Tag Archives: spiritual endurance

God Speaks through Circumstances

God speaks through Circumstances

Under our circumstances

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available.  However, my favorite is, “I’m doing fairly well under the circumstances.”

This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.

As we daily face “tumultuous” circumstances—pandemics, social strive, economic uncertainty—it is important to remember that God sees.  Even in our worst of circumstances, God is present (Ps. 139:7-10).   God sees, God cares, and God speaks.

Circumstances for all times

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Exod. 2:1-10).

God later spoke to Moses after his “40-year circumstance” of working for his father-in-law Jethro the priest of Midian (Exod. 3:1).  God then re-directed him to deliver His people Israel, who were dealing with their circumstance of bondage.

In the book of Acts, God speaks to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor (1 Sam. 1:20), through personal loss (Ruth 1:3-5), or through miraculous deliverance (Acts 23:30-31).  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

Circumstances today

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.

Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).

Conforming circumstances

God permits circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be “steppingstones”.

God also speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors, this includes delayed prayers. While the Apostle Paul wanted to share the gospel in Asia, he repeatedly found the way blocked by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-10).

What our passage suggests to me is that God may close one door of ministry in order to open a better one. Paul was thinking locally—Asia and Bithynia. God was thinking more globally—cross the Aegean Sea into modern-day Europe. Divine redirection demands that we trust divine omniscience: we would have made the same choice if we knew what God knew. Through God’s providential redirection, Paul was able to plant churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. What a great open door![1]

As we proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That is why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life.  Sometimes our circumstances will take us out of our comfort zone, but we can be assured we are not in them alone (1 John 4:4).

Next time you feel “under your circumstances”, ask God what He is saying to you.   

[1]   “Live with a Mission”, Timothy Berrey with the Gospel Fellowship Association.

 

Certainty in an Uncertain World: Epilogue

Certainty in an Uncertain World-Epilogue

We close this series by reviewing what we have learned and by identifying next steps that will bring us greater certainty in an uncertain world.

What have we learned?

#1 We do not like uncertainty.  “It is 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.”  Uncertainty makes us uneasy.  We feel it is something we need to control (Prov. 3:5-6).

#2 Uncertainty is as sure as death and taxes.  The sources of uncertainty will not go away.  Such is the result of living in a fallen world.  Uncertainty is a “sure thing” that we must learn to manage (Eccl. 9:11).

#3 God is the only reliable source of certainty.  He provides us with divine certainty.    He alone has both the desire and the capability to address whatever may come our way.  And God never changes and is forever faithful (Lam. 3:22-23).  Because of God’s character, we can place our confidence and trust in Him.

Equipped with this information, how do we incorporate these realities into our lives?  How do we build spiritual muscle to contend with the uncertainties of life?

“Holdfast to your faith.”

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a point of reference to begin addressing uncertainty in our lives.  Our writer states in the opening verse: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   This statement comes after an appeal to the readers of this letter to “hold fast.”   (Heb. 10:19-39)

It is here that the author begins to cite individuals in biblical history who earned a place in the Faith Hall of Fame.  While the object of what they hoped for was temporal, it was their faith that helped them to holdfast.  For our discussion, I will focus on one member of this notable group, Abraham.  Let’s examine how Abraham’s faith helped him deal with uncertainty.

“He hoped against hope.”

Paul used Abraham as an example for the church at Romans.  In chapter 4, the apostle continues to teach the point that it is faith—belief in Jesus Christ—that individuals receive salvation.  It is in the closing verses (Rom. 4:16-25), that the Apostle Paul, like the writer of Hebrews, testifies to the faith of Abraham.

Paul magnifies the strength of Abraham’s faith in several expressions used in this text.

“Who against hope believed in hope.”  Upon hearing God’s promises, Abraham had to “bring into captivity every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) he had concerning ‘what was possible’ with God.  Every rational explanation of how parenthood and leadership of a nation was possible (human hope) had to become “subservient” to the supernatural reality of God (divine hope).  Such hope is reliant on understanding the power and sovereignty of God (Rom. 4:17).

 “He considered not his own body.”  When Abraham did consider his own body, he birthed Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar (Gen. 16).  That was not God’s plan.  It was God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah to birth a child when both their bodies were considered “dead”.   Once Abraham accepted God’s plan, he “didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child. Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up’ “(Rom. 4:19, The Message).  Sometimes God does things “His way” so we understand HE IS GOD and we are not.  Translation:  God is sovereign.

“He staggered not…”

“He staggered not at the promise of God.”  Some translations use the word, waver instead of staggered to describe the resolve of Abraham’s faith.  To stagger means to be at variance with oneself, to hesitate, or doubt (James 1:6).   Such was not the case with Abraham.  To the contrary, his acceptance of God’s promise resulted in the strengthening of his faith.  Some translations also share that this strengthening of Abraham’s faith resulted “in bringing God glory” (CSB) or that Abraham’s faith grew stronger “as he gave glory to God” (NRS).   When we trust God, not doubting, we are strengthened, and He is glorified.

 “Being fully persuaded.”  The literal reading of this phrase is “being fully assured.” Abraham was convinced that God was able and willing to make good on all His promises.  Such faith can be described as “God-centric”, in that, the accomplishment of the promises to Abraham were totally dependent on God.  In this case, the promises of God would depend on God’s ability to perform them—not man’s capability.   Abraham’s role, like ours today is to exercise our faith and believe God.

The impact of unbelief

Unbelief can cripple our faith.  It can cause us to make bad choices and interrupt God’s purpose for our lives.  Remember Abraham and Hagar?  One commentator wrote this about unbelief: “Unbelief dishonors God by making Him a liar (1 John 5:10).  Faith honors God by setting to its seal that He is true.”[1] 

Our unbelief is often caused by viewing a problem or situation from our ability to resolve it.  Unbelief is “shortsighted” seeing only our own capacity or ability to resolve.  We seldom factor in God until our plans go awry.  Many biblical failures occurred because of unbelief.  Remember the Garden of Eden?

The old elders of the church were often questioned about their faith in God.  They never attended theological institutions nor studied with great scholars of the Bible.  They would humbly respond, “I just know what I know!”  Translation:  They believed without a doubt who God was and they believed that God would do ALL that He promised.  For these elders to “know” was synonymous with their “belief”.

Conclusion

As we look around and see our world in a state of uncertainty, it is easy to become anxious and fearful.  It is difficult to understand what is happening around us.  Pandemics, civil unrest, financial insecurity.   Uncertainty has become commonplace with little hope of eliminating it. Who are we to believe?  Who do we trust for the right answers?

There is a solution for times of uncertainty in our life.   We can begin by embracing the divine certainty of God, His promises, and our position in Christ Jesus.  However, these certainties can only be realized through our intentional response of faith.

It is important that we as believers move past simply “intellectualizing” our faith.  We must “internalized” it.  Our faith in God must become “second nature” to us as we deal with our fears and our challenges.  Not pie in the sky but total reliance on the goodness and greatness of God.  This requires that we walk closely with Lord and practice His presence.

Let us rely on the power and sovereignty of God.  Don’t focus on your own impotency.  When we trust God, our faith is strengthened, and He is glorified.  Let us not stagger.  Let us be “fully persuaded” knowing God is in charge and the Source for all our needs.   God is our certainty for uncertain times.  God is our hope and our peace—our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1).

Closing Prayer

Father God, help us to trust You in all we face in these days of uncertainty.  Make our faith real and active.  Let us not walk by sight but by faith.  We praise You and glorify Your holy name.  We stagger not at Your promises knowing You are more than able.  And not only are You able, but You are willing.  We ask these things in Your darling Son’s name, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  AMEN

 

[1] Matthew Henry Commentary, Romans 4

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?

Making the Right Choice

Maing the Right Choice

The warnings included in the letter of Hebrews were written to believers who were being tempted to return to the Jewish religion and traditions.  In their actions, they were not only choosing Judaism but in their choosing they were also rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Such is the case in all decisions we make.  When we say “yes” to one thing we simultaneously are saying “no” to its alternatives. In addition, with each decision there are consequences.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Regardless, there are consequences.

Such is the case with this fourth warning.  The choice to return to Judaism contained dangerous consequences which the author attempts to convey in this fourth exhortation.    

Danger! Danger!

The writer of Hebrews has been diligent to warn of the dangerous behaviors being exhibited by the readers of this letter.  Behaviors that are leading to spiritual erosion. They include neglect, unbelief, and spiritual immaturity.

Hebrews 10:26-39 contains the fourth warning to the readers of this critical epistle.   This exhortation deals specifically with the “danger of drawing back”.

The writer continues this serious discussion which first began in Hebrews 6:4-8 with the danger of “falling away” (from Christianity).[1]   This verb is found only here in the New Testament.  The writer is picturing people who have been numbered among the followers of Christ but now leave that company.

Dangerous behaviors and consequences

The behaviors and consequences of “falling away” and “drawing back” are a real and present danger to believers.  We are to take these warnings seriously.   They highlight our need to remain steadfast and faithful (Heb. 10:38).

Behaviors and consequences (are)

Hebrews 6:4-8 

“Falling away” 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

“Drawing back”

Intentional

“with knowledge”

“Those who have were once enlightened, who tasted…who shared” (vv. 4 and 5)

“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth” (v. 26)

“Recall the former days…after you were enlightened” (v. 32)

Irreversible

“unable to restore”

“It is impossible to renew to repentance” (v. 4)

“no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26)

Irreverent

“of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice”

“They are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up in contempt” (v. 6)

 

“a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation” (v. 27)

“Trampled the Son of God…the blood counted a common thing…insulted the Spirit of grace.” (v.29)

 Apostasy by any other name

The writer’s admonition begins with calling out the willful sin of the readers (Heb. 10:26).  Our sins are often the result of our deliberate choice to impose our desire over God’s leadership (James 1:13-15).

This warning deals with the sin of apostasy, an intentional falling away, or defection. Apostates are those who move toward Christ, hear and understand his gospel, and are on the verge of saving belief, but then rebel and turn away. This warning against apostasy is one of the most serious warnings in all of scripture.[2] 

The fourth warning is contained in the final verses of this chapter (Hebrews 10:38-39).

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. 

“The just shall live by faith” is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:1-4.  Who are the “just”?  The just (RSV, my righteous one) in this passage is the person God accepts as righteous who will live by faith. In this verse, the writer is drawing attention to the fact that faith and drawing back are opposed to each other.

To “draw back” means to withdraw self or to shrink from declaring.  It is clear that God is not pleased with the one who draws back (Heb. 10:38). It is important for believers to go forward in the path of faith. To draw back offers the worst consequence–perdition which in some translations is interpreted to mean destruction.  The best choice is to persevere in our faith and be saved.

21st Century Danger

We continually make choices.  Some are simple.  Others may be more complex.  As we make our choices, we, as believers, must also be mindful of potential consequences.  This is especially true of those that affect our spirit man and our walk of faith.  Are we making decisions that cause us to “draw back”?  How are we to respond?

We are to remember when we first came to faith and the gratitude we exhibited in the gift of salvation (Heb. 10:32).  We boldly witnessed the goodness and greatness of God.  We eagerly served and engaged in God’s work (Heb. 10:33).

It is important to know “that we have a better and an enduring possession in heaven” (Heb. 10:34). We should include in our daily routine the reading of Scripture that reminds us of our eternal rewards and destination (Eph. 1:13-14).

Let us refuse to “cast away our confidence” (Heb. 10:35).  To “cast away” conveys the thought of a reckless rejection of what is valuable. Only Jesus Christ holds the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46).

Through Jesus, we have received all spiritual blessings (Ep. 1:3) and great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4).  These enable us to endure struggles, reproaches, and tribulations (Heb. 10:32-33).  Because of this, believers can boldly proclaim, “We do not draw back to prediction but are of those who believe to the saving of the soul”.  (v. 39)

 

[1] Such cannot be brought back to repentance. Notice that he does not say cannot be forgiven or cannot be restored to salvation or the like. It is repentance that is in mind, and the writer says that it is impossible for these people to repent. This might mean that the repentance that involves leaving a whole way of life to embrace the Christian way is unique.  It cannot be repeated.  There is no putting the clock back.

[2] The MacArthur Study Bible

 

A Call to Maturity

Last week we introduced spiritual maturity as a process, a pathway, or a goal. Regardless of the means of achieving spiritual maturity, the result is to be a believer whose faith is founded on the Gospel and who is committed to ongoing growth (transformation).

Faith and growth work together to develop spiritual maturity in the believer which is critical in moving God’s kingdom forward.  Therein lies the urgency for a call to maturity by the writer of Hebrews.

Dull of hearing

It has been said that to make progress on a bike, you must keep moving forward.  There is no reversal nor standing still.  This is a good analogy in describing the dilemma the author of Hebrews faced.

Although these believers had been trained in the “elementary truths of God’s Word” (NIV, Heb. 5:12), they were not moving forward “on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).   They had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

Hearing is difficult, not only for this audience but also for any audience.  Interestingly, the verb “to hear” (akouo) provides the root for the verb that means “to obey” (hypakouo) (Heb. 5:9; 13:17).  There could be any number of reasons why this group had become “dull of hearing”.

Distractions, fear of persecution, or loss in confidence of their leaders.  The writer of this letter does not say.  However, we do know the outcome.

The readers had apparently pulled back from their bold witness to outsiders and from exhorting and encouraging one another.  Through lack of use, faculties grow dull and the members regress to a former condition of immaturity.[1]

The writer’s dilemma

In Hebrews 5:11-6:3, the writer contrasts immaturity with maturity.  They use familiar “educational language” of that day to describe the believers’ lack of progress.  The Apostle Paul uses similar language in 1 Cor. 3:1-3.  “Milk” and “solid food” were common terms for referring to levels of educational development.  Here “milk” is an image of the “elementary truths of the God’s Word” (v. 12), while “solid food” is the “word of righteousness” (v. 13) which is the believer’s capacity  to distinguish between good and evil (v.14).

The writer’s dilemma is this.  Although these believers have previously received adequate teaching for their ministry work and purpose (Heb. 6:1-2), their failure to grow spiritually hindered them from understanding more complex teachings about Jesus Christ.  Specifically, Jesus’ excellency as High Priest.  A more excellent priesthood than the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9; 6:20).

Immaturity leads to failure

The exhortations found in Hebrews are appropriate for us today.  Distractions and lack of spiritual discipline keep us stuck in the same position as when we first came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Statistics support the fact that believers today spend little to no time on spiritual formation.  It should not be surprising that these behaviors have resulted in believers who are “unskilled in the word” (v. 13) and churches who feel ill equipped to lead new generations to Christ.

Our failure to be spiritually mature results in our inability to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and for His Kingdom.  These include:

The ability to persevere.  Lack of maturity impairs our ability to remain faithful to God’s purpose for our life.  We are created specifically for God’s “good work” (Eph. 2:10).  This is true whether we work in ministry or in the secular world.  Our “stick-to-it-ness” is critical as we live in a world hostile to Jesus.

The ability to discern.  When we become “sluggish” and “dull of hearing”, we risk becoming disobedient.  In a postmodern world, it is difficult to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Is. 5:20-24; 2 Tim. 3:1, 3b, 5).  Unable to discern, we become targets for Satan’s deception. “To think between vice and virtue is a line clear and unmistakable is to embrace an illusion.”[2]

The ability to witness.  We have a clear mandate from Jesus to witness to a dying world (Matt. 28:19-20).  It would be impossible for believers to look around our world and not acknowledge that “the fields are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35).  An informed and bold witness is needed as much in the 21st century as it was in the 1st: “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  We are in a battle for the souls of men.

Go on to maturity

When we became Christians, we received everything we needed for life and godliness through the knowledge of God who called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).  It is our responsibility to build upon the basics of that faith and move forward to maturity.

The Apostle Peter directs us to make every effort (with all diligence) to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8)

Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus is the essence of spiritual maturity.  God is our resource, and all growth comes by grace through Him, but we are responsible to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).

[1] Letter to the Hebrews, Fred B. Craddock

[2] Ibid.

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

Spiritual Warnings for 21st Century Living 

Lost in Space was an American science fiction television series in the 1960’s.  It followed the adventures of the Robinsons, a pioneering family of space colonists who struggle to survive in the depths of space.

When danger was near to the Robinson family, Robbie, their protective robot, would cry out, “Danger”.   Similarly, we teach our children to be aware of danger.  They call out a warning, “stranger danger” when they feel threatened.

Stranger danger!

Warnings play a huge role in sheltering us from potential harm or danger.  Because of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, we carefully heed the medical warnings provided to us by both our local and our state health officials.  With the growth of cyber-crimes in our nation, we quickly respond to security warnings by purchasing systems to protect our personal assets.  Police warnings of increases in crime incent us to invest in elaborate surveillance and security equipment.

However, do we, with the same diligence, heed spiritual warnings as we move through these fretful times?  Are we concerned about the health and well-being of our souls? What about our family’s spiritual well-being?  During the next few weeks, we will be using the book of Hebrews to discuss “spiritual danger warnings” in the 21st century.

Opportunities in warnings

The writer of Hebrews gave five (5) warnings to his readers.  Although the historical context for this epistle is different than in 2020, the warnings included in Hebrews are still relevant for today.

Warren Wiersbe, noted teacher and biblical scholar had this to share concerning the practical applications that can be found in the book of Hebrews:

Many people have avoided the epistle to the Hebrews and, consequently, have robbed themselves of practical spiritual help.  Some have avoided this book because they are afraid of it. The warnings in Hebrews have made them uneasy. Others have avoided this book because they think it is too difficult for the average Bible student. To be sure there are some profound truth in Hebrews, and no preacher or teacher will dare to claim that they know them all! But the general message of the book it’s clear and there is no reason why you and I should not understand and profit from it.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “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).  Let’s get ready to dig in!