Overcoming Faith        

Believers in Jesus Christ will not achieve sinless perfection in this life. but they should expect changed lives and faith which overcomes the world.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 7-8; First John 5

Selected Verses

And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:14

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? First John 5:3-5

Reflections

Daniel recorded here his visions of what was to come.  He found them troubling because they were not easy to understand.  We have the advantage of history and can draw some lines between the things he saw and what later occurred.  The vision of the beasts seems to refer to the kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia), Medo Persia, and Alexander the Great.  The fourth is not so clear, but some believe it to be the Roman Empire.

What was clear was that none of these kingdoms would endure.  The Ancient of Days gives the everlasting kingdom to the son of man, which points to Jesus Christ.  His kingdom will not pass away.

John the Apostle knew the Son of Man, his and our Lord Jesus Christ.  John wrote that He was the propitiation for our sins (First John 2:2; 4:10).  In Him we are given light and have fellowship with God and with all His people who also walk in the light with God (First John 1:7).  This fellowship with God results in a changed life.  This changed life includes: faith in Jesus Christ, love for God, and obedience to His commandments.  Those changes demonstrate a new birth and results in victory over the world.

Think about it

Should we settle for a hum-drum spiritual life?  No.  Not according to John.  We should expect substantial changes.  No, not sinless perfection.  We will always be going to Him to confess our sins and to be cleansed (First John 1:9).  If you do not see evidence in yourself of a new birth, call upon Him for mercy and grace to grant you overcoming faith.

Handling the Spiritual Conflict

Beware! The conflict of lawless people versus God’s people began in the Garden and continues to this day. Here’s how to handle it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 45-46; Second Peter 3

Thus says the Lord God: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 45:9

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  Second Peter 3:17-18

Reflections

God had a special message for the princes of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. They were not to abuse their power bringing violence and oppression on the common people. On the contrary, they were to execute justice and righteousness. They were to abide by the same laws as everyone else in such matters as worship and property rights. There was to be no privileged class in Israel, not even the royal family.

The political situation of God’s people changed between Ezekiel’s time and Peter’s day. The Church did not live in their own designated land but was dispersed among the Gentile nations of the world (First Peter 1:1).  Believers were subject to the ridicule of scoffers who openly doubted that the Lord would fulfill His promise to return. These unbelievers conveniently ignored the evidence of God’s power and presence in the Creation and the Flood. This made it easy for them to dismiss the promised “day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly”.

Peter reassures his readers that the Lord is not time-bound as we are and that He will carry out all His judgment on His schedule. Meanwhile, he charges them not to be carried away with the error of the lawless who were given over to the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority (Second Peter 2:10). Instead, they were to focus on growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Think about it

These two qualities, grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, are bound together. By His grace He has made Himself known to us. By the knowledge of Him we grow in grace, being ever more assured that our faith is not in vain. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, and gain stability in the midst of our on-going spiritual conflict.

When Shame is Good

To experience shame for sin is a hopeful sign that repentance and faith in God are still possible. Do not fear feeling shame but rather not feeling it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 43-44; Second Peter 2

Selected Verses

As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan.  And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. Ezekiel 43:10-11

Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  Second Peter 2:9-10

Reflections

God gives Ezekiel a detailed description of the temple. Then He tells the prophet to pass these details on to the people of Israel so that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. The temple reflected God’s glory so this description was intended to shame the Jews for their sin. Yet the temple also held a message of hope of salvation. Here, in this place of God’s throne, provision was made for a sacrifice for sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ was portrayed in the temple, if we rightly understand it.

In Peter’s time, there were false prophets and teachers who were completely insensitive to sin. He indicts them for their deceptions and schemes to lead believers astray. Peter shows how God in the past has brought judgment on those who rebelled against Him: evil angels, the wicked society of Noah’s day, and Lot’s neighbors in Sodom and Gomorrah. So God has shown that He is able to rescue the godly, like Noah and Lot, and keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment. In view here in particular are those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and who despise authority.

Think about it

If there is anything which describes our society, it is indulgence in the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority. Our contemporaries see shame not as a good emotion leading to healthy repentance. Rather it is considered the result of poor self-esteem due often to a severe religious upbringing.

If this world is trying you, trust Him who knows how to rescue the godly from trials in amazing ways. Pray that God may grant our unbelieving loved ones shame for sin that leads to repentance and faith.

Keeping the Tension between Equality and Calling

The New Covenant brought a wonderful equality and calling in the Church unknown under the Old Covenant but created a tension we must maintain.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 41-42; Second Peter 1

Selected Verses

When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people.  Ezekiel 42:14

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Second Peter 1:1-2

Reflections

In the new temple of Ezekiel’s vision, God specified the priestly functions and designated the places for those functions.  The priests took great care in the ordering of the ministry.  They wore holy garments for their service and they were not to leave the Holy Place and mix with the people in those vestments.  God was teaching them to respect His holiness and the service that they offered to Him.

What a contrast with the New Covenant!  Peter identifies himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.  Then he tells his readers that they “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”  They, like him, have a standing based on “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The members of the Church of Jesus Christ enjoyed an equality never known in ancient Israel.  The old covenant people observed sacrifices that could, at best, point to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29,35,36).  All those who believed in Christ were and are on equal standing before God. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the cross.”

Of course, this equality is not absolute.  There are differences in gifts and calling within the Church.  Believers will distinguish themselves by their growth in God.  Not everyone will “make every effort to supplement [their] faith with virtue (vs. 5).”   Some will be more or less ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ (vs. 8).  Some, but not all, are called to shepherd the flock (First Peter 5:1-5).  There are a variety of gifts given by the Spirit to the members of the Body (First Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16; First Peter 4:10-11).  The equality is not of gifts and calling but of standing before God based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Think about it

Peter models both a respect for his office and a respect for all other believers who, like him, stand before God because of Christ alone.  In your relationships with fellow believers, be sure to maintain the tension between the equality and calling each one has.

The Soul Shepherd

God provided Someone to care for His people, but His identity was a surprise. Have you discovered Him? Is He the Shepherd of your soul?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 34-35; 1 Peter 2

Selected Verses

I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:22-24

 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25

Reflections

Not infrequently, the Bible uses the analogy of sheep to people. Sheep need constant care. They cannot survive without a shepherd. They are prone to make foolish decisions and get themselves in big trouble.  Not being able to defend themselves, they are susceptible to predators.

Ezekiel condemns those who were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel and Judah. They looked out for themselves and neglected those in their care. God declared to them that He would rescue His flock and get them to safety. He would pronounce judgment. He would provide one shepherd who would feed them and faithfully fulfill the role of shepherd to them. This shepherd to come is identified as God’s “servant David.” Of course, David died four centuries before the time of Ezekiel, so the prophet would have been thinking of a descendant of David. We know Him as Jesus Christ, clearly of the lineage of David.

Peter refers to Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of the souls of those to whom he wrote. It is Jesus who fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel and rescued His flock. He has fed His people with truth and He will come again to judge those who have rejected His Lordship and His Priesthood. Meanwhile, He calls those He has saved by His death and healed by His wounds to die to sin and live to righteousness. In the first century, the vast majority of the Jews rejected the Soul Shepherd that God had sent them. He didn’t fit the stereotype they had imagined for their Messiah.

Think about it

Has the Shepherd rescued you from the agony of straying like sheep?  Do you know the joy of returning to Him? If so, give Him all the praise and seek to live to righteousness until we enter His presence through death or His return for us.

Seeing Yourself Correctly

Seeing yourself correctly is important but here we meet someone with an inflated view of himself. Is your view of yourself clear and accurate?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

Selected Verses

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.  Ezekiel 32:2-3

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  1 Peter 1:3-5

Reflections

Pharaoh was one of those people who had a faulty and exalted opinion of himself. He saw himself as a “lion of the nations”, but God had another view of him. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the king of Egypt that he was no lion but a dragon who was fouling the rivers and who was about to be caught and destroyed.

Peter wrote that Christians are heirs of God. It is not their own doing. They didn’t earn this status. God, by His mercy, has granted it to His people. There is a process.

First, He caused them to be born again. He did it. They did not will themselves to be reborn. Jesus told Nicodemus a new birth was an absolute prerequisite in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Rebirth is a gracious gift from God’s mercy. Second, because of that new birth, believers have a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Whatever they hoped in before is perishable, defiled, and fading. This new living hope is in an inheritance totally unlike any material and earthly inheritance. Third, they cannot lose this hope because the inheritance is kept in heaven (not Wall Street!) for them and they are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation which they will see at the last time.

Think about it

Do you see yourself in the way Peter described, an heir of God with a living hope? You should, if you know the new birth has been granted to you and your faith is in Jesus Christ. Consider if your view of yourself is accurate and in accordance with the way God sees you. Remember seeing yourself correctly glorifies God.

Humility before God

It behooves every human being to learn humility before God. We can find a horrible example in the history of one nation that learned the hard way.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 27-28; James 4

Selected Verses

Because you make your heart
like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
and defile your splendor. Ezekiel 28:6-7

 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:13-15

Reflections

The prophet Ezekiel spoke for the Creator God, the God of all flesh. So he addressed the neighboring nations of Judah, like Tyre. God indicted Tyre for her arrogance and pride. She was prosperous and presumptuous. Tyre boasted of her greatness, her wealth, and her beauty. She elevated herself and brought on the judgment of God.

James warned his readers of the same danger on a personal level. Some were guilty of a total lack of humility before God. They set goals and made their plans and schedules as if they controlled their own destinies, as if they were immortal, unstoppable. Where is the recognition that we are all no more than “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”?

Think about it

In centuries past, godly people routinely wrote D.V. in their correspondence when making plans. “I will come to see you by New Years, D.V.” I searched the internet for “D.V.” in order to see what came up. On the third page of hits, I found a list of fifty possible options for D.V., things like Darth Vader, Death Valley, and Desktop Virtualization. Obviously, none of these were what the Puritans had in mind. About thirty-fifth in the list was “Deo Volente (Latin for ‘Lord willing’).” Yeah, that’s it.

In our society, few know Latin and too few know the Lord who reigns and has the final say-so over our lives. I don’t think the folks in ancient Tyre used D.V in their correspondence and neither do we, but, even if you don’t write it or say it, my fellow mist, remember to keep it in your mind and heart as you make plans. Always seek to maintain humility before God.

Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger.  Will you be ending well? Here is an exhortation for all of us.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

Selected Verses

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.   But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:20-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).  The Lord rebuked them for using this proverb. He said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience.  Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences.  A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child.  Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible.  No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth.  It’s how you end up that matters.  After a life of crime, the repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door (Luke 23:39-43).  It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life.  See? It’s how you end up that counts.  It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written.  Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17).   They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith.  How did those men’s lives turn out?  If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good.  If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers.  This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act pious for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:19].

Think about it

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan.  Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap.  We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well.

Commended by God

Every disciple of Jesus Christ should aim to please God and to be commended by Him at the end of this age. Every other award pales in significance.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 13-15; Hebrews 11:20-40

Selected Verses

 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life,  therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 13:22-23

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.  Hebrews 11:39-40

Reflections

We make much of awards and recognition in our society. But honors only hold meaning when either they come from an important source (like the Medal of Honor given by the President of the United States of America) or they reflect true achievement (e.g. the Eagle Scout award). My wife taught at an elementary school in Texas where at an  end-of-the-year ceremony every student automatically got the “Shark Award” just for being enrolled in the school. It didn’t reflect perfect attendance much less exemplary behavior or outstanding academic achievement. Even the youngest kids quickly understood that the award meant nothing.

God rewards and punishes mankind according to their performance. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the false prophets of Judah that they had failed. Their so-called prophecies sent a deceptive message to God’s people–discouraging the faithful and encouraging the wicked. God stopped them in their tracks and shut down this kind of evil influence.

In Hebrews 11, we read of those who were faithful to their deaths, faithful even though the final fulfillment of God’s promises did not appear. God commended them for their unwavering faith. He calls them people “of whom the world was not worthy” (vs. 38). Now that is a commendation worth getting!

Think about it

What recognition do you seek? Are you after a mere “Shark Award” or are you seeking to please God and receive His “well done”?  No award in this world compares to hearing  God’s approval. Seek His commendation.

Arrogant Unbelief

God is pleased with those who turn away from arrogant unbelief and trust Him even though death overtakes them still waiting.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 10-12; Hebrews 11:1-19

Selected Verses

 And the word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, ‘The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.’” Ezekiel 12:21-23

 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13

Reflections

The people of Judah and Israel had heard the visions of the prophets but had not seen their fulfillment. They grew impatient, then dulled, and, finally, arrogant in unbelief. “Nothing is going to happen,” they told themselves as they went on with their idolatry, seeking power from pagan gods.   All kinds of evil arises when a society collectively begins to assume that there is no God or that, if there is, He is powerless or complacent towards sin.

Ezekiel warned them of the soon coming fulfillment of the visions. All those prophecies about the fall of Babylon, the rise of Persia, and the return of the Jews to Jerusalem all came to pass on God’s schedule. He showed them all up for fools who demanded that God do their bidding on their schedule.

But our waiting patiently in faith for God to act pleases Him. Hebrews 11 is a monument to those who trusted God to their dying day without seeing His promises fulfilled. They were included with all who “draw near to God [believing] that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (vs. 6)

Think about it

Not everyone lives to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are privileged to live in the era of the last days, following the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, including His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the building of His Church throughout the nations. Yet there is more–much more–to come.

Be sure you don’t fall into the arrogant unbelief of the people of Ezekiel’s day who thought nothing would ever happen and who demanded that God perform for them. Christ will return, but, even if not in our lifetimes, God will be pleased as we draw near to Him in unwavering faith believing that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.