What is Faith?

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their 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 my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.

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Don’t Walk Away

             I.      Introduction

Hope doesn’t come easily.

This world is troubled.  Dr. Young has been speaking on the problem of evil this month, and evil has been a problem ever since the fall of Adam to the beheadings in Syria.  And it permeates our lives, confronts us on the television, on the internet, in the news and even in marketing and advertisements.

And from a worldly perspective, it’s not getting better.  When our hope is based on circumstances, those same circumstances can be depressing.  When tragedy hits close to home, we are faced with a choice:  run from God because we feel that somehow He has let us down, or run toward God as the only source of peace and comfort in a troubled world.

I don’t know what you’re going through, or what you’ve been through.  We will all go through trials – loss of a job, or loss of a home, or loss of a loved one.  I do know that you’ve been through fire – we all have – and they can be difficult things to talk about.  But you’re here, and that’s good.  The fact that you’re here speaks volumes about your faith and your hope.  If we trust in our own abilities during difficult circumstances it often leads to disappointment, but hope in our Lord Jesus Christ will never disappoint.

Today’s lesson is on Hebrews 6, and since we’ve recently mentioned the “once saved, always saved” as a tenet of our faith, at first glance, today’s verses look to give us trouble with “once saved, always saved.”  Let’s look at Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Is this a contradiction to “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  I don’t believe so, and I’ll tell you why, but first let us lay a foundation so that we may fully understand this.

          II.      Infallibility of Scripture

Let’s talk first about the law of non-contradiction and the infallibility of scripture.  It’s important to understand that faith and reason go together.  Faith in unreasonable things is nonsense.  Reason, without faith, leads to futility.  Faith and reason together lead to truth.

First, the Law of Non-Contradiction.  This law simply states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time.  If I tell you “A is B” and then later say, “A is not B,” then something is wrong.  Both statements cannot be correct at the same time.

If you meet with some friends of yours, a married couple, and you say, Is it true that you are pregnant?”  And she says “Yes!” and he says, “No!” you know something is not true.  Maybe he doesn’t know.  But one thing *you* know is that they both cannot be right.  Numbers 23:19,

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

And God exists, or He doesn’t.  Can both statements be true?  God is eternal, or He isn’t.  Can both statements be true?  Reason and faith go together to either accept or reject God, God cannot both be true and untrue at the same time.

God himself is a perfect demonstration of the Law of Non-Contradiction.  God is His Word.  If He says something, it is true.  So, is the bible true?  What does the bible say about itself?

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Some bibles use “inspired” here, but “God-breathed” is more accurate.  The Greek scripture uses two words meaning “God” and “breathed” so I’m going to translate that as “God-breathed.”

And 2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

What the bible says about itself is that the Holy Spirit himself wrote the bible through men.  If God is truth, and God is His Word, and the Word is the bible… there is no wiggle room.  The bible is true, or the bible is not.  It cannot be both true and untrue.

What does Jesus say about scripture?

John 10:34 discusses a very different topic, but it’s interesting what Jesus says –

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law […] and Scripture cannot be set aside…

Jesus says “It is written” and quoted scripture to make a point, and he even confirmed many events that seem supernatural.  He confirmed Adam and Eve were created by God, he confirmed the flood of Noah, he verified the destruction of Sodom, he quoted and referred to a dozen Old Testament prophets and kings.  He even confirmed Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.  And in Matthew 4:4, when answering the devil,

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

“Every word.”  Jesus says one cannot set aside scripture, picking up the best parts and disregarding the rest.  We can either accept the bible as the wholly, inerrant Word of God, or not.  Excluding verses because they are uncomfortable, or we don’t understand them, makes no sense.  The word is true, or it is not true.  It cannot be both.  And every word of the bible is important.

Divine inspiration means you can trust God’s Word over everything else. It means there are no contradictions. It means Scripture contains the objective revelation of God and is the basis of authority. Even though human authors wrote the words, the Bible originated as an action of God.

       III.      Once Saved Always Saved

So where do we get “Once saved, always saved” from?  Let’s start with 1 John 5:13

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

John doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life.  John says so that we may *know* we have eternal life.  It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven.  It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice.  Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you or me, it never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

How about John 5:24, where Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point.  When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense.  Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”.  Jesus says believers have it already!  And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.”  Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life.  We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die.  We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned.  Past, present and future.

1 Peter 1:3-5,

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. This inheritance is 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.

John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.

John 6:47,

I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.

It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord?  Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.

Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.

Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.

Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.

1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.

Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.

Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?

Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.

John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.

Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,

change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,

remove the brand He sealed onto us,

snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,

cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,

evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,

dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,

remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,

and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

We can *know* we are saved.  Jesus wants us to be confident.  Doubt is washed away, knowing our eternal destination.  Our hope is secure.

         IV.      Don’t Walk Away (Hebrews 6:4-8)

What was our bible verse today?  Oh yes, Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Now we know what it does not say due to the Law of Non-Contradiction.  Our salvation is secure.  We must remember that this letter was written to Hebrews, former Jews, now Christians, whose faith was being tested.  Some wanted to return to their Jewish traditions and hope the Romans would leave them alone.  Their hope based on circumstance, not salvation.

It is possible for churches to consist of both true believers and also those who pretend to be believers.  Christians are generally nice people to be around, who can blame them?  But when times get tough, abandoning Christ is a sign of unbelief.  Christians will live with assurance of their salvation and a holy reverence for God.

I think some light is shed on this passage on the Greek words for “falling away.”  The Greek work “apostosia” isn’t used, but “parapipto” is which literally means “to fall alongside.”

I think the writer may have been using a hypothetical case, sort of like this:

“Let’s suppose you do not go on to maturity.  Does this mean that you will go back into condemnation, that you will lose your salvation?  Impossible!  If you could lose your salvation, it would be impossible to get it back again, and this would disgrace Jesus Christ.  He would have to be crucified for you again, and this could never happen.”

If you look at the pervious verses of Hebrews, the author uses “we” and “us”, but this verse switches to “those”.  This supports the author’s may have been using a hypothetical example.

I notice the last verse says, “In the end it will be burned.”  It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3,

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I love that part, the builder will receive a reward.  What is this reward?  I have no idea, but if Jesus is handing out rewards in Heaven, I’m going to stand in line.

            V.      Conclusion

I think when we fall away, we miss out on God’s perfect plan for us.  We can choose to be disobedient.  Surely the Israelites did, over and over.  But I think when we do that, we walk off the paved road and into the thorns and brambles.  Last week, Theresa mentioned that in Deuteronomy, God had blessings he was going to provide to Joshua, but because of disobedience, they would now have to work for what God was going to provide for free.  The way we practice our faith is like that.  We may have eternal life, but if we rebel, we will struggle.  And God wins that struggle every time, doesn’t He?

So what does “fall away” mean here?  I think it speaks to the heart.   I think instead of falling away, we should be striving to fall forward.  When in trouble, pray.  When in doubt, seek His glory in the creation around you.  Learn how to doubt our doubts.  When saddened, yearn for peace.  God asks us to depend on Him when we are troubled, not run from Him.  The choice to run away from God or run toward God is up to us.  Running away multiplies the problems, running toward God gives us hope.  Trust in the salvation we already have.

To God be the glory.

Pay Attention, Don’t Drift Away

             I.      Introduction

The book of Hebrews might have been written by Paul – that seem to be the consensus of the experts – but there are certain verses and phrases that only appear in Hebrews, so it’s hard to be sure. In any event, the author is writing to Jewish converts to Christianity who are undergoing hardships like crucifixion, being fed to lions, things like that. Sort of puts our complaints in perspective, I think. “I spilled coffee on my slacks! Why do bad things always happen to me? Doesn’t God love me?”

So the author tells these Jews basic truths to encourage them. Last week in Hebrews 1, as Chris taught, they were reminded that Jesus was the messiah they had waited for and who Jesus was. Now, in the beginning of Hebrews 2, these converted Jews – let’s call the “Christians” – are reminded to pay attention to what they have learned and why.

We only have 4 verses today to study, how long could this possibly take? Let’s look at them.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

II.      Listen & Pay Attention (Hebrews 2:1)

What happens when we do not pay attention? In our car? At work? With children? Unexpected things – mostly bad things – happen. Few people unexpectedly win the lotto when they’re distracted. They’re more likely to get into a fender bender with the car in front of them.

It’s hard to consistently pay attention. Distractions easily take away our focus. I struggle with this in my nightly prayers, “Lord please bless Joe and his wife through their struggles, even if he is a University of Texas grad. Texas A&M is such a better school. The football team is great, lean years are behind them, unlike SMU who had that NCAA “death penalty” assessed back in… 1984? 1986? I can’t remember. I think I had already graduated, but when I heard about SMU was I in College Station? Or Oklahoma? I moved there in 2005… sorry, I mean 1985. Man, time flies. I’m definitely getting older. I think it’s starting to show. I wonder whether stretching exercise for flexibility is more important than strength training when you get older… I’m sorry, Lord. Where was I?”

Paying attention takes practice, like Patrick’s syncopation skills. Instead, like a bright shiny trinket dangled in front of us, the world distracts us from importance.

So where were we? Which book are we in again? Oh yes, Hebrew 2, verse 1.

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” That word in the middle is “therefore,” and you’ve probably heard the phrase that “whenever we see a therefore, we should ask what it is there for.” Therefore refers to all of chapter one which told us how God speaks to us and who Jesus is. God spoke to us first through the prophets, and in these last days – the church age – God has spoken to us through His Son, His Son who is the Incarnate God, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of God, Heir of all things, the Creator of all things, our hope and bread of life, our cornerstone, the Faithful and True, the Great Shepherd, the Horn of Salvation, the King of Ages, the Prince of Peace, and far superior to the angels – “therefore.”

Names of Jesus

No wonder the author of Hebrews tell us to pay attention. God himself dwelt among us to bring us this message, and He suffered and died for it. Is there anything else in your life that you can say is honestly more important than that?

The world around us distracts us. We get busy with “stuff” that’s “important.” Our kids, our jobs, our smartphones. Ooh, squirrel! But is there anything more important that God’s Word? A handbook for life, a reason for living, a prescription for salvation? If we could only learn to pay attention to what God is saying to us. Matthews 6:33 says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” All the things that are important in life – not necessarily what we think is important – will be given to us if we just seek God and pay attention.

How hard is it to pay attention with distractions? Let me show you a very short video. I may have to show it twice, and you’ll understand once you see it. Watch this and pay close attention.

God wants us to continually focus on Him, to pay attention, or we’ll drift away. What does the verse mean by “drift away?”   The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means we don’t have to do anything for this to happen, it just happens. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We’re floating down the river in a boat. Up ahead is a dock where want to stop our boat and anchor ourselves so we don’t drift down the river. We’re focused on it. And if we don’t focus on what we’re doing, we’re going to drift right past.

We drift away because we weren’t paying attention. The dock is our anchor, as Jesus is our anchor that holds us fast to him so we do not drift away to destruction.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook; it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

       III.      The Peril of Neglect (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Living under the Law, we discovered we cannot live righteous lives.   Did you know that there, technically are 2 ways to get into heaven? One is to accept Jesus as our own personal savior. The other is to be perfect, to do perfect, to think perfect, without sin. But Romans 3:23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

And Psalm 14:3,

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

And we have seen sin punished throughout the Old Testament history to one degree or another. God hates sin, and a holy God will eventually destroy all sin. Sin cannot coexist with the light.

Who can live up to the perfection of our Holy and Mighty God? Our efforts at obtaining our own salvation – and we all want to do it, because we’re full of the sin of pride – will always come up short. Way short. Being “good enough” isn’t good enough. Do we strive for a heaven that is “good enough?” We long for that perfect peace and joy and beauty, not a cheap imitation that is “good enough.”

When I taught the 3rd graders long ago – there’s a ministry worthy of people far more skilled than I – I used the example of a chocolate milkshake.

chocolate milkshakeA perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, we cannot help but toss in a bug. Some yucky insect. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Isn’t it “good enough?” Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven.

But there is one. Jesus, as a man, lived a sinless, perfect life. Jesus, as a sacrifice, tasted death. Jesus, as the son of God, could atone for all of our sins. Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

We can never forget that this is the only viable way to salvation. Jesus has paid the debt for our sin. We can either accept that gift, or we can pay for the sin ourselves. But the wages for that sin is death. It’s the only choice. Romans 6:22-23:

 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We may have the idea that believer “under grace” can escape the chastening and discipline of God that was so evident “under law” in the Old Testament. But Luke 12:48 says

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

I think this applies to believers, even more so. As believers, we have been given much. Rather than rely on grace, shouldn’t we try to live lives pleasing to God? God doesn’t punish believers, but He does discipline His children. And so far this morning we’ve been studying how we should pay attention and has given us warning signs so that we do not drift away.

Here’s a couple of typical warning signs. What perils will we face if we do not pay attention to these signs?

Warning sign 2

Warning sign 1

Warning sign 3

Warning sign 4

Warning sign 5

Warning sign 6

There are perils ahead if we don’t pay attention to the signs. We certainly do not want to drift away. If we’re not paying attention, we drift down the river and end up where we do not want to be.   What are these perils? In the OT, people were punished for violating scripture. God is unchanging, his love never fails. He still loves us, and He still hates sin.

Our salvation is still secure if we truly believe in Him. Tim said last week that true believers cannot lose their salvation, and he’s absolutely right, but we believers can drift away from the plan God has for us and the blessings that go with it.

Robert Robinson (small)Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teenager who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at the age 17 he took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching. They had planned to laugh at the poor deluded Methodists. God had a different calling for Robert, though, and two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

It’s a beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a decidedly non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, ‘Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.’ Robert Robinson drifted away, alone and unhappy, versus the joy of seeking God’s blessing’s daily.

How do we protect ourselves from this neglect?

  1. Fellowship with believers, come to church and worship.  This is the easiest way to pay attention – somebody else reads the scripture to us.
  2. Pray to the Lord that He will help us understand.  1 Corinthians 2 says that one must have the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word.  Only believers that honestly try to grow nearer to the Lord can understand; the word is unintelligible to those who are not saved.  James says pray for wisdom so that you may understand.
  3. Remember what was said.  Take notes.  Write in your bible. Memorize a verse.
  4. Look over our notes later.  In particular, read the scripture to see if what we heard it’s true.  When Paul preached to the Bereans, he said the Bereans were noble for checking the scripture to see if what Paul said was true.  As a believer with the Holy Spirit in us, we are responsible for understanding what we’ve heard.  Don’t believe a lie, seek the truth.
  5. Ask God to help us put it into practice.  Do something with what we’ve heard.  This takes work.  The works do not save us, we cannot earn salvation.  But works helps us become holy and sanctified, it helps us cast off worldly sorrows and seek heavenly joy.

Does it seem like there’s not enough time in the day to do all of this? If we do not make time, we may drift away. We may be guilty of looking for God only on Sunday and then sparing hardly a thought for Him all week. But if we put him first, we learn to ask for things that please God, and He is pleased to give it to us. So studying the bible or having “quiet time” or re-reading your Sunday notes isn’t a duty or an obligation; don’t let anybody tell you that you *have* to do these things. But it *is* a path toward more joy and blessings. When we focus on the world and the pleasure it offers, we allow ourselves to be satisfied with so little. When we focus on God and His desires, then we are satisfied by much. God is a fount of overflowing blessings, far more than the world can offer.

          IV.      Truth Verified (Hebrews 2:3b-4)

For each of us individually, this is an important message. Verse 3b-4,

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

This message is so important that he sent prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Joel and Obadiah and Jonah and so on and so on. This message is so important that God sent plagues to Egypt and divided the Red Sea and sent manna from heaven and protected his people from lions and fiery furnaces and sent a star of Bethlehem to lead the wise men. There are 123 miracles in the bible. And then, like an exclamation point, the point of the entire bible pointing from man’s fall to his redemption, God sent his only son to die for us so that we may live. That’s how much God loves us, and how important He feels about this message.

Focus on God, keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember when Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus? But when he looked away, he lost focus, he started to sink. He drifted away. Jesus, who is the Word, came to speak to us directly, and even though Hebrews 1 says Jesus is higher than the angels and sits at the right hand of the father, He was not ashamed to become man and live among us. Glorious sweet Jesus, highly exalted and holy, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord and listen to what He says.

Hebrews pleads for us to hear and read and study Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible. Peter puts it this way:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

             V.      Conclusion

So this is what happens: We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin. We can simply neglect our spiritual growth.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant. Destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Like losing touch with a friend because you never think of calling or writing. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

As a final thought this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. The author of Hebrew was writing to believers who were struggling with their faith. What the author is saying is that is not enough to believe but we have to find a way to put our faith into practice if we want to grow.

Verse 1-3, read again emphasize “we”. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. This applies to all Christians. This is not meant for non-believers who reject Christ, but for those who neglect Christ. This is for those who have accepted Christ, but don’t anchor themselves to Christ and then drift away.

The admonition from Hebrews hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. We are responsible for the truths we know. The Gospel is salvation to all those who hear and confess that Christ is Lord. We cannot take that lightly, for without this gift of salvation, we have God’s righteous wrath to destroy all that is evil, including our own sin. And none of us are exempt. All have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death. Instead, we have been given a free gift, one undeserved. And when we are in conversations are work or with neighbors or strangers, we cannot shy away from sharing this good news. It is not love to let another die. Share what we know about God’s plan for redemption.

As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the modern prophets Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan

The information’s unavailable to the mortal man

We’re working our jobs, collect our pay

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

 

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away

You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

Let us pay attention this week to what God is saying so that we do not drift away. To God be the glory.

The Second Coming of Christ

             I.      Introduction

My first thought, when I was asked to teach from 2 Peter, was, “Whoa…. There are *two* Peters?”

Today we’ll study 2 Peter 3; this letter from the Apostle Peter was addressed to persecuted Christians.  During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion and led by James, the brother of Jesus.  But when the Jews stoned James to death in 62 AD, that cemented hostilities between the Christians and the Jews. The Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later, and then Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Christians and outright persecution began.  Peter writes his letter to the church in 95AD to reassure Christians about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.

The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings,” the letter was probably written to churches outside of Rome who weren’t fed to lions as they were doing in Rome.  Instead, Peter is writing to the surrounding churches as far away as Corinth.  While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjected to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use.  As Paul says in Romans 5, , “Where sin increased, graced increased all the more.”  We are saved, dudes, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, so let’s party.  But this is Christian anarchy.

Even today, this very liberal view of Christianity is very widespread.  “If God loves me and I cannot lose my salvation, then why not party?  God will forgive me.”  But this is like an engaged woman saying, “He loves me and he’s going to marry me, no matter what I do.  Why not play the field a while longer?”  It shows a one-sided love.  It shows God’s love for us, but it also shows we don’t truly love God back.

Of course antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  Antinomianism is a false teaching, and it is likely the Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christian, perhaps to better fit in with the Roman culture, who then either taunted or lured Christians away from their life of purity.  And it is in this setting that Peter writes to the church about our hope in Jesus forever.

          II.      Resist and Rest, 2 Peter 3:1-7

So let’s open to 2 Peter 3 and look at the first 7 verses –

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

 

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Ok, in verse 3 we are warned that in the last days, scoffers will come.  And what will the scoffers be doing?  They will be scoffing.  I am certain I have never called anybody a scoffer, it just sounds funny.  Robitussen Scoff Medicine.  I’d use ridiculing, making fun of… I guess my vocabulary is more limited.  You can scoff at me if you wish.

These scoffers are essentially saying that Jesus isn’t coming.  There’s no evidence.  The world today is the same as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow.  God doesn’t change the world, it’s been this way ever since He created it.  The second coming of Jesus can’t be possible because that would be a big change in the way God treats the world.

Peter responds that the scoffers are deliberately misleading.  God has intervened in the history of the world and made major changes.  The first major change was creation itself.  What was the world before God created it?  It was nothing, a void.  Then God spoke, and the universe was created.

Since then, God made another change at the time of Noah.  He flooded the earth to remove the unrighteousness.  Destroyed every living creature except those rescued in the ark.  Afterward, you may recall, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water.   But He will destroy it by fire.  In Psalm 50:3, David said,

Our God comes

    and will not be silent;

a fire devours before him,

    and around him a tempest rages.

He summons the heavens above,

    and the earth, that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me this consecrated people,

    who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

    for he is a God of justice.

So not only are the scoffers wrong, but they know they’re wrong.  God has indeed judged the world before, and He will judge the world again.  And to the true Christians listening to Peter, don’t believe the scoffers.  Resist the call of the scoffers to party like it’s 1999, and rest instead on truth.

And what is the truth?  The truth is that Jesus will come again.  Peter’s writings are an introduction to eschatology, which is the study of the end of time, a study of the end of the world.  Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of humankind as revealed by the bible, including death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.

The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logy (λογία), which means “the study of.”  They’re even harder to write down.  It’s like Greek to me.

Before the resurrection of Jesus, there were two main Jewish viewpoints on what happens to people after death.  The Sadducees recognized only the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament.  According to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death.  One just ceased to be.

This was a major point of contention with the Pharisees, who accepted not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law which eventually became the Mishna and the Talmud.  The Pharisees accepted, for instance, the Book of Daniel, and in Daniel 12:2 it says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Even today, not all Christians have the same beliefs in the afterlife.  Seventh Day Adventists teach that upon death, the soul sleeps and is reawakened at the Resurrection.  Catholics teach that one enters into heaven either immediately or through a purification known as Purgatory, or immediately into Hell.  Most Protestants believe that Christ removed all obstacles and there is nothing we can add or take away, Christ paid for all of our sins and we enter directly into the presence of God after death.  Regardless, Peter emphasizes that there will indeed come a day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  Even though scoffers may ridicule them and party like there’s no tomorrow, Christians can be confident in Jesus’ return.  And today, Christians are still surrounded by the ungodly, by partiers, by pagans and New Age type beliefs.  When is this day of judgment going to come?  What is God waiting for?

       III.      Be Aware and Behave, 2 Peter 3:8-13

I’m glad you asked that, because Peter addresses that in the next few verses.  In 2 Peter 3:8-13,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

 

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

We like the idea that God judges the guilty, as long as it’s other people he’s judging.  We’re less enthused about God judging us, and we know we’re not innocent people.  Thankfully, we have a Savior.  Since we’re saved, we should have no fear of the Day of the Lord.  So what is God waiting on?  We’re surrounded ungodly everywhere we turn.

The answer is found in God’s unfailing love.  God’s love begins with the very first definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4.  Love is patient, love is kind.  God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.  God made man in His image.  And God withholds the Judgment of the Day of the Lord so that no one will perish.

Remember Abraham trying to bargain with God not to destroy Sodom?  The Lord said that their sin was so severe that He was going to destroy Sodom.  Abraham said, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?”  God said to Abraham, “If I can find 50 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, I will spare them.”

Abraham started dealing.  “How about forty-five?  Thirty’s a good number.  Twenty is even better.  How do you feel about only ten righteous people?”  But when Abraham arrived in Sodom, all he found was wickedness.  He couldn’t find even 10 righteous people.  It was only then that God destroyed Sodom.

And how about the story of Noah and the Flood?  God saved Noah and his righteous family, then sent a flood to wash the world of its wickedness.  Afterward, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and passes out naked.  And he was the righteous one.  Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?

Eventually, God’s perfect love and patience will eventually be overcome by His perfect justice.  He cannot let evil prevail.  And on that day, we won’t have any warning.  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.

Peter uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” which was an Old Testament phrase for the final judgment.  Isaiah used it, Isaiah 13:9 –

See, the day of the Lord is coming

    —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—

to make the land desolate

    and destroy the sinners within it.

And in Joel 2,

Blow the trumpet in Zion;

    sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,

    for the day of the Lord is coming.

And then again in Zephaniah 1:14  and Malachi 4:5.  But Amos 5:18-24 seems especially apropos, directed at the so-called religious who were not living righteously –

Woe to you who long

    for the day of the Lord!

Why do you long for the day of the Lord?

    That day will be darkness, not light.

It will be as though a man fled from a lion

    only to meet a bear,

as though he entered his house

    and rested his hand on the wall

    only to have a snake bite him.

Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—

    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

    your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

    I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

    I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So for the non-righteous Jews, for the antinomians who abused their freedom in Christ, the Day of the Lord is the day God’s righteous anger punishes evil.

When will this happen?  Only God knows when this will be.  God created the universe, and one day He will bring it to an appropriate end.  Jesus told us this day would come (Matthew 24:14), that we should watch for the signs (Matthew 24:29-30), and the timing will be according to God (Matthew 24:36).  It’s been 2000 years since Jesus, and that seems like a long time, but God doesn’t exist in time the way we do.  God is outside of time, and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day .”

We’re aware this day is coming.  The Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation describes it in great detail.  So what do we do in the meantime?   We live with the expectancy that this day could come at any time.  Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives.  Why is that important?

I think first of all, living a holy life enables the Holy Spirit to work within us.  We’re here, each and every one of us, for a purpose that only we can fulfill.  When we live in the Spirit, we’re attuned to God’s direction; it’s easier to obey because it’s easier to listen.  We find it easier to understand that it’s not happiness that God wants from us, but righteousness.  But when we seek first His righteousness, then all these things, including happiness, will be given unto us.  Living a holy life demonstrates the Spirit lives within us.

And when the Spirit lives within us, then we demonstrate to others the spirit lives within us.  We demonstrate that righteous living brings godly blessings; we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And we do this to draw others to Christ, because God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.

         IV.      Work and Watch Out, 2 Peter 3:14-18

While waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  In the last part of 2 Peter 3, he says,

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

 

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

These scoffers and false teachers will be with us to the end of the age.  Our best defense is a good offense.  And the best offense against false teaching and antinomianism is to continually seek God’s will.  When we read the bible, we read first-hand how God treats his people, how God expresses His love for us, and what thoughts, words, and actions please Him.

Is it possible to live a spotless, blameless life?  Of course not, but that’s not what Peter says.  He says, “make every effort.”  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll take the blame for something.  We won’t be spotless, we’ll get spots.  But that’s ok.  It’s because we are fallible that we also know we need a Savior.  We’re not perfect; that’s too high of a bar for us.  But if we make every effort, we can be at peace because we know the Lord is pleased at our righteousness.

Sometimes we stumble here – somehow thinking this obedience is required to earn our salvation.  That is absolutely false – we cannot earn our salvation.  If we think we must somehow earn our salvation, we start to travel down the road of legalism.

No, we obey the Lord because it pleases Him.  It’s our love returned to God.  In 1 John 2, the author says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

 

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

The reason we read the bible?  To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Because we cannot keep His word if we do not know His word.  Because we cannot resist false teaching unless we know what the truth is.  We must be on our guard, because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Christ will come again, and when He does, we want to be safe and secure in His arms.

            V.      Conclusion

What have we learned today?  We’ve learned that there are big words like antinomianism we’ve never heard of before.  And we’ve learned that Greek is a really hard language.

But we’ve also learned that we can have faith that Jesus will come again.  He’s prepared a place for us, and someday He will take us there.  We learned that the secular world around us will make fun of us, scoff at us for these beliefs, but they do not know the Lord.  Our Lord is full of perfect love and patience, but there will come a day where the Lord’s perfect justice will rule, and the unrighteous will be destroyed by fire.  We don’t know when that will be, a day or a thousand years, but we know that day is coming.  And while we wait, we are to strengthen ourselves with knowledge of His Word and obeying the Lord’s will, not out of fear or obligation, but because we love the one who first loved us.

And then we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One who loves us.  That’s something good to hope for.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Hedonism

I. Introduction

Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

What we’re going to study in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but learning to trust God and lean on Him and rely on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? To what source did James trace our tendency to fight with others?

How do our human desires affect our relationship with God?

The first problem with hedonism among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ????? (h?don?), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain.

This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. The scripture here implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing. Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and repenting, turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers this spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” God created us with the ability to love Him, and gives us the ability to choose to love Him. Our fights and sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Whether material things, our health or the health of family, aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have few close friends. What does it take to develop a friendship? (Time, sacrifice). How much time do we spend being friends with the world? How much time do we spend being friends of God? What does it take to become a closer friend?

How would obeying each of these commands lead to a stronger friendship with God?

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several command in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism. It’s like the Ten Commandments of James, although four of them are closely related.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Lean and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24-3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable. Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we attribute pride to ourselves because alone, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Corvette, a sister wearing a new pearl necklace, my initial reaction might be hodenistic – I want that. The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldy, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. If I can’t have something, you shouldn’t either.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.” And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. That’s not how God wants us to live. James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

First, we assume too much about the future. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptious enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Whoosh. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

James also isn’t telling us to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

Jeremiah 29:11-13, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle usurps the authority of God in our life. When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made.

Faith and Deeds

Charles Schultz often touched on religious themes in his cartoons. You might remember his Christmas special years ago, where Linus recited the meaning of Christmas from the book of Luke. Charles Schultz taught bible study into the 1980’s, and many of his cartoons were thought to illustrate bible scripture. His illustration for our study today, the second half of James 2, shows Snoopy shivering outside in the cold. Charlie Brown says to Linus, “He looks kind of cold, doesn’t he?” And Linus says, “Maybe we’d better go over and comfort him. So they walk over to Snoopy, wearing their warm coats and mittens and hats and Charlie Brown says, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy!” Linus also says, “Yes, be of good cheer.” And then they walk on by.

Today, we’re going to learn that Christian faith and Christian deeds are one and the same, and you can’t have one without the other.

I’m going to be honest about today’s lesson – it’s a difficult lesson to grasp. Not even all the commentary I found on the subject agrees. Last month I taught from the book of Galatians, and how it is grace that saves us through faith and not by our own works. Today, the book of James, at first glance, appears to contradict this, and says our salvation depends on our deeds. Do they contradict? Or is this a deeper walk with Christ with a lesson to teach us about what our faith is and what it does? We’re going to come back to this point because it’s an important step in understanding our salvation and sanctification.

First, let’s talk about things that always seem to go together.

i. Peanut butter and _______ (jelly)
ii. Salt and _______ (pepper)
iii. Hugs and _______ (kisses)
iv. Spaghetti and _______ (meatballs)
v. Socks and _______ (shoes)
vi. Thunder and _______ (lightning)
vii. Death and _______ (taxes)

Certain things go together, and you know one by the other. If you met somebody who claimed to be an auto mechanic, what outward, visible sign would you expect to see that proves they are what they say they are?

What if you met a doctor? A chef? What if you met somebody that said they are a Christian, what sort of evidence would you expect to see?

James 2:14-18, Rhetorical Questions
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.

James begins with two rhetorical questions. First question, “What good is faith without deeds?” Answer: none. The needy brother or sister, without clothes or food, finds no good in a pious response of, “Go in peace, may you be warmed and filled.” It’s an expectation that God will step in and do what we will not.

Second question, “Can faith without deeds save? Answer: no. James isn’t asking if faith alone can save others; James is asking if our faith alone can save *us*.

James makes two combined points. First, faith without actions is useless, and second, faith by itself cannot save us. The combination of these two questions to state without a doubt that faith without deeds is completely useless to others, to ourselves, and to our salvation which is the primary point of having faith in the first place.

The trouble with interpreting this passage is that so much scripture seems to say the opposite. We cannot work our way into heaven. There are not enough good deeds we can do to gain entrance to the heavenly throne room. Paul says specifically in Romans 3:28, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” He says again in Galatians 2:16 that I taught from last month, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law.” In Galatians 2:21, “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” The entire New Testament says we are saved by faith alone. “By grace, through faith, we are saved.”

So, do we need to do works or not? The key to understanding these passages is to understand that Paul and James are discussing to entirely different things. Paul was talking to the Jews. They believed they were God’s Chosen Ones, and as such, all they had to do was follow the bazillian laws perfectly and they win a prize. The Jews also believed that Gentiles who wanted to be Christians also had to follow these same bazillian rules. It’s a problem that still confronts us today, the problem of legalism. That if we’re Christian, we must have so much quiet time, we’re not allowed to go dancing, we must do this or that.

James is fighting the opposite problem; lackadaisical faith. Lax faith. Lazy faith. All you have to do is believe and you are saved. Where Paul was talking about laws and rules and regulations, James is talking about acts of love, sacrificial love, agape love. Paul talks about what happens to you on the inside, and how you are saved. James is talking about the outside; how to show you are saved.

One way to think of it is how we know certain invisible things exist. We cannot see the wind. How do we know it exists? We can see the wind blowing the branches of the trees, we can see the waves on a lake. We can harness the energy of the wind for power. We know wind exists because we see what it can do. How do we know oxygen exists? How do we know love exists? How do we know faith exists?

So James asks a question in verse 14, what good is faith without deeds? Then he answers it in verse 17, faith without deeds is dead. James is severe in his criticism. Faith alone is dead. James certainly understood the saving grace of faith; back in James 2:5, he notes that some people are rich in faith. And certainly James is not advocating deeds instead of faith. What James is telling us is that one cannot have authentic faith by itself, without any deeds to show for it. James says there is no separation of faith and deeds, they are one and the same. They are not equal, they are not contradictory, they are not alternatives. When James says in verse 18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith in what I do,” James declares that the only way to have genuine faith is to demonstrate it with deeds. Works aren’t added to faith; genuine faith includes works. Otherwise, the faith is useless and dead. To you, to others, to God.

Let’s turn to Luke chapter 5 and look at Jesus giving us a great example of this. Verse 17, Jesus, the Great Healer, is teaching:

Luke 5:17
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

That must have been some sight. Imagine being at some small group study, listening to a great teacher, and all of a sudden somebody pries off a skylight and lowers a sick and paralyzed man through the roof. And Jesus says, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

Is that it? A sick, paralyzed man, unable to walk, meets Jesus, and all Jesus says is “Your sins are forgiven?” Remember the story of Snoopy, and how Charlie Brown and Linus say, “Be of good cheer?” That comes from this very story; the King James Version in Matthew 9, Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Is Jesus guilty of giving the paralyzed man a sermon instead of a sandwich? A message instead of medicine? What did Jesus do? He followed up his good wishes with good deeds. Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

Let’s look at James 2:19-26 and see three examples –

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

a. Demons
James uses a horrible warning to people who claim to have faith and yet have no deeds. People who claim to believe in the one true almighty God, but do not demonstrate it with deeds, are indistinguishable from demons. Demons, too, believe in the same God.

That’s horrible. What could possibly be worse than to be compared to a demon? In Mark 5, there is a story of a man with an evil spirit inside him named Legion. When the man saw Jesus, he shouted at him, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” The demons know who Christ is, but do they have a saving faith? The demons recognize Christ and continue to do evil deeds, and rather than changing their behavior, they only shudder at the judgment to come. Their belief is correct, their behavior is not. Believing the truth without obeying the truth does not save us, anymore than it saves demons. Some commentaries say this comparison to demonic faith implies that belief without obedience is even worse than useless.

b. Abraham
Whew. I’m ready for a more positive example. James brings up Abraham as an example of righteousness. If you recall, Abraham waited years and years for an heir. And then Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar, but at the last moment, an angel stayed his hand and Isaac was spared. Abraham had faith. His faith prompted Abraham to obey. His obedience completed his faith. Abraham’s deeds give testimony to his faith. By Abraham’s obedience, Abraham’s faith was perfected. In other words, the more we trust God and go out on a limb to do His will, the more we find that God is trustworthy.

God was surely satisfied with Abraham long before because of Abraham’s faith that God would give Abraham a son. What God really wanted was for Abraham to be an example of genuine faith to others.

c. Rahab
Abraham and Rahab, by human standards, couldn’t have been further apart. Abraham, a major, revered patriarch, father of the faithful. Rahab, a foreigner, disreputable, a minor character in the bible. If you recall, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua, in preparation for battle, sent two spies to investigate. When soldiers came looking for the spies, Rahab hid them. Rahab tells the spies that she has faith in the same Lord they do. What if Rahab had simply said, “Be Safe! Hope you don’t get caught!” No, she risked herself and was obedient to God.

The reason James uses both Abraham and Rahab is to make a point about our station in life. It doesn’t matter who we are – from Abraham to Rahab, from respected patriarch to redeemed prostitute, our faith is perfected by our deeds. James says both Abraham and Rahab are declared righteous because of their actions.

James’ conclusion in verse 26 repeats what he said in verse 17. Faith without action is dead. It’s not a genuine, saving faith, but a useless imposter. A genuine faith is a saving faith.

I think James is trying to clarify exactly what faith is. When you dissect this chapter, James is saying that faith is not something you say, or think, or feel, or believe. And it’s not even a question of faith versus deeds. Real faith is something you do. Saying you trust God, and actually trusting God are two separate things. Saying you have faith, and actually having faith means you do what God tells you to do, stop making excuses about why you can’t help or serve, and actually getting up to help and serve. God wants us to demonstrate our faith because demonstration means we have to trust God for who he says he is. And when we trust God, he strengthens our faith so we can do even more.

I read a story about faith verses words and belief. George Blondin was a famous tightrope walker in the 1860’s. For a publicity stunt, he decided to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He started slowly, walked step-by-step, very carefully, inch by inch… when he got to the middle, everybody knew one little step would plunge him down the falls to certain death. And when he finally reached the other side, the crowd went wild. And George Blondin said, “I’m going to do it again.” And he did. And when he got to the other side, he said, “I’m going to do it again, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt.” And he did. And a second time, and a third time. And a fourth time. And then at the one trip across, one of spectators says to him, “Wow. That’s incredible. I believe you could do that all day.” And George Blondin dumps the dirt out of the wheelbarrow and says, “Get in.”

An empty faith is no faith at all. And empty faith is a working faith. We can make one of two major mistakes when dealing with faith and deeds. Either is a hindrance to understanding the true gospel, the good news of Christ.

  • Salvation comes by faith plus works. Paul dealt with this subject frequently. We often hear it referred to as “Jesus Plus”. In order to gain salvation, you need Jesus Plus something. This leads to legalism, a focus on the deeds themselves. We cannot work our way into heaven, we cannot earn our salvation. We become like the Pharisees that Jesus had no use for.
  • Salvation comes by intellectual faith alone. Our study today deals with the opposite view that deeds aren’t necessary; it is faith alone that saves. James explains that this, too, is incorrect. Faith alone is worthless, it’s dead, and he even compares it to demonic faith.

    What does the life of a person look like when they hold to one of these false views of salvation? (People focused on deeds are burdened with an expectation to do more, and fail to realize God’s grace. People focused on faith without deeds are pious, holy, useless, and obedience no longer produces sanctification.)

The correct view of salvation which James explains in our text is: Salvation comes by genuine faith that is evidenced by works. Faith and works are not separate, but intertwined as one thing. Jesus Christ is both our savior and our lord. He is not two separate people. Faith alone professes Christ as Savior, and that sort of faith is worthless. True saving faith recognizes Christ both as Savior and as Lord. As He is Lord, we are called to obey, and it is this obedience to Him that demonstrates a saving faith. Jimmy Carter once said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Jesus himself admonishes us to be obedient and express our faith with our deeds. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” And in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 sums it up: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, for a life of good works that God has already prepared for us to do.” That’s what God wants from us. That’s genuine faith.

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God's Word is Essential

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.