Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Does God Speak Personally to Us?

By S. Michael Durham

(Twelfth installment on faith)

While God primarily speaks via the written word of Scripture, He also can speak directly to our spirit via the Holy Spirit. We must not rule out this blessed grace. Many of my theological allies believe that we must rule out this option, but biblical support for this position is lacking. There is a direct work of the Spirit upon the spirit of a Christian and it is this work that is the source of our faith.

In Romans 10:17 the Apostle Paul says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Those who believe that God does not speak subjectively want to interpret this to mean that faith comes by listening to the Bible. Those who share my opposing view like to point out that the word “word” is not translated from the more objective Greek word, logos, but from a more subjective term, rhema. In other words, logos is used to speak of the corporate body of Scriptures, while rhema is a personal word from someone, including the Lord. But I think that is the weakest argument to support this position since sometimes the word rhema is used in the New Testament to speak of the written word of God and logos is used for a personal statement.

The best way to understand Romans 10:17 is the very context. If, with an open mind, you examine the entire context you will note that Paul is not talking about the corpus of God’s word called the Scriptures but a direct work of the Spirit upon the human spirit that makes truth real and personal.

The Apostle Paul is showing the gospel is for anyone who will believe both Jews and Gentiles. But before someone can believe he must hear the gospel, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Someone must take the gospel to those who have not heard. But Paul interrupts this explanation of missions and evangelism and says the Jews have heard but they did not believe, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” (Romans 10:16). He quotes Isaiah to show that for centuries the truth of the Messiah had been proclaimed to Israel, but they refused to believe. They had heard the truth. Jesus had come and by far the majority of Israel rejected Him. After verse 17 Paul continues to show that although the Jews had heard they still did not believe, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” (Romans 10:18).

So if “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” why did most who heard not believe? Another way to ask this question is why did a comparative few believe? Both heard the same “word”? Or did they?

It is Paul’s point to show that by hearing the Gospel you will be saved, but not all hearing is equal. Something besides just hearing with human ears is needed to believe unto salvation. Paul is proving God sovereignly saves whom He has chosen to do so. And He does so subjectively and personally.

In addition to hearing the word proclaimed a supernatural work must also occur. God must make the word heard have a spiritual reality to it. The Lord not only must grant life to the spirit, but He also must communicate personally to the quickened spirit. Jesus said that there is a communication that goes on between the Father and those who come to Him for rest. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). The objective truth must be made subjective.

For the life of faith to occur the brooding Spirit of God must hover over our hearts and whisper His small, still voice and bring life to the written words of Scripture. Otherwise one may understand the written word and even accept it as truth, but their approach to God will be academic, intellectual at best. Their dead spirit will lie in the tomb bound with the grave clothes of spiritual death.

One of the worst problems facing Christendom today is that many of our members have merely accepted facts. Oh yes, the facts are from the Bible, but they are cold, hard facts. They may be a part of their value system; they may very well be the foundation of their worldview, but facts by themselves bring no life. And it’s life that we need.

I love what A. W. Tozer said of the problem of our theological mindset today. It is contributive to a lack of faith.
I believe that much of our religious unbelief is due to a wrong conception of and a wrong feeling for the Scriptures of Truth. A silent God suddenly began to speak in a book and when the book was finished lapsed back into silence again forever. Now we read the book as the record of what God said when He was for a brief time in a speaking mood. With notions like that in our heads how can we believe? The facts are that God is not silent, has never been silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Word. The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God's continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind for us put into our familiar human words.
If we are to have faith, we must hear the voice of God. It is His very voice that echoes in the chambers of the heart the truth of the gospel, the truth of Scripture and quickens our faith. It is His voice alone that engenders faith. Speak Lord; Thy servant listens.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thank You and A Prayer Request

By S. Michael Durham

The conference has come and gone. I want to thank all of you who attended. I pray the time invested has and will reap rich dividends for you. Most of all I want to thank the RTM staff and the many volunteers who tirelessly worked to make the conference possible. As the speaker I realize I take on the face of Real Truth Matters. But I also realize that without men and women, like Justin Reed, J. T. Crawford, Bobby and Tina Scott, Joseph Durham, and Jeff Guill I would have not the ability to speak to as many of you as I do. Thank you guys for a job well done! You are the greatest blessing of RTM to me.

Truthfully, we were disappointed that half of those registered for the conference did not make it to the conference. But the “Concert for Truth” for the youth made up for our disappointment. Over a 110 young people were there thanks to the encouragement of their youth pastors. It was amazing to watch the power of God mesmerize the students so that they were not only extremely attentive but moved as they heard the word of God. Even adults confessed to having been convicted and challenged.

Please pray for this ministry. Now that the conference is over, it time for us to seek the face of God and hear what His will is for us. We will be praying for leadership from the Spirit as to what we are to do in the next few months, if anything. We refuse to do what we deem best. We truly desire to obey the commands of the Master. A slave’s only task is to listen and obey. It is the responsibility of the Master to direct. Join us as we pray to hear and do all that the Master, the Real Truth that matters, the Lord Jesus Christ commands.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Word of God and Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Eleventh installment on faith)

If faith is a God-given ability to see reality as He see it, then how does He confer that ability? How does the Lord make me to see reality about a given situation the way He sees it? Does He give me a vision or something like it?

The Lord is capable of giving a vision, but that is not His main way in this age of the Spirit. Visions, dreams, angelic messengers and human messengers (called prophets) are no longer the primary ways God speaks to His people. I know there are a great many people telling us that they are apostles or prophets and that they have revelations that rival Scripture, or at least add to it. But one word can dismiss such claims: false. These are false apostles and false prophets. The Scriptures need no revision or addition. The Bible is a complete testimony of God’s redemptive love, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me be quick to say that does not mean that there are not men today who have apostolic-like ministries. In many ways missionaries who have gone to regions of the world were there has been no gospel have had an apostle-like ministries. But that’s a long way from saying they fulfilled the same capacity as did Peter, John or Paul. Similarly, there are men who have had the ministries of the ancient prophets, warning of judgment and crying for repentance. But that does not mean they had any inspiration to write Scripture.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews shows that the final revelation of God has come and it, by far, is the best. There is no need for improvement. The final revelation of God is Christ Jesus.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The Apostle Paul tells us that the foundation of the church has already been laid. He says, “the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). The church’s foundation is the ministries of our Lord and His apostles and prophets. When building a house you always start with the foundation. Once the foundation is laid, then you can build the house on it. To claim to have the same inspiration as the apostles is laughable as well as grievous. It’s saying that God built a foundation, then built His house, but stopped along the way and built another foundation on top of the house. You can’t have multiple foundations and you can’t build this way. You complete the foundation before you build the house. There are no new prophets inspired to write Scripture. And any new word proclaimed is no word from God. The foundation was finished with John and his Revelation.

Having said that, the primary means the Lord speaks to us today is the Bible. And it is by the word of Scripture that God predominately grants glimpses of reality as He sees it. The Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Repeating my mantra of previous posts, you and I are not faith factories. We cannot manufacture faith. It comes to us as a gift from our gracious Lord. And He gives it to us by speaking to us. His word creates the reality of the “things hoped for.” His word released in your heart generates “the evidence of things not seen.” The power of God’s word birthed in the spirit confers the faith needed, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

If you are to have faith ever increasing, your understanding of God’s word must also increase. Faith needs fuel. The fuel of faith is the word of its Author and Finisher. That is why Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bible’s Description of Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Tenth installment on faith)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

In the last post I defined faith as a God-given ability to see reality as God sees it. This is a loose paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1. The writer says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” The word substance is quite revealing. Unfortunately, some modern translations have declined to use the word substance and use assurance instead. It can be translated that way, but it can also mean more than assurance. The same word is used in Hebrews 1:3. There it is translated person, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The idea is Jesus is the visible reality of God’s person.

In fact, that is the origin of this Greek word we translate substance. The word had a historical meaning of “reality.” It usually referred to the reality behind appearances. Therefore, the word substance much more accurately suggests what the writer has in mind than does the word assurance. Substance indicates the essence or reality of something or someone.

Thus, faith is the substance, or the essence, or the reality of the thing you’re hoping for. It takes on the very quality of whatever you’re longing for. For example, I am sitting at my desk typing this blog on my keyboard. The desk is made of wood. Consequently, we can say the desk’s substance or essence is wood. According to our text, faith is the reality of the thing for which you are hopeful implanted into your spirit. God puts the spiritual reality of the thing you are expecting in your heart.

The author continues, “faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen.” Faith isn’t only the substance of the very reality that you’re hoping for, it’s also the evidence of that reality implanted in the believer. “Evidence” means “conviction.” This form of the word is used only twice in the New Testament. It comes from a root word that means to reprove or correct. The image of a prosecuting attorney is an excellent help here. If I am a prosecuting attorney and you are a juror, it is my responsibility to present irrefutable evidence that he who stands trial is guilty. My evidence should be so “convicting” that it should prove to you the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. That’s the idea behind this word “evidence.”

The writer of Hebrews is teaching that faith is the very evidence of things that we cannot see, and that they’re just as real as the things we can see. It’s the very argumentation, proof or conviction persuading you of the thing you trust God for. This proof or conviction is given to believers and is implanted in the heart. Because you have faith, you have the proof you will receive. This is what Jesus meant when He said in Mark 11:24, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Someone said that faith is a blind leap into the dark. But not according to the author of Hebrews. There is nothing blind or dark about it. God grants the believer the ability to see reality as He sees it by instilling that reality in his or her heart. He does not ask us to walk in presumption hoping that there is something solid to walk on. We may not always understand why He leads us the way He does, nor will we always know where He is leading. But faith lets us see the promise as God sees it. Faith is the reality and conviction of God’s promise in us. As Manley Beasly used to say, “Faith is not a leap into the dark; it’s a leap into the light.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Is Faith?

By S. Michael Durham

(Ninth installment on faith)

I remember spending hours, days, and weeks trying to define love. I studied and thought, trying to put a handle on it. Finally I came to the conclusion that it is a little like trying to “pin down” God, which we know we can’t do. The Apostle John tells us, “God is love.” We can know God, and we can know love, but defining them perfectly will always elude us.

Faith is almost (but not quite) as hard to define as love is. The dictionaries define faith as, “a confidence or trust in a person or thing.” Certainly, it is that, but how much more do we really know about faith with such a definition? It is enlightening to discover that the Bible does not attempt a textbook or clinical definition of faith. Yet, it has a lot to say about it. It commands it, tells stories about it, and encourages it without telling us what the word means. Why? Because you don’t learn faith in books; you learn faith in life. The Bible doesn’t define faith, it demonstrates it. Faith is understood when seen in action.

Therefore, the Bible does not give us a definition of faith; rather, it gives a description of it. It declares what faith does and from that you learn what it is. The greatest description the Bible gives of faith, and the closest it comes to a definition, is Hebrews 11:1—

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

In this verse faith is more than a general belief in God and His goodness. The writer of Hebrews is demonstrating what faith does in real life situations. As he unpacks this first verse in the remainder of the chapter, he does so naming real people in real circumstances.

As you examine this statement in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews you see that faith is active. There is no passivity in faith. It is not some presumption that God is going to save your day. It is actively confident because faith sees the outcome. That is why I define faith as a God-given ability to see reality as God sees it about a situation. It is to have the eyes of God and see more of something than you did.

Reality is comprised of two realms, the physical and the spiritual. In other words, reality is made up of the things you can see and things you can’t see. The truth is, only God can see reality. We see partial reality. The unseen is invisible to us but not to the Lord. He knows what is going to happen tomorrow, and not only does He know the affairs of men, but He knows what He will do. He sees and knows all. Therefore, the only true realist is God.

When God grants to you faith to trust Him concerning a situation, the faith that He gives is like insight into a part of reality you have not seen. He gives you the ability to know what shall transpire and therefore you believe. Faith is not the labor of struggle to believe something will transpire, but it is to see that it will occur. Faith is not the mental gymnastics we often perform to overcome doubtful resistance, convincing ourselves something is true. No, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” You possess it, you see it, and it is yours. So if faith is the ability to see reality as God sees it, then one can be as certain as God about what is believed.

Faith is not omniscience. Only God knows all things. But faith gives you insight about a particular thing or event or outcome. It is how God can call “those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). And so can you if you have the eyes of faith.