This message discusses the Bible’s teaching on the mind at rest. Why are people bound by anxieties, low confidence, guilt, and other struggles? The Bible gives hope and the promise of rest and peace.
This message discusses the Bible’s teaching on the mind at rest. Why are people bound by anxieties, low confidence, guilt, and other struggles? The Bible gives hope and the promise of rest and peace.
Chapter 4 of this teaching series based on my book, The Revelation of Grace. This study looks at the difference between forgiveness and redemption. What does the word ‘redemption’ mean? What does the Bible mean when it says that Christ gave us eternal redemption?
About two weeks ago, a friend sent me a broadcast by Michael L. Brown. In this broadcast, he and Sid Roth promoted his newly released book called Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message.
During the broadcast, I listen to them belittle those who believe everything the Bible teaches about grace. Of course they labeled it ‘hyper-grace’ and then everyone who believes in the depths of God’s grace were called heretics. They went as far as to claim this was the greatest threat to the church in modern history and then explained how his book would help the church fight against people like myself. They then explained how our children and loved one’s very souls were at stake.
It’s interesting that Jesus said, “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, because of your love for one another.” The Bible also says that God hates when brethren sow discord among brethren. It is a fallacy to think that just because we can put someone under a negative label that this gives us the right to destroy our brothers. Labeling someone as an enemy of God does not give us the right to attack them. Not only did Jesus command us to love our fellow believer, but He also commanded us to love our enemies.
During the broadcast it was said that grace (hyper-grace) is creating divisions in the church. I just did a search on the word ‘hyper-grace’ and found more than 26,000 hits. These lead to two types of articles. One set of articles are the dangers of hyper-grace and the call to fight. The other sets of articles are people like myself saying things like, “No, this is not an accurate representation of what I believe or teach.”
Who is causing the divisions? Who falls under the Bible’s rebuke of, “Are you not carnal (or fleshly minded) when there are fightings, divisions, and wars among you?” Am I causing division by saying, “Look at Christ?” Or is the person who says, “Here is what these heretics believe,” and then calls for the church to fight against ‘those people’ the ones causing the division.
After reading through the top article hits against hyper-grace, the majority of these have never heard the teachings of the people they are criticizing. They are repeating, almost verbatim, the words of Michael Brown’s broadcast. Consider this quote taken directly from one of the parroting sites:
Preachers of hyper-grace doctrine discount the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments as irrelevant to New Testament believers. They even teach that Jesus’ words spoken before His resurrection are part of the Old Covenant and no longer applicable to born-again believers.
The majority of these accusations are like this one. They believe. They teach. They reject. I wasn’t aware that I was hyper-grace until I listened to this broadcast, but he criticized nearly everything I have been discovering in God’s word. And I didn’t even know there was a ‘hyper-grace movement’ out there. But I am encouraged that there is. Yet the above statement doesn’t represent anything I believe or have heard anyone teach.
People like myself teach this: Everything must be viewed through the cross of Jesus. Anything that points to what Jesus fulfilled must be viewed as His works. Grace teaching is that everything goes through the cross and everything is received through Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that every spiritual attribute is the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of man. The Bible teaches that we receive from His divine nature all things. Faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, philia love, and agape love are all received as gifts of grace through His divine nature. This is clearly taught in Peter’s epistle to the church. The Apostle Paul said, “What do you have that you didn’t receive [from God]. If you received it, why are you boasting as if you have done it?”
Grace teaching is to accept the Bible’s claim that we can do nothing for God, but we look expectantly to Him for every need. We believe the Bible’s claims that we are already overcomers in Christ, and this is our victory – faith in Him. Why that makes us a threat, I don’t know.
There are many accusations Michael Brown’s book levels against those who stand by faith in God’s grace – a grace that God calls abundant, exceeding, and above all that we could think, ask, or even imagine. I’m not sure how you can imagine enough to exceed this promise.
Since this broadcast misrepresents grace and what people like myself teach, I felt led to clarify what grace teaches. I’ve put this into a short book called, ‘Abounding Grace: Dispelling Myths and Clarifying the Biblical Message of God’s Overflowing Grace’. I’ve made this free on Amazon. If you read this article after the free promo has expired and you don’t want to spend .99 cents, email me on my contact page and I’ll get you a free ebook copy.
Don’t allow others to create divisions or poison your attitudes toward those who believe grace is God’s love that He packaged into many spiritual gifts, and gave these to us freely for no other reason than for us to get a glimpse of the depths of God’s love.
Grace is the gospel. The gospel is not about what you do for God, but what God has done – and given – you as a gift of His loving grace!
(An excerpt from Simple Faith)
As you may know, the Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is divided into 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. Generally speaking, the books of the Bible are divided by author or time period. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church. Each of those letters stands alone as a book of the Bible.
While the books are divided by author or time period, there is an undergirding foundation to each of the Testaments. The first covenant is the underpinning of the Old Testament. Just before Jesus was crucified, He proclaimed that he was bringing in a new covenant.
The word ‘covenant’ simply means: an agreement made between two people. It is like a binding contract.
On the surface, these terms may sound like theological jargon, but there is an exciting truth unveiled through these covenants that point directly to how God relates to you and I as individuals. I want to show you how the Old Covenant unveils the love of God for mankind that wasn’t fully realized until the New Covenant was confirmed through Christ.
When the Bible teaches the Christian what it means to have faith, Abraham is the example. Yes, the Old Testament patriarch is the model for New Testament faith. Abraham was before the law. This is significant because the Bible makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham came by faith through the promise, and not by the works of keeping the Old Testament law. We’ll look at this shortly, but let’s first take a look at the covenant of faith given to Abraham.
Genesis chapter fifteen is an amazing passage. The chapter begins by God declaring, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” The New Testament points back to God’s relationship with Abraham as an example of how God relates to us as believers. We think of rewards as things, but the true reward is God. If we have intimacy with God, we have everything. If we lack that relationship with God, we have nothing of lasting significance.
The Bible calls Abraham the friend of God. Jesus declared to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.” In both the Old and New Testaments, the joy of faith is friendship with God. It’s the goal behind redemption.
The faith of Abraham and the relationship he had with God is the same as God offers to the Christian today. God spoke to Abraham and revealed the promise of his inheritance. Then the Bible says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. This is how the Christian believes today. God reveals the promise of our new life through Christ, and by faith we believe God and we are credited with the righteousness of Christ.
Hopefully you will begin to see the harmony of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What God did in ancient times was a foreshadowing of what God was about to do through Christ. All the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and all the New Testament points back to our redemption through Christ.
The same is true for the covenant of Abraham. After Abraham’s justification by faith, God introduced the covenant. If you aren’t familiar with the word ‘justification’, it simply means to be justified – or to be declared as just. Those who were once under the accusation of sin are declared just through Christ, and no longer are accounted as sinners. This is a topic we’ll go into later. For now, be aware that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God, prior to any covenant.
After being declared righteous, God offered the covenant – or a binding agreement with Abraham. The Lord pointed to the land surrounding Abraham and declared, “I will give you this land for an inheritance, and to your descendants.”
At this time, the land had inhabitants who already possessed it. Knowing this, Abraham asked a natural question – how? God not only reveals the how, but takes it a step further. God explains that the current inhabitants will be deposed once they become morally bankrupt, but then God seals the promise with a covenant.
In the ancient times, when two parties entered into a binding agreement, they would take an animal – usually a ram or a cow, slay it, and lay half the animal on the side where one party sat, and half where the other party sat. They would then swear an oath to each other, and both parties would walk between the pieces. The meaning of the ritual was that each person agreed that what was done to this animal would be done to them if they broke their part of the agreement. In other words, the covenant could not be broken without a death penalty. Keep this in your mental cache. It will be significant when we see how God brings in the New Covenant.
Something interesting happens as God prepares to make the covenant for Abraham. He asks Abraham to prepare the sacrifice, but does not allow Abraham to participate in the confirmation. Look now at Genesis 15:9-12, 17-18a
9 So [God] said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land…
At this point, Abraham’s name has not yet been changed, so he is still being called Abram. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as Abraham.
Notice that God had Abraham prepare the sacrifice, but did not allow him to walk between the pieces. This is significant. The covenant was with Abraham and his descendants after him. If Abraham had been the confirming party, and either he or his descendants failed to uphold their part of the agreement, the covenant would be broken and judgment would fall. Sin has consequences. Israel (the nation that inherited the promise) sinned and turned their back on God repeatedly. According to the rules of the covenant, the violating party would be slain for breaking the covenant.
To protect Abraham and his descendants, God made the covenant with Himself, but Abraham was the beneficiary. This event was used as an example showing the certainty of God’s promises to us in Hebrews 6:13-18
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
In other words, to give God’s people confidence in the certainty of God’s promise, He swore the oath against His life; not against the life of any fallible man. Once again, we see the Old Testament revealing the truth of our promise. To make the promise sure, God swore the oath by Himself. Therefore, even in judgment when Israel abandoned God, the people had the promise of returning to the land and obtaining the promise by simply repenting and reconciling with the Lord.
When the people failed, the covenant remained, for God was the guarantee of the covenant. The oath was between God and Himself, not God and Abraham. However, through that covenant, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with the benefit of the promise. Abraham entered into the covenant as a receiver and not as one making the guarantee.
The law that came through Moses is not how God’s people obtained the promise. The promise has always been by faith, and even when the people fell short on keeping the law, the promise wasn’t nullified. Look at Galatians 3:17
And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.
Who was the covenant made through? God in Christ. God swore the oath to Abraham through Christ, and the covenant wasn’t dependent upon the law. When the people fell short, they could not nullify the promise of the covenant. Man cannot break a covenant made between God and Himself. Both the Father and the Son were present at the confirmation of Abraham’s covenant, and are symbolized through the smoking oven of judgment and the light of the gospel torch.
The law cannot nullify the promise. The success of the law was dependent upon man, so it failed. But the promise cannot be annulled by the failure of man, because it was confirmed by God in Christ. So even in the Old Testament, we see Christ being the covenant maker, though He was not fully revealed until His human birth.
The Bible says that the weakness of the law was man, and that the purpose of the law was to restrain man, show man his inability to justify himself, and therefore turn to Christ, to teach man about Christ, and to foreshadow Christ. These are all roles of the law. One thing strangely absent is justification. The role of the law was not to justify man. Justification by faith was presented as God’s plan more than four-hundred years before the law was given.
Since man is the weakness of the law, it also stands true that any promises that are dependent upon man are at risk of failure. Any covenants dependent upon man are destined for judgment. Therefore, God swore a covenant by Himself with Abraham and his descendants as beneficiaries of the promise. God’s New Testament plan is no different.
The New Testament and all of Christianity is founded upon the new covenant. A bit of study reveals the new covenant clearly foretold and foreordained in the rituals and practices of the Old Testament – a testament founded upon God’s first covenant. In fact, covenant and testament are interchangeable in their meaning, but for the sake of clarity I’ll use testament to refer to the division between the Old Testament times and the New Testament times.
The problem with bringing in a new covenant is that something must be done about the old covenant. The Bible says that it is to be done away with in order to unveil the full plan of God. The old covenant foreshadowed what God was going to do through the new covenant, but the new can’t be ushered in until the previous one passes away.
Remember when I said to keep the meaning of the covenant ritual in your mental cache? This is where it becomes significant. God swore by Himself as a guarantee for the covenant with Abraham. In order to break the old covenant, it must be done to Him as was done to the sacrifice. The person breaking a blood oath must be slain. And yes, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.
God did not arrive at the New Testament era and say, “Oops.” The Lord foretold of how He would break the old covenant. The Bible says that the old covenant was confirmed by God in Christ; therefore, since Christ is the guarantee of the old covenant, He must lay down His life to break it. And this is exactly what Jesus foretells of Himself in the Old Testament. Look at Zechariah 11:10-14
10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.
11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.
12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
So much is said in this passage. Let’s begin at the end. In the Old Testament times, in order to enter God’s covenant with Abraham, one had to be a Jew. Either they had to have been born a Jew, or they had to convert to Judaism. This is why there was so much confusion in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples. When God poured out His Spirit upon all people, treating the Jews and the Gentiles alike, Jewish believers had a hard time accepting this.
The word ‘Gentile’ simply means anyone who is not a Jew. For thousands of years, God centered His covenant upon Israel. Now that covenant was broken, and the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding the significance of this.
This is why Zechariah’s prophecy is so important. The Old Covenant was based on the physical descendants of Abraham, but the New Covenant brings everyone into the covenant through a new spiritual birth in Christ. In order to open up the world to the promises of God, the Old Covenant that promised it to the physical bloodline of Abraham had to be broken.
Jesus alluded to this when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
The Jewish nation looked upon themselves as the sheep of God. God cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them as the fold of His sheep. Now Jesus is saying that another fold will be brought in, and they will be united as one people along with the Jews. This is the gentiles. This is part of the New Covenant. Look at Matthew 26:27-28
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this until God revealed his plan to the New Testament church. The cross is where the Old Covenant was broken, and the New Covenant was born. Jesus took the staff of His protection over the flock of Israel, broke it in two, allowed Himself to be nailed to it in the form of a cross, and redeemed all people through the New Covenant.
Think back to the first covenant. Who prepared the sacrifice, and who confirmed the covenant? Man prepared the sacrifice. Abraham prepared it, but God confirmed it by swearing by Himself while making Abraham and his descendants the beneficiaries of the promise. The covenant was between God and God, symbolized in the burning furnace of judgment and the torch of light.
In the same way, man prepared the sacrifice of Jesus, but the covenant was between God and Himself, with us as the beneficiaries of the promise. In the first covenant, only Abraham, the father of the Jews was called upon to prepare the sacrifice. In the New Covenant, God called upon the Romans (gentiles) and the Jews to jointly prepare the sacrifice.
The Jews prepared the sacrifice through the trial that provided false testimony and then condemned Jesus with an illegal court. The gentiles prepared the sacrifice through the Romans who knowingly condemned an innocent man under Governor Pilot, and then executed Jesus on the cross.
Man prepared the sacrifice, but the covenant was between God as the Heavenly Father and Jesus the Son. Isaiah 53 says that it pleased the LORD (the Father) to bruise Him (the Son), and make His soul an offering for our sin.
So we can see that the covenant was between God the judge of sin (burning oven) and the Son who is the light of the world (the flaming torch), with us as the beneficiary to the promise. The promise is our redemption from judgment against sin, and becoming joint heirs, who are now welcomed into the fold of God.
How can we not rejoice in the amazing work of God? And how can we not stand in awe of the foreknowledge of God? He revealed these things from the beginning. The Old Testament saints could not understand these things because Christ had not yet been revealed. We, on the other hand, can see clearly through the lens of the cross and see how God has been working out his plan for thousands of years.
An excerpt from Simple Faith, How every person can experience intimacy with God by Eddie Snipes
Let’s take a moment to dispel another misconception of faith. Mark Twain made the following quote famous, “Faith is believing something you know isn’t true.”
Any Christian would refute this statement; however, many live as though this is their mission in life. They try to make themselves believe, and when doubts creep in, they try to overcome doubt by attempting to muster up more faith. It’s purely a human effort – and it’s destined to fail. Best case scenario, human faith is unfruitful. Worse case, people give up on believing. They give up because faith has failed them and they get tired of pretending. Manmade faith is often nothing more than self-deception.
Many years ago, my wife began a relationship with a woman who seemed very religious. As with most Christians, my wife had unanswered questions that nagged at her. She confided some of her struggles with her friend and was summarily rejected. The woman she believed to be her friend sent a scathing letter to her saying, “You have a disease called doubt. As with other diseases, doubt can be spread. I can’t be friends with you or maintain contact with you because I don’t want to catch your disease of doubt and corrupt my faith.”
The absurdity of this lady’s reaction left me stunned. While the Bible tells us to bear up those who are weak in faith, the human-based faith can only survive in a vacuum, and therefore cannot bear up anyone, for it is dependent upon mankind.
The great irony is that many people are shields to their faith rather than being shielded by faith. The Bible says that faith is the shield that protects the Christian from attack; therefore, if our faith needs to be protected rather than being our protection, it is not a true biblical faith.
The woman who feared doubt did not have true faith. Like so many others, her faith only survives as long as she can protect her beliefs from being questioned. She stands as the shield to her faith and through human will, protects the fragile belief system she has placed her hopes upon. Read the testimonies of Christians-turned-atheist. In almost every case, the testimony is the same. “I got tired of pretending.”
Perhaps we aren’t supposed to pretend. A Christian should not be afraid of truth – for all truth ultimately points to God. When you look at the arguments against the Bible they are often a woven tale that avoids anything that affirms the Bible and only accepts the things that are in agreement with the presupposed position, or can be twisted to fit the argument.
Another irony is that manmade faith has the same substance, whether someone claims to be an atheist or a Christian. Atheists stand as guards to their faith in humanistic thinking, weeding out and attacking anything that challenges their fragile belief system. They react with the same volatile emotions when something questions their foundation of sand. There is little difference between the counterfeit faith of religion and the counterfeit faith of atheism. And they both create similar reactions from the possessor when challenged with ideas that rattle their foundation of sand.
Many arguments are fashioned this way, and an entire book could be written with examples. Rather than picking out an example from the plethora of arguments against the Bible, let’s use the Bible itself as an example. My grandfather often used this as a tease, but it serves as a good example in our discussion. In this case, I can only accept the KJV’s wording, and through it, I can prove that women are dangerous drivers. Look at these passages from Acts:
we let her drive
and so were driven.
all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
There you have it. The Bible disapproves of women drivers, right? I used the text exactly as written, without alteration, and I am able to prove my point by scripture. In reality, the only thing I have done is exclude information. What’s missing fills in the key to an accurate understanding. By hiding information that doesn’t say what I want to be said, I can give the false impression that I’ve proven something that is actually false.
If we look at Acts 27 in context, we discover that ‘her’ is a ship that the Apostle Paul and Luke were aboard. It was caught in a violent storm, and they struck the sails and allowed the ship to be driven wherever the storm would take them. In despair, the men felt that all hope was lost.
Excluding key pieces of information can make this text to appear to say something it does not say. The same is true for science, history, archaeology, and any other source of information. A critic can present a persuasive argument by excluding what he or she doesn’t want you to know, and presenting what can appear to say what they want you to believe. How do we defend against this? Simply by finding out the whole truth. What is missing is often what dispels doubt. This is why the Bible commands that we study to show ourselves approved.
Sometimes the information we need is not available. Yet if you know what you believe and why you believe it, the missing evidence won’t rattle you. It’s amazing that we can have a mountain of evidence, but if we have one criticism we can’t answer, we’ll doubt the mountain and trust the objection.
Rather than covering our eyes and pretending questions don’t exist, we need to look at the question and explore the objection in light of what we know is true. Only then can we have confidence. The person who runs from the disease of doubt can never have confidence in the truth. Sometimes the questions aren’t answered easily, but honestly seeking for answers will give the Christian confidence. And honestly looking at the mountain of truth will give assurance when the molehill of doubt arises.
In discussions with people who claim to be ex-Christians, I see a pattern. They began by refusing to look at questions honestly and standing as guards to protect their faith. A college environment or another source of influence put them in a position where they couldn’t escape criticism. By sheer human will, they fought doubt until it finally overcame them. In frustration, they declared that their faith was a childish fantasy and they gave up the whole thing.
Now they stand and guard to protect their new faith in humanism against the attacks of Christianity. They use the exact same methods; they have just changed sides. They still will not look at the whole truth with honesty. So now they continue to guard half-truths and protect their new faith, only it’s easier to stand in the atheist camp since there are more allies and it masquerades as intellectualism.
The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to protect God – or your faith. Faith is not forcing yourself to believe something. Faith is being assured of truth so that it becomes your firm foundation. If you can’t stand with confidence, you are lacking a foundation and your faith is manmade.
Let’s now look at what Jesus said about faith. Look at Luke 17:5-6
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Rarely will you hear this passage looked at in light of what Jesus was communicating to the disciples. Just like the rest of us, the disciples who learned under Jesus struggled with doubt. Daily they witnessed the model of perfection – Jesus Christ. In the light of His life, they recognized something was deficient in their own lives. Throughout His life, Jesus professed absolute trust in the plan of our Heavenly Father. It was a plan that would lead Him to the cross. Yet He never wavered. In the same sense, Jesus constantly challenged the disciples to follow His perfect plan.
Jesus and his disciples knew the religious leaders of the day were seeking to destroy them and several times it looked like they might succeed. Once, they were nearly stoned, and to His disciple’s dismay, Jesus went right back to the city where their lives would again be in peril. Jesus said that He couldn’t die until His time was fulfilled. How could this man so firmly believe in God’s plan that He could walk right into peril without batting an eye? The disciples wanted this confidence, so they said, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Did Jesus give them a list of ‘faith principles’ or ‘laws of faith’? No. He made it clear that they already had all the faith they needed. Jesus often used a mustard seed as an illustration. He often called it the least of all seeds. Jesus wasn’t saying, no seed is smaller than a mustard seed. It was a word picture that every person in that culture could understand. Mustard was a spice that everyone used and it was likely the smallest ingredient people could identify with. One time Jesus held up the tiny seed and declared it to be a symbol of how the Kingdom of Heaven grows from the smallest source.
In regards to faith, Jesus is again holding up a seed that looked so insignificant. “If your faith is this big, it can move mountains.” Jesus used both mountains and trees to illustrate the power of our faith. Both are objects that appear immovable, yet none can stand before faith in the heart of the one doing God’s will. So the answer to faith is, “You don’t need more.”
Jesus again uses this as a teaching opportunity when the disciples experienced failure. In Matthew 7, Jesus gave his disciples power to cast out demons and heal the sick. He sent them out to preach his coming, and they returned in victory, excited that even the demons had no power against His name. However, victory was turned into confusion when their faith was challenged.
After returning from a mountain, Jesus saw a commotion around His disciples. When He approached, the people informed Him that His disciples could not cast out a demon from a man bent on destroying himself. This was after the disciples had experienced great victory and rejoiced that demons were subject to them in Christ’s name. After Jesus cast out the resistant spirit and healed the man, the disciples came to Him to find out why they couldn’t do it. Look at Jesus’ answer in Matthew 17:19-21
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
21 “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
The plain meaning is easy to overlook. The reason they failed was because of unbelief. Yet, Jesus made it clear that they indeed had the power, for all they needed was a mustard seed of faith – and then nothing was impossible. Nothing also means this event in which they failed. So we can see that Jesus empowered them to do this very thing. The disciples succeeded in Matthew 7, but here in Matthew 17 they failed. Unbelief caused the failure, and the solution is found in prayer and fasting.
Prayer and fasting does not increase their faith. Jesus made it clear that they already had enough faith. Instead, it was a call to weaken the flesh and build them up in the Spirit. Fasting brings the flesh under subjection while prayer puts their focus on the Spirit.
Unbelief is of the flesh, but faith is of the Spirit. The disciples were so focused on their unbelief that they could not walk by faith. All of their efforts combined could not muster up faith – and indeed it did not need to. They were already given the gift of faith. The problem was that they were walking in the flesh. The flesh verses the Spirit is a topic for another chapter, but keep in mind that Jesus never increased their faith. He always reminded them that they had what they needed. Unbelief may hinder their faith, but the solution wasn’t to gain more faith, but to deal with what was causing their flesh to dominate their lives and empower unbelief.
Romans 12:3 tells us that God deals every person the measure of faith. Faith isn’t something we build, nor is it something we obtain or increase. Faith is a gift from God. Anytime spiritual matters become man centered or man dependent, we have stepped outside of true faith. The Bible never tells us to build our faith; it tells us to build our lives upon our faith. Look at Jude 1:20-21
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
This passage doesn’t tell us to build faith. The Bible says that we have a most holy faith that we should build ourselves upon. It’s most holy because it comes from the Most Holy God. We keep ourselves in the love of God by keeping his word. This is another avenue we’ll explore later. Let’s also consider Romans 10:17
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Why does faith come by hearing the word? It goes back to our examination of Hebrews 11. Faith is a sure foundation. The word is our foundation and as we hear the truth of God, we learn how to build our lives upon it. We hear, believe, and build ourselves upon the most holy faith that is revealed in the word. The word is by the Spirit (see John 6:63) just as faith is of the Spirit. You can know the word and still not have faith, but you can’t have faith without the word. The power to believe (or live by faith) has already been given to us by the Holy Spirit. What’s lacking is our understanding of God’s word and how to live in the Spirit where faith is discovered.
Rather than faith being something we force ourselves to believe, faith is believing God. It is God revealing His word to us in a way that creates such certainty that we build our lives upon that unshakeable foundation. Faith is believing God so that we are accounted as righteous. By faith, we move our foundation from human nature, and build it upon the assurance of God and His promises. A false faith says, “I believe,” but then remains on a dead foundation built on the weakness of the flesh. Then all spiritual matters are dependent upon man and have no part in the eternal power of God. When faith depends on mankind, it is a weak foundation and will not stand when we need the rock of a firm assurance.
We have a better foundation. When we believe God’s word and build ourselves upon that most holy faith, the disease of doubt has no power over us and we need not to convince ourselves to believe anything we aren’t sure to be true. We will have the firm assurance of truth and that assurance is the shield and strength of the Christian life.
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.
Faith isn’t a mystical force. As we have seen, faith is believing God and that belief causes us to act in obedience. Faith isn’t a substance as some claim by misunderstanding how the Greek is translated. Let’s take a moment and look at a passage that is often misunderstood, but is very important in understanding faith. Look at Hebrews 11:
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The King James and the New King James Versions use the word ‘substance’ in this passage. I’m going to use a little Greek here, but don’t let it turn you off. Knowing how words are translated can bring life to passages of the Bible. In Hebrews 11, the Greek word is ‘hupostasis’, which means: to put under, substructure, foundation, steadfastness of mind, confidence, firm trust, assurance, something of substance, or a real being.
While all these words can be used in translation, it should be self-evident that the context in which a word is used must be consistent with how we define the meaning of the word itself. When translating, don’t think of these as multiple choices where we just pick one which suits our fancy. Rather we need to understand that the translation is based on a definition. The Greek word is an idea, and the translator must choose an English equivalent which best conveys that idea into words, and do so while being consistent with what was being communicated in the original Greek.
Even if you don’t know Greek, you can get an understanding of what the word means by looking at all its possible English translations. Taken together, we can understand what is meant by substance by looking at the overall definition of hupostasis. Substance in this instance does not mean that faith has physical properties, but that it has ‘real substance’ in what it assures us of.
When someone makes empty promises, we say that their words have no substance. In other words, there is little assurance someone will fulfill their word if their promises were empty in the past. The opposite also is true. If someone is reliable and keeps their promises, we say their word has substance. This also applies to how hupostasis is translated in the above passage.
The Greek word ‘hupostasis’ is used four other times in the New Testament. Three times it means to boast or have strong confidence, and one refers to the real being of the person of Christ. The English word ‘substance’ is used two other times in the New Testament. Both are in Luke and both are Greek words that mean possessions or wealth. These examples are physical items, but is not the word ‘hupostasis’ as used in Hebrews 11:1.
Clearly this passage in Hebrews is referring to faith as being our firm assurance of things hoped for. As was the case in Jacob’s life, by faith, we also can have the confidence to hope for what we cannot see, knowing God will stand true to his word even if circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. Only by a firm assurance in God’s word can we have hope in the midst of trials and testing.
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and expressed his fear that they might be drifting away from the simplicity of their faith in Christ. The same threat faces you, your church, and every Christian on a daily basis. If we allow human philosophy to muddy the waters of truth, nothing will be clear.
I once had a discussion with someone about faith. In our talk, it was stated that faith was too complicated to understand. Books on theology and Christian philosophy clouded the issue and made things seem too hard to grasp by anyone other than learned scholars. Once again, I pointed back to the simplicity of the gospel. The Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Faith = believing God.
Could it be any simpler than this? What was the evidence that Abraham believed God? When God commanded, Abraham believed the promise and then obeyed the command. I can’t say, “I believe God,” and then act in disobedience. If I truly believe, my life will show it. Disobedience is rooted in unbelief, but obedience is born from faith. Let’s look at an example.
Look back in history to the time of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament. Esau was the firstborn son. In that culture, the firstborn received a double portion of the family inheritance and received the family blessing. What’s more, these were descendants of Abraham; therefore, the one who held the birthright was rightfully the carrier of the promise that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ. As we read through the New Testament, we see that God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his descendants was the promise of our redeemer – Jesus Christ.
Esau despised his birthright and willingly forfeited his right to the promise by trading it to Jacob for a pot of stew. He considered satisfying the cravings of his flesh as more valuable than the promise of God. For this reason, he sold his birthright to Jacob for food. When he rejected the promise given through his birthright as the firstborn son, God rejected Esau from the future blessing that carried the promises of God.
In the course of time, Jacob’s mother came up with a plan to obtain the blessing for her son. Jacob and Esau’s father was the son of Abraham, and God established him as a prophet. His blessing was the promise of God. Isaac planned to bless his firstborn, Esau. Knowing the end of his life was near, Isaac called Esau and sent him into the field to hunt for venison. He loved the venison stew Esau made, so the plan was to have a nice meal and then bless his son.
When Jacob’s mother heard the command, she prepared the stew for Isaac while Esau was gone, and sent Jacob into the room to be blessed. Isaac was nearly blind, so he was deceived into believing he was blessing Esau. When Esau returned, he discovered what Jacob had done, and made plans to murder Jacob. To avoid being killed by his brother, Jacob fled the country to live with a relative.
All this background has little direct application to faith, but it sets the stage for one of the best examples of faith in the Bible. God shaped Jacob’s life for twenty years, and then sent him back home knowing he would have to face his brother. Just before Jacob encountered his brother, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel.
As is often the case in the Old Testament, God embeds the gospel into the events of scripture. Jacob had once looked for blessings in the efforts of his own hands. He took what he wanted and hoped he could get enough. He supplanted – or chased after things, trying to take what he wanted. Life was fleeting away, and Jacob struggled to fulfill a desire that could not be fulfilled outside of God.
Previously, Jacob’s goal had been to get what he wanted and life was nothing more than grappling for things he hoped would make him happy. Then the time came when God redeemed him out of his old life, and gave him the promise. No longer was he called Jacob – which means ‘the supplanter’, but now he was called Israel – which means ‘God prevails’. No longer was he dependent upon his own efforts to find fulfillment, but now he would trust in God, who would prevail and cause him to inherit all that had been promised through is forefather, Abraham.
This is a picture of prevailing through the Christian life. Before coming to Christ, we grapple for satisfaction, and the only fulfillment we find is in what we take by the heel and claim for our own. As satisfaction eludes us, we keep wrestling against God and man, looking for the things we think will make us happy. History proves that the one who possesses the most is rarely happy or satisfied, yet because it’s the only way we know, we pursue life just as the rest of the world does. Then the Lord calls us out of that lifestyle, gives us His name, and we become inheritors of the promise.
Now, we too live by the promise that God prevails. Many Christians don’t understand this and still grapple for the world, but the truth is, the promise is ours and all we must do is trust in our God who prevails, and go where He leads.
When the nation of Israel turned from the promise and lived like supplanters, God always referred to them as ‘the house of Jacob’. Yet when blessing them or revealing the promise, God called the nation, ‘the house of Israel.’ We, like Israel, either walk in the failing world system and live like those pursuing something that can’t be obtained in the flesh, or we live like conquerors and walk in the promise of ‘God prevails.’ To walk in the promise, we have to step out of human effort and into faith.
This is the trial Jacob / Israel faced. God visited Jacob while he lived with his uncle and commanded him to go back to his homeland – the very place where his brother waited to take vengeance upon him. God said for him to return, and the Lord would be with him, bless him, and make him a great nation. It’s the call of faith. Go, and God will bless. Step out in faith, and trust in the promise.
Jacob arose, gathered his family and possessions together, and headed toward home. Not knowing how his brother would respond, Jacob sent a messenger ahead of him to greet his brother. The messenger returned and said, “Your brother gathered together four-hundred men and is coming this way toward you.”
That wasn’t a good thing to hear. Shouldn’t God have given him a sign of peace? No one arms four-hundred men and rushes to meet someone just to say, ‘hello’. Clearly, war was in Esau’s heart. Jacob had no army, no defense, and no plan of escape. The normal human reaction would be to turn around and run. No one would blame him if he did. This was the moment of truth.
The command of God was, “Go back to your home,” which was the Promised Land God gave to Abraham. The promise was, “I will be with you to bless and prosper you.” Circumstances seemed to testify against God’s promise, but Jacob chose to believe God over his human instinct.
Let me stop for a moment and point out an important truth. Fear and doubt aren’t necessarily a lack of faith. It’s often said that faith and fear can’t coexist, but this is not true. People are made to feel guilty because they feel fear when in danger or facing a circumstance that seems impossible. The truth is that faith is of the Spirit, and fear is of the flesh. The Bible tells us that the flesh and the Spirit of God are at war against each other. We’ll explore this in greater detail later on, but keep this truth in mind. Jacob didn’t pretend his fear did not exist. Nor did he try to muster up a false faith. He acknowledged his fear before God and prayed for the Lord to guide him.
Jacob divided his family into two groups so one could escape if the other was attacked, and then stopped and took in the dire situation that surrounded him. He had obeyed God, and instead of protection, he was now helpless as an army rushed toward him. He then approached God with a request, and a declaration of obedience. Look at Genesis 32:9-12
9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’:
10 “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.
11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.
12 “For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ “
What a wonderful example of prayer founded upon faith! The two companies were his wives and children. They were divided so they could not be attacked together.
Notice, he didn’t deny his fears, he confessed them. He didn’t bargain with God, he testified that he was acting in obedience. He didn’t say, “I obeyed; therefore, you owe me.” No, Jacob acknowledged that he was not worthy of any of God’s mercies. And then he claimed the promise that God gave him. God wants us to trust in His promises. And live by them.
Jacob did not put himself into this position, God did. It was to test Jacob’s faith so he would choose to either trust in God, or turn back to the perceived safety of the old life outside of God’s will.
It’s equally important that we understand the difference between acting in faith, and tempting God. The Bible forbids us to tempt God – or put God to the test. To put God to the test is to take it upon ourselves to put our lives or safety in a position where God must intervene to save us. God has the right to put Himself to the test so we must choose to trust His word or our fears, but we have no right to manipulate God by our will.
When the word commands us to obey and we must face persecution or suffering in order to obey, that is an act of faith. When we decide to place ourselves into harm’s way, that’s an act of the flesh. I can’t jump in front of a bus and pray, God save me. I can’t overspend and then give the last of my money to charity and say that God has to miraculously pay my bills. I’ve even seen people provoke persecution and then wonder why God allowed them to suffer. There is reward in obedience, but not in foolishness masquerading as faith.
In Jacob’s case, he crossed the river separating himself from his brother. He was afraid and was in fear for his life, but his prayer was, “You commanded me to do it. I’m afraid. I know I’m unworthy of your deliverance, but I stand upon your promises.”
Then a crazy idea struck Jacob. He made several bands of goats and sheep, then sent them in droves toward his brother. Messengers were sent with each band to tell Esau that these were a present from his servant Jacob.
In my mind’s eye, I picture Esau scoffing at the idea. “Does he think a worthless flock of sheep is going to stop my revenge?” Then he encountered another. And another. And another. At some point, Esau probably shook his head at the absurdity, and eventually it struck him as funny. By the time he reached Esau, his anger had been pushed aside and he could do nothing but greet his brother and ask about the droves of sheep he kept passing.
The method God uses isn’t relevant. What is relevant is God’s faithfulness. He commands our obedience, and then puts us into a position to either believe his promises, or believe our fears. Sometimes Esau comes into our lives as a sinful desire for what opposes God, or as a fear that calls us to flee from God. Neither are sin unless we choose them over believing God. Faith isn’t the absence of fear and doubt – faith overcomes fear and doubt. Faith is how we overcome. Look at 1 John 5:
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.
Faith can’t be overcome; but it can be neglected. Even in fear, we have the power to believe God. We also have the power to disbelieve God and put our trust in fear.
There will be times when God will put you to the test, for it proves whether you are trusting in Him, or yourself, circumstances, or feelings.
Faith is not complicated, but it is something our lives must be built upon. There are many misconceptions of faith, so in the following section, we’ll dig deeper into what the Bible teaches about faith and how it applies to our individual lives.
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.
There was a man who was very rich. His house was filled with luxury and he wanted for nothing. At least nothing in the material sense. The heart of this man was empty, thus he began a quest for fulfillment. Before we look at his journey, let’s look at how he became wealthy.
The lucrative career he chose was collecting taxes. When we think of taxes, we all have negative feelings. In his era, tax collectors were the lowest form of human existence. He worked for the Roman government. When Rome conquered a nation, they allowed the people a few unique freedoms. They were allowed to keep their culture, language, and rulers. However, Rome also set up their own rulers who held a higher position of authority. They also required every citizen to be bilingual and learn a simplified version of Greek. Each nation would also be put under tribute. In other words, they had to pay taxes to Rome.
As long as rulers behaved under the Roman governors, people learned the national language, and taxes were paid, subcultures were acceptable in this form of government. This method of compromise helped maintain stability in one of the world’s longest lasting empires.
It’s not hard to imagine that paying taxes to a foreign government wasn’t a popular idea. I say foreign because Rome wasn’t native to their culture. To simplify tax collecting, Rome would hire locals to collect the tribute money. A local understood the town’s economy and knew who had money, and had a good idea of how much.
A tax collector had the backing of the Roman government, so resisters could be arrested or have their property seized. Rome also turned a blind eye to the amount of money collected. Collectors only had to meet their quotas. Anything collected above this amount was bonus money for the collector. In the eyes of the community, tax collectors were legalized thieves.
This rich man was despised by his neighbors. He was a traitor because he joined with the oppressive government against his own people. He was a thief because he raised extra taxes against his neighbors so he could pad his own pockets. When the townspeople refused to pay the inflated tax prices, the soldiers came in to take it by force. When a man complained that his taxes were higher than he knew Rome required, the soldiers showed no concern. The commander had no interest in even making sure the money collected made it to the government.
“That’s on him. Tax collectors know the amount due. I’m a soldier, not an auditor,” would have been his answer to the locals.
The commander knew it was a rip off, but did not care. This created hatred against this tax collector, and all others like him. In fact, all tax collectors were like him. The free money is what lured these worthless and greedy fellows into this despicable profession.
This man grew wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. He had the biggest house, best food, servants, and great possessions. Though his financial goals were coming to pass, he felt empty. Having all this wealth didn’t fill the void of loss of friendships and self-respect. One day he heard about Jesus coming to town. Hope rose in his heart and he sought the one people claimed to be a Savior.
The town’s people pushed him away and kept him far back from the one he wanted to see. At this point, many will recognize the story. He saw where Jesus was walking, ran ahead, and climbed a tree where he could see Jesus and get his attention. The man’s name was Zacchaeus.
Jesus called him down, came to his house, and Zacchaeus gladly gave up his wealth for the new life Jesus offered. He gave the substance of his house to repay those he robbed with the sword of the Romans.
The Apostle Matthew was in the exact same position. He was probably a miserable man, sitting among the money he collected at the receipt of customs. Jesus walked by and said, “Matthew, come and follow Me.” Matthew left his position and it’s wealth behind without a second thought, followed Jesus, and became an apostle and the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with loving your enemies. It has a lot to do with it. Jesus used tax collectors as an example of loving your enemies. In our culture, we read this and it doesn’t evoke the same feelings as it did to the culture of His day. A tax collector was the most despised group of people in the Jewish culture. They were manipulators, thieves, traitors, and bullies. They had the power to accuse their enemies of crimes, and bring the judgment of the government upon the people.
Everyone feared and hated tax collectors. It was the profession of ill repute. No one was considered more corrupt and more worthless as a human being than a collector in that era. They were the enemy. Jesus even used them as illustrations in many of His teachings.
Now let’s look at what it means to love our enemies. Loving those who hate us and cause harm, goes against everything engrained into our nature. Yet this is exactly what Jesus commands. It’s perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the Christian life because it goes against everything our human nature is founded upon. Humanly speaking, it’s not possible to love someone who is actively trying to harm us. Love in the Christian life is not based upon human love or our abilities at all.
Keep in mind, the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit once we receive Christ. God is not asking you to give your love to those who don’t deserve it. God is asking you to take the love He has poured into your heart, and give His love to those around you. This applies to friends, neighbors, family, and even enemies. This love is what reflects true Christianity to the world around us. Until we have the opportunity to love those who show hate, little distinguishes us from the world. Look at Matthew 5:44-48
44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
It’s hard to look at this and not scratch our heads and say, “How?” During our casual reading this may not seem that difficult, but let the opportunity come to put it into practice, and you’ll see how hard it is to love.
If someone gets in our face, yelling and screaming curses, it’s not our natural reaction to say, “I bless you.” There are people in this world filled with hatred and destructive behaviors. Some people are just mean. They think nothing of harming another – whether it be by words or actions.
What if someone uses us? There are those who manipulate others by preying upon their trust, only to use them for personal gain. Swindlers think nothing of leaving families destitute while they make off with their money. They will even use Christianity as a means to personal gain, building trust only to create an opportunity to prey on others.
Do we bless them? Can we bless? It isn’t our natural reaction. Yet Jesus made it clear that unless we are able to practice this type of love, we are no different than those we consider to be ungodly among us. The Bible requires a hard thing. “Bless and do not curse.” This is only possible when we are abiding in the love of God. Both the command and the promise is found in Proverbs 25:21-22
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.
The opposite is also true. We are commanded not to seek revenge, for vengeance belongs to the Lord alone. When we take vengeance into our own hands, we put ourselves in God’s place. Our enemy escapes consequences from God and we bring that upon ourselves for our disobedience. However, if we do good, pray for (not against) those who harm us, the Lord rewards us and then takes action on our enemies.
His first goal is mercy, just as the Lord showed us mercy while we were enemies of God. How God chooses to deal with those who wrong us is not our concern. In fact, when we rejoice over our enemies in their struggles, it displeases God and according to the Bible, His wrath is turned away from our enemies.
The reward is not in seeing someone suffer, but in the blessings of the Lord. If we obey, the Lord rewards us and instead of increased bitterness, we find freedom.
By nature, you cannot love those who hate you, but when you abide in the agape love of God, you will find the power to love those who seek your harm, and you will be rewarded with God’s blessing when you show love to others, whether they be enemies or friends. This is simple to understand, but difficult to live out. Often we must pray for strength. When you pray for enemies, you will find a love you didn’t know existed.
Let me reiterate this principle again. Abide in the love of God. The Lord’s love (agape) is outward focused. That means it is seeking a way out of our hearts and into the lives of those around us. Resisting the outward expression of God’s love through us creates a calloused heart. However, to surrender to the love that transformed our heart will become a wellspring of life to us as it passes God’s life changing love to others.
Either way, our life will be affected by God’s love. A resistant heart becomes calloused and bitter, cutting off God’s love through us and preventing us from experiencing this life giving power. However, when we allow it to flow, our lives will be constantly transformed.
I’ve never met a bitter person that had life. I’ve also never met a loving person that lacked life. Love creates life. Life is fulfilled in us as agape reaches outward to others.
Excerpted from Simple Faith