Thursday, March 27, 2008

Faith that Works

When Joshua and the people were preparing to cross the Jordan to the Promised Land, they prepared for their invasion by sending a couple of spies to check out Jericho. Most of you remember the fact that they found a hiding place in the home of Rahab, a prostitute. When the authorities came looking for the spies, Rahab lied to them about their whereabouts and sent them away secretly.

Hebrews 11:31 tells us, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”
James 2:25 explains, “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?”

The story in Joshua and the additional information given to us by the New Testament writers provides us with a lot to think about. What do we know from the story that shows us Rahab’s faith? In what way was she different than her fellow citizens?

In this short story, she explains to the spies that he knows that the Lord has given the Israelites the land. She admits the terror has fallen on them, all the inhabitants are fainthearted and that their hearts melted with lack of courage because of what they had heard God had done to other nations around them. It sounds like Rahab was not the only one who believed the stories they had heard about what had happened. The citizens as a whole were terrified. What made the belief of Rahab different than the rest?

It seems to me that she acted on her belief. She took the risk of hiding the spies instead of turning them in, she helped them escape, and she asked to be rescued. When she was told what it would take to be rescued, she believed what they said and did what they told her to do. I think that’s why James says she was justified by her works. James writes that faith without works is dead. But Rahab demonstrated her faith with her actions and in so doing was rescued when that pagan city was destroyed.Shouldn’t this teach us something about faith in Christ? So many times we hear what God has done, and sometimes there is a certain amount of awe and fear associated with it, but often it isn’t mixed with the actions that true faith produces. May God grant us the kind of faith that produces obedience.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Results of Meditation

Joshua was the man God chose to lead His people across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. In God’s challenge to Joshua He said, “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Here is a tremendous promise related to Christian meditation. I say “Christian” to distinguish it from the various types of eastern meditation that are out there today. In order to meditate on Scripture, we have to take it in, perhaps memorize it and then spend time mulling it over and over in our mind, thinking about what it means and how it applies to our situation. This is not an easy thing to do in our culture that is so visually oriented and busy. But learning to do this has great rewards.

The first thing we see is that meditation on God’s Word will help us to observe and do all that is in it. God has given us His word to be followed and obeyed. Meditating on it helps us to do that.

Second, Joshua was promised that his way would be prosperous and he would have good success. Of course, prosperity and success in this context is not what we usually think of in our current culture. Prosperity and success here are measured in God’s terms based on a godly life that glorifies Him.

Psalm One offers a similar promise to the one who meditates on His law day and night. The psalmist tells us that we shall be like a fruitful tree rather than dry sawdust. Whatever such a person does shall prosper.

Isn’t that what we want in our lives? If we find ourselves falling short of this ideal we should look at the quality and level of our meditation on God’s Word. How are we doing in that area?

Friday, March 21, 2008

God's Rest Our Rest

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, there were only two who had been among the original group that had been delivered from Egypt. Those two were Caleb and Joshua. The rest of the people died in the wilderness because of their unbelief.

According to the book of Hebrews, there is a picture here that the Holy Spirit wants us to grasp.

You’ll have to read Hebrews 3 and 4 to see the whole context, but I’ll summarize the argument here. Hebrews 3:7 says “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” What that means is that today, we should not be like the people of Israel were in that day when they disobeyed God in the wilderness. God swore that because of their disobedience, they would not be allowed to enter His rest, i.e. the promised land. They did not enter in because of unbelief. (verse 19)

Hebrews 4:1 tells us that the promise of entering God’s rest remains. God’s rest is explained in that God rested on the seventh day after He had created the world. Since there remains the possibility that some would enter into it and since those to whom the message was first preached did not enter into it, there is still a designated time for some to enter that rest. The designated time is TODAY. His conclusion in verse 9 and 10 is that a rest remains for the people of God and the person who has entered into His rest has ceased from his own works as God did from His.

We so often find ourselves striving and laboring to try to achieve what God has already given us by His grace. When you picture God, do you picture Him struggling and toiling over events in the world? Do you think He is worrying about the political situation and the crises around the world? I don’t think so. God is offering us the opportunity of entering into the rest He is in right now. It means we cease from our labor like God did from His. The struggling to be acceptable and approved by God is over.

But the people in the Old Testament weren’t able to enter in because of unbelief. The same thing will hinder our entering in. God calls upon us as His people to believe Him and trust Him and all of the promises He has made to us. Have you entered into the rest God has prepared for you?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Christ our Representative

The last time we saw that Adam was our representative when he sinned and therefore his sin is our sin and we became guilty in him. The great news in the gospel is that Jesus Christ is the second Adam. In other words, He also is the representative for the people who are in Him. Romans 5:15 and following says, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.”

Verse 18 goes on, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

The thing I see happening all the time is that Christians rightly recognize their status as sinners because of Adam, but they’ve somehow missed the point of this chapter which is that in the same way that Adam made us sinners, Jesus Christ made us righteous. One is as equally true as the other.

As we continue our study in the book of Joshua and the associated lessons, we are going to see over and over how Christ is the representative for His people and what He has done, we have done in Him.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Baptism in the Spirit

Today, over at Adrian's Blog he asks the question, "What is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit." Here are my thoughts along with a suggestion for further study that I would encourage all of you to tackle.

I think there is a lot of confusion related to terminology when it comes to discussing this subject. I don’t think that defining the baptism in the Holy Spirit involves whether or not spiritual gifts are present in the church today or whether or not speaking in tongues is involved. I also believe that as far as possible we should form our definitions from Scripture rather than by personal experience. That is why there is so much disagreement and confusion because of the fact that people’s experiences can and do differ.

In verses such as Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33 and Acts 1:5, John is said to have baptized in water but Jesus Christ would baptize in the Holy Spirit. In the passage in Acts, the Christians are told that this will take place “not many days from now.” Within a few days, of course, the day of Pentecost arrived with the sound of wind, the flames of fire and the speaking in tongues.

But the question remains. “What is the baptism in the Spirit?”

I think the biblical answer is given in I Corinthians 12:13. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” This verse uses the same terminology (in one Spirit we were baptized) as the other verses from the Gospels and Acts. This passage is in the context of the body of Christ having many members with many gifts composing but one body.

I take it then that every person who is a Christian and part of the body of Christ has been baptized in one Spirit into one body. I would suggest therefore that the baptism in the spirit is the operation of the Spirit of God that places us into the body of Christ.

I would like to pass along a suggestion that someone gave to me a long time ago with reference to understanding baptism, especially spirit baptism. That suggestion is to look at the prepositions the original language uses in describing baptism. Just to get you started, let me explain that there are basically three: in (en), into (eis) and upon (epi). The problem with English is that sometimes these are translated in a way that makes it impossible to tell them apart.

In Matthew 3:11, John says I baptize you in water into repentance, but He will baptize in the Spirit.

Matthew 28:19 describes baptizing into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So right there, between those two verses you have two different things that a person could be baptized into.

Acts 2:38 talks about being baptized upon the name of Christ into forgiveness. So the object of “into” is different from the other two and what looks like a similarity to Matthew 28:19 (i.e. being baptized in the name of Christ) is really different. One is a baptism into the name and the other is a baptism upon the name.

Some very interesting patterns emerge when you look at what people are baptized in and what they are baptized into. It clears up a lot of ambiguity on the subject, but it does take some digging using a good interlinear Greek New Testament.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Adam our Representative

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is the concept of a representative acting on behalf of his constituents. We in the United States have some concept of that when we elect representatives to our legislatures. There they make decisions on our behalf but not always the decisions we would make but those decisions impact our lives. We may have to pay more taxes or be at war with another country and yet we didn’t make those decisions ourselves.

The same thing happens in the Bible. For example, we are taught that Adam represents those who are his constituents. Jesus Christ also represents His constituents. This relates to our study in the book of Joshua because God promises Joshua that every place he sets his feet in the Promised Land is his. Now obviously God isn’t giving Joshua personally all the land. He is giving it to Joshua as the representative of all the people.

We need to take some time and work through this because it is central to our understanding of some important Scriptures.

Let’s start with Adam. Look carefully at Romans 5:12-16. First we learn that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Christians generally believe that Adam’s fall is what brought sin into the world. Sin brought death with it and as a result death passed to all men because all sinned. Now the problem is that most people think that this passage is saying that since Adam sinned, other people have a sin nature that they follow and so they also sin and bring death upon themselves. But this is not what the passage is saying. What the passage is saying is that when Adam sinned we all sinned in him. He sinned as our representative and this brought guilt on all of us before we even had a chance to show our own sinfulness by committing sins ourselves.

We know this is true because it is explained in verses 13 and 14. Verse 13 says that there was sin in the world before the law came, but when there is no law, sin is not charged to anyone. However, verse 14 says that in spite of this fact, people died before the law came even though they did not sin like Adam did by disobeying a specific commandment. What that means is that their death was a result of the sin of Adam which was imputed to them.

In writing this, Paul says that Adam is a type of Christ who was to come. We’ll pick up on this more next time, but where he is going with this is that Christ also is a representative and what He did in that capacity is greater positively than the negative of Adam’s transgression.