Thursday, July 3, 2014

Factors of Faith

(Warning: I listened to a lecture on the gift of Exhortation yesterday, so I'm about to get my exhortation on....)

I've been reading through the Gospel of Mark, but this morning, as I was flipping there, my eyes caught words in 1 Peter.  As I began my tangent in chapter 1, I was struck by several ideas.

So, to those in troubles, trials or grief: I write.  I think that covers just about everyone, the degree of suffering notwithstanding.

Peter starts off his letter reminding the reader (us) what they have and Who they get it from: eternal, un-spoilable life in Christ, from God the Father.  Those who haven't yet seen Him, but believe, have an even greater part in the treasure.  He outlines a few things, starting in the middle of chapter 1 to the end, that really lend to linear thinking.

He calls believers in Christ (in any age) to put ourselves to the task - to paraphrase the Apostle James,
Be do-ers of the Word, not just hearers.  Peter is echoing that thought but he quotes the Old Testament, specifically 4 references from Leviticus: Be Holy as the Lord is holy.

Seems like too tall of an order, I would once agree.  But now I'm not trying to BE like Christ (by my own efforts) but rather to let Him BE in me. Starting in verse 22,

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth, so that you have a sincere love for your brothers, love each other deeply, with all your heart.

Equation #1: Hope + Trust (another word for faith) = Knowledge of the Truth

When we know the truth, Jesus said, we will be set free.  Set free to do what?  Rest in Him and do what He says (John 15:14).  Our faith, and the hope we place in that faith, leads to knowing what God really wants.  Which then mean,

Equation #2: Truth (knowing God) + Obedience = Purity

Obedience Defined
So, we trust or have faith in The Truth of God and we obey it.  In that way, Peter says, we will be made pure.  Purity has gotten a rap in our day as meaning the same thing as abstinence.  Probably a left over effect from our Puritan forefathers, who got it from the Pharisees.  Whether it's sex, drugs, rock and roll (or anything else deemed "sinful,") abstinence often seems to means we work really hard not to do "it."  (Whatever it is.)  We make our lives goal to remain pure by not doing something, in our own effort to avoid it at all costs or 'be defiled.'

That's not what purity means.

Abstinence is following the law, but here Peter, echoing Christ, is after much more than what we do or don't do.  He teaches it is not what we don't do, but Who we follow.  Purity is following in Jesus' footsteps, doing what He told us to do.  Sure, Peter goes on to give us a list of things to stop doing, and that is part of it.

We can't be pure if we are still clinging to the habits and thought patterns of our old, unredeemed selves.  But the more we follow Christ, the more we seek to grow in the knowledge of Him and His love, I've found, the less we really want to be like our old "self." We want to get rid of anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5).

Which leads to the further development of my spiritual theory,

Equation #3: Purity + Fellowship = Love

Purity, as believing (putting our trust, hope and faith) in Christ and doing what He commands, is not done in a vacuum.  It is absolutely a group effort.  Peter mentions purity in tandem with sharing life with others because he knew that without his brothers and sisters, continuing in trust would be impossible.  Our minds, the enemy and and the world all ask the insidious question, "Are you sure faith in Christ is best?"

And by ourselves, we would eventually be convinced it is not.  But in fellowship, in closeness with other believers, the lies and deceptions can be called off and out.  Full deliverance is achieved when we are constantly reminded that God does what He promises.  We are held up to a higher standard, not of behavior, but of deepening our relationship with God.  Which leads to the ultimate solution,

Faith = Love

Why do these spiritual equations work?  Because they are laid into the foundation of the Cornerstone.  They are based on the finished work of Christ, not on ourselves.  And the point?  To praise God. 

Peter says it in Chapter 2:9, But you are a chosen people, the King's priests, a holy nation, a people for God to possess!  Why?  In order for you to declare the praises of the One who call you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (CJB, emphasis mine) 

We gather together (fellowship) with minds bent on Christ, in hope, trust, faith, truth, obedience, purity and love; so we can praise the Lord for the mercy He has rained down upon us.  In that gathering, on Sundays, and hopefully all throughout the week through communication with other believers; we are strengthened and equipped by the Holy Spirit to show a hurting world who Jesus really is.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about who Jesus really is.  (I just read some this week and had to laugh out loud at it.)

It is Christ's Body - the Church - being together in worship in Spirit, under truth teaching and in service to others, that we are given the refreshment we need to remember how Peter started his letter.  Together, awash in God's love, we recall what's important:

1. Whose We are (Christ's);
2. The Treasure we have (in Christ).

That's the summary of the Christian faith, friends!  I know how easy it is to forget.  Life is distracting.  My own mental life is distracting, never mind a life filled with activity.

Yet, when we practice our faith together, worshipping and praising God, as Jesus commanded, in full Spirit and Truth, our minds and hearts are purified to line up behind our revived spirits - trusting the Holy Spirit is in charge.  

And expecting God to do, in and through us, all He has promised.

Be encouraged, as I keep saying, because the Lord always keeps His promises!

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