Tag Archives: faith

A Bookish Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Christianity demonstrates many distinctive features when compared with other world religions. One of those features is its “bookish” nature (a term frequently used by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado). Early Christians valued texts more highly—and used them much more often—than any other religion at the time except Judaism. It is perhaps because of Christianity that we tend to identify religions according to their sacred texts, which was virtually unheard of in antiquity.

Roman religions focused on activities or performances, usually consisting of making offerings or sacrifices to the gods. People liked receiving divine favors, and they thought of their gods as enjoying gifts provided by their worshippers. If people wanted to express thanks for something the deity had done, they might leave a gift (such as a votive object) in the temple to show their thanks. Religions also featured temples, altars, shrines, sacred places, and images of the gods. Texts made little if any contribution to the worship of the Roman gods.

Early Christians emphasized texts. This has caused some scholars to question whether Christianity could even be called a “religion” by Roman standards. While they practiced religious activities such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they did not have other items traditionally used by other religious groups. Biblical Christianity has no altars, temples, shrines, and the like. Unlike their pagan counterparts, Christians regularly read texts as part of worship. The only other group to do so were Jews in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21).

The production of texts can only be described as impressive. Other religions had myths concerning their gods, but virtually nothing we would call “scripture.” Mithraism, for example, is a Roman mystery cult which appears in the historical record shortly after the founding of the church. It has almost no textual or inscriptional evidence, leaving scholars to wonder about a great many things the early worshippers of Mithras believed and taught. In contrast, Christians wrote voluminously. In the first three centuries of the church, believers had authored over 200 different compositions. Only a select portion produced by the inspired writers would be counted as Scripture, but it does highlight the textual nature of early Christianity.

The production and dissemination of texts further show the interconnectedness of Christians. While different versions of gods might be worshipped in various locations, the early Christians seem focused on the importance of consistent belief (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:24-26; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:1). The apostle Paul required faithful Christians to transmit sound doctrine accurately (2 Tim. 2:2). Not only did it properly equip the faithful (2 Tim. 3:15-17), it communicated the means of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 1 Tim. 4:16). Further, the biblical authors instructed their fellow Christians to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), because any tampering with the truth would lead to dire consequences (Rev. 22:18-19; see also Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).

The books of the New Testament were given to many different churches for reading. Paul tells the church in Colossae to share his writings with the church in Laodicea and vice versa (Col. 4:16). He sends his epistle to the Galatians not to one congregation but the “churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). Paul may have intended his letter to the Romans to include more than one congregation (Rom. 1:7). Most famously, the book of Revelation was meant to be read by the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:4). This emphasis upon sharing texts seems to have been intended not only to foster a sense of community but to ensure that Christians had a consistent doctrine.

A particularly interesting feature of the New Testament books is their sheer size. Letters in the ancient world could be quite short. The longest letter composed by the Roman orator Cicero’s is 2,350 words, while the Roman philosopher Seneca’s longest is 4,134 words. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians exceed these lengths, with his letter to the Romans consisting of an impressive 7,101 words. Even the relatively short letter to Philemon was quite long by Roman standards. This probably explains Paul’s comment about others considering his letters to be “weighty” (2 Cor. 10:10)—it was probably a comment more on their size than their contents. While philosophers did use letters to communicate their teachings, no other individual or group did so like Paul and the other New Testament authors.

Finally, passages in the New Testament make it clear that the books carried authority. Paul intended his letters to serve as authorities when he could not be present himself (1 Cor. 14:37-38). The apostle Peter included a reference to the authority of Paul’s letters, placing them in the same category as “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When using this term, New Testament authors generally refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, within his lifetime Paul’s writings had been accorded the same status as the books that God-fearers had considered inspired for many centuries.

Unlike other world religions of the time — and even some today — Christianity has always been a faith concerned with Scripture. The value that Christians ascribed their texts is indicated by the massive number available in light of the time, effort, and expense involved in copying these documents. In spite of the substantial cost, believers reproduced these texts because of their central importance to the faith. This should impress upon modern believers a sense of awe at the very fact that Bibles are so readily available to Christians in the West. It should also concern us whenever someone emphasizes opinions or feelings over the Word of God. Christians considered their Scriptures indispensably precious for life and faith. So should we.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.

Soul-Winning For Jesus: The Obedience of Faith — Jovan Payes

Many phrases summarize Paul’s letter to Rome such as justification, righteousness, gospel, or God’s sovereignty. Another important phrase found in Romans is “obedience of faith” and bookends the letter at its beginning (1:5) and at its close (16:26). This is the desired result (“to bring about”) of the Father’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Those seeking to enjoy the redemptive blessings of God’s righteousness and salvation are called to respond with a faith in God that is obedient to his call and his word (Rom 1:16–17). Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith” (1:17), further establishes his point. This is the nature of biblical faith and when sharing the gospel it is imperative to remember that a faith is not biblical if it is not obedient. This has significant implications to the Christian’s efforts to share the victory message of the gospel with their neighbors.

The Shape of Faith. Words are the patterns by which people think. It is key, therefore, to clear the air on a common misconception. For some, faith resembles a blind leap into the dark. It is a gut feeling devoid of reason. Taken in this way, the only relationship between faith and reason is that they are on opposite poles that never touch. Furthermore, faith in God, the Bible as the word of God, or in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension are purely a feeling. It is pure fideism. Biblical faith is a response to evidence (Heb 11:1).

Biblical faith is both relational and responsive. Paul explains that the gospel of God is supported by a series of lines of evidence. The gospel was promised prophetically in the Old Testament (1:2) and centered on the Davidic lineage of Jesus (1:3) whose claim to being the Son of God is established by the resurrection from the dead (1:4). On this basis, the apostles are commissioned to share the gospel designed to induce an obedient faith from the world and the church (1:5–6). Faith relates to the worthiness of the evidence of the gospel message that God acted in the world through Jesus and his cross (2 Cor 5:18), and responds with actions that reflect that trust in God and the gospel.

Living by Faith. In Romans 1:16-17, Paul explains that faith is not only a first response to the gospel, but also frames the lifestyle of the Christian. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Roman letter hangs on his quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul evokes the contrast God makes in his response to a frustrated Habakkuk. The wicked live faithless and so digress into immorality (Hab 1:12–2:5). By contrast, the righteous organize their life by what faith in God requires (2:4). Two things are affirmed here: (1) faith is anchored in God’s actions and word, and (2) faith reshapes one’s priorities and actions. Let us explore these two points a bit further.

First, when sharing the gospel it is imperative to anchor a person’s faith in God and his word. Biblical faith in God does not emerge without believing God exists and acts in history (Acts 14:15–17, 17:24–31), the Bible provides divine truth (Eph 3:4–5), and has sent his son as demonstration of his love (Rom 5:6–8). Indeed, this “obedience of faith” is reflected in the Genesis story of Abraham. Paul, by the Spirit, picks up on this in Romans 3–4, when he parallels the justifying faith of Abraham with the faith of the person who comes to obey God and walks before him in faith (3:21–26). Indeed, “Abraham believed God” (Rom 4:3; Gen 15:6). Abraham was “fully convinced” that God was “able to do what he promised” (Rom 4:21). Until a person has the conviction in God and his word, saving faith has no fertile soil to blossom from (Rom 10:6–13; Mark 16:15–16).

Second, faith reshapes one’s priorities and actions. The words of Habakkuk are quoted two other times in the New Testament (Gal 3:11; Heb 10:37–38). In each passage there is an emphasis that biblical faith — saving faith — reshapes the Christian’s priorities. In Galatians, Paul argues that faith provides access to the gift of the Spirit. In Hebrews, the writer affirms that because of faith the converted believer can endure hardships because their priorities have changed. It is written, “And 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” (Heb 11:6). Personal faith is nurtured through the study of the scriptures and leads gospel obedience (Rom 6:17–18; 1 Thess 2:13). As Jesus affirmed, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45).

Concluding Thoughts. In order to show the difference between “agreement” and “faith,” evangelist Windell Fikes learned to asked: (1) “Do you believe what the Bible says?,” (2) “Do you want to do what the Bible says?,” and (3) “Do you want to do what the Bible says right now?” In other words, a biblical faith is expressed in obedience to God’s word. Jesus would say, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).

Jovan preaches for the Highland congregation in Bakersfield, CA.

 

A Different Kind Of Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The uniqueness of Christianity sets it apart from other world religions. At times, believers have received ill treatment ranging from simple ridicule to outright persecution. In the first century, Christianity appeared as a faith different from anything the Roman Empire had ever seen. Although many differences emerge upon close examination, Christians differed from their religious neighbors in three significant areas: their worship of one God, the promotion of morals, and religious practice.

Exclusive Worship of One God. Christians differed sharply from their pagan neighbors in worshiping only one God at the exclusion of all others. The Romans had no problem with Christians worshipping God as long as they paid respect to the gods of Rome. Pagans saw early Christians’ refusal to do so as both bizarre and intolerable. Christians acquired the reputation of being seditious, divisive, and dangerous to the well-being of the empire.

The Romans tolerated Jew’s insistence upon worshipping Yahweh alone because of the antiquity of the Jewish faith. As a recent development with no ties to any particular ethnicity or nation (Gal. 3:28b), Christian beliefs found little sympathy. The Romans saw the exclusive worship of one God as unprecedented and unjustifiable.

Promotion of Morals and Ethics. Christianity is not merely a religion of theological tenets and beliefs but prescribes distinctive ethical teachings. The typical person in the ancient world made little if any connection between religion and morals—this was the domain of philosophy. The religious were interested in placating the gods and warding off unwanted attention from vengeful spirits. Christianity offered a moral and ethical system of belief designed to imitate God’s holiness and righteousness (Eph. 5:1-14). Indeed, ancient religion had little interest in emulating the gods, whose behavior was often deplorable if not criminal.

Religious Practice. Religious activities made up a significant part of the fabric of daily life. Christianity differed from paganism in that it had no altar, sacrifices, depictions of God, shrines or temples, or priesthood (at least, not how pagans understood them; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Pet. 2:5). Temples could often be found in the heart of the city, and shrines and altars could be seen throughout (e.g., Acts 17:16). Rome expected its citizens to worship the gods, which Christians in good conscience could not do.

With an abundance of opportunities for showing the necessary reverence to the gods, Christians must have had a difficult time navigating society. In the modern world, concealing one’s Christian faith is relatively simple; in the Roman Empire, such a thing would have been almost impossible. Living out the faithful Christian life was not only a matter of choice but of consistency. New Testament writers commended the perseverance of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:2-7) and the Ephesians (Rev. 2:2-3) for their resolute faith under challenging circumstances.

The behavior of the early Christians must have left their neighbors befuddled. The disdain and even hostility of the Romans toward early believers is proof of the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. It differed from both the traditional religions of the classical world and the mystery cults. In spite of the consequences they suffered for their faith, Christians lived their lives as a “peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). They weathered the efforts other others in their day to compromise their distinctiveness and conform to popular attitudes toward religion. They serve as a model for those today who still seek to imitate Christ and bring the light of life to a darkened world (2 Cor. 4:6-11).

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

One Faith — Keith B. Cozort

The title of this article has only two relatively small words in it, but there are major disagreements as to the meaning of those two words. Some believe the apostle Paul, the writer of the book of Ephesians, was speaking of an individual’s personal faith. Thus, there would be many faiths because every individual has his, or her, own faith. Others believe Paul was speaking of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s Word, as found in the New Testament. Which is it?

One’s personal faith is absolutely essential if that person wants to have heaven as his or her eternal reward. Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). He would also state, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Therefore, personal faith or belief is important. The Hebrews writer also states, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). So, an individual cannot be saved without having a personal faith in Jesus, in God, as well as in the word of God.

A person’s individual faith must be based upon the truth revealed in the New Testament. Jesus taught, “…If you continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Many people like to quote verse 32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” but they forget or refuse to acknowledge where that truth is located. It is located in the words of our Lord. Plus, one cannot be a disciple of Christ and refuse to abide by the words or revelation of Christ. Our Lord made this perfectly clear when He said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The word which was spoken by our Lord will be the standard by which all those on this side of the cross will be judged. Paul affirms the same thing in Romans 10:17 when he says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This “faith” is one’s own personal faith which is founded upon God’s word. But this is not the “one faith” to which the apostle Paul speaks.

Paul in Ephesians 4:5 is referring to the system of faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ of which we read in the New Testament. It is the same “faith” to which Jude, the half-brother of our Lord, spoke when he said, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write upon you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “The faith” in this passage is not an individual’s personal faith but rather the system of faith which Jude says was “once delivered,” meaning it was once for all time delivered unto the saints. There never has been and never will be a need for another “faith,” an updated version of the faith, to be delivered to the saints.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe the “one faith” needs to be updated. As one person proclaimed, “After all, it’s not the first century any longer!” What he and many others don’t realize is there were those who lived at the same time as the apostle Paul who thought the “one faith” needed to be updated. Paul wrote to the Galatian brethren, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7). Paul is saying there were those who were promoting “another gospel,” an updated gospel, but he says it was actually a perversion of the gospel of Christ. He makes the point that their misguided reasoning stated that this new, updated, gospel was another of the same kind of good news when compared to that which originated with Jesus Christ. This new gospel, instead of being another of the same kind, was instead actually another of a different kind. It was a perversion of Christ’s gospel. We still have those who are promoting “another gospel of Jesus Christ” but it too is just a perversion of the “one faith.”

The “one faith,” the system of faith, is comprised of: facts which must be believed; commandments which must be obeyed; instructions which must be followed; promises which will be given by our heavenly Father; and warnings which must be heeded, if we intend to have Heaven as our everlasting home! None of these ingredients which make up the “one faith” can be ignored, rejected, or excluded by anyone who desires to hear our Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” (Matt. 25:21).

In his commentary on the books of Ephesians and Colossians, brother Robert R. Taylor, Jr. quotes brother Winfred Clark as saying, “The ONE God sent the ONE Lord who sent the ONE Spirit who gave us the ONE faith (the gospel) which teaches the ONE baptism which puts us into the ONE church (body – K.B.C.) wherein we enjoy the ONE hope” (Studies In Ephesians & Colossians, Taylor Publications, 2010, pg. 80).

While there are many individuals who have biblical faith, notice there is only ONE faith — system of faith, gospel of Jesus Christ — acceptable to God. ONE means one, not two or any number greater or lesser than one.

Keith is a graduate of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, FL, and preaches for the Lord’s church in Mountain Grove, MO. He and his wife, Cheryl, have 3 sons and 12 grandchildren.

Practical Considerations Of An Active Faith — Dave Redmond

A few years ago, I wrote a bulletin article concerning “Freedom in Christ.”  While preparing, I became aware of a wonderful blessing.  Under the Old Law, the Jews were expected to keep hundreds of rules and regulations.  I realized that as Christians, while we are expected to keep commandments under the New Covenant, we have the freedom to choose the way we wish to serve God.  This makes the Christian’s service joyous.

Today we are discussing the importance of an active faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter,” but calling it the “Active Faith Chapter” is also appropriate.  Here, the writer reminds us of Noah, who lived in a time of great wickedness.  He was commanded to build a huge ark in order to save his family and the world’s animals.  This was no small undertaking.  Not only was it physically challenging, but took many years.  All who watched thought he was foolish.  They had not seen rain, much less a flood.  Also, the writer tells us of Abraham, who left his home when God called him.  He was not even certain where to go!  Can you think of a harsher climate than in the Middle East?  With large families, animals, and all their belongings, it must have been a tremendous effort to move even a few miles.  Noah and Abraham are men who listened to God, really believed Him, and followed His instructions.  We are here today with the hope of salvation because of their active faith.

Most of us are familiar with James 2:26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Perhaps less familiar is Ephesians 2:10:  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Here we find our purpose as Christians.  We were created so that we can perform “good works.”  Amazingly, our loving and omniscient God prepared these opportunities ahead of time.  We have the choice of accepting these opportunities, but we are humbled that He would consider us worthy.  Our decision to demonstrate an active faith serves a greater purpose.  God tells us why we are to perform good works in Matthew 5:16:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Unfortunately, after we obey the gospel of Christ it is easy to become complacent in our Christian walk, becoming caught up in the problems of life.  Our faith can weaken, and we can neglect opportunities to serve God.

While we are usually motivated by God’s love, fear of punishment is also effective.  Jesus used the parable of the talents to warn against complacency and laziness when it comes to making use of our abilities and opportunities.  What happened to the man who hid his Lord’s money?  In Matthew 25:26 Jesus described this man as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and he was cast out into outer darkness (v. 30).

The verses which follow in Matthew chapter 25 are sobering.  Here Jesus is describing the judgment, and one’s destiny was determined in very practical terms.  Those who were blessed to inherit eternal life had cared for their fellow man: the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, imprisoned, or naked.  Those who did not were rewarded with everlasting punishment.  Jesus said that when we care for others, it is as if we are caring for Him.  When we neglect others, we neglect Jesus too.  He expects us to have an active faith and to demonstrate our faith by our actions (James 2:18).  James then reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

Over the years I have seen Christians of all ages and backgrounds serving God in practical ways.  The remainder of this message is a practical application of the preceding Scripture.

For the child, one of the best ways to serve God is by honoring and obeying parents.  Nothing honors a parent more than to hear from a teacher or neighbor, “Your son or daughter is so well behaved.”  While the child does not understand what faith means, the habit of obedience is developed.

For the Christian teen, it is a blessing to be part of a youth group which serves others while having fun.  Youth groups can visit older people, those who may need help with cleaning the house or yard, and the blessings are mutual.  I remember a sweet older Christian who insisted on serving lemonade after our youth cleaned her yard.  Looking back, these were joyous memories.

After high school, we can demonstrate an active faith through our chosen vocation or during higher education.  For those who can attend college, I think it is a blessing to attend a Christian school.  However, many state universities have a Christian support group and this can offer tremendous encouragement at a time when we become independent.  Several of our local congregations support a campus minister who helps our young people remain faithful.

I remember the wonderful congregation and Christian friends we had during military service.  My wife and I were newly married, and a local church took us under her wing.  For me, learning to lead during worship services was a blessing.  My sweet wife was encouraged by the older ladies, and sometimes we would take communion to an elderly Christian.  We now look back to those years as formative in our relationship, and these were simple ways to put our faith in action.

Whether we remain single or marry and start a family, we can find opportunities to serve in our congregations by teaching, preparing communion, helping in the church office, holding a Bible study, inviting others to services, feeding the needy, donating clothing, or simply asking the church leadership what needs to be done.  For those with young children, getting in the habit of bringing our children to Sunday School is one of the difficult but most rewarding aspects of being a parent.

During our middle years, it is a blessing to be a part of a congregation with elders and deacons.  By now we know more about our talents, our strengths, our interests.  A deacon and his wife gain valuable experience in helping the church.  This is the time when some with children are older, and it becomes more convenient to open up our home to others.  Often, we can be of tremendous assistance during Vacation Bible School and other youth activities because we are old enough to be more mature, but young enough to have the energy.  By now we are often settled in our home and community and there are many ways we can give back, glorifying God by our actions.

As older adults, we usually have a little more time to put our faith in action.  In the congregation, the younger ladies look up to the more mature ladies as examples of faith and service.  Perhaps there is time to attend a ladies Bible class, visit those in the hospital, or prepare food and flower arrangements for various needs.  Also, this is the time when we often begin to lose friends to death.  We can be an encouragement to the depressed, downhearted, and those who are facing financial hardship or difficulties with children.

For the older man, this is the ideal time for self-reflection, perhaps offering to serve as an elder in the congregation.  This is also the time when an older gentleman may be an encouragement to the congregation’s minister, since the preacher is often overworked and goes through the same hardships as others.  Many older men and women are ideal teachers.  In the community, there are ample opportunities to help our neighbors and those in need.  In our congregation, some with financial means help support an orphan’s home, a widows’ ministry, and a Bible camp where our youth interact and some respond to the gospel.

Some of the greatest examples of active faith I have seen are by our most elderly sisters in Christ.  I remember one who continued to teach Cradle Roll, getting down on the floor even when her knees were arthritic.  Another took the time to teach the young girls how to bake unleavened bread and in the process conveyed the importance of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet another would call members of her Life Group, providing updates on the sick, requesting various needs in food, and simply encouraging the lonely.  Age was not a hindrance to serve.

In summary, there are endless ways to exemplify an active faith, demonstrate Christ in our life, and bring glory to our Heavenly Father.  Good works which God has prepared for us are waiting.  Just as in Matthew 25:23, we yearn to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC. He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

 

 

Faith Shown In The Elah Valley — Jon Mitchell

The sun shines down on the valley of Elah.  The giant walks tall and proud close to the brook which meanders its way through the valley just north of Shochoh and northwest of Hebron.  Goliath stands at about nine and a half feet in height, the modern equivalent of the biblical record of “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam. 17:4).  James Coffman’s commentary on 1 Samuel cites John Willis’ estimation of the actual weight of Goliath’s armor.  With the bronze helmet on his head, the coat of bronze mail weighing “five thousand shekels” (17:5) or 125 pounds, the bronze armor on his legs, and the bronze javelin slung between his shoulders with a shaft “like a weaver’s beam” estimated to weigh 17 pounds and the head of the spear weighing in at “six hundred shekels of iron” (17:7) or 18 pounds, Coffman and Willis estimate that Goliath’s armor “probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds!”  It is definitely a physically formidable soldier who can fight so effectively while wearing such weight so as to be the champion of an entire army, which is exactly who Goliath was according to the inspired writer (17:4).  A champion soldier of the Philistines.  A confident killer.  A warrior who has successfully defied the entire army of Israel and struck great fear in their hearts (17:8-11, 23-24).

Facing him across the brook is the youngest of eight sons of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, a patriarch named Jesse (17:12-14).  The king of the Israelites, Saul, correctly recognizes this youngest son of Jesse to be “but a youth” (17:33), a na`ar in Hebrew, a child, a lad, nothing but an adolescent boy of no older than twenty.  Unlike three of his older brothers, this boy is no soldier (17:13-14), a fact not lost on his oldest brother Eliab who incorrectly thinks his little brother to be a foolish lark only interested in seeing a battle (17:28).  The boy is likely tall in stature like his king, considering that he was able to fit into the king’s armor when it was offered to him.  Yet he is still no soldier, at least not a full-time, professional military man who is fully trained to fight; he is not even ready or able to successfully test out Saul’s armor (17:38-39).  Rather, he is a shepherd boy used to carrying a staff, shepherd’s pouch, and sling (17:40).  The only reason he came to the Elah valley this day is because he is his father’s errand boy, sent to bring food to his brothers and their commander and  then immediately return home with some token from them (17:17-18).  The boy’s name is David.

If you spent any decent amount of time in Sunday School as a child, you know what happens next.  The shepherd boy chooses five smooth stones from the brook and puts them into his pouch.  Sling in hand, he approaches the Philistine giant (17:40).  Goliath approaches David disdainfully, mocking the boy and cursing him by his gods, promising to use his carcass to feed the birds and animals (17:41-44).  David replies, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.  And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand” (17:45-47).

The two approach each other, David running quickly toward the battle line to meet Goliath while taking a stone from his bag, slinging it, and striking the Philistine on his forehead.   “The stone sank into his forehead,” killing him (17:49-50).  David then cuts off the giant’s head with Goliath’s own sword (17:50-51).  Seeing their champion dead, the Philistine army flees and is pursued by the Israelites “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron” (17:52), both of which were important cities in the Philistines’ own country.

The Hebrew writer would later allude to David while writing of the faith of the people we read about in the Old Testament (Heb. 11:32).  When he wrote that “through faith” David and others were able to “escape the edge of the sword” (11:33), he might have had the encounter with Goliath on his mind.  This would be with good reason, for it certainly would require an enormous amount of faith in God to prompt anyone to go up against an immensely strong nine-foot-tall giant who “has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam. 17:33).  What was it that made David’s faith in God so strong?

Past Experiences

When Saul protested David’s intention to fight the giant, saying, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (17:33), David replied that he had successfully killed both lions and bears as a shepherd defending his sheep (17:34-36).  Killing a hungry bear or lion is no small feat.  Both animals have been known to easily kill hunters who were likely stronger and more experienced than David.

David knew this.  He understood that it was not his own might and prowess that had delivered him from death from these predators.   Perhaps God had earlier bestowed upon David supernatural strength after his anointing when “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” him, similar to what the Lord had given Samson (16:13; cf. Judg. 14:6).  Another possibility would be that God had providentially cared for David while he was fighting these beasts.  Regardless of the methods used, David was confident enough of the Lord’s involvement in his deliverance from death to say to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (17:37).  He likewise told Goliath, shortly before he killed him, that “…the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (17:46).

How could David have been so confident that God would protect him from death?  It was because he had remembered God’s promises.

God’s Promises

At some earlier point in time, Samuel had been sent by the Almighty to Jesse’s home because, as God told Samuel, “I have provided for myself a king among his sons” to replace Saul (1 Sam. 16:1).  After having had all of David’s older brothers pass by him and being told by Jehovah that none of them were His anointed, Samuel had asked Jesse if there were more sons available and was told that David, the youngest, was keeping the sheep (16:6-11).  After sending for him, the Lord told Samuel upon David’s arrival, “Arise, anoint him for this is he,” and Samuel did so (16:12-13).  From that day forward, the Spirit of the Lord was with David (16:13).

Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that David knew that he was God’s chosen anointed to replace Saul at some point.  Either Samuel had told him, or the Holy Spirit had somehow promised him that he would one day be king.  David therefore trusted God to keep his promise, so much so that he was willing to fight the giant Philistine while knowing that God would deliver him.

I am reminded of Abraham, whose faith in God was tested in a similar fashion at least three times. God had promised him that he would make of Abraham a great nation and would give the land of Canaan to offspring he had yet to produce (Gen. 12:2, 7).  Yet, Abraham’s faith in God at that time, while strong enough to obey His directive to leave his country and strike out for parts unknown (12:1ff; cf. Heb. 11:8), still faltered when he traveled to Egypt.  Rather than trust that God would keep him safe because He had promised him future offspring, he persuaded Sarah to lie in an effort to keep him from being killed by the Egyptians (12:10-20).  He did something similar later with Abimelech (20:1-18), again showing that his faith in God had faltered.  Yet when God told him later to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of his faith, Abraham unhesitatingly did so to the point where God had to stop him from killing his son (22:1-19).  He went through with it even though at that point Isaac had yet to marry Rebekah, produce more offspring, and thus bring God’s promise closer to fulfillment.  The Hebrew writer attributes Abraham’s willingness to obey what to any parent would  be an extremely difficult and agonizing command to faith that God would keep His promise to give Abraham more offspring through Isaac, a faith so strong and deep that he surmised that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice (Heb. 11:17-19).  Clearly, Abraham’s faith in the promises of God, while in many ways already strong, had grown even stronger!

David undoubtedly had a similar faith in the promise that God would one day make him king of Israel, and his faith in that promise motivated him to defend the honor of God against those like Goliath who would oppose Him.  This was also a reason behind David’s decision to face the giant.

Righteous Indignation

Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26), and thus had defied God Himself (17:45), much like Saul of Tarsus would later persecute Christ by persecuting His followers (Acts 9:1, 4-5).  The Philistine did this repeatedly, morning and night, for forty days (17:16).  The Targum, a collection of uninspired Jewish commentaries of the Old Testament, records the Israelite tradition that Goliath claimed to have been among the Philistines who had captured the ark of the covenant and had personally killed the priests Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli (cf. 4:10-11).  If true, then the pagan giant had a history of openly opposing and showing contempt towards Jehovah God.

Upon arriving at the Elah valley, David heard Goliath’s blasphemous challenge for the first time (17:23-25).  His immediate response was to ask the soldiers around him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17:26)  This earned a rebuke from his oldest brother Eliab, but his indignation over Goliath’s insults remained undeterred (17:28-30).  His angry rebuttal of the Philistine’s blasphemy reached the ears of Saul, who sent for David and was told by the young man, “Let no man’s heart fail because of (Goliath).  Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17:31-32).

Lessons For Christians Today

This account of David’s encounter with Goliath is recorded in the Old Testament for a reason (Prov. 30:5).  God inspired the apostle Paul to inform Christians that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct and encourage us, give us hope, serve as an example to us, admonish us, teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us to be righteous so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Such is the case when we see the faith in God David displayed in the Elah valley that day and choose to compare it to our own faith.

We sing a spiritual song called Count Your Many Blessings.  The lesson behind the hymn is to remind us of our past experiences with Jehovah and all He has done for us, just as David had remembered how God had delivered him from predators.  Do we regularly remember with gratitude all the wonderful things which God has done in our lives?  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (Ja. 1:17).  Everything we have comes from God (John 3:27), not the least of which is an undeserved salvation from eternity in hell!  (Rom. 6:23; Tit. 2:11)  Do we take such blessings for granted and rarely remember their Source, or do we continually offer our heart-felt gratitude to Him in prayer (Col. 4:2)?  Our honest answer to this question has a direct impact on the strength of our faith and our resulting willingness to obey God, no matter the perceived cost.

Just as David had faith in God’s promise to make him king, do we trust in God’s promises to us?  He has promised eternal life to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9) and eternal condemnation to those who do not (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  How strong is our faith in those promises?  Satan wants to play the same trick on us that he successfully played on Eve: to trick us into believing that God doesn’t mean what He says (Gen. 3:1-5).  That’s why Christians who have been taught the will of God sin, you know.  Our faith is weak during those times.  We know what the Bible promises, but we deceive ourselves that God will make an exception on our part because He wants our immediate and temporal satisfaction which would come from “the passing pleasures of sin” to be fulfilled.  Thus, we would obey God only when convenient rather than choosing to risk the sacrifice of even our lives as David’s faith prompted him to do.

Finally, let us consider what easily arouses our anger and indignation.  James said that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Ja. 1:20).  Does God get angry over the same things which infuriate us?  Many typically get upset when our own honor is insulted and we don’t get our way, and tend to only shrug with mild irritation at best when we see the sin of others or our own.  Yet David was angry because he saw Goliath defying God and was motivated to defend his Lord.  Are we like him?

Think on these things, my friends.  Let David’s example motivate us to deeper faith and service!

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Baptism: Are We Saved By Works? — Jon Mitchell

The Scriptures clearly teach that baptism is something one must do in order to be saved and have sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).  Yet many disagree with this for several reasons.  One such objection stems from a very understandable line of thought, mainly this.  The Bible says we are not saved by works in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Baptism is a work.  Therefore, baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Certainly baptism is something one does, and therefore is a “work.”  However, is it a work of merit (by which one earns salvation)…or is it a work of faith (by which one receives salvation)?  Furthermore, who is the one doing the work?  Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed…or is it God who forgives and regenerates them through the blood of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit?

In answering these legitimate questions, it must first be pointed out that there are different kinds of works.  There are works of merit which are done to earn something.  Those who have done such works believe they deserve something; they believe they will be saved because they did good deeds and went to church, or read their Bibles, or something to that effect.  Yet all the good we might do cannot outweigh even one sin (James 2:10).  That’s why we need God’s grace and our faith in order to be saved (Rom. 3:27-28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).

There are also works of faith which are done to receive something.  Those who do works of faith believe that they deserve nothing because they understand that their obedience does not earn or merit their salvation.  They know their salvation rests upon God’s grace and mercy, not because God owes them anything.

This is why works of faith could also be called works of God.  In fact, Jesus calls faith exactly that (John 6:28-29).  Other works of faith which God commands are repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Rom. 10:9-10).  Jesus Himself will specifically state on the day of judgment that those who enter Heaven do so because of the benevolent deeds done by them in their lives, while those condemned to hell are in that terrible state because of the lack of benevolent deeds done in their lives (Matt. 25:31-46).

To those who say one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved because baptism is a work, I ask this.  Does one have to have faith in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (John 3:16; Mark 16:16).  Does faith require works, something done by you?  Yes (James 2:14-26).  Does one have to repent of sins in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30).  Is repentance a work, a deed done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to confess their faith in Christ before men in order to be saved?  Jesus said so (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:9-10).  Is confession a work, an action done by you?  Yes.  Does one have to do good to all men at every opportunity in order to go to heaven?  Jesus thinks so (Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:10).  Are benevolent deeds works, deeds done by you?  Yes.

So what’s the difference between obeying God’s commands to have faith, repent of sins, confess one’s faith before men, and do good to all men at every opportunity in order to be saved…and obeying God’s command to be baptized in order to be saved?  To ask is to answer.  Would one say that one does not have to have faith, repent of sins, confess faith, and do good to others in order to go to heaven?  Such notions blatantly contradict what the Bible teaches.  Yet if faith, repentance, confession, and doing good are required of us in order to be saved…why not baptism also, since it also is commanded by God?

What’s hard for some to understand is that even though works such as faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds are commanded by God, they are not meritorious works; we do not earn salvation through them (Luke 17:10).  Instead, they are works God has ordained we do in order to receive His salvation.  When all is said and done, salvation is still by God’s grace and mercy.

Baptism, therefore, is a work of faith.  It requires faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37), and is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns) forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Through it one receives (not earns) union with Christ in His death and is raised with Him to a new life (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).  The fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized by Paul when he wrote that God saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5).  This alludes to baptism, especially when we compare this phrase to John 3:5, 23 and Acts 8:36-39 and 10:47-48.  Yet Paul still says that baptism does not save us by “works of righteousness” (i.e., works of merit).  God does not owe us salvation because we were baptized.

Baptism, like faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds, is simply an act of faith by which we receive salvation.  This is so because baptism involves the working of God (Col. 2:11-13).  God does the work, not us!  It’s God who makes us alive through baptism, praise His name!