13. A People of Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

13.  A People of Faith

Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

Faith? I have a feeling that as we come to this subject we come to the heart of the challenges that I find confront me as a leader and as I let my eyes wander over the congregation of whom I am a part today. But it is also at the heart of what it is to be a true Christian. It is this subject of ‘faith’, and it is vital that we distinguish belief from faith.

Faith & Belief:  Now we must not confuse faith with belief. The apostle James nailed this one. Listen: 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 my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (Jas 2:17-19) We started this particular Part by considering that all Christians are believers (Study 9) but see what James says: (i) Faith has to be accompanied by action.  (ii) Deeds alone are not a substitute. (iii) Belief alone is not adequate. Faith is belief in action.

Belief, the Starting Point: In that previous study no.9 I noted that there has to be a body of belief which led us through into this new life, and we considered believing that Jesus is the unique Son of God who has to be our Lord and Saviour. It is that initial belief that motivates us and which the Holy Spirit uses to convict us so that we come to a point of surrender and repentance. That initial believing and that initial action is what theologians call ‘saving faith’, it is the belief plus action that opens the door for God to come and declare us justified (which we will go on to consider in the next study) and adopted (the subsequent study) and then indwelt by His Spirit. We tend to be a little casual in our language and so we often just call Christians ‘believers’ (as I have done previously) but the reality is that ‘belief’ is just the starting point and the ongoing life is – if there is to be any reality in it – a life of faith. So what does that mean?

Faith comes from hearing: One of our verses above from Romans 10 suggests that, not only is faith belief in action, it is action in response to God. God speaks, we hear and we respond. THAT is faith. Now if you are stuck in unbelief you will say, “But I can’t hear God.” Yes, you can. There are different levels of ‘hearing’. For instance Rom 10:17 that we only partly quoted, goes on, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Where do you find that “word about Christ”? In the Gospels in the New Testament. The apostle Paul declared, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe,” (1 Thess 2:13) and thus put his own speech on the level as that of the prophets of old, and was therefore ‘the word of God’. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” (Heb 13:7) Then of course there are Paul’s famous words, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) If God breathes it, it is His word.

We ‘hear’ when we read the Bible, we hear when we hear a preacher or a prophetic word brought, we ‘hear’ when the Holy Spirit whispers truth into our hearts and minds – but it depends on the state of our heart.  You could listen to a preacher and say, “What rubbish!” despite the fact that he was anointed and spoke with God’s authority. You can open the Bible and randomly read and nothing happens. On the other hand you can feel spiritually hungry and pray, “Lord, please speak to me through your word,” and suddenly it goes alive and you are challenged and transformed. So faith is also a heart response – a right heart response – to what you hear. If you have set in your mind that God doesn’t speak then you won’t hear.

A Personal Story: Relationship with God, which is what faith is all about, can touch our hearts and minds and emotions. I was recently reminded of something that happened to my wife and I many years ago. We belonged to a little evangelical church. We knew little of the life of the Spirit, even less of gifts. One day we heard some news about someone in our family, someone not particularly close and also many miles away. I found myself strangely disturbed by this news and felt in real anguish for them. This feeling carried on and I shared it with my wife and said I had a feeling that I was feeling what God felt for this relative. She responded negatively, “That’s presumptuous, we can’t feel what God feels.” Well we had an ongoing conversation about this that went on and off for the next three days. It was three days later that we attended the church prayer meeting and during the course of it, the pastor’s wife brought this ‘prophecy’. It wasn’t directed so no one else knew it was for us but in it the Lord said very clearly that He had been listening to us and, yes, He had shared His heart with me so that what I had been feeling was from him. It then got scary, because the prophecy went on to literally quote things we had both said in this ongoing three-day conversation, giving point by point answers to what we had both said!  That woman spoke out in faith; we heard it as God speaking by faith. That was relationship, that was communication with God.

Belief then Faith: Consider for a moment the first of our starter verses from above: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Do you see that? Belief in God comes first but it is clear that the writer means a belief that goes into action – seeking God – and that action is faith. Indeed, as Christians, everything we do is supposed to be by faith. My starting point is turning to God. I do that freshly every morning. For me, my personal practice is first thing in my ‘Quiet Listening Time’ to declare my submission to Him and reliance upon Him, for His salvation, His direction and His presence. I present me and my family to Him with thanksgiving. And I listen. That is just my practice. These days I have learnt to have a notebook beside me and I jot down the things that start flowing in my mind. I get guidance for the day or the days ahead. Look at the verse again. Do I hear complaints that “God never rewards me”? Is it because we don’t “earnestly seek him”?

Ready for Return: Finally, let’s pick up that verse we’ve mention before, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I’ve said it before, but I find that a real challenge. The things I wrote about in study no.4, ‘Wondering about Fitness of Purpose’, make me feel we are rushing towards this Doomsday scenario and I wonder how much more the Lord will allow, and I wonder if He will use these things to bring the catastrophes that are spoken about in the book of Revelation. Godless mankind has brought into being – and is in the process of bringing into being – means of self-destruction in ways and magnitude never dreamt of a hundred years ago. Whether it is then, or simply when He calls us home, will He find in us a people of faith? Not a people who live by rules or rituals but a people who live out of a living relationship with the One True God, mediated by His Son who sits at His right-hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and enabled by His Spirit who indwells all true believers. A people of faith? THAT is ‘church’.

Next we will go on to see what happens to us that make us different when we come to God through Christ and are born again.

(Here again at the end of this Part we provide an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

8. Different

(We return to our previous series on the Church)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

8. Different

Matt 16:18   I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Approach: In this second Part we are going to be looking at the things that make a Christian different from a non-Christian, what they believe and what – initially at least – in general terms, they are. The titles within this Part are:

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

In the third Part we will go on to consider the things that the Bible says happens to believers when they become Christians, why and how they change. For now we ask the question, what makes your ‘church’ different from a social club?

Different: Very well, I will start this second Part with this idea (which is really so obvious that it should not need mentioning, but perhaps is not so clear in some minds) that ‘the Church’ is different and distinct from those who are not ‘the Church’. The word has become so confused and abused over the years that to ask any individual, “What do you think ‘the Church’ is?” will evoke a wide range of answers from the building on the corner down the road, to the national institution or even an international institution. The Greek word, ekklesia, (from which of course we get the word ‘ecclesiastical’) used in the original New Testament manuscripts, has the meaning, ‘assembly’ or ‘called out ones’, thus meaning a group of people who have been called by God (e.g. Rom 8:28, 8:30, 9:24, Eph 1:18, 4:4, 2 Thess 2:14 etc.) Buildings, organisations, institutions may demonstrate the existence of this group of people but first and foremost ‘the Church’ is people who have been called by God – as distinct from those who have no such recognizable calling.

I did wonder about trying to have different sections within this second Part, the first one headed ‘Different’ but the more I have thought about it the more I realise that everything about church is about difference from those who are ‘not church’. In the studies that are to follow, I hope we will look at those many things that make us different from the people next door who are not part of ‘church’, who are not Christians. The result of this, hopefully, will be to clarify in our minds our identity, our activities and our goals which are all quite distinct (and for good reasons) from people who are not part of ‘church’. It may sound obvious but it needs saying.

A Lasting & Resistant Church: From our starting verse above – “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” we see Jesus taking ownership of this ‘church’ these ‘called-out ones’ but warning that it (they) will have opposition, but he will ensure that it (they) will stand and not be overcome. That is encouraging, but to enter into the fulness of that assurance we will have to see what else the New Testament says about us, the Church, to live it, experience it, and enter into all that is said about it. Our starting point, therefore, is to see ourselves as a people who are what we are because we have been called by Jesus, called to be a different people, a distinct people, from those who have not been so-called. We’ll see something more about that calling in the next study and then see the differences in subsequent studies. In the meantime, you might like to think about your own experience, your experience of being called, what it entailed and what has followed to make you a different person, a Christian, part of a different group of people.

Not a Club: “But”, someone might ask, “what is the fuss all about? I belong to a bowls club and we the members are different from those who don’t play bowls. We have skills others don’t have, we play the game that others don’t play, and so on; what’s the big deal?”  Or someone else might say, “Well, I belong to a ladies’ group that does charitable work. We are very respectable, we do very good things to help the community, and in this we are different from those who are not community minded and not at all like us. What is the fuss?”  Or perhaps you may come across a third person who says, “Well, I belong to a yoga group; not one of these exercise groups that might just go by that name, but we enter into all the spiritual aspects of it that come from the East, as well as doing the exercises. We are very spiritual, and we’re disciplined and so in that we are quite different from many other people.”

Not a nice religious group: In the UK we have lots and lots of very old stone buildings with spires and towers and beautiful stained-glass windows. In some of them you may find very nice and very respectable good people who come together at certain set times to go through ancient rites led by a man or woman in black robes wearing a stiff white circular collar. Clearly very distinguished, and by that, I mean distinguished from other people who don’t wear black robes and stiff white collars. Their congregation tend to wear suits (the men) and nice dresses (the ladies) and they tend to be very nice people – and some of them are Christians. But are they collectively ‘church’?

Back to the definition: The Greek word used in the original New Testament manuscripts, ekklesia, we said, has the meaning, ‘assembly’ or ‘called out ones’, thus meaning a group of people who have been called by God. Looking at the two paragraphs above, clearly those clubs in the first of those two paragraphs have not been called into being by God and they certainly make no mention of God. In the second paragraph the activities of the people mentioned there tend to focus on a building and specific ‘services’ and both contribute to what they feel about their religion. In fact, if their building was demolished one night and their services were abandoned, they would feel rather naked and their identity under question.

For the true Christian, building or ‘services’ or liturgy or ritual should not be what defines them.  They may all be acceptable add-ons but they are not what defines us, and that, perhaps, is what so often confuses the onlooking world. The danger is almost certainly accentuated by ‘mega-churches’ with their large buildings and car parks, great facilities that compete with the best the world can provide, and a mega-sense of being a ‘big people’ grouping. Unfortunately this sometimes means that the growth of an individual and growth of their relationships with other people can be stunted, as we will see when we come to focus on some of the specifics of what it means to be a part of ‘the body of Christ’.

A Voice from the Past: To focus the distinction between the social club church and the real thing, listen to the writing of an early twentieth-century devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, in his famous devotional, ‘My Utmost for His Highest’: “The experience of salvation means that in your actual life things are really altered, you no longer look at things as you used to; your desires are new, old things have lost their power… If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning.”

As you read that, are you uncomfortable with such words as ‘salvation’ and ‘born again’? If the answer is yes, then there is clearly some Bible reading to be done and some serious thinking to be followed through. They are not obscure, irrelevant or hardly mentioned words. Instead, I would suggest, they go to the heart of what ‘church’ is all about, not what I think it is all about but what the New Testament says it is all about, not grabbing at a few random verses to make a point, but catching the entire drift of the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, and the apostles in the ‘Acts’ and letters, and ‘Revelation’ that follow. Those are the fields into which we are going to wander in these days ahead. Stay with me if you will and let’s ask the Lord to open our eyes to see afresh what His word will say to us.

2. We are holy?

Meditations in Colossians: 2:  We are holy?

Col 1:2   To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:

How often, I wonder, do we pass over words in the Bible and accept that we really don’t know what they mean? The word ‘holy’ comes up over 580 times in the Bible but what does it mean and what are its implications?  Paul writes to holy people at Colosse, so why are they holy? What does that mean? We’re going to have to do a study here rather than just ponder on the word.

Essentially holy means to be utterly different.  But how?  The first (and only) reference to the word ‘holy’ in Genesis is, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:3) i.e. he made it special and different which in that case meant a day of rest, a day without work.

But then we find in Exodus it is used over 30 times, the first one being at the place of the burning bush where the Lord tells Moses, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex 3:5) That is interesting because what we know of that was that God’s presence was being manifest there so He could talk to Moses, and something strange was happening – a bush was burning without being destroyed. The presence of God seemed to make that place holy and because of His presence almost anything could happen!

Later at Sinai, the Lord said to Moses, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5,6)  Again the implication is at the least, a different and special people, but it is only when we get into Leviticus that we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy,” (Lev 11:44) and we realise that holiness is a description of God and wherever He manifests Himself in our midst, that place is also holy.  This is repeated in Lev 19:2 and then a little later on is expanded: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Lev 20:7,8) and if we hadn’t got the message, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) and then, “Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy–I who make you holy.” (Lev 21:8)  This idea of making people, places or things holy is conveyed a number of times more in Leviticus especially.

But is not only the Lord Himself who conveys holiness, it is also His angelic representatives: “The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”  (Josh 5:15) Later in the incident of the ark being returned from the Philistines, we find, “the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20) Now if it hadn’t come through very clearly before in the verses we looked at, at least, the sense comes through now that because He is holy, there is an ethical or moral dimension added that implies He is perfect morally and anyone who gets close to Him to should be the same, complying utterly with His Law or His will, His design for mankind.

Yet when we start looking at the character or nature of God we find that His ‘utterly different-ness’ is more than just moral perfection because Jesus taught, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48) and the word ‘perfect’ means complete or whole. God is complete and whole and lacks nothing. He is also love and He is also good (those are also attributes spoken of Him in the Scriptures). This is brought into New Testament teaching by the apostle Peter, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15)

Now let’s ponder on all this because of course we need also to remember that we are now those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is His presence within us that makes us utterly different and we find that we are being changed by Him into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18). Thus He seeks to work His wholeness into our lives, His love, His goodness, His ethical perfection. Put like this there is no room for dodgy dealings, bad language, questionable relationships or whatever else the rest of the world might be into.

But even as we noted with the burning bush incident, where the Lord’s presence is (and He is within us), then anything is possible!  Do we limit Him I wonder by our unbelief, by our not realizing or taking hold of these things? I AM holy. He DOES live within me. He IS changing me into His likeness. Anything IS possible with Him.  These things do not apply just to one or two very special people, the Mother Teresa type of people; this applies to all of us who call ourselves Christian. All the people who formed the church at Colosse were holy. All of your church are holy. If only we will realise it!

26. Teaching

Meditations in 1 John : 26 : Teaching

1 John  2:26,27   I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

It is always a funny thing about people who fall off the rails morally or intellectually; they always seems to want to convince others to think and act the same way as them. Maybe it is a sub-conscious form of justifying what they are thinking or doing, trying not to be different but getting others to be like them.

That was how it was then in John’s time. There were people who had veered away from the apostolic teaching, bringing their own slant to what had been taught in the  church by the apostles, but now that ‘different slant’ brought a different God, and a different gospel, and from John’s clarity he can see that these people were trying to lead astray those left in the church.

When the apostle Paul met with the elders from Ephesuson the beach, he warned them Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30). There is that same thing that John had said previously, “They went out from us.” (2:19) This is the sad thing about all this; so often Satan is able to take those in the church and then through them bring deception and division. So often the danger doesn’t come from outside the church; we are aware that unbelievers will be against what we believe, but when it comes through people who had been in the church, now bringing “a different teaching”, that is so much more subtle and potentially dangerous.

Now he encourages those who are left in the church: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you.”   He’s already spoken about this and we’ve considered it in some detail before, but now he just reassures them about it. It’s all right, he is saying, you’re still in the church, you still have the presence of the Holy Spirit within you, you haven’t fallen out of fellowship with the Father and the Son, you’re still all right.

Then he says something that could be easily misunderstood: “you do not need anyone to teach you.”   Now does this mean they no longer need teaching, these people still in the church? No, because disciples go on needing teaching throughout their lives, but the point he is making is that they don’t need NEW teaching. They don’t need to hear something beyond the apostolic teaching they have received about the Gospel. If you come across someone who purports to be bringing something IN ADDITION to the Gospel revealed in the New Testament, know that they are not of God. If it is the Gospel PLUS something else, know that they are wrong. This is why we know that the Mormon church fits in here because whenever you talk with them, they may say they believe the Gospel but they are not happy with just that. It has to be the Gospel PLUS the Book of Mormon. False teaching!

Note what he then says: “But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him. Let’s examine that in bits. First, “his anointing teaching you about all things.” The fact that you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit means that He will show you what is right and what is wrong. This is not about Him adding anything to what you find in the Bible, but it is about Him conveying through your spirit, an awareness of the truth of things before you. Someone new appears in church, and you find yourself feeling uneasy about them. The Holy Spirit is giving you the gift of discernment and revealing there is something about them you need to be careful about. Someone, a guest speaker, comes to the church and as you listen to his teaching, again you feel uneasy about what you are hearing. This is simply the Holy Spirit pointing out there is error in what he is saying. In case this all sounds very negative, let’s give another illustration. A difficulty arises in life and, as you pray, you suddenly get an insight as to how to deal with it. You apply it and the difficulty is overcome. It was just the Holy Spirit within you giving you the gift of wisdom, to know how to deal with it. In each case He is ‘teaching’ you, and we need this again and again in life in these many different forms. It is not adding any new teaching to the Bible but just making it real in everyday circumstances.

Then he says, “as that anointing is real, not counterfeit.”   That is a truth you need to know and it will then help you because, speaking of the Holy Spirit, he then says, “it has taught you.”   Look, he is saying, you know the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and you know the reality of it; it isn’t something made up, conjured up, formulated, stirred up, pretended, unreal or counterfeit. It is the real thing. You know the experiences we’ve just been talking about, how He has revealed what is wrong, shown what is right, and shown you the way ahead. You know the reality of all this, you know He is real. Therefore, in the light of all this, “remain in him.”   You don’t need anything else; you don’t need some other additional teaching or additional experience beyond that which you find in the apostolic teaching (of the New Testament, as it came to be.) Just rest in Him, rest in your experience of Him, remain in Him, and be content with what you know and have experienced and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Ok?  Ok!