From Faith into Knowledge and Experience

There are Christians who believe and teach that faith is the end all of our experience with God, that nothing exists beyond faith.

As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever being in a church service wherein faith was presented as something that moved a person from point A to point B, rather it\’s just something to have and to hold for the purpose of \”pleasing God.\”

Furthermore, I don\’t recall hearing that faith moves into or becomes something else. I have always heard faith being something you possess, a thing that you keep and maintain, but never as something which changes or goes away. Rather it is presented as once you\’ve got this elusive, all needed ethereal faith, then you just need to maintain it: keep the faith, as they say.

In a previous post, I discussed natural faith vs. Biblical or God given faith. I provided an example of natural faith which, contrary to popular belief and custom, is used routinely and relied upon daily. In regards to faith, God has imbued man in the natural with that which he must exercise in Spiritual. In either case the results – though differing – are the same.

The Scientific Method
The scientific method requires that we postulate either an outcome or the reason for an outcome (observation vs. idea), and then set about proving or disproving our postulate. This postulate is known as the hypothesis (defined here and here), and the mechanism of proving or disproving it is known as the scientific method.

For example, man observed water in its various forms in rivers, lakes and oceans as a liquid and a solid. So, he set about to discover for himself exactly how water exists in nature and then, lo and behold, discovered exactly what the scriptures had already told us.

But lets break this down just a bit more. Clearly man had knowledge of water in several states (liquid and solid), and a at least one other variation known as the condensate (i.e., clouds). The question was, how do we get from water to condensate and back to water? That was the invisible, missing link.

So, he said to himself, \”Self, I believe that water evaporates from a source, becomes a gas, travels through the air, condenses into a cloud, and then falls back to earth as rain.\” As a matter of fact, he believed it so firmly that he set about to prove it.

In this process of discovering for himself the nature of water, what exactly happened? Man made an observation, created a hypothesis and proved himself right. Or, we could also say that he accumulated a system of beliefs (based in observations) regarding a subject domain (water), created a hypotheses regarding that subject domain, and implemented a method to discover if his system of beliefs were correct.

When man went from a simple hypotheses into observing his hypotheses proven, he went from trust and belief into knowledge and experience.  Interestingly enough, the scientific method is inextricably tied to man, through and by his observations.  It could be argued (and very well, I might add) that man\’s scientific proofs, and their underlying theories, are based solely upon man\’s trust and belief in himself to first properly conjecture, and secondly, to properly observe a given phenomena.  It\’s why we have a thing called \”peer review.\”  Peer review is the vetting, the process of other people reviewing anothers\’ findings in order to determine if the other person has postulated and observed correctly.

What is Faith?
In it\’s simplest definition, faith is trusting and believing.  Therefore, when man observed water and proved it\’s circulatory path, it is just as valid to say that man went from faith into knowledge and experience as it is to say that man went from hypothesis into proof.
What exactly are we saying? When trust and belief is well placed and well formed, it always results in a knowledge that proves and substantiates the belief. We no longer just believe that water turns into vapor and condensates into clouds, we have empirical evidence resulting in knowledge that it behaves in this manner.

Faith works exactly the same way. Faith is trusting and believing, and faith brings experience and knowledge.

Seeking the Experience: The Spirit of Religiosity says it\’s a no-no
There are Christians who will tell you that seeking an experience with God, other than the mental ascension which you can acquire through faith based in doctrine (doctrine as derived from the knowledge of reading scripture) is wrong. What are they saying? Head knowledge good. Mustered up belief good. Actually expecting to have your cancer or migraines cured because of what Jesus commanded us in the Gospel according to Mark? Uhm … no: don\’t go there.

On one point I must agree: seeking the experience for the sake of partaking in the experience can be wrong.  In example, when one has no desire for relationship with God nor the creation and nurturing of Godly Life.

An Example of Experiential Faith
So then, why did Moses raise his staff and his hand at the Red Sea? Well, because God told him to: 

But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:16)

Did Moses believe God? Apparently so. What was the result of that belief? Works, experience and knowledge were the result. What exactly did Moses do? In my view, he thrust out his staff with his right hand in an upward and outward motion parallel with his body. His left hand went forward over the waters, perpendicular first to the left, then to the right in a parting motion.

That is probably not what you had in mind, but it does reflect exactly what God said to do: \”… lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it.\” Have you ever understood before now that God told Moses to \”divide\” the sea? That\’s not exactly how it happened in the movie, is it?

So, when did Moses stop believing God would part the Red Sea?

Ah, I can hear the wheels in your thoughts spinning! \”Moses never stopped believing God would part the Red Sea!\” Are you sure? \”Yes\”, you\’re probably thinking.   As a matter of fact, not only do I disagree, I assert that you\’ve believed a lie. I maintain that at a given point, Moses stopped believing God would part the sea. Hear me out and keep reading.

Are you a parent? (if not, imagine that you have a 3 year old running about).

When did you stop believing your child would be born?  Seriously: in the midst of the labor, when did you stop believing that your child would be born? Do you still believe your child will be born?

Once the labor was over and your child was in your arms, you stopped believing your child would be born: at about that point, you moved from faith into knowledge and experience. You knew that your child had been born. And as our curtain climbing, crumb-grabbing rug rats continue to evade even our simplest logic of normalcy and move into child hood, teenage years and adult hood, we no longer believe that our child will be born, we continue in the knowledge of the ever changing ramifications of that simple act of our child being born.

I submit to you that once Moses believed God and stepped into the works of his faith, he stopped believing and entered into knowledge of the sea parting from left to right and forward to the other side, just as God said it would.

Semantics you say? Hardly. Are you telling me that you sill believe your child will be born, after the fact?

Did God part the sea? Yes and no. Of course, God provided the power for the works. But He also told Moses to \”divide it.\” So, not only did Moses have to believe God, to take him at His word, Moses had to provide the works in order to prove God, to provide for an experience of the nature of God.

In doing exactly what God told him to do, Moses moved from belief into knowledge, just as you moved from belief of your child being born into the knowledge that your child has been born. So, once Moses moved into the works of proving God, Moses stopped believing the sea would part and moved into the knowledge of seeing that it was parted before him.

Attacks against Experiential Faith
This tidy argument of rejecting an experience with God falls squarely into the plan of Satan: for if he can convince you that experiences with God are wrong and should not be sought, then he has short-circuited your faith journey. And by damaging your faith journey he effectively prohibits your ability to abide in Christ.

Biblical Faith Produces Knowledge
Biblical faith, that which is given by God, always produces an experience based in the faith which came beforehand. It\’s the law. If faith does not produce knowledge, then it was not Biblical faith. Scripture clearly says this about faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1

What happens when the \”thing not seen,\” the \”thing hoped for\” shows up? You no longer have faith: you have knowledge.

The experience provided by faith produces knowledge of God and the experience is always the effect of the faith given. Faith producing an experience is a cause and effect relationship: God gives us cause, reason and ability to believe Him and then provides a tangible experience of the faith He authored.

Practically speaking, I don\’t believe God heals, I know that He does (and I have seen the MRIs that prove it). I don\’t trust that God saves, I know that He does.

God\’s gift of faith always moves us into an experience resulting in knowledge. And once we have the knowledge He wanted to impart to us, we have a place of abiding and operating because we have knowledge of who God is.

Consider the first few verses of 2 Peter.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, … For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God said that we would have knowledge of salvation, that Jesus came to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (Luke 1:77)

The only way to have knowledge of salvation is to execute (perform) the works of faith for that which is given through grace. You can go to church, hear the good news and believe that Jesus is the Christ, but until you act out on your faith, you will never experience salvation. You do not go to heaven for being good, and you don\’t go to hell for being bad. Goodness and badness are results of belief systems acting out. Life and death, on the other hand, are states of being. You are either alive to God or you are dead to God.

That\’s why the Atheist cannot comprehend the Christian: the Atheist is operating from a position of disbelief where as the born again Christian is operating from a position of knowledge. Darkness cannot comprehend light because darkness has no substance, no reality.

A Bit About Darkness and Light
Enter a room and turn out the light. What happens? It becomes dark. Have you ever stopped to consider that darkness is not a thing? Light, on the other hand, is a thing: it\’s a photon. Conversely, darkness is simply the absence of photons. Darkness, in a real sense, does not exist – it is not a tangible thing. Darkness is simply the terminology we use to describe the absence of photons. But we certainly treat darkness it as if it were a tangible object.

The absence of knowledge is like darkness. Knowledge exists, and so does ignorance. But ignorance is not a tangible thing, it can only be defined by that which is absent: knowledge.

However, belief and trust without knowledge is still faith: faith has substance, it is evidence and substance of things hoped for. When God gives faith, He is providing a tangible substance of things yet to be. When God proves Himself, faith is no longer needed for that given thing for knowledge has arrived. It is this knowledge of God that we call abiding, since abiding provides fruit, or knowledge of salvation:

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

You cannot observe a tree bearing fruit without the fruit being on the tree. Observation of the tree bearing fruit is knowledge of the fruit. Knowing in the dead of winter that your apple trees will bear fruit in the summer is well placed faith. That well placed faith will be proven out in knowledge when you pick the fruit in the harvest (assuming frost does not kill the buds and the bees do their jobs).

Therefore, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

The Experience of Salvation
Although you, as a Christian, know that salvation is a gift given by grace through faith, have you ever stopped to think that salvation has a tangible and quantifiable effect? It results in a change that provides not only an immediate experience, but a life long experience as well.

This is why scripture admonishes us to work out our salvation (Philpians. 2:12) and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). If you do not have the experience of salvation or observe the fruit of salvation in another, then you have reason for suspect. The result, the experience of salvation is quantifiable, it is something of which you have intimate knowledge.

An Example of Failure in Faith
On the other hand, Jesus told the disciples to feed the 5000, and they said \”with what, 200 denarii?\” Jesus set them up to respond and act in faith so that they could have an experience of feeding the multitude and thus move into knowledge of what the proper application of trust and belief can provide. Even though they failed the faith test, Jesus still fed the people, in order to provide knowledge that might grow their faith in the future.

The same thing happens today. When God provides faith that He will do something or does something unexpected, people may sometimes become fearful and reject His presence, just as the Gadarenes did. If God\’s presence in your life is offensive, then you run the risk of excusing Him to move on to someone or someplace else.

Conclusion
God has provided in the natural an example of how His gifts of faith function. He provides reason to believe, gives the substance and evidence of things not seen through faith and then follows it up with an experience reflecting the faith He provided. Through trusting and believing we learn to abide in Him through the partaking of his Divine nature. Seeking the experience provided by God through faith is natural and expected, but seeking an experience for the sake of the experience only is rejecting the One who wishes to prove Himself to you through faith and knowledge. We all have the capacity to believe and to exercise faith, to take His word and believe it, and as such, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Perseverance: Gaining a Proper Perspective on Trials and Tribulations

Persevering through trials and tribulations is something that we must all do:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4)

But a problem arises when we fall back into the lessons of those who have taught us a lie, through either the error of man\’s understanding or by listening to evil.

We know, or we should know, that we are to no longer walk as the un-regenerated also walk, who in the futility of their mind, are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. If you do not approach the trials and tribulations in which you find yourself with a proper attitude and perspective, then Satan will win the battle and gain victory. In defeat, you will have failed to exult in your heritage, and you will become callous and open the door to opportunities to fall further into sin (Ephesians 4:17-18)

It Begins with Knowing Who You Are

It all begins with our attitude and our perspective, both of which are formed by our knowledge of God and our belief and our trust of who we are in Christ.

For example, if you are a born again believer and you are in a church wherein the pastor refers you and other Christians simply as \”sinners saved by grace\”, or you view yourself as \”just a sinner saved by grace\”, then in the former case you need to find a new church, and in the latter case, you need to re-read your Bible and learn who you are in Christ. Christians are not just sinners saved by grace, Christians are Saints. If you believe you\’re just a sinner saved by grace, then you\’ll act like a sinner.

Understanding The Law of Being

There is a law called the Law of Being. For example, one is either male or female. There are dogs and there are cats, fish, and birds. Each one has a given state of being. A fish can no more live and act like a bird than a dog can sharpen its claws like a cat.

Satan understands the Law of Being and he uses it against you.

It\’s All About What You Believe

He knows that whatever you believe, you will become: \”for as he thinks within himself, so he is\” (Proverbs 23:7) and \”whosoever believes in Him {Jesus} shall not perish, but have everlasting life\” (John 3:16). 

I imagine that the Proverbs reference you were expecting, but the John 3:16 took you off guard. Why? Because you\’ve never made the connection between faith in Jesus, faith in God\’s word and believing the truth as a mechanism responsible for changing who and what you are.

Whenever possible, Satan will use circumstances and lies to alter your belief system. For if he can change your mind regarding the Word of God, or change your mind regarding who you are in Christ, then he has altered your belief system. And by changing your belief system, your actions, attitudes, and responses to the trials in which you find yourself will be altered to match the desires of evil, instead of the desires of Jesus Christ.

The Word of God says that when we encounter various trials and tribulations, that we should consider it all joy because the testing of our faith will produce endurance (James 1:3). How do you consider a trial of cancer as joy? How do you consider a trial of unemployment as joy? And what about this endurance clause? Does this mean we\’re just supposed to suck it up and bear the burden of God\’s sovereignty?

The Proper Perspective

In the face of trials and tribulations, many Christians are quick, and rightly so, to quote Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, \”what are these good things that God has for me?\”

You probably have, but maybe you didn\’t give it much thought. Instead, your mind went back to the circumstances in which you found yourself. You did exactly what you\’ve been taught to do: focus on your problems and take them to God for remediation. You\’ve been taught to lay everything at the foot of the cross because if anyone is in trouble, they are to pray (James 5:13). And the people who have emphasized this truth to you are exactly right. God said it, we believe it, and that settles it.

And yes, I\’m fully aware of the counter colloquialism, \”God said it, that settles it.\” It\’s a nice counter platitude, but it\’s only half true, for if you do not believe what God says, then you have believed a lie. And when you believe a lie, you practice self-deception. When God says it, you must believe it, otherwise, it\’s not settled in your heart and mind.

But I\’m not talking about taking things to God in prayer or popular colloquialisms.

What I\’m addressing is your perspective on your circumstances. What I\’m addressing is your beliefs regarding God in your circumstances.

If you approach your circumstances improperly, if you maintain an improper belief system regarding the attitude of God towards you through your circumstances, then you will lose that which is to be gained through your trials and tribulations. Furthermore, if you have an improper self-image of who you are in Christ, then you will possess an improper understanding of how God views you through your trials and tribulations, and you will miss the entirety of the double blessing God has for you through your trial.

The Knowledge of God and the Partaking of The Divine Nature

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.(2 Peter 1:2-4)

Let\’s put a couple key concepts together and see what God is excited about doing in us through trials:

\”… so that by {the promises} you may become partakers of the divine nature …\”

\”… knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing …\”

Clearly, there are things we lack, James 1 teaches us that. And clearly there are things which God is working into us, those being the aspects of His Divine nature; 2 Peter teaches us that.

When we focus on the trial, we don\’t see the work God wants to perform, we don\’t see the Grace of God working His Divine nature into us. By focusing on the trial, we focus on the negative. By focusing on the negative, we give strength to that which would defeat us.

What God wants to impart into us is the positive.

As a man thinks in his heart …

If you believe that your trial is God punishing you for your sin, then you have made two errors. The first error is to believe that the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was an insufficient redemption and an insufficient judgment of sin, that you must somehow bear and pay for your sin through the punishment of trials.

The second error is related to the first: you believe that God is beating your sin nature out of you.

It\’s Not About Beating Out Your Sin Nature

Trials are not about what God is trying to push out of you. Read that again.

Trials are about God imparting His Divine nature into you.

But we have a problem, and it goes like this: as being redeemed creatures, we still possess memories, patterns, and habits of the old man, Adam. But as being new creatures, we are not bound to those old patterns. The Apostle Paul struggled with the old man, and he summarized it like this:

Romans 7:17-25 (Message Bible)

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can\’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don\’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can\’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don\’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don\’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  

It happens so regularly that it\’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God\’s commands, but it\’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I\’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I\’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn\’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

So, trials and tribulations are not about God beating you down to push out your sin nature. For, how can a person who has a new nature, a new life, who is no longer dead be made any more un-dead or any more alive than they currently are?

We have a new nature, we are a new creature.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)

… in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus … for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God\’s household (Ephesians 2:2-6, 18-19)

It\’s About your Heritage

So, if God is not beating our sin out of us, then what exactly is He doing? Seeing that we tend to function in the old man, though being a new creature, God is at work making us Christ-like through an on-going process called sanctification.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification … (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

What you need a to do is change how you view the trials which present themselves in your life. In order to help us do that, we must first understand our heritage:

\”No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,\” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

Your heritage is to stand against evil, to stand against condemnation. Your heritage is to condemn false accusation (evil against you) as wrong. Your heritage is to watch the vindication of God on your behalf.

Your enemy stands against you, your enemy accuses you:

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, … \”Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. \”And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)

Therefore when you are in the midst of a trial, you must stand against the enemy and reject the lie that there can be no good thing come from the trial. You must reject the notion that God is punishing or chastising you on behalf of His righteousness because of your sin. And in doing these things, you are condemning the enemy and the evil beset against you, and you are acquiring God\’s perspective of who you are in Christ, and who you are in the trial.

Ask The Key Question

What you need to do in the midst of the trial is ask God this question: \”What are the blessings you have for me in this trial?\”

Change Your Perspective

Is God your stronghold? Yes. But only if you allow Him to be your stronghold. If you focus on the trial and the evil that is besetting you, then you are not in your stronghold. If you fail to hope in God, then you cannot enter the stronghold of God. What you need to do is change your attitude: instead of focusing on the bad, focus on the good that God has in store for you. Set your mind on things above not on things below. Ask God about His double blessing that He has in store for you.

The Law of the Double Blessing

Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you … (Zechariah 9:12)

Every time the enemy knocks you back, God has a double blessing in store for you. The first blessing that God has for you in the midst of an attack from the enemy, is to restore back to where you were before the attack. The second blessing that God has for you is to move you forward past the place you were when the attack occurred.

But then, you may ask, why do I have to go through the same trials over and over again? Because God has a lot of blessing left over that you didn\’t get the first time. God isn\’t sitting in heaven thinking, \”this is fun, let\’s smack her down some more\”, but rather He is saying to you, \”you didn\’t get all of the blessings I had for you the last time. I want you to have all of the blessings I have in store for you.\”

\’For I know the plans that I have for you,\’ declares the LORD, \’plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

But if you refuse to see or believe that God can restore you and bless you through the trials you find yourself in, then you have defined for yourself the truth of your existence in that trial.

Read the story of the Demoniac of Gadarenes. Was there another blessing available for the people Gadarenes? Could not Jesus Christ have richly enhanced their spiritual condition, healed their diseases and taught them the Word of God? Of course, He could have. But what happened instead? They had an improper perspective based upon the trial of losing their heard of swine. In focusing on the negative, they missed the positive blessing Christ could have provided.

Conclusion

How you view your trials and tribulations is purely your choice. But when you stand against evil and choose not to yield, then you are embarking upon the process of seeking God and asking Him about how to obtain freedom, and you are knocking on His door.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13)

If you persist in a negative perspective regarding your trial, then you will miss the double blessing God has for you. And eventually, you\’ll repeat the trial. But if you instead view the trial as a mechanism by which the blessings of God are poured into your life, then you can enter through faith the valley of the shadow of death, and walk out with the experience and the knowledge of who God really is in your life.

Reconciliation Forgiveness

In a previous post, I discussed Personal Forgiveness.  Personal forgiveness is not tied to the person who offended you in that it is something you can do even if the offender is dead or the offender cannot or refuses to communicate with you. Personal forgiveness is referenced in the model prayer, and it is required to maintain a proper relationship with God.

Personal forgiveness is not reconciliation, and personal forgiveness does not provide reconciliation, although it will free one up to move towards reconciliation.

God has standards for reconciliation: first of all, it happens in the presence of repentance.

What Is Repentance?

Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong. It is a turning away from that which caused offense for the purpose of gaining forgiveness from a person who is wronged. For salvation God requires not only faith but repentance of sins:

But go ye and learn what that means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:13)

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief (the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world) is deadly [breeding and ending in death]. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

For Whom is this Forgiveness?

Reconciliation forgiveness is for the purpose of mending and possibly restoring a relationship between two or more people. This type of forgiveness is not for the person who was offended, but for the person who caused the offense.

In as much that personal forgiveness heals the damage caused in us by the offender, reconciliation forgiveness enables the healing of the damage in those who have caused the offense. This is why repentance is required: for without repentance, the offender is in denial regarding the offense they caused.

When an offender realizes and is sorry for their error, remorse sets in. In the presence of this remorse, forgiveness from the offended releases the offender from their indebtedness and frees them to begin the process of healing the damage they have caused within themselves.

When does reconciliation forgiveness occur?

Some people will tell you (incorrectly) that as soon as someone has sinned against you, then you go to them, you forgive them and that makes everything right.

You, the offended, must participate in personal forgiveness for yourself and your right relationship with God – that much is commanded of us. The question then, is this: when someone has caused you damage – and before they speak to you or admit their wrong – do you go to them and say “I forgive you for causing me damage …”?

The Short Answer:

No, you do not.

The Reason Why: The Process

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

That is a very clear process. But first, you must recognize that you’ve been damaged when your brother sinned against you. That’s usually the easy part, figuring out when you’ve been damaged.

The next step is to go to your brother in private. How many times have you seen this step ignored? Instead of going to the brother in private, the person is brought before a committee, or the friend of the offender goes to a friend of the offender, or the offended starts spreading gossip, or in the at least telling everyone who will listen what so-n-so did to them.

God is a one-on-one type of person, and He expects you to be too. So do it. When your brother offends you, you do what God said to do: go to him in private. You, the offended are to go, not your father or your husband or your wife or your sister. No one else has a place in this until you’ve gone in private and your brother has refused to listen.

A Failure to Communicate

What does it mean to “refuses to listen?” It means there is no repentance. Not listening means you have explained your grievances to the person who offended you and the offender ignores what you had to say. They may even give you good reasons why they’re paying you no attention, at least from their perspective, such as you’re immature to even bring this up or you’re creating lies out of whole-cloth, and so on and so forth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what excuse is presented. Any dialog in which some type of resolution could be obtained is forfeited when the person who offended you refuses to acknowledge the possibility that they may have committed wrongs against you or refuses to have dialog regarding the situation.

When you confront the person who hurt you and enumerate their sins, you are giving them an opportunity to contemplate and understand what they did to offend you. In this process, several things could happen: they will agree with you, become remorseful and repent, you will understand they actually meant no offense and they will apologize for the miscommunication, or they will disagree completely and spurn you.

Take Some Witnesses

If your brother does not listen to you, then you take witnesses.

What exactly is a witness?

A witness is someone who has intimate knowledge of the offense. A witness is not someone to whom you enumerate your side of the story and thereby turn them into your champion. It may be that there are no witnesses to the offense other than yourself and the offender. In such a case, personal forgiveness may be all that you have in the presence of the un-repentant malefactor.

And the rest …

If being confronted by yourself and the witnesses of the offense does not lead one into repentance, then the next step is to bring them before the Church. By this point in the game, it’s probably already gotten sticky, and if you’re not full of mercy and grace you might as well forget the process until you are. The point of this process is not to prove your righteousness; the point is to restore the offender from bondage to sin and un-repentance to a place which can receive the healing of God.

Do I really have to do this?

Jesus was clear on this process:

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

In this statement we have a warning, a process, and the possibility of two outcomes.

The Warning: You’re in a Pit

The first thing Jesus says of the person who has been sinned against is this: “take heed to yourselves.”

Read that again.

He did not say “take heed to your brother who offended you”. The first thing we are to do after having been sinned against is to “take heed to ourselves.”

What this means is that you’ve been pushed into a pit (example: Joseph) and you need to take inventory of where you are and how you’re going to get out. If you don’t, you will stay in the miry clay and your feet will sink deeper into the bondage of the damage inflicted upon you.

Once the average Christian has found himself in a pit, he usually tends to compromise himself further by offering forgiveness or an apology when neither has been sought by the malefactor, what-so-ever – typical co-dependent behavior. Can’t you hear Joseph screaming from the pit, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll never do that again,” all the while his brothers who never asked for an apology in the first place sat down to a tasty meal?

Job addressed the issue of taking heed to ourselves in this way:

Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? Is it that my help is not within me, and that deliverance is driven from me? For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty. (Job 6:12-14)

Once you’ve been pushed into that pit, you typically do not have the ability get out on your own. You have been damaged by someone else, and they owe you a repair. In such a situation, it is imperative that someone come alongside you and help you out of the pit, lest you ‘forsake the fear of the Almighty’.

Causing your brother to forsake God is the risk you take when you sin against your brother and refuse the process God has outlined for reconciliation – as the malefactor not only have you pushed your brother into the pit, you have forsaken kindness and prohibited God’s purpose of reconciliation and peace.

The Next Step: Rebuking and Condemning

Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, there is a process to get out: it’s called rebuking: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him.”

Ouch.

That doesn’t sound fun, and it certainly is confrontational. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not, else why were you pushed into the pit in the first place?  You have a right to call sin what it is. As a matter of fact, if you refuse to call sin wrong, you are denying your heritage in the Lord. Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, call it what it is: a pit. Don’t move in and set up the couch and big-screen television. That’s refusing to acknowledge the wrongs committed against you.

In Isaiah 54:17, God says it like this:

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.

So what does it mean to rebuke, and what does it mean to condemn? A rebuke as sharp scolding, and to condemn is to pronounce something as wrong.  As a person in a pit, it is necessary to admit that the act of pushing you in that pit was wrong: that’s condemning the action.  But be careful that you do not condemn your brother – God is the judge of hearts and of people, not us.

However, refusing to acknowledge a wrong done is tantamount to standing in front of a moving bus that has already hit you once before. When we refuse to acknowledge a wrong done against us, it is impossible to act out in personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. Furthermore, it prohibits God from repairing your damage.

Nevertheless, we must consider the whole counsel of God when we confront our brother, for He says “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26), so this rebuke is not a license for an all-out assault of verbal abuse. It is better that you stop, wait, and consider carefully your words:

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2)

In the Presence of Repentance Forgive

… If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Does God provide salvation and reconciliation to those who refuse to repent?  Tha\’s a patently simple answer: of course not. Unequivocally no.

Does God require you to offer reconciliation forgiveness to those who refuse to acknowledge and repent of their sins against you?  Before we answer that question, read the scripture again:

… If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

There’s a really, really big “IF” in that commandment.  This is not conditional, “if I feel like it, then I perform the process.”  This is a mandate.  I cannot be stated any more plainly or clearly: “if  he repents, {then} forgive him.” And “if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”   The good thing about this part of this post is that God said it, and not me! Interestingly, the converse is true as well.

This isn’t Personal Forgiveness

I will remind you that I am discussing forgiveness offered to those who have offended you and repented. I’m not talking about the personal forgiveness which we are commanded to exercise in order to provide a right relationship between ourselves and God.  There is a vast difference between personally forgiving an offense and offering reconciliation.

Forgiveness clears the offense in your heart which provides release from the damage.  It can be done with or without the participation of the offended.  For example, you offender may be dead, but you can still forgive them.  However, it is impossible to reconcile with them.  Reconciliation provides two things: assurances that the offender is aware of the wrongs committed, and that he/she has repented of those wrongs, and secondly, an assurance that the offence will not happen again.

What If He Doesn’t Repent?

Then you don’t reconcile. Jesus said, “if he repents”. He did not “when you think about the offence”, or “when you go to him to discuss the offense, forgive him.” If an offender refuses to repent, then we must not offer them forgiveness for something they either refuse to acknowledge or do not believe was an offense.

To offer an offender forgiveness outside of their remorse and repentance towards you (not towards a third party) is to give the offender permission to offend you again.

Scripture is clear: if the offender repents towards you, then you must offer him forgiveness. If he refuses to repent, do not offer him forgiveness.  And again, I must stress that this forgiveness is for them – not for you.  If you have not personally forgiven your offender, it is not possible that you can truly be reconciled.

Nevertheless, in the later case where he refuses to repent, you will need to take your hurts and damage to God, thus continuing the process of healing through your personal forgiveness.

But first and foremost in this scenario where repentance is not to be found, we do not ever hold a grudge of unforgiveness. In no way do we ever not forgive – in our hearts we forgive the offense and the damage, we practice personal forgiveness, which releases us from the bondage of the damage inflicted upon us by the other person.

What we’re talking about is making an offer of forgiveness to the offender who is repentant – for the purpose of initiating their healing and for the purpose of providing some type of relational reconciliation between you and them. Offering forgiveness to a repentant offender is never performed from a point of self-righteousness or false piety, or from a point of abusive power: it is offered in love and grace knowing that it will initiate a form of reconciliation and healing in the offender.

If you cannot offer forgiveness to a person from a point of grace (allowing them to repent), love (building them up) and mercy (offering them something they cannot earn), then you have not forgiven them, you have not first practiced personal forgiveness.

They Must Repent

It is impossible for anyone to be released from bondage when they chose to remain under their self-imposed yoke. Therefore, when we offer forgiveness to those who do not seek forgiveness, we implicitly provide them permission to offend and damage us again in the future. A co-dependent would offer forgiveness without change. A co-dependent would also stand again in front of a bus that just ran them over if they believed it would make the bus driver love or approve of them.

Conclusion

There are clear processes outlined in scripture for conflict resolution. We are to take heed of ourselves when we have been offended, lest the result of the offense become a worse thing than the offense itself. In the least, we are to go to those who have offended us (in private) and tell them how they caused offense. If they listen and repent, then we have won our brother and we must offer them forgiveness.

In order to continue the process, for someone who is unrepentant, we take witnesses of the offense, or in the least, an objective and unbiased third party. If they continue to refuse to repent, then they are to be brought before the church. Should they continue to refuse, they are to be treated as one who is not a brother in Christ, as one who would continue to do you damage. (Matthew 18:15-17)

In such a case as this, reconciliation forgiveness is not offered to the unrepentant offender because to do so would provide them permission to do more of the same damage in the future. Furthermore, by excluding this person from your life, you take an active role in protecting yourself from future offenses.

Conflict resolution is never easy. Personal forgiveness is for you and your relationship with God: it is always necessary and is never optional. Reconciliation forgiveness is given only in the presence of repentance.

You may find that your circumstance prohibit you from following through on all of the steps. In such a case prayer and counsel are advised. Always remember that God can heal anything, but you may be the only one who receives the healing. In such case, thank the Lord that He rescued you from the pit and set your feet on solid ground.

You can read my post on personal forgiveness, here.

Personal Forgiveness

 

There is a fallacy maintained in our churches today, and it is this: forgiveness and turning the other cheek go hand in hand, and forgiveness should look like, be like and feel like turning the other cheek.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Turning the other cheek is one of two things: it is either getting what you know you deserve, or it is a subtle rebuke which will drive the repentant to confession and reconciliation. In the worst case, you will be slapped again, and having no more cheeks, you turn and leave.

In regards to forgiveness, wise people will tell you something like this: “forgiveness does not mean you allow yourself to be run over by the same bus more than once.” Doing so is passivity which results in further damage and resentment towards the bus driver and yourself.

The two types of forgiveness

There are two types of forgiveness: personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. In this post, we will explore the necessity of personal forgiveness.

Why Forgive?

Forgiveness is necessary because the damage has been caused to you. Someone did something to you that caused some type of damage. It’s as if you are a car and someone smacked you with a sledgehammer, leaving a large hole in your fender. Forgiveness is necessary because you’re damaged, physically and/or emotionally.

If you’re like most people, you may be thinking that forgiveness opens you up to another attack. No, actually, it does not. What opens you up to another attack is an improper boundary. If you’ve been robbed because your door was unlocked, and you refuse to lock your door after the robbery, then you are partially responsible for subsequent robberies. Should the robber keep out of your house? Of course, he should. Should you erect the proper boundary, in this case, a locked door, to keep future attempts at bay? Most certainly, you should. So then, forgiveness does not obliterate proper boundaries; rather, it has the potential to enable you to erect proper boundaries in the future.

While you’re holding onto unforgiveness, you are not in any way hurting the offender, nor are you protecting yourself. The way you protect yourself is by erecting a proper boundary, by locking the door. But this doesn’t negate that fact that you still have damage, something has been stolen. The robber is perfectly happy with your goods, and you’re perfectly unhappy without them.

It’s about letting go

Personal forgiveness is the mechanism that begins the process of releasing us from the damage caused by others. Until you can let go of the damage caused by others, you will continue to suffer in that damage in which you maintain.

If someone threw a rock through your window during the middle of the winter, do you fix the window, or do you maintain anger against the person who broke your window? You fix the window because you’re cold, and your heating bills will break the bank.

What sense is there in leaving the damaged window and maintaining anger against the person who threw the rock when you’re the one suffering? The logical thing to do is fix the window and ask the person who broke it to pay for the damages because to make you whole is what he owes you.

When we choose not to forgive, we chose to hold on to damage, and in doing so, we become bound to the damage – we are in bondage to the pain, the suffering, and they hurt. Furthermore, failing to forgive causes more damage than the actual offense: you’re living the hurts continually. Failing to forgive does nothing to the one who hurt you, but it causes a root of bitterness to grow deep, strong, and hard in your heart.

What is Personal Forgiveness?

Personal forgiveness is a private, volitional exercise that we perform so that we may be released from the bondage of the damage caused by those who sinned against us. It is the forgiveness is spoken of in the Lord’s Prayer –

… and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … (Matthew 6:12)

In this type of forgiveness, we do two things: we release the offender from their obligations to repair the damage they caused in us, and we release ourselves from bondage to the damage in us.

This type of forgiveness is not tied to the offender repenting of their sins, nor is it tied to the offender saying they’re sorry. Sometimes the offender cannot repent or refuses to speak to you, or worse, they’re dead. In this type of forgiveness, the participation of the offender is never required.

Condemning the Damage

Personal forgiveness requires that you call sin what it is: sin. If you don’t mind people robbing your home, then you’ll leave the doors open and replace all of the things people take just so those things can be stolen again. In this case, you’re not agreeing with the sin, you’re not condemning the sin, and you’re not calling it wrong. But God has given us a permission to call a spade a spade:

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

You have a right and obligation to call offenses and sin what they are: sin. We refuse to condemn the sins against us; we are in effect calling them blessings and goodness.  If you don’t call it wrong (condemn it), then you have no place to forgive, for how does one forgive the good done by another? Good is not forgiven, it is praised, and thanksgiving is offered.   

Avoiding a Root of Bitterness

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled

Hebrews 12:15

Unforgiveness results in bitterness. But forgiveness is the key that opens the pathway to grace. And grace is that thing that makes you into something that you cannot become on your own. When your car is damaged by someone else, they typically have insurance that makes you whole again. But if they don’t, you can call your insurance company, and they will make you whole.

In personal forgiveness the participation, or repentance of the offender is absent. It’s as if they hit you and ran away. But God is your insurance company, and He will make you whole again. But, you have to be willing to condemn the sin (agree that it was wrong) and report the offense to God, and then release the offender from their responsibility to you. Once you’ve released them of their obligation to you, then you have enabled God to make you whole.

Personal Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

You cannot be reconciled to someone who is dead, but you can forgive them.

Reconciliation is not the goal of personal forgiveness. Personal forgiveness is not for the offender and it is not for restoring the relationship with the offender, it is for you, your freedom and your relationship with God. Personal forgiveness always frees you to pursue reconciliation with the offender, should they be available and participatory.

When we take our hurts and our damage to God, He makes us whole. But only when we choose to let go can we be free of hurts. Personal forgiveness not only releases us from the damage caused in us by others, it is also the mechanism by which we maintain or re-establish communion with God in the midst of the trial caused by other people.

When we do not forgive, we shy away from God and hide from Him. When we harbor bitterness in our hearts, we damage our walk with God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they hid from each other and hid from God. Jesus said, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) Having something against another is sin – it is something that you must confess. The Law of Bitterness ensures that your relationship with God suffers while you suffer in un-forgiveness.

Conclusion

When we fail to forgive, we hold onto something that is not ours: we hold onto the damage caused and created by someone else. Ultimately, we allow the person of offended us to continue an additional offense.

Personal forgiveness is the gateway to eradicating or preventing a root of bitterness. It’s not necessarily easy, and you may find that you pick up the offense again and again. But when you do, just take the offense back to God and forgive again. Eventually, you will find God has honored his word by restoring you to the place you were before the offense, and by giving you an additional blessing to move you forward in your relationship with Him:

Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. (Zechariah 9:12)

You can read my post on reconciliation forgiveness, here.

What\’s so special about Christianity?

Every religion has a method by which one may obtain a desired state of being, which in this discussion will be called salvation.

In a generic definition, salvation may be seen as a state of being. A state which in it\’s ultimate form, is absent of pain and suffering (whether inflicted upon us by ourselves or others) and free of sin. Sin is defined as the propensity of man to disobey (one or more times) a given moral law or code.
Thus, salvation is seen as the ultimate condition to which a person may aspire, and it is defined in contrast to man in his worst condition – as he is, living on earth in pain, suffering and sin. Salvation, therefore, is man being saved from the a condition of sin and suffering into a perfect state of being where the grip of pain, suffering and sin does not exist, neither can it ever lay hold upon man again.

Every Religion Has It

Every religion defines a process by which the undesirable is made null and void, hence salvation obtained.

The question many people have, or at least consider, is this: what must I do in order to be free of sin, what must I do to be free from pain and suffering? To answer that question, we\’re going to briefly review Buddhism, a religion that has touched the lives of many pious people. By doing so we will provide a general foundation by which other religions can be understood. Once we\’ve done that, we\’re going to answer the question, “what\’s so special about Christianity?”

Buddhism

Buddhism identifies the burden of life in the two-fold problem of sin and suffering. The question Gautama Buddha (the founder of Buddhism), sought to answer was, “why is there pain and suffering?” In addition to this, he also held a belief common to Hinduism called reincarnation – being reborn to an earthly life in either an higher or lower form. So, one might return as a man, woman, a flea or a rat, depending upon one\’s good and bad deeds in the previous life. The point of reincarnation is ascension to a higher form all the while shedding that which encumbers you from reaching enlightenment, and subsequently, Nirvana.

How does one ensure they reach Nirvana? It is obtained via the eight-fold path, which is defined (briefly) as follows:

The “Right” …

  1. Views. One must accept the four noble truths
  2. Resolve. One must renounce all desires (lust, bitterness, cruelty, selfishness)
  3. Speech. One must speak only truth.
  4. Behavior. One must abstain from sexual immorality, stealing, and all killing.
  5. Occupation. One must work in an occupation that benefits others and harms no one.
  6. Effort. One must seek to eliminate any evil qualities within and prevent any new ones from arising.
  7. Contemplation. One must be observant, contemplative, and free of desire and sorrow.
  8. Meditation. One must be disciplined in meditation in order to overcome sensations of pleasure and pain so that one may enter a state of transcending consciousness and attain a state of perfection.
Therefore, in the most basic of statements, Buddhists believe that through self effort one can attain the state of peace and eternal bliss called Nirvana, or salvation. This effort which results in salvation is called atonement. Atonement is compensation for wrongdoing.

It\’s no Different Elsewhere

Seriously, it\’s not that much different in any other religion. In any of the world\’s religions the most basic tenant is this: man through his efforts provides his own atonement for his condition. Some people obey the Four-Fold Truths and the Eight-Fold Path resulting in Nirvana. Others place their faith in a creed followed by doing good works and possibly obtain the favor of their god resulting in salvation (The Five Pillars / Islam). And yet others follow another type of creed and/or asceticism that they hope will result in a type of liberation.

Christianity: There\’s Good News and Bad News

In Christianity, there\’s good news and bad news. Isn\’t there always? Someone always asks you “do you want the good news first, or the bad news first?” Most people prefer to receive the good news first – they think it will soften the bad news, but it never does. In lieu of this, someone once said, “do the hard part first and the easy part last, then the easy part will be easier.” So that\’s what we\’re going to do here – you get the hard part first.

The Bad News

You\’re dead, spiritually speaking that is. God said to Adam and Eve, “if you eat from that tree, then you will die.” And Adam and Eve did die, spiritually speaking. And just like some of us inherited blue eyes and blond hair form our mother, we inherited spiritual death from Adam. That\’s the root of the suffering, pain and sin that we see and experience in the world today.

 Therefore, just as through one man {Adam} sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men … (Romans 5:12) 

It doesn\’t feel too good, does it, thinking of ourselves as spiritually dead sinners? What we really want, deep down, is to be free from the bondage of sin and suffering. So we like to think better of ourselves – we don\’t sin that much and we do a lot of good things, surely God takes notice. In a real sense, you\’re correct: God does take notice and we will be judged according to our deeds, but you can no more enter a Corvette into a Formula-1 race, or make an apple pie with pork chops, than you can make a spiritually dead man persist in the presence of a living God for all eternity: they don\’t mix – death cannot comprehend life.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
As thou knows not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knows not the works of God who makes all. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD. (Hosea 5:4)

More Bad News: It\’s Your Nature

When was the last time you went to a funeral and heard the deceased give the eulogy? When was the last time you used wholly rotten apples in an apple pie? When was the last time an aborted baby re-assembled itself, came back to life and punched the Dr. in the family jewels? It doesn\’t happen – death cannot comprehend, abide or persist with life. Think of it this way: as a spiritualy dead person, you\’re a penny. In God\’s Coke machine of Eternity, only quarters make it to the money box, pennies are ejected out the bottom. You don\’t fit, you\’re the wrong size, you\’re spiritually misshapen to abide in spiritual life after physical death. That which is spiritually dead remains spiritually dead after physical death.

More Bad News: You\’ve Got the Wrong Currency for Atonement

As a Spiritually dead person, not only can you not abide in life, you\’ve got the wrong currency needed for atonement. Every time you sin, you earn wages. That sounds about right, doesn\’t it? Paid for the bad things, paid for the good things, and if the good out-weighs the bad, then you\’re in like Flynn. Wrong. You\’re getting paid with – you guessed it – death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
But, what about all the righteous things you do? Surely my righteous deeds can wipe away my death, right? Lets take a look:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6-7)
Your \”righteousness\” deeds cannot cleanse your death – who among us uses a greasy rag to clean a window? What\’s the point? It will be no better than when you started. Secondly, since the the power of your iniquities is death, when you die physically you will spend eternity reaping spiritual death:
… who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power … (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12-13)

God has a Pattern – A Method Resulting in Eternal Spiritual Life

God\’s method and pattern is simple:
  1. God\’s Redemption
The first step in God\’s pattern is redemption. The Israelites were redeemed by God from the bondage of Egypt. If the Israelites could have left the bondage of Egypt on their own, without a savior, without a redeemer, without the action of God, then they would have. What they needed was a deliverer, which is what they got:
And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. (Exodus 2:23-25)
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.\’ (Exodus 6:6-8)
  1. God\’s Law
The second step in God\’s pattern is Law. After the Israelites were redeemed and given a new life in the promised land, He gave them the Law – a basis by which they were to live their lives and understand their relationship with Him and others:
And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year. (Exodus 13:9-10)
And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. (Exodus 18:20)
And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand; tables that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. (Exodus 32:15-16) { The 10 Commandments – received after exiting Egypt}
  1. God\’s Temple
The third step in God\’s pattern is the Temple – the place you commune with God.
And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: \’On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony … Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:1-3, 34)
First, we must be redeemed. Redemption results in spiritual life. It takes us out of the bondage of sin (Egypt – spiritual death) and into the freedom of life (the promised land – spiritual life).
Second, we listen to and understand the Law which results in knowledge for two things: proper relations with our fellow man, and our ability to do the third thing …
Which is communion with God.

Man has a Pattern – A Method Resulting in Eternal Death

Mankind does not like God\’s pattern – we like being in control of our destiny, we like proving that we\’re able to do it ourselves, and we like being able to say that we are better than someone else. So we want to take control and do God\’s plan backwards, assuming all the while that it will be acceptable to Him.
  1. Our Temple (Worship)
First, we worship at our temple. Call it what you may, be it a lifestyle of asceticism or church on Sundays, man has a way in which he worships that which he believes will provide eternal value to him.
  1. Our Law
Second, through his worship man believes he will be changed by gaining knowledge of law and shedding of sin (pain, suffering, etc) which will improve his relations with mankind, resulting in good deeds.
  1. Our Redemption (Heaven – Enlightenment – Nirvana )
Third, through his knowledge of the law and the resulting improved relations with himself and his fellow man, he believes that he will atone for his misdeeds, thereby redeeming himself before his god, in that the good deeds will out-weigh the bad deeds.
That is the absolute basis of every world religion, with the exception of Christianity.

What\’s So Special About Christianity?

Grace. Grace is the single, defining quality of Christianity – no other religion in the world has it.
In Christian circles, grace is poorly defined by an an acrostic: God\’s Riches At Christ\’s Expense. What exactly is that supposed to mean? It\’s an incredibly weak definition given that the people who are spiritually dead need to understand it the most. Seriously, what\’s the first image that “riches” engenders? Gold? Silver? Tons of money? Given the natural condition of man, that\’s just about as far as he can get.

What is Grace?

Grace is a gift which makes you become something, gives you a position that you cannot be or achieve through your own actions or merit. For example, a fireman rescuing a non-breathing victim and resuscitating them – Grace. Rescue workers digging victims out of the ruble of an earthquake – Grace. Giving a jobless person a job just because you can, not because he/she is qualified for the position – Grace. Providing a home to the homeless – Grace. Making someone your spouse – Grace. Human life – Grace (it\’s a gift given through the the graciousness of the mother and father).
Releasing the Israelites form the bondage of Egypt – Grace.
Grace is that external force acting upon a thing by which the means of becoming something better is provided. Grace provides improvement that cannot be obtained without the provider. A grain of wheat cannot become a stalk full of life giving seed by itself. It must fall to the earth, and it must have water and sunshine. It needs an external force acting upon it before it can transform from death into life.

You Need the Potter

What you need is something to make you alive. You need something to make you into that which you cannot become by yourself – you need grace. Consider again these verses from the Old Testament:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD, nor remember iniquity forever; (Isaiah 64:6-9)

We are the clay? He is the potter? He is our Father? What does that mean?
It means you\’re a penny, not a quarter. It means you\’re an unfired mound of clay, not a bowl useful for good works. It means He is the one that makes the dead come alive. It means that you cannot, through any amount of self discipline, work or asceticism make yourself alive – you need Grace – you need an external force making you into something you cannot become through your own efforts.

The Good News

The good news is that positionally, you\’ve won the lottery. That\’s right. In the Death vs. Life quandary that you find yourself, you\’ve been given the winning ticket as a birthday present. The present is this: your sins have already been judged, in Jesus Christ:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:6-9)
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:10-11 KJV)
Well, you might ask, if that\’s so, then why do some people go to hell, and others go to heaven? That\’s a good question! The answer is simple – Faith – in God\’s order.
In order to get the money from the Lottery Commission, you have to exchange the winning lottery ticket for the cash. You\’ve got to make the trip to the lottery office, sign the ticket and turn it in to the officials. You have to trust and believe (provide faith) that the lottery officials will give you the money in exchange for your ticket. If you don\’t apply that little bit of faith and act upon it, then you\’ll never get the money you\’ve won.

A Righteousness that\’s not Yours

But what if you don\’t believe they will give you the money? What if you believe someone will steal the ticket from you on the way to the lottery office? What if you believe you\’ll lose the ticket on the way there? If you believe those things, then you will live in and act out those beliefs and in doing so, you will stay in your home, clutching a winning lottery ticket, but never receive the money that belongs to you.

In the very same way you must also turn away your arrogance that you can become righteous in and of yourself. You must be willing forsake those things which keep you away from placing your Faith and Trust in God. You must be willing to receive His righteousness through His redemption, before doing the deeds of the Law or the self sacrifice of Worship which cannot, and never will, result in redemption, atonement or salvation.

How is Grace Obtained?

So how is this grace given? Exactly like it was given to the Israelites. Look again:
the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God …
What does it take to cry out to God? It takes faith. And what is faith? It is believing that God is (as the Israelites did when the cried out to Him), it is believing and trusting that God will do what He said He will do.
without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But isn\’t faith works?

No, faith is not works. Faith is trusting and believing, and when you trust and believe, you produce works, as in crying out to God, as in the trip you make to the lottery office. Before you can cry out to God, you must believe He is. Before you can make that trip to the lottery office, you must trust and believe that they will honor their lottery ticket they sold to you. 

Therefore, grace is provided through trust and belief (faith) that God has done and will do the work for you, through the atoning work of the High Priest, Jesus Christ.

Once the Israelites were out of Egypt and had received the Law and the Temple (take note of the order – redemption, law, temple) atonement for common sins was provided through grace, by faith in the Word of God. This faith was acted out through the those who brought the sacrifices and through the actions of the High Priest. It was the priest that made the offering, but God who made it acceptable.

Why did He make it acceptable? Because of their faith. How did He make it acceptable? By His Grace.

Through these actions, God provided an imperfect picture of the perfect sacrifice to come, of the perfect High Priest, Jesus Christ on the cross, by which He Himself entered into the Spiritual Holy of Holies – rather than the earthly holy place found in the earthly temple – thus making a way of salvation for all mankind, not just the Israelites.

God Provides Atonement and Salvation By Grace Through Faith

And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him {Abraham}, saying: \’This man shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.\’ And He brought him forth abroad, and said: \’Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them\’; and He said unto him: \’So shall thy seed be.\’ And he {Abraham} believed in the LORD; and He {the LORD} counted it to him {Abraham} for righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. Surely the LORD\’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. \’The LORD is my portion\’, saith my soul; \’Therefore will I hope in Him.\’ The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26)
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
The point is this: God has done the work, the High Priest, the Christ, has done His job: He has made the sacrifice. Our job is to humble ourselves before Him, accept the work He has done and turn away from our arrogance, our sins, and our disbelief. Through faith we can be clay in His hands, and be made vessels of Grace.
When we place our trust and belief in Him, He will do precisely what He promises to do: provide Salvation by Grace through Faith.

Faith – A Definition and its Application

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

The World\’s Definition of Faith
According to the world, faith is an ethereal, empty, mustered up belief of wishing in the impossible or improvable. It has been defined as belief in something that does not rest in logical truth. Many times the definition involves a belief in a given religion, dogma or denomination associated with various sects of Christian or non-Christian systems of belief.
A Proper Definition of Faith
Faith is a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Some of the synonyms for faith are confidence, trust, reliance, conviction, belief, and assurance. Faith means to believe in, be devoted to and to trust in somebody or something.
There are three necessary axioms of faith:
The Axioms of Faith
    1. The Faith Object – The thing in which a given belief system is built around. 
    2. The Belief System – A set of axioms related to and about the faith object. 
    3. The Works – Actions that are performed as a result of both the Faith Object and the Belief System surrounding the Faith Object. 

      An Example of Faith

      Any good astronomer believes, and will tell you, that earths\’ moon may be found at a specific set of coordinates at a given time.  Why? The moon has been found to be a very reliable object, to the point that the astronomer has, through observation, constructed a system of beliefs that has culminated in a number of varied algorithms and/or procedures designed to locate the moon at any given time or place. 
      Without the reliability of the moon, and without a strong system of beliefs based upon the behavior of the moon, the NASA moon landings would have never been possible. Because in order to land on the moon, you must first believe that the moon exists, and secondly, you must know where the moon will be at any given time.
      Without the establishment of these two fundamental requirements (the establishment of an object, and trust and belief regarding said object), it is impossible to interact with anything. Therefore we understand that every one lives their life, at one point or another, based in some form of faith – a trust and belief in something or someone.
      Whether or not our faith objects and belief systems are proper does not negate the fact that we live our daily lives based upon our trust and belief in regards to numerous people, places and things.  Many people would say that they live their lives based upon facts, but this argument is incorrect.  Consider the fact that there are possibly hundreds or thousands of incarcerated prisoners who are actually innocent of the crimes they were charged. Obviously, the fact is that they are in jail. But they\’re not in jail because of the facts surrounding the crime they never committed – they\’re in jail because of what a jury believed and trusted regarding those facts. In actually, the jury believed a lie, and convicted an innocent person.  In the end, they demonstrated works based in their faith by convicting the person.  And in providing a conviction, they moved from trust and belief into and demonstrable experience: which is the end result of all faith: experience.
      Biblical Faith
      Biblical faith is not that different from ordinary or natural faith. The biblical faith object is God. First and foremost the primary Christian faith object is Jehovah God, not the Bible – although we trust and believe the Bible, thus exhibiting faith towards the written word of God.
      However, what the Bible provides is truth in regards to our faith object (God). Even though one must believe the Bible and one must trust the Bible, and hence demonstrate faith towards the Bible, the Bible is not our primary faith object – God is our primary faith object.
      Jesus, speaking to the scribes and pharisees had this to say of our tendency to put our faith in the Bible, instead of God:

      You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; (yet) it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.\” (John 5:38-40)

      Clearly, Jesus Himself made a distinction between placing trust in the Word of God for salvation, rather than trust in Himself. He states the truth: it is in the scriptures we find the truthful testimony regarding Jesus Christ. He also states the contrary indication: they searched the scriptures because they believed that in them solely and exclusively, they had eternal life. Clearly they were wrong, as Jesus said that while the scriptures testified of Him, the Christ, they were unwilling to come to the One, the Christ of salvation, Jesus Himself – the author of salvation.
      If it is impossible to make a distinction between the faith in the word of God and faith in God, then Jesus would have congratulated the Scribes and Pharisees for their diligent study of His word and thereby receiving salvation. Clearly, this is not what Jesus said.
      Even so, we cannot separate God\’s word from God Himself – for it teaches us the truth about Him, and it keeps us from sin – \”Thy word I have hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee\” (Psalm 119:11).  The point I\’m trying make is that we must make sure that our ultimate faith object is God. To assume that you can believe in God but not believe His word is preposterous. But to make God\’s word an higher authority than God himself is an error. Remember: the point of God\’s word is to lead us into a relationship with God. It is God\’s tool to bring us to Himself.
      Faith Depends upon it\’s Object
      The author of Hebrews said

      Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6, NASB)

      and Habakkuk said

      Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4, KJV)

      Neil Anderson said that “the issue of faith is not that we believe … it\’s what we believe or who we believe in that determines whether or not faith will be rewarded.” The question remains then, faith in what? Again, we find the author of Hebrews addressing our faith object:

      Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8)

      It wasn\’t just any “words” that were spoken to them, rather the author was referring to God\’s words – those words which God Himself uttered through His judges, prophets and servants. Therefore, the object here is God – “those … who spoke the word of God to you … “. They could trust the words they heard because of the author of those words. They did not trust the words because they were written in a book that many before them had revered, but they trusted Him who spake them because they knew that God was trustworthy.

      On the contrary, the person who\’s primary faith object is the Bible views God with suspicion and distrust. He or she uses the Bible to remind God of what He said he would do, for without this reminder God is (to them) untrustworthy to act on their behalf with benevolence, faithfulness or love.
      But the person that trusts God, who\’s faith object is God, will also remind God of His word and His promises, but in the knowledge that God will act upon His promises. This person also does this from a point of humility and trust in God. Nehemiah is an example of a person who\’s faith object was God, and yet in his relationship to God, reminded the Lord of His promises: 

      … they said to me, \”The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.\” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, \”I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father\’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, \’if you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.\’ (Nehemia 1:3-9)

      Faith is Dependent upon your Knowledge of your Faith Object

      If you are like most people, you believe the moon circles the earth. You believe that on most nights, and some days, you can see the moon in the sky. But unless you are among a very few people with the right skills and/or equipment, you cannot tell me the exact coordinates of the moon over the earth at any given point in time. Why is that? Because your knowledge of the moon is limited. You may have enough faith in the laws of physics to believe that the moon will remain in the sky for as long as you live, baring some unforeseen external force. And you may have enough faith in the moon and these laws to believe that you can find the moon in almost any night sky. But that is as far as your knowledge takes you.
      Our faith in God is no different. We will go with God only as far as our faith allows us to go, and our faith reflects the quality of our knowledge and belief in God. Consider again Hebrews 13:7-9: 

      Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

      The author suggests that we should “consider the result of their conduct”, that we should “imitate their faith”, that we should not be “carried away by varied and strange teachings” and that it is good to be “strengthened by grace”. Our conduct, good or bad, reflects both our quality of faith and the quality of our belief system.

      Imitating the faith of another person and not being carried away by strange teaching both have the inverse effect of strengthening your belief system, and therefore growing your faith.
      Being \”strengthened by grace\” means that we die to our selfishness, our pride and our desires and allow God to make us into that which we cannot become of our own accord.
      In Victory Over the Darkness (pp.110, 111), Neil Anderson says:

      The only limit to your faith is your knowledge and understanding of God, which grows every time you read your Bible, memorize a Scripture verse, participate in a Bible study or meditate on His Word … I doubt there is a Christian alive who has lived up to his or her faith potential based on what he or she already knows to be true.

      The Apostle James said that we must

      Consider it all joy, my brethren, when {we} encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of {our} faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that {we} may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-3, NASB)

      When God tests our faith, He is working on our behalf by showing us the quality of our belief in Him and the deepness or shallowness of our trust in Him.

      Faith is an Action Word
      Why do you look up in to the night sky to see the stars and the moon? Because you know and believe they are there. Your belief produces and results in an action. Why does (or did) the Captain of a ship use the sextant to guide his way across the ocean? Because he believes and knows that the stars are trustworthy in their positions in the sky, and he believes in the result of a properly implemented sextant. In the same way, faith without action is not faith – it is dead and empty, it is powerless, wishful thinking:

      What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, \”Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,\” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, \”You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

      Therefore, everything you do is a product of what you have chosen to believe. If you believe that jumping into a body of water is likely to result in your death, then you have a fear of water – and your not a swimmer. If you believe that climbing to top of a tower could result in your death, then you stay on the ground – you have a fear of heights. If an escalator is nothing but a machine with the power to rip you into shreds, then you take the stairs – you have a fear of escalators. And the list could go on and on.

      Do you share your Faith with those around you? If not, do you actually have any faith to share?
      The Gift of Faith
      Everyone has been given a measure of faith:

      For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (Romans 12:3)

      But the spiritual Gift of faith, as defined in 1 Corinthians 12:7,9

      But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … to another faith by the same Spirit …

      is different from the common, “measure of faith” given by God to all, as a part of their nature of being made in the \”image of God.\”

      This spiritual gift of faith differs in that while many of us struggle to have faith, to grow our faith and to exercise our faith, those with this gift simply know that God will act in circumstances that seem impossible. This gift of faith enables one to trust and believe God in extraordinary circumstances, or for extraordinary works on the behalf of yourself and/or others.
      The spiritual gift of faith Defined
      The motivation behind this gift, as is the motivation behind all of the spiritual gifts of God, is based in and flows from love . This gift enables the recipient to understand and see what God wants to do and is willing to do in a given situation or circumstance. By virtue of this knowledge, this gift provides the peace of God for the given need or situation; it provides a supernatural ability to trust God to accomplish a given task.  These types of people are … 
      • Are visionaries who dream big dreams, pray big prayers, and attempt big things for God. 
      • Are optimistic, hopeful, persevering, change-oriented, and future-focused 
      • Are convincing about the truth of Scripture because they themselves are so convinced of the truth and power of God and his Word. 
      A Contemporary Example
      George Mueller was an excellent example of this gift. Early in his ministry he resolved to never ask anyone for money, but present his needs directly to the Lord. Mueller learned that English prisons held 6,000 children, simply because they had no other place to live. By 1845 he had 130 orphans housed in four rented buildings, and although he had only £5, wanted to build another building capable of holding 300. Using only prayer, he had the funds in just over 6 months, and when the building was finished and the children moved in, he had £776 left over; and he had not asked for one penny! Before he died in 1898 he built four other orphanages the same way, for a total cost of $575,000, while his own personal assets amounted to only $300. Mueller said:

      \”Seven million five hundred thousand dollars have been sent to me in answer to prayer. We have needed as much as two hundred thousand dollars in one year, and it has all come when needed. No man can ever say I asked him for a penny. We have no committees, no collectors, no voting, and no endowments. All has come in answer to believing prayer.\” If I should say that during the fifty-five years and nine months that I have been a Christian that I have had 30,000 prayers answered in the same hour or day that the requests were made, I would state nothing more or less than an honest truth in the sight of God.” ( A Personal Interview with George Mueller, Charles R. Parsons, 1897)

      Are you a faith filled person?  Consider the following questions:

      • Do you view obstacles as opportunities, do you trust God for the impossible?
      • Are you likely to boast about the power of God and what you have seen him do?
      • Are motivated by new ministries because you see them as an opportunity for God to do great things?
      • Do you find yourself feeling opposed to anyone who expresses that something cannot be done or accomplished?
      • Do you find other believers coming to you for hope when they face a seemingly overwhelming trial or task?
      • Do you have an effective prayer ministry, with many wonderful answers to prayers that were impossible from the human point of view?
      All of these things have at their root a spiritual unction which is motivated from belief and trust the the ultimate faith object, God Himself.

      The Bondage of Depression – The Onion of Despair

      Jesus said a lot of things. But to me, the most important thing He ever said was this:

      “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

      When you’re battling depression, there’s one thing you must get to: the truth. But therein lies a problem. Unresolved loss, anger and fear usually indicates self deception, which means you may be in a place where you don’t know what it is that you are depressed about in the first place!

      On the other hand, if you are depressed and you know why, then count yourself lucky. Some people who are really, really depressed have”t a clue why. They are so out of touch with their emotions and feelings that, if they’re not in the middle of a depressed episode, they will deny to your face that they’re angry or hurting about anything.

      I was one of those people.

      I was talking to a therapist when she looked me square in the face and said, “… well, you look angry to me. Everything you say is like darts spitting this way or that.” I figured that since she knew more than me (at least, that’s why I was paying her $125 an hour), then maybe I should consider that she was right about this “anger” she saw in me. I honestly did not believe her. But once I opened myself to the possibility that her theory was correct, I began to see myself clearly — that’s when I discovered the thing I call the Onion of Despair.

      Unresolved anger, fear and loss is like a pill you swallow that doesn’t go away, rather it grows day by day, adding a new layer with every new thing that rubs you the wrong way. That is, until some other unsettling event comes your way, and you swallow that pill too, which then grows day by day. Eventually, after you’ve stuffed so much anger and so many fears into your soul, you’ll find yourself well within the center of debilitating depression: your head hurts, your body hurts, and all you want to do is make the pain go away. Some people find a Doctor who gives them a pill that takes the edge off, others self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, others find a weapon…

      You must know the truth …

      The first thing you’ve got to do is know the truth, the truth about your belief systems. For example, if blue moons make you sad, and you believe the moon is blue, then you’re going to be sad whenever you see the moon: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is … ” (Proverbs 23:7) In this scenario, we must understand that the first problem to solve is the improper notion that the moon is blue. Everyone knows that the moon is made of cheese, and as such, it must be white, or at least an off-white-yellowish color. Therefore, one must chose to reject the blue-moon lie, and believe the cheese-moon truth. So, now that we’re on our way to discarding the lie of the blue moon, we must then determine, why did we believe the moon was blue in the first place?

      And off comes the first layer of the Onion of Despair.

      Once you’ve discovered the lie, you can then inspect your belief system and find the root of that lie. In doing so, you are successfully in the process of peeling off a layer of the Onion. If you’re like most people, you’ll eventually discover that there are multiple layers to your Onion that need to be handled. Each layer has a new problem to solve, a new loss to let go of, a new fear to deal with, or a new anger to address. So don’t be discouraged when, after you’ve peeled off a layer and world looks a whole lot brighter, some time there after you find a new problem pops up. That’s how it works. We are complex people with complex problems to solve, there’s no getting around this simple truth.

      This is not to say, however, that every fear, loss or anger is based solely in a lie – clearly when we’ve lost a loved one we’re going to suffer in that loss. The problem occurs when we refuse to let go of that which we cannot hold onto. Once your mother is gone, there’s nothing you can do to bring her back. Grieving for a period of time is normal and natural. But refusing to let go by placing memorabilia in your life that draws you back into grief on a daily basis, for months or years on end, is not normal or natural. When a person refuses to let go of something lost, they’re holding onto a false reality. Although one never “gets over” a great loss, the healthy person learns to live with the loss, and learns to let go.

      The blue moon vs. cheese moon myth is a trite example of the pitfalls of truth vs. lie, but it does help describe how our belief about a given thing can affect us. Once we’ve discovered that blue moons make us sad, we’re on the right path to peeling apart the Onion. In this case, we discovered we always saw a blue moon, even though it was cheesy-white. We compared baby blue with cheddar white and observed the error. We may not, at this point, remember that it was a friend who persuaded us to believe the moon was blue, or that a particularly bright moon was out the night that friend died, but we have at least pulled off the outermost layer of the problem.

      Dealing with the outermost problem you can lay your hands on will not resolve a deep rooted depression overnight, but it is a beginning, and it is a valid, iterative (if not recursive) process.

      So what are we to do in the meantime, how are we to survive this process with a glimmer of hope?

      You survive by changing your belief system about yourself. It’s one thing to deal with anger issues regarding a person who has wronged you, but it is clearly another issue to deal with one’s misconceptions of themselves, particularly in the area of who we are in Christ.

      Depression has an insidious way warping our self-image. In actuality, this warping of our self-image is a Spiritual battle:

      Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with TRUTH, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness , and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit …(Ephesians 6:10-18)

      For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ … (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

      Ask yourself these questions, and provide honest answers:

      • Are you strong in the Lord and the Strength of His might?
      • Do you believe your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but is a spiritual battle?
      • Have you taken up the full armor of God?
      • Do you pray at all times in the Spirit?
      • Do you take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and discard harmful imaginations?

      If you answered ‘no’ or ‘sort-of’ to any of those questions, then you have an obligation to discover why you refuse to wholeheartedly believe the truth, because when you choose to maintain a flawed belief system, you are in bondage to it:

      Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

      Choosing to believe anything makes you the slave of that belief system. Choosing to believe the truth sets you free, choosing to believe a lie puts you in bondage to that lie.

      For the Christian battling depression, freedom is not based on our belief that Jesus is beautiful or precious, nor does this belief system set us free from depression, as John Piper would assert. Our freedom comes from defeating the lies of Satan, believing the truth, turning to God and resisting the devil: which is why we must process through the layers of the Onion that surrounds our innermost hurts, fears and angers.

      What we choose to believe about the truth (of any situation) is vitally important to our walk in Faith, our life in Freedom, our tearing down of strongholds and depression –

      For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds … (2 Corinthians 10:4)

      So, if you believe you’re a good for nothing, broken sinner, then you will act like a good for nothing, broken sinner. And if you believe the change in your life is harmful, then you will avoid the change. If perhaps, you can’t avoid the change, then depression will set in. Why? Because of fear. You perceive and believe harm is coming yet you have no way to avoid it.

      Just as our actions and attitudes will different when we choose to believe that we are justified and sanctified Saints of God, then confronting our fears and finding and dealing with their causes will peel away that layer of the onion and allow us space to change our minds regarding a given thing:

      And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

      The process through the Onion of Despair may not be an easy one, but we survive by knowing and believing who we are in Christ.

      Study this list of the attributes of the Child of God. Prayerfully deal with the ones you don’t believe; memorize the scripture references (click the link to see the background verses), and trust God to love you as you are, as you confess your fears and your angers, and let go of your losses.

      In Christ I Am Accepted …

      The Bondage of Depression – A Root Cause Analysis

       

      I’m not a psychologist, but I know a bit about depression. I lived intimately with it for most of my life, but God freed me from the bondage of depression years ago. This was not an overnight process. God lead me through it step by step. Occasionally, it rears it’s ugly head, and if I’m not careful, I’ll find myself in funk for days, even a week or more if forget the lessons I learned.  So, in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, we’re going to delve into this phenomena called depression.

      John Piper has an edited transcription on depression, entitled Can Christians be Depressed? The first postulation posed in the article states that the root of depression lies in the fact that something is wrong with the depressed person’s hope. John Piper states: “All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is.

      What?  Is this man actually serious?  As if depression and discouragement are even at the same par, the same level, or even slightly alike; that it’s just about me refusing to know how precious Jesus is.  So, there’s a little fluffy cloud of despair obscuring my vision of preciousness of Jesus. Fine. I’ll just change my mind about that simple fact and puff that silly little cloud away with a breath of fresh air and everything should just clear right up.

      In my opinion, John Piper knows as much about how to battle depression as he believes in the Man in the Moon. Comparing depression to a loss of biblical hope, let alone despair, is both insulting and misguided at the same time.  Clearly, this man has never been balls to the wall depressed.

      The Truth About Depression

      Any good psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you (excluding of course, any physical aliments such as hormonal imbalances) that there are three root causes of depression:

      • Fear
      • Anger
      • Loss

      I would add a fourth cause, that of satanic oppression, but that is a subject for another post.

      Nevertheless, if they’re really good, they’ll say ‘unresolved fear’, ‘unresolved anger’ and ‘unresolved loss’ or possibly even ‘great loss.’ However, if you spend any time at all researching depression on the Internet, you’ll find a whole lot of reasons for depression other than those. But spend just a bit of time considering those other reasons and you’ll find that you can pigeon-hole all of them into one of the following: fear, anger or loss.

      However, the actuality is this: fear is the root cause of both anger and loss.

      Consider for a moment: a loved one has a terminal illness, which leaves you depressed for many, many weeks. You know they’re going to die, and you won’t have them anymore. You wonder, how you will cope with out them? You wonder, how are you going to fill the void their death will leave in your soul? Will the void destroy you? Will you survive emotionally? How will you pay the medical and funeral bills?

      What exactly are we describing here? — Fear.

      Consider again: a loved one has been involved in a tragic automobile accident. They have multiple, and severe injuries. The Doctor cautions you that they may not make it through the night. Your mind races: will they live, walk again, smile again? Will I have them back? And why did this happen? Because a drunk driver hit them head on. Your anger rages against that man.

      What is at the root of this anger? — Fear.

      There are many forms of loss and anger – some greater, some lesser than others. But if you will be patient and are willing to do some serious, soul wrenching introspection, then you may just find that at the root of your depression there lies unresolved anger, loss and/or fear. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that at the root of any of your unresolved anger or loss you will find one or more fears.

      God has a few specific words about fear:

      Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:15-18

      Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

      … Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1)

      While we may believe that courage is the opposite of fear, it is love the defeats fear since love edifies.  There is no fear in edification, for that which builds you up does not and is not tearing you down.  Courage simply says “I will stand in the face of danger, regardless of the potential for loss.”  Love says, “there is no loss, there is only adding of strength and fortitude – love says ‘I will build you up.'”

      What we need to understand about fear, more specifically – unresolved fear, is this: fear involves your perception of personal harm towards yourself – which is the opposite of love. Whether it involves a form of punishment or a form of loss, and the consequences of that loss, fear revolves around you and yourself, or possibly those of which you’re responsible. Fear is a reflection of the harm that you believe to be fact, it is your understanding of how the situation is harmful to you.

      Furthermore, your unresolved fears reflect the limit of your faith in God to meet your needs: they demonstrate the boundaries of your trust, the limits of your belief and the depth of your love for God, ‘… because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.’

      You may believe that you love God very much, but if you are hanging onto unresolved anger, loss or fear, then those things speak very loudly to the extent you’re willing to trust and believe Him, and in essence, love yourself because He first loved you.

      God designed fear to be helpful to us, but only within the context of His sovereignty and grace. It is never intended that it should remain unresolved. Anger, and it’s root cause fear, must be dealt with, and it must be dealt with immediately.  Fear is always dealt with in truth:

      Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:25-27)

      To harbor anger and fear, is to regard sin in your heart, it is falsehood. To let the sun go down on your anger is give the devil a place to sow the seeds of depression, it gives the devil a foot hold for oppression in your life.

      Search your heart, find your angers, your fears, your losses. Let go of that which hinders you, and seek God’s face through His word in order to be strengthened and healed. Seek the ministry of your Elders and your Godly friends; confess and repent of your sins.

      Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

      The Balancing Act of Grace

      What do you do with your sins? You\’ve committed them, you\’ve confessed them, you\’ve been forgiven – but are you still holding on to them?  

      Many times we hold onto our sins as a reminder of past failures. We treat their memories as a demonstration of our willingness to show God (and our selves) that, “yes, I really do know who I am and what I did, I really do know the price you paid, and I\’m going to carry some of this burden with you.”  

      It\’s as if we convert our forgiven sins into merit badges that are somehow supposed to demonstrate God\’s appreciation of our willingness to carry our part of His forgiveness, a heavy burden, a reminder of who we are in the light of a most Holy and Righteous God. The worse the sin and the greater the forgiveness, then the bigger and shinier the merit bag.

      But is that what God calls us to do?

      For many of us, living with sin is a balancing that we play: this much sin, that much grace. We think sin and grace balance each other out, and once that\’s done, God is happy with us again…

      Right?

      So, lets explore this balancing act that we play.

      Imagine that you\’re standing before a teeter-totter, and you\’ve got your heavy burden of past sins that you carry with you. You know what I\’m talking about: that big bag of failures you\’ve thrown over your shoulder, that you just can\’t let go of. Now, with your bag of failures, sins, and regrets, sit down on the teeter-totter. If you\’re like most people, and I must assume that you are, gravity will have it\’s way with you, and you and your bag will hit the dirt in short order.

      So, there you are on the teeter-totter, just you and your bag sitting on the dusty earth looking up into the bright sunlight.

      Now what?

      Well, now you ask God to forgive you of those sins and failures that you\’re holding onto. Let\’s assume you\’ve done that (or that you\’re doing it right now.)

      Lo and behold, God, being who He is, hears your prayer and shows up and with a huge bag of grace and mercy and says, “Okay, let\’s play this game.” He climbs up on the teeter-totter and, with His bag of grace and mercy, sits down on the other side.

      But there\’s a problem: God sat down on the teeter-totter with His bag of Grace and Mercy, but He is up in the air and you\’re still stuck on the ground with your bag of sins!

      What\’s the deal with that? It\’s simple actually. God can\’t have your sins until you let go of the bag.

      Ah, but you\’ve done this before, haven\’t you? It\’s evident in that you still carry the bag around. You commit a sin, you confess the sin, and then you put the sin into the bag. At a later time, you take the sin out of the bag, confess the sin again, and put the sin back in the bag. The problem is not in your confession, the problem is your focus.

      So get up off the teeter-totter, but leave your bag of sin behind in your place, on the teeter-totter. Once you\’ve done that, you notice that God gets off the teeter-totter too, but leaves his bag of grace and mercy behind. As you watch, you see the teeter-totter creak and groan and bend under the weight of God\’s grace and mercy. So what\’s going on now?

      Seriously, you\’ve really got to let go of your bag sins, regrets, and failures. Just because you\’re not sitting with them doesn\’t mean you\’ve emotionally let them go. So let go, and let God have them! Stop wasting your time worrying about the past, trust God to leave the past where it belongs and look to the future. Right now, bow your head ask God to forgive you for holding onto that which you have already been released.

      As you lift your head too look, you see God\’s grace and mercy crashing down to the earth and your bag of regrets and sins ejected into the air! It travels further and further away, as far as the east is from the west until it\’s a tiny dot, and then, until you can\’t see it anymore.

      Once your bag has disappeared, you turn to face the Lord, only to find that He\’s gone. However, He has left His bag of grace and mercy behind for you to use anytime you choose.

      But, as you look at His bag of grace and mercy, you notice that it\’s no longer on the teeter-totter.

      Seeing that it was apparently heavy enough to discharge your bag of sins, regrets, and failures as far as the east is from the west, then this may seem to be a bit of a problem. But in actuality, it\’s not a problem. Look in the bag. Just untie it and open it up. What do you see? Big, fluffy pillows – you know the kind, the type you like best. Go ahead and dive right on in, grace, mercy, and forgiveness is kind, gentle and warm.

      So, the next time you find yourself carrying that bag of sins and regrets, come back to God\’s teeter-totter and drop your bag. Then, ask God to forgive you for carrying the past into the future. Then put God\’s bag of grace and mercy on the other side of that teeter-totter and watch as your sins are ejected to a place that is farther than the east is from the west.

      As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:12, KJV)

      And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32, KJV)

      If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9, KJV)

      \”No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.\” (Luke 9:62, NASB)

      More Do\’s that you can Do in a Lifetime

      And we beseech you, brethren, to know (respect) them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work\’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (I Thessalonians 5:12-13, KJV)
      • Them which labor among you
        • or they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men. (I Corinthians 16:18, ESV)
        • So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, (Philippians 2:29, ESV)
      • Those who are over you in the Lord and those who admonish you
        • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)
      • Be at peace among yourselves
      • Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50, ESV)
      Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly (idle – lazy), comfort the fainthearted (weak in the spirit), support the weak (impotent, ill, of little strength), be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. (I Thessalonians 5:14-15, KJV)
      • Warn the idle and lazy – admonish them in the Lord – II Thessalonians 3:6-15
        • Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, (II Thessalonians 3:6-7, ESV)
      • Comfort the feeble minded, fainthearted, weak in spirit and mind
        • In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35, ESV)
      • Support the weak (with out strength, ill, of little strength)
      • Be patient toward all
        • Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (I Corinthians 13:4, ESV)
      • Do not render evil for evil, rather follow after that which is good – among your brethren in Christ, and among all men.
        • So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10, ESV)
      Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, KJV)
      • Rejoice
      • Pray
      • Give thanks
      • Do not quench the Spirit
        • And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30, ESV)
        • Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (I Timothy 4:14, ESV)
      • Do not despise prophesies
        • On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their edification and encouragement and consolation. (I Corinthians 14:3, ESV)
        • Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (I Corinthians 14:1, ESV)
        • Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (I John 4:1, ESV)
        • Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 12:3, KJV)
        • By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (I John 4:2-3, ESV)
      • Prove (discern the spirit of ) all things
      • Hold on to righteousness
      • Abstain from the mere appearance of evil