If God expects us to endure to the end, what guidance does He provide to help us accomplish that goal? I think probably the most important part of all of that is have a strong relationship with God. But informed by faith, how does one do that? One of the things that people talk to me about from time to time – in and out of the church – is all the confusion about what’s going on in the Christian landscape today. There are so many options, and some of them oppose each other in belief, so they can’t all be right. So how does one cut through that? I mean, if you’re going to believe, which is what faith is, how do you do that with all the chaos? Well, the answer that I came to years ago was to read the Bible. I’ve had many people tell me that nobody can understand the Bible – just look at all the different beliefs that come out of it. Well, I don’t really believe that they all come out of it. I believe they come out of our minds. I believe that the Bible is one coherent, consistent book from beginning to end. And, if you read it, you can understand it.
So how to avoid the confusion issue is what we’re talking about. We’re learning the Bible – not the organization’s teachings that you might be in – but just what the Bible says. Now, to do that, you have to know that it’s not an event. It’s a process. It takes time.
I remember when I was in college – my senior year – so I’d been studying the Bible for four years – another senior and I made a pact. We agreed to meet every Tuesday and Wednesday, from 6 to 8 pm, to study biblical doctrines. We didn’t know this when we began, but he was better at research and I was better at organizing. So he researched a topic, mostly, and then we talked about it, and I organized them into a list of scriptures that would prove the point that followed a logical connection – the one to the other. We studied things like salvation through Christ’s blood, the resurrection plan, the holy day plan, and the Sabbath, the law of God, and many more, actually. When we finished, I took these lists and chain referenced them in my Bible, so that, if you’d go to the first scripture in your Bible – in the margin – beside it would be the reference for the next one. And I also wrote the whole list in order on one of the blank pages in my Bible, so I would know what topic we were one there. I was looking at some of those a year or so ago, and I realized I know a lot more now. But those early efforts helped me know and believe what God says. That was one of the fundamental things that I did.
Now, I also read the Bible from cover to cover when I was between seventeen and eighteen years old – while I was in high school. I learned from that that the Bible is the history of God’s dealings with humankind. You know, a lot of people don’t know that. But, if you read it, then you do.
So, if you’ll remember the first presentation in this series was called Faith Is Not Easy. Studying the Bible is such a big book, and there are so many references back and forth, the only way that you’re going to get to know the Bible is you really have to want it, because you have to put in the effort to learn it. Well, some people are just too busy – “I’ll do it later….” But God tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then everything else will be added later. So all the stuff that we’re doing that keeps us too busy to study God word, that’s all going to be added later, if we’ll just put first things first.
So having faith in God is not supposed to be easy. Easy faith really isn’t faith at all. Everyone’s faith is going to be tested – repeatedly and extremely – in this life. So it’s important that we know that and that for a person to have faith in God is completely counterintuitive. We have to be willing to put in the time and invest the effort to learn what the book says so we can have faith in it.
I also think that when we study the Bible, we need to read with the purpose of doing whatever it takes to follow the scripture – not just read it, but plan to live it.
There’s a story in Matthew 19, where:
Matthew 19:16 – A man came up to Him and he said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” So he was one of those people that thought that you could earn salvation. And He said to him, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One who is good.” So right there, He’s telling him that you can’t earn it, but He also said: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” Now this man knew all ten of them. And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
So God is interested in the people that are willing to sacrifice everything to follow Him. And, if God knows that you won’t follow Him – even if you read it in the Bible – He probably isn’t going to give anything to you. You’re kind of on your own, I think. I mean, I’m saying that God calls people and all that, and He prepares people to get in a place where they will obey Him, but rhetorically, if a person isn’t willing to do what he reads, then they’re just going to get the most superficial understanding of it. And I think that’s one reason why there are so many different beliefs. Some people want to make money out of the Bible, so they come up with some different spin on the gospel or something. That doesn’t come out of the Bible. That comes out of their own mind and there’s an agenda behind it.
Now I know that my beliefs have changed over the years in some areas, but that’s not because I have some kind of agenda there. It’s because I’ve learned more as I went. And that’s fine. We don’t always understand it perfectly in the beginning. And that’s okay, as long as we’re trying.
The second thing I think we can do is, we can fellowship with people who follow scripture. I think it’s possible to find people who are doing their best to follow God, even if they don’t see things just like we might.
I mentioned that I’ve learned more as I got older. Surely makes allowance for us, as mere humans, to be unaware of even important things. And as long as our desire to follow God is sincere and earnest, then He’s going to honor that and give us more.
There’s another scripture that we can look at here that I think is important. It’s in Matthew 7:15. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of false prophets – in our day and age, that could probably be changed to a little bit to agenda-driven ministers or brethren – who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Sometimes, it’s taken me a while to recognize that in some people. But that also is okay. We learn by experience. But the principle is there. We know what it says in the Bible about not only the last six commandments, but also the spirit of the law, which is kind of given to us in the Fruits of the Spirit – you know, to be kind, and gentle, and meek. It’s about character as well as behavior. Let’s look at that, by the way, in Galatians 5:22.
Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – against such things there is no law.
So, do you know people like that? Those are good people to hang around. Even if they are not exactly on the same page as you religiously, those people are living according to the spirit of the law of God. Paul also told us that the spirit is written in everyone’s heart. And some people are a lot better at listening to that than others. He continues, and he says:
V-24-26 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. So there’s two sides to the coin.
From time to time, I get referrals from the largest church in our town. That happens because I know one of the pastoral care administrators there. This church recently invited all the providers in the community – whether they go to their church or not – to attend an appreciation dinner. And I went. I went because my friend, who works there, invited me to come. And because I receive referrals from them, I was one part of the audience they were trying to reach. I had never been in their facility before. It’s not too far from my home. Over the last twenty-some years, I’ve driven up and down Coors Boulevard and their church is there. It started out very small and now, I think, there’s 20,000 plus people going to it. They have satellite locations all around the area. But I’d never been in the building before, and it was really impressive. What a tool they had! And it was all paid for too. They don’t owe any money on it. But what was more impressive than the physical resources they have was their desire to help. They’re growing very fast. Consequently, there are many people who come in with huge burdens and sins – all kinds of problems – and needing all kinds of help. They have marshalled their forces and they have provided programs for almost everything you can imagine. I think it’s one Saturday per month, single women can get their oil changed in the parking lot for free. If you’re a young mother – a very young mother – there are classes to show you how to take care of an infant, and help to learn how to deal with all the different issues that infants may have. There are addiction groups. There are community service groups. In their church, ministers work there that will help you find the kind of help you need from the community even. That’s what my friend does. They know that their ministry is too busy being evangelistic to take care of all the people and that they don’t have the training to deal with some of the problems some of their members have. So they refer to the community. I got to talk to some of these men at this meeting and I got a really good feeling from them. My friend, I know him well enough to say that with confidence. I think he does a good job of living the fruits of the Spirit in his life and at work. I met his wife and would say the same for her.
But do we agree doctrinally? Well, I think, maybe, on the most important things. What are those? Well, Paul said that he came and he would only preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. So, yeah, I think we all agree on that. Now we might not agree on when He was resurrected, what day He was crucified on and all that, but that’s not what Paul came to preach. He came to preach about Christ and Him crucified. So we might agree on that, but on other things, perhaps not. My focus, however, is not on the doctrine he follows from his church. It’s on the man and the way he lives his life. Now, I don’t want to go to church there, because there are other places I could go – other people I know who believe more like I do, but I do like to talk to him. It’s been helpful to me spiritually to talk to him. And he’s told me the same about me. So we have a good friendship and I think the basis of it is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. So I’m edified when I can find people that follow the scriptures.
Okay, so point one was to get to know the Bible. And the second one was to fellowship with people who follow the scriptures. Now we’re talking about faith – right? – and being around at the end as well as just at the beginning. And we have to look at some of the things that can come up that might take us out of God’s faith. So let’s look at Psalm 119:165. Before I mention that, though…have you ever heard somebody tell someone else that they were sorry they offended them? And have you ever heard anybody go with that? Invariably, the person who hears that say, “Oh, I wasn’t offended,” but they really were. But they don’t like to admit it. So here is, in Psalms 119:165:
Psalms 119:165 – Great peace have those who love Your law. Where do you get that? Well, you get it out of studying the Bible. Right? And even though people today don’t like to talk about obeying the law, and it’s true that all our sins are covered by Christ, Jesus Christ obeyed the law, and we’re supposed to want to be like Him. So we should want to obey God’s law. And it says, if you do that, nothing can make them stumble. There’s no way somebody who loves God’s law can be offended.
If we have a clear picture of what God is doing with us, and what He wants us to do, then other people’s misguided efforts won’t affect us so much, because we will know that our walk is in relationship to Jesus Christ and to God the Father – and that our relationship is primarily with Them. We need to be concerned about what we do and how we walk and allow other people to have that same freedom.
What else happens when we start studying the Word of God and find great peace? Well, that gets us to God’s plan, doesn’t it? If we know it, it becomes our personal plan, because that’s exactly what it is. As we study the Bible, and we read how God has acted toward people down through the ages, we start to understand what He’s doing, and that He works individually with people, all in an effort to perfect them for His Kingdom. So that plan becomes the foundation for our relationship with God. It’s what God is doing with us and also, what He want us to do with Him.
And also, a big part of God’s plan is going to involve trials and tests. That’s very clear in the Bible. I know there a lot of people that want to be encouraged. And there are a lot of ministers that have tried to weed out anything negative from their sermons, because they want people to come to their church or whatever, but there will always be trials, because they are a part of our training spiritually. And when those trials come to us – hard as they might be – we won’t be offended by God or angry, because we understand that that’s part of the plan.
Most of the troubles I’ve had in my life, I have caused myself. And that was because I didn’t follow God’s word completely. And you know, if you think about it, some much of this has to do with our foundation being in the Bible. Where does your faith come from? Well, it has to come from God. And we learn about God and what He’s doing with us, and what He wants, and what to expect from Him out of reading the Word of God. Somebody else just telling us about it, well, that’s good, but that isn’t really what’s necessary. It has to be our own learning.
What else? Well, this is the fourth thing now. Let me ask you a question to set this up. Do you want glory and honor and immortality? Well, those are the things that God is offering all of us. Do you want them? Well, notice what it says in Romans 2:7:
Romans 2:7 – To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
So patience is very much a part of this program. I was telling someone recently that it took a lot longer to build my counseling practice than I first imagined. And do you know why? It’s because I’m an impatient person. I was impatient to get my practice started. And the same thing is true of God’s Kingdom. We want it to come so badly and stop all the madness, it seems like it’s never going to come. But, in spite of that, if we will keep working – you know, by patience and well-doing, keep plodding, keep on truckin’ – that’s going to make it ours. We cannot give up. We have to keep going. And, if we know that God has a plan, and that He’s working it out in our lives, and that He hasn’t given up on us, then that increases our faith to continue doing that. And even sometimes, when we lose sight of the plan, if we’re just stubborn enough to keep going down the same track, that will sometimes get us through.
Now when God says something twice, it means it’s really important. So we just read that we must be patient in well-doing if we want to see the goal. Let’s look at something Jesus Himself said in Luke 21:19. I’m taking it out of c