Defined By Our Faith

The Old Covenant is more than a codified list of commands. It is more than a list of “dos and don’ts.” What it comes down to, in the midst of those detailed commands and expectations, is a system of faith and a covenant of relying on God more than others or self. It is predicated entirely upon faith, and – though our covenant, its terms, and its sacrifice are different – our relationship with God is no different today. Our lives in God are predicated entirely on our faith. On that faith rests the foundation of our spiritual lives.

II Corinthians 5:7 tells us we walk by faith rather than sight, similar to Hebrews 11:1, defining faith as the evidence of things we cannot see. Romans 3:28 then simply states we are saved by faith, and our salvation in faith is no different than the children of Israel’s justification through faith. For our faith then informs our conduct and our personal surrender to God’s will, truly understanding it by putting that faith into practice.

Faith Beyond Rationale

Faith is not always purely logical. Remember Abraham. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham (then Abram) to leave his life behind him to inhabit a land he had never seen. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham obeys by faith, not knowing where he was going. Later, Abraham is asked to offer up Isaac, his only son, and Paul makes reference to this event in Romans 4:1-3, citing Abraham’s great faith. The Hebrew writer speaks of Abraham’s faith in the resurrection of his son.

Think of crossing the Red Sea. Think of the bronze serpent. Think of Joshua and Caleb encouraging the people to take the Promised Land. Consider Job, in Job 31, expressing his lack of understanding; then, in 40:3, after God provides an answer to Job, he relents and lays his fate in God’s hands. Even going as far as I Corinthians 1, Paul describes the gospel itself as something that goes against our reason and wisdom, yet it is God’s power to save.

We can read through Hebrews 11 and see person after person who do seemingly impossible things, who face insurmountable odds, who accomplish great deeds, because of their faith. Does this look like a faith that is inactive? In James 2:17-26, we see that faith without action is empty and lifeless. It is more than an acknowledgement of God. It is living for and by God.

Faith in Action

Again, look to Abraham in Genesis 22. It is in verse 12 that the angel proclaims, “for now I know that you fear God.” Did Abraham not already have a faithful heart? We know he did, but there is a difference between thought and action. Feelings are not actions. We can know about God intellectually; we can feel a relationship with God; we can understand God’s word. Without putting that knowledge and those feelings into action, though, our faith is empty. This may involve some significant sacrifices in our lives, but none of those can match what Abraham was willing to sacrifice in faith.

This is not, however, salvation dependent upon our own abilities or our checklist. Trusting in God and obediently yielding to Him in all things will abase self rather than elevate self. Our hope, trust, and confidence is placed entirely in what God has done and will do for us – no more and no less. We cannot lessen our faith by falling into inactivity, nor can we constrain it by relying on traditions and rituals, placing confidence in the flesh.

Faith – a complete, living faith – does require action. It requires obedience. It compels us to change our lives, but it is not a reliance on self. In Galatians 2:20-21, Paul plainly states that his faith drives self out of the equation of his life, living by and relying completely upon the teachings and promises of Christ, not nullifying God’s grace but by putting faith in that grace into action. Just as God wanted the children of Israel to wholly rely on Him in all things, He wants the same commitment from us today. We must crucify self, let Christ live in us, and take up a life defined by our faith.

lesson by Tim Smelser

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The Calamity of Esau

In Jeremiah 41, we are in the middle of God affirming His sovereignty over all nations, and He is proclaiming judgment upon various Gentile nations. During the prophecy against Edom, God, in verse 8, speaks of the “calamity of Esau.” It is from Esau that the nation of Edom descended, and it is a calamity like his own that befalls the nation. What is this calamity of Esau?

In Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebecca that she had two nations struggling within her, and that the older would serve the younger. This prophecy begins to gain form in verses 27-34 when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for physical sustenance. In this, verse 27 says Esau despised his birthright.

Rejecting His Birthright

God sees this event as a calamity in Esau’s life.

  • Esau despised his birthright. Not only was Esau rejecting all of the material blessings of the birthright, but he was also rejecting God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac.
  • Esau had the wrong priorities. Jacob and Esau were old enough to understand what the promises of that birthright meant. He was old enough to understand the import of those words, but he saw those as doing him no good in the face of immediate hunger.
  • Esau repented too late. Hebrews 12:15-17 speaks to this, that Esau could never recapture what he had lost, having recognized the significance too late.

Avoiding Our Own Calamity

There are lessons for us in the life of Esau. We cannot be guilty of the same errors made by this man. Esau had, through his birthright, a spiritual heritage, and we also have a great spiritual heritage in Jesus Christ. We are part of a spiritual family that goes all the way back to the cross and God’s plan for our salvation. In Hebrews 11:39-40, as the author wraps up example after example of great faith, we are told that what we have in Christ completes their heritage.

III John 4 records John calling those with whom he has shared the gospel as spiritual children. They are our spiritual forefathers, and we fulfill those promises in which they had faith. When we reject that heritage, we affect not only ourselves but those who will come after us, those who will not know of God’s promises because we rejected them. We cannot and must not view God’s birthright as common or disposable.

We must also avoid Esau’s priorities. Colossians 3:1-2 and Matthew 6:19 call on us to set our minds on the things above because the things of this life do not last. How long did Esau’s bowl of stew last him? How long was it until he was hungry again? I Peter 1:5-9 calls us to work on our spiritual growth and to avoid being nearsighted, forgetting what is truly important. So much in this life can crowd out our spiritual heritage, but how much of it will benefit us eternally as God’s gifts will?

Finally, we cannot wait too long to accept God’s gifts. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus speaks of a rich man who waited too long until nothing more could be done for him. Felix, in Acts 24:25, wanted to wait until a more convenient time, and King Agrippa, a couple of chapters later, says he was “almost” persuaded to respond to the message of Christ. Matthew 25:41, after a parable of unprepared wedding guests, warns of the consequences of waiting until it is too late. We have a strong tendency to put things off, but we cannot procrastinate accepting our spiritual heritage.

Conclusion

In contrast to all of this, Luke 17 tells a parable of another child who wastes his birthright. In contrast to Esau, this prodigal son came to recognize the worth of what he had lost. He realigned his priorities, and he returned to his father for forgiveness and restoration. Who will we be more like? Will we fall into the calamity of Esau, or will we avert disaster by humbly coming to God and accepting the heritage and birthright offered by His grace?

lesson by Tim Smelser

Prayer Works

Psalm 65:2 calls our God, “You who hears prayers.” As we examine our own personal prayer lives, do we view God’s listening to our prayers casually? It may be something we do if we can find the time or if we have a particularly pressing matter. It is something we take for granted. If God, however, does not take our prayers lightly, then we should not approach prayer casually.

Think of Elijah at Mount Carmel in I Kings 18, whose quiet, reserved prayer was answered resoundingly where the antics of the idolatrous priests were ignored. Remember Hezekiah, in II Kings 18-19 who turns to God in simple prayer against overwhelming odds. Finally, Daniel, in Daniel 6, continues to pray to God despite the law, and God saves him from a death sentence for his crime of prayer.

These stories are not just here to give us things to cover in Bible class or to talk about how God used to interact with His people. They are here to remind us that prayer works.

Defined By Prayer

In I Chronicles 4, we find ourselves in the middle of genealogical records, and, in verses 9-10, we run into a brief mention about a man named Jabez (meaning pain). We are told he is more honorable than his brethren, that he prays to God, and that God grants his prayer. We know nothing more about this man other than that he prayed to God. That is the snapshot we have of him: a man who calls on God for blessings and protection from evil.

Christians of the First Century devoted themselves to prayer. Acts 1:14, Acts 1:24, Acts 2:42, Acts 4:24, also within Acts 10, 6 12, 16, 20, 21 – we see Christians giving themselves to prayer time and again. These are defined by their prayer lives.

Measured By Prayer

We’ve had numerous lessons on how and why to pray. We know it works. Why not use it? It is a measure of our spirituality, our humility, and our faith. Of the many things Paul prays for in his recorded words, spiritual needs come first. In Matthew 6, in the Lord’s Prayer, only one physical need is mentioned. The more spiritually minded we are, the inclined we will be to kneel before God in prayer.

Before Jesus gives an example of prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus admonishes His audience not to pray in showy ways, in a proud manner. Instead, like the publican in Luke 18:9-14, we should approach God in humility, and that humility is rooted in our faith. I Peter 3:15 calls on us to sanctify Christ, and I Peter 5:6 tells us to humble ourselves in that sanctified presence. Ephesians 3:20-21 expresses Paul’s faith that God is capable of doing more than we can imagine. We simply need to have faith in His power.

We have the time to pray. We have reason to pray. The question is one of humility, of faith, and of spirituality. God hears our prayers, and prayer works. We should be like those First Century Christians, like that briefly mentioned Jabez, and be defined by devoting ourselves to prayer.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Elijah and Discouragement

Through I Kings 18-19, Elijah experiences an emotional roller coaster. Elijah brings a drought to the land through God’s power, and, when he comes to see Ahab again, the king is very hostile toward Elijah. In turn, Elijah proposes a challenge: set up two alters, one to Baal and one to Jehovah, and Baal’s priests would pray for their God to consume their sacrifice in fire. Elijah would do the same. Baal’s priests cry out, dance, and cut themselves to no avail. Elijah then evokes God with a small, quiet prayer after having his alter deluged with water, and fire from God incinerates the sacrifice and alter.

The people enthusiastically turn to God, praising Him and killing the prophets of Baal. The drought ends. It is a monumental victory, but it is very short-lived. By chapter 19, Jezebel proclaims death on Elijah and promises his end within a day. Elijah flees beyond the political influence of Ahab and Jezebel, collapses by a juniper tree, and asks God to take his life.

Causes of Spiritual Discouragement

James 5 reminds us that Elijah is simply a man like you or me – subject to times of triumph and times of despair. He is no more a stranger to discouragement than any of us. We see him despairing his life, but God is there to provide the cure to Elijah’s discouragement, but how does a prophet as successful as Elijah go from such success into the depths of discouragement?

  • Emotional Stress. Elijah feels the stress and strain of trying to convert a godless nation. The king and queen are set against him. He feels alone as we might when we see those we know and love rejecting God, when we feel that our faith is rejected at every turn.
  • Exhaustion. Elijah does a great deal of traveling in I Kings 18 alone, before and after the strenuous events on Mount Carmel. He is also worn out from the constant pressure of resisting the pressures around him. Likewise, we are always over-booked and overextended. We don’t take time to be still, to pray, to feed on God’s word, and to meditate. Like Elijah, we just wear ourselves out.
  • Great Accomplishments. Think about what Elijah accomplishes by the end of I Kings 18. How does he maintain that momentum? How can he top that? Elijah feels personally responsible for keeping the tide turned, and, when he cannot maintain that success, he feels a failure. The highs in our lives can lead directly into lows when we realize the difficulty in maintaining that momentum.

How then does this discouragement manifest itself in Elijah? First, he isolates himself in I Kings 19:3-4. “I just want to be alone.” However, it is not good for us to be alone in our discouragement. Then, Elijah loses perspective in I Kings 19:10 when he expresses he is the only one seeking God in Israel. He knows otherwise, but he pushes that knowledge out of his own mind in despair. Finally, Elijah descends into self-pity, and, when we pity ourselves, we become self-centered and selfish.

Curing Discouragement

We can relate to the causes and effects of discouragement we see in Elijah’s lives. How do we move on, though? We can begin by looking at the way God brings Elijah out of his despair.

  • Get Up. In I Kings 19:5-8, the angel twice instructs Elijah to rise. Verses 11-15 record God twice giving Elijah direction to “go.” God tells the prophet to get up and take positive action. Sometimes a small shift in the right direction makes all the difference. When we are down in the depths of discouragement, the first thing we should do is get involved in positive service.
  • Grow Up. I Kings 19:11-13 records God drawing Elijah’s attention to His presence in the quiet things. He reminds Elijah to spiritually grow up and stop looking for God in his own way. Paul makes the same admonition in I Corinthians 3:1-3 when he calls for Christians to grow out of physical jealousies. Sometimes, we simply need to work to maturation.
  • Gird Up. Toward the end of I Kings 19, God reminds Elijah there is still work to be done, and he will need help to do it. We need to be able to accept help. We need our own Elisha to help us change our outlook at times. I Peter 1:13 calls on us to gird our minds for action in God’s service.

God has given us reason to trust and hope in Him. We are no strangers to discouragement and struggles, but we can always look up to Him who loves us and created us. As Romans 8:31-39 reminds us, nothing can separate us from God’s love. None can oppose us when God is with us. We can take confidence in our God and face our discouragements with the knowledge that He is with us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Reforms of Asa

In I Kings 15 and II Chronicles 15-16, we learn of a king of Judah named Asa. You might remember that the kingdom of Israel split after Solomon because of his idolatry – ten tribes are given to the servant Jeroboam and two tribes to Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Neither Jeroboam or his son Abijah are considered good rulers in God’s eyes, but Asa stands in contrast to his predecessors. He begins a spiritual revolution among his people – one that even draws some from the northern kingdom to worship Jehovah with him.

In I Kings 15:9 and II Chronicles 15:8, Asa begins to reform Jehovah worship in Judah. He repairs the altar and the temple of Solomon. He tears down many of the idols in and around Jerusalem. He banishes the fertility worship of the pagan religions. He even removes his grandmother from public service due to her sinful influence over the people. These are wicked times, but Asa serves as a point of light despite the environment in which he is raised.

Positive Lessons from Asa’s Reform

Asa stands as testament to the difference one person can make. He enters service to a faithless nation where idolatry and immorality had been propagated by his own family. He sets himself to the task, and sets an example to us. His spiritual revolution

  • Reform starts at home. Asa begins by removing the idolatrous influences of his own grandmother. Much like Gideon, his reforms begin at home. He sends a message that he holds himself and his loved ones to the same expectations he would hold the people. In our lives, Jesus has to come first as in Matthew 10:37-39, even if that means correcting our homes first.
  • Reform necessitates morality. I cannot give lip-service to holiness. We have to reform our moral influences to truly reform our spiritual lives. In Matthew 12:43, Jesus uses an example of an evil spirit to encourage us to fill ourselves with good influences after the sinful influences have been purged.
  • Reform necessitates change and repair. Just as Asa repairs the altar and temple, there are some things in our own lives – attitudes, priorities, commitment – that we will have to restore. Luke 13:3-5 emphasizes the need for repentance in reforming ourselves, and Peter reinforces this need in Acts 2:38. We repair our souls through the change of repentance.

Learning from Asa’s Errors

Asa is one of only eight kings described as doing right in Jehovah’s eyes. Unfortunately, we must also learn from the shortcomings of his efforts, so we do not make the same mistakes.

  • What is God’s cannot be used for selfish purposes. I Kings 15:16 begins recording Asa stripping silver and gold from the treasures of God’s house to but off a king allied against him. He takes things devoted to God and gives them over to man. I Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we have been purchased, that we now belong to God.
  • We should trust in God more than self. II Chronicles 16:7-10 records a prophet warning that Asa’s faithlessness will lead to more wars in his time. He reminds Asa of other times God has helped him, but his actions with Ben-hadad lead to an end of peace during his reign. Our plans cannot supersede God’s plans.
  • We need to be able to ask for God’s help. II Chronicles 16:11-12 records Asa being diseased, but he does not call on God for help. He instead relies on the wisdom of man. Peter tells us we can cast all of our care and anxiety on Him in I Peter 5:7, for our God cares about us.

Conclusion

We see the type of effort true spiritual reform takes in the life of Asa – a willingness to start at home, to restore our sense of morality, and to repair the sin in our lives. Reform takes time and effort. Once we reform ourselves, we should be careful to remember that we can always ask for God’s help, trust in Him more than ourselves, and keep ourselves dedicated to His service. Doing this, we can ignite a spiritual revolution in our own lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Crossing the Veil

In Genesis, Adam and Eve have a relationship with God we have a hard time relating to. It’s interesting to see their special fellowship with God and the close interaction they share with Him. They forsake that relationship in trying to become as great as Him, and angels are put in guard around the garden, forever cutting that relationship off between God and man.

Fast forward to the establishment of the nation of Israel. In the middle of their tents, as they travel to the Promised Land, is God’s tabernacle. Physically, He is in the center of their community as He is to be in the center of their lives. They would come to that central location for sacrifice and intercession, seeing the horror of sin in the gore of their sacrifices. The priests would intercede between God and the people, and none could come into God’s direct presence except for one sacrifice once a year.

The Curtain of Separation

A curtain was separating the Holy place from the Most Holy Place, embroidered in blue, gold, and scarlet with cherubim woven into the pattern. The same angels that guarded Eden from Adam and Eve emblematically protect God’s most Holy Place in the tabernacle. Later, God’s people have a temple, a solid, impressive structure serving as God’s center among His people. The curtain partitioning the Most Holy Place in the temple of Herod is now sixty feet high and very thick.

In Matthew 27:50-51, that curtain is torn from top to bottom. Imagine tearing a curtain sixty feet high. This is an act of God, and Hebrews 10:19-20 says Jesus wipes out those boundaries between God and Man. In John 14:6, Jesus says access to the Father is through Him.

Previously, access to God was through the curtain guarding the Most Holy Place. The tree of life was guarded by cherubim. Jesus claims to remove those barriers. Now access to life and God are through Him.

We no longer need continual sacrifices atoning for sins as illustrated in Hebrews 9. Instead of entering a physical tabernacle, Jesus enters Heaven. Instead of His blood needing sacrifice time and again, His sacrifice is once and for all. No more is intercession accomplished by one man approaching God once a year. Now we access the Father directly through His Son. He removes that barrier created by sin.

The Barrier Removed

God does not dwell in a structure made by hands, but He now dwells among His creation. Acts 17:24-25 speaks to this exact point. In Acts 7:44-50, Stephen reinforces the concept that God is not contained in a physical structure. Heaven is His home, and Earth is His footstool. Also, I Corinthians 3:16-17 and describe our personal bodies as temples to God. He cannot exist where sin resides, so we must purify ourselves for Him to live in us.

II Corinthians 6:16-17 assures that we can live and walk with God as Adam and Eve did in the garden. Ephesians 2:19-22 calls us God’s temple, His dwelling place, and Hebrews 10:19-22 again calls on us to cleanse ourselves so we may draw near to Him. We have to acknowledge our sins as in Colossians 1:21-22. Then, we have to strengthen our faith in our resurrected Savior. We must accept His forgiveness and have our sins wiped clean as in Acts 2:38.

Romans 8:9-11 reminds us we are not controlled by sin if Christ is in us. Rather, we are controlled by His Spirit. We live directly in His presence. The sacrifices and curtain of the tabernacle and temple served as a reminder of a barrier of sin standing between man and God. Hebrews 4:16 and Romans affirm that Jesus removes those barriers, so we can approach His throne in full knowledge that nothing can come between us and God.

lesson by Ben Lanius