As we finish our study of this spiritual pearl from the book of James, we will examine one more facet of the Hebraic concept of faith and doing that is central to both the Old and New Testament. According to the Hebraic mindset, knowing God’s word is not just understanding and gaining knowledge of Biblical principles and theological doctrines. That is a Greek-Western idea. The Hebrew word yada, “to know,” means to “have an intimate encounter, experience, or sharing with another person.” Knowledge embraces the whole person and not just the mind. Knowledge to the Hebraic mind was not just the accumulation of data, facts, information, and ideas, as the Western thought belief system declares. It is about meeting and interacting with the living God and obeying Him. All social action, good works, and good moral character are the end result of “knowing” God by His revealing Himself to us.
And where can this encounter with God be found. To an earnest seeker, this encounter with the living God can always be found in a book, and that book is the Bible. Martin Luther diligently studied the Bible throughout his lifetime. He preached the words and the revelation of God he found there. These words were responsible for the whole transformation of Western Civilization moving individuals from dead works such as jumping up and down with rocks in their shoes for penance, saying matins, wearing scratchy clothing, extended fasting and mourning, making pilgrimages to pray before the bones of saints, or paying enormous sums of money to decorate chapels all in a hope of obtaining forgiveness from sins, to trusting in the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In the year before he died, Luther said this, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”
According to the Hebraic mindset, the “doing” of God’s word in direct response to our relationship and encounter with Him was all wrapped up in their concept of “faith.” “Faith” in Hebrew is not a noun, it is a verb and signifies “action.” To the Hebraic mind, faith means confidence and trust in God and His word that requires each person to step out into life and to act on that trust or belief. The word that God makes alive to a believer by prophecy, dream, or from the written scriptures is to be affirmed by that person’s actions in life. A person who believes in God can venture into the unknown in full assurance and expectation that God will be there.
Doers of the Word
All the great men and women of faith who pleased God did just that. They were all “doers” of the word and not “hearers” only. The book of Hebrews tells us that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain because he offered what God had prescribed. Noah built an ark and saved his household. He worked on it for a hundred years and preached to the people about the coming flood, calling them to repentance because God told him to do it. Abraham went out from the city of Ur not knowing where he was going because God told him to. Moses led the children of Israel miraculously through the Red Sea because he acted on God’s command to stretch out the rod in his hand over the Red Sea. He obeyed, the path that was hidden in the sea appeared, and the children of Israel walked across on dry land.
Joseph received a revelation from God in a dream to take Jesus to Egypt because Herod was seeking to kill him. In obedience to the message he received from the angel in his dream, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and left Bethlehem for Egypt. Jesus told his disciples after His resurrection to go to Jerusalem and wait for power from on high. They went and waited there for ten days and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Paul gave his testimony about how the Lord had appeared to him and spoken to him on the road to Damascus, Paul said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” When Paul had determined to go to a certain place to preach the Gospel, that night in a dream he saw a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us. ” After pondering the dream, he concluded that God had called him to go to Macedonia. So he went.
Faith Without Works is Dead
James points out several other examples of those who showed their faith by their works – “Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did – by his actions. So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone”(James 2: 23). And what was Abraham believing that caused him to do the work of God by offering up Issac on the altar? The author of Hebrews tells us that “God had promised him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead ” (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham expressed his faith by telling his servant, “Stay
here with the donkey. The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back” (Gen. 22:5). Regardless of what the circumstances looked like – which was the certain death of Isaac - Abraham believed the promise that God had given him. He believed that God would make His everlasting covenant through Isaac and his seed, just as God had promised. He believed that God’s purpose for Isaac would not fail. This absolute trust and faith in God’s word is what made Abraham the Father of Faith to all those who believe.
Faith That Won the Heart of God
James points out what many would consider as an unusual example of a demonstration of faith by works. James writes, “Rahab the prostitute is another example of this. She was made right with God by her actions – when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road” (James 2:25). When the Hebrew spies came to spy out the city of Jericho, the prostitute Rahab took them in to hide them. She confessed her faith in God. She said, “I know the LORD has given you this land. We are all afraid of you. Everyone is living in terror” (Joshua 2:9). She asked the spies for protection for her and her family when Israel conquered Jericho.
The men told her to hang a scarlet rope from the window of her house, and she and all those in her house would be protected. Because of Rahab’s faith in God and her work of hiding the spies in cooperation with the plans and purposes of God, Jesus was one of her descendants (Matt. 1:5).
Faith Always Requires Action
Faith in God’s word always required action in the New Covenant as well as the Old. Jesus affirms this concept in His Great Commission to His disciples. He told them, “Go and preach the gospel, teach all nations to observe everything I have taught you and I will always be with you! ” We can step into tomorrow knowing that not only will God be there to lead us, to guide us, and protect us, we have His living presence within our hearts. This is the good news of the New Covenant.
James reminds us that doing God’s word should follow hearing God’s word. We must be a doer of the word and not a hearer only. If we are a hearer only, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing God’s will when really we are only giving mental agreement to it. the Hebraic mindset taught that to “know” God will result not only in hearing what His will is, it will result in our faithfulness to do – to obey God’s directive and to live out the terms of that covenant. There is no such thing as being a Christian who is in rebellion against God. That is an oxymoron. To become a Christian, in the true sense of the word, means to give up your rebellion. It means to not only internalize truth, but to also walk it out in our actions on a daily basis. This will be reflected in our reaction and interaction with other people.
We see this understanding in the life of Abraham. What he did that was successful came as a result of his encounter and interaction with God and obedience to God’s directives. When Abraham acted on his own to try to bring forth the son that God had promised him without being directed to do so by God, his actions produced Ishmael. There are a lot of well meaning Christians who are out trying to produce the life and do the works of God on the basis of their own self-effort, apart from any real true knowledge and heart felt intimate relationship with Jesus. This inevitably will produce Ishmaels, drudgery, and death.
Acting from the Leading of God’s Spirit Within
According to the Hebrew action language of verbal root words, to know was to do! But it was not a doing without the knowing. Jesus corrected the Pharisees for approaching the Scriptures and the good works they were doing to fulfill the law in just this manner. They were trying to obey the Scriptures to the letter but had no intimate relationship with God. One day they were harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules and healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus corrected this misplaced zeal and talked to them about good and evil deeds and the Hebraic concept of knowing God. He told them, “The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment. The Father himself has also testified about Me. You have never heard His voice or seen Him face to face, and you do not have His message in your hearts, because you do not believe Me – the One He sent to you. You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me so that I can give you this eternal life”(John 5: 28-29, 37-40).
Jesus explained hearing and doing this way, “I do nothing without consulting the Father. I judge as I am told. And my judgment is absolutely just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of God who sent Me; it is not merely my own, I do nothing on my own, but I speak what the Father taught Me. I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 5:30; 8:28,48,14:10). Jesus, the Second Adam, set the example for us to follow. He explained how we as a new creation are to live and work – and we can conclude that this cannot be done without a living, vital relationship with God.
The Results of Disobedience
According to both the Old and New Covenants, by your doing - your acts, you will be judged. But not just any kind of “doing” is acceptable to God. Jesus explained good works this way: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; you are a worker of iniquity – your works were unauthorized.” Anyone who listens to My teaching and obeys Me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. The rain comes in torrents and the flood waters rise, and the winds beat against that house. It won’t collapse, because it is built on rock. But anyone who hears My teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash.”(John 7:21-27 NLT)
St. John communicated this principle to the early church saying, “And how can we be sure that we belong to Him? By obeying His commandments. If someone says, ‘I belong to God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God’s word really do love Him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in Him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did. If anyone says, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God” (1 John 2:3-6,9; 3:9-10 NLT).
Spiritual Transformation Through Obedience to God’s Word
James reminds us, “If you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” (James 1:22-24) We must walk away from the word of God believing what it says about us as a new creation and act like it is so. James calls the Gospel, the Law of Liberty. James tells us how to grow in this faith that results in doing: “Look into the Perfect Law of Liberty, continue to study God’s perfect teachings that make free. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the law that sets you free – and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:25 NAS, Amplified, NLT).
Paul reminded the Corinthian Church of this. “As we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord”(2 Cor. 3:18).
The Gospel makes us free from the law of sin and death. As we look into this glorious Gospel and meditate on it day and night, make it the rule of all our behavior, and meet the Living Christ in His word, James reminds us that we will be blessed in all that we do.
So go ahead, jump into our study on James, How to Live a Life of Excellence, and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
We learned from Part 1 of “Being a Doer of the Word” that James exhorts us “to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, deceiving yourself”(James 1:22). Holding up this pearl of truth, James reminds us that “faith without works is dead” and that our faith will be revealed by the works that we do (James 2:26). This brings us to the age-old controversy between faith and works. We will continue with our study of faith and works to see just what the Scriptures teach about this. If you have not read Part 1 of this article it will be helpful to go back and read it before you continue here.
We learned in Part 1 of this topic that one reason for the confusion some people have over faith and works is due to the fact most people approach the Scriptures with a Greek-Western mindset. The Hebrew mindset is altogether different. It views faith as action and finds no contradiction in faith and works because one inevitably flows from the other.
We know that “the Scriptures are inspired by God” and that “holy men of old wrote as they were moved on by the Holy Spirit.” It is also important to keep in mind that the Old Testament writers as well as Jesus and His disciples were deeply rooted in the Hebraic way of thinking, which is totally opposite from the mindset of Greek-Western thought. Because most of us are products of this type of educational system, it is easy to approach and interpret the Scriptures with this mindset. This is where the stumbling stone between faith and works comes in and our misunderstanding of it. Paul reminds us that we can be “alienated from the life of God through ignorance,” having our “mind blinded” by our old modes of thinking. This is why the word of God is invaluable to “transform” our way of thinking, so that as Paul taught “we can understand what the will of God is.” (Rom.12:1-2, Ephes. 4:18).
Two Different Approaches to Leaning – Bible Study James
The Greek-Western approach to learning and life starts with man as the center, acting and interacting with his environment to know himself. This mindset sees education as gathering and imparting facts and ideas,
accumulating knowledge by which we understand and act in the world. Man does his best to perform and seeks to understand himself. Intellectual brilliance, according to Greek mindset can be compared to a fire. It is “ascending,” trying to “climb” to conceive and express new insight and understanding. Elaborate theories have been built in this way, only to be proved to be “false,” later.
The Hebraic approach to learning is totally opposite from this. Hebraic thinking teaches that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One that is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). The Hebraic mindset holds that God is the center of man’s existence. The Hebrew sages say that learning is to be done in deep humility, in a sincere desire to receive understanding. Truth is poured down like water from on high, and it will seek the lowest basin. Once we have received truth, been enlightened, and gained understanding, it as if a “light” goes on. We say, “Once I was blind but now I see. Now I get it.” This receiving mode goes for any subject you want to know about. It is the true essence of self-education and the secret of the brilliant wisdom of our founding fathers.
True knowledge about anything comes from God. By meditating on God’s word, we have the promise that we can “become wiser than our teachers.” This was the secret of Daniel and his four friends in Babylon. Although they were captives from a foreign land, they advance in the kingdom of Babylon, not by compromising with the Babylonians and bowing down to their idols and following their life style, but by meditating in God’s word and obeying His commandments.
The Revelations of Daniel
The book of Daniel is a series of the revelations that God gave Daniel while he served in Babylon. When asked to not only interpret the king’s dream, but to also tell the dream, Daniel asked God for the understanding. When God revealed these things to Daniel, Daniel worshiped God, saying, “‘Praise the name of God forever and ever, for He alone has all wisdom and power. He determines the course of world events; He removes kings and sets others on the throne. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though He himself is surrounded by light. Thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.’ ”
When the king saw Daniel’s wisdom, he bowed down and worshiped Daniel’s God. The king said to Daniel, ” “‘Truly, your God is the God of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.’ Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men” (Dan. 2:20-23, 48:49).
James emphasizes this truth that God will willing supply wisdom to those who ask in faith, believing that they will receive: “If you need wisdom, ask God and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking” (James 1:5).
Ironically, some of the Jewish leaders were not approaching learning this way because they remarked about Peter and some of the disciples, “How do these men know letters, seeing they have never learned?” Then they realized that they had been with Jesus.
For the Hebraic mindset, life revolves around God and His way of doing things in both the Old and New Covenants. It is not until a person submits to God’s will and His kingship that he can know God and find himself. The ability to know God is the great promise of the New Covenant – “they will all know Me from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). Under the New Covenant, through the power of the indwelling Christ, we are raised to become a New Creation, to know God in an intimate friendship, and are empowered from within by the Holy Spirit and to discover truth by the Spirit’s revelation.
Hebraic Thought – Faith as “Doing”
All wrapped up in the Hebraic concept of faith is “doing.” The word faith is an action verb in Hebrew, it is not a noun. However, the Hebraic concept of “doing” is not the Greek concept of “doing.” From the Hebraic point of view, when James exhorts us to be a doer of the word, he is not telling us to try harder to be a Christian. Many people feel that this is what James is asking us to do when the Bible teaches elsewhere that we are saved by faith in the shed blood of Christ. As a result, people try to skip the book of James thinking they cannot possibly live up to his admonitions. Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation, objected somewhat to the book of James believing that because of the incorrect emphasis of the Roman Church on earning your salvation through various works prescribed by the church, people might feel their works would justify them in the eyes of God instead of looking to the finished work of Christ. However, when we approach James’ teaching with a Hebraic mindset and compare James’ teaching with the rest of Scripture, we will not make this mistake.
Martin Luther put faith and works into perspective. He emphasized to his contemporaries who were deeply steeped in the Greek mindset “we are not made righteous by doing righteous works, but when we are made righteous through the work of Christ, we will do righteous works.” This is the Hebraic way of thinking. Because many people approach faith and works with the Greek mindset, they try to perform works as something to please God and gain God’s approval. The emphasis is on man from start to finish and his ability to strive to perform and his ability to work for God in his own strength. To get a good look at what this Greek mindset is, let’s look at it in its extreme form in Church history.
How the Greek Mindset of “Doing” Affected the Roman Church
During the Middle Ages, before the Protestant Reformation, the Church was deeply steeped in Greek thought and the teachings of Aristotle. At that time books were rare, very few people could read, and most of those who did read had never read the Bible, including the clergy. Because of ignorance of the Scriptures, erroneous teaching and traditions of men had been taught as the way to heaven with the emphasis on the works of man. As one of the most extreme examples of this, at certain times of the year, young men could be seen and heard running through the streets of Europe and mourning over their sins as they beat themselves with chains until they bled profusely, seeking forgiveness for sins and relief for their conscious. This act was considered a spiritual work of penance.
At this time Martin Luther was a priest and Doctor of Theology and Sacred Studies at Wittenberg University in Germany. As a young monk, Luther had the opportunity to briefly study the Bible in a monastery, which was unusual in his day. When the time came for him to put the Bible away and study other books, Luther would steal away to the monastery library to study and memorize the Scriptures. There he fell in love with the word of God. However, because Luther had been a student of Aristotle, he approached the study of Scriptures with a Greek mindset and was blinded from the Truth by human reasoning.
Before Luther was spiritually awakened by a revelation from God that “the just shall live by faith,” he had done more religious works in his zeal to try to please God than hundreds of average people. As a priest, he had given up the idea of marriage and family. He writes that although he was perfect in obedience to the moral law of God, he had subjected himself to all kinds of “works” to seek a true knowledge of the forgiveness of his sins and to be made perfect in love. He had worn scratchy clothing to subject his body to suffering. He had made many pilgrimages to pray before Christian relics. He had participated in endless prayer vigils, and according to his own testimony, if a deeper relationship with God could have been gained through fasting, he should have obtained it, because he notes that he had almost killed himself through all the fasting he had done. He admits that he was so involved in doing religious works to find favor with God that he got to the place where he actually “hated God” who had made the Christian life so difficult.
When Dr. Luther was selected to make a pilgrimage to Rome, he hoped that at last maybe there he would find something that would bring him spiritual relief. Walking all the way from Germany was long and difficult. Along the way he cheered himself with the thoughts that soon he would be walking on the very streets traveled by Paul and Peter. He would stand in the Coliseum were early Christian martyrs were devoured by lions and were burnt as human torches to light the city of Rome. Truly he would be on holy ground.
Luther’s Visit to Rome – Bible Study James
When he arrived in Rome, Luther found things to be in a sorry state. Priests who performed the mass openly mocked God. Brothels were located near the cathedrals and priests could be seen frequenting them. He saw the pope ride through the streets dressed in military armor returning from battle, looking more like a military leader than a holy man of God. While in Rome, he visited a holy site where special forgiveness of sins could be obtained. Here he bought a pardon for sins. The “work” that was attached to this pardon was to climb a special set of stairs on your knees – 15 years of forgiveness could be obtained, one year for every stair. By tradition these stairs were said to be Pilate’s judgment stairs that had been miraculously transported to Rome by angels. These were said to be the same stairs that Jesus climbed to be tried by Pilate before He went out to be crucified.
When Martin Luther was halfway up these stairs on his knees, he was startled by a sudden voice, which seemed to speak from heaven and said, “The just shall live by faith!” Luther stood up in amazement. This was the third time these words had come to his mind since he had been in Rome. This time the words came to him with such faith and power, that it was as if a voice of thunder had uttered them. Now he received a revelation of what this great truth meant. What folly, he thought, to seek an indulgence from the Church which can last me but a few years, when God sends me in His word an indulgence that will last me forever! How idle to toil at these performances, when God is willing to acquit me of all my sins not as so much wages for so much service, but freely, in the way of believing upon his Son! “The just shall live by faith.”
Reformed by the Word of God
Luther went back to Germany with a spiritual aim to reform the Church to Biblical teaching. At that time the Roman Church refused his teaching, and the Protestant Reformation began as millions who embraced Luther’s message. All over Europe people received the glad news of salvation by faith alone. Luther and many of his followers were either excommunicated from the Roman Church or left it altogether. Many were imprisoned, burned at the stake, and tortured because they believed this revelation. It was this kind of Greek thought about “works” practiced by the Roman Church that made Martin Luther leery of book of James. At the time he became a priest the medieval church relied heavily on the human reasoning and logic of Aristotle to understand spiritual things and everything scholastic. After pondering over the pages of Scripture for many years, Luther realized that trying to understand the Scriptures through human reasoning was an impossibility.
Luther accused Aristotle’s philosophy of bringing “a bold and profane worldliness” into the study of theology. The study of divine revelation had been forced into Aristotelian thought forms and definitions. Luther writes, “My soul longs to publicly shame and expose that Greek buffoon. If he had not been a man, I would call him a devil.” 2 Luther believed that like Hagar (the works of the flesh), rationalism had usurped Sara’s place ( the work of God’s Spirit) and that the Church had been taken captive by Babylon. Luther’s preaching shook the entire Western world of thinking and believing. He wrote that trying to defend spiritual truth with human reasoning is like trying to “throw light on the sun with a light-less lantern.”
Luther contrasts the Hebraic way of learning to the Greek, “For Isaiah 7 makes reason subject to faith, when it says: ‘Except you believe, you shall not have understanding or reason.’ It does not say, ‘Except you have reason, ye shall not believe. ” Man’s reason is in darkness in regard to spiritual things. However Luther explains, “The understanding, through faith, receives life from faith; that which was dead, is made alive again; like as our bodies, in light day, when it is clear and bright, are better disposed, rise, move, walk, etc., more readily and safely than they do in the dark night, so it is with human reason, which strives not against faith, when enlightened, but rather further and advances it.”3
Paul Teaches the Greeks about the Hebraic Way of Learning
This is, of course, affirmed by Paul who told the church at Corinth, that man through his reasoning cannot know God because the things of God must be revealed by the Holy Spirit.” Paul tells us that we must listen to the teaching of the Holy Spirit who compares “spiritual thoughts and spiritual words.” We must let the Bible define its own terms, not try to impose our meanings upon them. This is why knowledge and study of the Scriptures is so important. We should daily set aside time to study the Scriptures to dig deep into the word of God so that through the pages of Scripture, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can encounter the Truth that will make us free.
Logic verses Revelation
The Hebraic way of learning and the Greek way of learning are poles apart. The Greek way is to analyze truth and facts to come to an understanding of those facts. Greek logic is a step by step logic that argues from premises and arrives at a logical conclusion. It is done in a coherent, rational, logical sequence. Therefore, the conclusion is limited to that point of view and limits that person’s view of reality. This reasoning can lead to a better understanding of how things work, but when applied to spiritual truth it can be devastating. The Greek way is for man to trust in his knowledge of things and his predictable way of doing things, rather to put his trust in God. This works out well for some people until their central planing and their predictable way of doing things are met with the unpredictable. Their faith is shaken; they stand on shifting sand.
The Hebraic mindset tells us that God can’t be put in a box or charted out in charts. Often, He will do something that is unpredictable. The words of the Lord recorded by the prophet Isaiah explain that God is often a God of surprises: “I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry
path through the sea. I called forth the mighty army of Egypt with all its chariots and horses. I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned, their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick. But forget all that–it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? Now I will tell you new things I have not mentioned before, secrets you have not yet heard. They are brand new, not things from the past. So you cannot say, `We knew that all the time!’ (Isa 43:6-7; 48:6-7). The Hebrew mind learns to experience Truth, not to just think about Truth. Truth is a Divine encounter. To experience Truth and to walk in Truth is more important than analyzing Truth. If we believe that the word of God is true, then we will act like it is true. Martin Luther demonstrated the very type of works that were the outward manifestation of the faith he held in his heart and that James was talking about. When he heard the voice of God and received the revelation, “the just shall live by faith,” he acted upon it that day and everyday for the rest of his life and preached this message to all of Europe. That is the true sense of the Hebraic understanding of “doing.”
Paul’s View of Good Works
How did Paul view good works? When Paul was preaching before King Agrippa, he told about the works he had done for the Gospel: “One day I was on such a mission to
Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to fight against my will.’ ”
” ‘Who are you, sir?’ I asked. And the Lord replied, ‘ I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now stand up! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and my witness. You are to tell the world about this experience and about other times I will appear to you.’
“And so, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to that vision from heaven. I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must turn from their sins and turn to God – and prove they have changed by the good things they do.” (Acts 9:15-16, 26:19-20).
Paul explains to King Agrippa that he was on a mission, not because he thought it would be a good idea, but because God had commanded him to do it. What he was doing was not the result of the Greek idea of “doing,” but the true Hebraic idea of “doing” – the result of a Divine encounter and the command of God. Paul explains that all those who have a transformed life and an encounter with God will be “doing good things” that are the evidence of their faith and their changed life. James gives us this same concept: ” Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds” (James 2:18).
A Practical Application of James’ Teaching
What about you? Are there good works that God has instructed you to do from the time you have spent with Him. If not, there is some good news – you can start today! Set aside time daily to study God’s Word. Worship Him, offer your life to Him to use for His glory, and ask Him for His direction for your life, and what He would have you do. Jesus told His disciples, “You have not because you ask not. Ask so that you may receive so your joy will be made full.” Then whatever you hear God speaking to your heart, just step out in faith and go ahead and “do it!”
So go ahead. Jump into our Bible study on the book of James, How to live a Life of Excellence. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you will understand what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is for your life, and from your faith will flow the good works of God.
Notes: 1 – Martin Luther and Scholastic Philosophy, Ray Shelton (http://www.fromdeathtolife.org/cphil/lsp3.html). 2 Martin Luther, How One Man Responded, Joy F. Kirch (http://www.tamuk.edu/mcpe/kirch.htm). 3 Shelton.
We come now to another pearl in the book of James. James reminds us that it is not enough to hear and know what God’s word teaches. James exhorts us to “be a doer of the word, not just hearers only, deceiving yourself” (James 1:22). Later in his epistle, James, our Lord’s brother and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, tells us that “faith without works is dead” and it is not only a dead faith, it is not true faith at all. James tells us that the evidence that you have true faith will be seen by your works (James 2:14,17,24,26). It is here that some get confused over the age-old controversy of “faith” verses “works.” This is because most people approach the Scriptures with a Greek-Western mindset. However, according to the Hebraic mindset there is no contradiction in faith and works, because one inevitably flows from the other. If we attach the Greek mindset to what is meant by works, we would rush out to try to do as much good as we can and fill our calendar with things that we think would show we love God. According to the Hebraic mindset, this would be the wrong thing to do. We might wind up like Maratha trying to serve Jesus lunches He never ordered. Let’s ponder the scriptures to see what James means by works.
Comparing the Difference – Greek verses Hebraic Mindset
Because most of us have been schooled in the Greek-Western way of learning, it is easy for us to approach the study of the scriptures using this method. The Greek mindset instructs us to bring our own reason to bear on a text and wrestle with that text to try to understand its meaning.
When we read something, we bring our own word associations to the text, our own experiences and preconceived ideas.We tend to impose our own concepts on the text according to our previous teachings. There is nothing in either the Old or New Covenants that supports this Greek way of learning. Spiritual truth cannot be understood by human reasoning but must come by a revelation of God.
Paul was deeply grounded in the foundations of Hebraic thought about the Scriptures and made this very clear to the Greek church at Corinth. Paul explained to the Greeks that no man can understand the thoughts of God through human reasoning. Spiritual things must be revealed to the human heart by the Holy Spirit. He explains, “And God has actually given us His Spirit, not the world’s spirit, so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you this, we do not use words of human wisdom. We speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Cor. 2 :12-13).
Paul points out that in order to understand Scriptural concepts, it is important that we understand the spiritual meaning of the words and ideas that we encounter in the Scriptures. It is important that we do not impose our own definition on Biblical words and thoughts or redefine them to suit ourselves or our preconceived ideas. We must let the Bible interpret its own symbols and words. We must search out their true meanings from Scripture by comparing scripture with scripture and spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. This is the way the Holy Spirit teaches.
Doctrines verses a Living Relationship – Bible Study James
The Greek-Western mindset approaches learning in a totally different manner. It seeks to try to understand spiritual things and relate to God through a set of doctrines and correct beliefs. Of course as a Christian whatever we believe about truth has its basis in the word of God. If what we believe is contrary on every hand to the word of God, then this is not truth. However, if you have a Greek mindset, and someone presents an idea or understanding of Scripture that is different from your set of doctrines, or something that you have not considered before, your faith may be shaken. This is because the Greek mindset teaches us to trust and rest in what we know, instead of in Who we know. The Greek mindset wants to trust in a set of doctrines or beliefs to understand the world. This concept is foreign to the Hebrew way of thinking. God’s written word is the measure of all Truth, but the Living God does not call people to a creed or doctrinal statement – He calls them to a life of interaction with Him. He seeks people who will be set apart for Him, who He can communicate with in a personal relationship. He seeks those who will love Him, obey Him, and do His will.
This was the case with Abraham who became known as God’s friend. This was the case in God’s call on Israel of old. He said to them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4-6).
Jesus reiterated the ancient call when He revealed His mission to the woman at the well explaining, “I have come because My Father is seeking worshipers.” He promised a well of Living Water within, if all those who are thirsty would come to Him. He called His disciples to follow Him, “so that they might be with Him.” He promised that He would send His Spirit into their hearts and would be with them always through the end of time.
The Apostles repeated the invitation of God’s call to be united with His people, calling the Church the Bride of Christ. John ends his great Revelation of Jesus Christ, not with an invitation to understand
correct doctrine, but with an invitation for spiritual union with the Living God: “The Spirit and the Bride say come. Let all those who are thirsty come and drink of the waters of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
Foundation of the Hebrew Mindset – Faith as “Action”
When James calls us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only,” he reveals the foundation of the Hebraic mindset. For the Hebraic mind, history was not a cycle of events. It was going somewhere, and God had called His people to be actors in the great drama of history. Their love for God and each other is related to “action.” Through Moses, God instituted His Covenant of blessings and told Israel their part in that covenant: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again… If you fully obey the Lord your God by keeping all the commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will exalt you above all the nations of the world. The Lord your God will make you successful in everything you do. He will give you many children and numerous livestock, and your fields will produce abundant harvests, for the Lord will delight in being good to you” (Deut.6: 4-5; 28:1, 30).
New Covenant of Blessing – Bible Study James
Jesus reaffirmed this Hebraic foundation of faith as action. He told his disciples, “If you love Me, obey My commandments. Those who obey My commandments are the ones who love Me. And because they love Me, my Father will love them, and I will love them. And I will reveal Myself to each one of them” (John 14:15-21). Peter demonstrated the Hebraic mindset of covenantal blessing based on the action of faith. “Lord,” Peter said, “We have left all to follow you, what shall be ours?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return, a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property–with persecutions. And in the world to come they will have eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Jesus affirmed the Hebraic concept of the covenant of blessing, not to those who just say they believe in Him, but to those who have demonstrated their faith by their actions. Blessing is based not on mental assent to truth, but is the result of action – and that action is following Him.
To the Hebraic mind, true religion is not a system of creeds, ideology, or theology. These are all inaccurate descriptions of Scriptural thought. It is walking through life with a deep friendship with Jesus, to love Him, and do His will in His path of peace, righteousness, joy. Because of this, the early church called themselves “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:9, and 22:4). And the great glory of the New Covenant is this, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of ourselves.” Paul explains what the position should be of all those who follow Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who lives. Christ now lives in me and the life that I now life in the flesh, I live by the power of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for Me” (2 Cor.4:11, Gal.2:20).
So go ahead. Jump into our study of James, How to Live a Life of Excellence. Immerse yourself in the Hebraic mindset as taught in the Scriptures. Compare spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. Ask for the revelation of the Holy Spirit and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The book of James is full of wonderful secrets. It contains God’s wisdom hidden in mystery. It has a surface meaning to the casual inquirer, and a much more profound meaning to those who are in tune to the Spirit’s revelation. As we learned in our other lessons on James, James is full of pearls of truth. In the book of Revelation, John tells us that the heavenly city had twelve gates, each gate was made of a single pearl. Everyone who would enter into the city must come in through the pearl gate. The spiritual truths that James presents are like those pearl gates – they offer gateways into the spiritual life.
As we pray for revelation and use the Spirit’s method of teaching comparing Scripture with Scripture, and spiritual thoughts with spiritual words, the impact and beauty of James’ teaching will begin to unfold before us. God speaks to us through His Word, and His Word is Living Seed that has the power to germinate in the hearts that will receive it, and bring forth fruit and blessing. The Word of God is living and active when anointed by the Holy Spirit and “more powerful than a two edged sword.” It can pierce into the depths of your heart and “divide between soul and spirit.” When quickened by the Holy Spirit, it has the power to reveal itself to anyone who is hungry for the bread of life. As the Holy Spirit reveals truth, it will come as radiant flashes of light or in visions, either sleeping or waking.
How to Obtain True Joy
In chapter two of our Bible study on the book James, How to Live a Life of Excellence, James directs us to the source of true joy. James shows you what this joy is like and how to obtain it. James points out that true joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. He emphasizes that the source of true joy does not depend on what we have. True joy is not found in possessions, and the source of depression is not because of the lack of material substance. Regardless of whether you are in a place of material need or in a place of material abundance, your joy should know no bounds. Jesus promised not only a joy that the world can’t give and the world can’t take away, He promised us His very own joy. Not “our joy” but “His joy fulfilled in us” (John 15:11). As Jesus’ very own flesh and blood brother, James knew what true joy looked like after observing Jesus for all those years. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy above all His companions. Instead of feeling downcast because of being in a place of material need, James exhorts us, “Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his elevation as a Christian, called to the true riches and to be an heir of God”(Amplified, James 1:9). True joy is found in knowing the Lord. This fills your heart with secret delight.
Pray for the Light
Along with James, Paul emphasized the importance of knowing the true riches and understanding what it means to be an heir of God. He prayed for the believers that “their hearts might be flooded with light” so that they “might know the wonderful future He has promised to those He called and realize what a rich and glorious inheritance He has given to His people.” He also prayed “that they would begin to understand the incredible greatness of His power for us who believe Him, which is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead” (Ephes.1:18-19). That is some power! There is no question that encountering this great power of God’s eternal Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has the power to “quicken or mortal bodies,” change our circumstances, raise us up from anything that is dead in our life, and make us creative and prosperous individuals who are doing our part to change the world for Jesus Christ. If you really want to understand this you must make Paul’s prayer your own, because the riches of Christ and the great inheritance He has given us can only be known by revelation. You might be poor now, but if you follow on to know the Lord, you won’t stay poor. God is an Abundant Supplier, as we obey Him and trust in Him for our supply.
Understanding True Riches
To the rich, James reminded them that “they will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot sun rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all of their achievements”(James 1:10-11). Peter explains it this way: “Mankind is like grass and all its glory and honor like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off, but the Word of the Lord – divine instruction, the Gospel – endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). What does this tell us? If we have an abundance of this world’s goods, we should not put all our time, energy, and thought into our possessions. Instead, we should put all our thought, effort, time, and energy into seeking Jesus and learning how to live by the power of His Spirit. We should wait in His Presence, learn what the will of God is, and do it. All work, whatever field of endeavor, is sacred when it is done for the glory of God, and no matter what God leads us to do, as we follow Him, we will be supplying our part in the progress of His kingdom. We should never put our confidence in riches or trust in them. Our trust should always be in the Lord who is our Provider, regardless of our circumstances.
Paul echoes James as he explains his own attitude toward material possessions: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” (Phil 4:11-13) Paul’s source of joy was not in what he had – his source of joy was in Who he knew. Jesus of course emphasized this very thing. He taught, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Seek the kingdom of God first and His righteousness and everything you need will be given to you” (Matt. 6:24,33). Although every Christian knows that Jesus taught this, very few people obey this Scripture and prove its truth as a promise from Jesus Himself. Yet, this is the very thing that you must do if you would experience the abundant life of joy and peace that Jesus promises. If you will do what Jesus said here, quit worrying and start trusting Him, and seek His kingdom first, money will loose its hold on you.
Idolatry of Money
Both people with money, as well as people without money, worship money. Sometimes people who have no money worship it more than people who do have it. Why? Because their heart is full of fear, worry, and concern over money. In fact, worrying over money fills their minds so much that they hardly have time to think about anything else. When you fear money and the lack of it, you yield your life to the power of money. You are proclaiming that money is more powerful than God, whom you claim to worship. You are no better than an idol worshiper who sets up an idol and falls down and worships before it. We are told throughout the Scriptures that the only One we are to fear is God alone. So serve God and put Him first. You will prove this by your right thoughts, speech, and actions. Change you mind today, cast out fear, turn it out the door and enter in, trust in God and His Living Word. Refuse to worry about the future and about today and tomorrow. Jesus said, “Those who obey My commandments are the ones who love Me. And because they love Me, my Father will love them and I will love them, and I will reveal myself to each one of them” (John 14:21). Well, here we have His commandment, and three times He commands us “do not to worry “and tells us not to seek after how we are going to be able to obtain the things we need for daily living, but to instead, “seek the kingdom of God first and His righteousness.”
And not only this, Jesus said that if we obey His commandments, we show that we love Him. And because of this, we will experience His love for us, and He will “reveal Himself to us.” This is joy and delight above anything the world can give and take away. But this relationship with Jesus is conditional upon our obedience. Yes, you can obey His commandment not to worry about, fear, or seek after money, because Jesus not only says you can, He expects you to do it. So simply obey Him. Become a positive agent for the will of God. Put all your thoughts and all your effort into looking to the Father to learn His will, looking always for Him to guide and lead you. You will receive from God all the help you need, and if you will persist in this with determination, despite any discouragement, you will walk straight in to all the good that God has for you. In light of this great inheritance, James tells us all, whether rich or poor, to “rejoice in the true riches,” and you will be an “heir of God.” Wow! What a promise!
How to Stay Out of Poverty
Paul told the Corinthians how to stay out of poverty. “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘Godly people give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will never be forgotten.’ For God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, He will give you many opportunities to do good, and He will produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched so that you can give even more generously. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will break out in thanksgiving to God”(1 Cor. 9:6-11).
Jesus taught His disciples the following principle, showing that no one can limit the blessing in your life except you: “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving–large or small–it will be used to measure what is given back to you.”
God will Bless Faithful People
God’s will has always been to bless faithful people. The Old Covenant promises that “the faithful person will abound with blessings” (Proverbs 28:20). In fact, the Scripture tells us that faithfulness in prayer and giving is noticed by God. The book of Acts tells us about a man named Cornelius, a Roman army officer who was the captain of the Italian Regiment. The Scriptures tell us that “he was a devout man who feared the God of Israel, as did his household. He gave generously to charity and was a man who regularly prayed to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. ‘Cornelius!’ the angel said. Cornelius stared at him in terror. ‘What is it, sir?’ he asked the angel. And the angel replied, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God! Now send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. Ask him to come and visit you’ ” (Acts 10:1-6). Peter came and preached to Cornelius and his household. They were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit and water. Why did Cornelius receive this revelation of Jesus? Because he feared God, prayed regularly, and gave to help others. Because of his faithfulness to God, Cornelius and his household abounded with material and spiritual blessings.
If you are not abounding in blessings, check out your faithfulness. Do you give generously to help others? Have you really been faithful to seek God first and foremost in your life above all else? How much time have you spent in His Presence seeking Him compared to the number of hours you spend watching television or surfing the internet? Turn off the TV, walk away from your computer, and give a lion’s share of that time to the Lord and obey Him. You will be amazed at the transformation that takes place in your life and the blessing that comes to you in your financial affairs. The Bible teaches that, “The blessing of the Lord will make rich, and He will add no sorrow to it” (Prov. 10:22).
Why People Think That to be Poor is to Suffer with Christ
Down through the ages, poverty has been mistakenly heralded by some as a great spiritual state and considered as suffering for Christ that brings with it great reward in the world to come. This idea was developed during the Dark Ages of European history. During that period of history, most people were ignorant of God’s Word. Most had never read the Bible, including the clergy. Most of them were illiterate. The Bible was rarely preached and there were no copies available for the masses. The impoverished masses, who were working for feudal lords for little more than slaves wages, endured great suffering.The feudal lords were the privileged few and were worried about the impoverished masses rising up in rebellion against their authority. In cooperation with civil leaders in hopes to maintain order, the leaders of the Roman church made poverty a “Christian virtue.” Unsuspecting millions were taught to believe that poverty was a spiritual quality to be desired.The only problem with this idea is that there is nothing in Scripture that backs this up. Take a look at Deuteronomy 28 at the blessings that come on the obedient and the curses that come on the disobedient. God says that to those who will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord and obey Him, “everything they do will be blessed” and God “will give them an abundance of good things.” But to those who refuse to listen to God and obey His commandments, “they will be cursed in everything they do and they will serve their enemies in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and the lack of all things.” Deuteronomy 27 lists specific sins that you can commit that will bring you under the curse. Jesus died on the cross and took the curse upon Himself so He could deliver all those who have repentant hearts. So turn the curse out the door. If you have committed sins that have brought you under the curse, repent of them by asking forgiveness. Then turn away from those sins and obey God.
Moses sums up the choice that only you can make, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey Him and commit yourself to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deut. 30:19-20). Make a decision to obey God’s Word. Get out of your poverty and get into God’s blessings. This you must do for God’s glory.
How to Enter into God’s Blessing
One day Peter asked Jesus, “Lord we have left everything to follow you. What reward will we have?” Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life’ ” (Mark 10:28-30). So go ahead, jump into our Bible Study, How to Live a Life of Excellence. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may come to know the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God, and learn to life the life of the spirit.
Have you ever wondered how you can become a person of great faith? Jump into How to Live a Life of Excellence, a Study of the Book of James. This is a guided Bible study workbook with questions, answers, and fill in the blanks perfect for private or group study. We take a unique approach to James. Starting with the truths he proclaims, we trace them through the Bible as we compare scripture with scripture to understand faith’s meaning. This is the way Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches(1 Cor. 2:13). Here is a short summary of the first chapter. Dig up the pearl of faith hidden there, polish it off, and understand how to live a spirit filled life that is full of faith.
James opens his epistle by giving us the law of faith, cautioning us to not be double-minded: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get His help… Ask boldly, and ask in faith, believing, without a second thought. People who worry about their prayers being answered (hesitating and doubting) and are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way.” James calls this being “double minded,” and reminds us that “if you are double-minded, you will receive nothing from God.” (The Message, Amp. KJV, James 1:6)
Why is this? Is this because God doesn’t love you? Is this because God is mean and trying to punish you for not having faith? Absolutely not! Being double minded breaks the law of faith.
Understanding the Law of Faith
What is the law of faith and how does it work? Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe and moral laws that govern the moral universe, there are spiritual laws that govern the spiritual universe and our relationship with God. The law of faith is a spiritual law, just as the law of gravity is a physical law. The law of gravity prescribes that whatever goes up must come down. The law of gravity works whether you understand it or believe in it or not. For example, if you jump off a building, you will fall to the ground and probably get hurt and maybe killed.
Was God punishing you because you broke His law? No, you did it to yourself. You broke the law and the law broke you. Faith also works according to spiritual law. The law of faith prescribes that you get what you believe. If you hold competing thoughts, beliefs, or images in your mind (believing God’s Word, and then doubting God’s Word), you break the law of faith and are not able to receive anything from God. And, just like the law of gravity, the law of faith works whether you believe in it or not.
We see an example of this when Peter was walking on the water. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm, he said, “Master if it is you, call me to come to you.” Jesus answered, “Come.” Peter stepped out of the boat and started walking on the water, but when he looked around and saw the winds and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. Jesus reached out and grabbed him. Interestingly enough, Jesus did not praise Peter for his efforts or say, “That’s okay, you will do better next time,” or “I appreciate you trying, probably no one in the world would have had the courage to try to walk on a stormy sea like that except you!”
Jesus said something that might sound harsh to those who do not understand the law of faith. He said, “Why did you have such little faith. Why did you doubt me?” Jesus was trying to teach Peter about the law of faith. Peter was corrected for not having absolute and total faith in Jesus’ word. Peter had used his faith to believe in Jesus’ words to come out and walk on the water. He simply accepted the Word of God as truth. But Peter also used his faith to believe that the stormy waves were more powerful than Jesus’ command. Peter was “double-minded.”
Doubt in God’s word took over, and he began to sink. Peter started out in the spirit, but he let fearful images of drowning crowd out Jesus’ word and was not able to receive what he asked for. Did Jesus want Peter to walk on the water? Most definitely, Jesus invited Peter to do just that. Did Peter want to walk on the water? Yes! He asked Jesus to answer his request and Jesus said, “Yes.” However, Peter could not receive what he asked for because he broke the law of faith.
The Bible’s Definition of Faith
The Bible gives its own definition of faith. The Living Translation says,““Faith is the confidence that what we hoped for will actually happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Heb.11:1) We are told that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” The dictionary defines the word assurance as “freedom from doubt, full confidence, certainty.” The King James Bible tells us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the spiritual substance that will bring forth from the unseen realm evidence, something that can ultimately be seen and felt.
Think about faith this way for a moment.The Bible tells us that the world and everything we see is made of what does not appear – the invisible. God created the earth out of nothing that could be seen. In the beginning we see God’s spirit brooding over the face of the waters. He was thinking of something. He had a design, He had a plan in His mind. Then God said let there be and it was. Everything that we see in nature was once a thought in the mind of God. All the things that we see that man has made, all the good and all the bad, were once thoughts in the mind of somebody. Jesus tells us that a good man, out of his treasures that fill his heart, brings forth good things and the evil man out of the treasures that fill his heart brings forth evil.” This is how God made us. We all have creative power because we are made in God’s image. This is spiritual law. It is God’s desire that we think his thoughts after Him and bring His will and His blessings into the world.
When we hold out an empty cup and put it in the ocean, the water from the ocean rushes in to fill it. In the same way, when we hold out whatever we are asking for in prayer, we put our thoughts and words out into the invisible realm of God’s Presence. His Creative Spirit that fills all of space and time rushes in to fill it. Our thoughts and words act as that cup. As we hold these in our heart, God works with the creative substance of the universe, filling these prayer’s with substance so substantial that it will bring these things “hoped for” from the invisible realm of spirit to the visible realm of reality. Remember the bible tells us that faith is the “substance” of things hoped for.
However, if we start to entertain thoughts of doubt and unbelief or negative things, we remove our cup that is the image of God’s blessing and God can’t fill it with what we want. In fact, if we hold on to those thoughts too long, these thoughts become our new cup and the creative power of the universe which is non-discriminatory will fill that. This is spiritual law and part of the creative process. According to Proverbs, “As a person thinks in their heart so he is.” As we are reminded in Job, “what we fear will come upon us.”When you realize this you will be amazed at how quickly you can cast out negative thoughts and “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” ( Prov. 23:7, Job 4:14, 2 Cor. 10:15). Remember this, you alone hold the channel changer and you alone can decide what station you will turn too. You can bring good and uplifting pictures into your home, or you can bring in obscene ones. The choice is up to you.
Here is another way to look at it from an artistic perspective. One way to make an image out of unformed substance is to cast a mold. Let’s say we want to make an image of a porcelain rooster on top of a rat. The first step to making your dream come true is to make an exact mold of a rooster on top of a mouse. Second, pour liquid porcelain clay into the mold. Third, wait enough time to make sure the porcelain has hardened. Third, remove the mold. What was once unformed liquid porcelain clay has now taken on shape and form. It now appears not as a liquid substance but as an exact replica of the mold that we poured the liquid porcelain into.
If you try to remove the mold before adequate time for the clay to harden, you destroy the rooster -rat combo that you are trying to make. You break your image by removing the mold, and you have created nothing.
Your faith works in the same way. Make your requests to God with your thoughts and words – these are your molds. Put those images out in God’s Divine Creative substance that invisibly flows through the universe. Keep your thoughts fixed upon God’s promises and focused on the manifestation of your dream. Hold these thoughts in your heart and mind, thanking God that He has answered your prayer.
If you draw back in unbelief, doubting that God will give you what you asked for, you are doing what James warns us against. You are being “double minded.” Your have now changed the images filling your thoughts to something negative and just the opposite of what you asked for. You are like the person that removed the mold before the porcelain had hardened. You have disturbed the creative process. You have destroy your mold ,and now there are no faith filled thoughts and images for God to fill. Now it is impossible to receive what you have hoped for from God.
You have broken your God inspired mold and now you are in the process of creating another mold which, if held onto ,will be the mold you now stick out into the creative substance of the universe to be filled. How do you know if you are doing this? Simply put, the thoughts that you are meditating on in your heart and holding in your mind and expressing though you words, whether good or bad, are exactly what you are believing for, whether you think this is true or not. You will receive what you meditate on because that is what you are believing for.
Don’t forget Peter’s example. He was walking on the water just fine until he took his eyes off Jesus and quit trusting in His word. Instead he looked at the wind and the waves. Negative, fear filled images filled his heart ,and immediately he began to sink. But also remember this, when he called out to Jesus, He saved him from drowning. Three times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commanded his disciples not to worry. He told His disciples to “seek His kingdom first and His righteousness and everything they needed would be added to them.” So, refuse to worry. Turn worry out the door. See worry the same as you would stealing, murder , or adultery. Jesus has commanded us not to worry. He said if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Worry nullifies the promises of God and breaks the law of faith. It is being as James said, “double minded.” God has given us this promise, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above far over and above all that we dare ask or think, infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams” (Amp. Ephes 3:20). So get busy dreaming the dreams of God and imagining all the good He has stored up for you in this life, not just in the world to come.
The Power of Unbelief and The Power of Faith
When Jesus went to Nazareth, Matthew tells us that although He was God, He wasn’t able to do many miracles there, except heal a few sick people, because the people there “refused to believe in Him” (Mark 6: 1-6). Like the people in Nazareth, unbelief will keep us from receiving God’s promises. This is written large throughout the pages of scripture.
Two blind men came to Jesus wanting to be healed. They went right into the house where He was staying. Before Jesus was able to heal them, He asked them a qualifying question. “Do you believe I can make you see?” “Yes, Lord,” they told Him, “we do.” Then He touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” And suddenly they could see! ” (Matt. 9:27-29)
Although both Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, Paul tells us that Abraham “was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything He promised.” Jesus tells us, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22; Rom.4:21).
God will do anything you will believe Him for, but He can’t do anything if you don’t believe Him.
Everyone One Uses Faith Everyday for Something
The good news is this – “God has given everyone a measure of faith “(Rom. 12:3). People use faith every day. Faith is the same thing as trust. People go to sleep every night believing or trusting that they will wake up in the morning. They get on a plane usually believing or trusting that they will make it to their destination alive. They sit in a chair believing it will not break. They cross the road believing or trusting they will get to the other side safely. The question is, what are you using your faith for?
The people in Nazareth used their faith to believe that Jesus was not anyone special. They used their faith to believe that He was not the Son of God. They used their faith to believe that Jesus had no mighty power. As a result they received what they believed for – no miracles!
A Roman officer came to Jesus and asked Him to heal his paralyzed servant. Jesus said, “I will come with you.” The officer answered, “I am a man under authority. I say to one person come, and he comes, or do this and he does it. You don’t need to come to my home. Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus remarked, “ I haven’t seen faith like this in all of Israel.”(Matt. 8:9-10) What made the centurion’s faith so special? He was totally convinced that Jesus’ word was law. He had absolute confidence and trust and faith in the power of Jesus’ word alone. He had no doubt. He believed that whatever Jesus said would come to pass. As a result he received what he believed. (Matt.15:7)
Jesus promised, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” Jesus has not called us to a religion; He has called each one of us to a personal relationship with Him. He has called us to fellowship with Him. If this fellowship is omitted, how can you be His follower? How can you follow where He is leading if you don’t take time to inquire about the direction that He is going? To maintain a strong faith, His words must be a stronger presence in our life than the daily news.
Taking God at His Word
Many times people get the idea that faith is very abstract. They feel they must strive and strain to try to believe the Word of God, trying to get enough of that big package of faith to make God’s Word come to pass. Actually this idea is carnal. Faith is much simpler than this. It is so simple even a child can understand it and apply it. Having faith and trust in God is a simple decision. Faith is simply making a decision to take God at His Word and dismiss from your mind any thought that contradicts it.
For example, if a close friend of yours who always keeps his word invites you to go to dinner and tells you to meet him at a certain restaurant at a certain time, would you ever think twice about your friend not meeting you there? On your way to the restaurant, you would not spend your time being anxious, hoping, and trying very hard to believe with all your heart that your friend will show up for lunch? No, you would simply expect your friend to be there as promised.
How do we know what God’s promises are? God’s promises to us are all found in the Bible. So first of all, we must read and study God’s Word to understand what He will do for us and learn His promises. For example, someone could have left you as an inheritance a magnificent estate, but if you don’t know about it, you could live and die in a shack without hot and cold running water, when all along a mansion was yours. You lived as a pauper, but you didn’t have to. Your ignorance about your inheritance kept you back from receiving God’s blessings.
In fact, that is just what Paul taught the early church: “Do not continue to walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephes. 4:17-18). And he offered this prayer, “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future He has promised to those He called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people” (Ephes. 1:18).
The Opinion You Hold of the One Who Promised It
Whether you believe that God’s Word is true and confidently trust in it is simply based on one thing – the opinion you hold of the One who promised it. Scripture tells us, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). It is impossible for God to lie.
Let me ask you this. How did you become a Christian? By true repentance and by believing and receiving Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior and accepting His promise of salvation. The same thing is true for all God’s promises. Make a decision to accept God’s Word as true and refuse to doubt. God’s promises are “yes and amen to all those who believe.” Believing is so simple a child can do it. In fact, Jesus tells us to take a lesson from children and emulate their childlike trust if we want to live in His kingdom blessing.
The Amplified Bible says it this way: “If we accept the testimony of men – if we are willing to take human authority – the testimony of God is greater, of stronger authority.” Therefore, true faith is not striving, straining, and trying very hard to believe, but it is simply accepting God’s Word as true, just as (and even more than) you would accept the word of a trusted friend.
When you ask God for something in prayer, trust in His great promises, knowing that if you ask, He will freely give it to you and you can wait expectantly with thanksgiving, knowing that you will receive what you have asked for.
So go ahead, jump into our guided Bible study on the Book of James. Join us as we compare scripture with scripture and learn how to be a person of great faith.