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Wordwise Insight, Issue #008 -- faith and the gift of faith, modern miracles, and more
August 14, 2005
Greetings

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of Wordwise-Bible-Studies.com

IN THIS ISSUE...

BIBLE INSIGHTS. Message outlines you are welcome to use on: starting over after falling into sin; the nature of true wisdom

READER Q & A. On faith and the gift of faith; on modern miracles

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. A chain of thanksgiving

NEWS & REVIEWS. Two books, one highly recommended, and one not


BIBLE INSIGHTS

STARTING OVER
Sometimes when we sin, the devil tempts us to give up and quit. But by the grace of God there can be a new beginning, and new blessings, on the other side of a fall. Samuel said to the people of Israel one day, "Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart" (I Sam. 12:20).

"All this wickedness" was Israel's insistence on having a king just like the heathen nations around them. They had failed to appreciate their uniqueness, and in their craving for a king had actually rejected the rule of God over them (I Sam. 8:5, 7). Yes, they were in the wrong. But they were encouraged to make a new start with God. This has its practical application to the Christian who is discouraged because of past failure.

1) "Do not fear" that God will utterly forsake or destroy His own. He never will (I Samuel 12:20; cf. Heb. 13:5b).

2) Don't quit. Don't abandon God or His way, because every other option is unprofitable (vs. 21).

3) You can be confident in God's faithfulness, based on His holy character and His sovereign choice of you (vs. 22).

4) Be assured of the support of believing friends who will pray for you, and encourage you in the right path (vs. 23).

5) Fear the Lord--give Him His rightful place in your daily life (vs. 24).

6) Keep on actively serving the Lord (vs. 24).

7) Focus on the blessings of God, and all He has done for you (vs. 24)

8) Determine to live a godly life from here on. You will face God's chastisement if you add more sin to a past failure (vs. 25).

TRUE WISDOM
When Solomon took the throne, he prayed for wisdom. The Lord's response was, "Behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart" (I Kgs. 3:12). So, what are some qualities of godly wisdom?

1) Its Source is the Lord Himself (Dan. 2:20, 23; cf. I Cor. 1:30).

2) Its Foundation is the fear of the Lord--giving God His rightful place in our lives (Ps. 111:10)

3) Its Atmosphere is humility--the recognition of dependance on God (I Cor. 3:18; Lk. 10:21).

4) In its Character it is "pure...peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (Jas. 3:17).

5) Its Accessibility is through prayer (Jas. 1:5).

6) Its Effect in the life is stability and a sense of security (Matt. 7:24-25).


READER Q & A...

Question: Pat writes, "Hello again, it is I with yet another question. Is there a difference between 'regular' faith and the 'gift' of faith spoken about in, I believe, 2 Corinthians?"

Answer: You ask a good (and challenging!) question.

Joseph Thayer, in his Greek-English Lexicon, describes faith as "a firm and welcome conviction." (That is good!) Every "believer" has this kind of faith, by definition. He is one who believes. And all true faith is a gift of God. Acts 18:27 speaks of "those who had believed through grace" (those who had, through the grace of God, become believers in Christ). Paul says of the Philippians, "To you it has been granted...to believe in Him" (Phil. 1:29). And in Ephesians 2:8, "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Though in this latter case Paul likely means "that salvation is not of yourselves," the point is similar. The ability to trust in God for salvation is sovereignly given, not generated by human effort (cf. Jn. 6:44, 65).

There are clearly different kinds of faith. Perhaps it is helpful to see these as mainly affecting, in turn, the individual's mind, emotions, and will.

A) IN THE MIND. There is a kind of faith that involves an intellectual acceptance of facts. Theologian Charles Baker calls it Rationalistic Faith. Those with this level of faith know the truth, and may well accept the doctrinal realities about who Christ is and what He has done, but there is no transforming personal appropriation of the truth, no life application. James tells us "even the demons believe--and tremble" (Jas. 2:19). They know the power of Almighty God, and the certainty of their eternal destiny. The thought of it fills them with terror (cf. Lk. 8:30-31). They also know without doubt who Christ is, but they do not bow the knee to Him in submission, and in sincere worship. Nor do they do they alter their aims and actions as a result.

B) IN THE EMOTIONS. This is what we might call a transient enthusiasm, or in Baker's words, Emotional Faith. It is the kind of belief that many in the crowds following Jesus had. There was a superficial acceptance of Him for awhile, but with an absence of firm commitment based on spiritual insight. They exhibited an excited response to His miracles but with little substantive conviction toward Him (cf. Jn. 2:23-24). As a result, when the Lord began to speak of the cross, and the deeper truths of the spiritual life, "Many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him" (Jn. 6:66). These are represented in Christ's parable of the sower by the seed that fell upon rock, where there was no depth of earth. "The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy [emotion]; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Lk. 8:13).

C) IN THE WILL. In contrast to the two above that fall short, there is true biblical faith, a transforming faith, that might be described as "a belief that behaves." The mind is involved with this faith too: It is rooted in sound doctrine, an understanding of the truth. So are the feelings: There is certainly an emotional response to the truth. But it goes beyond that. There is an appropriation of the truth that leads to decisive action, and a surrender of the self to God. It is this kind of faith James speaks of when he says, "I will show you my faith by my works" (Jas. 2:18). He goes on, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:20), meaning any "faith" that does not lead to a committed response, and a change in the life, is a dead kind of faith, not the genuine article. And "without faith [genuine faith] it is impossible to please [God]" (Heb. 11:6).

It is this latter kind of faith that is involved at conversion (what is sometimes called saving faith) and in the continuing walk of the Christian life (where it has been called sustaining faith). "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7; cf. Col. 2:6-7).

George Mueller defined such faith as follows: "Faith is the assurance that the things which God said in His Word are true; and that God will act according to what He has said in His Word. This assurance, this reliance on God's Word, this confidence, is Faith." But from one believer to another there are variations in both the degree and consistency of faith. (George Mueller himself was a man of outstanding faith.) With the father who came to Jesus one day many of us would cry, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24).

THE GIFT OF FAITH. Finally, God does grant to some a special and unique endowment of faith which is beyond the ordinary. Not all have this. And we should not beat up on ourselves because we do not have it! "God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3), and we should seek to exercise what we have. But in the listing of various spiritual gifts in First Corinthians 12:9, Paul adds "to another faith by the same Spirit." In other words, to another person is given the gift of faith by the Spirit of God, who "distributes to each one individually as He wills" (vs. 11). It is likely this gift Paul has in mind when he speaks of "all faith so that I could remove mountains" (I Cor. 13:2). And perhaps it was evident in the life of Stephen, who is described as "a man full of faith" (Acts 6:5).

John MacArthur writes that this gift is "distinct from saving faith or persevering [sustaining] faith, both of which all believers possess. This gift is exercised in persistent prayer and endurance in intercession, along with strong trust in God in the midst of difficult circumstances." This is the faith of the great pioneers of church history. Of George Mueller, mentioned earlier, who trusted God to help him feed thousands of orphans. Of missionaries like William Carey and Hudson Taylor. And of the godly men like Dwight Moody and others who founded Bible colleges and began great ministries and movements. They saw a need, as many did. They were deeply concerned, as many were. But they also had a God-given vision for what could be accomplished by His grace, and the holy boldness to launch out and attempt the seemingly impossible. We thank the Lord for this gift to the church!

Question: What is your opinion of the many claims to modern miracles? Do miracles still happen?

Answer: Modern miracles are certainly claimed by various ones. Often they will attempt to find support for their assertions in the Word of God, saying we should expect the supernatural as a daily occurrence because that was the experience of those who lived back then. But, contrary to popular belief, a careful study of the Scriptures shows miracles were not sprinkled evenly throughout the Bible times. Instead, there are three periods of concentrated miracles. These are: during the time of Moses and Joshua; during the time of Elijah and Elisha; during the time of Jesus and the Apostles

Each of these periods lasted for approximately 70 years. Through many centuries between each, miracles tended to be only very occasional events. (It is interesting that a representative from each of these three periods met on the Mount of Transfiguration, Matt. 17:1-3.)

So, what about today? Some suggest we should be seeing the same thing that was experienced in Jesus' day because He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). And yes, He is the same. The same Person, still and always Israel's promised Messiah (which is the point in Hebrews). Kenneth Wuest translates the statement, "Jesus is Messiah, yesterday and today the same, and forever." He is the only Messiah Israel will ever have. But that does not mean He always works in the same way.

The Bible gives us no reason to think that today we should be seeing a great concentration of miracles. The three periods when there was a major breakthrough of the supernatural are definite and well-defined. Each cluster of miracles does not start until after the key person is on the scene. After Moses comes along, the miracles begin, and after Elijah's ministry begins. It is the same with Jesus. Great as he was, John the Baptist did not perform one single miracle (Jn. 10:41). Nor did Jesus until His three years of ministry had begun (Jn. 2:11).

In keeping with the pattern, the next explosion of miracles won't begin until after Christ returns (cf. Isa. 35). Based on that, what we can expect today is an occasional breakthrough of the supernatural, here and there. And that is pretty much what we do see. Individuals or groups that emphasize the miraculous, claiming things are just the same as they were in Bible times, have great trouble matching the facts with what they say should be happening.

Sadly, that sometimes results in gross exaggeration or even fraud. A few years ago a famous faith healer claimed he went into a hospital in Ontario and healed everyone--that he emptied the hospital! But when someone checked with the hospital they said they never heard of him, and nothing like that ever happened. More recently, a fellow on television told about some amazing miracles happening in the north among the Inuit. But missionaries who were there say the report was not at all accurate.

We certainly can have confidence in God's power to do great things beyond the natural and the normal. We serve a powerful God. But we also need a healthy bit of skepticism so we do not simply believe everything we hear or read (cf. Jn. 7:24; I Thess. 5:21). Not even when the name of Christ is invoked. Jesus warns, "Many will say to Me in that day [the day of His return to reign], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not...done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23).

When someone claims a miracle has happened--let us say a miracle of healing--there are always five or six possibilities to be considered.

1) It could be true. God can do miraculous things. Elijah's God still lives today. It would be unwise to put God in a box and say a miracle is impossible.

2) The event could be explainable by natural means. The human body has an amazing ability to heal itself. Recovery can sometimes happen quickly, and unexpectedly. When it does, we thank the Lord. He did it, by designing the body's wonderful powers to recuperate (or by gifting medical people to provide the right treatment). But that is not a miracle in the sense that God had to overrule some basic law of nature to accomplish it.

3) Other times it may be a case of mind over matter. Doctors have known for some time that if a person thinks he will get better, he sometimes will. In the days of the old west, quacks used to go around selling "cure-alls." Often there was not much in them but water, a bit of flavouring, and some alcohol. Yet sometimes, when people took the concoction believing it would help them, it did. Again, not a "miracle."

4) The person could simply be mistaken. He could think he has been healed when he has not. A faith healer tells him, "You're healed! Throw away your medicine. And don't go to a doctor--that would show a lack of faith." And maybe he seems better for a short time. But when the symptoms get worse, he feels guilty for his lack of faith. We have all heard of sad cases where such people, who could have been helped by proper treatment, have died instead.

5) There can be outright fraud, healings that are faked to deceive the gullible and naive (and to take their money!). This happens all too frequently. One famous healer claimed a miraculous "gift of knowledge" about the illnesses of people in the audiences before him. But he was being fed information by his wife through a hidden earphone--information gathered earlier in interviews! Such con games simply bring unnecessary ridicule to the Christian message and to legitimate servants of God.

6) There are other supernatural powers at work in the world as well as God's. The book of Job shows us the devil can cause disease (Job 2:7). It would not be surprising if he also could take sickness away, in some circumstances. Many false religions and cults assert they experience miracles. Maybe some are real miracles, but the source of the supernatural power is not God (cf. II Thess. 2:9).

When the miraculous is claimed, it could be one or another of these is the true explanation. We do not really need to prove which it is. If it is any of the first three, we can simply praise the Lord for the person's recovery, without arguing over how God did it. If an individual claims to have experienced a miracle, that is largely a subjective assessment, and it is difficult to argue against it. It did not happen to us. We can simply thank the Lord that something good occured.

If it is any of the latter three, we need to be concerned for the welfare of the person. He could be dangerously misled and in error. Is he, for example, saying, "This happened to me, and therefore it should happen to you"? That is not biblical. In the case of bodily healing, we know that God, for His own wise purposes, does not always grant healing (cf. II Cor. 12:7-10; II Tim. 4:20).

Or is the person saying, "This happened to me and therefore my views must be correct--or what I am doing must be good and pleasing to God"? That is not right either. In Numbers 20 we read of a great miracle--water provided from a rock to quench the thirst of a nation. But God gave it in grace, even though Moses had a bad attitude and sinned in performing the miracle (Num. 20:1-13).

There is a school of thought (called "power evangelism") that says miracles are needed today, in order to convince people to turn to Christ. But that is not so. The miracles of Bible times were given by God for the purpose of accrediting His messengers and their message (Acts 2:22; II Cor. 12:11-12; Heb. 2:3-4). Now that the message has been confirmed in this way, and written down in God's Word, it no longer needs special accreditation.

The Holy Spirit speaks through the inspired Word of God. It is the Spirit's sword (Eph. 6:17), "living and powerful...piercing even to the division of soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12). That is the method God uses to change lives. There is nothing more powerful. In fact, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, [God's Word confirmed and written down] neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Lk. 16:31). We do not need to pray for more miracles. We simply need to declare the Word of the living God, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. A life transformed by the gospel becomes its own living confirmation of the gospel.

There is no reason to expect that today we will see a concentration of miracles rivaling the three specific periods described in the Scriptures. Miracles are no longer needed to confirm God's message. If God sovereignly grants a miracle now, it is an individual act of mercy, sometimes given in answer to prayer (I Jn. 5:14). When God works in an amazing and unusual way, we can praise Him, but we must understand that it is not His common way of working. Further, we should be careful not to draw conclusions from the event that are not accurate or biblical.

NEXT MONTH: Bill asks, "Can you please explain what Paul was teaching in Romans chapter 3 where he refers to no one seeking God. There are many people who think they are seeking God so to what was Paul referring?"


IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH

1) A CHAIN OF THANKSGIVING
It is not too soon to begin thinking about Thanksgiving (at least for Canadians!). For Canadians, Thanksgiving Sunday in 2005 falls on October 9th. (Though the activity described here would suit any Worship Service emphasizing praise and thanks to God.) Before the service, distribute slips of paper approximately 9" x 2" to each one in attendance. Construction paper works well, and if you can use a variety of colours, so much the better. If yours is a smaller congregation, you can give two or three of these slips to each person.

Ask each person to write on the slip one thing he or she is thankful to God for. Then, at an appropriate time in the service, ask individuals to come up one at a time and give their slip(s) to a designated person at the front. (If the congregation is large, you can have several of the latter, each with a stapler.) Staple the slips into interlinked rings, attaching one to the next, and to the next, and so on. This "Thanksgiving Chain" provides a visible expression of all for which we thank the Lord. It can be left in place several Sundays, as a continuing reminder.

2) On the Website!--Interim Pastoral Ministry
Has the pastor of your church recently resigned? As well as beginning the search for a new undershepherd, have you considered the possibility of calling an interim man to minister for a shorter period of time? On the Wordwise website is an article called Interim Pastorates. Check out this practical material.

3) Also see, on the website, an article called 12 Keys to Good Music, giving you 12 biblical principles to evaluate the music in your life.

4) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

5) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.


VIEWS & REVIEWS

This month, a winner and a loser--sort of.

The Genesis Record
The first book is highly recommended, if you are a pastor, or a Sunday School teacher, or simply an individual wanting to do some careful study of the important book of Genesis. The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris (published in 1976), is subtitled "A scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings." The over 650 pages are a rich treasure on both counts, science and devotion, and it provides a careful exposition of the text as well. A solid defense of creationism. Scholarly, yet the language is clear and simple. If you want to study Genesis, you need this book in your library!

For Time and Forever
Published in 2004, this is the latest book from the pen of Henry M. Morris. The author again defends the biblical account of creation, within the context of God's eternal purposes for man. While there is some good material scattered through this book, it tends to be repetitious and disorganized. The reason for this is likely because much of the book consists of a cobbling together of articles written by Dr. Morris in years past. If you can live with that, you will find some interesting insights in this little volume.


If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.

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