Category Archives: Faith

Battling Bitterness with the Gospel of Grace

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15 ESV)

This section comes on the heels of the section of scripture (Hebrews 12:3-13) that encourages the reader to endure their difficult circumstances and to view them as God’s loving, fatherly discipline.  He calls them (and us) to strive or work towards being peaceful with others and toward holiness – without which no one will see God.  We know that we are positionally holy because of the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus, but we are also called to live holy lives – to see our outside begin to match what He is doing inside.  The community aspect of our faith comes in to focus in verse 15, as we are called to make sure that no one in the community of faith fails to obtain the grace of God – that is everyone in our community understands and embraces the grace that God extends to the elect.  We are called to preach and press the gospel constantly in our lives and in our churches.

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15 ESV).  Press the gospel and grace, bathe yourself and your community in it and make sure that there is no “root of bitterness” among you.  This is the same Greek phrase that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses in Deuteronomy 29:18:  “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit,” (Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV).  When our heart turns away from God and looks to created things as the object of its worship, bitterness is the common byproduct.  Why?  Because we feel entitled to goodness and blessing and we aren’t getting what we think is due us.  Bitterness indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of grace and it is contagious in a community of faith.  When you find yourself struggling with anger or bitterness, the answer is not “just stop it,” or “try harder.”  The answer is to beg God to help you with your unbelief (Mark 9:24) and to help you to see His spectacular grace (undeserved approval) afforded to you, the chief of all sinners.  Grace is not owed to us, but is freely given in the person of Jesus.

Pursue peace and holiness as a community; in order to do this we must keep the gospel of God’s grace as the central component in our minds or else unbelief & idolatry can sneak in and produce bitterness in our lives and in our communities of faith.

By Faith…

The bible describes two types of belief:  one might look right on the outside, but lacks the power to save or transform, but the other drives us to an abiding walk with the God of the universe.  Having a mere mental assent to Jesus and the gospel is powerless to save or transform (James 2:9).  Unfortunately, our churches seem to be full of those who have “prayed a prayer,” walked an aisle, serve diligently, know & have shared the gospel, pray and attend church regularly, but their belief only resides in their heads and has no real root in their hearts.  Jesus addresses this phenomenon in Matthew 7:23 when people will come before Him and put up their impressive (in our eyes) resumes of the works that they have done in Jesus name.  Jesus response?  Depart from me, I never knew you.  Too many church goers have little regard for God, His glory and have no true, sustained desire to follow Him, walk with Him or know Him; we want His blessings, benevolence and good gifts (i.e. good marriages, successful careers, moral children, influence or even ministry significance or success), but really have no desire for God Himself (Romans 1:25).  Far too many have what Paul describes as “an appearance of godliness, but they deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).  Morality and obedience to a form of external religiosity are not the primary indicators of true belief.

Getting belief from our head to our heart is an impossible task for men.  God must do this, God must regenerate the heart so that our desires and affections begin to change.  The bible calls this type of transforming belief faith.  The bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV), and says that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).  Faith is a settled confidence & trust that the things that have been promised by God will actually come to pass – especially that Jesus has atoned for our sins and that we no longer need to strive in an attempt to appease God or win His favor.  This faith is rooted in God, who is sovereign, majestic, holy and true – He will bring to pass everything that He has promised to do.  Our faith is in God and who He is, not in the blessings of God.  Yes, we long for heaven, for all things to be made new, but ultimately our faith is in God.  As faith changes us on the inside, it moves us to obedience on the outside.

So what does faith look like on the ground; what does it look like in real life?  Hebrews 11 gives us examples of those who exercised trust in God.  With names like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses Jacob, Joseph, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David & Samuel, it is nearly always the goto place in scripture when it comes to faith.  Abraham, the father of faith, was called by God to exercise faith and abandon all sources of identity & security and trust & rely completely on God for his provision, protection & identity (Hebrews 11:8-10).  Faith always yields obedience, but our white knuckled obedience never produces faith.

We often times think that the bible gives us these great people who have gone before us, as examples for us to follow.  That is partially true, but the bible does not tell us these people’s story as a means for us to mimic their lives, but, rather, to reveal the faithfulness of God.  God is in focus in this passage, not Abraham or Sarah or David.  Yes, they exercised faith in God, however, it is a good thing that God’s plans, actions and benevolence are not predicated on our belief & obedience; His sovereign will comes to pass regardless of our obedience.  The bible does not gloss over people’s failures and stumblings.  Look at Abraham’s life:

  • God calls Abram to be a great nation (Genesis 12)
  • Abraham lies to Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12:10-20)
  • Abraham struggles about being childless, but believes God and this simple belief/trust/faith was credited to Him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:6.  It is important to note that God views Abraham as righteous based upon His trusting God, not on His obedience to God.
  • Abraham & Sarah attempt to fulfill the promise on their own by Abraham having sex with Hagar and getting her pregnant (Genesis 16).
  • God gives the covenant of circumcision after Abraham was declared righteous before God (Genesis 17).
  • God promises the birth of Isaac, but Sarah doubts God ( Genesis 17-18, 18:9-15)
  • Abraham again pretends that Sarah is not his wife to save his own skin with Ablimilech (Genesis 20)

Our battle, like Abraham & Sarah, is to believe the seemingly impossible promises of God that are rooted in His good, sovereign and transcendent nature.  Abraham & Sarah both struggled with believing that God was able to do what He said He would do.  Abraham lied about Sarah being His wife (twice!) and they attempted to “help” God by trying to fulfill the promise on their own with Hagar.  Let us, with Abraham, Sarah, David and those who have gone before us, battle for belief that this great God of ours is indeed faithful to what He has promised.  Let us go to the scriptures, swim in books and talk to others in such a way that our faith in our sovereign Creator is bolstered and our affections for Him are stirred up.  This is the work that we must be about, it is a work of battling unbelief and developing a deeper faith that draws near to believing that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).  Note that it tells us that we primarily should draw near to him and seek him; it does not say to do great things for Him as if God needs us to accomplish anything.  God is not reliant upon us, but He allows to play a part in His grand redemptive plan.  Let us all draw near to Him and believe that He exists and will reward us as we seek Him!

Perfect peace

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3–4 ESV)

Perfect peace is supplied to those whose minds are “stayed” on God and TRUST in Him alone!  He is an unmovable Rock.  What are we trusting in?  Our own self salvation or the eternal God that reigns on high?  God will humble those who trust in their own self sufficiency.  “For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.” (Isaiah 26:5 ESV)  Trust in God!

Iranian Pastor Faces Execution for Refusing to Recant Christian Faith

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)

Pray for Youcef Nadarkhani, he is facing death for his faith in Iran.  Read more here.  Is Jesus worth that much to us?

VIDEO UPDATE

Ultimate Trust

“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isaiah 19:1 ESV).  “They will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers; and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.” (Isaiah 19:3–4 ESV).

Egypt’s ultimate trust was in their idols and the ultimate result was oppression.  Where is your ultimate trust?  Does that trust lead you in to freedom or oppression?  The interesting thing about idols is that you can inquire of them for wisdom and direction, but they don’t answer.  Where do you go for wisdom, insight and direction?

Messiah is Coming!

The messiah is coming and He will transform the world:  Isaiah 11:1-16.  Characteristics?  “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,” (Isaiah 11:2 ESV) “And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD,” (Isaiah 11:3 ESV) “with righteousness he shall judge,” (Isaiah 11:4 ESV) “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins,” (Isaiah 11:5 ESV) “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” (Isaiah 11:6 ESV) “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.” (Isaiah 11:8 ESV).  Empowered by the Spirit, delighting in God, judging rightly, faithful, peace will reign, oppression will end.  God will restore his dispersed people from across the globe!  God is mighty!  “And the LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt, and will wave his hand over the River with his scorching breath, and strike it into seven channels, and he will lead people across in sandals. And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that remains of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt.” (Isaiah 11:15–16 ESV)

I will wait for the Lord, I will hope in Him

“For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:11–15 ESV)

The people of Judah are afraid of surface level threats because they have no fear of God.  They have such a low view of the majestic grandeur of the Creator that they are easily shaken by what is going on around them.  We should not fear what others fear, nor dread what others dread for our eyes are fixed on the transcendent majesty of the King of all the earth.  He is our strength, protection, hope, salvation and strength.  God promises to preserve a remnant of faithful, loyal disciples while the remainder of the people remain stiff-necked and complain against God while they are taken in to exile.  A patient trust in God characterizes those whom are part of the remnant.  Is our faith really in God, or is it in other things – surface level things that distract us from full devotion?  “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (Isaiah 8:17 ESV)

Theology Refresh: Sanctification

Desiring God is doing a series of brief interviews with various teachers called “Theology Refresh.”  John Piper just did two on sanctification.

Part 1 covers sanctification in general.  The progressive nature of becoming more like Jesus, being made more in to His image, becoming more holy in practice.
Listen now or download

Part 2 covers how sanctification works “on the ground;” how it happens in the real world and what role does the gospel plays in our sanctification.  Listen now or download 

Are you partaking or are you passively sitting out

The cast of people who discover Jesus’ empty tomb and whom Jesus commissions is not exactly an “A-Team” of high capacity people.  That is just the way Jesus likes it, He uses the weak things of this world to bring himself glory (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Mary Magdalene, the formerly demon possessed woman (along with other women) discover the empty tomb; the testimony of a woman was not admissible in court, much less a formally demon possessed woman!  Not exactly the strategy that we would choose to establish the creditability of the resurrection!  We then see Thomas, who is plagued by doubts and Peter who is so impulsive that he jumps out of his boat and swims to shore.  But, Jesus engages them, loves them and commissions them – these people are the ones that He chose to build His church.  Is there any doubt Who the real the builder is?  These disciples were just partakers in God’s divine plan.  Are you partaking or are you passively sitting out?

-John 20:16-21:25

Quotes from Battling Unbelief

“Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace.  As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects is anxiety.  The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus.”  (page 25, see Matthew 6:25-34)

“The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval.” (page 49)

“You must think that your protection hangs on you.  And even though you are not sure that your own resources will take care of you, yet you opt for fragile self-reliance, rather than faith in future grace.”  (page 52)

“Because pride does not like to admit that it has anxieties.  And if pride has to admit it, it still does not like to admit that the remedy might be trusting someone else who is wiser and stronger.”  (page 53)

“The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss.  It’s a deepening, ripening place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience-to wait in his place and go at his pace.”  (page 71)

“Patience is an evidence of inner strength.  Impatient people are weak, and therefore dependent on external supports-like schedules that go just right and circumstances that support their fragile hearts.”  (page 74)

Battling Unbelief by John Piper (page 49)