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Archive for November, 2016

If You Believe

November 29th, 2016

Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22, NET)

We are very much prone to make excuses for prayer not being answered, and call them “the biblical conditions,” when in reality it was faith that we lacked. Too often Christians pray limply and lethargically and then tack on to the end the phrase “if it be Thy will,” and that type of praying does not measure up to the standard taught here by Christ in this passage.

Faith is always in harmony with the revealed will of the Father. Faith must always rest upon a command and an expressed will of God. Faith is not wishful thinking, nor a positive mindset, nor basic human optimism. Ellicott’s Commentary reads:

Here again there is the implied condition (as in Matthew 7:7) that what is asked is in harmony with the laws and will of God. If it were not so it would not be asked in faith, and every true prayer involves the submission of what it asks to the divine judgment.*

True faith embraces the will of God positively, desiring it to be accomplished. Faith also is characterized by submission to His will and love for His will to be done. Faith must put aside all selfish pursuits as well as all apathy and lethargy toward God’s will.

Christian Faith is not the same as Buddhist detachment: Buddhist teaching of detachment or non-attachment seeks to free oneself from one’s own thoughts, so as not to be harmed by them. This often seems to the Christian to be similar to the Christian teachings of surrender to the will of God. Though both religions share some language there is a significant difference. Buddhism seeks to find a place where the individual is not harmed by anxious and worrisome thoughts, or conflicting thoughts. Christianity, however, seeks to simply surrender to the will of God, and find its unity in serving Him and following His Son Christ. The Christian process of fulfillment in life is one of surrender and worship of Christ, being drawn to the glorious revelation of the living Lord. It is a personal relationship through faith with a living Lord.

Faith always embraces a future hope. Faith for the Christian is not merely in the death and resurrection of Christ, not merely in the philosophical or metaphysical truths of the faith, it is also and especially invested in the future hope of Christ. So for the Christian we are always seeking to move mountains so that the world can see the face of Christ.

This passage and phraseology holds an allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy:

Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley. The splendor of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time, for the Lord has decreed it. (Isaiah 40:4-5)

Miracles are performed by the power of God for the will of God and for the benefit of His plan. Faith must surrender to the eternal purpose and plan of God. We are to love the thought of people hearing about Christ and believing in Him, we must love the idea of the growth of the church, we must love the idea of the return of Christ and His eternal kingdom.

Faith embraces the eternal kingdom of God, and see the benefit of it. So how is your faith? When you can find your requests exist in the will and purpose of God, when you love the doing of His will, when you love Him, then you will find new power in your prayers.

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* E. H. Plumptre, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol VI (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1959, from the original 1878), p. 131.

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Moving onto Maturity

November 28th, 2016

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3 ESV)

In order to mature in the Christian faith we must desire spiritual growth over many other distracting things.

We must choose God over our friends and acquaintances, we must desire to be closer to God than to them. We must desire to please Him more than please them. We must “go on” to maturity, leaving the things associated with immaturity behind us. We cannot continue to make it our goal to please our friends and please God.

This will inevitably create some tension between us and others, when they wish us to walk in the old ways of past friendship. Paul alluded to this when he said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child. I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11 NKJV).

We must disassociate from the world and its values. Since the world is all around us, and even within us by our sinful nature, we cannot leave it entirely in this life. But yet there must be some safe place, or safer places, where we can withdraw from its influences and be with God more than with it.

We must also disassociate with inferior and fundamentally flawed forms of the Christian faith. The author of Hebrews specifically addressed in chapter six some of these forms and the understandings that lay behind them. Here is room for inner emotional conflict if there ever was. How can we reject those forms of Christian teachings that were used, at least in part, by God Himself to mature us?

Again we find an answer in 1 Corinthians 13, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10 NKJV). This is the discipline of the sciences, to take what knowledge we have and to use this as a step stool to go on to greater knowledge, even if we discover that the “science” we stood upon in the past was partly flawed. It is, even then, difficult to do in science, and it is much more difficult to do in the Christian faith mainly because we must bring in our emotions and the multi-generational influence that spans the years.

Six specific things are mentioned here that belonged to the “elementary principles” or “doctrine” of Christ. These were not flawed in themselves, but somehow they became used in an inappropriate way in the first century Jewish Christian church. The author had written in the preceding verses:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:12-14 ESV)

The problem was not that what they had believed in was wrong - it was foundational, fundamental, and “elementary” to the Christian faith. Their fault was that they had not built upon the foundation by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:1-17), rather they became “minimal Christians.” It is common that some people imagine that once they have been saved and baptized, once they are safe from eternal condemnation, then there is nothing left for them in the Christian life that they must do.

These six items are:

Repentance from dead works - It is necessary to repent from sin in order to be saved (Acts 11:18), and the Christian life is to be a a life of continual repentance before God. The problem was that these Christians looked at their repentance as laying only in their past, not in their present.

Faith toward God - Faith in God - specifically in gospel He has sought to reveal to us - is essential for salvation. But, again, as with repentance, we are to live and to walk by faith. Our faith must be not only a past response to the hearing of the gospel, but a present and growing reality in our lives. “For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

Teachings about Washings - The Jewish faith had many washings associated with it, and though we may understand that here he spoke mainly of Christian baptism, since his audience was Jewish Christians it also naturally allowed itself to apply to the many cleansing rituals. The issue that it addressed was that someone may feel he has done his spiritual duty because he has associated in the rites of his religion. The rites, even the Christian rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are never enough alone.

The laying on of hands - This had a special meaning to the Jewish Christian, for in the Old Testament the laying on of hands signified identification with the sacrificial animal to be put to death as a symbolic atonement for sin. We might think of this as the public expression of their faith in Christ, where they as believers “laid their hands on Jesus” or confessed Him as their sacrificial lamb. We must confess Christ, but having done so once at our conversion or baptism is never enough.

The resurrection of the dead - The hope of the resurrection of the body is a Christian fundamental. It was part and parcel of the Jewish faith as well, as we read in Job: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26 ESV). (See also Isaiah 26:19.) But, again, we see how this cannot be the end of the Christian experience, to have repented and trusted in Christ, to have been baptized, to have publicly owned Christ, and then to wait for death.

Eternal judgment - In Christ Jesus the judgment that was rightfully ours to bear has been born by Him. We have instead received forgiveness and eternal life. The problem was not that this, or any of the other elementary doctrines, were false, only that they were seen as all and as nothing else being important.

How many Christians stifle the Spirit’s work in their souls not because they are wrong in their foundation, but because once they met the minimal requirements to enter into the Church of Jesus Christ, they stopped growing. The discussion that ensues in Hebrews 6 raises the question whether these people were truly saved or not. Anyone born of God will not be content to sit and wait for his resurrection, he will not be content to be a “minimal Christian.”

We may languish in an immature state for many years, but if we are truly born again God will patiently continue to prod us and urge us to grow, to know Him better and deeper. We must all move on to maturity in Christ.

A final point: There can be no place for pride and pretense in true spiritual growth, rather it is achieved only by God’s Spirit working in the humble and honest soul. Neither are we permitted to become condemning and judgmental toward others - the “better than thou” attitude is the opposite from the true heart of spiritual maturity. While we will find that as an end result or as a by product of our growth we will act responsibly toward the world - we will pay our bills, obey traffic laws, and do our civic duty in the world - yet we will realize that doing these things will not achieve our spiritual maturity. The true source of maturity is the Spirit of God working within us, and our outward adherence is a result, not a cause.

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