“If one believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as his substitute he already has been united with the Lord Jesus in His death. For me to believe that in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus is to believe that I already have been punished in the Lord Jesus. The penalty of my sin is death; yet the Lord Jesus suffered death for me; therefore I have died in Him.”
“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.”
“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac,18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”[ 19Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”
Hebrews 11:17-19, NLT
The faith of Abraham is understood by believers everywhere. This simple man followed God to a obscure mountain in Judea. He came fervently, and yet logically to the command of the Lord. Abraham’s confident assurance would carry him to Mt. Moriah were he would sacrifice his son. He would prefigure God’s own sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only Son.
There were many steps Abraham had to take: the knife, the rope, the firewood, the donkey. There was a dozen details to arrange. Abraham would have had to plan ahead of time to prepare. I’m relatively certain he had ample time to consider what he was doing. The enormity of it all would’ve been staggering.
Hebrews reveals that ‘faith’ was what enabled Abraham. It was faith followed by a dozen little obediences that strengthened him to follow God’s instructions. Abraham would obey God, through faith, by doing many little things. All would lead up to the ‘big thing,’ the offering up of his only son.
I believe that no act is too small. Heavy doors swing on small hinges. Tiny obediences make for big ones. And sometimes we can’t tell them apart. It seems that several times during our daily grind we face little choices that often determine a far greater meaning. I’ve been told that there are flowers in alpine valleys that no man will ever see. Their sole beauty is visible only to God. Obedience is often like this. But the Lord knows.
God meets every act of obedience to Him with a smiling grace.
Hebrews 11 is known as the believer’s ‘hall of fame’. In its verses we’re pounded by the idea that the faith is visible only through obedience. What we do is as significant as what we believe. It has always been so.
“…but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”
Daniel 11:32, NKJV
Little obediences prepare us for big ones. If we won’t obey in the small ones, how will we in the big ones? The prophet Daniel spoke of a remnant that would do astonishing things, and that the core of their fame would come from knowing God. This is faith made visible. The ‘great exploits’ spring out of a faith in a strong God. To be regarded in this way would be wonderful, but faith needs those little obediences to be able to do the great ones.
We must reclaim the reality that the details of our lives are not trivial.
“Please be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, we are simply asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so you can acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.”
“We concentrate on this, and pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.”
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the ‘long haul”—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the “glory-strength” God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable, and then spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. ”
This is a paraphrase that I made of Colossians 1:9-12, using the Message Bible. This is one of those “scripture” prayers, often found in the Psalms, but also in the Epistles. It does seem as Paul actually prayed as he wrote. This prayer is indeed evidence of this. It has the wonderful side effect of praying while doing something else, and what that might look like, especially when done discreetly and appropriately.
“Tensile” is a most interesting word, and concept. It has the idea of being stretched without being torn apart. A perfect word to describe intercessory prayer.
Do we really pray enough? It isn’t a question of “volume” but of quality, and precision. When I am focused and begin to be directed to a certain person, or a very idea— I start to pray, focused and accurate. But in the “quantity” aspect. I do admit I often falter and fumble this.
The content of this man’s prayer was fabulous, and incredibly strong. It does seem that it covers quite a few bases. We can draw out so much. And yet I keep coming back to the manner in which Paul prayed. I wonder if we could be taught to do the same?
Somehow we start praying in this same level. By faith we can weave that tensile strength into hearts of those we love, and understand the hearts of our brothers, or sisters.
“Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness.”
“Through these fields of destruction, baptism of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering, as the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad, in the fear and alarm
You did not desert me, my brothers in arms”
Dire Straits, ’84
Loyalty, and our deep committment to our “brothers” and our “sisters” should be growing in your life right now. It should be “escorting” you to a deeper sense of intimacy with each other. About 20 years ago, I visited a Lutheran church on a Sunday service. There was a point in the liturgy when you were to greet the people around you. I remember grabbing a guy in the pew in front of me. I gave him a massive bear hug, squeezing the air from him. He was my brother, even though he was a stranger! I hung on tight to him. He was my brother.
In Bible times David and Jonathan had a friendship that defied political reasoning. Jonathan was supposed to be the next king of Judah, everything had been arranged by his father, Saul. But when David came into Jonathan’s life, everything was changed. An instant friendship changed everything. They would remain loyal to each other for the rest of their lives. I believe they are a model of what we are to each other, in the church.
I will confess to you, I have neglected so much in my spiritual walk. There is a lot I am ashamed of. I have sinned more as a Christian, than I ever did before I came to Christ. As a Christian, I have sinned quite vigorously. But one thing, I have held to beyond all else. I loved my brothers. They all know who they are! I can list them if you want. But in the final analysis, I have been faithful to them. I’m pretty stupid, in so many ways. But it seems that at this particular level, things are simplified. “Do you love, Allen? Of course I do, Father: even if he is in a strange and difficult place, I love my brother; always, and forever.”
Loyalty to those who have been brought into our lives, should not ever be diminished or explained away for what we call “logical reasons.” There should be a connection that should never, ever be terminated. Some of the brothers who I connected to in the ’80s, are no longer serving the Lord. But as I think of them, there is a relationship that can’t be broken, even by their disobedience. I still love them deeply.
Being loyal to someone, does not mean you honor their choices, or their sin. It seems that the issues they grapple with, can’t ever really erode or diminish your love for them. When I was a boy, on occasion we declared a “blood” oath with each other. It was almost “ceremonial,” we would cut our thumbs and meld with each other, mixing blood with blood. If only commitment and loyalty were that easy. But this is the definition of an “agape love.”
I believe the Holy Spirit sees, and honors loyalty. But I admit, I’m not doing this things for His blessing. Rather it is a compulsion, something I know is right; something I will do until they bury me. And I honestly can’t explain it. But they will always be my “brothers in arms.”
My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, and the three epistles that he wrote, and of course, Revelation.
There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:
He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to Jesus life, death, and resurrection.
He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.
It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).
John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.”Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.
The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:
I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).
“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).
“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. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).
None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.
John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.
Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.
You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”
Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT
This is the precise key many need for this moment. It just could be as vital as your next breath.
You see our faith was never intended to be a personal ‘spiritual make-over.’ Discipleship was not meant to be about becoming a ‘new-and-improved’ person. That simply is not the message. There can be an emphasis placed on a selfish preoccupation with becoming better (and nicer) and we miss out on God’s real intent for His redeemed people. The difference is subtle but significant. We cannot sanctify our selfishness— no matter how hard we might try.
For years I travelled under a misconception that God wanted from me ‘a better Bryan.’ I felt like a juggler trying to keep the balls moving. But by making this my focus, and not on others, I only exacerbated my mental illness. For me, my depression is only intensified when I look inside. Often I can’t see the needs around me. All I can see are my own issues (which are formidable.)
Isaiah prophesies a spiritual ’cause-and-effect.” If a person will only reach out to others will there be a spiritual blessing. Often we struggle because we don’t realize the implications of being spent for others. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ if we will only reach out to others. If we would only learn that it is when we give out— we receive. The kingdom is reciprocal in the way blessings come.
“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
The entire chapter of Isaiah 58 makes it a vital point to the people of God. Our own healing is contingent on becoming a blessing to others. If we will pour out we will be poured on. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ when we begin to serve others. Our own ‘healing’ will come when we reach out to the desperate needs around us. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?
“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.”
John 9:4, NLT
To be quick means that we move very fast; being slow often implies a reluctance or a mental delay. To hesitate while doing God’s will for us suggests a degree of ignorance or stubbornness. Our quickness is to be seen while doing “the tasks assigned to us.”
Urgency should be woven into our hearts. We need to have wings on our feet, a fleetness and an alacrity. A “double-eagerness” as we carry out His work. It should be of no surprise that God sets before us an itinerary of work He wants us to do.
So many brothers and sisters sleepwalk through their salvation. They snooze when Jesus desires they “watch and pray”with Him.
Jesus was on a timetable. He communicated a need of doing. He is in tune with the work of God, and is involved in the urgency of his present moment. Jesus knows this, and he clearly communicates the need to do. We are not called to be manic for Jesus; we are expected to be alert and aware.
This is a cry for urgency to his disciples.
“The night is coming.” It is getting late. In response Jesus issues an order. Work at what the Father has assigned you. It is almost dark now. There is a “principle of spiritual velocity” calling us to an alertness and an awareness of needful things to do before “the time is up.”
In Acts 9 the disciples show a holy zeal in their day’s work. “We can’t stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” The Old Testament prophets carried this urgency–Jeremiah and Amos both declared to us this avidity placed on the believer. Jesus desires that we factor in this concentrated awareness of the approaching night.
I recently read of an evangelist in the last century. He had a watch made, and on the dial he had a picture of a setting sun. And over it, the words, “the night comes.” Everytime he would look at his watch he would be reminded of the shortness of life and the need of the performance of his duty. That lesson should be transmitted to each zealous believer.
The key word I guess, in all of this, is zeal. And often the older we get the more this word becomes diminished, and distant. (I believe our Father understands this about us.) No matter what we do, He focuses His love on us. There will never be a condemnation on us. But we can still waste away our lives in a tragic way, which we will later regret.
But we have to ask ourselves this, will I just be an admirer, or can I become a zealous disciple of Christ?