Archive | September, 2015

7 Things You Need to Work On

September 30, 2015

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Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love are popularly known as the Christian graces. (2 Peter 1:5-7) But that makes it sound like they come free with our faith.

Looking closer, Peter said to be diligent to supplement our faith with these things! (v. 5)

That means in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit, we have to keep training ourselves to practice these qualities (v. 8)

Maybe we should be calling them the Christian objectives!

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The List of Faith

September 27, 2015

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The Lists of Hebrews
A Study of the book of Hebrews
Lesson 5
Lesson Text: Hebrews 11

Here is an exhaustive listing of the places in the Bible that mention “faith only”: (Or “faith alone” depending on your version)

  1. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. – James 2:24 KJV

Yes that’s it. The complete and unabridged list.

Faith is a Milestone

Those who teach salvation by faith only use Ephesians 2:8-9 as the corner stone for their doctrine. Based on my research, the idea of salvation through faith only was first seriously taught by Martin Luther, who was born in 1483. It is therefore a relatively new idea that was not taught by the early church.

But you see, Luther had a problem with his theory. The problem was the book of James. Luther called James an epistle of straw and tried to cast doubt as to whether it was even a book of the Bible in the preface of the 1533 printing of his New Testament translation.

In order to teach the faith only doctrine, he selected John, Romans, and Ephesians as everything a Christian should know. A serious Christian knows that, like Paul, we are not to shrink from the full counsel of God. (Acts 20:27) Which is another way of saying we should not ignore Scripture that doesn’t agree with what we are teaching.

James 2:24 says that man is not justified by faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says grace is a gift of God and not a result of works. How does one reconcile this apparent contradiction?

Here are some of the basic facts to help us show logically that salvation by faith only is a lie:

  • The context of the Ephesians scripture is about works of the law. He is speaking to the Jews about how they place emphasis on getting everything exactly right and offering no more. Works in that context are certainly dead and offer no value to salvation.
  • The context of the James passage is about performing works of faith. The passage from James 2:14-26 compares and contrasts how worthless faith without works is and how necessary works of faith are.

… Even the demons believe – and shudder! James 2:19b

  • I also point to Paul’s opening of Romans. It says we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5 emphasis mine) Isn’t it convenient how the modern publications of the Bible hide that little bit of text in a section called Greeting? We can see Paul’s idea of faith has a condition that includes a component of obedience. Obedience requires action on our part. Just to make sure he was clear on that, Paul closes Romans by saying the letter was meant to bring about the obedience of faith. (Romans 16:26)

  • John 6:29 describes faith as a work. Jesus is answering a question about doing the work that endures rather than the work that perishes. Believing in God means that we are doing the things he told us to do.

  • Romans 2:6 says the judgment will include an account of our works. Romans 2:6-7 gives us both the good and bad rewards of the kind of works we perform.

  • Hebrews 11 is a list of people that took action based on their faith. Each and every one of them can be used to demonstrate that faith is not merely a frame of mind.

While faith is a very important milestone on the path to salvation, the path doesn’t end there. As I have outlined on my Gospel Plan of Salvation page, faith comes very early on that journey, but at this point, the seeker is only beginning to see the goal in the distance. God has never accepted a person’s faith by merely taking his word for it.

The Heroes of Faith didn’t get away with Faith Only

Everything we have covered to this point of our Hebrews study brings us to this point.

Without faith, it is impossible to please him. Hebrews 11:6a

Without believing in Christ as our ultimate authority…

Without understanding how Christ came with a better promise…

Without heeding the warnings to protect and grow our faith…

…we don’t have a lot of hope.

…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6b

We need action to collect the promised reward!

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Heroes of Faith chapter. I want to review a few of them with you to reinforce the length these people had to go through to get the outcome God promised.

A faithful attitude

Faith led Abel to offer the correct sacrifice. (Hebrews 11:4) All we know from the Genesis 4:1-5 account is that Abel’s offering was what God wanted and Cain’s was not. Sometime prior to this account, God would have told them exactly how to make an offering. We can measure each one’s faith through how how much they actually heard of God’s word:

  • Abel offered what God told him to offer
  • Cain offered only what Cain wanted to offer

This still applies to us right now:

Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God Romans 10:17 KJV

We need the attitude of Abel to do God’s will without apology. We need to have enough faith in God to take the actions he told us to take (Obedience) or risk losing out on his promises.

Did Cain believe and fear God? Did his actions prove it? He obviously thought so. Many people claim they are walking in the faith but are worshiping him in unapproved ways.

How faithful is our attitude if we are willing to risk doing things our way rather than God’s?

A faithful practice

Faith led Enoch to actively please God (Hebrews 11:5) As a result, Enoch avoided death.

We cannot hope to avoid the death of our bodies unless Jesus returns first. (Hebrews 9:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:15ff) By walking like Enoch, we are working to avoid spiritual death. Our walk with God is one that endures for our lifetime and requires daily maintenance. The writer emphasized that through repetition (Genesis 5:22,24)

We discussed in depth the warning of failing to continue on in growth (Hebrews 6:1ff) and this lifestyle of Enoch is an excellent example of just how to make that growth happen.

Would your life make the same testimony that Enoch’s did?

…for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Hebrews 11:5b

A faithful acknowledgment of God’s power and ability

Faith led Noah to build the ark. (Hebrews 11:7) Noah had to make an incredible choice based on a serious lack of evidence:

  • Noah had never seen rain
  • He had certainly never heard of a flood
  • He had to build a strange vessel like God described to him
  • He was 100 years away from seeing the results

But he was moved by the fear of God. That kind of fear is the healthy kind. It is what we are supposed to have to protect our faith. (Hebrews 4:1)

That fear helped him get it done and took great pains to do it to God’s specification.

Like Noah, we need to honestly acknowledge that God will act exactly as he specified, no matter how long it takes. Those who fail to believe God’s word, or doubt the extremes that it describes do not respect God’s power and capabilities. There are many examples, but consider these:

  • Adam and Eve thought they could hide when they disobeyed God. (Genesis 3:8-11)
  • The Syrians thought Israel could only win from the hills. (1 Kings 20:22-29)
  • Annanias and Saphira tried to lie to God (Acts 5:1-11)

A faithful acceptance of God’s will as the last word

Faith led Abraham (Abram) to pack up and move his family. (Hebrews 11:8-10) God told him to go to the place to be revealed later. (Genesis 12:1-9)

Imagine that you are living a fine life that you suddenly must disrupt, leave behind, and cut all the ties. It must have been hard for Abram’s family. They were acting in response to someone else’s faith. Imagine how strong Abram must have been in his convictions for them to even consider it, much less go through with it.

God’s word should be taken at face value and be considered the final say in any matter. Every time we undercut that in front of others, we diminish our ability to represent God through our example.

A faithful lack of doubt

Abraham and Sarah had innumerable descendants through their faith. (Hebrews 11:11-12) But it didn’t start out that way. She had her doubts that a couple of old folks could bear children. She even tried to help God and got Abraham to go along with it.

Doubt takes many forms but it is those who overcome the doubt who become powerful like Sarah. Worry is a form of doubt that is our biggest enemy. We need to make sure our belief is the kind that takes God at his word.

What God promises, he delivers in his time.

A faithful willingness to sacrifice

Abraham knew that God could raise Isaac after he sacrificed him. (Hebrews 11:17-19) When God told him to take Isaac to the place and build an alter, he got right up. (Genesis 22:5)

God meant for his people to be givers. Yes, he could take care of everyone for us if he wanted to, but he provided for us in a way that allows us to do it. When we learn to be faithful givers, we demonstrate that we trust God to make things right.

He would never ask us to sacrifice more than he provided to us!

Abraham knew Isaac was from God. He knew God could give Isaac back. There was no reason to hesitate.

And he didn’t.

How quick are we to help when we see the need? What does the way we respond say about our faith?

What happens when we take away the action?

If any of the “heroes” had done nothing in response to God’s call, they would have met different fates. There would be no way to describe their faith because there would be nothing to describe.


Faith without works is dead and Hebrews 11 proves it.

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7 Warnings to Christians – Part 2

September 6, 2015


The Lists of Hebrews
A Study of the book of Hebrews
Lesson 4
Lesson Text: Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12
Continued from Part 1

Good Enough Never is

Have you ever wondered why there are so many denominations?

It is true they may have started because someone of influence was able to split off from a church body and teach things slightly different from what his original group teaches.

It is also true there may have been a need to split because the original was getting off-track and they desired correction.

Whatever the case, the key truth is the denominations could not have happened without followers.

And they needed many followers to make it happen.

When we consider two groups teaching two different things, I hope we can agree that at least one of them are wrong. The Bible teaches most things clearly enough that when we read it and study it, we can come to the same conclusion as someone else reading and studying the same passage.

So here is the question again – How can there be so many denominations?

I suggest it happened because the people in the church body got lazy.

Or lethargic

Or simply indifferent.

They allowed themselves to drift. They didn’t protect their beliefs.

They decided things were “good enough”.

Since the Hebrews writer is addressing Christians that are falling away, he eventually had to come to this difficult subject. It is a difficult subject because he had to come out and tell them how slack they were. That is something most folks – then or now – never want to hear.

Hebrews 5:11 says the audience is “dull of hearing.” Every Sunday school teacher, every church leader and every minister should be willing to point this out when they notice the brethren are not getting the basic principles!

Hebrews 5:12-13 teaches us that there are indeed beginner’s principles and advanced principles. The differences are pointed out not because of level of importance, (ALL Biblical principles are important!) but because there are some rudimentary teachings that all Christians should know. Advancing our knowledge through the stages of maturity is how we learn to readily distinguish good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

We can observe those around us and see many with an attitude of “good-enough” is enough. Most people quit trying to learn when it gets hard. They tend to follow the crowd and allow themselves to ebb and flow with what is popular.

Those that stay the course and strive to be the best are the ones to move on to maturity. They gain advanced skills.

They have the tools to go the distance!

The Basics of Christianity

Next, the Hebrews writer lists the six items that all Christians need to know. The proof that the world is not well grounded in these principles is in the sheer number of religious denominations out there. These denominations are the opposite of the “one body” that Paul taught us about. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

It is interesting that the writer tells the audience what the basics are, but he does not fill in the detail about them! This is a clear indication that we are “just supposed to know” about these things and be conversational with them. Here they are as listed in Hebrews 6:1-2:

  • Repentance from dead works – Changing our ways from the world is an essential step in salvation (Luke 13:3) Hebrews makes a case that all works are dead unless they are motivated by faith and love of God.
  • Faith toward God – A fundamental. (Hebrews 11:6) In fact it is so fundamental that many quit reading their Bibles when they see faith is a requirement to salvation.
  • Teaching of baptisms – There are around seven contexts of the word baptism discussed in the New Testament, including the one baptism of Ephesians 4:4-5. This is the gateway act of salvation. (Mark 16:16-16, Acts 2:38) It is crucial to understand how this fits into God’s plan.
  • Laying on of hands – Since the printed and leather bound Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky, God had other means to get his word out there. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is a discussion of the spiritual gifts the first century Christians were given to help spread the gospel.
  • Resurrection of the dead – I don’t know that we can ever spend enough time on this. The empty tomb is the foundation of Christianity. Paul spent his entire career on this teaching.
  • The eternal judgment – Sadly, many Christians think they are “ok.” There is a very big surprise waiting for those who haven’t given enough time to the idea that they will be held accountable on judgment day. (Hebrews 9:27)

Not being well grounded in these principles, these Basics of Christianity, is dangerous to our salvation. Without them we cannot go on to deeper understanding.

Without them we will fall short.

Falling Away

Make no mistake about it – Saved Christians can fall away.

The writer mentioned it in context of protecting our beliefs, (Hebrews 3:12) and he mentions it again here in this warning against laziness: (Hebrews 6:4-6)

For it is impossible in the case of those who … (v6) have fallen away to restore them again to repentance …

When a Christian allows himself to fall away, he is holding Christ’s sacrifice up for contempt. In this passage, the writer is calling this an eternal sin. Going as far as telling the reader that it is impossible to make his way back from it.

..but what is this “eternal sin?”

  • Paul told us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 not to quench the Spirit.
  • In 1 Timothy 5:6 there is the idea of the pleasure lover being dead while she is alive
  • Hebrews 10:26.27 speaks of a willful sin for which there are no more sacrifices
  • We learn of a sin unto death in 1 John 5:16
  • And we find out that there is a condition worse than lost in 2 Peter 2:20-21

A careful contemplation of the above verses and their context reveals that any sin that we love or prefer over fellowship with God is a sin for which there is no forgiveness! How can there be when we block off the road that leads us out of sin with lack of action and the lack of enough knowledge to overcome the blockage?

The writer compares this to a watered and fertile field. (Hebrews 6:7-8) If you have to pay for municipal water, on which are you more willing to use that resource; A lush grassy meadow, or a yard full of brambles and weeds? If we are the yard full of weeds, our outlook is not good at all.

The way to avoid this is to keep trying. (Hebrews 6:9-12) That “earnestness to have the full assurance” (v11) is what it takes. Going out of our way to serve God is the only way to avoid slipping into the lethargic ways the author was warning us against!

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