Here is today’s Advent Calendar Piece (A generic “seed” shape to represent a mustard seed…)
December 17th | Faith
Please read these Bible verses first
Bible Background: Even before the New Covenant was given, righteousness came from faith. Regardless of Biblical time period, Covenants in force at the time, and the revelation of God that man had available to him, there has only ever been one way to please God: Faith. Faith has two parts: believing that what God says is true and acting on that truth. Faith is very powerful: a small amount can cause great changes.
Noah had faith that God would judge the world; he built the ark. Abraham had faith he would have descendants through Isaac; he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, trusting God would raise him back to life! By faith Moses put the Passover lamb’s blood on the doorposts; by faith Joshua had the courage to lead Israel into Canaan. By faith King David sang that he would have an eternal throne through Messiah. What do all these people have in common, other than faith? God considered them all to be righteous. Notice how they showed their faith by their actions! They weren’t perfect, but God did great things through them because they believed and obeyed Him.
The New and Final Covenant was going to hinge entirely upon justification by God’s Grace through our faith. The entire Old Testament supported this “Grand Finale” of Faith that started with the heroes described in Hebrews 11 and culminated in Jesus Christ.
Bible Study Question: Read Habakkuk 2:4; what promise did God make about faith?
Today’s Main Idea: There are six theological terms that are commonly used when talking about living by faith:
- Salvation means to be delivered or exempted from sin and its due penalty.
- Justification means to be declared “in the right”, put in good standing with God. Only the righteous may be in good standing with God; The only way an unrighteous person may be justified is through the righteousness of Another. To be “just” and “righteous” is synonymous.
- Sanctification means to be set apart/made holy. To be “sanctified” and “holy” is synonymous.
- Glorification means to share in God’s ultimate triumph through His manifest excellence and fulfilled purpose in our lives. It refers specifically to receiving new “Resurrection” bodies that never die, get sick, or sin. I could do with one of those today 😉
- Holiness is a state of separation, distance, from corruption or commonness; being designated for a unique, divine purpose (“Holy, Holy, Holy”, while most likely a Trinitarian reference and the numerological connotation of Divinity, to this scientists’ mind also conveys DEGREES of separation: i.e. an untraversible distance between created beings and their Creator. We may be made holy, But God is Holy^3, so far separated from everything impure or inadequate that there is no way Man can call Him into question or claim to know His thoughts apart from His revelation of them–A.M.).
- Righteousness is a state of being above accusation, blameless: to act righteously means to do the right thing at the right time with the right motive. In Christianity, the righteousness of Jesus covers up our unrighteousness and enables us to be declared ‘just’.
At first glance, it seems spurious for unrighteous people to be justified, given righteousness, just because God appears to “wave a magic wand” over us and declare it. It seems like people could take advantage of this system, saying they believe in Jesus and then living as they please thereafter, declared righteous while living unrighteously. It may seem hypocritical and contrived to some.
Our struggle to understand the grounds on which justification is…well, justified…causes us to come up with extreme theological positions. Some say our behavior has no bearing on our salvation whereas others base salvation entirely upon it. This is why an understanding of faith is key to sorting out these terms in a balanced way without over-constraining the Scriptures to support our preferred theological positions.
God expects faith because in it our motives are made clear. He can tell the difference between someone who takes Him seriously and someone who merely thinks what He says is true conceptually (in an allegorical, relativistic, figurative sense conducive for the time being…until it is too difficult, requires too much, or goes against popular opinion, in which case we re-interpret it, condition it, or ignore it and then attach “God” to whatever idea we make up that best suits us). People who take God seriously act on what He says; this is Faith. They have accepted God on His own terms. People who have a mental assent toward God applaud Him in theory but do not obey Him in practice; this is unbelief. They have rejected God on their own terms.
We are fallible creatures in a fallen world: we are going to act unrighteously and make mistakes, even after we accept Jesus as our Savior. When we have faith however, God sees it. It stands out in our humanness like gold ensconced in rock. It requires digging out, refining, shaping, and implementing but it is the raw material God likes to work with best. Ultimately, it is all we really have to offer Him (so it works out well that it is the only thing He is pleased by!)
Faith is necessary because we are caught between two worlds: the old (current earth) and new (future earth). We haven’t received the promise in full: we merely have a preview of it inside us. We have the spiritual “stuff” but not the physical “stuff” (except in miraculous moments when the reality of the coming physical kingdom of Jesus is made manifest by the Holy Spirit in the present). We have been born again spiritually, but we are waiting for new bodies that cannot sin. Our hearts are changed, but our mindsets, habits, and physical brokenness remain.
Here is how those theological concepts above relate to this “preview” situation, and how the faith we have in Christ demonstrates itself as a result (read Romans 8 for a better explanation! I am merely using these terms as examples of how our beliefs should affect the way we live):
- Salvation. Now: deliverance from Sin; the more we spend time in God’s presence, the less sin is able to enslave us. Future: deliverance from apocalyptic judgment (God’s wrath) and eternal damnation (the second death). Faith: we 100% believe God is going to deliver us from judgment; therefore, in the present, we no longer live in fear of God’s wrath or of death. We don’t need to earn brownie points “just to make sure”. We don’t hide from our mortality and the subject of the afterlife. We can face our future without uncertainty or fear. Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are saved.
- Justification. Now & Future: we are in right standing with God; we are highly favored. We have a priority line of communication open to God. Faith: we 100% believe that we have a privileged relationship with God; therefore, in the present, we can come to Him with boldness with all our requests and concerns. While our sins may grieve us, we recognize we are not under any condemnation or shame; we do not beat ourselves up or try to earn forgiveness by being extra-religious; instead, we repentantly turn to God for His help and forgiveness **in confidence** that He will give it because we are in good standing with Him through Christ. Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are justified.
- Glorification. Now: God displays His great strength through our weaknesses; others recognize that God is helping us and is accomplishing His agenda through us. Future: We will shine like the sons and daughters of God Jesus made us to be, in our resurrection bodies, displaying God’s creative brilliance in the diverse and splendorous ways He has equipped us to function. No harps on clouds! We will be living adventure after adventure! Faith: we 100% believe God will make Himself known to others through us, so we quickly confess any impediments or hindrances to Him and trust He will give us Grace to overcome them and use them for greater good than we could have imagined. We also believe that what we do in this life affects our VOCATION in the next life; therefore, we do not tire of doing good and we do not become obsessed with the temporal benefits of our current situation. We look forward to receiving resurrection bodies and seeing Christ as He is! Our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions demonstrate that we believe we are glorified.
- Sanctification/Holiness. Now: we are set apart to do good works for those outside the faith to see; we function within the church to build one another up and take care of each others’ needs. We are commanded not to be bound in covenant to those who are in opposition to God. We are called to separate ourselves from sinful practices. Future: We will be “light years” beyond our current status as fallen creatures; we will no longer have anything dark or corruptible in our natures. We will be able to carry out our tasks without any internal impediment to the joy of performing them. Faith: we 100% believe God has separated us from everything that would steal, kill, and destroy the purpose He has for us; therefore we no longer want to rejoin the futility of popular cultural practices or buy into the false promise of freedom through sin. We don’t take pleasure in coarse conversation or gossip: we want to remove everything that displeases the Holy Spirit. We are willing to get rid of anything that desensitizes us to or distracts us from hearing God’s voice; we long for Him to put His instructions on our heart so that we may be about our Father’s business. Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are holy.
- Righteousness. Now: we have been declared righteous because we are “in Christ”; we have the Spirit of righteousness within us. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, more of our behavior becomes “righteous” (right action at the right time for the right reasons). Future: without sin, we will not have any cause to do wrong; righteousness will be regular practice. Faith: we 100% believe we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus; therefore, we do not give up when we sin, but trust God to change us so that His righteousness will shine through us. We look forward to the day when this will no longer be a struggle, when what God has declared us to be will take full, tangible form. We do not let accusing thoughts attack us or undermine us; our position is determined by Christ, not our behavior. Our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions demonstrate that we believe we are righteous.
All of these theological terms and explanations make faith seem incredibly complicated, but it isn’t. Faith is as easy as falling off a log… IF we truly believe. If we really believe in the foundational truths of the Bible, all the above corollaries will follow. The behavior, though imperfect at times, will follow. IF we believe.
Application: Paul explained that before we put our faith in Christ, we need to hear about Him first. If we want our faith in God to grow, then we need to spend time listening to His word. This Christmas, let’s take time to immerse ourselves in the Bible; even if it’s your first time buying a Bible, why not get one for yourself and a loved one this Christmas? (I recommend The New Believer’s Bible in the New Living Translation.) Christmas is the very best time to grow our faith as we see how God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us! Jesus Himself proved that God’s Word is true. We can trust it, and as we do, we will grow in faith and please God.
Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us the ability to have faith. I am so glad I don’t have to please you by being the best at something, or by following a strict legal code. Help my faith to grow so I can please you even more. In Jesus’ Name; Amen.”
Family Activity: Push mustard seeds in a wad of wet paper towel in a container. Every day, add water to the paper towel to keep it moist. Decorate some plant pots, write out Hebrews 11: 6 on them, and fill them with soil. When the seeds sprout, plant them in the pots and think how much your faith has grown since you first heard about Jesus.
ADVENT posts are available via the “Celebrations” category page, accessed from the “Fun” menu tab on my site. These posts are adapted from a much simpler, child-friendly devotional that I intend to publish in the near future; ADVENT posts are geared more toward adults and are best paraphrased if sharing content with children as some of the topics may be too mature to be beneficial to them. Discretion is advised!
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