One Day at a Time
How much do you understand about the faith? Do you wish you knew more? Perhaps others intimidate you with their knowledge and familiarity with Scripture.
If so, Jesus’ work with His disciples (Mark 4:33–34) can lend some helpful perspective. Just as our biological lives unfold slowly, so do our spiritual lives. God offers us what we can understand as soon as we can handle it, but not before. Most parents would consider explicit lessons on sexuality to be premature for preschoolers. Likewise, driving lessons for first graders would be inappropriate. And some athletic activities can cause great damage if children engage in them too early in their development. In the same way, God holds back certain lessons until we’re mature enough to handle them.
Jesus called the disciples to follow Him one day at a time (Luke 9:23). But He also promised them that the Spirit would come later and lead them into truths that they could not handle then (John 16:12–16). Like those first disciples, we as Jesus’ modern-day followers are not to know the end from the beginning, but to learn something from Him every day, applying it to our lives. Faith is not a badge to be worn or knowledge to be flaunted, but a little seed to be nurtured (Mark 4:26–32).
Keep On Keeping On
Do you intend to overcome evil? If so, make sure to replace it with good or else, as Jesus warns, the evil may return with its friends, producing more evil than ever (Matt. 12:43–45).
This teaching warns us to persevere in the journey of faith. That can be hard to do when everything in us wants to quit, the way an exhausted long-distance runner wants to drop out of a marathon. Besides (we reason), look how far we’ve already come!
Yes, but God’s goal is not just to make us nicer people or better people, but to make us Christlike people. That won’t happen completely until we’re with Him. For now, He wants us to keep growing in that direction. Stopping short can bring disaster. In a warning similar to Jesus’ words here, the writer of Hebrews urges us to “go on to perfection” and describes in sobering words the fate of those who “fall away” (Heb. 6:1–12).
Fortunately, God lends us help to prevent us from falling back. As Hebrews also says, He disciplines us for our good. His stern efforts can feel harsh, but they are the loving protection of a caring Father (Matt. 12:3–11).
Living by Faith
Few phrases of Scripture have had as far-reaching an impact as the Lord’s declaration to Habakkuk that “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). If you are a Protestant today, this verse is an important part of your spiritual heritage: Martin Luther adopted it as his watchword during the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s.
However, Habakkuk probably had little idea of the explosive truth contained in God’s statement. It came as part of a prelude to a taunting song that the prophet was instructed to give against Babylon (Hab. 2:1–6). The Lord was explaining why the Babylonians would be judged. Fundamentally, they were a “proud” people in the sense that they had no fear of God. By contrast, the “just” person—the individual deserving of God’s approval and blessing—would find favor because of his “faith” in God.
Actually, the Hebrew word used for “faith,” emunah, means “steadfastness” or “faithfulness.” An Israelite who faithfully pursued the covenant by following God’s Law was considered a “just” or righteous person (Ps. 15). The issue was not one’s ethnicity as a Jew, but obedience to God. Thus the problem for the Babylonians was not that they were Gentiles, but that they were committed to a lifestyle of wickedness and idolatry. They arrogantly lived as if their own self-interests were all that mattered. For that reason, the Lord would humble them according to the five “woes” pronounced by Habakkuk (Hab. 2:6–20).
In the New Testament, Paul picked up on the idea of the just living by faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:10–12). Because of the coming of Christ, he was able to deepen the understanding of this phrase. “Living by faith” does not mean outward observance of the Law, as many of the Jewish leaders of his day had come to assume. Rather, it involves a heart commitment to the Lord and a recognition that Christ alone is able to make one righteous before God. This does not take away the need for “faithful,” godly living; if anything, it establishes a proper basis for it.
It was this perspective of Paul’s that Martin Luther reclaimed for the church in the sixteenth century. People had forgotten the place of faith and obedience toward God. Instead, their religion boiled down to empty ritual, legalistic standards, and attempts to buy God’s favor and forgiveness with money. Luther cut through all of that with the powerful truth that God announced to Habakkuk: the just shall live by faith—faith alone!
In our own day, the advantage of “living by faith” is that we can put into perspective the troubles of the world around us. Despite appearances to the contrary—when evil forces appear to have the upper hand, or when economic woes, ill health, or family circumstances appear to be doing us in—we can trust that God remains in control and that His sovereign purposes are being worked out. We need not fear that life will come undone; indeed, we need not fear death itself. We know that God has said: “The just shall live by faith.”
Persistence Pays Off
Jesus took His disciples to the seacoast towns of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21), probably to rest (Mark 7:24). As far as we can tell, He had no intention of preaching or healing in that area. But as so often happens when one has no intention of being available, someone interrupted His vacation. Today, phone calls prove to be the major source of interruptions. But in ancient times it was worse: interruptions arrived at one’s doorstep and stayed until someone answered.
In this instance, a woman who supposedly had no claim on Jesus’ attention begged Him to deliver her daughter from demons. She had probably already tried to heal the girl and failed. In ancient societies, women usually tended the sick and nursed the dying.
Jesus hardly encouraged this woman. As He pointed out, she had no ethnic or religious claim on Him. But somehow she recognized that He was capable of doing what she could not—heal her daughter. In the end, her courage, faith, and sheer persistence won out.
How persistent are you in crying out to God for people who matter a lot to you? Like the woman, will you keep coming back to God in faith?
Spiritual growth is often likened to a journey. A person comes to faith and then begins walking with God, step by step, year by year, traveling into ever-higher regions of spiritual maturity. However, for many people, the journey seems to peter out along the way. Perhaps they feel that it has become too difficult. Perhaps they get sidetracked by distractions, or detoured by sin. Perhaps they feel that they have reached a dead end and can go no further. Whatever the case, their spiritual life remains at a standstill. The journey is incomplete.
The people of Jerusalem in Haggai’s day had an unfinished project. Around 538 b.c. they had returned from Babylon and had enthusiastically laid a foundation for a new temple with great fanfare. Yet two years into the project, the work came to a standstill. The reasons why may or may not have been legitimate, but for sixteen years nothing more was done. The people went about the rest of their lives, making a living, establishing families, building houses, setting up businesses—but the temple remained unfinished.
Finally the Lord sent the prophet Haggai to tell the people to consider their ways and get back to work (Hag. 1:6–7). They needed to complete what they had started. Not only did their spiritual lives depend on it, but their physical lives as well (Hag. 1:9–11).
Perhaps like the temple, your spiritual life has become unfinished business. Perhaps you have stopped growing as a believer, for whatever reason. If so, “consider your ways!” You can take steps to get back on track. Perhaps you need to repent of long-term sins. Perhaps you need to reestablish contact with fellow believers who can encourage you and hold you accountable. Perhaps you need to renew some of the spiritual disciplines that foster growth, such as Bible reading, prayer, and fasting.
Whatever steps are needed, Scripture encourages you to finish the journey (Heb. 6:11)! God is ready to help you (Phil. 1:8), but He cannot do your walking for you. Only you can take the steps of faith and obedience that lead to maturity in Christ