The Knowledge that Leads to Mature Faith

summer_landscape_with_forest_lane_path_pathway_way_going_cg1p52762453c_thA favorite passage of mine is found in John 6. To give a little background, the chapter begins with Jesus feeding 5,000 people with fish and bread. Afterwards, His disciples are crossing the lake, a storm comes and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Later, He discusses with the crowd who He is as the Bread of Heaven, and the Bread of Life. Many doubt and question Him, and He then speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many of His listeners became offended and because of that, many turned away from following Him. At this point, Jesus turns to the twelve. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (verses 67-69)

Peter and the others undoubtedly did not understand what Jesus meant in speaking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Yet they did not become offended like the others. Why is that? He answers this question by saying, “We have come to believe and to know…”  The Greek word translated “believe” literally means, “to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit; to place confidence in.” It can also mean “mere acknowledgement of some fact or event; intellectual faith.”

The word translated “know” means “get a knowledge of, perceive; feel; to know, understand; to become acquainted with.” “It is a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” In other words, it speaks of experiential knowledge. Peter is, in essence, saying, “We have thought you are truly who You say You are; we have even been confident in what we believe, but more than that, we have come to know You personally. We have been in relationship with You, and we now know without a doubt, that You are the Messiah.”  

Many say they believe in God, in Jesus, yet they get offended with Him when He doesn’t do things the way they think He should, or the way they would like Him to. Deep down, they still believe they know what is right, they are capable of determining what is best in their situations. Rather than searching their own hearts, they decide to turn away from following Him. At some point in our lives, we’ve all done this. Some people will turn back while others will not.

If we are going to grow into a place of mature faith, however, we must truly come to know Him, just as we would get to know someone face to face. Spending time with Him, in worship, prayer, meditating on His Word and entering into His presence enable us to really know His heart. Then, like Peter and the other disciples, we may encounter situations that we do not understand, but knowing His heart will enable us to remain steadfast. Others will doubt and question Him, but we will say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? There is no one besides You. You alone are life, abundant, eternal life.” 

 

The Full Armor, Not an Exercise, But A Way of Life

db6990f53da4480d112fd1333a3dbe3aAs a believer for forty years, I’ve heard many interpretations and teachings on the full armor of God. It is a subject that many are familiar with. The main passage of Scripture that speaks of it is found in Ephesians 6:10-17. Most have turned it into a mental exercise where one visualizes “putting on” each piece of armor every day. The reason being, this is supposed to keep one safe from enemy attacks, almost like a magic charm or something. Frankly, this is a labor of futility. Not only does it not work, but it also misleads people into believing that going through the motions of this operation can protect them, rather than how they choose to live each day. I do not believe this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this passage, as inspired by the Spirit of God.

When taken at face value, the meaning seems really simple to me. Each piece of the armor is symbolic of one aspect of Jesus’ nature or ministry. There are two different words translated “put on” used, the first is in Ephesians 6:11, the second, in 6:13. The first one means, to sink into clothing, to clothe one’s self, to envelop in, to hide in, to clothe with a garment. The second one means, to take up, to take in (to one’s self), to raise. The word used in 6:11 is the same word used in Romans 13:12, …“put on the armor of light,” and in Ephesians 4:24, “…put on the new self.” In fact, the whole verse of Ephesians 4:22-24, to me, is a precursor to the passage in chapter 6, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

When interpreted in context, as all interpretations should be, the armor of God is, in essence, the nature of Christ. The first piece, the belt of truth, speaks of Jesus who said He was, “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) This means that we should walk in truth in every area of our lives. Since satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), truth will always defeat him. The second piece, the breastplate of righteousness, speaks of Christ’s righteousness which is credited to us at salvation (Phil. 3:9), He, Himself, is our righteousness. The third piece, the shoes of peace, speak of being a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9, James 3:18), and also walking in the peace of God. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), the gospel is to restore peace between God and man (Luke 2:14, Col. 1:20). The fourth piece, the shield of faith, speaks of our faith in Christ which helps us overcome (1 Peter 1:5, 1 John 5:4). The fifth piece, the helmet of salvation, speaks of the protection of our soul (mind, will, emotions) that comes from the hope and meditation of our salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). The sixth, and last piece, the sword of the Spirit, speaks of the Word of God, which we use to refute the lies of the enemy (Heb. 4:12, Rev. 2:12, 2:16, 19:15). Jesus used the Word to defeat the enemy in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-10). It is our offensive weapon.

Finally, it is striking that Paul uses the word “stand” four times in verses 11, 13, and 14. This word literally means, be kept intact, to escape in safety; to uphold or sustain the authority or force of anything; to stop, stand still, to stand immovable, stand firm; to be of a steadfast mind; of quality, one who does not hesitate, does not waiver.” This describes what our position should be when faced with the enemy. We do not fight, but rather stand, clothed with the nature of Jesus, in His authority which is above all authorities. We remain immovable and unshakeable for greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world. 

When we clothe ourselves in Christ, taking on and standing in our new self made in His likeness, we have the greatest protection possible against the attacks of the enemy. This requires us to die to our flesh, surrender our ways, deny ourselves, and walk in obedience to the Lord, by His grace. It doesn’t mean we will never be assaulted by the enemy. It means we will continue to stand, and we will overcome him because Jesus did and He now lives in us. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Eph. 6:13)

The Crucible of Waiting Upon God

In the mundane routine that makes up most of our days, we spend a lot of time fieryhandswaiting. Waiting for the red light to turn green, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting in line to pick up lunch, waiting for the kids to get ready, waiting for the weekend to come. In our busyness, it seems we are relentlessly made to wait. I don’t know about you, but most days I don’t particularly like waiting. Perhaps this is the reason it seems God has had me in an extended period of waiting on Him.

What does it mean to wait upon God? The Bible has a lot to say on this subject. One familiar verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  We are told to wait for Him always: “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” (Hos. 12:6)

There are several saints in the Scriptures who also found themselves waiting on God – sometimes for many years. God visits Abraham, giving him a promise that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age. In the process of waiting, Sarah gets impatient and decides to do it her way, causing problems that we are still dealing with today. Joseph receives a promise through two prophetic dreams and then goes through a long season of waiting on God. After many years and trials, he finally receives the promise of God when he is reunited with his family and promoted to second in command of all of Egypt.

God’s idea of waiting upon Him is not passively sitting around until He decides to move. If you look up the different words that are translated “wait,” the literal meaning of one is, “to look for; to hope; to expect; to look eagerly for.” Another word used literally means, “to wait longingly; to travail; to writhe (in travail for); to wait anxiously, to be distressed; to be pained.” Not exactly a picture of passivity!

Waiting upon God is painful and often distressing. I believe it is the greatest crucible we must endure in our journey of faith. Waiting burns up our flesh, because by nature, we are impatient creatures. God uses seasons of waiting to develop our character. He used Moses’ forty years of tending sheep to humble him. Waiting causes us to realize our great need of, and dependency upon God. Waiting caused Abraham and Sarah to understand that His ways are far higher, and better, than ours.

During seasons of waiting, God wants us to continue to hope. Biblical hope is confident expectation – not wishful thinking. He wants us to continually look for, and expect His promises to be fulfilled. Waiting requires trust, which is faith that He will do what He said He would do. Sometimes in the waiting, He will call us to travail with Him in prayer. In Scripture, this type of prayer is depicted as a woman in labor to bring forth a child. At these times, we must labor in the place of prayer, receiving the burden of His heart and “birthing” it through the Spirit. Paul spoke of this in Galatians 4:19, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” He often labored in prayer to see God have His way in His people.

Waiting is often painful, but it’s a necessary part of our journey to become like Jesus. He is the picture of perfect submission, patience, humility, obedience, and all those wonderful characteristics that we really long for in our own lives. May He teach us all how to wait upon Him!

Seasons of Testing

722ef7429d5bef55b02631684d622cdcA while back, I wrote an article about the different seasons of life. If you didn’t read it, you can here. This morning, my thoughts led me to ponder these seasons a little more deeply. One in particular seemed fitting for the particular season I have been in – the season of testing. As is often the case, a conversation with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while provided the inspiration and hence, this article. After recounting the various trials I’ve been through in the past several months – having major surgery to remove my left hip and the long, painful road to recovery, learning to deal with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair most of the time, losing my dad suddenly and unexpectedly, plus the loss of my husband’s job – she asked me, “How is your faith holding up?”

There is no greater test of our faith than when we are in the midst of the fire. In fact, I have come to believe that you don’t really know where your faith level is at UNTIL it is being tested. Anyone can have faith when things are going smoothly, according to our plans. However, God wants much more from us than being comfortable, while claiming to have great faith. When God was commending Job to the devil, even the devil understood this when he said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) And we all know what happened next; Job was put to the test. 

So is God mean, or angry, does He enjoy watching us suffer? Every saint mentioned in the Bible underwent some form of testing, some more severe than others. It’s understandable why many who don’t believe use this as an excuse. “If God is good, then why do innocent people suffer?” they ask. I admit to wondering this at times, too. Especially when it comes to children. It is true that much suffering is a result of living in a fallen world, or because of our poor choices. But that’s not the point of this article. Why does God allow His beloved children, His chosen ones to go through such trials and testings, even when they have faithfully served Him? I have wrestled with this question for many years.

To understand God’s ways in our seasons of testing requires that we step back from the moment and take a good, hard look at the big picture. In other words, we must have an eternal perspective. As finite humans, we get confused when we focus in on our little world with all of its difficulties – the things that get in the way of us having or doing what we want. Financial lack, sickness, job losses, relational issues, etc., often consume us and turn our focus inward. We seek the quickest, easiest way to get out of the pain. When that doesn’t work, we cry, moan, and groan. We are not unlike the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness.

But God in His wisdom, allows what He could easily prevent in His power. He does this because He sees and knows the big picture, and what He is trying to accomplish in us. James had this revelation when he wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) There it is – the testing of your faith. Faith must be tested. Testing produces perseverance, endurance, patience. These characteristics, found within the nature of God, will bring us to maturity and perfection. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing seasons of testing is to make us more like Him. If we fail to understand that and resist the process, we only prolong the trials and suffering. Israel’s eleven day journey became forty years of wandering. 

God is not mean, angry, or vengeful. He does not enjoy seeing His people suffer. But like a good parent, He knows that we don’t know what is best for us. He understands how to raise us up into mature sons and daughters. Granted, it’s a painful process, as any parent would testify. It often hurts to discipline our children because we feel their pain. Even more so, does our heavenly Father. Though it may seem harsh at times, His goodness is seen as He walks with us through the fire, and doesn’t prolong it beyond what is absolutely necessary to accomplish His perfect will in us. Instead of praying to get out of the test, may He give us grace to cooperate with Him so we may pass the tests and move on to maturity!

 

Finishing Well

finishing race“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

In our instantaneous society of fast food, microwave meals, instant internet, and Amazon Prime, it is easy to miss the importance of endurance. Yet endurance is a virtue that is attributed to God Himself. We see that in the verses above, as well as others like, Acts 13:17-18 where He endured the rebelliousness of the children of Israel. He is said to give us endurance in Romans 15:5. He commended the church of Ephesus for their endurance in Revelation 2:2-3.

Endurance is defined as, “the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc. The ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue,stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina; lasting quality; duration.” According to the passage in Hebrews, endurance is required to finish our race. In order to learn endurance, we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect model of perseverance.

Not only are we to look to Jesus, who is both the Author, or Pioneer of our faith, but we are to consider those who have gone before us – the great cloud of witnesses. They are called witnesses because they have seen the truth of God’s promises to complete the good work He began in them. Jesus is the Author and Finisher, or Perfecter of our faith. In other words, our faith begins and ends in and with Him. He alone is able to help us endure to the end, and He will, if we are willing.

Jesus endured by focusing on the “joy set before Him.” What was that joy? I believe it was the joy of knowing He would have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish, one who loved Him enough to endure whatever came against her. One who wouldn’t give up or quit when the going got tough because His love for her would sustain her. The joy of His future wedding day, I believe, is what enabled Him to endure the pain and shame of the cross. And when He returned to His Father, He sat down at His right hand – the place of authority, favor, and power. He finished His race – the work His Father gave Him to do from before creation – and He finished it well. We are called to do the same.

We are to consider Him, what He went through and endured, so we do not grow weary and lose heart. The more we behold Him, the more we become like Him. Meditating on these truths will enable us, by His grace, to finish our race and to finish it well. We cannot lose if we do not quit. He will be faithful to complete what He began in us if we will trust Him.

Standing on God our Rock

standing on rockI wrote briefly last week about a recent season of adversity I’ve been (and still am) going through. As I said in that short article, I’ve been processing what God has been showing me so that it might provide insight for others in difficult situations. Of course, I also expect to gain greater understanding of what He’s doing in my life.

One recent night I was unable to sleep, and was scrolling through the internet reading articles that caught my attention. After reading one, the Lord led me to Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The next verse He brought to mind was Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” There are plenty of rich nuggets in these verses, more than could fit within this short article, so I will only focus on those that make my point.

In the first passage, Jesus says that storms will come to everyone – wise or foolish. The house represents our life. We all have the choice of what kind of foundation we will build our lives upon and that foundation is either our way, or His way. He describes His way as a rock – immovable, firm, unchanging, while our way is likened to sand – unstable, constantly shifting, soft. The storms are the circumstances of this life – death, sickness, lack, and other forms of adversity. These are things we all face because we live in a fallen world.

Though we are all impacted by troubles, if we build our lives upon the truth of His Word, we will not be devastated or destroyed. However, if we choose to go our own way, He declares our lives will face great devastation and ruin. Some of this can apply to our lives here on the earth, as well as our lives in the next age.

The second passage is similar in meaning. The “full armor” of God are characteristics describing different aspects of Jesus’ ministry. He is the Truth (belt); He is our righteousness (breastplate); He is our salvation (helmet); He is our Prince of peace (shoes); our faith is in Him (shield), and the Spirit is our weapon (the sword/Word).

To “put on ” the armor of God it is not some sort of mental exercise we go through daily for fear we will be unprotected if we forget. It means to walk in His ways – His character and nature. When we do this, He says we can then “stand [our ground].” The ground refers again, to our foundation. When we build upon the foundation of His ways, His character and nature, we can trust we will indeed stand, no matter who or what may come against us. And, even more importantly, He will be standing beside and around us for He dwells within us.

Therefore, whatever we may be facing, we can have the assurance that He will bring us through it victorious, if we continue to stand on Him – our faithful, unchanging Rock.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Steps to Biblical Faith

Charlene S Hughes

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the necessity of having patience in order to inherit faithGod’s promises. If you didn’t see that, you can read it here. The other ingredient we must have is faith. Faith, like love, is a word that is used so much we seem to have lost the significance of its meaning. For the past several years, I have been wrestling with the concept of faith. Here are a few nuggets I’ve come across so far; I hope you find them helpful as well.

From what I’ve observed in many churches and in the majority of Christians I’ve ministered to for many years, it seems faith has been reduced to a mental agreement with certain beliefs. This is in stark contrast to what is depicted in Scripture. What preceded belief in the saints was a firm conviction. This conviction was birthed through revelation…

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