Establish Faith

Called To Do

There is never a passive Christianity promoted in the Bible as an option for believers. There’s no model of Christian life that rather casually ends at 12:10pm on Sunday, and doesn’t pick back up for until 10:45pm the following Sunday. We want easy. We want to be told if we check this box once a week, we’re good to go. Frankly, that’s not an image of Christianity that is found in any translation of the Bible.

James is a very practical writer. You don’t find a lot of ceremony, pomp, or circumstance in his New Testament letter. What you do find is a gloriously direct view of the intended Christian life. He doesn’t pull punches, and that means some of these are going to sting when we examine our walk in light of them. James is never more blunt than when he states in 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”.

How easy it is to deceive ourselves. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:5 warns of those “having a form of godliness but denying its power”. It is possible to sit regularly in church every week, listen to the sermon, sing the songs, nod along at the appropriate parts, take Communion, and completely miss out on salvation. As important as listening to the Word is, we cannot be content with that. We have to do what the Word of God says. In fact, in the Greek form of verse 22, “do what it says” is presented in a manner that is more akin to “continually do what it says”. It isn’t a Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday application; it’s a whole-life application.

The Christian life can’t be reduced to 90 minutes a week, an offering, and a few handshakes. When we read John 15, Jesus is very clear that we are to “remain” or “abide” in Him. He is the vine that gives us our spiritual life; we are branches, that need to remain in Him to have that life. Have you ever seen a branch broken off, put briefly back on a tree or vine for an hour once a week, and then taken off again that could be said to be alive in any sense?

There seems to be this idea that has crept into some corners of the modern church that Jesus was almost a spiritual anarchist, and never made demands past a certain gauzy, permissive, abstract “inclusiveness”. Yet time and time again, Christ brings the conversation back to living fully in him and following the Word. In John 14:23, Jesus says “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”. In John 15:14, He says “You are my friends if you do what I command”. In John 13:34, we see “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”. These aren’t suggestions or informal guidelines; they are calls to living our lives under the Lordship of Christ.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. That’s such a total, complete view of discipleship and of following Christ. It leaves no room for a situational, Christmas-and-Easter-only type of Christianity. Jesus Christ cannot, and will not, be compartmentalized.

Hearing the Word of God is so very important, but if we let it just roll over us, without any sort of change in our lives, without any submission to Christ, how are we treating the sacrifice Christ made for us? Is it some sort of side accessory in our lives, or is it the light that changes everything? If we believe the gospel, does it show in how we are living? To truly begin to understand the depth of grace, and to begin to realize that we were saved from what was justly an eternal punishment, should mean joy in our lives—an incredible, breathtaking joy that we want to share with others. It should mean we do not hold grace as something cheap or expected, but something radical and holy.

We have a Lord and Savior presented in the Bible who calls us to action through His relationship with us. Christ, sinless, blameless, with perfect love, took on the full wrath that by rights should have been poured onto each of us. All the accumulated guilt and sin of our world, then, now, and to come, was put on his shoulders. His physical pain, as terrible as it must have been, was magnified an infinite amount of times by the full spiritual agony of that sacrifice. When we understand that it was done so that each of us called to salvation may live, it cannot leave us unaffected or unchanged. To be able to treat the gospel impassively or merely academically is to not understand the nature and impact of the gospel.

Time and time again, the Bible tells Christians they must not—indeed, they cannot, if they understand salvation and grace—be simply passive hearers. They are to be doers for God’s Kingdom, in every part of their lives. Titus 2:14 says Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”. We are to stir one another towards good works (Hebrews 10:24). We are to have an abundance of good works in our Christian walk (1 Timothy 6:18). We are not to speak of love as an abstract, but in “deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Apathy or disinterestedness is not what God his intended for his beloved people. For those who are God’s people, there is a clarion call in the great news of our salvation to go through this life with an intense passion, faith, and joy in serving our Lord!

When we become not just hearers of the Word, but doers, and live our lives abiding deeply in the love of Christ, there are challenges. The Christian life, the one we are presented with in the Bible, is not easy. Frankly, when we stop playing a sort of mix-and-match on the Bible to fit modern social conventions, it’s going to call us to obey some things our sinful natures are not going to want to do—things that secular society will tell us are backward or wrong. It means being uncomfortable, it means sacrifice, it likely means at the very least social persecution, if not a more dire type. But we know that in this short life before eternity, Christ is also waiting to give us so much through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us of what fruit we can expect from a life in the Spirit. We can expect love, joy, and peace. Patience, kindness, and goodness. Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yet we can’t get there from a barren, uncaring type of religion, any more than we can get there from our dead, sinful natures. We need to truly submit to Christ as our Lord and Savior, and understand we are His, through whatever this life may bring.

-Zachary Houghton

Chapter 18 – Daniel in Exile

Trust in God.

We hear and read these words often, yet our own sinful nature doesn’t want to comply.

When confronted with challenges and trials, we often turn to our own abilities or the abilities of others to solve our problems instead of turning to God in faith for help. It seems that we often turn to God only after we have found that our own efforts are not working and we desperately need an answer.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego certainly found themselves in a challenging situation and could have taken the easy way out. Surrounded by unbelievers and commanded by the ungodly King Nebuchadnezzar to worship an idol of gold or face death, these men demonstrated an unshakeable faith in God and refused to worship the idol. When threatened with being tossed into a blazing furnace, they responded in faith that God would deliver them from the furnace. Even more remarkable is that these men were willing to accept death if God did not deliver them from the flames. Their trust in God was so strong they saw their situation as a win-win no matter what happened.

Daniel found himself in equally challenging circumstances. While King Darius had high regard for Daniel’s abilities, he allowed himself to be influenced by those who hated Daniel. Prompted by the other administrators who were jealous of Daniel’s abilities and who conspired against him, King Darius issued a decree that in essence outlawed prayer to God and demanded that everyone worship Darius. Daniel knew of the decree but continued to pray to and worship God. The king, trapped by his own decree, had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den.

We know how this story ends. Daniel was not eaten by the lions. He trusted in God’s perfect justice that no harm would be done to him since he was innocent.

Not only did God save these men but he also demonstrated his power and sovereignty to ungodly kings in such a dramatic way that both King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius acknowledged the power of God. Nebuchadnezzar was moved to issue a decree that nothing was to be said against God and Darius issued a decree that the people of his kingdom were to fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

Even if we are not facing the life-or-death circumstances Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel were confronted with, we daily face the choice of trusting God in all circumstances big or small. God is amazing and blesses us often with good things when we place our trust in him, but what about those “fiery furnace or lion’s den” moments in our own lives when things don’t always happen the way we want them to? The greater test of our faith is in these moments when, like the men in these stories, we trust whatever outcome occurs knowing that God will always have our best interests at heart. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen.”

Trust God in all circumstances. He will always be with you.

May God bless you,

Mike

The Story – Chapter 2: “God Builds a Nation”

After reading this chapter, you can’t help but wonder whether God was going about this nation-building business in entirely the wrong way. Consider:

  • Asking a successful, prosperous and God-fearing 75-year-old man to leave his homeland, pack up his family, servants, livestock and possessions and move to an unfamiliar land filled with pagans and unbelievers.
  • Promising him that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky – even though he and his wife were well past child-bearing age.
  • Making him and his wife wait for 25 years after this promise before their baby boy was finally born.
  • And then, testing the old man by ordering him to kill the boy as a sacrifice to God.

I mean, really? Is this any way to build a nation through whom “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed”? God could not have stacked the odds against the success of this nation-building enterprise any more than this. He took a big risk by placing an incredible amount of faith and trust in one man, Abram (later re-named Abraham), to kick off this important project.

And yet….

Abraham believed God through faith. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This was the faith that was “credited to (Abraham) as righteousness,” which simply means that he was in right standing with God. To me, that’s a pretty good place to be.

Abraham’s faith was not without its flaws, however. In his impatience with God’s apparently slow timing, he decided (with the consent of his wife, Sarah) to have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. It may have been an accepted custom in that day, but this was not God’s plan. Nonetheless, God still showed grace and favor to Hagar and her son, Ishmael. But note the consequences: Sarah became jealous of Hagar and eventually insisted that she and her child, Ishmael, be banished from the family.

And God also showed grace and mercy to Abraham throughout the remainder of his life. It reminds me of the wonderful description of God found in Psalm 108: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will he keep his anger forever…For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him.”

For me, the story of Abraham is another timely reminder of the concept of “asah shamah,” which means, “We will do, then we will understand.” It’s how we show God that we love and trust him, even and especially when things happen in life, both good and bad, that we just cannot comprehend.

As we will read in later chapters, this story is just one of several instances in which God takes a seemingly confusing, confounding, impossible and surprising path toward eventually fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham.

And the good news is, you and I are part of this same amazing story. 

Ponder that.

In brotherly love,
Lew Middleton