belief

In my devotions last week I was struck by the juxtaposition of two very distinct chapters in the Bible: Numbers 14 and Hebrews 11. I have followed for a number of years Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. The plan he developed hundreds of years ago takes you through the Old Testament once in a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. The plan leads one to read four chapters of the Bible daily in different Bible books.

Last week’s devotions took me through Numbers 14 after Moses had sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. The spies came back and reported on the land. Ten spies discouraged the people of Israel from believing that God would give them the land promised. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that God would fulfill his promise. The result, fear overcame faith. The people rebelled against God. And God spoke judgment upon them. None of the adults who witnessed the miraculous redemption from Egypt (plagues, Passover, parting of the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, manna, water from a rock, etc.) would enter into the Promised Land. Instead their judgment would be 40 years of wilderness wandering.

In contrast, Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

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.

Hebrews 11:6

The author of Hebrews lists example after example of faith in the Old Testament. Unlike Israel in the wilderness, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joshua, Rahab, and on and on, took God at his Word and believed. Their faith was commended, while the unbelieving Israel was judged.

The contrast between the two chapters is striking.

The contrast got me thinking about my own Christian life. Too often my faith (or lack thereof) is like Israel in the wilderness. I’ve witnessed God’s greatness, his redemptive work, his mercy, and his provision over and over again. Yet when faced with an obstacle or an opportunity, I have failed to believe.

As I read and thought about these two poignant chapters of the Bible, the Holy Spirit convicted me. He convicted me about my faith.

What we need to understand is that believing in God is not some sort of blind leap (like Kierkegaard proposed). God does not expect us to close our eyes, shut off our reason, and believe irrationally. No, God’s invitation to believe is based on his Word and his Works.

Consider Israel, they witnessed miraculous intervention after glorious miraculous intervention for weeks and months. Yet when God gave them the opportunity to believe and take the Promised Land, they failed to believe. It was not blind faith they lacked. Rather, they looked at their surroundings (the walls and the armies and the Canaanites) and feared what could happen. They did not look at God, nor what God had done, nor what God had said.

The great examples of faith in Hebrews 11 are different. They were not more holy or more deserving of God’s intervention. It was not their holy lives that were commended, though many did reflect their faith in acts of obedience. They were commended for their faith: their belief in God based on what he had already done and what he had said.

So in my next moment of crisis (obstacle or opportunity), here’s what I’m going to try to remember and what I’m going to ask you to remember.

  • Read what God has said about himself and about us. God’s Word is our primary source for God’s character, purposes, and interventions in our lives (his works and his words). Who God has always been is who God is today (see Hebrews 13:8).
  • Remember what God has done in your own life. Remember God’s redemption of your soul, how he’s protected, defended, helped, and cared for you over and over again. Look back at God’s work in your own life and let his faithfulness undergird your faith.
  • Reflect on God and on his Son. I’m convinced that my own failures in faith are because I’m looking around me or looking inside me. If I look at circumstances, I’ll fear. If I look at my own capabilities, I’ll faint. If I look at God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, then I’ll have faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Friend, this reminder is why we need God’s Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers in corporate worship. When we read the Bible, pray, and testify together in song and sermon about God and his goodness, we build our faith muscles.

Will you join me this week in exercising your faith?

Regarding salvation in Christ, Do we choose God? or Does God choose us? Yes.

Let me clarify my purpose in this blogpost. I’m writing this post to help my congregation and readers better understand their salvation in Biblical terms, and to revel in the wonder and glory of a holy God who would willingly send his Son to die in order to save us.

Here’s a key verse in this conversation:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5

Before we write off this verse as specific to Jeremiah, note how Paul describes salvation in rather similar terminology for all of us as followers of Jesus.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

Several phrases correlate: knew and foreknew, consecrated and predestined/conformed, and appointed/called. The implications are striking.

As a pastor and professor (but mainly as a Christian), it is my duty to be Biblical. God defines the terms and gets to set the parameters for our theology. I recognize there will be theological dissension on some points. But where Scripture is clear, I must be clear. So what do we do with these verses that highlight God’s foreknowledge, election, and predestination related to our salvation? We believe them.

But what about verses that highlight whoever would come to Christ can be saved? (see John 3:16 or Romans 10:13). We believe them as well.

The real question is whether or not these verses and others we could draw from indicate inconsistency in Scripture regarding salvation. In other words, are these passages in tension? Another way of asking the question would be: “How do you reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility?” Charles Spurgeon, 19th century Baptist pastor answered: “You never have to reconcile friends.” The point is that biblically, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not in tension.

God predestines and elects. If he did not do so, none would be saved. That is clear from Jeremiah 1:5, Romans 8:29-30, and other passages as well. Predestination and election reflect God’s sovereignty. They remind us that God takes the initiative in our salvation. Furthermore, God sent Jesus to die on the cross (his initiative). God sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and draw us to himself (his initiative). The Bible declares clearly that our salvation derives first and foremost from God.

God invites and redeems. Salvation is an offer from God to sinners. This offer comes through the Holy Spirit and the communicated gospel.

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:13 -15

What is our part in salvation then? Our part in salvation is that we come as as sinners. We bring nothing good that deserves salvation. Rather, we bring ourselves in need of salvation. To receive salvation is to repent of our sin and believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10). Salvation then is a gift to be received, not a wage to be earned (Romans 6:23).

These biblical reminders about our salvation encourage several responses from us as believers:

  • We should be grateful that God initiated our salvation. God’s sovereign work in our salvation encourages us to praise and thank him. It leads us to worship.
  • We should be Biblical in our understanding of salvation. Through the centuries, there has been significant tension regarding the order of salvation, divine sovereignty, human responsibility, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Calvinism. This blogpost will not solve those tensions. (We may explore some of those tensions in future posts). However, if we will affirm what the Bible affirms, we will certainly not be found in error regarding our theology of salvation.
  • We should communicate the gospel regularly. The only way someone will receive salvation is to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ. Believer, it is your responsibility and mine to share the good news of salvation regularly.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash