Wednesday, 31 March 2010

by grace through faith: part 6

I’m going to take a couple of days to examine some key aspects of the faith which is a response to revelation. First let’s take a look at one of the basic building block verses of the New Testament. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” Hab 2:4 The verse is quoted three times in the New Testament; Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38. The phrase is known so well that it is at the heart of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. I want to to concentrate on the often missed contrast that we are given in Hab 2:4. Let’s put it in its full context of Hab 2:2-5. Sometimes it is helpful to define a Bible word by examining its opposite. The Hab 2:4 verse points approvingly to the ‘believer’ but in its context it contrasts the ‘believer’ with another kind of person. We might have expected it to contrast believer with unbeliever but it doesn’t; it contrasts the believer with the proud or presumptious man.

In particular it uses a fairly rare Hebrew word which is translated as ‘lifted up’ in the KJV and ‘proud’ in the NKJV. It is the Hebrew word Strong's H6075 - `aphal and is only used twice in the scripture. The first use of the word is in an account which has become a by-word for unbelief and disobedience. It a brief sequel to the account of Israel’s refusal to enter the promised land. God’s sentence on their rebellious disobedience was that they would be condemned to a 40 year exile in the wilderness. It is the reaction of some to this sentence that contains the Hebrew word ‘aphal.

We need to retell part of the story to see its significance. God’s word of sentence has been given by Moses and the reaction of some might be seen as a kind of repentance. Some having heard the 40 sentence changed their minds; ‘And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, "Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned!”’ Numbers 14:40. That sounds ok doesn’t it? They are acknowledging their sin and are willing to act out their repentance. They claim their behaviour is ‘bible-based’.. ‘we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised’. That sounds as though it should work but it won’t. They are putting their trust in yesterday’s word rather than today’s word. Strange as it may seem to obey the word that God spoke yesterday may just be carnality and defiance.

Our Hebrew word appears in Num 14:44 and is translated as ‘presumed’. One of the opposites of faith is seen to be not unbelief but presumption. ‘aphal means a swelling, a hillock or even a tumour. It may have all the appearance healthy growth but it is a killer. It is the swelling of an unsurrendered heart. It is man taking it on himself to choose when he will do what God has said. As my wife used to say to our young children “slow obedience is disobedience”.

When God speaks and we ‘hear’ that revelation of truth in our hearts it creates a window of opportunity. We cannot choose when we respond to revelation, we must respond at the moment of the revelation and take the window of opportunity. This is partly the significance of the words of Christ in the wilderness temptation. ‘But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' “’ Mat 4:4. the current word. That is man’s daily sustenance is the result of daily receiving the word of grace that God is speaking at that time. This is not a reference to biblical doctrine but to God’s ability to speak into our condition. That grace is available ‘in time of need’ or as Youngs Literal Translation has it “we may come near, then, with freedom, to the throne of the grace, that we may receive kindness, and find grace -- for seasonable help.” Words from God come in their season and we cannot presume to use them ‘out of season’. We do not choose the moment of our faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God and a man cannot believe what he has not heard. However a man can refuse to believe what he has heard and the consequences may be fatal.

I cannot daisy pick through Bible verses but as God makes his truth alive to me I can believe and because I can I must.

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