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Feelings or Faith?

Friday, March 01, 2013

 

Feelings Or Faith

Sewell Hall

The nineties may well go down in history as the decade of feeling. Feelings clearly determine the values and standards of our times. Feeling good about ourselves is the mark of the good life. Feeling good is considered our birthright, and anyone who interferes with our good feelings has wronged us.

Schools encourage this attitude. I recall visiting the principal of a school which was adopting a new educational policy. Each student made a contract with the school and when he arrived in the morning he could do whatever he felt like doing that day. I have not heard the results in that school, but the results of such education are evident in our society. Multitudes of able bodied people are depending on others for their livelihood simply because they feel more like loafing than working.

Feelings have become the test of morality. “If it feels good, do it” is a popular motto. “How can this be wrong when it feels so right?” is a question asked in a familiar song. More than one jury has acquitted an obviously guilty criminal simply because they felt good about him. And the grossly immoral conduct of more than one executive has been tolerated because people felt good about how things were going.

In religion, as well as in other areas of thought, people now talk more about how they feel than about what they believe. Years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to leave an assembly disturbed by what I had preached, saying, “I don’t believe that, and I am going to take my Bible and prove you wrong.” Now they say, “I don’t feel as you do on this subject” and go their way and think no more about it.

Some judge the success of a worship service by how good they feel when it is finished. Churches often cater to this by introducing various devices to produce those good feelings, and attendance grows. One problem with this is that such devices must continually be upgraded as the old ones cease to have the desired effect, and before long activities are introduced which are not authorized in scripture. Any criticism of such practices, however, is refuted by pointing to their rapid numerical growth.

Another problem is that those who are not right with God need to feel bad about themselves. Godly sorrow is necessary to produce repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Nathan’s rebuke left David feeling bad about himself, but it was his salvation. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord … No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5, 11).

Justifying our conduct by feelings is a cop-out. We do not feel obligated to defend our feelings, for no one else can know how we feel. But our beliefs must be defended; we are expected to be able to give reasons for what we believe.

Is right and wrong determined by feelings or by faith? Not one word in scripture justifies anything on the basis of feeling. “We walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

The demands of faith and those of feeling often conflict. The heroes of faith featured in scripture often acted contrary to their feelings. Would you suppose that Abraham “felt like” leaving his homeland for an unknown destination, or offering his son on an altar? Yet, he did those things by faith (Hebrews 11:9–18). Do you think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego “felt like” defying the king’s command to worship his image, knowing that a fiery furnace was already prepared for those who did? Or that Daniel really “felt like” praying openly to Jehovah when he knew that hungry lions were waiting to feast on one who did so?

Read Paul’s lists of things he endured as recorded in 1 Corinthians 4, 2 Corinthians 6 and 11 and ask if he really “felt like” preaching. In 2 Corinthians 5:12 he summarizes it all by saying, “death is working in us.” Why did he continue preaching? The next verses gives the answer: “But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul acted by faith, not by feeling.

Many justify absence from worship or failure to study and pray because, “I just don’t feel like it and if I don’t feel like it, it will do no good.” When we are tempted to think this way it is time to revisit Gethsemane.” See that suffering sinless one weeping, praying there alone.” And what is His petition? “O My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Does He feel like going to the cross? Obviously not! Yet, he adds, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

When Feelings say “NO” to any duty, Faith says, “Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as You will.” Only then do we have a right to “feel good about ourselves.”

 

God's Absolute Faithfulness

Friday, March 01, 2013

 

God’s Absolute Faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

 
by Bobby L. Graham
 
 
“Faithful is he who calleth you, who will also do it.” In these wonderfully reassuring words, the Lord prompts Christians to a similar constancy. There can be no more inspiring example of such than that of the Lord. In the immediate context the apostle also was saying that his petition of verse 23 was not fruitless. Observe that the gospel call is God’s way of guaranteeing us that He will not abandon us or disregard His great purpose of redemption. He has not sent His Son to die for us and later called us by the gospel to follow Christ, only to forget His purpose. God’s absolute faithfulness was used by the Holy Spirit to motivate diligence in the task addressed in this section (Christian constancy, 5:14–24); we can do no better today than to fix our minds on the goodness of God continuing to act on our behalf.
 
 
Certifies effectiveness of prayer
 
The prayer of Paul was for the saints being completely sanctified and preserved blameless to the coming of the Lord. The immediate context clearly shows that such work on God’s part is conditioned on the Christian’s constancy. He must pursue that which is good, be joyous in life, continue in praying, yearn for God’s Spirit-given utterances, and reject all evil. In such a response, he yields to the purifying influences of the gospel. The combined thought of God’s work and our response stresses that God preserves as we persevere. The necessary implication is that sanctification is a growth, not a gift, and it depends on our desire to grow.
 
 
Based on the call of God in the gospel
 
The only call that God issues today is that of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Why would the God of our salvation, who spared not His own Son, grow weary in the great work of salvation? The call of the gospel involves God’s promise to accept us in Christ, to forgive us, and to sustain us spiritually. The spiritual growth involved in God’s sanctification and preservation demands our constancy. He will be sure to maintain His role in this great work. We can depend on His promise, for He is not loose with His words (2 Peter 3:9).
 
 
Justifies our confidence
 
While Paul’s purpose in verse 24 was to help the Thessalonians to trust God to sanctify and preserve them, the rest of the Bible recounts God’s trustworthiness in this regard. He did not fail to remember His people in the deliverance from Egypt. He did not forget the remnant in Babylonian captivity. In the coming of the Christ, all of the Messianic promises of the Old Testament were kept. Whenever God has made an unconditional promise, He has always carried it out. His conditional promises have also been kept, depending on the meeting of His conditions. It is clear that God’s promises do not delude. The reason for the dependability of God’s promises is His own nature and character. “Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11–13).
 
 
Elicits favorable response
 
What understandings of God does this assurance evoke in your mind? What emotion-laden response does it elicit in your life? Surely there are some desirable ones that the Lord had in mind in giving such certitude to His children.
Trust. Because God can be relied upon to perform what He promises and to complete the work He began in calling us to salvation, we have a firm foundation for our faith. He will not leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Adoration. Do we not highly respect and honor those of earth who are eminently trustworthy? We willingly entrust to them our possessions, our children, and our minds. The One with whom we have to do in heaven far surpasses earth’s most honest and honorable citizen. The praise of our souls must find expression, for none is so worthy as He (Revelation 5:1–14).
Fidelity. Christ’s faithfulness to our lost cause out of sheer love certainly calls for the loving devotion of sincere hearts. His fidelity to us has never been in doubt. Even before the foundation of the world He volunteered to place Himself in the gap created by sin. Such fidelity as His has never been witnessed. “Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). God’s absolute faithfulness to us prepares our hearts for the same kind of faithful service to Him. Though our fidelity differs in degree, we have His model to remind us of our failings and to draw us back to the constancy pictured in this great section of the New Testament.
 

The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith

Friday, March 01, 2013

 

The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith

Bill Hall

Righteousness by faith: the character or quality of being right—in God’s sight—and that, not on the basis of our own merit or goodness, but, by faith.

A search for the beginning of such righteousness takes us back to the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis. Consider the following:

Abel. “By faith Abel … obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel, righteous? Had not Abel sinned? How could Abel be viewed as righteous, even by the Lord Himself? The answer lies in the fact that Abel’s righteousness was not based on his own sinlessness or merit; his was a righteousness by faith.

Noah. “By faith … became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Abraham. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). So significant is the fact that Abraham was accounted righteous by faith rather than by any merit of his own, that the statement is repeated in the book of James (2:23), in the book of Galatians (3:6), and several times in the book of Romans (4:3, 9, 22).

Righteousness by faith: a theme beginning in Genesis, but continuing throughout scripture. The theme reaches its climax in the book of Romans, where the “faith” by which one is proclaimed “righteous” is defined as faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). This righteousness had been “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21); was manifested in the death of Jesus whose blood became the propitiation (Romans 3:25); and is now “revealed” in the gospel (Romans 1:16, 17). The Holy Spirit in Romans reveals clearly that this righteousness is not the result of perfect law keeping, but of Cod’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:7, 8). Accountable beings have lived in different dispensations and under different laws, but all who are saved eternally will have been (1) saved by the blood of Jesus and (2) proclaimed righteous on the basis of faith.

Not One’s Own Righteousness

One cannot be saved on the basis of his own righteousness. The reason is stated clearly in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All the righteous deeds one may practice cannot erase one sin. One is therefore dependent on Gods grace. He must come to a righteousness which is of God: “But when the kindness and the love of Cod our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5). The Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” and in their self-righteousness, they “despised others” (Luke 18:9). Arrogance and contempt for others are inevitable outgrowths of self-righteousness. But when one comes in faith to be proclaimed righteous through God’s forgiveness he can only “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

By Faith

What kind of faith is under consideration in the expression “righteousness by faith”? Clearly, it is an active, obedient faith.

Consider Abel’s faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).

Consider Noah’s faith: “By faith Noah … prepared an ark … and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Consider Abraham’s faith: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son on the altar … And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (James 2:21–23). Abraham demonstrated a faith that not only could believe anything God said, but would do anything God told him to do. This is the faith that results in righteousness—the righteousness which is of God.

When one places his faith in Jesus Christ rather than in his own righteousness, and submits to His command to “repent and he baptized” (Acts 2:38), he finds in Him “remission of sins;” he has become righteous on the basis of faith. As he continues a life of submission and obedience to the Lord, humbly asking forgiveness for his failures, he still rejoices in righteousness by faith. Then when he reaches the end of life, he can rejoice with Paul in being “found in Him, not having my own righteousness … but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God be faith” (Philippians 3:9). This is “rejoicing in the Lord.” Herein lies man’s hope!

 

The Faithful God

Friday, March 01, 2013

 

The Faithful God

 
by Gary Henry
 
 
WHEN WE ARE tempted to worry about the uncertainties that are inherent in a changing world, it is reassuring to remember that the whole cosmos in which we live was created by a God who is eternal. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End … who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). The comforting thing about God’s eternal nature is not merely that He exists eternally, but that His character is eternal: God is changelessly faithful.
 
 
God Is Faithful: What It Means
 
Unlike the false gods of paganism, who were thought to be fickle and whose capricious anger was thought unpredictable, the God who really made us and revealed Himself to us can be counted on to be the same always. “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6), He has said. With God “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). We do not have to worry that an alteration in God’s “mood” will result in a change in His personality or His principles.
But more than that, God’s eternal faithfulness also makes Him different from Satan, the liar (John 8:44). God’s word is unfailingly and infallibly true. God’s truthful character is immutable—“He cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; see Hebrews 6:17–18). Long ago, Isaiah prayed, “O Lord … Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1). And when we say God’s word is always “true,” we do not just mean it is accurate. We mean also that, because it is true, it can be depended on. God is never treacherous. He never cheats. Every word He has ever spoken has been “a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance” (1 Timothy 1:15). God’s eternal truthfulness means that He is eternally trustworthy.
When He has spoken to mankind, God has often made promises. It is in regard to these promises that we see further what it means for God to be faithful. Faith has always meant taking God at His word when He promised something—and such faith has always proved to be well-founded. God has never failed to keep a promise. On the basis of that evidence, discerning people have long been willing to do as Sarah did, who “judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).
A final thing involved in God’s eternal faithfulness is that the fulfilling of His purposes is no less certain than the keeping of His promises. The glorious conclusion to which God intends to bring His creation is unstoppable because His character is unchangeable. The Psalmist’s statement is true of everything God has ever purposed: “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). Through Isaiah, God declared, “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9–11). God has given us reason to be assured that though the world around us passes through change after troublesome change, He is still the Sovereign whose purpose for His creation will not fail to be accomplished.
 
 
How Understanding God’s Faithfulness Helps Us
 
Learning the eternally changeless character of God is a wonderfully practical exercise. At the very least, it drives worry and fear out of our lives. How can we doubt that we will be taken care of by a God who has always shown Himself to be so faithfully concerned about His children? The Christian (who has not only the usual cares of daily living, but also may face various kinds of suffering because he is a Christian) can endure whatever trials and tribulations may confront him. Knowing that God remains on His throne and that He is working toward a victorious consummation of all things imparts strength to the suffering saint—strength because the saint knows that the eternal Judge will ultimately vindicate justice and right. Peter wrote, “Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
Moreover, a comprehension of God’s eternal nature helps the Christian deal with sin. Knowing that God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7–8), that He will not fail to do as He has said about punishing sin, surely ought to give us a more serious attitude about sin. On the positive side, knowing the steadfastness of God’s help is the very thing needed for us to resist temptation. As Paul put it, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Finally, an understanding of the unchangeableness and faithfulness of God is the thing that assures us of our salvation and motivates us to remain faithful to Him. The Hebrew writer appealed to his readers: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). In the long run, that person will be “faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10, NKJV) who sees clearly that God will always be faithful to us. Giving credence to God’s eternal truthfulness, we take on a confidence in God’s trustworthiness that imparts a constancy to our allegiance to Him. “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me!”
 

Discipline In The Home

Thursday, January 24, 2013

 

Discipline in the Home

by David Posey

I’M WRITING THIS on the Monday following Father’s day. My son has recently moved away and begun his career, and will be getting married in August. My daughter just graduated high school and will be attending Florida College in the fall. In other words, at our house, the disciplinary die is cast. All I hope for now is that the decisions my wife and I made during the past 18–22 years have been mostly wise ones. Did we “train them up in the way they should go”? (Proverbs 22:6)? We take some comfort in the promise of that passage, but still remember that it is a proverb, not an ironclad guarantee. So, like all Christian parents, we pray that our upbringing will lead to Christ being formed in them.

I don’t mean to imply that discipline is a matter of luck, or that the Bible doesn’t give us instruction in the matter. As Branch Rickey once said about baseball, “Luck is the residue of design.” Discipline requires design as well as hard work. The Bible provides the design, and we supply the hard work, along with fervent prayer. Of course, in the end, children make their own choices, and parents hold their breath.

We cannot force children to become Christian adults, but we can train them to be. It takes discipline. By “discipline,” I do not mean “spanking.” Spanking is an important part of the whole, but it is just a part. Proper discipline requires the use of a whole satchel of tools, including correction, nurturing, encouraging and warning (see Ephesians 6:4). Discipline requires setting some real boundaries and defining rules of proper behavior in the home. It demands that parents be parents and treat their children as children.

The dictionary defines discipline as “training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. The “specific character or pattern of behavior” which Christian parents are trying to achieve is holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15–16). Every step in the training process is designed to raise up Christian children. In comparison, nothing else matters, and the children know that. Education, job, and social skills are secondary. We always told our kids that we didn’t care if they were ditch-diggers, as long as they were Christians. If our children do not clearly observe that priority in us, what can we expect of them?

Hebrews 12:5–11 connects discipline with love. God loves us and disciplines (“chastens”) us. Likewise, if parents love their children, they discipline them. This is love in the fullest sense of the word—doing what is best for the child, not what feels best to the parent. Afterward—not before!—it yields the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11). Unfortunately, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want the results without the work. But any discipline takes time and work, and this is especially true in trying to mold these little minds and hearts into God-fearing men and women.

Researchers have shown that children desperately want this discipline. James Dobson illustrated this by removing the fences that encircled a school yard. Did the children run out in the street, delighted with their new-found freedom? No, instead they huddled in the middle of the playground. For a small child, a school (or a home) without boundaries and rules can be a very frightening place.

If discipline is this crucial, then it deserves all the time and effort we can give it. A survey in Maryland found that, on average, parents spend just 15 minutes per week in meaningful dialogue with their children. Sounds like many parents want to raise their children like the operate their TV set—by remote control! Without time and effort, we sacrifice our children on the altar of Murphy Brown and MTV, and they will not produce Christians.

Discipline is the best-rewarded hard work and the most tragic easy work there is. It is at once time-consuming, tedious, frustrating and exhausting. But, if you’re a parent, it is the most important work you do. It has far-reaching effects on the church and the world. But it takes time, your time (see Deuteronomy 6:6ff). Discipline is instruction, so we take time to tell the child how to discern between right and wrong. Discipline is training, so we take the time to show him how to function, and then let him try and fail, and try and fail again (that’s frustrating!). Discipline is correction, so we take the time and energy to help him adjust his attitude and behavior, not just lash out at him in anger when he makes a mistake.

Communication comes before correction. Before we punish a child for disobedience, he needs to know precisely what we expect of him. When the child obeys, we ought to show our approval. But when he violates the (clearly stated) rules, swift and firm correction must follow. We must both clarify the rules and then enforce them (Proverbs 29:15 says that permissiveness brings shame to the mother). The child may need a spanking (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13–14, though “rod” may well refer to both verbal and corporeal punishments), but there are other alternatives as well. Betty Chase, in Discipline Them, Love Them (David C. Cook Publishing) lists six methods of corrective discipline, beginning with communication, and including spanking. For a simple example, “logical consequences” would require the child to clean up his own mess. “Natural consequences” means the child suffers the consequence of his or her action (e.g., if little Sally refuses to wear a sweater to school, let her be cold for a day). Knowing and using more than one form of corrective discipline can make a spanking more effective.

Sensitive, godly parents are well aware of the challenges facing them today. It sometimes seems overwhelming. But you can rise above the crowd, and train up children who will grow to love the Lord. God promises wisdom, if we will ask for it (James 1:15). By the grace of God, you can do this job. You must do it. Parents, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).

 

Christianity Magazine: September–October 1992, Volume 9, Number 8. 1992. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL

 

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