Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
- John 11:38-40
Our Lord Jesus Christ once pondered aloud if He would find faith on earth when He returns (Luke 18:8). One wonders. There are legions of peoples who profess the name of Jesus, but undoubtedly far fewer who live by faith. Do I live by faith? If I’m being honest, perhaps not, surely not by the Lord’s standards.
We can determine how the Lord defines faith easily enough; and surely His definition supersedes our silly litmus tests of theological acceptance or getting emotional about Jesus from time to time. Is Jesus seriously admonishing Martha for her lack of faith when her own brother is four days in the ground? You bet He is. Earlier in the passage He says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). We are to trust that whatever we turn over to Him will be blessed despite even the direst of circumstances.
Where do we find the Lord admonishing people for a lack of faith? He does so when the ship He and His disciples are in is about to capsize due to a violent storm (Mark 4:40), when Peter momentarily loses his courage while walking on water (Matthew 14:31), and when His disciples prove unequal to the task of casting out a demon (Luke 9:41).
What are we to make of this? Does Jesus demand total fearlessness is the face of adversity? Is it fair for Jesus to rebuke these people who have left everything and risked everything for the hope that He provides?
Note this last example. Jesus openly challenges as Canaanite woman by calling her a dog. Let’s not be coy; what He’s just said is insulting and demeaning. Does Jesus really believe that non-Jews are dogs who may, if they muster enough faith, enjoy the crumbs that fall from the children’s’ table? No, not unless we want to ignore a large section of Jesus’ teachings (not to mention what the rest of the bible has to say).
What He’s doing is challenging her faith, for her sake and for ours. Has she placed her real trust in magic tricks or deities carved in stone? Has she happened across a wandering sorcerer and decided to try her luck? Jesus tests her with harsh words to find out exactly where her heart is; and He isn’t disappointed with her response. Her faith is in the trustworthiness of Jesus. “You’re a good master” she says, “surely even the dogs in your home are well fed.”
Loved ones, Jesus is the object of our faith; His goodness is the object of our faith. It is our hope; it is our only chance. The bible begins with a serpent trying to convince our Edenic parents that God isn’t true to His word, that He’s holding out on them, that His goodness isn’t what it appears to be. The original sin, whatever else it may have been, was first and foremost a lack of faith, a lack of trust in God.
Is Jesus admonishing us for our lack of faith now? You bet He is; not because He doesn’t love or accept us but precisely because He does. If your heart is even remotely troubled by the lack of faith in your life, run towards that trouble, pull at that thread, not fearful that in the Lord’s admonishment you'll find your condemnation, but hopeful that you'll find instead the joyful, scandalous freedom that real trust in Him provides. If He didn’t love you or want you in His Kingdom, He wouldn’t be troubling you. He doesn’t want your proximate best, He wants your best.
Heavenly Father, if we trust in you, if we really trust in you, we will find a scandalous and joyful freedom that no prison can hold; we’ll find that even the wildest storms can’t raise fear in our hearts. We crave that sort of faith Lord, that sort of trust; we long to live the way you designed us to live, not the way the world has browbeaten us into living. Teach us to trust you without reservation, without contingencies. We ask this in the name of your trustworthy son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is much debate in today’s church on the subject of tithing. Does the bible command us to give 10%? What happens if we don’t?
On the second question, the answer should be clear. On the day of judgement, if and when the Lord extends to us His salvation, it will be because we’re cloaked with the Righteousness of Christ, which has been imputed to us, rather than by our sin, which has been imputed to Him and put to death on the cross. Your salvation does not depend on whether you’ve dropped a pre-prescribed percentage of your income into your church’s collection plate.
He is, however, intimately concerned with the condition of your heart – the perfection of which is His perpetual preoccupation. All Christians are called to repentance of sin. As I’ve noted elsewhere, however, such sin will not be washed away by the keeping up of externals. That is to say, if the condition of your heart is not where it should be on the subject of giving generously to your church community and to the less fortunate, upping your giving percentage is not going to correct that. In fact, it may do more harm, as the illusion of outward cleanliness often masks the problem in inward filthiness.
God is pleased with our giving but, as David notes here, He is far more pleased with a giving heart. What’s required is not a change of behavior but a change in attitude. What can I possibly give back to God? It’s already His to begin with! If we truly believe this, deep down in our heart of hearts, the behavioral changes will inevitably follow: generosity will become easier, and the covetousness that leads to greed and the accumulation of stuff we don’t need will gradually slip away.
Am I saying that I’ve arrived, that I’ve achieved this state of spiritual dislocation from the material blessings that God provides? No, of course not. I’m the last person who should lecture others on their giving habits or on the perils of greedy hearts. But the Bible is clear that real change starts by cleaning the inside of the cup; and knowing this, I can’t help but believe discussions on percentages are, at best, an unhelpful distraction.
We are not Gnostics; the path to salvation is God’s amazing grace, not man’s amazing knowledge.
With that being said, to neglect God’s word when we have the choice to do otherwise is profoundly foolish – tantamount to a starving man refusing to eat a buffet that sits before him. In an age where we are consistently and willfully subjected to misleading information (typically in an effort to get us to buy one product or another), it is critical that those of us who are able to steep themselves in the Word do so.
This is all the more critical in a church that is brimming over with ear-tickling false teachers who stand to make a fortune telling us what we so desperately want to hear: that the way we’re living our lives is perfectly fine, that the God of the bible is intimately concerned not so much with our service, but with our satisfaction.
“Name it and claim it!”. “Live your dreams!”. While not all of us have the luxury of formal training in hermeneutics and biblical Greek, a careful, personal study of God’s word - combined with the accountability that fellow Christians and a Godly pastor can provide - ought to guard us well against such damning and witless heresies, and further protect us from a world that is determined to drown us in an ocean of lies.
Note carefully what Jeremiah’s saying here. Our Lord examines our hearts and minds but then judges our actions. Why is this important? Context matters.
Someone who is not the least bit tempted by something should not expect credit for his avoidance thereof. If I have plenty of money and security and feel no temptation whatsoever to steal, should I be commended for the lack of thievery in my life?
Now turn that around, do I, who have never spent a day walking in someone else’s shoes, suffering their temptations and hardships, enduring their trials, have a right to cast judgment? Depending on where someone has started, what he’s endured, his upbringing – any number of factors – it might an absolute marvel that he’s able to get through his day without becoming an utter basket case.
Now, I’ve heard a number of preachers say that you can tell a person is not really saved if he has “habitual sin” in his life. Loved ones, search your hearts. Judging others is a perverse and antithetical habitual sin that we all enjoy. While we like to piecemeal sin into bite sized portions that we can take or leave in accordance with what our egos dictate, our Lord Jesus puts his finger squarely on the offense of which we are all, every single one of us, profoundly guilty. Search your heart and tell me that you don’t instinctively, joyfully, judge others several times a day, even – especially – those you love most.
What a marvel is our Lord! Jesus sees through our theatrics and cuts right to the core of the matter. Because of this I know that He has the ability to examine our hearts and minds; and therefore, only He is qualified to cast judgement on our deeds.
Now about that habitual sin in our life. Let’s repent, pray for forgiveness, and make every effort to become wonderfully free in the name of He who died for our sin, rather than condemn us for it.
Beware the prophet who speaks peace to your sin. There is a heresy out there – fast becoming a consensus – that because we are saved by grace we are free to revel in our sin. No! What biblical prophet ever preached against repentance? Not one.
But, don’t miss the point! Is Micah, in the above verse, preaching the evils of beer and wine? Of course not! This is merely an illustrative example. What he’s saying is that this people has become so perverse, so disobedient, that they would be far more hospitable to a soothsaying liar than to a truthful prophet.
Where are these people at when this is written? They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle marked by plenty of wine and song; but, meanwhile, those in power “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance” (Micah 2:2, NIV). The people eat and drink the profits of injustice and misery; and they will not escape His terrible judgement.
We ought never to be at peace with our sin. Our flesh constantly wars against the Spirit (1 Peter 2:11, Galatians 5:17), and we must fight back. But, to war against the flesh we must be in the Spirit. To war against the flesh while in the flesh is to become a noxious white-washer of tombs; someone who foolishly subscribes to the notion that a cup cleaned only on the outside is clean enough. The Christian wars against the flesh while in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
What does this mean? We earnestly confess our sins (Romans 10:9-10, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5); we cleanse ourselves in the waters of baptism and eagerly accept the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that our cup can only be cleansed from the inside out (Matthew 23:26); and the Holy Spirit, who has entered our lives by the miracle of the Cross, is the only one who can complete this critical task. We cannot. Our work is to confess, repent, petition and pray; His work is to remake us in our Master’s likeness.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6, NLT).
Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”
They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
What a great disservice we do to our Lord, and how greatly we impoverish ourselves, when we cast the King of Heaven in two-dimensional clay. It takes only one chapter in Revelation to demonstrate the incredible richness of God’s character.
To His enemies, and to those who malign, mock and murder His children, He is the fiercest of predators. A perfectly rational and sensible person would rather be crushed to death by a mountain than face His wrath. He says, “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19); and we are to take this in the most literal possible sense. Those who have caused us great pain because of our faith, unless they repent, have a terrible event on the horizon.
But what about those who have placed our trust in Him? You who have renounced your sin and spent your days in earnest attempts to overcome it, striving (however clumsily) to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself? The bible encourages you to envision the Lord of Glory going down to one knee, looking you in the eye, and wiping away your tears. This is no spiritualized metaphor; this is His promise to you. He will wipe away your tears.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.