Lessons in Faith

Overcome by Faith

In the New Testament “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6). In the Old Testament the priests “shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering . . . [because] they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat” (Eze 44:17-18). In Christianity doing anything that produces sweat is considered doing it “in your own strength.” One of Christianity’s basic tenets is that “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). But even though faith is from God it must be exercised. Jude said he “felt the necessity to write you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). “‘From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Mt 11:12). It sounds like exercising faith is hard. It is “tested by fire” (1Pe 1:7) and “the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Jas 1:3). “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” (1Jn 5:4). On an individual level “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (Ro 14:22). “God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (12:3). “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (2Co 13:5). But if you doubt yourself then your “eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (14:23). Your relationship with God is strengthened when you exercise faith. Nehemiah was the kin’s cupbearer. One day the king asked why he was so sad. Nehemiah told him the truth and the king asked how he could help. Then Nehemiah’s rapport with God was demonstrated when, on the spot, he “prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh 2:4). God’s answer was instantaneous and Nehemiah requested to be sent to Judah to rebuild the city (:5). On a group level God gives various workers “for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Eph 4:12-13). Paul told them they should be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Php 1:27). “‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne'” (Rev 3:21).

Victory of Faith

I grew up when there was constant fear of a nuclear war with Russia. It was believed that godless propaganda produced people who became antagonistic to our way of life. Is it possible to program the mind of someone so they become a particular kind of person? “As he thinks within himself, so he is” (Pr 23:7). You might call it a mind set. In this sense you could expect retaliation to threats because it’s “survival of the fittest.” But with Christians it is “with the heart a person believes” (Ro 10:10). The Bible often uses the heart as a metaphor for the spirit. You are “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23). You should “‘love your neighbor as yourself'” (Lev 19:18). We “live by his faith” (Hab 2:4) because “we walk by faith” (2Co 5:7). “By faith Sarah . . . considered Him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11). “By faith [Moses] . . . endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (:27). Others had a longer time horizon and “these people died in faith, without receiving the promises” (:13) but they “saw them from a distance” (:13 NIV). However, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (:40 NIV).

Christ said “‘you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Mt 24:9). He also said “‘an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God'” (Jn 16:2). Some were tortured . . . , experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment . . ., stoned . . . [and] were put to death with the sword” (Heb 11:35-37). It is because “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” (Ro 8:7). That is why Jesus said “‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword'” (Mt 10:34). But there should be a point of commonality. However, as citizens of the same country even Republicans and Democrats violently disagree. People in the same geographic region start wars of ethnic cleansing. “‘Nation will rise against nation'” (24:7). It will “wear down the saints” (Da 7:25) “but the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (11:32). They “by faith conquered kingdoms . . . and obtained promises” (Heb 11:33). They “escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, [and] became mighty in war” (:34). They all “gained approval through their faith” (:39) and “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (:16).

Inheritance

In the garden God told the serpent that Eve’s seed would bruise him on the head, and his would bruise hers on the heel (Ge 3:15). This was what the future had in store. He also foretold to Abram that his descendants would be “‘strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years'” (15:13). Through God’s planning and action “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). God brought Israel “‘out of Egypt with a mighty hand'” (Dt 9:26). He told Israel, “‘I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and . . . redeem you with an outstretched arm'” (Ex 6:6). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Moses prayed, “Do not destroy your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness'” (Dt 9:26). God had adopted Israel. “‘They are Your people, even Your inheritance'” (:29). “‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance'” (32:9).

God’s plan began long ago since “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Gal 3:8). This understanding “in other generations was not made known to the sons of men” (Eph 3:5). “For ages [it] has been hidden in God who created all things” (:9). “He predestined us . . . according to the kind intention of His will” (1:5) and made it “known to us . . . according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him” (:9). It is the “manifold wisdom of God . . . in accordance with the eternal purpose” (3:10-11). It is an all-encompassing plan. It is a “view to the redemption of God’s own possession” (1:14) “to bring to light what is the administration” (3:9) “suitable to the fullness of the times” (1:10). “Since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions . . . those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). God has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (Col 1:12). It is an “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph 5:5). “The reward of the inheritance . . . is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:24). This conforms with God telling Abraham, “‘I am thy exceeding great reward'” (Ge 15:1 KJV). It results in “that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).

Gift of Faith

When you inherit something it is passed down from an ancestor and you have legal right to possess it. Terah took his family from Ur “to enter the land of Canaan” (Ge 11:31). After he died “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country . . . to the land which I will show you'” (12:1). He also said, “‘I will make you a great nation'” (:2). “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance” (Heb 11:8). Then he was told, “‘Your reward will be very great'” (Ge 15:1). But he didn’t see how it was possible because his only heir was his head servant (:2). God replied, “‘One who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir'” (:4). Then God directed him, “‘Count the stars, if you are able to count them . . . so shall your descendents be'” (5). Consequently Abram “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (:6). “God has granted [the inheritance] to Abraham by means of a promise” (Gal 3:18). God said “‘I have made you the father of a multitude of nations'” (Ge 17:5) which took the form of a covenant. God said, “‘This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male shall be circumcised'” (:10). It was a “sign of the covenant” (:11), and without it, a person “‘has broken My covenant'” (:14). God then said, “‘I will give you and your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God'” (:8).

In order to accomplish this it would have to be a miracle, but that would prove that only God could do it. When the “Lord appeared to Abram” (Ge 17:1) he said, “‘Indeed I will give you a son by her . . . and she shall be a mother of nations'” (:16). “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive . . . since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11). God told Abram, “‘You shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him'” (Ge 17:19). Furthermore, God said, “‘I have chosen him . . . in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him'” (18:19). They sang, “‘Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, . . . Thy dwelling'” (Ex 15:17). This was Mount Zion in the Promised Land where the temple was later built. Joshua was told by Moses, “‘Go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance'” (Dt 31:7).

Hope of Faith

An idiom is an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from its words. “Pie in the sky” is such a phrase. You know what it means only from experiences having heard it used in certain contexts. It means that an idea or plan is so unrealistic or impractical that it will never materialize. It is an empty promise or impossible dream. Such a person has his “head in the clouds” meaning that he is a dreamer and out of touch with reality. The empty wish is “pie in the sky” meaning that it won’t come to pass. There’s a phrase criticizing a religious idealist who is “so heavenly preoccupied that he’s no earthly good.” In 1911 a labor organizer named Joe Hill wrote the phrase about pie in a song criticizing the Salvation Army song “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” He was critical of preaching which contained promises of future rewards but did little to alleviate suffering in this life. He wrote, “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” But “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). It is not false hope as in the idiom above. But there is a caveat. Proverbs 13:12 says “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When you become depressed it’s possible to lose faith if your expectation vanishes. Nonetheless, “‘Though He slay me, I will hope in Him'” (Job 13:15). Don’t assume you must accomplish something unilaterally as Israel “presumed to go up to the hill country” (Nu 14:44) and their enemies defeated them. Sari assumed that “the Lord has prevented me from bearing children” (Ge 16:6) and it resulted in Ishmael being born (:15). At the right time the Lord said “Sarah your wife shall have a son” (18:10) even though she was “past childbearing” (:11). Therefore cast “all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1Pe 5:7). Moses’ solution is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul . . . [and] follow the Lord your God and fear Him . . . [and] listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Dt 13:3-4). It is “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zec 4:6).

Power of Faith

Faith has different applications. Christians believe in “the” faith which is professing “by” faith what Christ accomplished on the cross through “having” faith in the power of God who brought it to pass. It is because of faith that God “has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col 1:12). It motivated Paul to “press on toward the upward call of God” (Php 3:14). It is an upward direction because God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). This is “at His right hand in the heavenly places” (1:20). We are “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). “As He is, so are we in this world” (1Jn 4:17). Jesus said, “‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world'” (Jn 17:14). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Php 3:20). But if heaven and earth are mutually exclusive then how can you be in two places at once? You have a heavenly “position” while in an earthly existence. However, the latter can be upgraded. It is Christ “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to himself” (:21).

“To the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (Dt 10:14). “It pleased the Father . . . to reconcile all things to himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:19). His purpose is “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph 1:10). It is “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph 3:15). “God highly exalted Him” (Php 2:9) “far above the heavens . . . to fill all things” (Eph 4:10) “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Php 2:10). You have a position in heaven even though you live on earth. God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). There is even the responsibility to disseminate “the manifold wisdom of God . . . through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). But you must “put on the full armor of God . . . [because] our struggle is . . . against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). Take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (:16). Therefore, since “you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:1-2).

Example of Faith

Moses recounted saying, “‘You were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God'” (Dt 1:26). They “gathered together against” (Nu 14:35) and grumbled against (:27) God. They “turned back from following” (:43), did not listen to his voice (:22), and spurned (:11) God. “The Lord said to Moses,. . . ‘How long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?'” (13:11). God said “‘they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways'” (Ps 95:10). Moses said, “‘You did not trust the Lord your God'” (Dt 1:32).

Joshua and Caleb were optimistic. Caleb said “‘we will certainly overcome it'” (Nu 13:30) because “‘the Lord is with us'” (14:9). He said that God “‘will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes'” (Dt 1:30). God said, “‘My servant Caleb . . . has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully'” (Nu 14:24). Caleb said “‘do not fear'” (:9), but the people said, “‘Our brethren have made our hearts melt'” (Dt 1:28). They did not know God “and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us . . . [he will] deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us'” (:27). But Moses knew better saying, “‘the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you'” (4:31).

Jesus encountered the same problem. The religious authorities observed, “‘This man is performing many signs. If we let him go like this, all men will believe in Him'” (Jn 11:47-48). Jesus tried to deal with their unbelief saying, “‘But if I do them, though you do not believe in Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father'” (10:38). “Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (12:37). Jesus asked, “‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'” (Lk 18:8). Israel “failed to enter [the Promised Land] because of disobedience” (Heb 4:6). “The word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (:2). “They were not able to enter because of unbelief” (3:18). Therefore “let us hold fast our confession” (4:14) because “we who have believed enter that rest” (:3).

Source of Faith

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Ro 10:17). Is the Old Testament less relevant than the New Covenant? When you consider that what happened to Israel was “written for our instruction” (1Co 10:11) it is applicable. We are no different than them. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas 5:17). They had to follow God themselves and God doesn’t change (Mal 3:6). “They were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1Co 10:4).

God led Israel “performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years” (Ac 7:36). “He led them with the cloud by day, and all the night with a light of fire” (Ps 78:14). The Lord said, “‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth'” (Dt 4:10). Moses said, “‘You, O Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them'” (Nu 14:14). Later he said, “‘Has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?'” (Dt 4:32-33). “‘To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; that there is no other besides Him'” (:35).

Therefore, when we read this we, too, can comprehend. It provides the faith we need. “‘Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life'” (Dt 4:9).

Heart Believes

“With the heart a person believes” (Ro 10:10) which is the “inner man” (Eph 3:16). Man is composed of “spirit and soul and body” (1Th 5:23). “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground” (Ge 2:7) which is the body. The brain is a physical organ and we make decisions with our intellect. But you “believe in your heart” (Ro 10:9) which is from another capacity. That source is from when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Ge 2:7). Job said the “‘Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life'” (Job 33:4). You could limit God’s creation if you only considered Solomon saying “they all have the same breath” (Ecc 3:19) or Isaiah stating, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils” (Isa 2:22). But a distinction is made by Solomon saying, “Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” (Ecc 3:22). He says “man goes to his eternal home” (12:5) and “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (:7). Zechariah states that it is the Lord who “forms the spirit of man within him” (Zec 12:1). He is the “Father of spirits” (Heb 12:9). Moses referred to the Lord as “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num 27:16). Jesus “became a life-giving spirit” (1Co 15:45) and “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (Jn 20:22). Therefore be careful of an “unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Heb 3:12).

Receive Faith

Abraham was “fully assured” (Ro 4:21) of what God had promised. He attained “the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery” (Col 2:2). How is knowledge received? Paul prayed for people asking “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). He prayed that God would “give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17). It is received by the spirit. Paul prayed that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (:18). God “gave us the Spirit in our hearts” (2Co 1:22). He asked for them “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:16-17). When “increasing in the knowledge of God [you are] strengthened with all power” (Col 1:10). You learn “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:19). You “abound still more and more in real knowledge and in all discernment” (Php 1:9) “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). The result is that you “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (3:10). You begin “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . . [and are] filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). You attain “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man” (4:13). You endeavor to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Php 3:10).