Faith That Changed the World

31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

The Israelites followed the strange-sounding commands of God and enjoyed a lopsided victory over the city of Jericho. This first battle in their efforts to occupy the land of Canaan had gone off without a hitch because they followed God’s instructions down to the last detail. But now the story gets really interesting.

Up to this point in the chapter, the author of Hebrews has been dealing with some fairly significant and well-known individuals in the family tree of Israel – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, and by extension, Joshua. But it should catch us a bit by surprise to find the name of a prostitute in this great “Hall of Faith.”

To understand her presence in this list of the faithful we have to go back to the original story found in the book of Joshua. When it came time for the people of Israel to begin their God-ordained occupation of the land of Canaan, Joshua sent out spies to reconnoiter the cities on the western side of the Jordan River.

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. – Joshua 2:1 ESV

There are a lot of details left out of this story. We aren’t told why the spies chose Rahab’s home as a safe house. Had they been given her name by someone else? Were they aware that she was a follower of Yahweh? Did they choose a prostitute’s house because they believed no one would think to look for them there? Or was their selection of her house because of its location within the walls of the city (Joshua 2:15)?

The passage doesn’t provide us with answers to these questions. But we do know that someone informed on the two spies, and the king of Jericho sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to find them.

Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” – Joshua 2:3 ESV

But rather than turn the two spies over to the king’s soldiers, Rahab chose to protect them and even concocted a story that diverted the soldiers from her home, giving the men time to escape.

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” – Joshua 2:4-5 ESV

But why did this woman take such a dangerous risk? Because she was a God-fearer. Rahab had somehow heard about the God of Israel and believed in Him. News of God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt had gotten out, and Rahab determined that their God must be the one true God. Without realizing it, she was living out the truth of the following verse.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

Rahab had somehow deduced that her city would prove to be no match for the God of Israel, so she chose to protect the spies and asked them to return the favor when the time came. She believed that this powerful God of the Israelites was going to destroy her hometown and she wanted to live. She greatly desired to be saved from the coming destruction.

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” – Joshua 2:9-13 ESV

I tend to believe that the two spies inadvertently ended up at Rahab’s house and that they had no idea she was a believer in Yahweh. That would have been the last thing they expected from a woman who made her living as a prostitute in a pagan city. But according to His divine and sovereignly ordained plan, God arranged for them to go to the very house where they would find a woman who had placed her faith in the God of Israel. She was so convinced of God’s power that she knew Jericho was going to fall, and only asked that she and her family be spared. She believed with all her heart that the God of Israel was the “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

The spies made an agreement with Rahab, instructing her to tie a scarlet thread in her window. That would serve as a sign, much like the blood that was placed on the doorpost and lintels of the Israelite homes during the Passover. That red-colored thread would tell the Israelite troops to spare all the individuals found within that house. The book of Joshua reveals that when the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were protected from the devastation and escaped death.

…they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” – Joshua 6:22-23 ESV

The spies kept their word and Rahab was spared.

Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.Joshua 6:25 ESV

One might be tempted to say that Rahab’s faith was in the two spies. She had to trust that these men would do as they had promised. She had no guarantees from the God of Israel. She had been given no promises by Yahweh. But while it’s true that she had to have faith in the two spies, the thing that drove her actions from the outset was her belief that God was the one true God and that He would give the city into the hands of the Israelite troops. The Israelites’ God was greater. And in providing protection for the two spies, she was acknowledging that she believed in this superior God of Israel.

Hebrews 11:6 states, “…without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Rahab believed in God’s existence, and she was seeking His protection and the reward of her life being spared. Rahab had no track record with God. She had simply heard the stories of His deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. News of His redemptive power as illustrated by the parting of the Red Sea had reached her ears. God’s role in the Israelites’ defeat of the Amorites had gotten her attention. For her, all the rumors and hearsay about God had become cause for belief. Her faith that this God was real and that He had the power to save as well as to destroy led to life, rather than death. While everyone else in the city was doomed to destruction, Rahab’s faith in God resulted in her salvation and that of her family.

Rahab would go on to spend the rest of her life living among God’s people. She would marry and have children. In fact, her name appears in the gospel of Matthew in the lineage of King David.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

But Matthew’s record of David’s lineage doesn’t stop there. His list goes on to include the name of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Not only did Rahab’s faith result in the sparing of her own life, but it paved the way for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Her faith saved her and her family, but it had much longer-lasting repercussions. Out of faith in God, she gave a friendly welcome to the spies, and that faith would result in her redemption but also pave the way for the coming of the Redeemer of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Well-Placed Hope

11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV

The line, “even when she was past the age” is a bit of an understatement. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was way past the age of conception. She was almost 90 years old and, on top of that, she was barren. Genesis 18 records that  “Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Genesis 18:11 ESV). In other words, her birthing days were well behind her.

Genesis also reveals that when Sarah and Abraham were given news from God that the would have a son, they both expressed doubt. When God told Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation, Abraham’s response was, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 ESV).

Abraham was painfully aware of his wife’s barrenness and could see no way that God could produce a great nation through a woman incapable of producing eggs capable of fertilization. The only solution to the problem that Abraham could see was to use one of his household servants as his heir.

Sarah’s solution was a bit more creative. She came up with the “brilliant” idea to give her Egyptian maidservant for Abraham to impregnate.

Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” – Genesis 16:2 ESV

And, like any red-blooded male, Abraham gladly took Sarah up on her offer. He offered no arguments or shared no reservations concerning her plan. Yet, God had wasn’t buying Sarah’ poorly conceived Plan B. Once again, He informed Abraham what He intended to do.

I will bless her [Sarah], and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” – Genesis 17:6 ESV

And what was Abraham’s response to God’s announcement? He laughed at the very though of something so obviously impossible and improbable. Basically, he questioned the viability of God’s plan a.

Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? – Genesis 17:17 ESV

But God confirmed His promise and assured Abraham that the impossible really would happen. Sometime later, when God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, God gave him exciting news. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). And Sarah, eavesdropping at the door to the tent, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 17:12 ESV).

Like her husband, Sarah had doubts, reservations, and a bit of a hard time seeing how any of this was going to happen. The circumstances surrounding her life seemed to strongly contradict what God was saying.

And yet, Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.” This seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news of God’s plan. Both came up with alternative options, their plan B’s designed to help God out. And yet it says that Sarah had faith. I think the problem is that we tend to put the emphasis on Sarah’s faith, rather than the object of her faith. It says that by faith she received the power to conceive. All Sarah could do was trust the power of God. Her faith did not bring the power into existence or make the results of that power produce the intended results.

She had to stop trying to do things on her own and simply rest in the power of God’s promise. She had to take her eyes off the circumstances – her old age and barren condition – and trust God. It was by faith that Sarah had to wait for the miracle of conception and the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Remember how this chapter started out.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. –  Genesis 11:1 ESV

Sarah had longed and hoped for a child for decades. She had desperately desired to have a baby but had been forced to give up on that dream because of her condition. But when God promised to give her and Abraham a child, she had one recourse: to take what God said by faith.

She was forced to trust God. She had tried doing things her way and it had terribly backfired. God was going to do what He had promised to do and He would notaccept any alternative solution, no matter how well-intentioned. Eleazar and Ishmael would not suffice. Adoption was not an option. Sarah was going to have to trust God. And so it says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.”

Sarah had to come to grips with the fact that God was faithful and rely on the truth that He was all-powerful. He had the character and the capacity to back up what He said. And it says she “considered him faithful who had promised.”

After all her conniving, doubting, whining, and self-sufficient planning, Sarah determined to trust God. She decided to put her faith in the one who had promised. And in God’s perfect timing, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2 ESV).

She placed her faith in God and He came through.

And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” – Genesis 21:6-7 ESV

Sarah’s faith did not make any of this happen. Her faith was simply a confidence and conviction that the one who promised it would happen had the power to make it happen. She put her hopes in His hands. She put her fears and doubts on His shoulders. She quit worrying and started believing. She stopped trying to take matters into her own hands and left them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God.

Our problem is not that we don’t believe what God has promised, it is that we somehow think He needs our help in bringing it about. Faith is about giving up and resting on God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. It is about reliance upon His power, instead of our own. It involves putting our hope in God rather than allowing the circumstances surrounding us to suck the hope out of us. Faith is less a commodity than it is a state of being. It is a place to which we come when we are ready to take God at His word and rest in the reality of His power to do what He has promised.

Therefore from one man [and woman], and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Future-Focused Faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

The first four words of this section of Hebrews 11 are critical: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” It would be easy to put the emphasis on the latter half of the statement, making Abraham’s obedience the main point. But the author is simply attempting to provide further proof for the opening line of this chapter: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abraham’s obedience, while important, is meant to take a back seat to his faith. It is a byproduct of his faith. As the author said in verse six, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

We have to go back to the Old Testament book of Genesis to see the complete story of Abraham’s call and his subsequent obedience to that call. He was living in Haran with his father and the rest of his family. They had moved there from Ur. And it was while he was living in Haran that God came to Abram (his original name), and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV).

What’s important to notice is that, according to the text, God had not given him the exact location of his final destination. Even the passage in Hebrews says that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” This is an important part of the story. The extent of Abram’s knowledge was limited. He knew that God had called him and had promised to give him land and to produce from him a great nation. While these promises were substantial in scope, they were also a bit vague. Anyone would naturally want to know where and how. Where is this land you are giving me and how do you intend to produce a great nation from a man with a barren wife?

Abram would have had questions and concerns, yet he still obeyed God and did exactly as he was told. But the author’s emphasis is the faith that fueled Abram’s obedience. 

by faith Abraham obeyed. – Hebrews 11:8 ESV

He had no idea where he was going or how God was going to pull off what He had promised. Genesis tells us that Abram headed out, under the direction of God, and before long he found himself in the land of Canaan, a land occupied by none other than the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah.

Abram was a descendant of Shem, another son of Noah. So once he arrived at his final destination, Abram found the land already occupied by some distant family members. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). Abram found himself living in a land that belonged to others, and its residents lived in well-furnished houses while his small family was relegated to the transient lifestyle of nomads, living in tents and constantly moving from one location to another.

They were little more than squatters and vagabonds who enjoyed no sense of stability or ownership, and this state of affairs would last for generations, spanning the lives of Isaac and Jacob. Abram had received a promise of land but he spent his entire life living like a stranger rather than an occupant. He never owned a home or lived within the secure walls of a city. In fact, the author of Hebrews states that during his entire tenure in Canaan, “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).

The Greek word the author uses is ekdechomai and it means “to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Greek Lexicon :: G1551 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Feb, 2016. < Abram was waiting for, expecting, and anticipating something that had not yet come. He was eagerly and hopefully waiting for God to make his residence a permanent one. His understanding of the promise was that it would include a city made up of bricks and mortar, with walls, ceilings, and floors. Abram was eagerly anticipating the end of his nomadic existence spent living in tents.

But he had to wait, and along with having to deal with the existence of Canaanites, he had to endure the devastating impact of a debilitating drought. When he first arrived in the “promised land,” things were so bad that he was forced to take an unplanned detour to Egypt to seek food for his family. This was not what he had expected when he obeyed the call of God back in Ur. But through a series of unexpected but divinely ordained events, Abram arrived back in Canaan a wealthy man with an abundance of livestock. In fact, his flocks were so large that he and his nephew Lot had to part ways in order to keep from running into conflicts over pasturing rights. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land, his nephew chose the very best, leaving Abram with the less attractive portion. But Abram continued to trust God. He placed his hope and convictions in the promises of God. Even after Abram gave Lot the choice of the best land, God reconfirmed His promise to him.

Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you. – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

According to God, the land was as good as his – all of it. Every square acre of it, including all of the land occupied by the Canaanites and by Lot belonged to Abram. He had yet to take possession of a single square inch of the land of Canaan but, according to God’s promise, it was all going to belong to his descendants. Abram placed his faith and hope in God and His word. The fact that he did not possess a permanent home or the deed to a piece of property did not diminish his belief that God was going to follow through on His promise. Abram lived with the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Yet, the author states that Abram and all the others listed in chapter 11 “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Theirs was a future-focused faith. It was based on a promise, and that promise was assured because the promise-maker was trustworthy. Abram knew that the promise of God was far greater and encompassed far more than just his individual blessing. God’s promise involved future generations and had far-reaching implications. Abram would never live to see the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. He would be long gone by the time his descendants faced another famine in Canaan and returned to Egypt. He would never live to see them multiply and grow to such a degree that Pharaoh would become fearful of them and decree a pogrom designed to exterminate them. He would not experience the joy of watching God set his descendants free from their captivity in Egypt and lead them back to the promised land. He would not enjoy the thrill of seeing them conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. He would never see the rise of King David or view the splendor of Solomon’s grand kingdom. And he would never live to see the coming of the Messiah, the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

But Abram believed. He had faith. He obeyed. He worshiped. He waited. And he left the future in God’s hands. He had future faith because he believed in an eternal God who never fails to keep His word or fulfill His commitments. And the apostle Paul would have us live by faith as Abram did.

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Faith Factor

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. – Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV

What exactly is faith? How do you know when you have it? When do you know that you are living by it? The author of Hebrews, like the apostle Paul, spent a great deal of time defending the doctrine of faith. They both believed it was essential to salvation and a non-negotiable part of the Christian life. The author of Hebrews even goes so far as to say that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

Both Paul and the author of Hebrews borrow a phrase from the book of Habakkuk, “but the righteous shall live by his faith,” to support their position on faith. For each man, faith and righteousness were inseparable. You couldn’t have one without the other. To attempt to achieve the kind of righteousness that God demands, apart from faith, would be impossible and illogical. He had given His Law to the people of Israel to show them the extent of the righteousness He required and to reveal the utter futility of trying to live up to His righteous standard in their own strength. They couldn’t do it.

God knew they would be unable to keep the Law, so He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would inevitably commit. As the author has already revealed, the law and the sacrificial system were “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1a ESV).

The people sinned and then offered sacrifices for those sins, year after year. But this unending cycle of sin and sacrifice could never bring about true righteousness. As the author pointed out in the last chapter, these repetitive sacrifices “were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1b NLT).

The Law was intended to reveal God’s righteous standards and expose man’s sin. Paul explained, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). God’s mandated sacrificial system demonstrated that His wrath against sin was real and required the shedding of blood to atone for those sins.

In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

The blood of bulls and goats could only provide temporary atonement for sins, so God sent His Son to provide a permanent solution to man’s sin problem and a way to escape the sentence of death hanging over his head. But this new plan of salvation would require faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

Faith is always forward-looking. It is based on the yet unseen and the as-yet unfulfilled. Peter gives us a wonderful glimpse of what faith should be like for us as believers:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT

The author of Hebrews shared a similar admonition.

…let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:22 NLT

We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). He praised his readers for their willingness to endure difficulties and trials with joy.

You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. – Hebrews 10:34 NLT

They were willing to put up with loss in this world because of their confidence in the promise of God that assured them of great gain in the world to come. They were “not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction,” but instead, they were “the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved” (Hebrews 10:39 NLT). Their faith was future-oriented because they firmly believed in the promises of God. They had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen. That is exactly what Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep doing.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

If we take our eyes off the hope of God’s future promises, we will find it hard to endure the present trials of this life. If we live as if this earthly existence is all there is, then we will grow weary, disappointed, and disillusioned. The “great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3) the author referred to earlier in his letter will begin to appear weak and ineffective. But it is essential for every believer to understand that God’s salvation includes our future glorification. There is more to our faith than simply the assurance that we have been saved and our sins are forgiven. We will one day be redeemed and given new bodies. We will be freed once and for all from our battle with indwelling sin.

Our faith must always have a future focus. The apostle John, as a loving pastor, reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

That is our hope. That is the basis of our faith, and the author of Hebrews will spend the rest of this chapter demonstrating what this kind of faith looks like in real life, using Old Testament saints as examples of a future-focused faith lived out in real life. This list of long-deceased individuals who lived long before the incarnation of Jesus is intended to provide us with hope. They illustrate that God’s redemptive work has always been based on faith. From Abel and Abraham to Noah and Moses, each of these children of God demonstrated faith in the faithfulness of God. Their lives are living examples of what it looks like to have “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

In their own way, each of them revealed their trust in God by stepping out in faith and relying on nothing more than His word. Abel offered the very best of his flock, potentially sacrificing his future livelihood but trusting that God would care for his needs. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son because he fully believed that God would keep His promise to produce a great nation from his offspring. Noah built and entered the ark, based on nothing more than the promise of salvation offered by God. And Moses took a leap of faith and delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt with little more than a sight-unseen promise from God about a land of their own.

Faith is the unifying factor in each of their stories. And, according to the apostle Paul, faith is still the sole means of accessing the salvation and future glorification that God has in store for each of His children.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Every Hour I Need Thee

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV

The life of faith is not an easy one. Following Christ requires commitment and a determination to keep on believing and trusting even in the midst of the constant and sometimes deadly barrage of the enemy. Paul encourages us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 ESV). Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). Later on in this letter, the author of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

The Christian life requires endurance and perseverance. It demands that we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, not just for our salvation, but for our ongoing sanctification. He is the “champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” We are to look at His example, recalling how He endured the cross and was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT).

Jesus suffered and died because of sin; not His, but ours. He sacrificed His life so we wouldn’t have to give up our own. That is why the author of Hebrews goes on to say, “After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” (Hebrews 4:4 NLT).

We will never have to pay the ultimate penalty for our sins, because Jesus took our place and died the death we deserved to die. But we still have to struggle with the very real presence of indwelling sin. While we live on this earth we will have to “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV) – the rest that comes with trusting in the finished work of Christ, which includes not only our salvation but also our sanctification and ultimate glorification. We will have to constantly “hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). Our hope is in Christ, or as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV).

Our faith must remain in Christ, from the beginning to the end. Paul told the Philippian Christians, “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). We have to hold firmly to that fact, even in the face of difficulty and disappointments.

And when we find ourselves in need, we are to turn to Jesus, our great high priest. He represents us before God and He fully understands what we are going through because He has been in our shoes. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted just as we are. He knows what it is like to be under attack and to feel overwhelmed. And He also knows what it is like not to sin or to give in to feelings of doubt and despair. During His earthly life, Jesus never stopped trusting in His Heavenly Father. On no occasion did He ever fail to obey God.

Paul tells us that “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). So when we find ourselves in a difficult spot, we can confidently turn to Him as our divine high priest, and we can find the grace and mercy we need to help us in our time of need. In times of testing or trial, we won’t find a high priest who shakes His finger in our face and condemns our weakness. No, we will find a sympathetic and empathetic high priest who reminds us that our sins have been paid for and any need for us to try to atone for our own sins has been done away with. The author will expand on this theme in chapter nine.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! – Hebrews 9:11-14 NLT

Jesus played a dual role. He acted as the high priest, bringing the atoning sacrifice for man’s sins before God the Father. But He also played the part of the sacrificial lamb. He gave His life because it was the only sacrifice that would be acceptable to the Father. He was the unblemished, sinless Son of God, offering His own life as a substitute or stand-in for sinful humanity. And as those who have trusted in His substitutionary death on the cross, we can still come before the throne of grace and find mercy, hope, strength, comfort, assurance, and a constant reminder of God’s everlasting, never-failing love for us. We will face trials and tribulations in this life. We will encounter difficulties and experience times of doubt and despair. But we have an understanding high priest who knows our weaknesses and has provided the cure for all that ails us. As the author put it earlier in his letter:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

We have help in times of need. We have a God who understands our weakness and has made compensation for it. We have not been left on our own. We don’t have to face the trials of this earth in our own human effort. We can stand firm and hold on to our original confession because our high priest is there to help us. As the old hymn so clearly reminds us, we need Jesus every hour.

I need Thee ev’ry hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.

I need Thee ev’ry hour,
Stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r
When Thou art nigh.

I need Thee ev’ry hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Ev’ry hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Rest In Him

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:1-13 ESV

There is an ominous-sounding warning in these verses. When the author speaks of the people of God not entering the rest provided for them by God, it can’t help but get our attention. But what does he mean when he writes, “those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:6 ESV)?

Over the centuries, there have been many who have tried to equate the crossing over of the Israelites into the land of Canaan with the death of the believer and their entrance into heaven. But if we apply this analogy to the author’s meaning of “rest” we will find ourselves wrestling with the possibility of one losing their salvation, because he is writing to believers and he is warning them not to make the same mistake as their ancestors in the wilderness. Their forefathers and mothers “heard and yet rebelled” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They sinned and their “bodies fell in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:17 ESV). “They were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19 ESV).

That last line is key to understanding what is going on in these verses. The issue he is addressing is that of unbelief. He warned his readers, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He encouraged them to exhort one another, “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The problem with equating the promised land with heaven is that the people of Israel were told that they would encounter warfare as soon as they entered the land. They had to strive to possess the land and dispossess the people that lived there. Their time in the land of promise would be one of testing, conflict, and a constant struggle to trust God rather than their own resourcefulness. Yes, God blessed them. He gave them victories over their enemies. But because of unfaithfulness, they were eventually evicted by God from the promised land and sent into captivity for their rebellion against Him. That is why making the promised land analogous to heaven makes no sense and eventually breaks down. No one will be evicted from heaven because of unbelief.

So, what is the author talking about? What is this rest that he encourages his readers to enter into? Several times in these verses he refers to the “good news” they had received.

For the good news came to us just as to them. – Hebrews 4:2 ESV

He uses the Greek word, euaggelizō which is the same word used by Jesus when referring to the gospel message He preached. It is the same word used by the angels when they told the shepherds in the field of the good news regarding the birth of Jesus. The author of Hebrews says that the people of Israel had heard the good news, “but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV).

They heard, but refused to listen. They heard, but failed to believe the good news given because they had evil, unbelieving hearts.

Several times in this passage the author refers to the sabbath rest of God. He talks about the fact that God, after having created the universe, rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew word shabbath means “rest.” God was not tired, but he ceased from His labors because His work had been completed. All that He had intended to do had been done. His will had been accomplished. The writer makes it clear that merely entering into the land was not the rest that God intended.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later one. – Hebrews 4:8 ESV

In fact, he writes, “there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9 ESV). The primary problem seems to be that of works versus faith. The rest the author speaks of is the belief we are to have in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and our complete and total dependence on what He has done for us. We can rest in the sufficiency of His sacrifice. There is nothing more that we need to do. The Jewish audience to whom this letter was addressed had heard the good news regarding Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross, but they ran the risk of hearing, but not listening. They, like their ancestors, were prone to go back to their own methods of attempting to achieve a right standing with God. Rather than resting in the finished work of Christ, they were being tempted to go back to Judaism with all of its ritual and rights. So, the author warns them to “strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV).

He is not suggesting that they can lose their salvation, but that their initial “belief” may not have been belief at all. They had not been fully convinced that God’s redemptive work on their behalf was complete. They were not resting in the promise of eternal salvation. They were not trusting in the sufficiency of Christ and the hope of their future redemption.

Jesus did not promise us a trouble-free, peaceful life on this earth. Yet He did say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

But right before His death, He told His disciples, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33 ESV).

Our time on this earth is anything but easy. But we can have peace in the midst of the struggles because we know that He has overcome the world. Our rest is found in the promise of His finished work. He is going to return some day and wrap up what He started and complete what God has given Him to do. It is in that fact that we are to find our rest. The temptation for all of us is to doubt God, to fail to take Him at His word. We can look at the circumstances surrounding us and begin to disbelieve His promises and question the reliability of all that Christ has done. So the author invites us to allow the Word of God to act as a divine scalpel that penetrates our hearts, exposing and removing those thoughts and intentions of the heart that would cause us to doubt and disbelieve God. He wants us to rest in the reality of our future rest. He wants us to trust in His promise of not only our future redemption, but the final restoration of the world. God’s will WILL be done. And we can rest in that fact.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Out of Sight, But In Full Control

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
    or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned him with glory and honor,
    putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. – Hebrews 2:5-9 ESV

After His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side. The old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be true, but so can the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” The longer Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, was gone from the face of the earth, the easier it became for the believers living when this letter was written to forget about Him.

Most, if not all of the recipients of this letter, would never have seen Jesus face to face. They would have come to faith in Him sometime after His death and resurrection. And it would appear, based on the author’s emphasis on drifting away, that there were those who were having second thoughts regarding either His deity or the exclusivity of the gospel message. They were running the risk of taking lightly what Jesus had done for them, which is why the author warned them not to “neglect such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3 ESV).

This entire letter is a defense of Jesus – His divinity, incarnation, mission, message, sacrifice, ascension, exaltation, and coming return. Using the Old Testament Scriptures to point the way, the writer presents Jesus as the divine agent of redemption for mankind. Quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, he writes, “You made him for a little while lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, left His place at the right hand of God the Father and took on human flesh. He humbled Himself by becoming a man in order that He might accomplish what no man had ever been able to do: Live in sinless, selfless obedience to the commands of God.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.  Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

But the author of Hebrews wants his readers to understand that Jesus, while He was a man, was also fully divine. He was God in human flesh. He was the God-man. And after He had accomplished His Father’s will and given His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of God and returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side. His time on this earth, when He was made “a little lower than the angels,” was relatively short. Yet, as a result of having accomplished His Father’s will, God “crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet” (Hebrews 2:7-8 ESV). Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 ESV

Jesus may be out of sight, but He is far from out of control, and He should never be out of mind. We read that, “in putting everything in subjection to him, he [God] left nothing outside of his control” (Hebrews 2:8 ESV). Yes, it’s true that, from our perspective, it can sometimes appear that some things are outside of His control. The world does not appear to be living in submission and obedience to Christ. But we must never forget that God’s plan is not yet complete. Christ’s job is not yet finished. When He said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:20 ESV), He was speaking of His God-ordained mission to become the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He had accomplished that part of His assignment. But He was not done. He is still at work. And one day He is coming back to fully complete the assignment given to Him by His Father from before the foundation of the world.

One day, everything and everyone will be under His subjection. He will rule and reign over all. He will be King of kings and Lord of lords. But we must never grow cavalier or complacent regarding His subjection on our behalf. It was His suffering that led to His glorification.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. – Hebrews 2:9 ESV

He suffered for our sake. Paul puts it this way, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). His resurrection and exaltation made possible our justification. We are right with God because Jesus satisfied the just demands of His heavenly Father. He fully paid the debt we owed with His own life, and God raised Him from the dead as proof of His acceptance of that payment. By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone, so that we might have life – eternal life.

The apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus’ current absence should make our hearts grow fonder because we know that He will return one day.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:8-9 NLT

Rather than allow doubt to cause us to drift away, we should rejoice in the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, will finish what He began. He will keep the promise He made to His disciples.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 NLT

The Jewish Christians to whom this letter was written were having second thoughts. They had never met Jesus personally and the more time that passed caused them to wonder if He was ever going to return. Would they ever meet their Messiah? Would His kingdom ever come? And as their fears and doubts increased, they began to question whether they should return to their former lives as adherents to the Mosaic Law. Had they been wrong to abandon Judaism for this new movement called The Way? Were the hopes they had placed in Jesus misplaced?

For the author of Hebrews, the answer to all those questions was a simple, yet emphatic, “No!” He was going to exhaust every effort and argument to reinforce their belief in Jesus and their faith in the life-transforming power of the gospel. Jesus was enough. And while He was out of sight, He was anything but out of control.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Live Like It

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:1-5 ESV

God knew that His people would face the ongoing temptation to carry out His ceremonial law while, at the same time, living lives that contradicted the very intentions of those laws. In other words, they would run the risk of living hypocritical lives that reflected an outward appearance of obedience that covered up the true conditions of their hearts. It was the very same of which Jesus accused the Jewish religious leader of His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! – Matthew 23:25 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:27-28 NLT

Jesus was exposing these men for what they truly were: blatant charlatans who were adept at displaying outward conformity to God’s will but whose actions were nothing more than a carefully-orchestrated performance designed to earn the praise and respect of the people. They were little more than play actors. In fact, the Greek word for hypocrite is ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs), a term used to describe those who performed in the Greek plays that were so popular throughout the Roman world of Jesus’ day. Jesus was comparing the law-abiding religious leaders of His day to actors who used elaborate costumes and masks to fool their audiences into believing they were someone else.

Jesus pulled back the curtain on their little drama and exposed their deceptive masquerade. They were not what they appeared to be. And in the same way, God was warning the people of Israel about the danger of going through the motions by feigning obedience to His law while, at the same time, living in silent disregard to His desire that they live truly holy lives.

Yahweh has spent a great deal of time outlining the exacting details of His ceremonial law. He has provided His chosen people with clear and compelling regulations for conducting their daily lives, covering everything from the food they could eat to the various skin diseases that could render them unholy and unworthy of entering His Tabernacle. The entire sacrificial system was designed to mitigate their failure to keep His law. When they sinned, they had a way of receiving atonement by offering the appropriate sacrifice in the acceptable manner God had prescribed.

But the Israelites had proven themselves to be a stubborn people who were prone to doing things their own way. Their 400-year-long stint in Egypt had made them accustomed to the pagan practices of their captors. Idolatry had become a normal and acceptable part of their lives. The sexual promiscuity of their Egyptian overlords had dulled the moral sensibilities of the Israelites, leaving them open to increasingly more decadent and defiling types of behavior. Sins like adultery had become commonplace, even among God’s people, and no longer carried any social stigma or sense of impropriety. So, God took the time to discuss the need for behavior that reflected their status as God’s chosen and set-apart people.

In a real sense, the Israelites were going from the firepan into the fire. Their divinely-orchestrated escape from captivity had allowed them to leave the decadence of Egypt behind, but a great challenge lie in the future. God knew something of which they were completely oblivious. The land of Canaan, their future home, was a place filled with immoral and idolatrous nations that were going to make the Egyptians look like amateurs. Compared to the more sophisticated Egyptians, the Canaanites would take immorality to a whole new and much lower level. And God knew that His people would be prone to adopt and adapt the pagan practices of their new neighbors. That’s why He commanded Moses to warn the sin-prone Israelites to refrain from mimicking the ways of the world.

“…do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.” – Leviticus 18:3 NLT

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His “treasured possession among all peoples,” and as such, they were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV). Their lives were to stand out from the crowd. Their behavior was to be radically different, dictated by the conditions established by God Himself and articulated in the Mosaic Law. They were not free to live according to their own wills or in keeping with the rest of the world. Their behavioral standards were God-ordained and came with severe consequences if disobeyed. God made it perfectly clear that obedience was mandatory and non-optional.

You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 18:4 NLT

These were laws; not suggestions, and they came from the very throne of God in heaven, not the minds of mortal men. Yet, God knew that the Israelites would struggle obeying His law and lean toward living like their pagan neighbors. The law would set them apart, but failure to allow the law to transform their daily behavior would render them ineffective in their assignment to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul warned the Jewish Christians living in Rome of this very danger. He knew they were proud of their Jewish heritage and wore it like a badge of honor, but their outward actions did not reflect the kind of character God demanded.

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:17-24 NLT

And Paul would go on to downplay their inordinate pride in their Jewish heritage; instead calling them to live in a way that reflects the gospel’s power to transform the human heart and create true life change.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

For the Jews of Moses’ day, obedience to God’s law came with striking benefits. It wasn’t merely about blind obedience and mindless adherence to a lengthy set of arbitrary rules and regulations. God’s law brought life.

“If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:5 NLT

He wanted them to know that His laws were laws for living – bringing peace, joy, contentment, purpose, blessings, and the benefit of an ongoing relationship with Him. God was not a divine policeman enforcing arbitrary and needless rules designed to stifle human flourishing. He wasn’t some curmudgeonly old skinflint in the sky trying to rob mere mortals of all the joys of life. The Lord God was giving His chosen people a unique opportunity to live in perfect communion with Him, enjoying all the benefits of His divine goodness and glory as they lived in this fallen and sin-stained world. But those blessings would require obedience to His law. Rather than live like the Romans and Canaanites, the Israelites were to live like God’s chosen and set-apart people – for all the world to see.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

From Bad to Worse

10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:10-23 ESV

When God appeared to Moses in the wilderness near Mount Horeb, He had revealed His knowledge of the Israelites’ plight in Egypt.

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings…” – Exodus 3:7 ESV

And God had assured Moses that He was ready to do something about their untenable situation.

“…I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” – Exodus 3:8 ESV

Much to his surprise and initial dismay, Moses learned that he was to be the one God would use to bring about the deliverance of His people. After much debate and a great deal of delay, Moses finally gave in to God’s call and made the long journey back to Egypt. And he and his brother, Aaron, in obedience to God’s command, delivered His messages to the people of Israel and Pharaoh. But while the Israelites were thrilled with the news of God’s presence among them and His plan to deliver them, Pharaoh had a far less sanguine response to God’s plan. In fact, he was enraged at the audacity of these two nondescript and unimpressive Hebrews. How dare they walk into his palace and demand that he provide their fellow Israelites with a week off so they can worship their so-called God in the wilderness.

Rather than give in to Moses’ request, he decided to teach this upstart Hebrew a painful lesson. To who Moses who was boss, Pharaoh turned up the heat on the already suffering descendants of Abraham. Moses’ arrival had gotten their hopes up and they were expecting an immediate improvement in their circumstances. But, instead, their situation got exponentially worse.

One of their duties as an unpaid workforce for Pharaoh was to manufacture the bricks used in the many construction projects around the kingdom. This labor-intensive process was difficult enough, but now it was going to become even more time-consuming and wearying because Pharaoh denied them access to the straw that helped bind the clay together. As punishment for their request for time off, he ordered them to find their own straw. This would require additional time and effort, but the daily quota of bricks would remain unchanged.

On top of this, Pharaoh ordered the Egyptian slave masters and Hebrew foremen to show no mercy. They were to push the Israelites relentlessly. When the people fell behind and failed to meet their quotas, the Egyptians punished the Hebrew foremen.

And in time, the people began to lose hope. They were in a no-win situation and there seemed to be no other recourse than to appeal to Pharaoh for mercy.

So the Israelite foremen went to Pharaoh and pleaded with him. “Please don’t treat your servants like this,” they begged. “We are given no straw, but the slave drivers still demand, ‘Make bricks!’ We are being beaten, but it isn’t our fault! Your own people are to blame!” – Exodus 5:15-16 NLT

Pharaoh responded, but not with mercy. He accused them of being lazy and trying to use their request to worship their God as an excuse for shirking their duties. And he would have none of it. As far as he was concerned, their whole reason for being was to work, not to worship. Their job was to sacrifice on Pharaoh’s behalf, not on behalf of some impotent deity from a backwater region like Canaan.

So, Pharaoh reiterated his expectation that they meet their daily quota of bricks or suffer the consequences. This left the Hebrew foremen in an even deeper state of despair as they exited the royal palace. Now, they had to go back and break this less-than-encouraging news to their coworkers. But on the way, they ran into Moses and Aaron. And it would not prove to be a well-timed or particularly propitious encounter for the two unsuspecting brothers.

Full of pent-up anger and frustration, the foremen unleashed their vitriol on these two relative strangers, blaming them for the recent spate of troubles.

“May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” – Exodus 5:21 NLT

As bad as things had been before Moses and Aaron arrived on the scene, the situation in Egypt had taken a decidedly dark turn since their unexpected arrival. These two men had brought down the wrath of Pharaoh and the full weight of the Egyptian government apparatus. The atmosphere had become oppressive and foreboding. And now, the disgruntled and disillusioned Israelites were turning their anger on God’s two messengers.

Moses’ worst nightmare had come true. He had feared this very thing happening. When God had first announced His plan to use Moses as His deliverer, the surprised shepherd had argued, “behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1 ESV). He was already convinced that this mission was doomed to failure. Now, his suspicions had become a very painful and personal reality. This led him to cry out to God in despair.

“Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” – Exodus 5:22-23 NLT

From his perspective, nothing had turned out well. He had left Midian and returned to Egypt only to find his own people ready to run him out of town on a rail. And, driven by his frustration and fear, Moses shook his fist in the face of God and dared to accuse Him of a failure to do the right thing. God had claimed that He was going to “deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8 ESV) but instead, the whip of Egyptian slave masters had fallen on the backs of the Hebrew foremen. And now the anger of the foremen had come down hard on Moses and Aaron.

But God was not done. He had not promised immediate deliverance. And God had warned Moses that Pharaoh was going to reject their request to release the people of Israel. This was going to prove to be an epic battle of wills – the will of Pharaoh against the sovereign will of God Almighty. And though Moses was doubtful of the outcome, God had everything under full control. Yes, things were going to get worse before they got better. The circumstances under which the Israelites lived were going to become unbearable but that did not mean that God’s plan was fallible. His will would be done. The deliverance He promised would be forthcoming. And Moses was going to learn the invaluable and timeless lesson of waiting on God.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him. – Isaiah 30:18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Unbreakable Bond Between Belief and Behavior

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel: Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be forgiven, cleansed, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And after His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. In Greek, the phrase is pistos logos. It means that these are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope.

The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers living on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but His death also makes possible their ongoing spiritual transformation. He doesn’t just provide them with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt they owed, but He also makes it possible for them to live righteous lives. So, Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven someday. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic when declaring man’s non-existent role in salvation.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling the preordained plans God had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime rhetoric. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present, and Paul lived his life that way. This is why he could so boldly state:

I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” ªRomans 6:6 BSB). He regularly experienced the reality of his own teaching in his own life.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of all believers to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to believe and behave in a way that displayed their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live according to their old natures? God had new things for them to do. He had a radically different lifestyle in mind for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

But the sad reality was that many of the believers on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. As such, they were to reflect the character of Christ. They were to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracted from the objective was to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorted or took away from that goal was to be rejected for being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting and perverting the trustworthy words of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to be avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and the believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had prepared for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst. As Paul warned the believers in Galatia, there was no place for tolerance or complacency when it came to anything that threatened the truth of the gospel.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes virtually impossible when wrong doctrines are allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church. The church must always take the truth seriously and deal with falsehood decisively. The world may be filled with lies, driven by deception, and motivated by selfishness, but the church of Jesus Christ is to be the rock-steady foundation of God’s truth. And Paul was providing Titus with the same powerful reminder that he had given Timothy, so that both men might “know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 BSB).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.