Belief Without Faith

“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him”

John 12:37

As we read the Gospel accounts it becomes obvious that miracles do not of themselves lead to repentance and faith. Jesus had said that “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets [i.e. the Scriptures], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Miracles or signs often caused people to follow Jesus but not for Himself. Rather they followed Him for perceived temporal benefits such as food, health or wealth. After feeding the five thousand Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). It appears that He means they didn’t even associate the sign as pointing to Him being the Messiah. Those who follow Jesus for temporal reasons will be disappointed because of unrealised expectations.

Following the lead text above we read, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him” (John 12:42). These rulers believed that Jesus did the miracles in the power of God but they still did not repent, believe Him to be the Messiah, or trust Him for salvation. “They did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Some today believe who Jesus is and what He has done, but still refuse to trust Him for forgiveness and submit to Him as Lord. A morally righteous life, family history, baptism, or membership of a church, as helpful as these may be, cannot save. They can be idols in the place of Jesus. These rulers of the synagogues valued their position among men greater than they valued their position before God. This is evidence of an unchanged heart. No amount of flattering words to Jesus, which they sometimes tried, could alter the fact that they have not grasped what He was saying and that the signs pointed to Him being Messiah. It is Jesus’ words that will judge them and us (John 12:48). This begs the question as to why so many professing Christians choose to bend and twist His words so that, like these rulers, they may retain their position, power and the praise of men. Jesus says, “Whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:50). Not to take His words in a normal literal sense makes a mockery of this and many other statements of Jesus.

It is God’s Battle

“You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!”

2 Chronicles 20:17

This occasion is one of several where God gave Israel victory without them having to draw a sword. Three armies had combined and were making ready to attack Judah, including Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat sought the Lord and his prayer is a model for us all. He acknowledged God as Creator and sovereign (v 6), and appealed to the covenant He made with Abraham (v 7). He then submitted himself and the people to the Lord’s word and command (v 12). In response, God reminded him that it was not his battle but God’s (v 15).

The king was told to set himself and the people of Judah as spectators. Before they did this, because they believed the word of the Lord (v 19, 20) and they worshipped the Lord in prayer, praise and singing (v 22). Then they went out to witness God’s victory.

They observed a dispute arise among the three armies. This resulted in two of the armies destroying the third and then the two remaining armies disputing further and destroying each other (v 23). No one escaped (v 24).

This is by no means the only time that Israel’s enemies had disputes among themselves such that they fought among themselves without touching Israel. We can observe this happening in part today. Remember that Iran is not Arabic, it is Persian. Iran is currently attempting to re-establish the Persian Empire to pre-eminence as it was centuries ago. This means subjugating all Arab states, Egypt, Israel and parts of Europe and Africa – as a start! That it uses religion to validate war to promote its ideology is nothing new to history. It concerns the Arabic states that Iran is gaining a stronghold in Syria and boasting of having infiltrated others.

At present, the nations that have been threatening Israel’s existence are disputing and fighting among themselves and therefore ineffective against Israel. As in the days of King Jehoshaphat, the battle is God’s and He will confuse His enemies. The key difference so far is that Israel is yet to seek the Lord and pray, as Jehoshaphat had done, appealing to the Lord’s covenant with Abraham. When they do, they will again be spectators as God destroys His, and their, enemies (Revelation 19:15).

The “Would Have Beens”

“He would have fed them with the finest wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” Psalm 81:16

We may often ponder what might have been if we had made a different choice or acted and spoken differently but there is a certainty about these words: “Would have been.” This Psalm is a prayer for Israel to return to the Lord. Things would have been much different had they heeded the word of the Lord that had come through His prophets.

“Hear, O My people … O Israel, if you will listen to Me” (v 8) and “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (v 13). Had Israel heeded the Lord the nation would have been immeasurably better off. The Lord would have subdued their enemies and provided abundantly for them. Instead, He has allowed their enemies to have power over them and their land had been much less fruitful than it would have been.

Nothing can be done about the past except, hopefully, to learn from it. The Word of God will let us know what would have been had we been more willing to hear and conform to the will of God. The person without Christ will merely reflect on what might have been but God’s Word opens the door to realise that we have at times missed the perfect will of God. In His grace, as a loving Father, God has kept us through those times and not disowned or abandoned us.

Let us come to the Lord confessing our failure to hear and heed His word and determine in our hearts that, by His gracious enabling, there will be no more “would have beens” in our lives and plenty of “have beens!”

We discover His will for us through reading and studying the Bible combined with prayer and life experiences that the Lord sends our way. The temptation is to do that which seems right in our own eyes without seeking His will and way.

Vance Havner writes, “I suspect that much of our praying to be used is selfish and underneath it is the sneaking desire to make our mark and be recognised.” Our desire may be to glorify ourselves so that we and others think better of us but Peter writes that we are to live so “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

The key question we must ask with regard to all things in our lives is, “Is God glorified or am I?” If we are really honest before the Lord the answer might not be as we had hoped but this is an opportunity to grow in grace. Then He shall satisfy our hearts.

Submit to God

“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7, 8)

It isn’t unusual to hear someone complain that the devil is giving them or someone they know a hard time. There are a number of reasons for the devil doing that but sometimes it may be our own doing, or lack of doing, that gives him an “open door” to our lives. When he “knocks” on our door with a temptation we are inclined to leave the door ajar rather than slam it in his face.

Regardless of the cause, James gives us the remedy.

“Submit to God.”

Quite likely we would all say we are in submission to God. However, unless our submission is absolute and total it is not submission at all. If there is but one point of reservation we are not in submission to God and we reveal that we do not totally trust Him.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

If the devil finds no “toe hold” in the door he will move on. If he continues to trouble you it may be because you are not resisting the temptation he has placed before you. If you don’t want the devil to hound you then ensure you are in submission to God (by obedience from the heart) and reject the temptations the devil offers. He will flee but only if you resist.

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

Drawing near to God is a desire and attitude of the heart. Do you really want God or just the benefits He brings? Many Christians only want the benefits He brings but not Him. He is not a super medical doctor or Father Christmas and He is not a genie in a bottle. If you want Him and you want to draw near to Him He will most definitely respond just as He promises but it must be Him that you want and not just the fringe benefits.

If you feel God is not drawing near to you it may be because you have not met the conditions stated by James in this verse. You can change all that at this moment. Without God’s grace in Jesus Christ this is not possible for only He can resist the devil. “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Please, Take a Seat

“Be filled with the SpiritEphesians 5:18

Every couple of months I take time to have my hair cut. In preparation I wash my hair within twenty four hours of going. When I arrive, I sit in the seat and let the hairdresser go about cutting my hair. The first few times I visited this hairdresser I explained what I expected the end product to look like. When it is all over I make a quick inspection to see if he has fulfilled my expectations.

There are parallels with having a hair cut and being filled with the Spirit. Paul expresses this as a commandment in Ephesians 5:18. Further, the grammar used means that we are to be continually submitting to being filled with the Spirit and also that it is not something we do. How can it be a commandment to believers if they can’t do it?

When I was conscripted into the army one of the first commands I received was to have a hair cut. I didn’t cut my own hair. The hairdresser did it. Being filled with the Spirit is similar in that we are commanded to be filled but it is not we who do the filling. It is God who does the filling. Our part is to ensure that we are in the right place spiritually and ready to receive this Gift of God.

The Holy Spirit can only “fill” a clean and holy vessel. We may be able to wash our hair before going to the hairdresser but only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us in the way necessary for the Holy Spirit to fill us. This requires confession of particular sins, not generalisations about being a sinner (1 John 1:9). What is the end product we desire? For a true disciple of Jesus the end product is to be just like Jesus. The New Testament writers express that in several ways (Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:8, 9; 1 John 3:2, 3). At the hairdresser there is a mirror so that we can observe progress to see that the hairdresser is conforming to our desire. Likewise we have the Bible as a mirror so that we can see how we are progressing in becoming Christ-like.

With the hairdresser we have no more assurance than past experience that he will achieve the goal. However, with Jesus Christ we have God’s Word that guarantees that He is working all He can to complete the task (Philippians 2:12, 13). The main obstruction to His getting the job done right is how well we submit to His working. If we squirm in the chair or turn our head, the hairdresser may make a mistake. It won’t be his fault but ours.

We are inclined to be “stiff-necked” and resist the working of the Holy Spirit but James gives us the remedy – if we will accept it. “Submit to God … Draw near to God … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord … For God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6-10).

They Presumed Too Much

“They did not ask counsel of the Lord” Joshua 9:14

Before any one points the finger at Joshua and the other rulers of Israel we would do well to look at ourselves first.

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Head of the church has been made more like the Queen of England. The people make the decisions and then ask the Queen to sign off on them. We are in danger of living our lives like that both individually and corporately. We make our plans and then ask Jesus to bless them. Anyone who thinks about this for even a few moments will see how preposterous that is. Jesus is made to be our servant existing for our benefit to do our will. What an abomination that is! He will have no part in it.

When Joshua approached Ai he consulted his leaders and they sent spies ahead, as they did with Jericho, and on receiving their report made the decision to send a modest but sufficient army against Ai. The size of the force was inconsequential; they had not first met the Lord, their Commander in Chief.

When the Gibeonites came to Joshua with their lie hidden amongst plenty of truth, though initially suspicious, Joshua and the rulers believed the lie. They thought they knew all the facts and they thought they were wise enough to make a correct assessment and response without asking the Lord.

Joshua and Israel’s rulers acted just as we do. Being wise in our own eyes we do not “ask counsel of the Lord.” The consequences of not asking counsel of the Lord can have long lasting devastating effects even for many generations.

At the commencement of a meeting we may ask the Lord’s blessing much as we sing the National Anthem at a significant event. We may even thank the Lord at the end as we presume He had some influence but in between He is relegated to the role of figurehead who only has to sign off on what we have decided.

Again, before we point fingers, we all do this and it is a gross shame to our Lord. There is a remedy as Paul writes, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 7:24-25.

Paul also writes, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the Head of the body, the church” Colossians 1:17-18.

Jesus Christ is the active Head of the church not a powerless figurehead so let us humble ourselves before Him, not asking Him to bless our plans but to genuinely come to Him for His will that we might truly serve Him.