authority and humanity
2) the application of God's Word
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat
of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like
the evil of idolatry.
Samuel 15:22b, 23a NIV
Whoever has my
commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.
The application of God's Word.
So far we have seen
that the Bible has the God-given power and authority to
- usher us into
a relationship with God,
- help us maintain
a closeness to him, and
- enable us to grow
and mature in that relationship.
This summarizes the
essence of life and the purpose of Scripture.
However, while God has
authority over mankind as conveyed through the Bible, that authority remains
a mere fact which compels neither the skeptic nor the Christian to act against
their will. To decide to act upon the authority of God's Word, and to
what degree, is an individual's choice.
Some people evaluate
this choice of whether or not to obey biblical authority on the basic level
of right versus wrong (actually, a choice made many times a day). If they
believe the Bible to be true, and they have a conviction to do what is right,
then they choose to try to live by the authority of the Bible.
Others, however, may
not perceive such a clear demarcation of what or what not to believe. They
might instead decide to weigh the biblical lifestyle against the non-biblical
one; the potential gains or pleasures of each measured against the possible
harm or sacrifices of the other.
For still others who
have yet to conclude whether the Bible has any divine authority or not,
the risk of a judgment day must be weighed against the pleasure of self-styled
living. Should a skeptic come to faith in Christ, then he or she will find
they have been delivered from the penalty of sin and have received the Holy
Spirit as God's guarantee of eternal life. However, there is something that
new believers should not hope to find...
-- A WILDERNESS CROSSING FOR THE
New believers should
not expect to find themselves instantly transported to heaven with perfect
and problem-free lives. While that is exactly where God is taking them,
he is not instantly transporting them there. Instead, he is taking hold
of their hand and walking with them toward that final rest. He walks them
through an educational wilderness called the rest of their lives. This wilderness
is where believers' knowledge, love, and dependence on the Lord are tested,
evidenced, and given the opportunity to grow. The believer's walk has at
its end a glorious rest, but along the way there are challenges to face.
This form of wilderness
crossing is what is pictured by the author of Hebrews in chapter four; referring
to Israel's delivery out of Egypt. The Lord had answered his people's call
and delivered them out of their slavery. They were now free to go to the
land promised to them by God where they could settle. It was an abundant
land in many ways. However, what lay immediately before them, between Egypt
and the promised land, was a desert wilderness.
God began their journey
by formalizing his words into the Ten Commandments, and giving them many
civil and ceremonial laws. As the Hebrews began crossing the wilderness,
God provided for their needs and protected them from their enemies. However,
though having been given the word of God, the Hebrews ultimately failed
to combine it with faith and that generation died before the wandering nation
was finally allowed to enter the promised land.
-- A WILDERNESS CROSSING FOR YOU
One point that the
author of the Book of Hebrews makes is that believers are in the same spiritual
position as that wandering nation. Believers can call upon the Lord and
be saved from bondage to death. Yet believers have a wilderness to cross
which lies between them and that far away rest.
Believers have been
provided God's Word to learn and to follow. Believers are accompanied by
God who hears their prayers, and teaches, disciplines, and matures them.
Believers are guaranteed that far-rest that is in heaven, but, just like
the Hebrews, could miss out on the near-rest. That near-rest are those heavenly
blessings which are possible here on earth as well as special blessings
which will be selectively awarded in heaven. As the author of the Book of
the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that
none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had
the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard
was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with
faith. (Hebrews 4:1-2 NIV)
The Hebrews fell short
of their near-rest by failing to combine faith and God's Word. Believers
can risk making that same mistake.
what does it mean to combine faith and the Word, and how can believers avoid
the Hebrews' mistake?
Recall the basic definitions
of faith. Augustine explained faith as having three distinct parts: noticia,
assensus, and fiducia.
- Noticia, or taking
notice of the truth, is the first step.
- The second step is
to then assent to it as actually being true.
- But faith is not
actually in evidence until the third step: when the truth that has been
both noticed and acknowledged is believed to the point that one is
willing to act upon it as true.
Therefore, to combine
faith and the Word simply means to believe what God says to the point you
are willing to act on the Word. As James summarizes about Scripture, "Do
what it says" (James 1:22b NIV).
-- BELIEVING TO THE POINT OF ACTING
Combining faith and
the Word is believing the Bible to the point that the writings move us to
action. That is effective faith.
But note that faith
is not the actions themselves, nor the amount of action being taken. Faith
is the fine line of believing to the point that those inward beliefs have
the capacity to overflow into external evidences. While a person may truly
have a faith in God which has not yet been evidenced, the failure to combine
faith and the Word when given the opportunity raises the serious question
of whether or not that faith really exists.
Seeking to prove the
presence of saving faith is like seeking to prove that a bucket which is
too high to see into has been filled with water. Because the goal is to
prove the bucket is filled to the rim, we can't prove we've reached that
point until we've passed that point. In other words, when we pass that
point of having a full bucket, we'll then see water coming down the sides
and getting things wet. Then we'll unquestionably know the bucket is full.
While it is possible to fill the bucket without passing that point, that
would not generate the comforting proof we need to assure us that it is
In like manner, we unquestionably
know we've successfully combined faith and the Word when our belief in the
Bible spills over into visibly affecting areas of our life. If our belief
is not spilling over, if there is little or no outward sign of our professed
inward commitment, then it is quite possible and highly likely that the
point of saving faith has not been reached.
The lesson for the
Hebrews is the same lesson for us: faith and God's Word are combined in
obedience to God's Word. Obedience is faith in action. Obedience is
the comforting proof of faith. Obedience proves that we believe God enough
to do what he says. Obedience to the Word is so very important because that
is what God recognizes as love:
This is love for
God: to obey his commands. (1 John 5:3a NIV)
If you love me,
you will obey what I command. (John 14:15 NIV)
Obedience is how we
can recognize who among us is loving God:
Whoever has my
commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. (John 14:21a
and who is not:
If anyone says,
'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does
not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not
seen. (1 John 4:20 NIV)
(top of page)
NEXT: Biblical authority and humanity
- part three
Conclusion: A story of the S.S.