure.  Who is he?

1.Is he Christ pre-incarnate?

2.Is he an actual historic person who typifies Christ?

3.Is he a Canaanite priest?

Personally, I am comfortable saying that he was an actual historic person who typified Jesus Christ.  He couldn’t be a Canaanite priest if he worships God Most High.  Hebrews 7.3 says that he was “made like the Son of God” not that he was the son of God.  Whoever he was, he was an important type of the Lord Jesus Christ and maybe even a Christophany.

Hebrews 7.2 says he was the king of righteousness and the king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy (recorded that is), and having neither a birthday or a date of death recorded in the Scripture.  He typifies the righteousness and the peace of Jesus Christ.  Jesus holds the scepter of righteousness and has made the King of Righteousness through His blood on the cross.  Jesus is actually Prophet, Priest, and King.

The King of Salem came forth to honor Abraham with bread and wine.  I can hardly say that without reminding believers of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ our righteousness and our peace.

Why did Melchizedek bless Abraham?  He actually blessed both Abraham and the God of Abraham.  Abraham was the willing instrument of the omnipotent God Most High who had delivered Abram’s enemies in his hand.  All God’s children are blessed when God Himself is blessed.  The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham indicates that we too ought to bless those who bless God.

Abraham gave a tithe of all to Melchizedek (Genesis 14.20).  This is not just remuneration for the bread and wine.  It appears to be something more.  He acknowledged that Melchizedek was God’s man.  As priest, he blessed Abraham and served as some kind of mediator (if just in prayer) on Abraham’s behalf.  “Every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5.1).

Therefore, Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes because this priest was somehow God’s representative.  Abraham certainly respected Melchizedek because this king of righteousness respected God.  Those who serve at the altar, ought to live of the altar.  Those who minister to us of their spiritual things, should receive our joyful gratitude and our temporal things.  So Abraham risked his life to save Lot and received the treasure gained in his conflict.  Yet he gave to Melchizedek the portion due to God, namely a tithe.

It is a blessed practice to give at least 10% of one’s income regularly as a Christian.  We give back to God not so that we will get a tax break …not so that God will bless us with prosperity …not so that we will no longer feel guilty …not to pull our own weight as a part of our local church.  We give as an act of gratitude and worship (see 2 Corinthians 8-9).

Abraham gave a tithe of all.  It all belonged to God.  Faithful givers learn that when they give sacrificially to God, the rest of the money He brings our way is sufficient.  If we have more, we spend more on stuff we do not need.  It’s not really an act of sacrifice for western believers to give 10% to God.  It can be an act of worship.

Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4).  Melchizedek was a priest for a time; Jesus a priest forever.  The Levitical priests ministered for a time; Jesus forever.  Melchizedek is the shadow; Christ the substance.

Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever (Hebrews 7.23-28).

Jesus is our great High Priest.  He is both propitiator and propitiation.  He not only deserves a portion of our income, but our bodies and souls as a living sacrifice to God.  Paul would later write, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12.1).

But while the King of Salem provides communion for the godly righteousness.  The King of Sodom represents ungodly perversion.

The King of Sodom and Ungodly Perversion (14.21-24)

Abraham refused gifts from the King of Sodom.  He didn’t want to be obligated to the wicked king.  Abraham’s motivation in the warfare was the good of his family and the glory of God.  He didn’t go to war in order to be rich or grab at power.  This something that the King of Sodom couldn’t possibly understand.  The gifts of the ungodly people around us have the potential to pervert our way.  They always have deadly strings attached.

If you were not careful in reading the Scripture, you might think that the King of Sodom offered more than the King of Salem.  The riches of battle versus bread and wine?  That doesn’t sound like a good deal in this present world.  But Abraham looked for a continuing city.  He was cultivating a life of faith that sees beyond today.  That takes courage.

Receive from Sodom and you’re going to be indebted to Sodom.  If you’re indebted to Sodom, you are a slave of Sodom.  You are unable to make choices for yourself.  Be wary of making decisions that give people control of your life.  Christians belong in the hands of God.  God alone has control over us.

If we are to cultivate a life of faith, we must look at the daily mercy we receive as guidance to God.  Focus not on the gifts He bestows upon us, but on the Giver Himself.  Remember that God brings the blessing of rain upon the just and the unjust.  But only the righteous are emboldened to fight for a victory that is already theirs by faith.

Ungodly perversion awaits those who choose treasure over righteousness and peace.  True victory in our lives simply gives us the opportunity to glorify the God who provides it.  Choosing to cultivate a life of faith means a life filled with unlikely choices from the world’s perspective.  But choices for the glory of God will yield a life of great gratitude and take great courage.

Cultivating Faith (Part 3)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Self-Denial

The story of Abraham and Lot is a story of two roads which diverge.  It is a story filled with choices.  While the eternal destination of both men is the same, the ways in which they lived on this earth become a stark contrast.

As we enter Genesis 13, both men led their families side-by-side with unity of purpose.  As long as the interests of both men aligned, they maintained unity.  But a point came when their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together (Genesis 13.6).  The result was strife leading to separation.  The separation became necessary in order to promote stability and peace.  The diverging directions of both men teach us some very important principles.

It is possible to trace the choices of both Abraham and Lot under two main headings.  Both men represent diverging philosophies of could be termed as separation and infiltration.  Abraham separates from the world (Sodom and Gomorrah); Lot infiltrates the world – slouching toward Gomorrah to borrow Judge Robert H. Bork’s title from his 1996 book.  First, Abraham represents the choice of separation…

Choosing to separate leads to the path toward God (Genesis 13.1-9).

“Please separate from me …they separated from each other …the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him” (13.8, 11, 14).

The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.

“If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will take the left” (13.9).

Abraham knew well the wisdom of his descendant Solomon who wrote, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17.14).  Once water is released, the breach widens as the water erodes it away.  It moves so rapidly that there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Therefore, stop contention before it starts.  Once it begins, you’ll never know when or how it will stop.

Abraham desired peace with Lot.  That governed the choice he made.  So we have his words, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Genesis 13.8).  Abraham was a peacemaker not a peacekeeper.  The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.  Our endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace necessarily separates us from the world to God.  If our family and friends choose the path to Gomorrah, they will be walking a different path.  But make no mistake:  They have left the narrow way for the broad road.

The path to God leads away from self-assertion and toward self-denial.

It should be clear that Abraham is the elder and Lot the younger.  Abraham the uncle and Lot the nephew.  Abraham was called out of Ur, and Lot came along for the ride and the blessings.  Wouldn’t you think that as soon as Abraham gave Lot the choice of the left or right that Lot would have deferred to his uncle out of respect?  Shouldn’t he submit to Abraham and not the other way around?  Abraham could have asserted his rights, but he practiced self-denial.

People in the world lord their authority over others.  This is the way it is and the way it will be with unbelieving people.  But as Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28).

The path to God leads away from self-assertion toward self-denial.  How can there be strife if one party denies self and assumes the role of a perpetual servant?  How can the self-assertive and the self-denying walk the same path?

The path to God leads away from greed and toward generosity.  

Abraham should possess at least as much as Lot if not more than Lot.  But Abraham was a sieve.  He simply allowed wealth to flow in and out.  Abraham gave; Lot took.  Abraham knew that the plain of the Jordan was fertile, lush land.  He simply deferred to Lot.

Faith reasons that God will take care of us and fight for us.  So if a man demands my cloak, I’ll give it to him along with my tunic also.  If he demands I walk with him one mile, I’ll walk the one and then another mile as well.  If it is within our power to meet a need, we should meet that need.

But greed leads to spiritual deadness.  The heart set on things below is more concerned with the comforts of this life.  Pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27).  It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

A choice to cultivate a life of faith means a choice to separate, which leads us along the path toward God.  Lot chose differently and serves as a warning to us…

Choosing to infiltrate leads to the path toward Gomorrah (Genesis 13.10-18).

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan …Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan …Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom …They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom” (13.10-12; 14.12).

We can’t be sure when Lot placed his faith in the God of Abraham.  We know that when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, he is a righteous man.  Perhaps his conversion is a result of the problems caused by this divergent path that he took toward Gomorrah.  But believer or not, he took the path away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

We don’t know for certain, but it does seem that Lot has no problem with separating from Abraham.  Such separation would expose him to the temptations of Gomorrah.  He would be able to infiltrate that world, and gratify his desires.  Perhaps greed and ambition were two of the top desires for him.

Lot saw comfort in the well-watered plains of the Jordan.  The text tells us that the fertile land resembled the Garden of Eden itself.  Worldliness includes a fixation on the temporal and comfort that we desire right now in this temporal life.  Covetousness and a desire to fulfill temporal desires govern the heart of a person slouching toward Gomorrah.  We will learn that Lot gets a position as a judge and leader in Sodom.  His temporal desire far outpaced eternal interests.  The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the spiritual and toward the physical.

  • The days of Lot are characterized as days when “they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28).
  • “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.29).
  • “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17.32).
  • ‘The LORD turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, and made them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2.6-8).

Lot certainly came to understand what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were like.  Their sin was out in the open for all to see.  The Bible is right:  “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15.33).  Lot left Abraham and moved toward Gomorrah with little or no regret that we can determine from the text.

We lose so much when we sacrifice spiritual benefit for physical comfort.  We endanger our churches, families, and ourselves when we make this exchange.  We fail to feed on the Word of God and grab at the crust of bread we find in the world.  That crust of bread is a counterfeit form of life.  We need to be brought to repentance when living for this world.  God is merciful enough to do it.

Guard against a love for this world.  You must separate from it not infiltrate it if you are to cultivate a life of faith.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-15).

Lot’s love for the world led to choices that nullified his testimony within it.  Lot only had the world for a little while.  In the end it was all taken away from him.  If you live for the present arrangement of things, then your life will be empty.

Cultivate a life of faith through a compassionate, self-denying spirit.  Look to the Holy Spirit.  Be grateful to God because He has enabled you to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others.

  • Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12.10).
  • Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.4-5).

Follow the faith of Abraham.  Walk the path to God instead of slouching toward the destruction of Gomorrah!

Come Tonight!

We continue our series in Abraham’s life by considering Genesis 16 this evening at 6 pm at Heritage Baptist Church (5200 Heidorn Ranch Road, Antioch, CA 94531).  Tonight, we learn to cultivate faith once we have compromised the Lord’s convictions.  Here’s where we’ve been:

A Man Set Apart (Genesis 12.1-4) – We learned from Abraham’s call that cultivating faith means that we are set apart from the world, to God, and for a faith that works.

A Man of Perspective (Genesis 12.5-20) – Cultivating faith begins with a proper perspective of God and on godliness. Godliness requires faith, obedience, self-denial, foresight, and effort. These requirements cannot be met in the power of the flesh, but only in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.

A Man of Self-Denial (Genesis 13.1-18) – We must choose to deny ourselves and cultivate faith. Abraham made the right choice and Lot the wrong choice. Choosing the path of separation leads you to God; choosing the path of infiltration leads you to Gomorrah.

A Man of Courage (Genesis 14.1-24) – Cultivating faith takes courage to see beyond today. We will serve the King of Sodom or the King of Salem. It doesn’t take courage at all to serve the former.

A Man of Perseverance (Genesis 15.1-21) – It takes perserverance and patience to cultivate faith. We are not always faithfulful, but God certainly is. Cultivate faith by imitating those who through faith and perseverance inherited God’s promises.

Cultivating Faith (Part 2)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Perspective

The most wonderful result of cultivating a life of faith is that people will glimpse the character of God in one who genuinely believes His Word.  God blessed Abraham, but in him blessed all the families of the earth (Genesis 12.1-3).  There are two perspectives which become very important in the cultivation of our faith.  First, we must have a proper perspective of God.  Second, we must have a proper perspective on godliness.

Our Perspective of God

Acts 7 contains the account of the Christian church’s first martyr named Stephen.  Stephen’s address leading to his murder begins with these words:  “Brethren and fathers, listen:  The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” (Acts 7.2).  What then is the glory of God but an understanding of His character?

The Power of God

We learn much from God’s character when we consider that He called Abraham, an idolater, to become the source of blessing to all the families of the earth.  How do we make sense of that?  I believe God does that which will bring Him the most glory.  Abraham’s conversion and calling is a demonstration of His omnipotence.  God delights in taking broken vessels and communicating His grace and power through them.

Man does not operate in the same way.  We always look for the best and the brightest.  I am sad to say that the best and the brightest among us often do not need God.  Their abilities and resources hinder them from relying upon the power and glory of God for effective ministry.  God does indeed save those who realize they cannot save themselves.  Paul cautioned Timothy about being ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or even of Paul and his imprisonment for the Lord.  Suffering for the Gospel is a part of our call to ministry; it must be according to the power of God, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works (self-power), but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…” (2 Timothy 1.8-9).

Not one believer should puff themselves up against the another believer.  God has made us to differ from one another.  Everything we have we received from Him.  Since we have received it, why would we boast as though we have not received it from Him?  (See 1 Corinthians 4.6-7.)  What was true of the formerly idolatrous Abraham is certainly true of you and me:  “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15.10).  The question remains, “Will God’s grace toward us be in vain?”  Anything worth doing in our lives must be empowered by Almighty God.

The Promise of God

While Abraham exemplifies a life-long cultivation of faith, it all began with the faithfulness of God.  God keeps His promises.  Yet Abraham would not own any of the promised land until he purchased his wife’s burial plot.  He would be an old man before Isaac, the child of promise, was born.  Yet God kept His promises.  The child was given.  Abraham’s descendants inherited the Land and will have it to the full one day.  Indeed, all the nations of the earth are blessed and will be blessed through him.

We can be very thankful for the promise of God.  “All the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes’, and in Him ‘Amen’, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1.20).  The greatest promise God has made to us is the eternal security we have in Christ.  Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.29).  All of God’s children “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1.5).

Our perspective of God is sharply focused by a look at His power and faithfulness to keep the promises He makes.  If we are to cultivate a life of faith as Abraham did, we must keep an eye focused upon the power and promises of God.  But we also need a whole new perspective on godliness.

Our Perspective on Godliness

While Abraham move toward Canaan in Genesis 12, the LORD appeared to him and encouraged him.  He built altars to the LORD in both Shechem and Bethel.  He called upon the LORD as well.  Our perspective on godliness must include the ideas of dedication to God and communication with God.  I find it interesting and very ironic that Abraham epitomizes the cultivation of a life of faith, but he went down to Egypt when a famine came upon the Land.  It doesn’t seem to me that the LORD directs him there.  We don’t find it in the text.  Also, God’s Word makes it clear that Abraham felt the need to lie to protect himself even at his wife’s expense (see Genesis 12.12-13).  God faithfulness and power preserves Abraham and Sarah in the end, but we wouldn’t really turn to the end of this chapter for a perspective on godliness, would we?

Perhaps our perspective on a godly life is clarified over time.  The weakness of Abraham is becoming a strength as he is led by God.  But God will allow Abraham to strike out on his own and fail.  He will permit the same when it come to our own lives.  Still, Genesis 12:5 is evidence of Abraham’s faith.  He departed from Haran and went into the Land.  Clarity when it comes to godliness will require that we first and foremost follow the leading of the Holy Spirit by truly relying upon Him.  As we rely upon God’s power and promises, we will fulfill five very important requirements.

Godliness Requires Faith

Faith is not complicated from our perspective.  It is an unwavering stand upon the foundational power and promises of God.  Abraham went without knowing where he was going.  He simply believed what God revealed to Him.  It’s not that he never stumbled or failed in life; he did.  We simply must walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4.12).

After all, to be godly one must belong to God.  To belong to God one must believe.  “Abraham believed God …and therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness.  Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us.  It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4.3, 22-25).  God has always and will always require faith from the godly.

Godliness Requires Obedience

Obedience comes after faith; although, admittedly they often appear to be contemporaneous.  When God called Abraham, Abram obeyed God right away.  No hemming and hawing.  He went.  If we are to be godly, we must obey right away.  Obey right away isn’t just for our children.  We have the same litany of excuses as they when it comes to delayed or failed obedience.  Consider the words of our Lord Jesus who said…

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”  But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.58-62).

It is inexcusable for the godly to disobey or delay when it comes to the clear directives of our Heavenly Father.

Godliness Requires Self-Denial

It’s not only hard but impossible to get this right without relying upon the leading of God the Holy Spirit.  When you leave everything familiar to you (people and comfort), it can be disorienting and depressing.  Abraham certainly struggled.  This is when we must know the Person in whom we have placed our faith.  We know whom we have believed!

We must not only be willing but active in putting to death our members upon the earth.  Cut off the right hand, pluck out the right eye, and crucify the flesh and its affections.  It’s not easy, but God didn’t call us to easy.  He call us to self-denial.  If you lose your life, you most certainly gain it.

Godliness Requires Foresight 

Abraham certainly planned for the trip from Haran to the Promised Land.  It would be absurd to think otherwise.  He even calculated how he would handle things with Sarah once leaders saw how beautiful she was.  Abraham must support his family and provide for those close to him.  But wisdom does dwell together with prudence, which is the practical skill of being discerning.  If we do not provide for our families, are we not worse than unbelievers?

Godliness Requires Effort

Abraham stalled in Haran until Terah died.  When the LORD renewed His call for Abraham to go further into the Promised Land, he went.  He didn’t give up on God.  We, too, must press on.  Diligence is an essential part of a godly life.  But I hasten to add that effort is effortless when we are led by the Holy Spirit and supplied with the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2.20).

Hopefully, we see that the link between a proper perspective of God and a proper perspective on godliness when it comes to the cultivation of a life of faith.  Those who follow Abraham’s example will find themselves to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of Lord, because they know that their labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15.58).

Cultivating Faith Series (Part 1)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man Set Apart 

Abraham lived roughly 2000 years before the time of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He lived in a world that spiraled down out of control plummeting into the depths of idolatry.  Abraham’s father Terah dwelt on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.  He raised his family in an atmosphere of idolatry.  They all served other gods (cf. Joshua 24.2).  And yet, God set Abraham apart from the wickedness of idolatry to Himself and for His glory.  God chose to preserve truth and the revelation of Himself in the earthly family of one man named Abraham.  So God called Abraham, and he had to choose to leave his country and all his familiar surroundings to occupy a land that God would show him in the future.

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you. 

(Genesis 12.1)

Set Apart from the World

God has not called me to leave the idolatrous state of California for some earthly location that He will determine at a later date.  He hasn’t called me to leave my family or all that is familiar here in this great place.  But He has set me apart from earthly things in Christ.

  • He demands that I set my mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3.2).
  • “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5.19).
  • Even so, God commands me not to love the world or the things in it (1 John 2.15).
  • “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes in Romans 12.2.
  • “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).
  • We must “come out from among” the idolaters in the world “and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6.17).
  • “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14).
  • We must confess with those who have cultivated a life of faith before us that we too are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11.13).

We are very comfortable in the world in which we live.  I’d say a bit too comfortable.  We should be grateful for the freedoms and comforts that we have.  We must use these as tools to reach the lost with the Gospel.  But if our world collapses and we suffer, we shall be able to strengthen and encourage one another to continue in the faith.  Is it not true that we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14.22)?

As with Abraham, we must hold onto the things of this world loosely.  The good things of life cannot keep us.  The evil will not divert us.  We desire a better, that is, a heavenly country just as Abraham did.  God has prepared a city for us (Hebrews 11.16).

“Forget your own people …your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him” (Psalm 45.10-11).  It is in this sense that we are set apart from the world.  While some of us must be more involved with the day-to-day activity of this world, we are not of it.  Prepositions are important.  We must separate ourselves from this world or be prepared to suffer the misery coming upon it.  This is the first step in the cultivation of faith.  But separation is not all negative.  We are set apart from the world in order to be…

Set Apart to God 

Abraham’s call to leave his family and country seems pretty drastic until you consider verses 2-3 of Genesis 12.  The LORD also revealed to Abraham the following:

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(Genesis 12.2-3)

Notice the five-fold repetition of the word blessing in these two verses.  The focus of Abraham’s call away from everything and everyone he knows is the fact that God had something much better in mind for him.  Abraham would be blessed and also be a source of blessing for all the families of the earth.

At the end of Abraham’s life, when he is well-advanced in age, the Bible says that “the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24.1).  Abraham’s servant reveals that the LORD had blessed his master greatly, he had become great (Genesis 24.35).  So, Abraham had been blessed with abundance in the temporal life he lived.

But it was the spiritual and eternal benefits that Abraham possessed at the end of his life which were far greater.  His faith in the revelation of God was accounted for righteousness.  He was justified before God.  All of these material and eternal blessings were communicated to his family as well.  People were encouraged and built up because of Abraham’s “follow-ship”.  Follow-ship is imperative when it comes to leadership.  Because Abraham obeyed God’s call to come out of Ur to Canaan, he was able to be a blessing to so many, even to all the families of the earth.  Every person will be blessed or cursed according to whether or not he or she accepts or rejects the promised Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Leave the world behind!  Sever all ties that bind you to it.  If you do this for Christ’s sake, you will have lost your life as far as this world is concerned.  You are dead with Christ, but you are alive to God.  You might not have the abundance of Abraham when it comes to material and temporal wealth, but you will have gained your soul and incomprehensible, daily benefits.

Christians are sensitive to sin and even the moments that we live detached from God wear us down.  We mourn over these times, and yet in spite of the mourning, we are and shall be truly blessed.  We have forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God in the Beloved One.  We are blessed with the one who cultivated a life of faith so long ago.

But not only are we blessed in Christ; we are a source of blessing to all around us.  As parents, employers, friends, and associates, we relate to other people.  We graciously promote the true joy of life in Christ with all connected to us.

Within the church and within our country, we exemplify the life of light.  Our own follow-ship becomes leadership of a godly sort.  Our prayer on the behalf of others, will it not prevail if we are godly, fervent, and righteous?  What if we simply lead one person to Christ, will that not be more than all this world could offer them or us?  Won’t that one person be eternally grateful to us for God mercifully allowing us to communicate the glorious Gospel of reconciliation?  When you think about it, all truly is vanity when compared to the eternal blessings of a life truly abiding in Christ.

Set Apart for Faith that Works

Abraham obeyed God. “Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him” (Genesis 12.4).  He didn’t hesitate.  Lot, his nephew, went with him.  But one wonders about the opinion of many others in his family.  How many thought Abraham was crazy to leave Ur and later Haran?  Imagine people asking him, “Well, where are you going?”  How does he answer?  “I don’t know where I’m going.  I just need to leave.”  When he finally leaves, how many feared for him?  But Abraham didn’t worry about the comforts of home, family, and friends.  He desired the blessing of God above all.  He believed God.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (Hebrews 11.8-10)

Abraham is surely the prototype for us when it comes to the cultivation of faith and obedience.  If we leave this world behind for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, we gain so much more than we could ever hope for.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15.18-19).

I cannot see Heaven, but I have entered my Promised Land nonetheless.  I move through life enjoying the quality of eternal life while waiting for the appearance of my Eternal King and His eternal city.  This is why we “consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18).  Our obedience is fueled by our dependence upon the eternal life Christ gives.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Some of us are way too comfortable in this world.

Jesus said that if we are, then perhaps we’ve come to Him but we don’t hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and our own life also.  If that be the case, we cannot be His disciples (Luke 14.26).

How do we hate these people, when we are commanded not even to hate our enemies?  The answer is that Jesus is using figurative language.  He means that any connection or affection that we have in this world which is more important than faith in Him is the forsaking of Him.

Our love for Christ must so overshadow our earthly ties that we act as if hate those closest to us in comparison.  We sacrifice all without hesitation for the cause of Christ.  Forsake all and follow Him!  This leads to your own personal blessing and makes you a source of blessing for others.

Some of us are determined to live for the world to come.

Just remember that Abraham’s father and brother went as far as Haran, but no further.  God renews the call while Abraham is in Haran with them, but Terah dies there.  Nahor, his brother, wasn’t willing to journey any further with Abraham.  Abraham took only Sarah and his nephew Lot.  While we don’t know about the specific reasons or even the spiritual state of Abraham’s family in Haran, they didn’t go with Abraham to the Promised Land.

A promise remains of entering God’s rest, let us fear lest any of us seem to have come short of it.

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:20–21).

Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

We are not of those who draw back.  We are determined to follow in faith, to cultivate faith.  We are set apart from the world to God for faith that works!

Saving Faith: A Gift of God?

Here is a link to a position on the nature of saving faith.  You might enjoy reading a good, fair-minded treatment of this issue (in my opinion).  This came up in my series through the life of Abraham last night.

“Scripture never considers faith a work.  Instead faith is always juxtaposed to works, as Paul stated in Romans 4:3–5. Human faith is but a passive response that receives God‘s free gift of eternal life. Who would accuse a beggar of working by holding out his hand to receive a dollar bill? No one!”

Is Faith a Gift from God or a Human Exercise?  Rene A. Lopez

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  Delighting in the Gospel (Part 4)

“Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us:  I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'” [This is a quotation from Isaiah 49.6.]

“Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13.46-48).

The majority of people disdain the Gospel and outright reject it.  Yet there are those who delight in the Gospel and gratefully receive it.  John 7 says that Jesus secretly went up to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem.  The Jews wondered where He was because He had yet to make Himself know.  Many voices could be overheard in the crowd during the festival.  Some thought Jesus to be good and others thought Him to be a deceiver (John 7.12).  It’s still that way today.

Paul and Barnabas will enter a synagogue in Iconium and preach the Gospel in Acts 14.  This will lead to a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believing the Gospel.  But there will be unbelieving Jews stirring up the Gentiles and poisoning their minds against Paul and Barnabas.  That will divide the city.  Part side with the unbelieving Jews and part with the apostles (Acts 14.1-4).  Some despise the Gospel and some delight in it.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household'” (Matthew 10.34-36).

Many Jewish people are rejecting the Gospel when Paul preaches, but many Gentiles are receiving it.  Paul is now turning to those Gentiles, and they shall become the great preoccupation of his earthly ministry.  Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles.

I personally delight in the Gospel.  And if a local church delights in the Gospel, then at least three conditions will follow from the text above.

If a local church delights in the Gospel, the believers there must defend the Gospel through adversity.

Acts 13.44 states that almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  But the Jews who had despised the Gospel the week before saw the multitudes and were filled with envy.  This led them to contradict, blaspheme, and oppose the things Paul preached (Acts 13.45).  They despised the Gospel, but that wasn’t enough in their minds.  They had to bitterly oppose it as well.  As a matter of fact, Paul said that the Word was first preached to these Jews because that’s what God commanded – to the Jew first.  But they rejected it, and notice the end of Acts 13.46:  They judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life!  Therefore, the offer was extended to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles had the opportunity to delight in that which the Jews despised.

A local church must delight in and defend the Gospel through all kinds of adversity.  If we make the Gospel the main driving force in our churches, most will despise and reject its message in our particular day and age.  But none of these things should move us.

However, if we should get a big crowd of people, be sure that many will be filled with envy and bitterness over it.  If sinners flock to our church, we will almost certainly have bitter saints complain that they are making it uncomfortable.  There will also be people who contradict and blaspheme the preacher, a lot more people than those who already do.

People often despise the Word and work hard to put it away from their minds.  How do we know this is the case?  Look at the actions of people in churches.  Be a fruit inspector.  There is a lack of spiritual fruit, the lack of the fruit of the Spirit.  It is difficult when a person attends a local church but does not value the salvation the blood of Christ purchased for them.  The hard, apathetic, and dull spirit of many in churches today means that the pastor must effectively turn away from those who will not hear the Word, and turn to those who will.  We see this often in our ministries with high turnover.  Any church that preaches hard against sin and for the Savior will face adversity.

As a pastor, how thankful I am for those who delight in the Gospel and are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me to defend it.  I will minister to everyone God sends to our church as long as they allow me.  My mentor in ministry taught me that by example.  But it’s a deep heart-ache to realize that some despise the Gospel, harden themselves to it, and hang around the church anyway.  They simply warm the pews and cause problems.

But I am thankful for those who delight in and defend the Gospel through adversity.  I know they appreciate my labor in the Lord and that encourages me when facing the adversity caused by despisers.  One of my greatest encouragers is my precious wife.  You’d think I walked on water like Peter if you had only her perspective!  But everyone certainly knows she only sees the best in me.

If a local church delights in the Gospel, the believers there must declare it with authority.

If we tell a lost and dying world that we declare the Gospel because Jesus Christ commanded us to do so, that won’t carry a whole lot of weight with them.  It is certainly true that He did command us so, and that His name carries great authority.  We are to be witnesses to Christ (Acts 1.8)!

It’s the same with Paul in Acts 13.  Paul had no authority from the Jews’ perspective in this text.  So, Paul went to the Old Testament, the Word of God.  Why do you think he did that?  It was because the Old Testament carried a great weight of authority from their perspective.

Paul quoted Isaiah 49.6:  Indeed [God the Father] says [to God the Son], ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”  Amen to that!

The Isaiah passage has the Father speaking to the Son.  He will not only restore the preserved ones of Israel, He will be a light to the Gentiles and salvation to the ends of the earth.  There’s the authority!  It’s found in the Old Testament, namely the Word of God!

I preach the Gospel because it is the offer of eternal life from God Himself to every man, woman, and child.  The Gospel alone saves because it is the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is a light to the whole world around me.  He is given for salvation to the ends of the earth.  He saves from the wrath of God which abides upon all mankind who are outside of Christ.

All are commanded to believe on Christ’s finished work alone.  We must declare the Gospel which delights the triune God.  We are not ashamed of the Gospel!  We are not ashamed of our God!  We are not ashamed of our bright and glorious hope!  If the self-righteous reject it for their own stinking religion, we will continue to proclaim it.  If the sinners revel in their supposed freedom to do whatever they feel like doing, we will continue to proclaim it.  Jesus still saves!  If any local church truly delights in the Gospel, then that church must declare it with authority!

If a church delights in the Gospel, it must delight in its acceptance.

Notice again the wording of Acts 13:48 (without being distracted by the end of the verse, if possible):  “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”  They were glad!  Why do you think they were glad?  It was because the Gentiles knew that they were condemned in their sin, but now believed that Jesus was the only way out!  Thus they glorified the word of the Lord!

From God’s perspective, they had been appointed to eternal life in Christ before the foundation of the world.  From the human perspective, they simply believed.  I don’t understand how divine sovereignty and human responsibility come together, but I delight in it!

I delight in the fact that the worst of the worst can turn and believe on Christ alone for eternal life!  I hope to see more and more conversions in the future.  I expect that there will always be despisers, but I thank God for ‘delighters’!

The love of God compels us.  The grace of God empowers us.  Let us all come together for the sake of the Gospel and do the work of ministry!  But let us not think that a church which allows sin and legalism to run rampant will ever delight in the acceptance of the Gospel.  Both marginalize the Gospel and breed a despising spirit.  Both the legalist and the licentious believer have bound themselves to sin that they have been freed from.  Both groups minimize the Gospel.  One is holier than thou and the other freer than thou (borrowed from Dr. David Potter).  A church which tolerates legalism and licentiousness is well-nigh useless and powerless because of this.  May God grant that our churches be sin-killing, Gospel preaching churches!  Many will despise that, but some will delight in it!

There are many terrible consequences in despising the Gospel.  Many in churches today call themselves Christians but are not.  They pass judgement daily upon themselves.  They are unworthy of eternal life.  They have no humility only self-righteousness before God.  Perhaps you have utter contempt for the preaching of the Word of God.  Perhaps you stare at the love of God with apathy and bitterness.  Are you willing to continue on in your lackluster state?  Are you willing to live each day under the wrathful eye of God feeling the full weight of the condemnation you deserve?  I would beg of you to come to Christ …come to the Cross …find the blood of our Lord and Savior to be sufficient to cleanse away all your sin!

There are many terrific consequences in delighting in the Gospel.  The great consequence of believing is the change in your quality of life.  It is eternal in its value.  You are freed from legalism and sinful living.  But this delight must give way to the glory of God.  You brought nothing to the table.  Deflect all praise and glory to Him today.  Immerse yourself in His Word and consider it more necessary than physical food!  Be reverent and grateful.  Hear the Word of God by receiving it and doing it.  Open up your mouth wide and let God fill it (see Psalm 81.10).  Let each Sunday bring you into conformity with Christ.  Allow your Savior to transform you and lift you to higher ground through the faithful preaching of your pastor!  Don’t defend yourself; defend the glory of God and delight in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon:  Despising the Gospel (Part 3)

Paul wrote that it is in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1.7).  “By Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.39).  It is God who justifies.  Man cannot justify himself.  Man will not be justified by the Law:

Romans 3:19–20 (NKJV) — 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Those who despise this should take heed.  Paul quotes Habakkuk 1.5:  “Look among the nations and watch— be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”  The Jews in Habakkuk’s day did not believe that Babylon would carry them into captivity, but it happened.  All men today may believe that the wrath of God will not come upon sinful men, but it will happen.  They will be swept away by God’s judgment – as a broom sweeps away ash from the fireplace – the besom of destruction.

A good, worthwhile sermon will always bring us to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World.  Paul does not disappoint in his first sermon.  Paul’s said in 1 Corinthians 2.2, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  

Paul speaks to both Jews and Gentiles.  He tells them that the Messiah promised in the prophecies has come.  Luke said in his Gospel that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24.47).  Paul is doing just that in this text.  But not without a warning to those despising God’s declaration.

Despising the Declaration of God

What does it mean to despise the declaration of God?  It means at least two things in the mind of Paul.

It Means Despising God’s Forgiveness

This is the core of what people despise.  When they reject this declaration of God, it means they are rejecting the only forgiveness that will ever be offered to them, namely the forgiveness of their sins.  

The theological term propitiation means that God is satisfied ONLY with Christ’s death and sacrifice for the dismissal of your sin.  Jesus Christ satisfied the wrath and justice of God for sin.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself, “and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5.18-19).  There is nothing more important than forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God.

Here it is good to recognize that the theme of forgiveness of sins is an emphasis both in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts.  The Gospel emphasized that Jesus accepted those defined in Judaism as sinners; that is, those outside of Judaism and without hope.  It is written that “[Jesus] sits and eats with sinners.”  The idea of Jesus reaching sinners was particularly scandalous to the Pharisees, for instance.  

But here in Acts, forgiveness of sins is also emphasized.  When Peter preached at Pentecost, many responded by asking, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2.37)  The answer was that they repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name.  Once they did, they received forgiveness of sins and the promised presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Dismissal of sin is aligned with repentance by Luke in Acts:

•”Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3.19).

•”To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3.26).  

•”Him God has exalted to HIs right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5.31).  

But Luke also communicates dismissal of sin as aligned with faith:

•”To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10.43).  

•Our text stresses faith:  “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sin; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13.38-39).   

•The Jerusalem council will conclude in Acts 15.9 that the Holy Spirit makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile.  He purifies all hearts by faith.

All of this to say, that repentance and faith for salvation are inseparable in the Scripture.  God gives His Son for the forgiveness of sins.  Either we despise that fact or delight in it.  Those who despise the gift of God keep going in the direction they’ve been going.  Those who delight in it, turn to Christ and trust in Him alone for eternal life.

It is God’s desire that you embrace the forgiveness of sins offered through Jesus Christ.  If you are reading this, then are you not a sinner before God?  Dear reader, who is it among mankind that does not need a Savior?  And yet while we should delight in this fact, many will despise this message.  But we have the word of this salvation (13.26).  I implore in Christ’s stead, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5.20)!

It Means Despising God’s Once-For-All Sacrifice

Jew or Gentile, American or Kenyan, male or female, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is God’s once-for-ALL sacrifice.  Note my purposeful emphasis on the word of ALL.  There is no distinction.  

It is the same for sin.  The blood of Christ cleanses from ALL sin.  There is no distinction.  If you repent and believe, you shall be forgiven.  The only thing that won’t be forgiven is despising Christ for the final time through the convincing work of His Spirit.  On a human level, one does not know when this final time comes.  That is why today is the day of salvation for you.

•”Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1.18).  

•Christ has made us alive together with Him, having forgiven our trespasses (Colossians 2.13).

•”Your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2.12).  

God has admonished us.  So when we despise the preaching of Christ, we are in fact despising God’s persuasive efforts through the Spirit-filled preaching of His Word.

Despising the Dissuasion of God

Many are Despising

“They have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?'”  (Romans 10.16; Isaiah 53.1)  Even today we wonder who will believe our witness to Christ.  The offense of the cross is still very much a part of our witness.  If we are faithful to Christ, many will despise our efforts.  To them we are mindless fanatics.

Anyone who will not receive the compassion and mercy of God through the Gospel of His only begotten Son is a despiser of God.  The question we must ask is, “Have we despised the Gospel of the grace of God made available through the work of Christ?”  If so, we are grouped with the many who are in danger.

Many are in Danger

Broad is the path which leads to destruction.  Many are on it.  The temporal judgments of the Babylonian captivity or the Roman destruction of Jerusalem pale in comparison to the judgments which will come upon unbelieving people in eternity to come.  

God has given to us incomprehensible mercy in the redemption of the world through His only begotten Son.  Those who despise this mercy are in great danger.  They will face eternal misery because of the fact that they rejected the Gospel.  

You would think that an awareness of judgment to come would compel men and women to come to Christ in droves.  However, most will not believe.  Still, they must be warned of the danger to come nonetheless:  “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3.36).  

Philippians 3:8–9 (NKJV) — 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”  Righteousness in Philippians is a gift from God received by my faith or dependence upon Him not by my works of righteousness – which Paul delineates in Philippians 3.1-7.

The unbeliever can hardly believe that salvation is a free gift; the believer struggles as well.  As believers, we acknowledge that salvation is a free gift, why do we marvel when it comes to sanctification by faith or dependence upon the grace of God?  Freedom in Christ includes freedom from law of any kind.  We have been set free from the sin nature still within us; we are also free from the Law.  We now obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Your fleshly obedience will not achieve holiness and sanctification.  It is God who saves; it is God who transforms.  Laws have no dominion over you as long as you are alive to them; die to the law.  

By death we were set free from the law to marry Christ (Romans 7).  All this so that we might bear fruit to God.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces more grain” (John 12.24).  Fruit in our lives is produced by the Holy Spirit not the flesh.  The flesh produces only death, decay, and rot.  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15.56).  

What will happen to those who do not trust in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?  How shall we escape the judgment of God if we neglect so great of salvation?  If we despise the Gospel, there will be no mercy for us in eternity.  But mercy is alive with every breath you draw and as long as your heart keeps beating.  Acts 13.41 warns,

Behold you despisers,

Marvel and perish!

For I work a work in your days,

A work which you will by no means believe,

Though one declare it to you.

May God grant that those reading this heed the warning found in the mercy of God.  If you do not, you are bringing down upon yourselves wrath and fiery indignation which belong to all those who despise His appearing.  Behold you despisers, marvel and perish!

Paul’s First Recorded Sermon: Resurrection Joy (Part 2)

Christianity rises or falls upon the resurrection.  “But God raised [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 13.30).  The fact that Jesus remained in the tomb for three days proved that He died indeed.  The fact that He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem proved that He indeed is risen (Acts 13.31).  Those people who saw Him are witnesses to Christ.  The many voices speaking as one voice concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ provide testimony that cannot be refuted.  

Paul and the other apostles declared glad tidings, a promise which was made to the fathers (Acts 13.32).  The promise to which Paul referred concerns the coming of Messiah.  There are many passages of Scripture in the Old Testament which assured the children of Israel of Messiah’s coming.  These begin with Genesis 3.15:

Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) — 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  And they end with Malachi 3.1 simple statement:  “Behold, He is coming.”

But clearly three particular verses are in view in Paul’s first recorded sermon:

  • Psalm 2:7 (NKJV) — 7 “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”
  • Isaiah 55:3 (NKJV) — 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you— The sure mercies of David.
  • Psalm 16:10 (NKJV) — 10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

Paul quotes Psalm 2.2:  “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”  God the Father raised up the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, to be Savior.  He is risen from the dead to provide new life, eternal life to all who will believe on Him.  Paul applies the rich prophecy of Isaiah 55.3 to the Lord Jesus.  Jesus will not return to corruption.  God has said, “I will give you the sure mercies of David” (Acts 13.34).  

It is clear what the Lord meant in Psalm 2.2:  “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”  Jesus is the Messiah who triumphed over the grace.  He was exalted to God the Father’s right hand.  How is He begotten on the day of His resurrection?  He is the only One of His kind …the resurrected Christ, the first-fruits of those who sleep.  His resurrection brings Him to new life by the power of God.  Now it is possible to share together with Him in this eternal quality of life.  

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a source of joy for us for at least three reasons:

Past Hope:  The death of our Savior was not in vain.  

1 Corinthians 15:14 (NKJV) — 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

1 Corinthians 15:17–18 (NKJV) — 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

But Christ is risen!  Therefore we have been made the righteousness of God thanks to Him.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved that He satisfied the wrath and the justice of God in full (the meaning of propitiation).  Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses; He was raised because of (or with a view toward) our justification (Romans 4.25).  “Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8.34).  

Present Hope:  The power of our Savior is all-sufficient.

He cannot be the Messiah or reign at the right hand of God if He is still in the grave.  If He is in the grave, it is folly and futility to call upon Him for help.  But He said to His disciples…

John 10:17–18 (NKJV) — 17 “…My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Colossians 2:15 (NKJV) — 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

“Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior” (Acts 5.31).  He is “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.4).  “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7.25).  The power of our Savior is sufficient to help right now because it is resurrection power!  That is why we long to “know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3.10)!  If we can believe, “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9.23).  

Future Hope:  The resurrection of our Savior will be our own.

Obviously if the resurrection of Jesus Christ had not occurred, we would have no future hope of our own resurrection.  But He is risen; therefore, Christians will rise too.  He is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15.20).  That is why Jesus could say:

John 14:2–3 (NKJV) — 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you (body and soul) to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

1 Corinthians 15:53–55 (NKJV) — 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

John 14:19 (NKJV) — 19 A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.

The promises of the resurrection are for all those who believe:  Old Testament and New Testament saints alike.  When we read our Old Testament Scriptures, it is good to remember that many of the promises are literally made to Israel.  Still, they are not exclusively for Israel.  We are to embrace them as well.  We too are children of God.  It is in this way that the resurrection is indelibly written throughout the Old Testament Scriptures through the promises of the coming Messiah.

I believe God delights in a church that holds high the resurrected Christ.  I believe God delights in a church that preaches the Gospel.  We may be viewed as those who stand in the way of progress and open sin, but we are the source of glad tidings which we declare to all men.  Our Savior was crucified, buried, and risen from the dead!  Let us forsake our sin and look to Him as the source of all joy and resurrection power in this life.  Let us not be ashamed at His coming coronation.  Let us be watching and waiting expectantly as we submit to His authority even now.