Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “trust

The best way to live

Applying the Bible to our lives

These days many of us get our sense of right and wrong from movies. Although some of our superheroes may act like a self-sacrificing Messiah in battles to save the world, the lessons in movies are usually determined by ungodly people who want to entertain us.

When I googled “How to live”, there were 20 billion results on the internet! If I took five seconds to read each one, it would take over 30 years of reading continuously! How can we know which is the best way to live our lives? These are all the subjective opinions of many people. We can save wasting a lot of time by following the objective opinions of the God who made the world and who knows all about us. And it doesn’t take years to find because He has communicated to us in the Bible. The Bible is often called “God’s word” or “the word” because it’s a message from God.

This blogpost, which is based on James 1:19-25, shows that the best way to live is to keep applying the Bible to our lives.

James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:19-25NIV).

The goal for our lives

The book of James was written to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). We read about anger, immorality and evil. It was disgraceful.

James urged them to change their ways. So he gave them a goal, an aim, a target. It was to be spiritually mature and wise. Perseverance through trials would make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). And they could pray for wisdom; “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God” (1:5). Wisdom is the ability to cope with major difficulties. A person with wisdom makes good decisions. They have biblical common sense and can apply scriptural principles to their life. They use biblical knowledge correctly.

Jesus told His disciples, “follow me” (Jn. 1:43) and Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). If we follow Paul and Jesus it will be best for us, best for our families, best for our friends and neighbors, and best for our churches.

And Paul said that the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord (Appendix A).

Rather than just following a list of rules, God wants us to be able to “find out what pleases the Lord” in all situations (Eph. 5:10). Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. And the chief external means by which He guides them is the Bible.

When I go hiking, I always take a GPS, a map and a compass. They help me to decide where to go and what to do. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit and the Bible can help us decide how to live our lives.

What’s our goal in life? Is it to please God, and be spiritually mature and wise like Paul and Jesus?

The steps towards the goal

The first step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Trust in the work of Jesus for our salvation.

There are two ways to live: with God or without God. Trusting that Christ’s death paid the penalty for our sin brings us near to God. Living with God is better because it’s the first step towards the best way to live. It means we have eternal spiritual life and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who can empower us to go through the other steps. Without God’s help we are on our own and limited to human wisdom. Before the Ephesians trusted in Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It we don’t know the true God, then we have no hope because real hope is based on God’s promises. And we have no lasting purpose in our lives and no hope beyond this life.

If we haven’t taken the first step, we can’t get to the top of a ladder. If we haven’t trusted in Christ, we can’t find the best way to live.

There are also two ways to live as a Christian: with God or without God. It’s a contradiction to say that we trusted God once, but don’t have anything to do with Him now. And it’s not the best way to live.

Paul taught “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). He instructed people in not only the fundamentals of the gospel (the good news about Jesus), but in all that’s vital for godly living. And we will learn about this as we look at the other steps. The Bible has the most important message for us because it tells us about these steps (Appendix B).

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Pray to God.

That’s how we communicate with God. We can ask God for power and wisdom to live how He wants us to (Jas. 1:5-6). James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas. 1:5).

Do you text message your boss at work? They say it’s more personal than email. Do you pray daily? It’s more personal than public prayers.

James also says to “listen to the word [Bible]” (Jas. 1:22). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Read the Bible.

The Bible says that “All Scripture is God-breathed” because its authors “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:21). What the authors wrote came from God. The words came from the Holy Spirit and not from human wisdom. That’s why all the words of scripture are useful in some way.

God communicates to us through the Bible. That’s how we can experience God personally. So we need to read it regularly. It takes about 70 hours to read the whole Bible. This could be done in a year by reading for about 12 minutes per day.

How long would it take to watch 70 hours of movies? If that was 35 movies and we watched one per week, it would take about 8 months. But if we watched two movies per week, it would take about 4 months. So most of us probably spend more time watching movies than reading the Bible.

This means that movies could be influencing us more that the Bible and hindering us from finding the best way to live. When do you read the Bible?

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Understand the Bible.

We need to study the Bible in order to understand it (see more about this topic below).

James also says, “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (Jas. 1:21). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Accept the Bible as God’s word.

The Thessalonians “accepted it [the Bible] not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Th. 2:13). The Bible has divine wisdom and it can help us live in a godly way that pleases God. It can save us from sinful living that displeases God.

Although it was written over a period of at least 1,500 years, the Bible has great unity and harmony. It addresses the biggest questions of life and its worldview explains reality like no other book. It’s historically reliable. It makes detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled. It has transformed people’s lives. It has withstood and outlasted all of its attackers. All we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. Jesus quoted constantly from the Old Testament. If Jesus accepted the Old Testament as God’s words, we can accept the Bible as God’s words. When we do this the Holy Spirit will give us a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance for us in the Bible. And we will willingly read the Bible in order to understand it. And we’ll memorize it and meditate on it. In this way it will be implanted in our lives (Jas. 1:21). How do you view the message in the Bible? Do you welcome it or are you skeptical about it?

James also says to “Do what it [the Bible] says” (Jas. 1:22). So the last step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Apply the Bible to our lives.

Once we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior; prayed for God’s help; and read, understod and accepted God’s message in the Bible; then we need to obey what we have learnt. This means renewing our mind (Rom.12:2), stopping sinful actions and starting godly actions (see more about this topic below).

But how can we understand the ancient words of the Bible?

Understanding the Bible

God wants us to understand His message in the Bible and to use it for godly living. Because the Bible was written for common people like us, it’s not difficult to understand its main points. They are not hidden or secret.

Here is some information to help us find the main point of any passage in the Bible.

The Bible is a library

The Bible is the collection of 66 books comprising:
– The Hebrew scriptures (Genesis to Malachi), which are called the Old Testament.
– Jesus’ teaching and actions (Matthew to John), which are called the gospels, and
– The teaching and actions of those whom He delegated as apostles (Acts to Revelation).

The literary styles of the books of the Bible

The books of the Bible come in different literary styles. There is poetry and prose. Hebrew poetic books often have lines with repeated meanings (called parallelism) and may metaphors.

The Old Testament has books of history/narrative, poetry, and prophecy. Exodus to Deuteronomy are also Hebrew law. While the New Testament has history, letters and prophecy. Our passage in James is from a letter.

Many times a mixture of literary styles will be combined in one book.

Literary devices in the Bible

One of the most common literary devices in the Bible are figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole (exaggeration). These can occur in any book of the Bible, but they are more frequent in the poetic books.

Also, Jesus often used parables to teach a lesson.

There’ s a metaphor in our passage in James where God’s word (the Bible) is said to be planted like a seed in the believer. When we allow the Bible to grow (like a seed) in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

And there’s a simile in our passage in James where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror, and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what we look like; while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what we look like. Obeying the Bible is beneficial, while not obeying it is useless and a waste of time.

The Bible is a progressive revelation

The Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. The first slope in the diagram is the Old Testament and the second slope is the New Testament. We can read it as those who have the whole book and know God’s whole program of salvation.

Our passage in James is in one of the early books written in the New Testament, so it’s near where the line moves upwards after the 400 year gap between the two testaments (where the line is horizontal as there was no new revelation).

Next we will look at three kinds of context.

The historical context

Here we look at questions like: Who wrote it?  When was it written? And, who was it written to? This is summarized in a diagram where time increases from left to right. The Bible was written to others—but it speaks to us.

Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) was written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us except we don’t have apostles today (Acts 1: 21-22). This is the case for our passage in James. The Old Testament was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant), which don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the New Testament. Some are repeated in the New Testament, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the New Testament, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the Old Testament to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. We need to be careful when interpreting verses BC (before the cross). Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include His teachings to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant).

The cultural context

Life was different in ancient times. Housing, occupations, transport, religion, and governance were often radically different to ours.

James lived in the Roman Empire. Although their way of life was different to ours today, human nature hasn’t changed. We are still sinful and need reminding to obey God’s words in the Bible. Our passage addresses anger, immorality, evil, and hypocrisy, which are topics that are not foreign to us. But if it was about food sacrificed to idols, we would need to change it into a modern equivalent.

The Biblical context

The verses and passages in each book of the Bible are set out in an order determined by God. Don’t try to understand a verse or passage in isolation. Look at the message in the whole book. Look at the message in the same chapter, in the previous chapter and in the following chapter. What happened before and afterwards? What’s the situation? Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

Read it like any other book; don’t just read here and there. Proverbs is the only book of the Bible where the verses aren’t always related to each other.

The purpose of the book of James is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness.

Now we will look at what can happen if we ignore the context.

Don’t cherry-pick

Cherry-picking is interpreting a verse or passage without taking the context and the rest of the Bible into account. It’s selective use of evidence. For example, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13ESV) was written by Paul while he was in prison because of his Christian faith. The main principle is that believers can learn to be content in difficult circumstances through Christ, who gives them strength. But it can be taken out of context to mean that with God’s help:
– I can do anything, or
– I can do miracles, or
– I will be successful, or
– My team will win the game, or
– I will win the contest

This gives people false hopes. That’s why the context is important. It gives the correct meaning, which is the one that the author intended.

Exegesis, not eisegesis

Exegesis is the process of discovering the meaning of a text from the context and the text itself. Exegesis means “to lead out of” – the meaning comes out of the text; out of the Bible. On the other hand, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes their interpretation into the text. Eisegesis means “to lead into” – the meaning comes from the interpreter and is added into the text, into the Bible. Exegesis is objective, while eisegesis is subjective.

Last year, a theologian said in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly”. This is an example of eisegesis. Their interpretation of scripture was poor. When we exegete the same passages in the New Testament, we see that the statement is untrue and deceptive. It’s true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address “same-sex marriage”. But it does condemn homosexual sexual activity, which is a broader subject than same-sex marriage! Therefore, by simple logic, same-sex marriage was condemned as a lifestyle for the New Testament church.

Those who practice eisegesis often change the context of Bible passages, or change the meanings of words in the Bible, or base their case on a single verse and ignore others on the same topic.

Avoid legalism and liberalism

Another problem to avoid is adding to the Bible or subtracting from it (see Appendix C).

Is it a command, a model or a report?

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). Commands are instructions to be followed. Our passage in James is made up of commands as it mentions things they should do and things they shouldn’t do.

A model to follow is a practice that’s described and is worth following today. It’s descriptive, but doesn’t use mandatory language, like the practice of Christians meeting together on the first day of the week. Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that’s not worth following today. It includes sinful behavior that’s not being endorsed by the writer like David’s adultery (2 Sam. 11:1-17), Solomon’s polygamy (1 Ki. 11:1-3) and the fact that Judas hanged himself (Mt. 27:5). Reports are not examples for us to follow.

After looking at the text, the context, and the literary devices, we need to find the author’s main point.

The author’s main point

This is the meaning of the text for the original audience. It’s what the author wanted to communicate. The main point is then converted into a principle which is a general truth, applicable in a variety of situations.

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

What has changed since then?

Here we compare between then and now by considering the culture, situation, and time in history. Were God’s people living under a different covenant? Was their situation unique? We also take into account all the scriptures written after the passage because God’s revelation is progressive. And is the scriptural principle consistent with the rest of the Bible? Fortunately we see that God and people don’t change throughout history: He is always divine and people are always sinful. As James was written to Christians living under the new covenant, it still applies the same way today.

Now we know what’s changed since then, we can determine what it means today.

The main point today

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead (Appendix D). It’s the best way to live.

A Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found in Canada is largest-ever found. It probably weighed more than 8.8 tonnes and it took palaeontologists ten years to separate it from sandstone rock. Fortunately it doesn’t take that long to discover the meaning of ancient words in the Bible.

Each passage of the Bible has one meaning and one main point. But each main point can have many applications today according to the different situations people can be in.

Applying the Bible to our lives today

The Bible is a practical book. It’s “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It shows us the best way to live. But it only helps us if we put it into practice.

Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands”, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me”, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”, and “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”  (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24). So we show our love for Jesus by keeping His commandments. And God sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper in this effort (Jn. 14:16–17). Knowledge of God’s principles for living in the Bible is not good enough, it should lead to action and change our thinking and character. How can we live out the meaning of the text in our lives? How should we apply these scriptural principles? What do we need to know, do, think and be?

This week a friend had to change the wheel of a car. He could have learnt how to do this from YouTube. The Bible is like the best YouTube video on how to live. But it doesn’t help unless we act on it. If there was no action, the tire (tyre) would still be flat.

Or you may want to learn to play the guitar from YouTube. There will be no progress unless you pick up the guitar and start practicing. Like playing the guitar, being able to apply the Bible to our lives takes practice. But don’t worry; there will be plenty of opportunities.

Here we look for a situation in our lives that parallels the biblical situation. It must contain all the key elements of the biblical situation. In James it involved:
– Christians (v.19).
– They were involved in sinful behavior (v.19-21).
– They went to church and heard from the Bible, but they lived like everyone else and not like a Christian. The Bible had little impact on their way of life.
– They were told that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

Here’s an application. Roy is a Christian who has been cheating in his tax return. But when he realizes that the Bible teaches honesty towards the government, he decides to stop cheating (Mt. 22:21). So he seeks a Christian mentor to provide encouragement and to help him mange his finances. And he shares with a friend his decision to be more honest with his money.

Or, Anne is a Christian who has been living with her boyfriend because that’s what other people do. But when she realizes that the bible teaches that sexual relationships are for (heterosexual) marriage, she decides to stop living together until they get married. She prays for help because it will be difficult to tell her boyfriend. And she decides to read more about what the Bible says about being single and being married.

Or, Ray is a Christian who hasn’t been doing his share of work in the family. His wife is overloaded with going to work, looking after the household, looking after him, and looking after the children. But when he realizes that the bible teaches us to care for one another, he decides to be more considerate and less selfish. So he decides to listen to his wife in order to know how he can help her. And he remembers that the Bible says that love is not self-seeking; it isn’t always “me first’; it does not insist on its own way  (1 Cor. 13:5). And that Jesus came to serve and He “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). That’s sacrificial service.

James gives a promise for doing this, “whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom [the Bible], and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard [or read], but doing it [applying it]—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:25). But there’s a warning in the Bible about not implementing what we read there.

Warning against not applying the Bible to ourselves

Jesus told a parable, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt. 7:24-27).

The first man’s work endured, while the other man’s work was destroyed. The house is like their life. It illustrates the importance of obedience. Jesus had just given the sermon on the mount. But it’s not enough to hear (or read) the message in Bible. Its truths must be put into practice. That’s the best way to endure the adversity of life. The second man is called foolish –  because of his disobedience, he can’t endure the difficulties of life.

Our way of life will be tested. Applying scriptural principles to our lives is the best way to live because it helps us survive the testing times. And in our passage in James it says that we can know the truth, but not implementing it is like forgetting what we saw in a mirror (Jas. 1:22-25).

Residents are angry about the lack of action to deal with radioactive waste in Nelson Parade, Hunters Hill in Sydney. The contamination from uranium processing is about 100 years old and residents were first alerted to the danger in 1965. Since then there have been many scientific surveys, a parliamentary enquiry and an Environmental Protection Authority order, which all say the waste must be removed. There were plans to dig it up and transfer it to a secure land fill, but this never happened. The latest plan is to bury it onsite within a concrete bunker. The State Government has known about this for decades, but has done nothing. Don’t be like them when reading the Bible. Instead, let’s put it into action in our lives.

Lessons for us

We have seen that the best way to live is a life of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It’s empowered by the Holy Spirit, is centered around the Bible, and results in God’s blessing. It begins with trusting in the work of Jesus for our salvation and continues with applying the Bible to our lives.

We need more than movie morals to guide us, because they lack the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead we need to be reading the Bible regularly. Are we reading it more than watching movies? When we read the Bible let’s look for the main point and work out what it means today and apply it in our lives.

After we hear the word of God at church, do we put it into practice like a wise person, or do we foolishly ignore it? Instructions and examples are useless unless we follow them. Let’s trust and obey and be known for our godly actions and living.

Appendix A: The goal for our lives according to Paul

After eleven chapters of doctrine, Paul told the Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). With God’s help, we will know how to live. And it won’t be in the pattern of our sinful world. But it will involve a new way of thinking.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-10). The Christian life is more than love, it includes knowledge, insight and holiness. And the motive is to be living like this when Jesus returns to take us to heaven.

And his prayer for the Colossians was, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). It’s living that’s spiritually fruitful and pleases the Lord. This is possible because it’s powered by the Holy Spirit.

So according to Paul the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord.

Appendix B: Why the Bible has the most important message for us

Not only does the Bible tell us the steps to peace with God, it also tells us the best way to live. When we trust in Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for our sin, the Bible says that we are given a new spiritual life. We are alive spiritually and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 4:22-24).

Paul’s final instruction to Timothy was, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17). The Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so we can serve the Lord. It’s like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Paul justified quoting from the Old Testament by saying, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Bible as written for our instruction.

Paul said that the Old Testament has examples of what not to do, which are warnings for us: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Cor.10:6-11). Paul says, don’t repeat their mistakes.

Luke said that “the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). So the Bible is the standard for knowing what is right and what is wrong. We should check everything against the truth of the Bible.

Our thoughts affect our actions. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). God wants us to be holy by putting into practice what we learn from the Bible.

Appendix C: The dangers of legalism and liberalism

Christians do not thrive outside God’s boundaries for living. Two ways of going off the road or out of bounds are to either add to or take away from what God has revealed to us in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible and liberalism taking away from it. These are mindsets that come from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.

Legalism places rules and regulations between us and God and includes an effort to merit God’s favor. It involves salvation by good works and not Christ alone. It was a problem in the early church when some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles must follow Jewish laws if they wanted to become Christians. And it can become a problem today if Christian customs and traditions get confused with scriptural truths. Christians can avoid legalism by recognizing the freedoms inherent in God’s word.

Liberalism places the ideas and reasoning of humanism between us and the Bible. It makes people the authority instead of God. The risk of liberalism comes from our culture. We are exposed to news media, movies, the internet and advertisements that preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. Christians need to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values. Christians can avoid liberalism by recognizing the boundaries inherent in God’s word.

Appendix D: Application of James 1:19-25

The book of James was written in about AD 50 by James (the half-brother of Jesus and an elder in the church in Jerusalem) to Jewish Christians who had been scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:19). As it was written to Christians, the message is still directly applicable to Christians today. The purpose of the letter is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness. After dealing with trials (1:2-12) and temptations (1:13-17), the topic of this passage is the Word of God (1:18-27).

There is a metaphor where the word (Bible) is said to be planted in the believer, “which can save you” (v.21). Did you know that God’s word is like a seed planted in your life? But is the plant fruitful or stunted? When we trust in Christ as our Savior, God uses biblical truths to save us from the penalty of sin. And if we continue to obey His words we can be saved from the power of sin today. This is an ongoing aspect to our salvation. When we allow the Bible to grow in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

There is a simile where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what you look like, while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what you look like (v.23-25). Remembering what you look like is beneficial, while forgetting is useless and a waste of time.

The main point of the passage is that in order to be godly (spiritually healthy) we need to be teachable (v.19), to deal with sin (v.21) and obey (or apply) the Bible in our lives (v.22). If we obey the Bible, our character develops and we are blessed (v.22, 25) and we have successful lives for Christ (v.21). But if we don’t obey the Bible, we deceive ourselves and we stay a spiritual baby. Obedience is beneficial, while disobedience is useless. In summary, applying the Bible to our lives (by obeying it) leads to godliness.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Understanding the Bible


Steps to peace with God

The Bible tells us how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being reconciled with God. First, we need to recognize God’s purpose for us.

God’s purpose for us is peace and life

God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.

The Bible says:
– “We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Rom. 5:1NLT).
– “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
– “My purpose is to give them [people] a rich and satisfying life” (Jn. 10:10).

So we need to recognize that God’s purpose for us is peace and life. Why don’t most people have this peace and abundant life that God planned for us to have? Because there is an obstacle or barrier in the way. In order to remove the obstacle or barrier, we need to realize our greatest problem.

Our problem is that sin separates us from God

God created us in His own image to have an abundant life. He did not make us as robots to automatically love and obey Him. God gave us a will and a freedom of choice. We choose to disobey God and go our own wilful way. We still make this choice today. This results in separation from God.

The Bible says:
– “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23).
– “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

So we need to realize that our choice results in separation from God. But people have tried many ways to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

The Bible says:
– “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Prov. 14:12).
– “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isa. 59:2).

So none of these ways remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God. We need to realize what God has done about our greatest problem because that’s the only way to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

God’s remedy for our problem is Christ’s substitutionary death

Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and  removed the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.

The Bible says:
– “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
– “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1 Pt. 3:18).
– “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).

So Christ’s death is the only way to overcome the obstacles so we can experience God’s peace and life. Now that God has done His part, we need to respond by doing our part. We need to respond to God’s remedy.

Our response is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord

God’s remedy to overcome the obstacle that separates us from God is a gift that can be accepted or rejected. To receive the gift we must trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

The Bible says:
– “Look! I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20).
– “to all who believed Him [Jesus Christ] and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
– “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

So the steps you can take for peace with God by trusting in Jesus Christ right now are:
– Admit your need (I am a sinner).
– Be willing to turn from your sins (repent) and ask God to forgive you.
– Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave.
– Invite Jesus Christ to control your life through the Holy Spirit.

This can be expressed in a prayer:
Dear God. I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sins and  that You raised Him to life. I want Him to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. Amen.

Assurance of salvation

If you followed these steps to peace with God, the Bible says:
– “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
– Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
– “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).
– “Whoever has the Son [Jesus Christ] has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:12-13).

It says “will be saved”, not “might be saved”. Salvation is one of God’s promises. One of the purposes of the Bible is so we can know that we have eternal life. So we can know that we are forgiven and restored because God says it in the Bible.

Acknowledgement

This post is based on information from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Written, March 2019

Also see: Obstacles in life


Is faith blind?

Guide dog 6 400pxWhat is faith? Is it blind, as some critics in popular culture claim, or does it involve our intellect and rationality? Should we switch off our brains at the door when we go to church? Or should we be thoughtful in our beliefs?  Do we have good justifications and reasons for our faith? Or, do we just blindly jump in?

People say that faith is blind because they think that there is and can be no good reasons or justifications for Christian faith.

Atheists

To see how atheists typically characterise faith, let’s look at some representative quotes:
– “Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (Nietzsche).
– “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give each other to keep believing when reasons fail” (Sam Harris).
– “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved” (Tim Minchin).
– “Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason” (Christopher Hitchens).

In all these examples it is clear how they view faith, it refers to how someone forms and holds their beliefs and that it is totally divorced from all reason, evidence and justification. But this description does not seem consistent with how the Bible characterizes faith or how Christians have historically viewed faith.

Biblical faith

Parent child 2 400pxThe Greek word used in the Bible for faith is pistis. This word is most regularly translated as faith, but on occasion as believe or assurance. It comes from the root word pethio meaning “to convince” or “persuade”. Pistis was used in the ancient world by both Christians and non-Christians to describe confidence in something that was persuasive or trustworthy. The Latin rendering of pistis is “fiducia”, from which we get our word faith. So faith has traditionally been understood as trust in something which is persuasive and trustworthy. Faith is equivalent to trust, they are synonyms. For example, children trust (have faith) in parents and the vision impaired trust (have faith) in guide dogs.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer held that faith has three components.

First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, a person must understand what it is they are claiming to believe. If you don’t know or understand what the core truths of the gospel are then there is no possible way you could meaningfully believe in them (have faith in them).

Second, there is assensus, or intellectual agreement. This means finding something rationally compelling and agreeing with it. A person must intellectually accept the things they say they believe – otherwise they can hardly say they believe them, can they? So, a person must not only understand the truths of the gospel but also agree with them. Many people understand the gospel but reject it anyway. Jesus said that such “people loved darkness instead of light” (Jn. 3:19NIV).

Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. This is the root of the word faith. Saving faith involves not merely understanding and having an intellectual agreement with some list of doctrines, but a whole-hearted commitment and trust in the God they are about. Remember, even the demons believe that there is one God, but they don’t trust in God (Jas. 2:19).

To a Christian, faith is not the mindless, blind leap it is often mischaracterized as. It is the trust we put in a God and a gospel that we have thought about carefully and have found to be convincing and trustworthy.

Charles Blondin 1 400pxA popular illustration has been that of a famous tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondin. In1859 he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls repeatedly, even doing a summersault, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts and blindfolded. Then he asked if someone would hop on his back and be carried as he walked across the falls. Most turned down the offer. They understood what he was asking of them (they had the notitia), they all emphatically agreed that he could achieve the feat (they gave their assensus) but most were unwilling to put their trust (their fiducia) in his skills. Practically speaking, their belief had as much influence on their behaviour as unbelief would have. However, one man did have faith (fiducia) in Blondin’s skills and he was successfully carried across Niagara Falls.

What does this faith look like in the Bible? In the case of Abraham, he saw the faithfulness of God, who gave him Isaac when “his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19). He trusted God’s commands and promises. And when the Israelites saw God’s power in Egypt, they put their trust in Him to be led out of Egypt (Ex. 14:31).

Or in the New Testament, there was the woman who suffered constant bleeding who trusted Jesus could heal her after she had seen all that Jesus could do (Mt. 9: 18-26). And the Centurion who had heard of Jesus’ power and trusted that He could heal his servant remotely by a simple command (Lk. 7: 1-10). The men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, believed that Jesus could heal their friend if only they could get their friend to Him (Mk. 2:1-12). And Thomas wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He received that evidence, found it convincing and declared “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Thomas put his full trust in Jesus, going so far as to die for his faith in Christ rather than recanting.

So biblical faith isn’t a blind hope, or a surrender of reason. But it is always based on knowledge of God’s nature and character, His promises in the Scriptures, and what He has done.

Knowing and showing that Christianity is true

When sceptics say, “faith is blind”, they either ignore or are unaware of the intellectual foundation of faith. So what is that intellectual basis? How do we know Christianity is true?  How we can know that the Christian message is true? There are two ways we can know that the Christian Gospel is true.

The first is internal, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – a direct, personal self-authenticating experience that is truthful (or genuine) and unmistakable. The second comes from persuasive arguments for Christian truth claims, including arguments for the existence of God, evidence for the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible.

These have different roles in knowing Christianity is true and showing that it is true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit helps us to know that Christianity is true, and arguments and evidence show us that Christianity is true.

Inner witness of the Holy Spirit

We can know Christianity is true because of our direct self-authenticating experience of God’s Holy Spirit within us. A person who directly experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just have a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth; like a “warm fuzzy feeling” about what we would like to be true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a direct experience of God that gives us objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, without the need for any additional arguments or proofs to authenticate it. This kind of direct knowledge is like the way we directly experience our own existence. We don’t need to be given any evidence or proofs that we exist. We know it directly from our own experience. In a similar way, we know that things beyond ourselves exist, things in the world around us. And again, we don’t need special arguments or proofs to convince us that we experience the world around us. We know it directly from our experiences. We shouldn’t press these analogies too far, but they give a good illustration of how the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives us a similar sort of experiential knowledge of God.

Paul describes the way the Holy Spirit works within us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).

By God’s Spirit we directly know that we are children of God, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16).

When Paul describes the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness, he uses the term plerophoria which means complete confidence, full assurance. He means to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth by the Spirit’s work. “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (plerophoria)” (1 Th. 1:5).

And Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us the things we need to know in order to know Christianity is true.

And John echos Jesus’ teaching, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One [the Holy Spirit], and all of you know the truth . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his [the Holy Spirit’s] anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

Paul also said, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2: 10-13).

So the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enables us to know certain truths of the Christian gospel, such as “God exists,” “We were condemned by God”, “We are now reconciled to God”, “Christ lives in us”, and “we are children of God”.

According to the Bible, The Holy Spirit also has a special role for the non-Christian. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world [Satan] now stands condemned” (Jn. 16:7–11).

The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and of their condemnation before God. By the inner witness of the Holy Spirit a non-Christian can know such truths as “God exists,” and “I am guilty before God”. Paul even tells us that without the inner witness of the Holy Spirit no one would ever become a Christian, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands [about God]; there is no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). And, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). “The mind governed by the flesh [instead of the Holy Spirit] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As Jesus said, people love darkness rather than light.

So the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives both the Christian and the non-Christian direct knowledge of core truths of the Christian message – independent of arguments and evidence. But what about arguments and evidence?

Arguments and evidence

Some people say we should never seek to defend the faith. That nobody comes to Christ through arguments and evidence. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is dangerous – it’s unbalanced and unscriptural. Instead Scripture commands us to be prepared to give such a defence to an unbeliever, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).

We should appeal to the head as well as to the heart. For the Christian, arguments and evidence give extra assurance – we have double the reason for our faith. This adds to the confidence we already have from the Holy Spirit’s witness. The rational foundation for our faith can protect us in times of hardship or doubt. For the unbeliever, these arguments can be both one of the means through which the Holy Spirit works to bring them to Christ and they can also help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when they hear the gospel. This is where rational arguments are crucial in showing Christianity is true.

So what arguments and evidence might we use? There are many of them and some are outlined below.

Existence of God

Firstly, there are general arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t demonstrate that Christianity, specifically, is true. They show that belief in a supreme God and Creator is more rational for a person to believe than Atheism. These arguments include the following.

The Kalam cosmological argument

  1. All things that begin to exist have a cause of their existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The Universe has a cause of its existence.

You might wonder, where is God in this? But when you unpack what this cause must have been like, it must be outside time and space, be immaterial, extremely powerful, and most likely be a personal being. And this is a lot like the God of the Bible.

The Leibnizian cosmological argument

  1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.

Conclusion 1: the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2: the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, and Conclusion 1).

The teleological (“Fine-Tuning”) cosmological argument

  1. The universe is finely tuned to make life physically possible.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  3. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

Conclusion: The fine tuning it is due to design. And the designer is lot like God.

These first three arguments reflect the thoughts of David in Psalm 19 and Paul’s words in Romans 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values (right and wrong) and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: God exists.

This helps us see God’s moral nature. God is the foundation of moral values. Paul reflects the basic premise of the moral argument in Romans 2 when he says that the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses, “are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15). The moral law is clearly perceived by all people.

There is an important misconception that often gets attached to the moral argument; That a person can only do morally good things if they believe in God. The moral argument does not say that a person must believe in God to be able to do morally good deeds, Indeed the verse just quoted from Romans even says this. What the argument says is that if any act is truly good or bad, it is because God exists and is the foundation of moral goodness. A non-believer can still do good things.

The ontological argument

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

Conclusion: a maximally great being (God) exists.

Here, “maximally great being” means the best possible being (person) that could ever be described. This is the kind of being that has all the qualities that make a being great and excellent, and it has those qualities to the fullest possible extent. These would be qualities like moral goodness, power, knowledge, wisdom, and self-sufficiency. These are all the qualities typically associated with being God. The term “maximally great being” is used in the argument to avoid any misunderstandings that might occur because people often have their own assumptions or ideas about God based on past experiences. The term is used to avoid all that baggage people might attach to the word God.

This is a rather abstract argument to get your head around at first, but what it shows is that if it is even logically possible that God exists, then He exists necessarily, and it would be impossible that He doesn’t exist. In order to defeat this argument and show that God does not exist, the critic of the argument would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to exist – that there is not even the slightest possibility that He exists. The most controversial premise in this argument for philosophers who specialise in modal logic is premise 1. All the other premises (2-5) are just conclusions drawn from premise 1 and the rules of modal logic.

These arguments give a very strong cumulative case for the existence of God. Something that you might notice about these arguments is that there are premises in all of them that some people might not accept; either because they don’t want to accept the conclusion of the argument, or because they haven’t really heard or considered any evidence that might make them accept the premises. What we would do when sharing these arguments with people is also share the evidence that makes us believe the premises in them are true; and therefore, that the argument is true.

To these arguments about God’s existence we can add arguments for the truth of Christianity in particular.

Historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection

Perhaps the most important argument we could add would be the argument for the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The minimal facts that we can bring to this argument, facts that are agreed upon by almost universally amongst historians (including Atheists, Jews and Muslims) who have seriously studied the historical Jesus are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. That His tomb was found.
3.. That His disciples sincerely believed that they meet with the bodily resurrected Jesus and were transformed into bold proclaimers of His resurrection; facing death rather than recanting on that belief.

Establishing these historical facts does not require the assumption that the Bible is perfectly infallible or perfectly preserved, so the critic can’t dismiss them using that retort. Further, all of them enjoy evidence in addition to that in the Bible text. The best explanation that can account for all three facts simultaneously is that Jesus did indeed die and rise again. All other explanations fail to account for all three facts, and the only real reason to prefer these explanations is an a priori exclusion of a miracle as an explanation – that is deciding that a miracle is impossible before even looking at any of the evidence. But indeed the Christian gospel is based upon actual historical events witnessed and recorded for us in the Bible. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). The authors saw what happened and faithfully wrote down what they saw because it was such an important thing to share.

Reliability of the Bible

Furthermore, we can add the overwhelming evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. For example:
– Its books were written very close to the events they record (some places within two years of the resurrection and all within the lifetime of the disciples).
– They are not corrupted by legendary developments.
– They have been extremely well preserved and transmitted.

These arguments and evidence are just some of the ways we can go about showing that Christianity is true and that we have a rational foundation for our faith. They also give us the comfort of adding to our knowledge that Christianity is true which comes primarily by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Not by sight

The final appeal the skeptic might make to accuse of following our faith blindly comes from the Bible itself. For example, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This seems to be blind faith.

However, in both these verses, the context is our eagerly awaiting our future life with Christ, given that we know with such certainty (plerophoria) of the resurrection of Christ. And how good it is that the future we are faithfully waiting for is not based on “blind faith” but is a future we trust in with a solid, rational foundation.

Lessons for us

Now we have looked at what faith is and seen that it is not blind, how does this apply to our day-to-day lives?

Firstly, sometimes we have doubts. Or sometimes we may find it hard to answer every question someone critical of Christianity asks of us. But we don’t need to let these things trouble us, because our faith is supported by good reasons and evidence. So, as Paul writes: “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 57-58). And Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16).

Secondly, often in life we, or the people we love, encounter tough times. Bad things happen. We suffer. We struggle. And very often we don’t clearly know why or what the purpose is. But we can trust God through this. We know that our faith is based on something that is sure and we have God’s promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Because our faith is not blind and we have good reasons to be confident in what we believe, we can confidently take God at His word. We can look forward to what is coming, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And, we can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

And thirdly, sometimes when a person hears the gospel message, the only thing keeping them from accepted it is the fear that they are making a blind leap into something that they don’t really know if they can trust. And by being able to show that our faith has a strong firm rational foundation, we can show them it’s not a blind leap into the dark, but a short step onto more firm ground. And that can lead them to accept the gospel.

Let’s be thankful that our faith is not blind.

Acknowledgement

This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Is faith blind?”.

Written, November 2018


You can trust God with your data

May-18_TrustGodWithYourData_JPG 400pxThere’s good reason to be worried about what happens to our data. Smart phones and computers store so much of our personal information. For example… intimate photos, political opinions, religious beliefs, bank account details. Or those emails from when you were sacked or that argument you had with your mother-in-law. The potential for embarrassment or even blackmail from data in the wrong hands is significant.

But whose hands are the wrong hands? Google, Facebook and Amazon try to profile our every thought and action so they can either sell us things or else sell our profile to advertisers and other companies. Tim Cook, the head of Apple, says, ‘When an online service is free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product’. Recently, Apple has been telling its users that ‘Privacy is a human right’.  But then, can we trust Apple?

And is privacy a human right? It’s certainly a time in history where it’s harder than ever to leave past mistakes behind and start again. In a globalized, connected world, one can’t just escape over a border and disappear to start again somewhere else. The Internet preserves and reveals all kinds of mistakes that we’d prefer to be forgotten.

In case you weren’t aware, since God is our maker, He has access to all our data. In the Bible, King David prays to God and says, ‘Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all’ (Psalm 139:4). Therefore, since God knows about our every evil thought, word and deed, the question is, ‘What will God do with our data?’ Will He punish us by exposing our mistakes and shaming us before everyone?

No. You’ll be relieved to know that God’s radical promise to those who come to Him in repentance and prayer is that He will entirely erase this data. 2000 years ago, at the cross, God put all our shame and embarrassment onto Jesus. And since our crimes have now been dealt with, God has decided to forget about them. In the 8th Century before Jesus came God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying:

I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins“.

So, turn to God in prayer, acknowledge all your secrets to Him and thank Him for His kindness to you in Jesus.

Bible verse: Isaiah 43:25, “I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for dealing with my sensitive data. Please help me to live a life without shame.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018


Is the New Testament reliable?

website-evaluation-2-400pxA US assistant professor of communication and media has compiled a list of about 134 unreliable news sites. The list has four categories of truthfulness. Category one includes fake, false or regularly misleading websites, which use distorted headlines or dubious information. Category two covers websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information. Category three is used for websites that employ clickbait-headlines, while category four covers sites that are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news. The best thing to do to combat unreliable and untrustworthy web sites is to read/watch/listen widely and often, and to be critical of the sources we share and engage with on social media.

I have received the following comment.
“Explain 1 john 5:7-8 and why roman church admittedly added this idolatry to the koine Greek original scriptures? Why was Mark 16:9-20 and hundreds of other passages added into the bible by roman church fathers? Maybe James was belittled since he said to maintain all the laws as did Jesus.
Jesus says in Mathew 15:24 and 10:5-6 his movement was for Jews only…not for gentiles or Samaritans …Paul comes along and re invents the entire movement into “Paulianity” calling all laws of God a curse …Many people are now asking these questions.”

The commentator seems to be saying that the New Testament isn’t reliable. This post addresses the topics raised by the commentator and concludes that the New Testament is a reliable document.

Explanation of 1 John 5:7-8

6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 Jn. 5:6-8NIV).

The author, the apostle John wrote this letter in about 90 AD to combat Gnostic heresy whose central teaching was that the spirit is good and matter is evil. Gnostics believed that the human body (being matter) is evil and God (being spirit) is good. Salvation is the escape from the body, which is achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge). They denied Christ’s humanity. Some believed that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left Him in the Garden of Gethsemane before He died. This means that it was only the man Jesus who died.

John opposed this heresy by stressing that Jesus was truly divine and truly human (1 Jn. 1:1; 2:22; 4:2-3; 5:1; 5:5). Then he says that Jesus “came by water and blood” (5:6). Water probably symbolizes Christ’s baptism and blood symbolizes His death. Jesus was just as much Christ when He died as when He was baptized.

In verses 7-8 John mentions three sources of testimony for believing the divinity of Christ. These are the Holy Spirit, Christ’s baptism and Christ’s death. The witness of the Holy Spirit is the message of the apostles recorded in the New Testament. The witness at His baptism was when God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The witness of Christ’s substitutionary death is that it fully paid the penalty for our sins. No one took His life from Him; He gave it up by Himself. If He was only a man, He couldn’t have done this. All of these witnesses are united in their testimony of the divinity and work of Christ.

Addition to 1 John 5:7

A few very late manuscripts of the (Vulgate) Bible add to the end of v.7 “in heaven—the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth”. Erasmus added these words about the trinity to later editions of his Greek New Testament under pressure from the Pope (they occur in the official Roman Catholic Latin Bible, the Vulgate). These words are included in the Textus Receptus Greek text (e.g. NKJV), but not in the Critical (e.g. most modern translations) or Majority Greek Texts. But this passage isn’t found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century AD (see Appendix A). Please note that the doctrine of the trinity does not rest upon this single passage because, as shown below, it is mentioned in many other Scriptures.

The commentator calls the late addition of the trinity to 1 John 5:7, “idolatry”. So is belief in the trinity of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the God Holy Spirit, Scripturally correct or heresy? Here’s what God says (2 Tim. 3:16) about this topic:
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he (John) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice (of God the Father) from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:16-17).
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (the Father), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17).
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal (Holy) Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God (the Father), cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14).
“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 1:2).

As each of these seven Bible passages refer to the members of the trinity as being part of the triune God, the trinity is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith. So, it’s not idolatry to believe in the trinity. Instead, it’s heresy to claim to be a Christian and not believe in the trinity.

Other additions to the Bible

The commentator askes, “Why was Mark 16:9-20 and hundreds of other passages added into the bible by roman church fathers?” The original manuscripts of the Bible are no longer in existence. What we do have is tens of thousands of copies of the original New Testament manuscripts dating from the 1st to the 15th centuries A.D. There are many more manuscripts than for any other ancient document and the oldest manuscripts are closer in time to the original than for all other documents. This means that the Bible is the most accurate document we have from antiquity. Yet historians believe the account of other ancient documents, which are not as reliable as the New Testament.

In these manuscripts, there are many minor differences. Textual criticism is the linguistic study of these manuscripts in an attempt to determine what the original reading actually was. For example, see a discussion of Mark 16:9-20 in Appendix B. This is the only addition to the New testament that involves several verses. All the others only involve one or a few words. Consequently, the New Testament available to us today is a reliable reconstruction of the original manuscripts.

It is important to keep in mind that even though there are textual variations in the Bible manuscripts, they are all of minor significance. None of the discrepancies affect the Bible’s crucial teachings. No significant Christian doctrine is affected by any textual variants. Even if all the “additional” verses were completely removed, the Bible’s message would not be altered.

The King James Bible was translated over 400 years ago and many Biblical manuscripts have been discovered since then. Many of the more recent discoveries are older than anything the KJV translators had access to and are considered more accurate. So, today’s Bible translators have the benefit of greater knowledge and better manuscripts than the translators of the KJV had in the early 1600s.

Contradictory or consistent?

The commentator also says, “Maybe James was belittled since he said to maintain all the laws as did Jesus. Jesus says in Mathew 15:24 and 10:5-6 his movement was for Jews only…not for gentiles or Samaritans …Paul comes along and re invents the entire movement into “Paulianity” calling all laws of God a curse …” These comments relate to the Jews, the Jewish laws, and alleges contradictions between different characters and authors of the New Testament. The answer depends on an understanding of the old Jewish covenant and the new Christian one. The Old Mosaic covenant applied until the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ’s death. Jesus lived under this covenant and His ministry was to Jews, and not to Gentiles. So Jesus kept the old Mosaic covenant.

But the letter of James was written under the new covenant. James was a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. James mentions some of the ten commandments (Jas. 2:8-13). But Christians are not under the law of Moses. Believers are delivered from the law and its penalty through Christ’s death. However, 9 of the 10 commandments are repeated in letters written to the church. They are not given as laws but as instructions in right living. And they affect one’s reward, but not one’s salvation. So it’s wrong to claim that James urges Christians to follow the laws of Moses. There is no record of him doing this. This means that he wasn’t belittled by Judaizers.

Like James, Paul’s letters were also written under the new covenant. That’s why he condemned those who were trying to live under the old covenant.

The main differences between James and Paul relate to the place and time of their ministry. James ministered in Jerusalem where there were more Jews than Gentiles and Paul ministered in countries around the Mediterranean Sea where there were more Gentiles than Jews. And James wrote in about 50 AD, whereas Paul wrote in about 50-68 AD.

Conclusion

If “many people are now asking these questions”, then they need to read these answers. Because of linguistic studies of the numerous ancient New Testament manuscripts, the New Testament available to us today is a reliable reconstruction of the original manuscripts. This means that it’s reliable and can be trusted.

When reading the New Testament it’s important to realize that the Christian church commenced after Christ’s death. So the books of Acts to Revelation cover Christianity, whereas the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) describe a period when the Jews were the people of God. So, the gospels record events under the old covenant and the change of covenant needs to be taken into account before we can apply their principles to the church today. When this is taken into account, and there is competent exegesis (interpretation), the messages brought by different characters and authors of the New testament are consistent and not contradictory.

Appendix A: NET Translation notes on the late addition to 1 John 5:7-8

This passage is found only in nine late manuscripts (mss), four of which have the words in a marginal note. Most of these mss (221 2318 [18th century] {2473 [dated 1634]} and [with minor variations] 61 88 429 629 636 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest ms, codex 221 (10th century) includes the reading in a marginal note, added sometime after the original composition. The oldest ms with the passage in its text is from the 14th century (629), but the wording here departs from all the other mss in several places. The next oldest mss, 88 (12th century) 429 (14th) 636 (15th), also have the reading only as a marginal note. The remaining mss are from the 16th to 18th centuries. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek ms until the 14th century (629), and that ms deviates from all others in its wording; the wording that matches what is found in the Textus Receptus (TR) was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the passage appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either ms, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until a.d. 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. The reading seems to have arisen in a 4th century Latin sermon in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity. From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church. The Trinitarian formula made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared, there arose such a furor over the absence of the passage that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the passage because he found no Greek mss that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written in ca. 1520), Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this ms sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text, as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever mss he could for the production of his text. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: He did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold. Modern advocates of the TR and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the passage on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings – even in places where the TR/Byzantine mss lack them. Further, these advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: Since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. (Of course, this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text.) In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the passage goes back to the original text yet does not appear until the 14th century in any Greek mss (and that form is significantly different from what is printed in the TR; the wording of the TR is not found in any Greek mss until the 16th century)? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: Faith must be rooted in history. Significantly, the German translation of Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and lacked the passage. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza’s 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus’ third and later editions (and Stephanus’ editions), popularized the passage for the English-speaking world.

Appendix B: NET Translation notes on the ending of the gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark ends at Mark 16:8 in some witnesses (א B 304 sys sams armmss Eus Eusmss Hiermss), including two of the most respected mss (א B). The following shorter ending is found in some manuscripts (mss): “They reported briefly to those around Peter all that they had been commanded. After these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from the east to the west, the holy and imperishable preaching of eternal salvation. Amen.” This shorter ending is usually included with the longer ending (L Ψ 083 099 0112 579 al); k, however, ends at this point. Most mss include the longer ending (vv. 9-20) immediately after v. 8 (A C D W [which has a different shorter ending between vv. 14 and 15] Θ Ë13 33 2427 Ï lat syc,p,h bo); however, Jerome and Eusebius knew of almost no Greek mss that had this ending. Several mss have marginal comments noting that earlier Greek mss lacked the verses, while others mark the text with asterisks or obeli (symbols that scribes used to indicate that the portion of text being copied was spurious). Internal evidence strongly suggests the secondary nature of both the short and the long endings. Their vocabulary and style are decidedly non-Markan (for further details, see TCGNT 102-6). All of this evidence strongly suggests that as time went on scribes added the longer ending, either for the richness of its material or because of the abruptness of the ending at v. 8. (Indeed, the strange variety of dissimilar endings attests to the probability that early copyists had a copy of Mark that ended at v. 8, and they filled out the text with what seemed to be an appropriate conclusion. All of the witnesses for alternative endings to vv. 9-20 thus indirectly confirm the Gospel as ending at v. 8.) Because of such problems regarding the authenticity of these alternative endings, 16:8 is usually regarded as the last verse of the Gospel of Mark. There are three possible explanations for Mark ending at 16:8: (1) The author intentionally ended the Gospel here in an open-ended fashion; (2) the Gospel was never finished; or (3) the last leaf of the ms was lost prior to copying. This first explanation is the most likely due to several factors, including (a) the probability that the Gospel was originally written on a scroll rather than a codex (only on a codex would the last leaf get lost prior to copying); (b) the unlikelihood of the ms not being completed; and (c) the literary power of ending the Gospel so abruptly that the readers are now drawn into the story itself. E. Best aptly states, “It is in keeping with other parts of his Gospel that Mark should not give an explicit account of a conclusion where this is already well known to his readers” (Mark, 73; note also his discussion of the ending of this Gospel on 132 and elsewhere). The readers must now ask themselves, “What will I do with Jesus? If I do not accept him in his suffering, I will not see him in his glory.”

Written, December 2016

Also see: Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us
Mind the gap
Do we have the right Bible?


How to experience God’s guidance

trust1There are many choices in life and difficult decisions to make. The Bible tells us how to experience God’s guidance at these times. Proverbs 3:5-6NIV was written by King Solomon to the Israelites about 3,000 years ago and is still true for us today. It says:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

This passage on God’s guidance mentions our part, which is to trust and submit to God; and God’s part, which is to guide us through life.

Our part

First it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”. Who do we trust in? It’s dangerous to trust in someone who is unreliable and foolish. Here the Israelites were told to trust in their God who made the universe and who had led them from slavery in Egypt to Solomon’s mighty kingdom. Solomon’s father, King David, said “In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them” (Ps. 22:3). So they knew that God had answered their prayers for help and had kept His promise to make them into a great nation. We now know that God also provided a Savior for us in Jesus Christ, so today we can trust the Lord for both our eternal destiny and our daily lives.

How should we trust God? It says with all our heart or wholeheartedly like Caleb – five verses of the Old Testament say he followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Num. 14:24; Dt. 1:36; Josh. 14:6-14).

Second it says, “lean not on your own understanding”. It’s also dangerous to trust in no one except ourselves and act alone when making important decisions. Instead it’s better to consult with others. This applies even more with God because we don’t know what is best for us and others don’t have God’s insight and wisdom. If we make decisions without consulting the Lord, then we don’t allow Him to guide us.

Third it says, in all your ways submit to Him”. We should not leave God out of our lives, but remember Him, acknowledge Him, seek His will and do it, and serve Him faithfully. This applies “in all your ways”, which is every area of our lives. Every day of the week, not just Sunday!

Summarizing, our part is to trust and submit to God and not rely on ourselves. It’s to be a commitment like marriage.

God’s part

God’s part is a conditional promise; if the Israelites did their part, God promised to do His part. Likewise; if we do our part, God will do His part.

The promise is given as a metaphor: “He will make your paths straight”. As paths lead to a destination, it means we will have direction and a sense of purpose as we progress towards His goals for us. There’s no doubt about it, “He will make your paths straight”. This promise is repeated in, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans” (Prov. 16:3).

There are many options and paths in life. Have you ever followed a GPS that guided you along a long route rather than the most direct one? This is a promise that God will guide us past the detours, the side tracks and the obstacles on the pathway of life and bring us to our goal and destination. If we don’t trust Him, we add obstacles and side tracks to our daily path, which hinder us from achieving God’s will.

How does God guide us through life? He can use principles in the Bible (Acts 17:11), answered prayer (Jas. 1:5), advice from godly Christians, circumstances coming together, and an inward peace (Phil. 4:6-7, Col. 3:15) along the pathway.

Let’s do our part by trusting and submitting to God, so He can do His by guiding us through life. Let’s realize that we can’t live for the Lord in our own strength.

Written, May 2013


How to live a life that pleases God

Abraham: Trusting God’s Promises

God has given Christians many promises that can help them face the circumstances they encounter each day. Let’s look at why these promises are important in living a life that pleases God.

God’s Promises To Abraham

Abraham lived in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago. He was an ancestor of both the Jews and Arabs, which is why they still struggle over control of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron where Abraham is buried. During the 40 years between leaving Haran and coming to Mt. Moriah, Abraham was given four great promises: a promised son (Isaac), a promised people (Jews), a promised land (Canaan), and a promised blessing for all people, (Jews wrote the Scriptures; Jesus Christ was Jewish).

There were two problems with the promises he was given at Ur (Gen. 12:1-4). First, all the promises depended on them having a child, and his wife Sarai was unable to have children (Gen. 11:30). The fact that they had no hope of having any children was devastating, when families usually had many children. Second, the promises required that Abraham leave his country and family, and go where God directed (Acts 7:2-3; Heb. 11:8-9). This 1,100 mile trip from Ur to Haran and then to Israel, was extremely long when the only means of transport was walking and using animals.

Ur was the capital of the second Sumerian state. The Sumerians practiced polytheism, and a form of astrology which associated the planets and stars with their many gods. After Ur was destroyed, Babylon replaced it as the dominant city in the Middle East.

The next 40 years of Abraham’s life are summarized in the figure below in terms of whether he was trusting God’s promises or doubting them. The graph goes up when he trusted the promises and down when he doubted them. These episodes of Abraham’s life are summarized according to whether he trusted or doubted God’s promises.

Trust: At the beginning of Abraham’s journey of faith he obeyed the Lord and left Ur and travelled to Haran on the way to Canaan (Gen. 11:31).

Doubt: But Abraham and his family stopped and settled in Haran, about half-way to Canaan. He did not trust God as he had not yet left his family.

Trust: After God intervened and his father died, Abraham, now 75, traveled to Canaan, the Promised Land (Gen. 12:4-8; Acts 7:4). He was not afraid even though the land was occupied by the Canaanites. After God renewed His promise, Abraham built an altar and worshiped. When his faith was strong, he built a new altar each time he moved to a new locality.

Doubt: Later, when he visited Egypt, Abraham doubted God and forgot His promises which couldn’t be fulfilled unless he was alive to father a child (Gen. 12:10-20). He feared that Pharaoh would kill him to take his beautiful wife for his harem. Rather than seek God’s protection, Abraham took matters into his own hands and deceived Pharaoh. But God intervened and Abraham and his household were cast out of Egypt.

Trust: After this, Abraham worshiped the Lord again and the promises were renewed (Gen. 13:4,14-18). The Lord told him to explore the Promised Land and this gave him a vision of God’s provision.

Doubt: Abraham, still childless, thought his servant Eliezer would be his heir as this was the law at the time (Gen. 15:1-3). He had forgotten God’s promise of numerous descendants; he was living by sight not faith.

Trust: After God promised him a son and repeated the other promises, Abraham “believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). God accepted Abraham because he believed His promises: he trusted God. God then confirmed the promises unconditionally.

Doubt: Sarah, unable to have any children, persuaded Abraham to father a child by her servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:2). The child was Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people. It was 11 years since Abraham heard the promise of many descendants and a great nation. They lacked faith and took matters into their own hands again.

Trust: Thirteen years later the promises were repeated by God (Gen. 17:1-16). As a sign of the promises they were instructed to circumcise every male in their household. Abraham’s faith was renewed and he worshiped because of these reminders of unconditional agreement.

Doubt: When they were told that Sarah would have a son, Abraham worshiped and laughed in amazement, while Sarah laughed in disbelief as she was past the childbearing age (Gen. 17:17-18; 18:9-15). In this case Sarah doubted and needed to hear, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Trust: God responded to Abraham’s request and said that Ishmael would be blessed and have many descendants, and on that day Abraham circumcised all the males in his household (Gen. 17:18-27). This obedience indicates that his faith was strong.

Doubt: Later, Abraham doubted God again because he thought he would be killed by King Abimelech, because of his wife’s beauty (Gen. 20:1-18). This was a repeat of his failure in Egypt 20 years earlier. It shows how prone we are to sin. Once again, Abraham was living by sight, not faith. Fortunately God intervened again to rescue Abraham and Sarah.

Trust: The miraculous conception and birth of Isaac to parents aged 100 and 90 was a pinnacle in the life of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:17; 21:1-7). This happened “at the very time God had promised.” Abraham circumcised Isaac, and Sarah acknowledged God’s miracle. This was the only promise fulfilled in their lifetime; it strengthened their trust in Him.

After 40 years, Abraham’s faith was tested when God ordered him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:1-14; Heb. 11:17-19). Isaac was the promised son through whom the other promises were to be fulfilled! But Abraham obeyed God even though it looked like the death of Isaac. He had learned his lesson to trust without doubting. He believed God could bring Isaac back to life to fulfill His promises. He passed the test, being confident in God, while God stopped it before harm could come to Isaac. Surely, Isaac remembered this close encounter all of his life! God then encouraged Abraham’s faith by repeating His promises (Gen. 22:15-18).

God’s Promises Are Important

A promise is a commitment to do/not do something. The receiver has the right to expect fulfillment. God’s promises are trustworthy; He “does not lie” and “has the power to do what He has promised” (Tit. 1:2; Rom. 4:21).

The Bible contains many promises. The first, “He will crush your head” alludes to the destruction of Satan; the last, “I am coming soon” refers to Christ’s return (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 22:20). The main theme of the Bible is a promise of salvation for all who trust in the effectiveness of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is accepted by faith.

Christians are also called to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We can’t see the Lord, but we trust and obey Him daily. This is an act of faith. In fact, we need God’s saving power daily, and He has given us the pattern – He has given many promises. We should exercise faith and trust in His promises, offering thanks for His provision and goodness.

God’s promises are an important part of living by faith. Trusting God is trusting that His promises will come true. They are the objects of our faith and they help us to look ahead rather than behind (Heb. 11:10).

God’s promises also help us live a life that pleases Him. “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). God’s promises allow us to participate in the divine nature, and escape the corruption of the world.

Lessons From Abraham

Abraham’s example is mentioned in Galatians, Hebrews and Romans, which also says that “everything … was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The example of Abraham’s faith journey was written for all who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 4:23-24). Because of their faith, Christians are viewed as “children of Abraham.” Like Isaac, we are “children of promise” and heirs (Rom, 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29; 4:28).

Faith is a gift from God (Rom. 12:3). For 25 years Abraham’s faith wavered, but he learned trust, becoming known as “the father” of all the faithful (Rom. 4:16). We see in the graph that although his faith went up and down, it increased with time. He made many mistakes and had many doubts before he trusted God consistently. Because of human weakness we will also have times of doubt; but our faith should grow as his did.

Abraham learned to trust God over a long period of time. Isaac was born 25 years after the promise given at Ur. He was 40 when he married Rebecca; they had twins 20 years later. Abraham waited 85 years after the promise before he had a grandchild! In fact, when he died at 175, he had one son aged 75 years and two grandchildren aged 15 years – a slow beginning to the promises of numerous descendants and a great nation!

Like Abraham, we too are called to leave idolatry and walk by faith on our journey to the Promised Land. He trusted God when he was reminded of God’s promises, when he obeyed God, and when God did great things in his life. Likewise, our faith is strengthened as we are reminded of God’s promises, obey God and see the great things He’s doing through His Spirit.

The evidence of faith: Abraham is a great example of faith in action. “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac? … His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (Jas. 2:21-23).

The attitude of faith: The key was that Abraham believed and trusted God (Rom. 4:3-5). He trusted that God could perform a miracle, regardless of circumstances (Rom. 4:18-21). Personal faith and trust are essential for a life that pleases God, but it must have a reliable foundation. Abraham’s faith depended on God, the only reliable foundation for our faith.

Barriers to trusting God: Abraham had doubts when he was fearful, impatient, and took more notice of others than of God’s promises.

Circumstances: The Guinness Book of Records states that the oldest mother gave birth at age 57. When Isaac was to be conceived, Abraham faced the fact that 90 year-old Sarah was too old to have children, but he didn’t let the circumstances destroy his faith (Rom. 4:19).

• Possibilities: It’s hard to believe a promise when it seems too good to be true. But things impossible to us are possible to God. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18).

Impatience: “After waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). He waited 25 years for a son and 85 for a grandson!

Benefits to trusting God: The following blessings were a result of Abraham’s trust in God’s promises: his faith was strengthened – Abraham became convinced of God’s power (Rom. 4:20-21); God was exalted – Abraham gave God the glory (Rom. 4:20); the promises came true – Abraham had a son and his descendants grew great in number (Acts 7:17).

Relying On God’s Promises

God’s promises are a vital ingredient in a life that pleases God. We should always remember, from Abraham’s example, that God keeps His promises. Don’t let the barriers of impatience and circumstances suppress our hope in God’s promises. Use the eyes of faith, not just those of sight.

Know God’s promises: Abraham’s faith increased when he was reminded of God’s promises. We have them in the Bible. Some apply to the present and others to the future. We need to know them, claim them and rejoice in them. Then we will progress on the journey of faith.

Focus on God’s promises: Ishmael mocked Isaac and was banished (Gen. 21:8-14). Likewise, we should banish anything that stops our focusing on God’s promises and using the faith He has put in our hearts (Gal. 4:21-31).

Claim God’s promises: We display trust in God’s promises by reminding others of them and claiming them in prayer. Live in view of God’s promise of a heavenly future and add the eternal dimension to life (Heb. 11:16).

Thank God for His promises: Abraham worshiped God long before Isaac was born, and he never saw the fulfillment of the other three promises. Likewise, we should thank God for His “great and precious promises.”

Published, November 2002