By Larry White
April 29, 1984
What I see as a need in the churches today is spiritual understanding. I think Christians in general barely scratch the surface when it comes to comprehending the things of God. There is in us all, our carnal side, if you will, and our spiritual side; and I do not say anything new when I say that we all have a constant battle on our hands to be spiritual, to crucify the flesh with its affection and lusts.
For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
But how do we become spiritual?
There are many answers to that question. In my sermons I strive to deal with possible solutions on which we can concentrate, things which I have gone over in sermons that are actually fundamental to the life in Christ and spiritual understanding.
In our approach to God, the most important and most needed thing we must have is faith.
But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.
Without faith our religion falls to the ground - cold and lifeless. The battle we fight in the world is a battle of faith. When we conquer our foes and triumph in the end, it is a victory of faith.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.
There are mainly two aspects to faith.
1. Trust or Reliance, and
2. Conviction or Confidence. (Full assurance)
In many respects these two aspects overlap and are hard to distinguish - but I am going to try to emphasize them both.
The person that we trust is the person to whom we commit something that is very valuable to us for safe keeping or for fidelity or loyalty of purpose.
We trust a doctor when we place our physical lives in his hand, as in a serious operation. We have to be convinced that this man is competent and knows what is best for our well-being. And when we are, we trust him. We trust his judgement.
We also trust a good friend, one we know that we can entrust with our deepest thoughts and feelings and know they are not going to betray that trust.
As Christians our trust is in our Savior. We have given him a very precious thing indeed, the outcome of our eternal well-being. As humans we are in a very dangerous situation. We are sinners. We come short of God's glory. We have done what is wrong. We have turned our backs on God and stand condemned to suffer an everlasting death away from the God of life. We stand just one breath away from a permanent - never changing eternity. To whom can we turn for help?
The good news is that Jesus, God's son, has taken our sins and put them on his own head, so that we can go free.
Now the natural response to that news should be trust in what Jesus has done for us. We are persuaded that he is competent and has the ability to see us through in that hour of trial, because he has died for us, and we place the outcome of our whole concern into his hands.
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have entrusted to him until that day.
I trust him. I cannot save myself. He is my savior, my hero.
When someone obeys the gospel the most important thing involved is our trust in the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins. I repent because Jesus has died for me, and forgiven me - so I change my mind about how I have been behaving and will correct my life. I am immersed in water because Jesus died for me. I am buried because Jesus gave up his life for me - and I want to give up mine for him. I am raised to walk in a new life because Jesus died for me and rose again that I might have life, so I want to live for him.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I think that in the church we have been preaching law (do this and live). "You want to be saved? Then be baptized. Be baptized and you'll have your sins forgiven." Without any reference to the fact that Jesus gave his life for us - he shed his blood to remit our sins, and in him is where our trust and reliance should be. We need to have faith in our savior, the person Jesus Christ, and then be immersed in his name, for his sake, because of our trust in him.
The reason for repentance and immersion is not only that God commands it, (although that is reason enough) but God wants the obedience of faith, not blind obedience. The conditions of salvation are an expression of our trust in Jesus Christ as our savior. I think in the church we have forgotten that - simply because it is not preached. We need to encourage trust in Christ and nurture it. And when someone comes to obey the gospel, we need to realize that they are coming to Jesus as their savior. They are putting their trust in him, not us or the church. We should not forget that.
Now, faith is not only trust but also confidence and conviction.
It seems that it is entirely possible for us to be stewards of God's word and study it diligently and for the most part be experts on the scriptures, knowing them forwards and backwards, and yet for all this, have a lack of faith - not believe the words we read.
We certainly must believe the words of God are true, but more, we must believe to the extent that the things the word of God describes to us are real to us. A life changing belief, a behavior changing belief.
Faith is belief in the reality of the unseen.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)
This Old English version was an unfortunate translation. Here is a more accurate translation.
Now faith is the foundation of things expected, the conviction of things not being seen.
That is clearer, but here is a translation with expanded definitions.
Now faith is the basis upon which something is expected, the fully assured conviction in the reality of things that are invisible.
In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we tend to stress the fact that these great people of faith did something by faith. This is well and good. But I think the key to understanding their faith is that they all believed something they could not see was nevertheless real and then they responded accordingly.
Noah believed God concerning - things not seen as yet. (v.7)
By faith Abraham went out not knowing wither he went - looking for a city which he could not see. (v8-10)
By faith Moses endured - as seeing him who is invisible. (v.27)
All these people saw something that other people around them could not see, by faith. They had faith to the point that they were assured that the things they could not see were nevertheless real, and then acted upon them.
That is what we are called upon to do also. In the scriptures we are faced with a would-view, and a definition of the universe that is spiritual and moral. It is the realm or sphere where God dwells and holds a communion with man - another spiritual being. That is where our activities and interests must be - that is where we are called upon to live our lives - but we cannot do that unless we believe in the reality of that spiritual realm. Not just "holding a position" or being loyal to an idea in one part of our minds - but something we live and breathe moment by moment. Walking in the spirit.
Now, with this type of faith, we can begin working in the spiritual realm. We can step out of our old lives and habits and live and walk in the spirit. Mainly because now we have eyes that can see and ears that can hear. We can respond to spiritual issues and find that we can effect a powerful influence in the spiritual realm. We also find that it reacts to us and kicks back.
This type of faith will change us - change our thinking and change our behavior.
I would like to apply this kind of faith to three areas that are important.
I. Understanding the word.
The most pressing and fundamental problem we have in the church today is a lack of faith. Certainly we know the truth and have all the right answers on doctrinal questions, but to a great extent we lack a heart-felt trust in God. I have found that knowledge and faith are often confused with each other or misidentified. Faith is the most vital thing to us. Please understand me. I know that you can have a lot of faith in a doctrinal error. But being right doctrinally is nothing without faith - taking our doctrinal rightness and living it as real.
With some Christians in the brotherhood there seems to be this arrogance that because we are in the right church and our church is doing all the right things, that therefore we are okay, when all the while we personally lack faith. Some really do not believe in the things that are unseen. It just so happens that this time in our history the unbelief centers around a denial not only of the Holy Spirit's work, but of the spiritual realm itself and how we interface with it.
What worries me, is when faced with a spiritual concept in the scriptures that we do not understand, or with which we have not had any experience, some of our brethren conclude that it does not exist - and then make an effort to explain the words away that teach it.
"After all, am not I a true child of God? Been in the church for over 30 years - if I haven't experienced such a thing, it must not happen and therefore these words that teach it must mean something else."
I would respond, "Well how much faith do you have? Don't you think that what the scriptures talk about might be real, even though you don't understand them, and what might be needed is more child-like faith in what we can't see? Should we not conform our lives to the word, instead of conforming the word to our lives?"
It worries me when brethren who are reported to be somewhat in the brotherhood, in trying to explain passages like (Rom.8:9) which says that we are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in us, have a priori, i.e. beforehand concluded that that is not possible, that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a Christian. And so by the "magic of metonymy" they teach that the passage is not referring to the Holy Spirit at all and thus explain away the words, (that is the present teaching at Florida College).
Aside from us forgetting that we must have faith in the Christ who was crucified for our sins, this colossal misunderstanding is without parallel.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is being laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the day will declare it, because it is revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone ruins the temple of God, God will ruin him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
Jesus said to the Sadducees, "You do err not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God."
Without our child-like trust in God's power - the power he has to do the impossible, we are blind, and our understanding of God's word will be limited and at most carnal, even as babes in Christ. I think that to explain away spiritual realities the scriptures speak of is evidence of little faith.
One might say, "Can God communicate or not?"
I would respond, "Yes, but not in the flesh, i.e. to a carnal mind relying on his own reasoning ability."
"God wants us to understand."
Yes, but he recognizes our inability to understand with our carnal minds.
"We have a command to understand. Eph.5:12"
Yes, but not with human wisdom. The way to understand is to believe his word and ask him for the wisdom that is from above, and not rely on your own clever reasoning ability and the criteria of your own human experience to figure it out.
We speak of the idea of trusting in your own intelligence or intellect being certainly the wrong path for coming to God. But we need to consider that "intellect" is not the problem; it is our own humanness that keeps us at arm's length from God. Human intellect is the problem - the intellect of the flesh. Christian's are not mere men any longer. We need to realize that the way that everyone's mind works, the common sense reasonableness of the way we "normally" look at things, must not be our commentary on the scriptures.
The natural, fleshly mind cannot discern the things of God.
But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
If we approach our understanding of God's word with the attitude that my human reason can grasp the word of God because my human wisdom has always been sufficient to grasp everything else - then we will drag the spiritual things in God's word down to what our limited human intellectual ability is able to assimilate and digest. Everything in God's word cannot be limited to what is humanly reasonable or what is only possible.
Faith takes the word of God and makes that its reality and makes that what is possible - not ever relying on human understanding. We come to the word as it is in fact the word of God and then we shut our mouths and listen with child-like faith.
In believing in the reality of what the scriptures describe, do not let yourself get deceived into taking things that are divine and spiritual and explaining them down to a human, carnal level of what is real or possible. Rather, by faith, allow your concept of what is real and possible to ascend up to meet the word of God. In Jesus' words, "Believe in God - all things are possible to him that believes." (Mk.9:23)
Let yourself become a fool - so that you can be wise.
II. Repentance. (and behavior changing faith)
This is the area with which we have the most difficulty - the area in which we feel the most powerful tug from our flesh, when we are faced with what we know to be God's will and yet we have a very strong desire to fulfill some behavior that we know is opposed to his will. So we struggle with it. And we are miserable. And with that inner turmoil, we have already lost the battle because we have become ineffective in the work of God. God cannot use us in that condition, and we wonder why we just get passed by and nothing is happening in our lives as Christians. Nothing's going on.
We talk about how God can empower your inner-man by his Spirit (and he can) but it will not do us any good unless we are willing to come out of the flesh and live for God in the spirit.
But how do I deny the flesh? I want and need and crave my attachment, the thing that can fulfill me in the flesh. I can't say, No, to the very thing or person, that answers like a key, every need and desire I have, that can fill the aching void in my heart. How could I possibly do that?
Well, you can - through faith in God's word. Really believe it, and the experiential knowledge - your experience of the truth, will so influence you that your choice will already be made - it will seem that easy.
If you are having trouble with a stubborn, sinful habit - what you need to do is believe God's word, really believe it.
Peter says, "Add to you faith, virtue..." But if you are having trouble adding virtue, i.e. moral strength, then you have to back up and take a look at your faith, that is where the problem is.
The need and desire of the codependent (his addiction or compulsive behavior) is in the flesh. So we need to divorce ourselves from the flesh, reject it - die to it - deny ourselves. But we don't want to. Our need we have is perceived to be too great. I can't afford to lose what completes me. So we hold on to it, even though it is hurting us.
The truth must enter in here at this point; the truth that we have another life promised to us - that we can live above our circumstances - that we hold the image of God and we are not just mere humans - the truth that our destiny lies with God in heaven - the truth about the temporary nature of things - that the world passes away and is far from worth it - the truth about God's being and nature - that he is the only lasting thing.
But we have to believe it. That is wherein lies the strength to say No to the flesh - Faith. Faith puts our affection on things above, so that we can sell all that we have and buy that pearl.
The truth sets you free. It dispels the lure and illusion and fascination of sin and opens our eyes to the realities of spiritual life, and that is where we are made complete - in Christ - sharing his life in the spirit.
One of the reasons why we may not be converting people to Christ is because we are lacking in faith. Fear of telling others about God is evidence of little faith. We are not believing what the Bible says is serious and real.
But we must not get on a guilt trip and think, "Hey, I've got to get out there and convert someone." and then start concentrating on ways to get a contact. The trick to converting somebody to the Lord is to have faith. Believe what the Bible says is real and things will start clicking. It you believe what the Bible says is real you will have more contacts then you thought possible - both contacts for damnation, bringing persecution to you and contacts for salvation, bringing glory to God. If you believe the spiritual realm is actually real - then you won't be able to hide from your contacts. Like the harvesters of old, the fields are white.
Our field that we should be working is actually our area of influence. Whoever we have influence with is our field. Your neighbors, your boss, your fellow employees, your friends and relatives. But that is just part of your field. Your field is actually as big as God's influence, not just your own. Jesus said,
“My father has been working until now, and I have been working.”
Jesus was saying that the context and motivation and opportunity for the work he was doing was being taken from what God was doing at the moment - which Jesus could see - and with his cooperation, God was doing the work through Jesus.
I have found that most of my contacts have been strangers - chance acquaintances with whom I had a brief influence, and they came when my faith was the strongest.
If you believe what the Bible says is real and you have your feelers out, i.e. you are waiting in expectation to teach others about God, what you are doing is making yourself available to work, and God knows it, and God will use you. He wants to communicate faith - and when you are actively having faith, then God will use you to influence others.
When God sees someone who wants the truth, then he leads them to the truth - and if you have the truth and are expecting God to bring you a person who wants the truth, then you will see that person too. Like Jesus, you will see the opportunity and you will recognize the hand of God in that person's life to bring them to the truth. You will see God using you to that end - and you will see it all - by faith.
In the Old Testament, the men that God used to bring about his will and accomplish his purposes in the earth, were men of faith. God is actively converting the world to Christ one person at a time. If you believe God is real, and what he has said in the scriptures is real, then God will be using you and you will be doing the same thing God is doing. Your father will be working until now, and you will be working.
We need more faith in the area of our understanding of God's word. Not relying on what we think is possible, but humbly accepting the language as he gave it, and then believing it, without fear or regard or respect for the face of any man.
In the area of repentance. Realizing that faith is the way to strength. The truth sets us free from out attachments and the lure of our human needs. But that truth has to be real to us, and it is made real by faith.
In the area of evangelism. We need more faith so God can use us. If everywhere you look, there is nothing going on spiritually - then take a look at your faith. Being zealous for lost souls is a result of faith.
The direction in which we grow and mature has very much to do with the content of what we believe. The word of truth accurately describes the reality of spiritual things to us. And unless our growth is into and in accord with the reality of what really is, we will find our growth hindered. We cannot grow into and be made complete and mature in illusion or lies. We must grow in accordance with the truth of what is, or we will find that our stature is built upon mere vapor. Brethren, unless we have that correct reality of truth in our hearts, we may find it very hard to mature at all, instead of becoming spiritual, we will remain carnal.
But God is gracious, and faithful, and as we continue to trust him and ardently search him out, he will effect our growth and will see to it that we obtain that truth for which we seek, as we keep asking and seeking and knocking. Our part is to make sure that our faith has its source in THE faith, the reality of which the Bible reveals by the true words which it actually uses.
All of our faith is based upon the fact that Jesus died for us and made our life in him possible. He is the author and the finisher of our faith.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, Or. April 29, 1984)