Faith and Action Part 1

When we reflect on our faith, in the evangelical world (of which I am a part) one of the tenets of our faith is generally an adherence to biblical inerrancy (a position Catholicism also holds), along with a statement that our faith and practice are guided by scripture. Here are two typical examples. The first from the North American Baptist statement of beliefs and the second from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

We believe the Bible is God’s Word given by divine inspiration, the record of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (II Timothy 3:16).  It is trustworthy, sufficient, without error – the supreme authority and guide for all doctrine and conduct (I Peter 1:23-25; John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16-17).  It is the truth by which God brings people into a saving relationship with Himself and leads them to Christian maturity (John 20:31; I John 5:9-12; Matthew 4:4; I Peter 2:2).

The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the written revelation of God’s character and saving purposes for humanity and for all creation. (Ps. 119; John 20:30-31; Rom. 15:4). As God’s revelation, the entire Bible is true and trustworthy, and is the final and absolute authority for belief and conduct. (2Tim 3:16-17; Heb 4:12). The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible enables its interpretation and application. (2Pet. 1:20-21; John 16:13; 1Cor. 2:12-13).

My experience over the years is that most of us don’t really examine what this means in our day to day lives. Thus, we shall begin that examination process. First, we will look at what the concept of inerrancy means along with the idea the scriptures are the authority for our belief and conduct. One is anchored in the other.

            Inerrancy does not mean that there are zero errors in our present scriptural text. The idea of inerrancy points to the original manuscripts being without error and God communicating what He wanted to communicate to us via scripture. However, even knowing that our present text is not inerrant need not be a major concern. The reason being that with both the Old and New Testaments, no major doctrine related to salvation is challenged or threatened by the differences we have in the text. One of the reasons I like the New King James Version is that it captures the textual differences in notes throughout both testaments. Most of the differences are in the New Testament (NT) text. For example, the longer ending of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, the longer ending of Mark 16 and the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7-8. There are three main textual streams in the Greek manuscripts of the NT and we have over 5,000 copies of the NT in Greek.

It is important to point out that in the three streams and numerous manuscripts they are in complete agreement regarding the vast majority of the NT. Critics like to focus on the differences but as I noted earlier, they repudiate no major doctrine. There is a whole area of study referred to as textual criticism that focuses on looking at timelines, locations of writing and patterns of scribal errors in seeking to present the most accurate manuscript. I have done some research out of my own interest, yet in terms of action regarding our faith we do best when we focus on what is referred to as the ‘main and plain.’

The idea of the ‘main and plain’ is that for the most part the instructions in scripture are clear. Here are some examples.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1–3 (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:8–10 (NKJV)

There are no disputes about the accuracy of the verses above, or as previously noted, almost all the NT. Thus we can confidently live in these truths and leave the differences in other areas to the scholars to sort through as we walk with Jesus trusting what He has communicated through His word.

            In my next post I will look at some of the difficult texts like how to apply removing an offensive eye, the importance of context, and the different types of literature that make up the scriptures.

New Book

I have published another book on Kindle. See the link below. I first wrote this in 2018 as a teaching manual for a small group I was leading. I have gone through and reedited the entire book, rewritten parts and added some examples. As per the title, it covers practical areas related to hearing His voice. I include identity, the ways He speaks and a significant amount on the need for, and practice of, discernment.

Passing Tests

I have long held to the belief that character isn’t formed in crisis, it is revealed. My qualifier is that difficulties and crises are not the same thing. There is a twofold process, the way we respond to difficulties, and daily life in general, forms and shapes us. The way we have been shaped is what will be revealed in a crisis.

            When we are born again, the most important choice in our life, the Spirit begins a process that requires our cooperation. The Spirit works to form Jesus’ character in us (Galatians 4:19, 5:22-23), a process that requires our active cooperation. When we step from time into eternity and appear before the judgement seat, we will all give an account for how we have responded to His shaping. We will all have failures; however, I think the main thing He will be looking for at that time is how much of Jesus was revealed in and through us in our earthly life. This process is outlined in both 1 and 2 Peter.  

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22–25 (NKJV)

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5–11 (NKJV)

            The quotes above are lengthy and to have a fuller grasp of the context in 2 Peter I recommend reading all of chapter 1. That aside, we can see in 1 Peter that the way we grow is by walking in obedience to the Spirit, responding rightly in the little things. In 2 Peter we are exhorted to be diligent to see these godly character traits growing in our lives. The growth comes about through our active engagement with the Spirt, daily drawing on His grace and trusting that He will enable us to do what Paul wrote, walk, keep in step with the Spirit.

            An important note here, the Spirit generally works to form Christ in us through our interactions with others. If we pay attention, we will find that we have numerous opportunities every day to reveal Jesus in our responses to those around us, even if they can’t hear us and we are driving in rush hour traffic! I have had many opportunities while driving to have Jesus’ character both formed and revealed in me. I am sure you had yours. At times Jesus has been revealed, other times I have had the opportunity to instantly repent over my thoughts or deeds.

            While I have not always had the right response, I have had enough of them to see Jesus revealed. Very recently I was turning left onto a busy road. I was at the front of the line and the light turned green, I began pulling out and as I was crossing the second lane, peripherally I saw a large pickup coming at high speed through the red light, I instantly stopped. My heart response was not to be angry at the other driver but to be thankful to the Spirit for alerting me and likely saving my life and that of the other driver.      

            Another example happened decades ago. We were driving home from church after the Sunday service and something had not gone well nor according to my expectations (I was the pastor). I don’t remember what I was lamenting, I do remember my wife’s words very clearly, “You always give up.” Was that ever encouraging! Okay, not so much. Was it true? Not fully, I didn’t always give up, yet I had a habit of ‘giving up’ or withdrawing from difficult situations rather than pushing through. My wife’s comment hit home, partly because it was shared as an observation not a judgment, and because I looked to the Spirit to respond it shifted something inside of me. Rather than taking offense I reflected on what she said. I made a decision to respond differently that created growth and the further revealing of Jesus in me.

I share these examples to illustrate a process. I am confident that in every decision I have made and every interaction I have each day, that Jesus will not be revealed. I am also confident that because I have developed a habit of submitting to His leading that in most of my interactions each day, Jesus will be revealed. Developing a habit in the little moments creates a character that will be manifest in the big moments. We all have numerous opportunities each day to cooperate with the growth opportunities He provides so that we can look forward to what Peter wrote, having an ‘abundant entrance’ into eternity.

10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:11 (NKJV)

The Role of Repetition

            Do you hear God calling your name? Are you up for a challenge? The latter is a question often used when difficulties lie ahead. In scripture there are number of examples where someone is not only called, their name is repeated.

11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” Genesis 22:11 (NKJV)

2 Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” And he said, “Here I am.” Genesis 46:2 (NKJV)

4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Exodus 3:4 (NKJV)

10 Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10 (NKJV)

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Luke 10:41 (NKJV)

31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. Luke 22:31 (NKJV)

4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Acts 9:4 (NKJV)

In the case of Abraham, in obedience to a previous call he is about to sacrifice his son Isaac, trusting the Lord to raise Isaac back to life. The Father stops Abraham and expresses His pleasure at Abrahams faith and obedience. In the case of Jacob, the Father is reassuring him it is okay to take his family to Egypt and that he will in fact see his long lost son Joseph there. In the case of Moses, he is about to be given an overwhelming task, leading a nation out from under bondage to another nation, then leading them into the wilderness to learn to worship.

            With Samuel, the call is to a ministry that will judge a nation and anoint kings. With Martha, Jesus is correcting her and pointing her away from her agenda to His. With Simon (Peter) Jesus is seeking to prepare him for the most significant challenge of his life to that point. With Saul (Paul) his rebellion against the Lord is being confronted in preparation for a ministry that will shake the then known world.

We see a pattern in the repetition, generally it is preparation for a challenge that is coming. In each case it signals a need for preparation, change, or both. Each of the individuals above responded with varying degrees of faithfulness. While we may not be called to anoint kings or shake nations, we are called to follow Jesus and hear His voice. As we hear Him calling us, I pray we are up to the challenge and respond with faithfulness.

NOTE the link below is to a just released podcast where I am interviewed about my Worldview book.

Choose You this Day

You may be familiar with Joshua’s famous speech addressing the nation of Israel and challenging them to choose, choose that day who they would serve, Yahweh or the gods of the surrounding culture (Joshua 23-24, main verses 24:16-18). That day the people chose Yahweh. Chronologically the book of Judges follows the events of Joshua where we see the people of Israel vacillating back and forth between that choice and the gods of the surrounding cultures. In 1 Samuel we come to a key turning point in the following statement. The context is the leaders of Israel asking for a king like the nations/cultures around them.

7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day – with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods – so they are doing to you also.” 1 Samuel 8:7–8 (NKJV)

            In reading this we do well to ask ourselves how asking for a king is connected to rejecting Yahweh and serving other gods. The answer comes in understanding something about the surrounding Ancient Near East (ANE) culture and how their kings were seen. If we go back to Pharoah, he was considered a god. If we go forward to Caesar, he was considered a god. This was the culture of the area, kings were god-men representing divinity on earth. Some of the gods of the surrounding ANE culture were Baal, Ashtoreth, Dagon and Molok. This god-king motif is also seen in the prophetic passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel rebuking Satan.

In Isaiah 14:4-14 we have Isaiah prophesying doom for the king of Babylon, shifting to a description of how Lucifer/Satan fell, and then returning to the king of Babylon. The characters were intertwined and the spiritual being was seen as the power behind the king. In Ezekiel 28:1-19 we see the same thing. The king of Tyre sees himself as a god and Ezekiel rebukes and denounces his arrogance, then in verse 12 turns to denouncing the anointed cherub (Satan) who dwelt before Yahweh’s throne in the garden on the holy mountain.  

Now back to Samuel. In essence when the elders of Israel came to Samuel asking that they have a king like the surrounding nations the people were saying Yahweh, we can’t see you so we reject you, we want a king to be/represent our god, we want a visible god. We may think this is merely interesting ANE history, yet there is an application for our lives. In their expressed desires the people were trying to serve two masters, the king god-man and Yahweh. They didn’t trust the One they could not see so were seeking a physical embodiment of Yahweh through the king.

In our culture we may not see spiritual or political leaders as an embodiment of God, yet we need to ask what we are actually serving and what takes priority in our lives. If we are looking for a certain leader or authority to rise up and make things better our heart may have shifted. As per the verses below we are called to pray for our communities and for civic and national leaders and seek to influence them toward righteousness. We are called to trust Yahweh.  

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)

7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)

1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 1 Timothy 2:1–2 (NKJV)