Grace, Theology and Autism

Grace, Theology and Autism My husband and I saw the signs. We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis. It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected. If […]

Defined By Our Faith

The Old Covenant is more than a codified list of commands. It is more than a list of “dos and don’ts.” What it comes down to, in the midst of those detailed commands and expectations, is a system of faith and a covenant of relying on God more than others or self. It is predicated entirely upon faith, and – though our covenant, its terms, and its sacrifice are different – our relationship with God is no different today. Our lives in God are predicated entirely on our faith. On that faith rests the foundation of our spiritual lives.

II Corinthians 5:7 tells us we walk by faith rather than sight, similar to Hebrews 11:1, defining faith as the evidence of things we cannot see. Romans 3:28 then simply states we are saved by faith, and our salvation in faith is no different than the children of Israel’s justification through faith. For our faith then informs our conduct and our personal surrender to God’s will, truly understanding it by putting that faith into practice.

Faith Beyond Rationale

Faith is not always purely logical. Remember Abraham. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham (then Abram) to leave his life behind him to inhabit a land he had never seen. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham obeys by faith, not knowing where he was going. Later, Abraham is asked to offer up Isaac, his only son, and Paul makes reference to this event in Romans 4:1-3, citing Abraham’s great faith. The Hebrew writer speaks of Abraham’s faith in the resurrection of his son.

Think of crossing the Red Sea. Think of the bronze serpent. Think of Joshua and Caleb encouraging the people to take the Promised Land. Consider Job, in Job 31, expressing his lack of understanding; then, in 40:3, after God provides an answer to Job, he relents and lays his fate in God’s hands. Even going as far as I Corinthians 1, Paul describes the gospel itself as something that goes against our reason and wisdom, yet it is God’s power to save.

We can read through Hebrews 11 and see person after person who do seemingly impossible things, who face insurmountable odds, who accomplish great deeds, because of their faith. Does this look like a faith that is inactive? In James 2:17-26, we see that faith without action is empty and lifeless. It is more than an acknowledgement of God. It is living for and by God.

Faith in Action

Again, look to Abraham in Genesis 22. It is in verse 12 that the angel proclaims, “for now I know that you fear God.” Did Abraham not already have a faithful heart? We know he did, but there is a difference between thought and action. Feelings are not actions. We can know about God intellectually; we can feel a relationship with God; we can understand God’s word. Without putting that knowledge and those feelings into action, though, our faith is empty. This may involve some significant sacrifices in our lives, but none of those can match what Abraham was willing to sacrifice in faith.

This is not, however, salvation dependent upon our own abilities or our checklist. Trusting in God and obediently yielding to Him in all things will abase self rather than elevate self. Our hope, trust, and confidence is placed entirely in what God has done and will do for us – no more and no less. We cannot lessen our faith by falling into inactivity, nor can we constrain it by relying on traditions and rituals, placing confidence in the flesh.

Faith – a complete, living faith – does require action. It requires obedience. It compels us to change our lives, but it is not a reliance on self. In Galatians 2:20-21, Paul plainly states that his faith drives self out of the equation of his life, living by and relying completely upon the teachings and promises of Christ, not nullifying God’s grace but by putting faith in that grace into action. Just as God wanted the children of Israel to wholly rely on Him in all things, He wants the same commitment from us today. We must crucify self, let Christ live in us, and take up a life defined by our faith.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Signs of Apostasy

Paul, in Romans chapter 1, walks us through a process that inevitably leads to apostasy. We recently looked at the dangers of apostasy from the book of Hebrews, but how does such unfaithfulness creep into our lives? In verses 18-24, after speaking to the power of salvation in God’s word, Paul writes about the plainness of the divine in the world around us. He reveals, however, that people gave up the glory of God to place the divine in the objects of Creation. Apostasy crept in, and it can overtake us today as well.

Verse 21 establishes that, at one time, all people knew God. We can look around us and see a greater power at work. We can see the hand of a higher power in the order and magnitude of our universe. Verse 20 calls us without excuse for failing to recognize God’s power over this world in which we live. We can know God, and we can know what He wants for us. This intellectual knowledge of God, however, is not enough to prevent apostasy.

Sliding Toward Apostasy

Many more will acknowledge the existence or possibility of God than will actually follow Him. We cannot rest easy simply in professing the existence of our Father, for, like those in Romans 1:21, we can know God without glorifying Him as such. In John 17:4, Jesus prays about His efforts to glorify God in doing the work of God. I Peter 4:14-16 calls on us to glorify God in our service, even in the face of persecution and suffering. Romans 12 calls on us to live sacrificially to glorify God in service. My place is not to seek honor for myself in this life but to submit to the work of the Lord and glorify Him in this service. Philippians 1:27 puts it this way: “…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…”

Also in Romans 1:21, Paul speaks of those who fail to give thanks to God. Ungratefulness leads to unfaithfulness. Luke 17:11 tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers who meet Him on the road, but only one – a Samaritan – comes back to thank Jesus. A Christian’s life must be characterized by thankfulness. I Thessalonians 5:18 calls on us to give thanks in all things, and James 1:17 reminds us that our blessings come from above, coming down from the Father. How often do we remember to show gratitude for answered prayers, for the numerous blessings we have, for God’s preservation of us?

Romans 1:21 furthermore speaks of vain thinking leading to apostasy. Back in Genesis 6, prior to the flood, God is grieved by the fact that every thought of mankind is turned toward evil. We are what we think. Romans 8:5 says we are after the flesh or the spirit depending on what we occupy our thoughts with. In Colossians 3 and Philippians 4, Paul calls on his fellow Christians to set their minds on pure and worthwhile things. We need to be careful of eliminating God from our thinking, which will eliminate Him from our lives.

Paul says all of this will harden hearts in Romans 1:21. Remember Matthew 13:13, when Jesus is asked why He speaks in parables, He references the people’s closed eyes, closed ears, and hardened hearts. They present themselves as a people who do not want God’s healing, and we can likewise be so stubborn. Romans 2:5 then warns that hardening our hearts invites God’s judgment upon us.

Conclusion

Little by little, we can push God out of our minds and out of our lives, and, like Romans 1:22, we elevate self and debase God. I Corinthians 1:18-25 tells of God’s wisdom seeming foolish to our earthly thinking. We profess ourselves to be wiser than God when we look at His word and think we know better. We think we know how to live this life without God, but Jeremiah 10:23 reminds us that it is not in us to direct our own steps.

When we deny God, we open a void in our lives. In Romans 1:23, those people exchanged the glory of God for idols. Instead of those carved images, we seek to worship self. We elevate our reasonings. We justify our investment in secular matters. We refuse to submit in our pride. When we do these things, we squeeze God from our lives, and we begin to fall away. We can prevent this crisis, though, simply by humbling ourselves and submitting to His plan for us. Instead of exchanging God’s glory for that which is corruptible and fleeting, we can take hold of His power unto salvation and draw nearer to Him in faithfulness and love.

lesson by Tim Smelser