49. Faith for Eternity

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 49.  Faith For Eternity

Titus 1:2   a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,

I suspect that if we are honest, the truth is that most of us do not, on a day by day basis, ponder on the reality of eternity, or of eternal life. It tends to be older people with their aches and pains and even life-threatening disabilities who find themselves wondering about a better world free from pain and suffering. For the rest of us (as I said, if we are honest) we get taken up with just coping with the material world in which we have lived for so long and which is so familiar. In fact it may be the fact that we do not have a very clear picture about that life in eternity that means we speculate about it only a little.

“Before the beginning of time.”: Yes, this is the truth, that before God even started creating this world, He looked into the future, saw Sin and saw what needed to be done to redeem us, and finally saw the wonder of an eternity filled with redeemed beings, those who have been through this world, lived in sin, came to the end of themselves and when confronted with that which Jesus the Son would do at a specific point in time-space history, would turn to Him and receive all His love and goodness with the end game being living with Him in heaven in eternity. All of that God saw before He decided to make this world that would be perfect to start with, yet soon marred by Sin and the only reason He continued with it was because of what He saw could be achieved by the end, a redeemed people with Him there in eternity.   Have you ever seen this before?  You have been designed for eternity!

As Paul said to Titus, his calling was to bring faith to those God knew from the beginning would turn to Him, His ‘elect’. It is a case of faith responding to knowledge – the news of the Gospel that opens up salvation to us, and the possibility of lives revealing godliness, and just in case we think this was God’s list ditch stand, Paul reminds us of that which we have just been considering – that it was all part of God’s plan formulated before He created anything. This all comes to light when we hear the preaching of the Gospel and that knowledge stimulates faith which ends up bringing us into God’s kingdom now on this earth and in eternity with Him in heaven. Let’s just see those verses again but in their completeness: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,” (Titus 1:1-3)

Yesterday we finished with some words from 1 Peter. We focused on the fact that Peter spoke about us at the present having to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1Pet 1:6) but let’s finish by looking at the words that went before that: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet 1:3-5)  Note how much of this has a future element to it: “living hope” and “an inheritance” and “kept in heaven” and “until the coming” and “to be revealed in the last time.”  All of that points forward. We have a hope of something yet to come which has been revealed to us when we have been born again through the new birth, confirmed by the resurrection of Jesus, a future inheritance waiting for us in heaven for all of us faith people that will be revealed to everyone in the last time.

Talk to your unsaved neighbour about this and it will appear pie in the sky to them, an unreality on the same plane as fairy tales but one day the reality will strike home – this world wasn’t all there is. Have you ever seen the film ‘Men in Black’ where we are eventually shown an entire tiny, tiny universe in a small glass ball around the neck of a cat – and then we are left wondering if this world that we inhabit is yet just another tiny existence inside another larger but still tiny ball. The writers of that film were wondering about the existence of reality and that leaves us wondering, I wonder if this present existence is like that first tiny universe in a glass ball in comparison to heaven, and on comparison to eternity?

The Bible keep on giving us hints about what is yet to come and the doorway to that future eternity is Jesus Christ (who did actually say “I am the door”). We may not have many insights about what it will be like, but we have sufficient to say there is another very real world, more real than this one even. As we suggested earlier the presence of this material world is so strong that that is so often all we can see. To believe in this future is an act of faith. Remember we considered the truth that faith can be strong or weak and that we can do things to strengthen it. As we read our Bibles, as we pray and worship, we will constantly be reminded of this greater reality to which we are coming closer day by day, and be reminded that this isn’t all there is. This should enable us to hold this present existence lightly and when loved ones pass out of this existence and into the next, we can be glad for them even if we mourn their loss. May the reality of the next world grow stronger and stronger in us day by day.

Well, we have come to the end of this series on focusing faith and I hope it will have left something substantial with you. Dare I even suggest you go back through the series and reread five a day, for it is, I believe one of the most significant that I have ever written.  I intend to go back though it and let it impact my life more and more for we are called to be a people of faith, and faith, we have seen can grow stronger. May it be so.

48. How Faith Sanctifies

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 48.  How Faith Sanctifies 

Acts 26:17,18    I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

As we start to draw near to the end of this series we come to this word ‘sanctify’ which is rarely encountered in ordinary everyday life. We have touched on it previously but we now focus on it in our logical progression of following through from justification, considering righteousness and now the outworking of our salvation in the period between today and the day we pass on from this experience to go to heaven.

Let’s save time and define it from the outset. Sanctification is all about being separated off to God by being different, given over to Him. To sanctify someone means to set them apart by being different. As with many of these things it has a past, present and future application, and although our focus here will be different, we invite you to do your own study in Scripture on this in your own time.

First, we were sanctified when we were born again; we were made holy by the presence of the Holy Spirit coming into us, we were set part to God, different from the rest of sinful mankind. Yes it was that wonderful. We were forgiven, cleansed, adopted and empowered.

Second, we are being sanctified as we live out our lives and in many ways this is the one we need to give most thought to here because it is all about how we live out our lives being separated to God, and we will shortly consider the faith dimension.

Third, we will be utterly sanctified when we pass into heaven and into eternity and we will consider this in the last of these studies.

So let’s look at our starting verses above: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17,18)  These were Jesus’ words to Paul on the road to Damascus, the ministry to which he was calling Paul. It was to call people to turn from one life to another, from a life in darkness with Satan, to the kingdom of God where they would receive forgiveness of sins because of what Jesus had done on the Cross, a people set apart to God by faith.

A word from Habakkuk appears more than once in the New Testament: my righteous one will live by faith.” (Heb 10:38) It means we will receive that life by faith and we will live that life by faith. This life of sanctification and this process of sanctification are both received by faith. As we have seen before, it is when we hear God’s word to this effect and respond positively to it.  That is faith. Faith starts us off and faith keeps us going.

But we have also seen that faith involves doing and so in a number of places in the New Testament we find instructions to be living in a particular way, and in each case it is a call to be sanctified and a call to be worked out by faith, For example, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Pet 5:8,9) It is a call to resist Satan’s wiles, his temptations and to remain pure. We play a part in the sanctification process as we exercise our will to DO what is right and reject what is wrong.

Paul also used this language in his teaching: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;” (1 Thess 4:3-5) Notice again that in both these examples, the call to us is to be self-controlled, or to take control against Satan and against sin. That is the part we play in it.

Paul continued on, “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life,” (1 Thess 4:7) which sums up the life goals we now have or, to put it another way, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” (Titus 1:1) This sanctified life leads to godliness, becoming more God-like or more Christ-like (see 2 Cor 3:20). This is our calling, to be different, to be godly, to be different from the world and their abandoning of values. Instead we hold to God’s values.

Now Peter recognized that these lives were not always easy: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Pet 1:6) i.e. we live in a Fallen World where things go wrong, people are nasty, and so on. But this doesn’t mean we just give up when it gets hard. Yes, there will be times when we are tired and weary and feel like giving up. There will be times when the enemy, in the form of Satan, his minions or other people, comes against us and seeks to sow fear or discouragement These are the tough times of life – and they are as real for the Christian as they are for anyone else – but, says Peter, “These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:7)

These testing times are allowed by the Lord as part of that sanctification process and as we respond positively to them our faith will be revealed and be shown to be genuine and it will bring glory to Jesus, especially when he comes back and is revealed and all the angels will praise and worship him for what he has achieved through us.  But Peter recognizes that that has not happened yet and so he adds, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”  (1 Pet 1:8)  There, we have gone the first circle – we’re back to believing in Jesus, even when we can’t see him and we live accordingly, and that is faith. And so he continues, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:9) And so the wheel continues, so to speak, our faith brings the reality of our salvation and we are being changed more and more into the likeness of Jesus, and this is sanctification, a process that will continue as long as we live on this earth. Then it will be complete as we see him face to face. Hallelujah!

47. Faith opens the door to Grace

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 47.  Faith Opens the Door to Grace

Rom 5:1,2 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Rom 5:1,2)

Let’s take some short cuts and try defining grace from the outset. You may have heard the Sunday School acronym,  GRACE = God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense or to put it another way, all of God resources that are available to us through what Christ achieved for us on the Cross. Put even another way, it is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us who provides us with all we need to live out the Christ-like and Christ-directed life. Put like that we can see just how important grace is in the life of the Christian.

Indeed when we examine the Scriptures we see it is all over the place. First of all, when we consider Jesus’ himself, it was even there: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Lk 2:40) Now some say that grace is God’s favour, and that is true, even though I don’t think it says enough, but it was certainly true of Jesus. Indeed it would appear that in Jesus there was no limitation on this grace because, referring to his ministry, the apostle John wrote, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (Jn 1:16) i.e. blessing after blessing came from Jesus, from that unlimited grace within him, the Son of God.

But second, when it comes to our salvation, our coming to Christ, the believers were referred to as, “those who by grace had believed.” (Acts 18:27) suggesting that is only with God’s help and God’s resources that we actually come to believe. Indeed the very Gospel is referred to as “the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24) because that is ultimately what it is all about, God bringing us to a position where we can receive all of His goodness that He wants to share with us. We didn’t emphasize it earlier but the truth is that God’s grace is a pure gift, there is nothing we can do to earn it. Indeed the very act of justifying us that we considered previously was an act of grace, for justification is just one part of God’s resources available to us:  “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:23,24) As the Message version puts that, “God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Yes, it was all a work of God.

But then third, once we come to Christ there is just as much a need of His grace for daily Christian living. So often the apostle Paul would recognise this need: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7) and it is grace that enables us to have faith: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” (Rom 4:16) Receiving the fruit if all God’s promises for us, is what Christian life is all about, which brings us to our starting verse again, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Rom 5:1,2) Faith, we said, opens the doorway into the life of grace.

But, fourth, it is more than that, it is grace for service: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6) and “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.” (1 Cor 1:4,5) The gifts we have, the knowledge we have, the abilities we may have to speak, are all gifts of grace, freely given by God and not earned.  Indeed, says Paul, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) i.e. whatever God gives you to do, He will also provide the resources to do it.

Now let’s draw these four threads together. What is it that unites them? Faith.  All four have to be appropriated by faith. We saw in an earlier study that by faith we believe in Jesus, but here we have seen that he is THE resource provider and in him there is limitless supply. Faith flows when we accept this truth and turn to him to provide for us all we need.

Second, we spoke of grace in the coming of our salvation. To receive this free gift of God we have to accept the simple truths that we have seen previously about what Christ has done for us and what he has achieved for us, and how it now applies to us.

Third we spoke of grace being the resource we need to live out our ordinary everyday lives, revealing and exhibiting the love and goodness of God. For that to happen the grace of God has to be received on a daily basis, we need to turn to him and declare our dependence on him daily, and that is an act of faith.

Finally we spoke of grace for service and the same thing applies here. Daily we need to reiterate our complete reliance upon him to do the things he calls us to, and that is an act of faith. Everywhere faith and grace are linked together. Grace is God’s provision, and faith is the way we receive it. Hallelujah!

46. How faith makes righteous

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 46.  How Faith makes Righteous

Rom 3:23    This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

In the previous study we considered such terms as “a sacrifice of atonement”, and ‘justice’ and ‘justify’, and we concluded thinking about how it was important to hold a ‘good conscience’. Now at the beginning of Romans Paul says, “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom 1:17) and so following through on these ‘religious terms’ or terms that appear in the Bible but rarely elsewhere, we would do well to pick up on this word ‘righteous’.

We find it first of all in respect of Abram: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6)  So believing AND obeying God, because obedience was part of that incident, is a basic definition of righteousness. As Paul later expressed it, referring to Abram, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:21,22) That produced in Abram the intent to try for a baby. That was faith but it started from  the moment he heard the words and believed them.

Moses later put that obedience in the context of the Law: “if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut 6:25) God had given them His Law and so obeying that Law would be righteousness.

Now we need to look more deeply at this for the Bible tells us that, “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.” (Isa 5:16) i.e. God’s righteousness is one of the things that makes Him holy – utterly different. So how can God obey Himself? God instinctively does what He knows is right. Everything God has designed – this world as it was originally before Sin entered it – is perfect because it is instinctively right. It is instinctively right because God knows everything – He is all-knowing and all-wise, He knows how everything works best and that is how He designed this world, including us.

But then we find this same thing being referred to in the ‘Coming One’, the Messiah, as the psalmist speaks of him prophetically:  “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psa 45:7) Jesus loves what is right, because it comes from his Father and everything the Father thinks, says or does is right.  Because we live in a sinful world, the acts of the Father are sometimes acts of judgement – but they are always right!  “When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD.” (Isa 26:9,10) Judgements, I suggest, are either disciplinary (to bring about change) or terminal (to bring an end to wrong that will not happen otherwise).  Isaiah has this insight that when discipline comes, people learn, but where there is a set, sinful heart, people will not be moved, even by God’s grace.

To summarize, therefore, righteousness is the right way of doing something, right in God’s eyes, conforming to His perfect will. We’ve seen it above as obeying God’s revelation. For Jesus, even maintaining a right appearance was important: “Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15) i.e. let’s ensure we maintain every appearance of what is right before the Father, doing His will.

Now there are dangers in talking about righteous behaviour because some people will think that it is righteous behaviour, what they see as acts of good, that will win God’s approval. The trouble is that no human being is every truly righteous if we equate it with good acts. Even Moses had to say this to Israel: “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut 9:26) In the New Testament the apostle Paul taught, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom 3:22) The righteousness that God is looking for is founded in faith, in responding to what God has said, not in what you think is right and when that comes to Jesus, that means ‘believing in him’ as we have seen before.

That is the basic faith we are called to. When we come to Christ, believing in him, we are justified AND declared righteous. It is a righteousness that comes first through belief and then that belief leads to action. Both are different dimensions of faith. God declares us righteous because we believe in Jesus, and then we act on that belief. Actions FOLLOW belief, but we were declared righteous before we started doing anything. You ARE righteous because you believe in Jesus. Let your actions come out of that belief. That is faith and then faith!

45. How Faith Justifies

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 45.  How Faith Justifies  

Rom 3:25,26    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

The thing about the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is that it uses words that we rarely encounter anywhere else in life and so we have to spend some time defining those words and seeing how they are used. We’ve been doing that for a number of weeks with the word ‘faith’. The two verses above are laden with words that need defining and once we see what some of them mean, we will see how they are related to faith.  The first is a phrase, “a sacrifice of atonement”  When you atone for something you make up for it. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, the Israelites offered offerings, animal sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their sin and their repentance. As they offered it, they placed their hand on the head of the animal being sacrificed as a way of showing they identified with it and that it would be taking their punishment. As they saw it die in front of them, the severity of sin and a life having to be given for it, made it very real.

The Living Bible says of verse 25,  For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us.”  That sums it up. The Bible says that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed in his death on the Cross, to be the one who stood in our place and took our sin. This is at the very heart of our belief system, the very reason why we can be saved. Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet? Yes, but they have to appropriate it for themselves. It has no effect until we, individually take it as the means of our personal salvation – and that is an act of faith.

Now in those verses above, Twice Paul says God did this to demonstrate his justice. Now ‘justice’ is all about putting things right. If a wrong has been committed, it needs putting right. Children say, “It’s not fair” appealing to (in their minds at least) a universal agreement that there is right and wrong, good and bad, fairness and unfairness. If a brother, say, has done wrong against them they look to the parent to punish the other. If a toy has been taken, they expect it to be given back. Justice brings a balance and harmony whereby onlookers afterwards say, ‘yes, that is fair.’

So the first time Paul says it, he says, He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”  In other words, people before Christ appeared to ‘get away with it’ and so Christ’s death dealt with all those sins committed before him where people had said sorry but there was no punishment given. Justice would say, ‘that was unfair, those Old Testament people getting away with it. Someone ought to have taken their punishment. But then he adds a second instance: “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) Whenever was ‘the present time’ it should be seen that God was not letting sinners get away with it. Someone should be punished for all this wrongdoing that goes on. The only one ‘big enough’ was the Son of God. That, whether we understand it or not, is what the Bible declares and requires every ‘believer’ to accept to be a Christian. It is the only reason why God can forgive you and me. To believe this and to live according to this is faith.

But there is a word we haven’t yet considered and it is one that has very practical outworkings – ‘justify’.  When we ‘justify our actions’ we try to explain why they were the right ones.  When we justify a course of action we seek to show why it was the right one. At the end of the last world war, the Western authorities, the ‘Allies’, justified why it was right to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan to bring an end to a war that might have just dragged on and one. That argument ‘made it right’ to drop them killing so many. So when Paul says, “the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” he means, “Jesus, the one who puts right in God’s eyes all of those who have faith in Jesus.”

We’ve considered it before but let’s just remind ourselves, “those who have faith in Jesus,” simply means those who trust that Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of their sins, their guilt and their punishment. Now there is another side to this coin that we’ll consider in the next meditation but for the moment let’s consider how we may rest in this knowledge that we have observed so far in this particular study.

Writing to Timothy, Paul refers to “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Tim 1:19) and later on when speaking about deacons he says “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9) Similarly the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (Heb 10:22,23). Now the idea that is being conveyed through all these verses is that as we hold on to the truths that we have been considering, we hold to them by faith and when we “hold unswervingly” to them they will ensure we maintain a clear conscience before God.

Now I say all this because so often Christians lack assurance and that lack means they worry about their relationship with God, worry about whether they are truly accepted by God and worry about the sins they have committed and worry about that Sin thing that still lurks in the background. You will lack assurance if you do not hold firmly to those verses and the truths we have been considering here. You ARE forgiven and your guilt HAS been fully dealt with because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Every single sin you ever committed or are likely to commit is covered by his death on the Cross. The Judge has made the final declaration over you when you turned to Christ and put your trust in him – not guilty! Your guilt has been removed. This justification thing is about completely clearing you of all guilt, NOT because somehow you have made up for your past wrongs but simply because the Son of God has been punished for them and as far as justice is concerned, they have been adequately dealt with in the eyes of the law.

If we hadn’t decided to start considering faith by working through Hebrews 11, then this perhaps should have been the starting point of everything to do with faith – how faith in what Jesus has done on the Cross is applied to your life and that opens up the way for you to live a life of faith. And that is a good place to stop and pick up again tomorrow.

44. Faith follows Repentance

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 44.  Faith follows repentance

Acts 20:21    I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

We have moved on from the faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, and are now picking up specific issues pertaining to faith. We have seen how you can be weak in faith or strong in faith, how you can have little faith, we have seen how faith opens the way for great things to happen, but we’ve also seen how guilt hinders faith, and we have seen how faith needs to be focused on Jesus and lastly we saw how faith becomes ‘visible’. The thing I often find about doing these studies is that the more you do the more they open up other avenues for consideration, things that are often very obvious.

It is to one of these that we now turn and in many ways it is very obvious except as we ponder on it I believe we are going to see things that are not quite so obvious. Our verse above comes from the apostle Paul speaking about how he has preached the Gospel and for it to ‘work’ there are two aspects of it that must come about. The first is repenting and then the second is having faith in Jesus. Now we recently spent a whole study in considering the second aspect, that of focusing our faith on Jesus. I suspect that few of us when we turn to Christ see it as fully as the fourfold layout I provided there but instead we see Jesus in two ways I did not emphasise there – that he must be both Saviour and Lord.

Let’s just pause up with that for a moment or two. For us to receive and enter into the salvation that God has provided for us we must accept Jesus as Saviour otherwise we won’t even get out of the starting gate, so to speak. The whole point is that we are and were sinners who needed saving. We first needed saving because we were guilty and we deserved punishment. We needed Jesus to be our Saviour who takes our punishment on the Cross. But we also needed saving out of the power of sin and we needed help to get free from that and live new lives, and because Jesus took our guilt and punishment the Father could then impart the Holy Spirit or Spirit of Jesus to indwell us to deliver us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13)

Jesus saves us from destruction into a new life as a child of God, adopted into God’s family but if we are to know how we are to live and what God wants for us in the years of life we have left on this earth, we also need Jesus to be Lord, the one who guides, directs, teaches and directs us. We cannot fully enter into all He has for us unless we submit to and let Jesus lead us into His will for our individual lives.

Now both those two things are, we said, the second aspect of the two things that are necessary for our lives to ‘work’ as we receive the salvation God offers us through Jesus. The first aspect we said was repentance. Now why is that so important?

Well, the thing about repentance is that it is

  • first of all recognising that we have fallen short of God’s standards, and we were godless, having little or no knowledge of Him because we were self-centred,
  • second, that we are helpless to free ourselves from our state, we have no power to change ourselves to become selfless and godly,
  • third, that without help we are hopeless, we have no future beyond what we now know (because we are helpless to set ourselves free) and
  • fourth, only God can set us free
  • fifth, that we recognise this with sorrow so that
  • sixth, we cry out to Him to forgive us and change us, and
  • seventh, throw ourselves on His mercy to do all these things.

Repentance means all of these things and if we have seen or done less than all of these we will not have fully appreciated Jesus as Saviour and Lord, partly because we have not seen the need and partly because we have not been utterly sincere. Put in a nutshell, so to speak, repentance is the doorway to a life of faith because it is relying on God and not my old life.  When there is true conviction and true repentance each one of us will come to God in a measure of desperation; it is a crisis moment when we reject our old life and its self-centered and godless ways and cry out to God for deliverance. When we did that, He steps in, declares us forgiven, declares us adopted as His children, and puts His Holy Spirit within us to be our new power and direction source…. and so it begins!

Yes, that is just be beginning. The apostle Paul, speaking about his ministry said it was “to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom 1:5)  We’ve seen above how making Jesus Lord of your life means submitting to his leadership, i.e. being obedient to all he says, and that is faith and flows from faith. Along the way, there will be time and time again when we recognize that for faith to flow we need to repent – reject the path of godless self-centredness and let go again and let him lead the way. I think it was Mother Basilea Schlink, leader of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in  Germany, who wrote a book, ‘Repentance – The Joy-Filled Life’ which suggests that repentance is an ongoing part of the Christian life. It is what we just said, that rejecting the path of godless self-centredness and turning it all over to Jesus to save us and lead us as ongoing Saviour and Lord –  and that is an ongoing life of faith.

43. Visible Faith

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 43.  Visible Faith

Acts 14:9    He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed

As we start to draw near to the end of this particular series of meditations there is something about faith that I realise we have not touched upon: it is visible. The danger in a series like this is that it just remains theoretical, but faith is a very practical thing. We’ve seen a number of times what it is – responding to God’s word – and we’ve seen how it can vary in different people, some weak in faith over a particular issue, another strong in faith.

We’ve also seen how it can vary in respect of different areas of our lives thus, for instance, we noted that a person can be full of faith in respect of giving or hospitality but not full of faith for healing. Now both of those areas that I’ve just mentioned are visible, practical areas. Even to make sense of the sentence and to understand what I’ve just said, we have to envisage that person giving, or another person ministering healing. Giving and healing are the two outworkings of faith in that instance.

Now it is not only the outworking that is visible, it is the inner belief or assurance of what is hoped for that also becomes almost tangible. Let’s look at the verses that go with our one above: In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” (Acts 14:8-10) How fascinating that Paul looked at this crippled man and saw him listening attentively to what he was preaching and ‘saw’ that this man was taking it all in and was believing it. Faith was rising in this man that said, “Yes, this is true, yes I can go with this,” and that faith opened the door for Paul to command healing. In this first example this inner assurance was discerned by Paul.

Let’s consider a second example. We’ve already seen the same thing when we considered the four men bringing their paralyzed friend on a pallet, through the roof: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Mt 9:2) Now you might say it didn’t need much discernment to see that these four men had faith, but it’s not the point how we see, simply that it is visible to see. In that case it was visible by the acts.

To take a third example, it was clearly very visible to see by the words of the centurion who came to Jesus in Capernaum (see Mt 8:5-10). The very words were words of faith. Faith was revealed through words therefore.  So it can be an inner discernment, outward acts or outward words that reveal or perhaps recognizes this faith.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians he was able to write, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ.” (Col 1:3,4)  Somehow their very lives shone with faith. Now the context there rather suggests that this faith that is being referred to is all about how they responded to the Gospel and are now living out their Christian lives, holding firmly to Christ. Whereas the previous three examples we’ve given were in respect of faith being made visible on specific occasions, this reference seems to suggest a much wider application – faith that is visible, that is faith that permeates the whole life. Now we have made this point earlier in these studies that we may see specific instances of faith but we are called to live lives of faith, lives as we saw in the previous meditation focused on Jesus, but also lives that generally hear and respond to God.

Without wanting in any way to sow seeds of doubt or even guilt or condemnation, may I gently ask, do the people of my church know me as a person of faith?  Is my faith visible? Twice in Acts we have descriptions of men who were clearly men of faith that was visible:  “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 6:5) and speaking of Barnabas, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” (Acts 11:24)  Faith people have a living relationship with the Lord, I would suggest. They spend time in God’s presence (the daily ‘quiet time’) and they hear God and are blessed by God and testify to God and see God in their circumstances.

We may like to think of faith as a quiet characteristic that is just there but the apostle James would disagree with that: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (Jas 2:14-19) No, faith is observable.

When you give in response to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that is faith. When you encourage someone at the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that is faith. When you enquire how someone is and they tell you of their difficult times and you pray over them, that is faith, and when you go a step further and ask them how you can help them, that is faith. When someone shares they are feeling unwell and you pray over them, that is faith. When you are praying for people and you get a picture for someone and go and share it with them, that is faith. When you sense a prompting of the Lord to invite a neighbour round for coffee (or wine and cheese) to share the Lord, that is faith. When they are looking for people to go and help build an orphanage for two weeks and you say yes, that is faith. When you sense the Lord prompting you to go after a new job, that is faith. There are a multitude of ways that faith is expressed and becomes visible.

May we be like the Colossians who could be praised because their faith was obvious to the world. Faith like this communicates Jesus in ways that words do not. We need words and actions but sadly so often our words fall on deaf ears because the heart has not been warmed by faith actions, actions coming with the love of God. May we be people of both words and actions.