"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Hebrews (Page 1 of 2)

The RDI of Faith

We’re pursuing a clear understanding of just what faith is and how we can begin to live a life of faith. We’ve considered already the DNA of faith and the ROM of faith. I invite you now to consider the RDI of faith. RDI comes from the world of nutrition and stands for Recommended Dietary Intake. RDI is the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all … healthy people” (reference).

The author of Hebrews sets forth the RDI of faith when he says: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6).

There are four basic requirements for a healthy life of faith.

God must be known.

We “. . . must believe that he exists.”

This is not the same as merely saying, “I am a theist.” Or, “I believe in god.”

I recall reading about a believing college professor who found himself in a room full of people who were largely strangers to one another. As everyone was introducing themselves to the others assembled, one person introduced herself as “an avowed atheist.” When his turn came the professor couldn’t help himself and introduced himself as “an avowed theist.”

That is the starting point for faith. But it is not the finish line.

It is not just that I believe in “a” god. It is rather that I believe in the God that sets Himself forward in and has been exhaustively described in the pages of the Bible. I believe in the God who . . .

  • created all things by the power of His Word (v.3).
  • has progressively revealed Himself throughout history and acted to move history to His appointed ends.
  • The God who, in that progressive revelation, spoke to the “fathers” (i.e., the Hebrew Scriptures).
  • The God who therein promised a Savior/Messiah to come and save us.
  • The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    • In whom we have God’s superior and final word (Heb. 1).
    • In whom we have a better sacrifice, covenant, promise, and hope (Heb. 2-10).

The testimony of Scripture is clear: “. . . those who know your name put their trust in you” (Psalm 9:10). That means that we do not merely believe in that God, but that that God is present (“exists”) here and now. He is present and ready to perform what He has said in all the revelation He has made.

There was one an organized debate between an atheist and a Christian. At a climactic moment the atheist stood, strode to the blackboard behind the podium and wrote: God is nowhere.”

Thinking he’d won the day and silenced all opposing views he took his seat.

The Christian silently stood, approached the blackboard, and erased a single letter. He rubbed out the “w” and moved it slightly to the left, up close against the “o.” Now the statement read: “God is now here.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds, commenting on the story said, someone should have finished the debate with a couple of periods: “God is. Now. Here.” (reference)

This is how a believing one calculates life and all that it holds. Yes, God must be known.

God must be trusted.

Believing in God, faith “must believe . . . that he rewards . . .”

Faith says, “God will do what He has said He will do.” God can be trusted. He will never fail to keep His Word.

The Grammar of God is an interesting book. A woman of Jewish heritage details how her family spent their time (dinners, evenings, unclaimed moments of time) discussing the intricacies of the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament). It is all rather amazing when you realize how their entire family life, in fact their entire lives (individually and collectively) were dominated by this kind of careful study and discussion of the text of Scripture. They spent their lives doing Bible study. But about two-thirds of the way through the book the author reveals that she doesn’t believe in God. And not believing in God she can’t approach Him or expect anything out of Him. She says, “I sometimes wish that I believed without a doubt in the idea and ultimate power of God, the way so many of the people I have known believed. If I believed that way, I would most likely believe in reward. I would most likely believe in a next world. Instead, I think the reward of a just life is a just life” (p.140).

We must at least grant her an “A” for her honesty.

Do you believe God is? Now? Here?

And do you believe He can be trusted to do what He has said He will do?

But you’ve got a history with Him. Perhaps you object, “Yes but what about when He didn’t _____________?” You prayed. You “believed” Him. And He didn’t perform.

I remind myself and all of us, God will do what He says He will do. Not what I say He said should do.

Also consider that often God’s apparent inactivity has to do with timing. In fact, that was an issue for the folks here in Hebrews 11. There were those who “obtained promises” (v.33, i.e., got what was promised). And there were those who: “died in faith, not having received the things promised” (v.13).

God will do what He has said He will do when He says He’ll do it. Has it ever occurred to you that time is always on the believer’s side?

God must, however, not only be known and trusted, but . . .

God must be sought.

God rewards the faith of “. . . those who seek him.”

So faith seeks God.

  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
  • “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
  • “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew. 7:7)

This seeking may take many forms, but it must be quiet, personal, prayerful, inward, from the heart. It must be active, moving, obedient, trusting.

Do I seek Him here?

Prayer and Bible reading is seeking God. Worship is seeking God. Listening to teaching is seeking God. But so is active obedience, trust in motion. Obedience is seeking to see God keep that word and answer those prayers right here and right now.

The reason God must be sought is because . . .

God must be pleased.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God . . .”

Let’s be honest, that is often not the reason we seek God. We seek Him not to please Him and not to be found pleasing in His sight. We seek because we are not pleased. We’re not pleased with how He is running our affairs. I want something, need something, desire God to change something. And that so that I can be pleased with my life.

But the fundamental problem, if we believe the “word” God has spoken to us, is that we have not pleased our Creator. Truth is, we are in big trouble with Him.

Consider the example of Cain and Able (v.4). Abel brought his sacrifice and was found pleasing to God. Cain brought his and was not found pleasing to God. Cain got angry with God; Cain was not pleased with God.

Why? It had to do with the condition of his heart. We know this because “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4). God said to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire if for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7).

On the other hand consider the example of Enoch: “. . . he was commended as having pleased God” (v.5b).

So the question stands: How can I please God?

The Scripture answer plainly: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” We please God by exercising faith!

God is holy and just. The only person to also be holy and just was Jesus. The Father determined a way that your unholiness and injustice was accrued to Jesus’ account and His holiness and justice was accrued to your account. Jesus died because of your unrighteousness; you live because of His righteousness. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Your first act of faith is to utterly abandon yourself to the Maker of this promise in view of His guarantee. When you do, God the Father will be eternally “pleased” with you. Not because you are good and perfect, but because Jesus is.

Do you believe this? Will you believe it to be true and act upon it?

God is. Now. Here. In Jesus.

Do you believe this?

The ROM of Faith

As we continue seeking to understand just what faith is (see The DNA of Faith) consider it now under another acronym. ROM comes from the world of muscular-skeletal science and stands for Range Of Motion. Think of how far you can lift your hands above your head and how far you can reach when you stretch them toward the floor. ROM describes the effective area of your various limbs and body parts.

It helps us ask and answer the question: How does faith work?

We must explore six markers to understand the full ROM of faith.

Word

God has spoken. This is the theme of Hebrews. God has spoken to humanity. And His final word is through Jesus. It is a word superior to all “words” before or since.

  • “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (1:1-2)
  • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (2:1)
  • “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (3:7b-8a, 15; 4:7b)

We hear a great deal of talk these days about a battle between revelation and reason. One famous opinion piece stated it simply, people who believe the Bible are “poor, uneducated, and easy to command” (Washington Post, Feb. 1, 1993).

The knowing looks and snickers aside, no such divide exists. All faith rests on an encounter with information/content. All faith involves an exercise of reasoning. It is ultimately a matter of what voice you choose to listen to.

But some object to the very notion of faith: “Oh, no! Not me! I am a very scientific person! I rest on the evidence!” But what many are unwilling to admit is that their “science” rests upon the foundation of many other people’s research, the validity of their methodologies, the accuracy of their analysis, and the limited nature of their conclusions. That upon which you build your work is taken by faith. You didn’t do all that research upon which yours is built. You didn’t study the data you’ve presumed upon. You didn’t analyze the information that you’ve taken as fact. Someone else did. And you built upon it, trusting their work, their processes, and their conclusions.

Doubt is a rag as old as time and too worn to be swallowed so easily. After the record records “God said” almost a dozen times. Each time He spoke that which we call reality popped into being out of nowhere and from nothing. Yet the snake had the temerity to stand in the midst of it all and ask, “Did God actually say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1).

The problem is not between revelation and reason. It is a battle of whose word one wishes to believe. And why we choose to believe whom we do. World renown apologist Josh McDowell has gone on record: “For me, Christianity is not a leap into the dark but a step into the light.”

If I’m going to grow in my faith I must hear that Word! Paul made it simple: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

At its essence that “word” is a . . .

Promise

Hebrews speaks eighteen times of the promises of God. Seven of those times are in Hebrews 11, what has been called “the faith chapter.”

  • “You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb. 10:36)
  • “He who promised is faithful” (10:23)

God has spoken. He has done it in and through Jesus. Inherent in what He has said in Jesus is a promise … filled full of promises …

As we saw in our previous post these two elements (word & promise) comprise that first element of the DNA: Content.

his is something one must hear. Without hearing it, one can’t have faith in it. This is the all-important starting line point, but it is only the beginning, for embedded in a promise there is . . .

Hope

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

In the Word there was a promise and when I heard it something sparked inside of me and I said, “Could that be meant for me?”

In that moment it goes from raw data and objective word and promise to something with spark,  life, and possibility. It has become something with my own personal interest at heart.

Skeptic H.L. Menken once famously said: “Hope is the pathological belief in the occurrence of the impossible.”

What a sad, empty, meaningless view of life. In fact that view makes life unsustainable.

In contrast a promise, any promise, is fraught with hope. If I hear a father speak to his son, making a promise, I think, “That is sweet. How nice. That father is going to take his son fishing.” But when I heard my father promise me that he’d take me fishing it is an entirely different matter!

God the Father (our Maker) has spoken to us promises in Jesus which He desires to fulfill in our experience. Do I hear? Do I hope?

The call is, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23).

A word … full of promise … giving birth to hope … which calls forth …

Belief

Word of promise is believed. There is intellectual acceptance. I give intelligent approval of the word and the Promiser and His promise. It all becomes personal. “That is my Father! That is my promise!”

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

Look carefully at that phrasing: “By faith we understand . . .”

Do you see it? It’s right there. But too often we read right through it without seeing it. God says that it is by believing that “we understand.” Without faith we cannot and do not “understand.”

Be careful! That does not say that Christians or religious people “by faith understand.” No, this is simply the way faith and understanding interrelate anywhere in the universe and in every life within it. We might say there is a battle of “words” behind all matters. The question is “Whose word will I believe?” The Bible’s? God’s as revealed in the Bible? Man’s? Man’s as it has found expression in scientific methodology? The research of hundreds of people before me? The consensus of millions?

So it all comes down to a “word” from someone. What I think of that “someone” and what I think of their “word” issues in what I believe.

I hear a word of promise. I experience a spark of hope. I believe that word in hope.

But that is not yet the full ROM of faith. Indeed, as wonderful a hope may feel, that is not yet fully faith. It is a necessary point along the exercise of faith, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Heb. 11:6). This is what the DNA called conviction. But the DNA has three strands to its helix. So the word of promise seen in hope and taken up in belief goes public with . . .

Trust

The word is acted upon. The speaker is trusted.

You may believe something, but you don’t possess faith until you act in trust!

Observe the landscape of Hebrews 11 . . .

  • It is composed of a long catalogue of people who have lived by faith.
  • The key phrase is “by faith.”
  • Notice that every time the phrase is used a person is named and then a verb follows, so that we read “by faith” . . .
    • Abram “offered” (4)
    • Enoch “was taken up” (5)
    • Noah “constructed” (7)
    • Abraham “obeyed” (8)
    • Sarah “received” (11)
    • Abraham “offered up” (17)
    • Isaac “invoked” (20)
    • Jacob “blessed” (21)
    • Joseph “made mention” (22)
    • Moses “was hidden” (23)
    • And on and on and on the cataloging goes through the rest of the chapter.

Faith acts. Faith takes a step, does a deed, speaks a word, undertakes a task. Faith does something.

Theodore Roosevelt was not speaking biblically, but it was close to the point when he said, “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself for a worthy cause.”

Faith demands that we not only believe, but that we act in trust.

When we do, we . . .

Experience

God answers. God shows up. God works. Promises are fulfilled.

This is what the writer is pointing to in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The word “assurance” may not be the best translation. Assurance sounds a bit psychological, subjective, emotive. Most modern translations go with something like along these lines (cf.  “confidence,” NIV, NLT). But the original Greek word is more objective than that. The King James Versions reflects this when it translates with the word “substance.” The original is a compound word comprised of hupo (“under”) and stasis (“to stand”). In Latin it is sub-stantia (i.e. – substantial). Faith lays hold of a physically unseen reality, but one that is guaranteed by the word and character of God. In the immediate surroundings and present moment that promised reality rests on the substantial/objective ground of the individual’s faith. That faith acts in time and space until the actual objective reality of the promise arrives and faith turns to sight. The word was used in the legal world for the “title-deed” to a piece of property. That plot of land became yours in experience when you showed up with the title-deed and laid claim to it. Thus faith takes up the promise of God and holds it forth until possession of the thing promised arrives.

Faith is also a matter of “conviction.” And again the English word sounds rather emotive and subjective (“assurance,” NIV, NLT).  But again, the original is more objective than that. It means something like “proof” or “evidence” (KJV) presented to establish the facts. Thus faith counts on the fact that God will show up in time and space and give objective evidence that “proves” the word He spoke and in which we trusted.

Here then is faith exercising its full Range Of Motion. It is really just the DNA of faith put in motion.

  • Word
  • Promise
  • Hope
  • Belief
  • Trust
  • Experience

Now would be a great time to pause, reflect, and ask yourself: Do I have true, operative faith?

A Conspiracy of Breath

I wasn’t far into A Conspiracy of Breath when I realized I was in over my head. I surmised the mind behind this story-telling is brilliant. It’s not that this novel is difficult to read; it’s that it is so weighty, so substantive. I realized that not only was I in the presence of a mind far greater than my own, but that I was swimming in deep waters spiritually. Reading A Conspiracy of Breath would be work, but pleasant work; this might not always be comfortable, but it would prove to be exhilarating. As I continued to read I was swallowed up by—what can I call it?—a powerfully sensory experience. The book awakened my senses and commanded and demanded of them in ways that were powerful, and sometimes taxing.

By now you’re rightly surmising that this is no shallow, bubblegum novel that leaves you with warm fuzzies and saccharine morality. This is a deeply probing, soul-searching, heart-turned-wrong side-out kind of story, told with consummate skill.

There is behind this story a massive intellect, a soul of deep dimensions, a heart alive with a panoply of sensory vocabulary. It is an intimate novel. One feels oneself being drawn, via the story, into a depth of relationship with the author that feels profoundly personal. But—and I’m struggling here—my words simply don’t convey the depth and power of my experience with this book. I’m still reflecting, still ruminating, and still emoting over this read, even now days removed from turning the last page.

This is, then, an exceedingly well-written novel. Yet on another level this functions also as an apologia for the idea that Priscilla, co-laborer of the Apostle Paul, is the author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. In the introduction and a concluding “Author’s Note” Scott sets out her convictions about this hypothesis. She believes this is not only possible, but probable (397). She writes to convince us of this, yet says, “my book does not pretend to be anything but fiction” (398).

So I should say something regarding this matter of Priscilla as the author of Hebrews. Personally, I have never been uncomfortable with agnosticism about the authorship of Hebrews. The Scriptural and historical record has left with us in this position. The author rightly quotes Origin, “Only God knows the truth as to who actually wrote this epistle” (vii). So I’ve never felt the need to hazard a guess about who wrote the letter. It makes no ultimate difference, for if it did, God would have left us record of this fact. To speculate—and that is what this book, as a novel, does—is not something we need in order to receive and live fully in the revelation given to us by God in Hebrews.

Is it possible that Priscilla wrote Hebrews? Well, I don’t think one could say it is impossible. Is it, then, possible? Sure, I guess. But so are dozens of other possibilities. None of which help me go any deeper into Hebrews or with the God it holds forth to us.

So in that regard, I must say, I didn’t come away convinced. Others will conclude differently. At this level, A Conspiracy of Breath provides an opportunity to carefully weigh what the Bible actually says about such matters. This is a good and profitable exercise for us all.

But Oh! There is so much more that makes A Conspiracy of Breath a worthy read. I am convinced that several re-reads of this book would yield up treasures I’ve overlooked as in this first reading I found myself swimming in the intellectual depth, the sensory tsunami, and spiritual deep-end of this book.

Rest for Our Souls

rest-in-God

Those who study psychology have long told us that the two basic needs of humans are security and significance. We exhaust ourselves over a lifetime trying to gain these two gems. We sell all—sometimes literally—to make them ours. We drain our bodies, minds, schedules and bank accounts, sacrificing their contents at the altar of security and significance.

It comes as no surprise—or perhaps, for you, it does—that Jesus perfectly addresses both of these fundamental needs.  In fact, He created those needs within us. He crafted the glove of our nature to fit the hand of His grace.

We strive for security—or love—through our own efforts. We fail. Every human relationship is sabotaged by the sin and selfishness resident in both parties. Only a Savior who chose not to protect Himself, but give Himself on our behalf can ever provide the safety and security of perfect love. Jesus did this through His crucifixion on our behalf. You and I are secure “in Christ.” “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God’s grace has been freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Our security lies not in what we have done nor in what we are doing, but in who He has made us to be in Christ.

We grasp after significance—or importance—in our own strength. We give ourselves to jobs, careers, hobbies, dreams, etc. in an attempt to make our lives count. We all want to know our lives have mattered, that we have contributed in a meaningful way to something of worth. Jesus has already done this through His call on our lives. We are those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (1 Corinthians 1:2). You and I are significant “in Christ.”  Our significance is not wrapped up in what we do for Christ, but in who He has made us to be by calling us to Christ.

Here it is in a simple statement.  Ponder this. Pray over this. Ask God to bring the reality of this home to the depths of your soul.

I am loved not because I do, but because I am.

I am significant not because I do, but because I am.

Jesus changes who I am in an instant (by regeneration – being born again). He changes what I do over time (by sanctification – growth in Christ-likeness).

Because Jesus loves me for who I am and not because of what I do, I need not wait to be at rest.

Did you catch that?  I need not wait to be at rest!

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)

I am prayerfully asking God to bring that rest to the deepest core of my heart and life.  I’m asking Him to do the same for you.

 

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