Tag Archives: Biblical truth

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

 

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

The Believer’s certainty

As we stated last week, certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true.  It is the state of being reliably true.  As believers our certainty is connected to God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on His truth.

We recognize the uncertainties of living in a fallen world.  To live in a fallen world means we struggle with sin daily. We experience heartache and pain. We witness natural disasters and staggering loss. Injustice, inhumanity, and falsehood seem to dominate.  Discord and trouble are commonplace. None of this was God’s original plan for humanity.

It is important, however, that as believers we focus on the certainties of our faith—divine certainties—that enable us to navigate successfully in these difficult times.  What are these divine certainties?  How do they help us in times of uncertainty?

Divine Certainty-God’s Nature

The certainty of our faith begins with our understanding the nature of God.  While there are many attributes of God’s nature, I will focus on two (2):  God’s immutability (He does not change) and God’s veracity (He is truthful).

This is especially important as we discuss the matter of certainty.  This means that whatever God states, in His Word and through His Holy Spirt, can be accepted with certainty—as reliably true.  What God has stated in the historical past is still true in our contemporary present.

The immutability of God expresses the fact that God does not change.  What we are dealing with here is the dependability of God.  He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.  He will act as He has promised.  The believer can rely on Him (Lam. 3:22-23; 1 John 1:9).  God’s immutability is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  (Hebrews 6:18-19)

God’s veracity speaks to God’s truthfulness.   God represents things as they really are.  God never lies (Titus 1:2).  It is contrary to His nature.  God is “trustworthy”.  Such truth can either be assuring or fearful, depending on your relationship with the Lord (Numbers 23:19).

Divine Certainty-Our Identity in Christ

Our identity in Christ is another major reason for certainty and assurance of our faith in God.  We have peace during uncertain times because of our relationship with Jesus.

For me, Ephesians 1:3-17, does an extraordinary job outlining the many spiritual blessings and promises found in our New Covenant relationship with Father God.  It details the completed work of Christ as only can be designed by God before the foundation of the earth.

In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position, and power.  Believers are now able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will. This includes our spiritual security as we move from “death to eternal life” (John 5:24).

Divine Certainty-Our Anchor

Our certainty is also connected to our memory.  Let us not forget the faithfulness God has shown us in the past.  The church mothers would often assure us in times of distress: “The Lord didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”  King David shares their belief as he reminds us in Psalm 103:2 to “forget not all God’s benefits.

Our personal history to God’s faithfulness is a testimony of our certainty in God.  We are witnesses to God’s presence, His protection, and His provision.  During times of uncertainty, we can walk confidently in the divine certainty based on our connection with God.

My intent in this writing is to remind believers that during these times of uncertainty and disruption, we have an anchor in the Lord.  Our confidence is based on Him alone.  Our Lord is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1 What is certainty?

Certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true or an event that is definitely going to take place.  It is the quality of being reliably true.

The Bible concordance describes certainty as “absolute truths”.  I find this description ironic as we strive to live in this post-modern society where, supposedly, there are “no absolutes” and even “fewer truths.”

However, as Christians, we do believe in absolute truths that we confidently depend on.  This is the benefit of our faith in Christ.  This gives us “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

The Certainties of life

The events of 2020 have shifted systems and institutions that once were thought to be secure and indestructible.  As we stand in the shadow of COVID 19 with its many “aftershocks”, we realize our naϊveté.  We now long for the stability and certainty once found in the past.

As youth, we experienced the certainty of family.  Family provided the initial shaping of our values and belief systems.  Family cared for our basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, and love.  Our family validated who we were and provided the foundation we needed for success.  That was the certainty we needed in the beginning.

The assurance found within our familial systems were later extended to our communities.  It included our schools and our churches.  We became the product of our “unique village” with many people teaching us life lessons.  Within the borders of community, we learned self-esteem, confidence, respect, and achievement.  Here we prepared for the rest of our life.

A Hunger for Certainty

We often joke that the certainties of life are death and taxes.  After 2020, we can now add uncertainty to that list.  Uncertainty has always been with us but now it has become more “life affecting.”

Uncertainty has a physiological effect on our lives.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is, however, something that we must address.

A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic (brain) system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.[1]

Shifts in Certainty

As a nation and as individuals, we were certain that our institutions and systems would always be available to care for us.  We trusted others to protect our best interest and to operate at the highest level of integrity.  But unfortunately, that has not always been the case.

After a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence – the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability – the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

Reports such as these highlight our need for a dependable source to address the uncertainties of 21st century living.  We need a “sure thing”.  That sure thing is Jesus Christ.  Our faith in Christ is not a weakness nor is it a last resort.  To the contrary, Jesus is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Our Certainty Connection

As believers our certainty is connected to The Ultimate Source.  We trust in God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on the veracity of God—His truth and His truthfulness.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17; Rev. 4:11).  He alone can “make good” on all His promises.  God is all powerful, everywhere present and all knowing.

Next week we will continue to discuss certainty in an uncertain world.  We will focus on the certainties of our faith which enable us to live victoriously in these tumultuous times.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/200910/hunger-certainty

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a truth teller? 

We (believers) define truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.

Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?

Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.

However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.

Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?

We discussed this question earlier as to the world’s readiness for the truth.  Often the world’s responses make the truth appear to be a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world.    Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.

To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.

Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?

In Psalm 119:46, the writer speaks of their unfailing dedication to the truths offered by  God:  “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings.  And will not be ashamed.”  Testimonies speak of witnessing.  In Scripture, it relates specifically to divine testimonies or truth directly from God.

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

The gold standard for truth tellers

To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46).

When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.

Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)

Let us follow the examples given to us by God.  Dare to be a truth teller.

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth is an incredibly significant concept.  Our view of truth shapes not only our personal lives but also our society.  It especially impacts our relationship with God including our view of Scripture.

Our definition of truth is affected by what we watch, what we read, and even the opinions of our friends.  Add to that the sway of social media, your “truth” is being adjusted with every post and tweet you receive.  Imagine there are 500 million tweets sent every day[1].  Scary isn’t it.

Let’s face reality!  We live in an age where we are being bombarded by varying opinions as to what is or isn’t truth.  Because of these deceptive trends, it is important that we have a reliable and trustworthy compass by which to navigate in this world.  We need guidance from God.  We need God’s divine perspective.

God’s perspective of truth

In the Old Testament, truth is rendered as true or faithful.  In either case, the Hebrew concept communicates reliability and trustworthiness.   This trustworthiness is frequently used to describe God’s divine faithfulness (Ps. 31:5; Jer. 42:5).

In the New Testament, truth emphasizes reality as God has revealed it in creation (Rom. 1:18) and in the gospel (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 1 Tim. 2:4).   God’s perspective of truth is given to us through His Word and through the Spirit of Truth—the Holy Spirit.  Armed with these divine gifts we are provided a continual source of truth.

Truth in action

Adherence to the truth was critical during the formation of the early Church. Pressured by the Judaizers to continue with the practice of circumcision, the church at Galatia was in danger of spiritual error.  They were rejecting the truth (salvation through Jesus Christ alone) to avoid persecution.  We at one time or another have been guilty of quietly accepting error versus being truth tellers.  That is to our shame.

In Galatians 5:7, Paul poses a question to this young church: “You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth?”

Paul continues by stating emphatically, “This persuasion does not come from the One who calls you.”  When we drift from the truth that God has revealed, we can be assured of its origin—the puppeteer of deception and lies, Satan.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase translated “in the presence of God”.  It has its origin is Christian theology which summarizes the idea of Christians living in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.  Truth is to be lived coram Deo.

Practicing God’s divine perspective

Truth is to be practiced not only within the church but also outside its four walls. Imagine the impact that error has on every aspect of our society—in our homes, in the workplace, and in our institutions.  Practicing God’s divine perspective acknowledges the importance of sharing truth in every sphere of our life.

Using God’s revelation, we have access to reliable knowledge—divine truth—about God, about ourselves, and how we are to live in relationship with our fellow man.  Unfortunately, we often separate our “faith walk” from our “lifestyle”.  God’s truth should permeate every area of our life.  Practicing God’s divine perspective requires that we walk in God’s truth continuously. 

Our dependence on God’s truth is not based on emotional sentimentalities but firmly grounded in the nature of God (Deut. 7:9).  We walk in accordance with His moral realities and act in harmony with His divine revelations (Ps. 26:3).   Practicing God’s divine perspective recognizes God’s trustworthiness.

Knowing the reliability of God and accepting the reality of God, we can begin to operate from God’s divine perspective.  God’s divine truth becomes the vehicle by which we can successfully navigate in this 21st century postmodern society.

[1] Brandwatch.com

Can we handle the truth in 2021?

Can we handle the truth in 2021?

What is truth?  What does it look like amid a health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil strife?  Does truth look different when placed in the context of the current worldview?  And how does it stack up against the biblical view we, as believers of Christ are to follow?

When Jesus was brought to Pilate for judgment, the curious ruler asked Jesus, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.  (John 18:37-38)

The truth question in 2021

Pilate’s response to the question of truth is often repeated today.  With the introduction of relativism, we too may be asking the same question.  We demand fewer rules and more personal freedom.  The answer to the truth question is dependent on who or what has the greatest influence on our life—man or God.

The prophets warned that a time would come when the matter of truth would cause great division among men.   Lack of truth ultimately leads to deception, pride, and injustice (Is. 5:20-23).  So here we stand, in 2021, a divided nation, fighting over, “what is truth?”

With that thought in mind, I’d like to recast an earlier WordBytes entitled, “Can you handle the truth?”  I have changed the title to better fit the social context in which we now find ourselves.  While there are many proposed definitions of the truth there can only be one.  Time to answer the question, “Can we handle the truth in 2021?”

Can we handle the truth?

Especially when that truth is measured against the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus Christ?   We face a major challenge to walk in biblical truth while living in a postmodern world.  Especially as we enter this second decade of the 21st century.

With all the political rhetoric and social bantering, we need truth.  Behind the news bytes and sound bits, there is an intention movement to redefine “what truth is and what it isn’t”.

But can we really handle truth?   What will we do when we receive it?  Will we bury it?  Ignore it? Or kill the person who brings it?  That’s exactly what the Jews did to Jesus.

This inclination to “repackage” the truth is nothing new.  It comes directly from the father of lies, Satan (John 8:44).   We must be careful how we define truth, or we too may fall prey to the subtly of deception.  “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1, NLT)

Does truth have a limited “shelf life”?

In decades past, people could depend on the media to communicate the “truth” regarding specific issues of the day.  Newspapers, magazine publications and newscasters were committed to operate at the highest ethical standards.

In addition, we could depend upon our local leaders—civic or religious—to offer us truth. But over time that has changed.

Unfortunately, both media and individuals now offer opinions based on their personal agendas or corporate bias.  Truth is now shaped by social media and image consultants—by the number of “likes”, “retweets” and “followers” one can amass.  This leaves us “in search for truth”.

Truth and Realty

What is truth?  Truth is defined by Webster as that which agrees with reality.  Our reality and meaning are grounded in God.  That reality began in the Garden of Eden.  Created in God’s image, our purpose and destiny are tied to our identity in Him through Christ (Col. 3:3).

This reality was sidetracked by sin and replaced with Satan’s counterfeit that placed self on the throne where only Christ was to be seated and exalted.  Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross, our sins were forgiven, and we are now reconciled back to God (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).

When we affirm our faith, we acknowledge that we have died to our old sin nature (Gal. 5:24) and walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We no longer follow the worldview—its influence was negated by the Blood.  Our meaning and reality is now realigned with God (2 Cor. 5:15).   “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a).

Connecting with Truth

More than ever before, we must connect with the only True Source of Truth, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior (John 14:6).  God’s Word and the Spirit of Truth stand ready to silence the lies, myths and fables we might hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  It is God’s truth that will guide our behaviors and our responses in this fallen world.

God is the only source of truth for our lives.  Can we handle the truth? Do we dare to speak truth when the world doesn’t want to hear?  In 2021, let us through the Holy Spirit have the courage and commitment to be Truth followers!

 

A Message for Fearful Times

A Message for Fearful Times

Historical trauma

Last week we witnessed in our Capitol something that has left us breathless.  We’ve seen many horrible events in the tapestry of our nation’s history during the past century—wars, assassinations, and terrorist attacks.  January 6th, 2021 can now be added to that infamous list.

There is no need to add to the rhetoric that now fill the airwaves of the world and every corner of cyberspace.  The reality that our nation’s democracy is under siege is evident.  The trauma and fear associated with that day linger on after experiencing the event “real time” on our screens.  I daily ask Jesus to remove those terrifying images from my brain.

But I come today with a message of encouragement and hope from the God who sees and Who is in complete control of what appears to be “out of control.”

Keep Your Eye of God

It is important during these troubling times to keep our eyes on the Lord.  As believers, we are aware that in this world we will have tribulation and trials (John 16:33).  But we are also reminded to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  One writer reminded me, “it is the tension between ‘overcome’ and ‘taking heart’ that cause us problems.”

Our trust in the Lord is not the result of positive thinking or some new age approach to stress management.   Brian Morykno with Renovaré encourages believers during fearful times to follow King David’s example of magnification.

Imagine David, with the war cry of enemies rising all around, settled of soul and unafraid.  How was that possible?  It’s not that David was out of touch with reality; he was in touch with it.  David understood magnification.  He knew that what we dwell upon becomes large in our spiritual field of vision.  And David dwelled upon God (Ps. 95:3-5).     

Our reality is this.  God is sovereign and is moving forward with His plan of salvation God is not the cause of riots and rebellions like we experienced last week.  Such events come from “heart issue” of sinful men (James 3:16-18) and the work of Satan (Eph. 6:12; John 10:10).

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.   But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

A Plan for These Times

To help us move through these times, I offer this, three (3) prong approach to help us navigate through these difficult times.

Prayer.  This should be our first response to the troubles we face.  We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  The reason for this mandate is because our prayers connect us directly to God—the Power Source who can resolve our dilemma.  The “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) is there to guide and direct our steps, comfort our heart, and ease our stress (Phil. 4:6-7).

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  (Romans 12:12)  

Practice the Presence of God   We are never alone regardless of the situation we face.  He alone can make good on His promise that He will “never leave nor forsake us” (Gen. 28:15).  He is ever-present.  Regardless of external appearances, God is with us even amid our trouble.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Ps. 139:7-8)

Praise.  Yes, I said praise.  Why?  Because it is the quickest way to experience the presence of God (Ps. 22:3).    Ruth Meyer, author of the book, 31 Days of Praise, offers this insight on the power of praise.

As you praise and pray, you make your circumstances and your life a test tube that demonstrates the existence of a personal God, a God who is present and involved and who controls the natural Universe. It turns your attention to spiritual and eternal values versus the pleasures and success mentality of our age, which resists all pain and discomfort and delay.

A Message for Fearful Times

As we continue our walk of faith, we will be faced with trials.  Although these may be difficult, we have the blessed assurance that we are not in these things alone.  Neither are we powerless.

Political and social upheaval will continue as long as man leans on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-7).  I don’t know how these tumultuous times will end but I do know that God has the final word (Ps. 119:89-91).  God is and will continue to be the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:16).

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

The Danger of Spiritual Immaturity

At the beginning of this series, I asked if you were “helping or hindering your spiritual journey”.  I posed three questions, which now fit nicely with today’s warning on the danger of spiritual immaturity.

First, where are you in your current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate you to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in your life today?

It is now time to move these questions from their previous position as the backdrop for this series to the focal point for our exploration of spiritual immaturity.  We begin this journey by contrasting it with its opposite–spiritual maturity.

What is spiritual maturity? 

As I researched this topic of spiritual maturity, there were varying views and opinions as to its definition.  For some it is a process; for others it is a pathway to follow.  And still others see spiritual maturity as the goal of the believer’s life. That being the case I offer several views for your consideration.

Commitment to Transformation

Dallas A. Willard, an American philosopher known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation, describes spiritual maturity as taking place “when we are drawn close to a life with Jesus. We, by the grace of God, behave differently because we have been transformed.”

This transformation occurs as believers intentionally build and live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God.  This transformation occurs as believers commit to grow, commit to change, and commit to learn. 

Using Willard’s description, spiritual maturity is a process.  One that never ends until we reach heaven and are face-to-face with our Savior (1 Cor. 13:12). Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, do we behave differently?

Building on the Foundation of the Gospel 

Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul, exists to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.   In “Four Essentials of Spiritual Maturity”, author and contributing writer Kent Hughes outlines four key areas needed for spiritual maturity.

While these essentials are directed to pastors, they also outline key responsibilities for believers who desire to be spiritually mature.  They include:

    1. Christ-focused exposition of the Word—Christ is the source and sustainer of spiritual maturity
    2. Cautious “striving” to accurately present the Word—described as “struggling in preaching the gospel mystery”
    3. Commitment to the Christian community—”to comprehend with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18-19)
    4. Christian maturity demonstrated—the believer is a living testimony of what love and devotion for God should look like

Using Hughes’ description, spiritual maturity is a pathway.  One that is to be passionately pursued (2 Tim. 2:15).  That pathway includes leading people to Christ.  Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we intentional in building our lives on the foundation of God’s Word?

Passion to Persevere

Lastly, I present the viewpoint that spiritual maturity is a goal.  The specific goal is the believer’s capacity to persevere.  The believer is both able to weather the storms of life while also proclaiming the glory of the Lord.

Oswald in his book, Spiritual Maturity, describes it this way:

Spiritual maturity is not a level of growth Christians achieve but the passion to press on in Christ. As we embrace God’s Providence, the work of the Holy Spirit, the character  Christ desires, the terms of discipleship, hardship, and more, we can move from infancy toward the fruitful maturity we were created to enjoy.

Pastor Andy Stanley, senior pastor and founder of North Point Ministries shares a similar viewpoint: “Spiritual maturity is measured in terms of persevering faith not perfect behavior.”  

The Apostle Paul also describes spiritual maturity in terms of the early churches’ ability to persevere.  Faced with fierce and continuous persecution for their faith, they were told not to “faint” in their work for Christ (2 Cor. 4:1, 14-17; Gal. 6:9; Col. 3:15).  That is perhaps the reason the writer of Hebrews included spiritual maturity as important for this group.

Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we able to persevere? While we may not face religious persecution, how we respond to the current state of our world, i.e., health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, can be an indicator of our ability to “hold fast our faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Now is the Time 

God needs spiritually mature, 21st century disciples who will represent His Kingdom.  These disciples must be willing to proclaim, defend, and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Especially in a post-modern world that is hostile to Christianity.

Most importantly, 21st century disciples must show and share the love of Christ–even to those who may hate us (Luke 6:27-36).  We no longer can depend only on our pastor to provide outreach to the lost and to the disenfranchised.  Neither can we wait for the church’s mercy ministry to provide for the homeless and the impoverished.  The “them” is now “us”—our family, our neighbor, and our co-worker.

The physical church is temporarily “ON HOLD” for many of us.  Other churches may be operating at a reduced capacity.  But God is calling us today to be what He designed us to be—The Church (1 Pet. 2:4-6).  As the Master Builder, God places His living stones just where He wants us to be (1 Cor.12:18). Spiritual maturity is not an option—it is a necessity for the world we live in today!

Next week we will explore the “Failure of Spiritual Immaturity”.

The Danger of Unbelief

 

John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. He wrote this about unbelief:

Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored. Its sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the Word of the one true God and thus attributes falsehood to Him. 

The second warning listed in the Hebrews letter reflects similar passion regarding the danger of unbelief (Heb. 3:7-4:13). Does it begin with drifting (neglect) and ends with doubting (unbelief)?

The writer of Hebrews frequently used Old Testament quotations and images to support their argument for remaining steadfast in the Christian faith.  The author cited historical accounts from the Old Testament to remind the readers of the danger of giving in to outside pressure rather than “holding fast to their faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Unbelief for the Hebrews

In this second warning the author outlines the danger of doubting and disbelieving the Word.  He uses the background of the exodus of Israel from Egypt and their experiences in the wilderness to explain their unbelief.

It was not God’s will that Israel remain either in Egypt or in the wilderness. His desire was that the people enter their glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. But when Israel got to the border of their inheritance they delayed because they doubted the promise of God.  Therefore, the people went backward in unbelief instead of forward by faith.  They missed their inheritance and died in the wilderness.[1]

The “wilderness” for believers today is this current “season of uncertainty”.  Instead of the Promised Land, we are facing nonstop change and upheaval in our daily lives. This is a result of many factors affecting our nation including the current health pandemic, social inequalities, and civil unrest. The fallout from this season of uncertainty is fear, disruptions, loss, and fatigue.

Let’s be honest! Our personal faith is also being challenged.  We question, “What is God going to do with all these problems?”  We object, “When will God intercede on our behalf?”  Emotionally and spiritually, we are tired and need to see a “light at the end” of this long tunnel.  Can you imagine what it felt like living in the wilderness for 40 years?

21st Century unbelief

What does unbelief among Christians look like today?  Unfortunately, it looks like the Israelites’ unbelief in the wilderness.  It resembles the behaviors that resulted in the hardening of their hearts.

    • Distrust in God’s power.  We murmur and complain.  Although we desire our lives to be trouble free, it just isn’t reality. The reality is this–we live in a fallen world (1John 2:17).  There will be trials and tribulations. However, Jesus encouraged us by telling us He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  We can trust God’s power to handle whatever happens in our lives.
    • Dependence on self and others.  Scripture warns us “not to be wise in our own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).  However, since we distrust God’s power, we tend to seek answers from the world.  We foolishly place our trust in human leaders and political agendas. “Instant” access to information through technology makes us believe all our answers can be found on the Internet.
    • Departure from the “living God”.  God was grieved with Israel during the entire forty years because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:12).  God is saddened today as He sees the same thing happening with His followers.  Their hearts have become hardened.  In addition, the deceitfulness of sin has caused believers to rebel against God.  They desire to return to their “Egypt”.

Unbelief left unchecked

The danger of unbelief is “loss”.  Not the loss of our salvation. The believer in Christ is completely secure (John 10:29; Rom. 8:31-39; Ep. 2:4-10).

However, when we practice unbelief, we miss out on our inheritance today and must suffer the chastening of God (Heb. 3:12-19).

Unbelief is a thief that robs us of the blessings God has promised–promises that are our today (2 Pet. 1: 4).  We lose the peace and joy that can only be found in trusting God (Ps. 16:8-9).

Still the best choice

In our humanity, we might be inclined to depend on our own strength.  Amid our trials, we might be tempted to try some “nouveau” spiritual approach The question we must ask ourselves is, “what can be better than Jesus?”

The writer of Hebrews presented the best case for “choosing Jesus” over returning to Judaism.  As we look around at the issues we face, our best option is still Jesus.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, possesses all power on heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18).  Jesus is omniscient–knowing all things (1 John 3:20).  He is omnipotent–unlimited in power and authority (Daniel 4:35). Jesus is omnipresent–in all places at all times (Jer. 23:23-24).

Most importantly, Jesus loves us and has proven His love by dying for us so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16).  He is the Righteous and Just One (Deut. 32:3-4).  Jesus is all this and so much more.  Jesus the Best and Only Choice for all generations

[1]  Hebrews, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary

Time for analysis  

In my past life as a business consultant, I was engaged to help clients develop strategic plans to accomplish their organization’s mission and business goals.  As part of that process we often included an analysis of the “environment” in which the client operated.  It was called a situation analysis.

A situation analysis refers to a collection of methods .  They are used to analyze an organization’s internal and external environment to understand their capabilities, customers, and competition.   These methods of analysis helped to identify not only opportunities but also potential threats to the business.  These analyses often served as informative warnings of potential dangers.

The epistle of Hebrews, a letter to Jewish Christians of that day, includes warnings that are much like a business situation analysis to help its readers see potential threats to their spiritual well-being.

The Audience

The writer of this Hebrews’ letter knew the needs of their intended recipients.  Unlike the recipients of Paul’s letters, they were not a church (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Gal. 1:2).  They were a specific group of Jewish Christians–men of some intellectual ability. They had been established for a good many years (Heb. 2:3; 13:7), and had a history of persecution. They should have been mature Christians by this time, capable of teaching others (Heb. 5:11-6:2). Instead they were withdrawn and inward-looking.

The audience was seen as negligent in good deeds (Heb. 13:16).  They were sloppy in their approach to attendance at worship service (Heb.10:23-25).  They showed evidence of “cooling” in their faith.  Most importantly, this group was wavering between Christianity and Judaism. The author of Hebrews needed to rekindle the readers’ commitment to Christ.

Their problem did not involve sin in its most obvious sense. They were not openly and willingly breaking one or several of God’s commandments, like stealing, lying, adultery, or murder. But regardless, they were falling short of the glory of God through wrong attitudes—things that we might consider today as being “matters of the heart.”

The writer of Hebrews’ challenge was to contrast the achievements of Jesus with that of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system.

The Environment

Like the authorship of Hebrews, the exact location of this audience is unknown.  There is no opening salutation typically found in New Testament letters.  No city is identified to indicate where these Jewish Christians resided.

We do, however, get a hint as to where the author of Hebrews was located.  Included in the closing, the writer advises their readers to salute “those that rule over you and all the saints” just as “they of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24). Commentaries identify this reference to Italy as possibly pointing to Rome.

Written in Rome (before A.D. 70), Hebrews may provide valuable insight into the “world” these readers may have lived in. It may also help us understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ during that time.

The early converts to Christianity in Ancient Rome faced many difficulties. The first converts were usually the poor and slaves as they had a great deal to gain from the Christians being successful. If they were caught, they faced death for failing to worship the emperor. It was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians when Rome was faced with difficulties. In AD 64, part of Rome was burned down. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and the people turned on them. Arrests and executions followed.

The Warnings of Hebrew

The warnings of Hebrews have been the focal point of many commentators and biblical scholars. There are many reasons for this intense scrutiny.  Most importantly, these warnings emphasize behaviors that seriously damage believers’ faith in Jesus Christ.  These warnings are more than indicators of possible problems, or other unpleasant situations but extreme spiritual “dangers”.

Warning1:    Danger of neglect (2:1-4)

Warning 2:   Danger of unbelief (3:7-4:13)

Warning 3:   Danger of spiritual immaturity (5:11-6:20)

Warning 4:   Danger of drawing back (10:26-39)

Warning 5:   Danger of refusing God (12:25-29)

Comparison with today

This series is intended to help us examine where we are in our individual walk of faith.  Are we helping or hindering our journey?  Therefore, I will offer “more questions than answers” for our consideration as we move through the book of Hebrews.

We begin with these.  First, where are we in our current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate us to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in our life today?

Our examination of these questions will act as the backdrop for this study series.  It is our hope that at the conclusion we will better understand the current threats to our faith and our spiritual growth.  This includes the current 21st century worldview of Jesus Christ and Christianity.

We begin next week with an analysis of the first two warnings–the danger of neglect and the danger of unbelief.