Faith First

How often have we heard, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Let’s begin to honestly ask, “Which came first: faith or law?”

One Word –

Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. Exodus 14:31

Daily Bible Reading: Exodus 14, 15, 16; Luke 15

Big Idea –

Often we only think of the Old Testament as being the Law; if people were going to come to the LORD and be accepted it had to be according to the Law – right? That’s I was taught growing up and what we are inclined to think, but if that’s true, then we too must come to God in the same way because He said, “I the LORD do not change (Mal. 3:6). James gives the same testimony saying, “there is no variation or shadow due to change” with God our Father (Jm. 1:17).

So if God remains the same, and if we believe that we come to God and are accepted by faith, then shouldn’t we find the same pattern in the Old Testament too? This may surprise you, but that exactly what we find if we set aside our bias and look for faith in the pages of the Old Testament.

Israel had just passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. They watched as the Egyptian chariot men that pursued them were drowned in the sea. With the LORD’S great power they saw God work deliverance on their behalf. As a result the fear of the LORD was upon the people, but that’s not all. Seeing the LORD work salvation on their behalf the people also “believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.”

The Hebrew word ‘aman translated here as believed, literally means to stand firm. Such belief then is and assurance, trust or faith that is unmovable and confident. Likewise ‘aman is the word used when it says Abram “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Likewise, when God first met with Moses at the burning bush calling him to return to Egypt so the people could be delivered, the LORD gave Moses signs that the people would believe or have faith (‘aman – see Ex. 4:5, 8). When they saw the signs  “the people believed,” and bowed to worship the LORD who had heard their cries in the midst of their affliction (Ex. 4:31). Therefore, people were coming to God and being accepted (i.e. delivered or saved), not on the basis of the Law, but by faith.

And if you remember the rest of the story, it was no easy thing for Israel to continue to believe that the LORD had sent Moses to deliver them from bondage. When their labor was made harder they started grumbling and complaining against Moses and Aaron. Thus the plagues were not only to turn Pharaoh’s hardened heart, but also as a sign to build or strengthen Israel’s faith. Only after they have passed through the waters does it say again say “they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (‘aman).

Paul describes the miracle crossing at the Red Sea Israel’s baptism saying, our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). This explains why the people believed in both the LORD and in Moses His servant; Moses was the mediator or intermediary who stood before God on their behalf.

Similarly, we are baptized into Christ Jesus because we had faith unto salvation, or you could say we believed in the LORD and in His servant Jesus. Our intermediary is Jesus, “for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5 – in the Greek ‘intermediary’ and ‘mediator’ is the same word mesitēs). So we are all saved by faith in God through an appointed mediator because without an intermediary we cannot come before the LORD.

Now what came first for the nation of Israel; faith or the Law? Faith or belief came first. What happened after Israel passed through the Red Sea with Moses? They made the journey from the sea to Mt. Sinai. Their faith preceded the Law, so their deliverance was by faith and not works of the Law. This is because God first accepted them into a relationship and then established the terms of the covenant or Law.

Why is it important that faith came first? Because with out a relationship law only bring about rebellion. God saved Israel and welcomed them into a relationship first so they might then accept God’s covenant. Parents who have little or no relationship with their teenagers learn the hard way that more rules only cause more rebellion.

We should take note of this Old Testament picture. We have come to God and are saved by faith – faith first and then comes law.

Today we enjoy our ‘personal relationship’ with God through faith Jesus. However, God brought us into relationship through the love of Christ so we might accept His law. Jesus actually came to instruct us in God’s expectations of our relationship with Him through, yes the Law. And Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).

Why is it important that our relationship with God grow to include obedience to His Law? Because relationship without law leads to lawlessness, and let’s not forget “sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4).

Exemplify –

I understand that salvation is by faith alone; however, my faith needs to be willing to take the steps from baptism (the Red Sea) to Mt. Sinai receiving God’s Law – the terms of His covenant relationship established by faith.

Yes to Yield –

LORD Jesus, thank You for Your salvation; it is not a wage I’ve earned by works, but a gift received by faith. My faith is first, continue Holy Spirit to build my faith because without faith I know it is impossible to please the LORD. But help me to take the journey of faith with steps of obedience; Holy Spirit teach me to abide in Your word  living in spirit and truth according to the terms of Your covenant established in Your unchanging Law.


You might wonder if I and putting myself ‘under the law,’ or if I’m encouraging others to be ‘under the law.” Let me say again, we are saved by grace through faith; it is God’s gift and not by works. Obedience to the law should follow, not to earn our salvation (this is impossible). Rather being saved by faith we live as those who are sanctified, holy or set apart through our growing obedience to God’s Law; the law teaches or instructs us in God’s expectations of holiness (see Eph. 2:4-10).

Being under the law refers to the judgment or penalty of the law, which is death. We are NOT relying on the law for salvation for salvation is by faith. However, we are encouraged like Israel to make a choice: blessings or curses, life or death. Jesus became a curse for us dying in our place; God’s righteous judgment and the penalty of our sin was upon Him. Thus we can choose blessing and life (eternal life at that) through faith in Jesus who has brought us out from under the law and it’s penalty (see Gal. 3:10-14).


If you’re new to Living It Now, you can find an explanation of the O-B-E-Y journal on the Hearing and Doing page, or the sample post Guard Duty.

Darkness is Light

Many of us are afraid of the dark; uncertainty fills our hearts with each step we take. Yet sometimes the darkness is not an absence of light, but a heaviness of spirit that can overwhelm us. What are we to do with such emotional darkness?

Read: Genesis 14, 15, 16; Matthew 13; Luke 8

One Word

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Genesis 15:12

Big Idea

God appeared to Abram in a vision telling him to not be afraid for the LORD would be his shield and his reward would be very great. Abram responded with a reasonable question, how could this be because he had no child and his servant would inherit everything. God assures Abram that he would have a son who would be his heir and not his servant Eliezer. The LORD also reminds Abram about His promise to multiply his descendants, more numerous than the stars. Abram believed the LORD and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.

The LORD then reminded Abram that he brought him out of the land of the Chaldeans to give him possession of the land where he dwelt. Just as Abram asked about the promised heir, so to he now asked God how he could be sure that he would possess the land. This is when the LORD instructed Abram to get animals killing and arranging them as a sign of covenant with God.

This must have been a fearful thought for Abram as it was a common practice for covenants to be sealed in this manner. The one making the covenant would pass between the dead animals saying, “May I too be killed if I fail to fulfill this covenant.” Would God ask Abram to make such a promise? How could he as an old man insure he would have a son to be his heir? How could Abram guarantee that he would possess the land upon which he lived?

Yet Abram did as God said killing the animals and aligning them on the ground, and when scavengers tried to come eat the carcasses Abram chased them away. Abram was taking the steps he could to enter into this covenant agreement with the LORD.

Then as evening came Abram fell into a deep sleep and “a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” So much for him being able to do anything to uphold a covenant with the LORD; Abram was definitely the weaker party to this covenant.

In a vision Abram saw God pass through the carcasses of dead bodes as a fiery pot. God and not Abram would be the one to guarantee the covenant. Abraham would have a son, the child of promise. Abram and his descendants would inherit the land. God guaranteed it.

I imagine this experience must have been one of the highlights of Abram’s lifetime. I can see him telling this story to his son Isaac. Yet before God confirmed the covenant Abram would always recall the darkness filling his spirit. Could it be that in this darkness of spirit Abram understood his weakness – and in turn the strength of the LORD?

As much as seeing the vision of the LORD passing between the carcasses, the emotion of feeling in that moment provided Abram with the assurance that God would be faithful to fulfill the covenant made that night. Often we think such negative experiences could not be from God. Yet God used this to seal in Abram’s heart a covenant only the LORD could fulfill. Abram was powerless to have a son and guarantee the inheritance of the land. But God would do what man could not.

Exemplify

God gave us the gift of emotion; however, I need to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern the ‘spirit’ of my feelings. The heaviness of spirit I sometimes feel could be of just of human origin – often my own making, and yes, sometimes it might come as an attack of the devil. But another possibility must not be forgotten; it could be God wants to get my attention and seal His promise in my heart.

Yes to Yield

LORD Jesus, You know my heart and my emotions which sometimes ebb and flow like the tide. I look to You as the lifter of my head, the One who is my joy and song. Holy Spirit empower me to live a life of unbroken joy because I know You are always faithful. Yet LORD, I pray You give me discernment to recognize when You may bring a darkness to my spirit. Holy Spirit help me to understand how You are teaching me to fear You as holy – to live in dreadful awe of You. Help me in those times to have an attentive ear to what You are saying and doing in my heart. Above all I pray You help me not to fear the darkness, because even the darkness is light to You!


If you’re new to Living It Now, you can find an explanation of the O-B-E-Y journal on the Hearing and Doing page, or the sample post Guard Duty.

Final Words

If you were falsely accused, in your defense what would be your final words?

Read: Job 28, 29, 30, 31; Luke 6

One Word

“If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley.”

The words of Job are ended. Job 31:38-40

Big Idea

Job concludes his defense to his woeful friends who accuse more than comfort in his time of need. Chapter 31 is a personal highlight for me of all that Job says refuting the false accusations made against him. These final words spoken here overflow with covenant language in which Job speaks curses upon himself if he should in any way not uphold his integrity.

As an aside, I’m also particularly struck by Job’s covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at women, and it’s well worth our time to study as men. Our wives are challenged to be ‘Proverbs 31 women,’ could we accept the challenge to be  ‘Job 31 men?’ But our sexuality as men is not my specific focus today; however, it is no small part of our integrity.

These final words are one’s we might ignore. Yet Job here personifies his land and its furrows as weeping together if he has received the harvest and eaten his fill by cheating or withholding payment. Should Job have shown injustice then he curses his lands to be unfruitful; instead of an abundant harvest of wheat or barley, let thorns and weeds grow in their place.

Don’t miss this point; Job and his family depended upon the land for their very lives. Unlike us they did not have stores stocked with shelves full of food to eat. If Job’s land would be cursed with thorns and weeds, his life and the lives of those in his household would all be in jeopardy.

The imagery Job uses is also picked up by James in the New Testament. He writes to the wealthy about the LORD’S judgment that will come upon them saying, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the LORD of hosts.” (Jm. 5:4).

Regardless of our personal annual income, do you and I as Americans realize how wealthy we all are? Don’t compare ourselves against each other; we will always find someone that we think is better off than we are. Instead can we see how much we have compared to the more than one billion people of living on less than $1 a day (see – The Faces of Poverty)? Our daily coffee or soda-pop is more than that.

Like Job our wealth and prosperity is great. How would we respond if it were suddenly taken from us? Would we continue to maintain our integrity as he did both in the words he spoke and the things he did? Are we confident enough of our integrity before the LORD of hosts that our final words would be a curse against ourselves for any injustice or sin we had committed?

Will our final words uphold or contradict our integrity?

Exemplify

Making you and me just like Jesus is God’s good work the LORD will bring “to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php. 1:6). The bible would describe this as living a holy life; my family and neighbors will recognize this in me as living a life of integrity.

Yes to Yield

LORD Jesus, I don’t want my final words to be filled with regret or excuses, nor do I want my final words to contradict who You are making me as a man of integrity, to live just like Jesus. Holy Spirit give me wisdom in all that I do and say. Keep me sensitive to Your voice as You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your Name’s sake (see Ps. 23:3).


If you’re new to Living It Now, you can find an explanation of the O-B-E-Y journal on the Hearing and Doing page, or the sample post Guard Duty.

Our Wedding Ring

When you’re engaged or head over heals in love with your husband or wife, would you throw away your wedding ring? Of course not; it’s a treasure we protect and keep safe. As the Bride of Christ, has Jesus given us such a sign of our covenant with Him?

Read: Job 25, 26, 27; Matthew 12:1-21; Mark 3

One Word

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)

Big Idea

I need to take a moment and set the stage for what is happening here, not just from the immediate context, but the context of the gospels. This account of the Pharisees confronting Jesus because his disciples were breaking the law by plucking heads grain to eat on the Sabbath is recorded here in Matthew 12:1-8 as well as in Mark 2:23-38 and Luke 6:1-5. Each of these accounts are also followed by Jesus healing of a man with a withered hand likewise on a Sabbath, which the Pharisees viewed as being unlawful for Jesus to do.

In each Jesus responds to the Pharisees with the example of David eating the bread of the presence, which was unlawful to do. Matthew also includes how the priests minister in the temple on the Sabbath but remain guiltless. Mark includes Jesus’s statement that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). Each then conclude with Jesus’ statement “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Now before I go any further, let me state that I believe Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Not only is He LORD of this day we commonly refer to as Saturday, but He is also LORD of Sunday through Friday. Jesus is either LORD of all, or He is not lord at all. (Perhaps you’ve noticed that I always refer to Jesus as LORD – all caps – for He is Yehovah, One with the Father and the Spirit, God Almighty.) Why this disclaimer that Jesus is LORD of the Sabbath? Because country to what most bible commentaries tell us, I don’t think Jesus is establishing His claim as LORD of the Sabbath here.

You see that’s why I took the time to establish the big picture of what happened on this particular Sabbath (although only Matthew’s gospel seems to indicate that the incident in the grain fields and the healing of the man’s withered hand were on the same Sabbath –  Luke says it was another Sabbath, and Mark seems to agree). The primary point of what happened here and on other Sabbaths was Jesus correcting the misguided teaching and legalism of the Pharisees.

The religious leaders not only criticized Jesus for what they saw as breaking the law of the Sabbath, but they constantly conspiring  to find a way to kill Him (Mat. 12:14). Here is a brief list of other times the religious leaders were attacking in regard to the Sabbath:

  • Jesus healed a cripple man telling him to take up his mat and walk, but the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath (Jn. 5:16).
  • Jesus healed a man born blind but the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” and went on to say Jesus was “a sinner” (Jn. 9:16, 24).
  • Jesus healed a woman who had been bound for eighteen years, but “the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day'” (Lk. 13:14)

And that’s what is missing in response to Jesus statement, “the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath;” no rebuke or attack is made against Jesus for this in any of the accounts. Why would the religious leaders who were quick to point out that Jesus and the disciples had broken the law milling grain in their hands to eat on the Sabbath, but they say nothing in response to what most modern commentators view as a clear claim of Jesus divinity as LORD of the Sabbath? Likewise, when Jesus is on trial prior to the crucifixion He is charged with blasphemy, as having claimed to be God, but no mention is made that He had also blasphemed by calling Himself LORD of the Sabbath. Why is this accusation missing?

I think it is because of how Jews understood the Sabbath, but we don’t. The Sabbath was understood to be the sign of the covenant with the LORD; it was like our wedding ring, a constant reminder of the vows of love and commitment made between the bride and groom. Israel and the Jews of Jesus’ day saw themselves as the bride promised to God as their husband. It’s from this common belief that New Testament writers revealed that we are the bride of Christ.

And so because the Sabbath was viewed as the sign of the covenant like a wedding ring first given to Adam (i.e. the man), the sons of the man (humanity, but specifically the Jews) were entrusted with the Sabbath. This is why Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27); it is the gift given as the sign of their covenant relationship to God. Through the Jewish marriage customs the Pharisees and Jews in general believed that the Jewish people were the lord or master of the Sabbath protecting their covenant relationship with the LORD Yehovah.

Therefore, when Jesus says, “the son of man is lord of the Sabbath” the religious leaders who challenged Him for letting the disciples pluck heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath are now silent. They don’t hear Jesus making a claim to be divine, but agree with Jesus that they are lord of the Sabbath guarding it as the sign of their covenant with God.

The Sabbath – it’s not a burden of the law, outdated and fulfilled by Christ. It’s our wedding ring.

Exemplify

As a member together of the Church, which is the Bride of Christ, I want to be prepared for our wedding day when Jesus returns as our Bridegroom. One way I can do this is by recognizing the Sabbath as the day given to me by the LORD to treasure and renew the covenant relationship He has established with us through Christ.

Yes to Yield

LORD Jesus, according to Your great love You have chosen me and all who believe as Your Bride. Thank You for choosing us. Holy Spirit continue to lead me in truth and teach me the importance of the Sabbath as a sign of our covenant marriage to Christ. Give me wisdom to know how to set this day apart as holy in my life. Help me to see that it is not a burden, but an expression of love and obedience to You.


If you’re new to Living it Now check out Hearing and Doing for an explanation of the O-B-E-Y journal.