Be Not Conformed to the World

Romans 12:1-3 ( NKJV )
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

In order to fulfill our call as Christians to walk by faith and not by sight, we must unlock the truths in Romans 12:1-3.  So far we have come to understand that all God asks of us in these verses is a product of His mercy.  Mercy provided salvation.  Mercy also provides what we need to walk in the power of that salvation.  God is not asking for sacrifice out of judgment and therefore punishment.  He is not looking for some kind of payment for our wrong doing.  He is revealing to us how to overcome in every situation.  He is doing so because of His great mercy.

We have also come to understand that we must offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.  Something given to God as a sacrifice is now His to do with as he pleases.  Our bodies are designed to serve our spirit and soul.  When the body finds something it likes it will crave that thing even to it’s own destruction.  When it does not like something it will avoid it at all costs.  We must offer our body to God so that it will serve Him and our spirit not limit both God and us.  This is not unreasonable.  It is not too hard.  This is a reasonable thing God asks of us.  It is important that we receive that truth or we will be unlikely to do what we should.

Today we will insert one more block from this verse.  We must not be conformed to this world.  This is not a suggestion.  It is a commandment.  Webster’s defines “conformed” this way; to give the same shape, outline, or contour to : bring into harmony or accord.  Let’s look at each point.

We cannot take the same shape the world does.  We cannot look like the world in any way.  Of course as we live in a culture there will be aspects of that culture that will be part of us.  That is unavoidable and not necessarily undesirable.   However when we choose the look or the ways of the world over the ways of God, we have a problem.  We need to make choices that are not based on what is acceptable to the world.  We must first find out what is acceptable to God, conform to that and if we can enjoy some of what the world has to offer as well, that’s great.  Whenever their is a conflict we must chose the Word of God without question. 

Let’s look at dress for example.  It is very common to use the term “sexy.”  We all like to be “stylish.”  We don’t want to look out of date or drab.  That is not what God requires.  However is it ever proper for a Christian to look “sexy” outside the marriage relationship.  I don’t think it is.  To look sexy is to dress and act in such a way as to cause arousal in the opposite sex.  The bible teaches us that dress should be modest in nature.  Therefore if we choose to dress “sexy” we are being conformed to the world.  We can dress in a stylish manner without dressing to arouse.  If we can’t then we will have to choose a different style.  We cannot be conformed to the world. 

The second part of this definition is to bring into harmony.  We cannot be in harmony with the world at the expense of being in harmony with God.  There are times when we can go a little ways in being in agreement with certain worldly things, but as soon as that takes us out of harmony with God, we must change our direction.  We must choose harmony with God, His character and His Word.  That is final. 

Now, we see that all these things are before Paul talks about renewing the mind.  Certainly these things become easier as we renew our mind, but it is clear that Paul expects us to begin to make the right choices as we enter this process, not after it is complete.  If we don’,t we never will come to the point of a renewed mind.  We must choose to believe that it is God’s mercy requesting certain things of us in order that we may be victorious.  We must do our best to offer our bodies a living sacrifice and we must accept the fact that we simply cannot be conformed to this world.  Once we accept that conformation to the world is unacceptable we must do our best to make the choices that keep us going in the right direction. 

As we follow this path, the renewing of the mind becomes possible.  The whole process gets easier with the doing.  If we don’t cooperate and accept what God says as the truth we will never reap the benefits Paul is trying to reveal to us.  If we do we will see real change and victory develop in our everyday living.

A Living Sacrifice; Your Reasonable service

Romans 12:1-3 ( NKJV )
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

Romans 12:1-3 is one of  the most important scriptures in our Christian experience.  It is a key that unlocks a door of victory in our lives.  We have learned that everything this scripture asks of us comes from a heart of mercy and not from judgment.  God is not asking us to do these things because he is displeased with us.  He is revealing how we can walk by faith and not by sight.  His mercy has provided all we need to be successful and, in these verses, His mercy is revealing how to access those things.

Two thoughts come through to us next.  We must offer our bodies a living sacrifice and this offering is our reasonable service.  What is a living sacrifice and why must our bodies become one.  It is necessary to briefly touch on the nature of man to understand this.  Man is a spirit, he has a soul and he lives in a body.  At the fall, man’s spirit was overcome with sin and became separated from God.  This condition is called spiritual death.  In the new birth this is reversed.  Our spirits are made alive again.  They are once again brought into vital union with God and as such, respond naturally to God.  That’s why 2 Cor. 5: 17-21 says we are new creations.  Old things have passed away all things are of God.  For a born again Christian the spirit is not a problem.

The soul is our emotions, intellect and will.  That part we will talk about later, however suffice it to say that it had to take control after the fall.  The soul was trained to suppress the "spiritually dead” human spirit and man had to learn to live out of his soul.  The soul was designed by God to be trained to respond, not to lead.  The body is the housing for the spirit and soul. 

The body was designed to simply provide expression for the spirit via the soul.  However the body, especially after the fall, tends to crave what it finds desirable.  The cravings of the body are unreasonable.  They will drive a person to death itself.  A drug addict knows his behavior is destructive, but once the body gains control, that doesn’t matter.  Although most of these cravings are not so destructive, they are always out of order and a hindrance to the body fulfilling it’s true function.  If we are going to be victorious in our Christianity the body must be put back into it’s place.  It is meant to serve not control.  How do we do that?

There is a great deal to the answer to this question, but for today let’s look at what Romans 12 is saying.  We must offer our Bodies as a living sacrifice.  To whom?  To God.  A sacrifice is something we give to the Lord for his use.  In the case of a burnt offering the sacrifice is burned up.  It may be a cow or a lamb.  It may be something that is prized to us or something we need for food.  However it belongs to God.  If God says burn it on an alter that’s what we do because it has been sacrificed to God. 

The first step in our transformation is for us to take our selfish, unthinking body and offer it to God, not as a burnt offering but a living sacrifice.  That means it must now do what God desires it to do, not what it wants.  Our bodies must belong to God.  We must give Him the right to control them.  We must make a conscious decision and reinforce this decision with action.  We must learn to say no to the cravings of the body.  We give it what it needs.  We enjoy it’s pleasures, but it must never be in control and we must give God priority in it’s use. 

I know this sounds difficult.  Particularly in a society where the body is so revered and pampered.  However if we are going to be transformed it is necessary.  We must think on the fact that my body is now sacrifice to God.  We must practice that sacrifice daily by making it do what it must do, pray, study the Word and worship.  We must cause our bodies to fulfill their proper function.  Eventually they will learn to do so naturally, but in the beginning it is a sacrifice.

This is made easier if we accept what God says next.  This is our reasonable service.  It may seem unreasonable at first.  Our bodies will certainly think so, but it is not.  The more we confess and meditate on the fact that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is reasonable the easier it will be.  They were, after all, designed for this kind of service.  It is not too hard.  Your mind and your body will say it is, but you must speak to yourself as David did when he commanded his soul to bless the Lord.  You must tell your body, no this is your reasonable service.  God would not ask for something that is unreasonable.

As you cultivate this attitude the next step, renewing the mind, will become more doable and you will be on your way to a total transformation leading to a life of total victory. 

By the Mercies of God

Romans 12:1-3 ( NKJV )
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

Let’s take a closer look at Romans 12:1-3.  There is obviously something very important in this verse.  Paul begins with the word “beseech.”  This is a strong English word.  According to Webster, beseech means to beg earnestly or anxiously.  Paul is begging his readers, with a great degree of concern, to get the truth he is bringing to them.  It is very important. 

Yesterday we talked from Proverbs 23:6-7 about the fact that “as a man thinks so is he.”   The inner image we carry determines who and what we are.  What and how we think either limits or releases us.  Paul is brining this same truth into the new testament setting and telling us it is a vital part of how to live successfully as a Christian.  There are a number of things about this verse I want to highlight for the rest of this week.

First Paul brings in the idea of the mercy of God.  Why is this important in the beginning of this discussion?  Because we must understand that God is not asking any of this of us as part of a judgment against us.  He is not saying we must present our bodies as a sacrifice because we have sinned.  He is saying quite the opposite.  Jesus was the sacrifice for sin, no other sacrifice is required for that.  It was mercy that sent Jesus to the cross.

Jesus was offered as a sacrifice for judgment against sin, however the motivation was no justice for God as much as it was mercy toward God’s children.  Sin had to be paid for because God’s children, mankind, had to be set free.  God gave Jesus who did not commit sin in order to pay for man’s sin.  Mercy is giving what is not deserved.  God gave us mercy by giving Jesus as a sacrifice for sin.

By this outpouring of God’s mercy, He made everything available to man.  It was God’s mercy that enabled us to receive the new birth.  We did not deserve to be made new creatures, but God’s mercy in Christ’s sacrifice made it available.  However there is more to what God provided for us than the new birth alone.  As we look at Romans 12 we see there is a total transformation available to us.  This is to affect our whole being not just our spirit.  The new birth occurs in the spirit of man.  What about the soul?  What about the body?  They need to be transformed.

Paul is going to use language that could be interpreted as judgment.  He is going to talk about a sacrifice.  He is going to speak of holiness and service.  He is going to speak of separation from the world.  All of these things could be seen from a standpoint of an angry God that is demanding a certain obedience because of our shortcomings.  However Paul wants to be certain that his readers understand that this is not the case.  All he is about to say flows from and was made available by God’s wonderful mercy. 

It was mercy that provided for our salvation.  It is mercy that brings us the revelation of how to be transformed.  Take some time today and thank God that you are not an heir to judgment.  God has made you and I the target of His never ending mercy.  We do not get what we deserve, we receive the benefits of God’s love.  When He asks something from us it is not because he is angrily judging our shortcomings.  It is motivated by His desire for us to fully partake of what His mercy has provided. 

As You Think So You Are

Proverbs 23:6-7 ( NKJV )
    Do not eat the bread of a miser, Nor desire his delicacies; For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.  “Eat and drink!” he says to you, But his heart is not with you.

As we study how to walk by faith, we are once again looking at the transforming power of the word of God.  We have studied Romans 12:1-3 in this space before, so today I want to look at a companion scripture.  In This verse Proverbs is speaking of a man who says one thing and thinks another.  It is a specific scenario, however it contains a general principle. 

This man is a miser.  He offers you food, but he doesn’t really want to share with you.  He’s a miser after all.  The principle is stated in the phrase, “as he thinks in his heart so is he.”  That is a truth that goes beyond this little story.  It is true, not just of this man’s deceit, but of all of us.  How we think in our heart determines what we really are.  We may be very adept at projecting a certain image, but our true self is what and how we think in our heart.

We are all products of our inner image.  What we think about ourselves.  How we see ourselves.  How we see our potential and our limitations.  How we see our own personality.  What we do to protect ourselves from hurt.  What and how we think determines who we are.  This applies to both good and bad things. 

Psychology calls this our self image.  If we have a healthy self image we will be healthy on the outside.  If we have a poor or negative self image, we will be unhealthy on the outside.  To a degree this is true.  The problem with that thinking is the emphasis on self.  If you let “self” define how you see yourself, you will end up with and inaccurate view every time.  You will either see yourself as less than you should or greater than you should.  If you see yourself as worthless, obviously you will be worthless.  However if you simply focus on how good you really are, you will end up arrogant and inflated in you view.  Neither is truly healthy.

How do we cultivate a healthy inner image?  I believe we need to look to the one who created us, not to “self” at all.  Let’s look at what Paul said on the subject.

Romans 7:18 ( NKJV )
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

If I just look to my flesh to develop my inner image, I find no good thing.  This is not to say that we should dwell on how bad we are.  That’s not what Paul is saying.  He is simply stating a general truth.  If the flesh is what is in control, it produces nothing good.  If we try to develop an inner image based on flesh, it will be off in one direction or the other.  Where do we look to develop a healthy inner image?  The Word of God.

The bible paints a very clear picture of what a Christian should be like.  If I want a healthy image I need to go there.  I need to find out what God Says I am like and begin to think on that.  God says I am right with Him.  God says I am more than a conqueror.  God says I can do all things through Christ.  God says I am loved and accepted in the beloved.  No matter what my past or my present says about me, if I begin to think about what He says of me I can re-write my inner programming. 

As I think in my heart the Word of God, I become what the Word says I am.  Now this does not happen in a few minutes.  It happens as we discipline ourselves to put these “God thoughts” into our mind.  We need to hear the word under the anointing.  The anointing to preach and teach causes the Word of God to penetrate deeper into our thinking.  We need to read and meditate on the Word for ourselves as this builds a foundation in our hearts.

Are there things in your life that are not as you would like them?  Are there areas in your life that need to change?  Begin to put some different thoughts in your mind.  Not just any thoughts,  but God’s thoughts.  He wrote them in His word.  As you take some time to develop these thoughts they will begin to change the inner image you carry.  You will begin to see different things in your heart.  As you change what you think in your heart, so you will change what you are. 

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Faith Comes Through the Word of God

Romans 10:17 ( NKJV )
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

As we come to the end of another week, let me finish my thought from yesterday.  As we seek to learn how to walk by faith and not by sight, we realize that if we need faith we must turn to the Word of God.  There is no other source of true bible faith.   Yesterday we pointed to the simple fact that to have faith we must have something to believe.  In the natural we believe what we see or experience.  When we are talking about God, we cannot see Him nor his power.  God has provided us with a written record of what He says He will do.   We can read that record and because we trust in the integrity of the one who wrote it we can believe that our lives will conform to that truth.

The other reason we must go to the Word of God for faith involves the nature of both the Word itself and faith.  First of all faith is not just a state of mind.  The mind is a large part of how faith is released in our lives, but faith is really access to the life of God.  When we believe we are tapping into a spiritual energy that is able to affect the creation.  The Word of God is not just what God says He will do, it is also the repository of that spiritual energy.  Let’s look at some scripture.

Hebrews 4:12 ( NKJV )
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

There is no other book of philosophy that would say that in this way.  The truth in the book may be considered alive in the sense that it applies to the world today as much as the world in which it was written,  but that is not what this verse means.  It is telling us that the word of God is a living thing.  Jesus said the words that He spoke to us were spirit and Life. (John 6:63)  That means that they carried life.  They carried that spiritual energy. 

In this space we have looked at Proverbs 4:22 speaking of the Word of God, the writer tells us that they are life and health to us.  The Word of God is not just philosophy or theology.  The Word is not just a good pattern to live by.  It is alive.  It is full of the power and energy of God Himself.  How do we access that life.  By feeding on the Word of God.

Natural food is full of the nutrients necessary for natural life.  You cannot live without eating.  When you eat your body is designed to break down the life in the food so that the body can absorb the nutrition stored in it.  Your spirit has been designed by God to process His word in the same way.  Faith that comes from the Word is the life that is stored in the Word being released.  If we want that life, there is only one place to go to get it.  If you want physical life you have to eat food.  If you want spiritual life, faith, you have to eat the spiritual food of The Word of God.

In the natural we need all kinds of food to have the proper balance of nutrition.  It is the same in the spirit.  The Word is full of various kinds of nutrition.  There is nutrition that brings forth faith for physical healing.  There is nutrition that brings for faith for forgiveness.  There are other words that bring for faith to overcome sin, walk in love or prosper financially.  The more we feed on those things the more the power of God for them is released in and through us.  Just as protein in our physical diet produces and strengthens muscle and carbohydrates provide energy, so the various areas of truth in the bible produce that kind of strength in our lives.  We need a balanced Word of God diet.

Remember, you cannot get this strength anywhere else.  Psychology tries to get us to see things that may be wrong, but it is just information.  Education is a very good thing and can help us in many ways, but that is also just information or knowledge.  The Word of God is also information and knowledge.  However it is also much more than that.  It is food to the spirit of man.  It is the life we need to become strong in spirit.

I am reminded of an old story.  There was a native American man many years ago who got saved.  Afterward some time the preacher asked him how he was doing.  He said, “I feel like I have two dogs in me fighting for control.  One is my old life and my flesh and the other is the life I know I have in me from the Lord.”  The preacher asked him, “Which one is winning.”  The man gave a wise answer.  “The one I feed the most!”  Which dog are you feeding?  The dog of the flesh the worldly food of the devil, or the spiritual food of the Word?  It’s up to us.

Faith Comes Through the Word of God

Romans 10:17 ( NKJV )
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Let’s take a moment this morning to review.  We are called, as Christians to live by faith and not by sight.  That means we must come to the place where we don’t make decisions or react to situations strictly on the basis of what we see with our physical eyes.  Faith gives us the ability to see into the realm of the spirit.  It gives us access to the realm that created the physical word we see, the realm of the Spirit where God lives. 

To do so we must have certain truths in place in our lives.  They must be so ingrained that they dominate every aspect of our lives.  They must become our conditioned response in every situation.  The ones we have looked at so far are:

  1. God Loves us and knows what we need.  He is a good Father who will not let His children do without what is needed.
  2. The Word of God is the Highest truth in the universe and has the power to conform all “true” things in the natural to itself.
  3. The Word of God has absolute integrity.  We can trust it to do what God said it would do.

Today I want to look at a 4th truth that must become foundational to our lives.  The Word of God is the only source of faith in God.  If we need Faith there is no where else we can go to get it.  I have mentioned the importance of testimony books in my life.  Many people think that faith is built by reading them.  It is not.  Hope is built by reading or hearing a great testimony, not faith.  Hope is an important ingredient to faith.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, so if we have no hope we can have no faith.  However hope and faith are not the same thing. 

Hope is possibility.  When we remember what God is done in our lives we also build and reinforce hope.  I believe many times what we perceive as a lack of faith is actually a lack of hope.  Life and experience begin to take away our sense of what is possible in our lives.  We still believe all things are possible with God, but not really for us in our situation.  When this happens we tend to stop applying the Word to the situation and the result is a lack of faith.  The real problem is the lack of the Word. 

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  That must become second nature to us.  When we feel our hope waning we need to realize that the first thing we need to do is go to the Word, not back away from it.  Hope can come from a good testimony or our own experience, but it also comes as we read about the things God did for those in the Bible.  It comes to us as we praise and worship God, filling our mouths with who He is and what He has done.  When we couple all this with consistent feeding on the Word of God, faith is the result.

There are two dimensions to this.  First of all, if we are going to have any kind of faith, we must have something to believe.  In the natural we believe our experiences, what we can see around us or the information that comes via the news, etc.  When that is the focal point of our faith we are in trouble.  We are limited to the natural.  Faith in God cannot come from those things. 

God has chosen a different focus when it comes to Faith in Him.  He knows we need something physical that we can see and hear to give our faith focus.  He knows that it is impossible to believe something that we can not see, so he gave us a channel to the unseen world of the spirit.  He gave us His written word.  This becomes the focal point of what we believe.  We cannot see the power of God, but we can see the bible.  We can read the promises.  We can know what God will do, because we know what he said.

In the natural this is also true.  You cannot believe I will do something for you if I don’t say I will.  You need a concrete promise or you have no right to believe anything until you see it.  However if you know my integrity and you have my promise, it is money in the bank.  You can’t see what I said I am going to do, but you can see that I said it.  That is enough if I am trustworthy.  It is the same with God.

He has given us His promise.  We can see it.  We can hear it.  He is a God of integrity and if He said it He will do it.  Period.  “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 

The difference between me and God is that I only have access to my natural abilities.  God has no limits.  When He promises Healing in 1 Peter 2:24, He has the power to back it up.  When He promises to meet my needs in Philippians 4:19 He is not limited in His resources.  When He promises to never leave us or forsake us in Hebrews 13:5 He is not limited by time, space or a lifespan.  The promises of God are a window into an unlimited world where our Father holds the keys to all power and resources.

Fill you mind with the promises of God.  Fill your eyes with what He says about you and what He says He will do for you.  Faith will come.  It is a bit of process.  It takes time to grow and produce fruit in your life, but it will come.  When it does, you will step into a different kind of life.  You will still have ups and downs.  You will still have bad days and good ones, but you will know that the Word of God is always there.  When faith seems to wane you won’t need to find a good testimony.  You will be able to go to the source of faith and replenish it at any time. 

Romans 10:17 ( NKJV )
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

More tomorrow.

Fully Persuaded

Romans 8:37-39 ( NKJV )
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is amazing how important the power of persuasion is in our society.  In our study of walking by faith, we have touched on this before but I felt it was important to look at a real life person and see how persuasion impacted his life.  Granted this person lived 2000 years ago, but people are people and what worked for him will work for you. 

Paul starts this paragraph in Romans 8 with words that are famous to Christians.  “We are more than conquerors.”  We quote them, we confess them over our lives.  We write songs with these words in them.  They are a potent victory cry among those of us who consider ourselves born again Christians.  I believe they are just that, however do we understand them.

We will often give testimonies of how we have overcome circumstances, been healed from diseases, gained victory over sin or seen relationships healed and end them with the good confession, “I am more than a conqueror through Christ!”  There is nothing wrong with that, but lets look at Paul’s testimony.  Here it is in verse 35-36.

Romans 8:35-36 ( NKJV )
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

This can’t be right.  What kind of testimony is that?  It doesn’t say he was delivered from those things.  We know from scripture he went through them.  I guess you could say that making it through alive was a victory, but it’s not the kind I really want.  What are we to make of this?  Should we just assume that this means we are called to take what life throws at us and accept it? I don’t believe that’s Paul’s message.  What is it then?

Paul was more than a conqueror inwardly.  He could go through these trials and emerge victorious because he was persuaded of something.  Nothing could convince Him that God did not love him.  Two days ago we talked about this as one of the foundational truths of faith.  If we don’t believe this we can’t walk by faith.  Paul was convinced of it.  He was persuaded that none of the things He went through meant God didn’t love him.

Why is this so important?  If you are persuaded of this truth you judge life and circumstances by it.  Most Christians, if confronted with the circumstances Paul describes would conclude that God was angry with them or they had sinned.  Some might actually believe that God did not love them or get angry with God.  Paul simply could not see it that way. 

His statement is interesting in that he concludes he cannot be separated from the love of God.  Nothing come between him and God’s love.  Whatever happens, the love of God is still in play in his life.  In the end that love will get him where he needs to be and cause him to triumph.  He is more than a conqueror because nothing can defeat him, even when it looks like a defeat.  He just won’t see it as one.  He is persuaded that this defeat cannot separate him from God’s love so in the end it must be a victory.

So much of life is determined by what we are persuaded of.  We see the world through that prism.  I have said this same thing in a number of different ways over the last few months because it is so pivotal to what we are trying to build.  I must be persuaded that the Word of God is true.  I must be persuaded that God loves me.  I must be persuaded that God is involved in my life.  I must be persuaded that faith is the answer.  I must see myself this way or I cannot walk by faith instead of sight.

How do I become persuaded.  The Word coupled with fellowship with the Holy Spirit.  If we won’t make these things priority we will be persuaded by what we see physically.  If we make the Word of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit priority we will change our persuasion.  It is simple.  It will take time.  It is the only answer that will last.  

The Life of Faith

Hebrews 10:38 ( NKJV )
Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”

Christians are called to walk by faith and not by sight.  We need the foundation truths of the integrity and the abiding love of God for us to do that.  Another picture in the bible of how faith should work for you and I is, “the just shall live by faith.”

If we are honest with ourselves we often treat faith as an emergency solution to our problems.  We go along in life doing our own thing, making as much room as possible for our spirituality and then when a need arises we turn to “our faith.”  We have often heard this sentiment in testimonies, movies and in TV shows.  The hero finds himself in dire circumstances and then turns to some higher power to see him through.  This is not always our idea of faith, but the implication is the same.  Faith is something that is there when we need it.  When things get bad we call on our faith and then when everything is OK we wave goodbye in the confidence that it will be there when we need it again.

Another image is the “superhero” attitude toward faith.  When there is trouble we pull out the “faith suit” and off we go to save the day.  Both of these ideas are a deception and contrary to what the bible teaches.

We cannot expect faith to work just when we need it.  Faith is not something God has given us to get through hard times.  It is true that hard times often drive us to our knees.  Hard times cause us to turn to our faith in God, and God will meet us there.  However, this is not how faith was designed to work and many times this approach is simply too late to keep us from some tragic consequences.  If we really to see our lives revolutionized by an active faith in God, we need to know how the bible says it ought to work.

You can’t expect to get the most out of something if you don’t use it the way the manufacturer intended.  For years my wife has had smart phones.  For the most part she didn’t do anything with them but make calls.  Then I go one for her that was designed to be much easier to understand.  Now she is doing all sorts of things with it because she is using it the way it is designed to be used.

If you are going to drive you must learn the rules of the road.  You must have a basic understanding of how to operate a car.  If you don’t you will not get very far.  If you do manage to get the vehicle moving and don’t operate by the rules of the road you will be a danger to yourself and others.  Faith in God is no different.  We need to know how to operate it or we will get very little in terms of results.  We need to know the rules surrounding God’s intention for faith in our lives or we can be a danger to ourselves and others.

Faith is not for emergencies.  Faith is a lifestyle.  Crisis can drive us to our faith.  Living by faith will keep us out of the crisis.  That is the goal.  If we make a decision to build faith into our lifestyle then it will be there when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances.  It will also be there to sustain and strengthen us in everyday life.  When the difficulty comes we won’t have to “put on” our awkward faith suit.  It will simply be an extension of who we are.  We will confront the enemy with weapons we are familiar with and a confidence born of a lifestyle that prepares us for victory.

Faith and the Love of God

John 16:25-28 ( NKJV )
“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

As is often the case recently I found myself in a place in my preaching that I didn’t intend to be on Sunday.  Faith is a subject that revolutionized my Christian life some 30 years ago and in the time since then I have studied and preached on this topic more than any other.  I believe it is the place from which most things in our Christianity flow. 

Right now I believe God is really drawing us back into this emphasis because of the time in which we live.  We are the only group with the ability to change our world.  The directions we are going in currently are a threat to most of what we, as Christians, hold dear.  I believe they are also a threat to God’s plans for the world.  God is not going to allow that to succeed, but He needs a people of faith to flow through.  That people is you and I. 

This being the case I believe the current stress in my preaching is more prophetic than teaching.  I am teaching, but God is not allowing me to simply flow into the standard “faith teaching.” Instead He is moving on me to speak things that I had not thought of before hand.  It is very important that we not only learn about faith but that we are in tune with God’s heart as well.  These are great days of opportunity and we can only take advantage of them by a vital and powerful faith.

As I began to preach this Sunday, I got stuck on a particular thought.  Faith is really only possible if we are grounded in the fact that God Loves us.  As I said the words I could almost feel the religious thinking taking over.  I know that this is a truth that we have understood and taught about and thought about as long as we have been saved.  The fact of God’s love is at the heart of Christianity.  It is also at the heart of the Christian religion.  I make this distinction because the Christian religion and Bible Christianity are not necessarily the same thing.  The Christian religion is the form and the culture surrounding Christianity.  That is not where our faith flows from. 

Our faith must flow from the Christian relationship.  The idea that God is Love and therefore must love us is foundational to both, however it is human nature to allow religion to override relationship.  Religion is easier.  Follow a set of rules, do certain rituals and follow a particular code of conduct.  It is clean and straightforward.  relationship is never that way, but what we have is a relationship not a religion. 

We hear, “God loves you”, but what we really hear is a religious phrase.  Our faith cannot flow from a religious phrase.  We know God loves us, but do we feel how much he loves us.  I chose the scripture above because I love Jesus’ language in the 27th verse.  The Father Himself loves you.  Jesus loves them, they know that.  Jesus was there with them, teaching them, comforting them, leading them.  That was not at issue, but even knowing that was not enough.  He was leaving them.  He needed them to understand that God’s love for them was not just an extension of God’s love for Him.  The Father Himself loved them. 

How can we really put our full trust in God?  How can faith become this dominant force in our lives?  Unless this is more than a religious phrase, we can’t and it can’t.  The Father Himself loves us.  He doesn’t just need us or want our devotion.  We are not some inconvenience to Him that He must take care of to fulfill His plan.  The Father Himself loves you.  This is profound.  It changes everything if we allow this truth in.  Faith flows from that place.

It is one thing to say, “God loves.”  It is quite another to say, “The Father Himself” loves me.  This is personal.  He takes the responsibility of our care upon Himself.  He doesn’t leave it to angels, or even Jesus.  Though Jesus and the Father are one, Jesus wants us to see how important each one of us is to the Father Himself. I am a father and a Grandfather myself.  The wellbeing of my children and grandchildren means far more to me than my own wellbeing.  God is no different. 

I know that we touched on this last week, but God is speaking to us and I believe He wants you to know that you can believe in Him and trust Him, not just because the “Holy Book” says you should.  Not just because it’s the religious thing to do or because if you are really spiritual you must have faith.  He wants you to know that you can have faith in Him and trust Him because “the Father Himself loves you.”

The Word of God is the Key to Faith

Proverbs 4:20-22 ( NKJV )
    My son, give attention to my words;     Incline your ear to my sayings.
    Do not let them depart from your eyes;     Keep them in the midst of your heart;
    For they are life to those who find them,     And health to all their flesh.

As we have been discussing the necessity for Christians to walk by faith and not by sight, we have come to understand that, to do so, we must build certain foundational truths into our thinking.  This process is called the renewing of the mind by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12.  These truths must be so ingrained that they determine our responses and our actions in every life situation. 

The first of these truths involves Matt 6:31-33.  It is twofold.  First, if we want to walk by faith we must seek the kingdom of God first and the things we need will be added to us.  If we seek what we need first, the door is opened to the devil to stop what we need from being added to us.  We are then limited to our own ability to find ways to provide for our needs in the earth.  This is possible because we also must have settled in our hearts that the Father knows we need these things and will not allow us to go without them.

The second, and maybe more important to our development of faith in God, is the absolute integrity of the Word.  If we do not accept the Word of God as first and final authority in our lives we will never be able to have faith in God.  Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  The Word is the focal point of faith.  The Word is the vehicle that can accomplish the renewing of the mind.  (Is. 55:8-11)  Finally the Word of God is what God used to create the natural world and the natural world and the circumstances we face within it will respond to the Word of God in the mouth of a believer. 

In the above verse we read the words of a father to a son, but they are also understood to be the Words of the Heavenly Father to His sons and daughters.  He tells him how to apply the Word of God to his life.  First, he says the son must give attention to the words of the father.  Many sons, as they become fathers themselves, wish they had paid more attention to their own fathers.  It’s amazing how wise adults become in retrospect.  Sadly many teen agers seem to believe they know everything when in reality they know nothing.  Mistakes and problems will ensue. 

It is the same with the Word of God.  We must give it our attention.  This is not rocket science.  There is no need for deep interpretation.  If we never read or study the word we are not giving it attention.  If we hear a message on Sunday Morning and never give it another thought we are not giving it attention.  In a family we understand that all members need attention.  This means you spend some quality time with them.  It is not attention if your mind is somewhere else.  No wife wants her husband to listen to her but be thinking about the job, etc.  She needs him to have his mind on her.  It is the same with wives to husbands and parents to children.  To pay attention implies focus.

My son pay attention to My words!

How?  Incline your ear.  Go out of your way to hear them.  The inclined ear is a picture of putting your hand behind your ear and pointing that ear and hand toward what you are trying to hear.  Try it…..  Do you see how much clearer you hear what your ear is pointed toward?  Do you see how other sounds are put more in the background?  That’s what God expects us to do where His Word is concerned.  Focus on it to the exclusion of other words.  Go out of your way to really hear it.

Don’t let them depart from your eyes.  You can’t just hear them or read them once.  They need to be in your eyes all the time.  Read them and hear them often.  Audio and video are available as never before.  Books are still available.  Use these tools as well as simply reading the Word.  Many people have “smart phones” and these devices all have bible programs available, many for free.  Use them.  If you don’t have such a device a pocket New Testament will work. 

Keep them in the midst of your heart.  Think about what the word is saying.  Ask questions about how this truth would change how you think or how it could change your circumstances.  When you hear a message give it some thought.  Look up the scriptures.  Take some time to undergird what you have heard with your own study.  Remember, hearing it with no focus is not giving your attention to it.

All of these things are our responsibility.  They require a little work.  They require some lifestyle choices.  I know, that’s hard for Americans, but there it is.  The truth is it’s not really that hard.  It’s inconvenient and requires some effort, but if we put in that effort God promises to take care of the really hard stuff.  He tells us that if we find these words, if we give them the required attention to get them into our hearts, they will be life to us and health to all our flesh. 

When God says they are life to us He is implying that they will be the source of everything that makes life victorious.  They will provide everything we need.  They are the source.  From them we will obtain faith and when we walk by that faith as opposed to walking by what we see, we will have access to the power of God to meet all the challenges of life.

2 Peter 1:2-4 ( NKJV )
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises (the Word of God), that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.