Should a Church focus exclusively on the Ministry of the Word or on a Ministry of Deeds? As the news of Jesus’ authority over nature and disease spread, soon there were overwhelming crowds gathering in wonder of what Jesus would do next. As the crowds impeded His ability to preach and their needs consumed His time, He would move to another town or even into the wilderness so that He could continue to freely preach the Good News about the Kingdom. Jesus sought and found a beautiful equilibrium of word and deed in ministry. His Deed ministry was always about compassionately giving relief to people and families from their suffering, grief, misery, and distress. While His Word ministry was always about compassionately calling people and families to Faith and Repentance dealing with their deepest suffering, grief. misery and distress: their sin. In the ministry of Christ there was a synergy and integration of Deeds and Words working together so people would believe the message of the gospel. He saw ALL people as sick, all people as sinners and it was only those who admitted their need for the Doctor of their Souls who qualified for a place in his kingdom.
Perseverance is the key virtue in the Christian Life because without it, one has no guarantee of a future inheritance with God in heaven. The Scriptures give us guarantees like, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Php 1:6) and at the same time they give us strong exhortations like, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Php. 2:12-13). In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus teaches us that only one of the categories of hearers bears fruit and perseveres. All the others are eventually swallowed up and destroyed by malignant influences which militate against Christian perseverance. There are also many warnings in the New Testament about falling away (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-12, etc.). Does a person have a carte blanche (blank check) once he professes faith in Christ? Can he do anything he wants while maintaining blessed assurance in a secure salvation? In his book, The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson puts this in perspective,
“Perseverance and faith, therefore, or perseverance and the Christian’s duty to battle on in the fight of faith are never separated and polarized in the Bible. It is never a case of ‘either/or’ always one of ‘both/and.’ In fact we persevere through faith and never apart from it. The picture is one of a dynamic, living trust in a God who actively holds on to us so that we may persevere. There is no blanket guarantee of perseverance. There is no mere doctrine of ‘the security’ of the believer, as though God’s keeping of us took place irrespective of the lives we live. Indeed there is not such thing in the New Testament as a believer whose perseverance is so guaranteed that he can afford to ignore the warning notes which are sounded so frequently.”
While we remain in the fight of faith to persevere the Christian can take great comfort and courage from his Good Shepherd who says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
Hell has a strategic plan led by your adversary the devil in which all of its resources are brought to bear and released on the church. The objective: to use any allowable and necessary means to sift your faith. The greatest strength of the enemy is that he is Opportunistic!
Simon Peter loved Christ deeply, he was certainly the most passionate, zealous and outwardly dedicated disciple. But in the midst of a “Perfect Storm” of circumstances when his Shepherd was taken away (seemingly) against his will, his heart was struck with paralyzing fear and his faith was shaken to violent extremes. This attack, crafted in hell’s workshop was predicted by Jesus with these words: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” Jesus seeking to prepare Peter saying, In a little while, you’re going to see me taken away and Satan will use this opportunity to come at you and you will battle with the forces of Hell!
Satan, a wily opportunist, does seek convenient opportunities to destroy your faith. The picture Jesus gives us is that Satan, having access to God, has approached the Father to make demands to have Peter and the rest of the disciples (Cf. Job 1-2.)
The sifting of wheat was an agricultural process of agitating or shaking grain in a kind of fan or sieve. The grain remained in the fan and would not fall through the mesh while the chaff and dust were thrown off and no matter how much you agitated or shook the grain, true wheat would not fall through. Now if there was no wheat in the sieve, everything would fall through. In using this illustration, Jesus is saying that everything that is not of faith will be ground up and blown away and that the disciples must hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. Satan will take advantage of trials and craft well-designed temptations to agitate and sift out our faith with a view to obliterate it. The devil boastfully and arrogantly believes that no true faith exists in the church and that people only believe because of God’s blessing and selfish interests. So he will sift you with suffering, popularity, success, wealth, taking advantage of convenient opportunities of weakness and do whatever it takes to prove your faith false.
Much later from first-hand experience, Peter wrote, : “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith” (1Peter 5:8, 9). But the victory that overcomes Satan’s sieve and Satan’s throat is our faith. Similarly, John reminds us in his first epistle, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (1John 5:4).
We know that our struggles in this world are not against people but against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil from Hell. So we take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. So we should not be surprised by temptations and trials but instead prepare our minds for action, regarding these as formidable attacks as if your very faith is THE TARGET of a powerful enemy. Prepare for the fight, because all temptations are forged in the workshop of the enemy!
Tomorrow: The Guarantee of Jesus that true faith will persevere!
What a startling statement it was! Jesus sat was with His twelve best friends in the world. They had been together for three years, they ate together, they slept together, they walked mile after mile together. They sat under His teaching, saw Him perform countless miracles and were so excited about being a part of His Future Kingdom that they argued about who among them would be the greatest in it. They knew Jesus and they knew each other. And once again they came together for an evening meal, relaxing together at the table and eating when the words came out of Jesus’ mouth, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
His words were puzzling, cryptic, surprising and even shocking. Yet they knew that His words were always True, so they began to weep. How could it be that one of this inner-circle would betray their Lord, their Savior, their Friend? After initial abhorrence and disgust at the idea they moved with eagerness to clear themselves of suspicion, to judge their own consciences and defend themselves declaring, “Surely Not I?” One by one each man declared his innocence; thoughts of betrayal were far from their hearts. Even Judas spoke up saying, “Surely Not I?” The disciples were often in the position of overestimating themselves and failing to see their capacity for rebellion and betrayal. In fact, later in the evening they would all abandon Him.
I remember when I was a new believer attending a holiday conference for college students when a speaker asked a section of 100 students to stand and then preceded to ask 50 of the number to sit back down. He then made a startling prediction, “In ten years, half of the 100 will no longer be walking with the Lord!” His prediction was not based on any specific knowledge of the sample group, but on anecdotal evidence of working with young people who declared themselves to be “on fire for Jesus” in their youth but later would show no evidence that they ever truly believed. Ironically, the thoughts that penetrated my mind and heart on that evening were “Surely Not I?” Then looking at my friends and thinking, “Surely not them either, right?”
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” A regular call to look within ourselves to discover Christ and Faith is not a harmful thing for the Christian to do. Jesus makes this startling prediction of his closest friends, “One of you will betray me,” because He knows they have overestimated their commitment to Him, that their faith is not mature and their foundations will soon be rocked. He wants all of them to do a heart inventory and by doing so reminds His disciples and us that we are chosen but we are not choice. He wants us all to see our capacity for rebellion and to see our great need for His grace and mercy. He wants us to ask ourselves, “Are we following Him because the crowd follows Him?” and “Are we following Him because of the nice gifts He provides.” If we follow Him because of the crowd or the gifts, it is likely that one day we will walk away from Him. There will come a time in our earthly lives when we feel alone in our faith and the crowd is not following. There will also come a time when His gifts momentarily cease, when our faith will be tested with the question, “Do I love the Giver or do I love the Gifts?”
I think the tendency of many people, even Christians, is to view God as stingy and holding back the best from us as if God is like a man who is afraid he will run out so he is always thinking about the cost. There is a lot of stinginess to go around in our churches today but God is not the source of this stinginess. In fact, if we will trust Him and walk with Him in faith, he promises to open up heaven itself to us and pour out blessings beyond our wildest dreams. (Cf. Mal. 3:8-11 The Message)
In Mark 5, as Jairus’ faith sinks upon hearing the news of his daughter’s death, the heart of Jesus desires to pour out blessings beyond his wildest dreams so he seeks to impart courage with the words, “Don’t fear, just believe.” For Jairus to receive the blessing Jesus wants to impart, he must trust in Jesus because fear constricts the flow of grace while faith opens its hydrant. So don’t fear, just believe or else by fear and distrust, we can shut out the grace that Christ desires to impart, a grace that is not hindered by death. Jesus says, “if you simply transfer your trust to Me, you will not lack power. But you must allow my power to flow and not constrict it with your fear.”
You see, our faith can never grow beyond the power of God which resists boundaries. It is never that we have too much confidence in God; it is ALWAYS that we have TOO LITTLE. Our fear ties a noose around His benefits while our faith is the instrument that connects us to His power. Calvin comments, “Our own scanty desires hinder Him from pouring out His gifts upon us in greater abundance….our faith, however large, will never embrace the 100th part (smallest fraction) of divine goodness.” Jesus regularly attributed his healings to the faith of individuals as He did with the two scenes in Mark 5. We shouldn’t attempt to nuance or water down our role of believing because faith always derives its content and virtue from the object in which it rests. It does matter that we trust, it does matter that we have faith. And He may not do it, if you fail to Just Believe. Faith is not about believing certain propositions but instead is a certain kind of confidence, a Gift of Confidence and strength that the Lord imparts to us so that we can trust Him. When you trust the Person of Jesus Christ, your heart enlarges beyond limits and your courage and confidence in Him grows. Do you want this confidence for yourself? Pray: “Jesus give me the kind of confidence in You that Just Believes!”