Only a short distance from this bridge, over which I’ve passed numerous times through the years, lies the entrance to New Hope Cemetery. This is an old cemetery with a fascinating collection of aged headstones. This is a rustic cemetery and it holds the earthly remains of some of my nearest and dearest.
Too many times, we’ve followed a hearse over this bridge, taking a loved one to their final resting place. Several times, we’ve crossed the bridge to visit the graves of those we’ve not seen in so very long. The last time I was there–the day I took this picture–we were “visiting” Mother.
You’d think this bridge would represent loss to me, would inspire pain, but it doesn’t. Why?
The answer lies in the cemetery’s name–New Hope. Yes, we’ve laid our loved ones to rest here, but I know that in each and every case they were born again and destined for Heaven. For them, and those of us who expectantly wait to see them again, this place offers hope indeed–hope of that new life, true LIFE that will never end–eternal life in the very presence of God, surrounded by those we love so much…HOME.
So this picture shows a path of hope, a man-made construct that bridges the past and that glorious future as we follow the road home.
I once read that Smith Wigglesworth, who had a phenomenal ministry, never read any books other than the Bible.
On the one hand, this is hard to conceive. The amount of material that was available to the avid reader, even in his day, is staggering. Could one really turn aside from all of it? On the other hand, the Word is so rich, so full, that I often feel like the time I spend in it is too short, that my morning alarm going off is a rude interruption.
And I have seen evidence, in me, of what Wigglesworth talked about. He contended that faith is based on knowledge of Who God is, and that we gain this knowledge as we are in His Word. In fact, he said, “if you see imperfect faith – full of doubt, a wavering condition – it always comes of imperfect knowledge.”
That makes so much sense! My faith is stronger today than it has ever been. Yes, it grows as it is tried and strengthened, much like a muscle grows under the same conditions, but it grows as it does because it is rooted in my ever-increasing knowledge of Who God is.
Staying in the Word really is a necessity for the one who wants ever-increasing faith.
5 For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises],
employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
6 And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
7 And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
8 For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
For this very reason
Verse 4 of this chapter discusses that God has given us precious and exceedingly great promises so that we can “escape from the moral decay of the world” and “become sharers of the divine nature.” It is for this reason that we do all that the following verses call for us to do.
adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort
Yes, we have the divine promises and they were given to us for a reason, but they are like tools—to accomplish what they were made to do, they require our efforts. And God isn’t just calling for a little effort here, but for us to employ “every effort.” The King James Version says, “giving all diligence.”
Half-hearted participants need not apply!
in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy)
So we employ every effort in exercising our faith. Ministers often compare faith to a muscle and it seems God surely uses it in this way here. Faith is something that we must exercise continually if it is to become stronger. Most think of exercising their faith for things—cars, jobs, etc.—but God says clearly that there is one thing so important that we are to put forth every effort to exercise our faith to develop it…and that is virtue—excellence, resolution, Christian energy. One might ask why it takes faith to develop such virtue, but most probably wouldn’t question once they’d really thought about it. It does take a definite effort in exercising my faith for me to develop this virtue, this excellence, this resolution, this Christian energy, this (according to the New Living Translation) moral excellence. In my head, it see it as a simple decision, but in practice, when faced with certain choices, it takes an active effort of faith to take the step in the right direction instead of the wrong one.
and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
So virtue is like a muscle too, in that to develop properly it must be exercised, and as we exercise it we develop knowledge.
Since this selection is specifically leading us into avoiding the moral decay of the world and becoming sharers of the divine nature, we can be pretty sure the knowledge referred to here has nothing to do with worldly knowledge, but rather with spiritual knowledge. In fact, the New Living Translation says, “A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better.”
So as we exercise virtue, living lives of moral excellence, we come to know God better. Now there is a motivator!
And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control,
So one of the natural results of growing in the knowledge of God or, perhaps more accurately, one of the first things we see we must develop as we come to know God better, is self-control.
Self-control is a big issue among Christians today. We all seem to be continually working on self-control in one area or another, be it eating too much, cursing, losing our temper, judging others…whatever. Many who have little self-control despise their own weakness, but do not know how to combat it. Here God gives the answer.
Exercise your faith to develop moral excellence (virtue), exercise this moral excellence and get to know God better, and develop/exercise this knowledge of God.
Consider how a man, though he seems to have little control of his tongue, actively tries to limit his cursing when in the presence of a dear friend who is offended by his bad habit. The more time he spends with this friend, exercising his knowledge of the friend, the less he curses. So do we also, as we actively seek to grow in the knowledge of God, spending time with Him (an absolute necessity if we are to know Him), find it easier to control ourselves. As the New Living Translation puts it, “Knowing God leads to self-control.”
So, since one thing leads to another, where does self-control lead?
and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance),
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the literal meaning of the original word is “cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy.”
It is tremendous to realize that exercising self-control actually leads to developing cheerful or hopeful endurance, to developing constancy. I love that it is not endurance alone, which can be a miserable thing, but is endurance that is cheerful or hopeful – both of which, by the way, are characteristics of God. So as we come to know God better, He rubs off on us, yes?
And constancy! Someone who is constant is the same at all times, unwavering. This reminds me of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Constancy is definitely an attribute of God.
and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
Ah…now we are getting truly close to being genuine partakers in the nature of God. Surely knowing that we can reach this place is sufficient motivation to encourage one to exercise faith to develop virtue. It is easy to see that as we grow in this process, this absolutely necessary process, the moral decay of the world becomes less and less appealing. It is easy to escape a trap when you are headed swiftly away from it.
And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection,
Brotherly love is love for other Christians and it saddens me to see it so far down on this list. It does not surprise me, however, for the God kind of love cannot really operate where there is no virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, or constancy.
Indeed, the low level of brotherly love found in some churches is a sure sign that at least part of the body of Christ is not working their way through this process of growth. All too many don’t know God as well as they likely think they do. Far too many exhibit the symptoms listed later, in verse 9.
and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
And here it is…perhaps the hardest of all. If we are to be sharers of the divine nature of God, who is love, we must love. If we love, truly love, those who surround us—ALL those whom God loves—we must be willing to lay down our selves and share HIM with them.
On the surface, this is obvious. In practice, how often do I do it? I must confess that I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.
Jesus, motivated by love, laid down His life for all of us, from the best to the worst. Who are we to claim the right to do less? If we are afraid to witness we don’t love enough, because perfect love casts out fear. That is a humbling thought.
For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
I also like the New Living Translation here. “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want to be productive and useful. I don’t want God to refer to me as being idle or unfruitful! He paid an unimaginable price for my salvation; even if there were no promise attached, I would owe it to Him to use what He has given me.
For whoever lacks these qualities is blind,
I have known Christians like this, people who could not recognize a spiritual truth if you put it in front of their noses. Obviously, according to this passage, the only cure for this spiritual blindness is to start making every effort to exercise their faith to develop divine virtue.
[spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him,
Spiritually speaking, this is exceedingly dangerous. God can show us many things ahead of time if we have the eyes to see them. The shortsighted person does not have this benefit.
and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
And he who is oblivious to the fact that he was cleansed from his old sin is far too likely to return to it. Down that path lies the moral decay of the world and a complete inability to be a sharer in the divine nature. This should never be the condition of one who has been called out as a child of God, but for too many, for those who refuse to make the efforts God calls for us to make, it is inevitable. He says so.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
I love this verse! I pay special attention to faith verses anyway, because I know from Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God, but this verse seems extra special – overflowing with revelation and promise.
As my pastor points out often, the first three words make a foundational statement about faith – NOW faith is. Faith is, and always will be, in the present tense (which is right in line with God’s declaration about himself – “I AM”). We cannot live on yesterday’s faith and we must not set faith aside today, planning to pick it up again tomorrow. We must walk by faith now. We must also walk in “the now kind of faith,” trusting that God already has answered the prayer or provided the need, and that we have the answer and provision now even if we can’t touch it yet. At first this can seem an impossible thing to do, but the more we study God’s Word the more we see that this is, indeed, the way faith works.
Keep reading the verse and you learn even more about faith.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for…
We hope for a thing, then, before we have faith for it. Too, faith is a substance one has or, as the Amplified version expresses it, “…the assurance (the confirmation, the title-deed).” Think on that. If you have faith for a thing, you already have the assurance that it is yours, confirmation that it is yours, and the title-deed to it! Faith is a substantial thing and…it is evidence.
…the evidence of things not seen.
When God opened my eyes to the truth of this phrase, my excitement knew no bounds. Faith is evidence! Whenever I truly trust God to supply something, when I have faith in God’s provision in a specific area, the very fact that I have this faith is sufficient evidence that the answer is there; my inability to see or touch it is immaterial.
God is wonderful about giving me illustrations, and He gave me a great one for this verse.
In school, we all learned the basics of fire safety (Who can forget “Stop, drop, and roll”?) and one of the things we were taught is that, in cases of fire, we should test any door before opening it. Put your hands on the door and, if it’s hot, that’s all the evidence you need that there is a fire on the other side.
In the one case heat is the evidence that there’s fire on the other side of the door. In the other case, faith is the evidence that whatever you’ve hoped for is on the other side of the door. Awesome!
…the message they heard was of no value to them,
because those who heard it did not combine it with faith.
“They,” in this case, are those who Moses led out of Egypt. In the previous chapter, the author shares what God said about that generation and how their refusal to trust in and obey Him resulted in them not being able to enter into the rest that God had promised to give them in Canaan. They heard the same message that the next generation heard, but they only heard it; they failed to mix the message with faith, with action.
Some think that faith is merely believing, that if they hear a message and believe that message, then they have mixed the message with faith, but the Bible speaks otherwise. A message mixed with faith results in action. In the case of the Israelites who had fled from Egypt, the action would have been the taking up of arms and conquering of Canaan. They only heard the message, however. They did not really believe. Their faith, such as it was, was dead, useless.
James reminds us…
2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
2:17 …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead
2:20 …faith without deeds is useless…
2:26 …faith without deeds is dead.
I had to fight the temptation to copy all of James 2:14-26 here. It reveals so very clearly that faith and action absolutely must work hand-in-hand.
I do not want to miss out on that rest my God has promised me. I want all that He has set aside for me. I refuse to miss out!
Having made that decision, what is required of me now? Action! As I hear the message, if I do not want it to be of no value to me – do not want to be counted as no more worthy than that group of faithless Israelites – then I absolutely must combine the message with faith, faith that steps out and does whatever the message calls me to do.
It was that combining of message and faith that resulted in my salvation in the first place. Who knows how many times I’d heard the message previously? All those earlier hearings had been of limited value, however, because I did not act on them, did not combine them with faith. Yet on that one, specific day, while I probably heard the very same message spoken in much the same way, I reacted differently. I combined the message with faith and took a step toward the altar, I accepted all that Jesus did for me when He offered His life up as the sacrificial substitute for mine, and I was forever changed. Far from being of no value to me, that morning’s message was priceless.
Remembering this – the moment and the results of what happened in that moment – how can I fail to ensure that the message always is of value to me? Yet I do fail. There have been far too many times in my life when I’ve heard a message and done nothing with it, not even mixed it with a tiny bit of faith, a little bit of action. What have I missed as a result? What seeds did God try to plant that I let die before they bore fruit, killed by my own negligence, my own lack of faith-based action?
I can’t change the past. I can only repent and commit to a changed future…and I do.
16 Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke all share about this event, about how Jesus rebuked His disciples for trying to keep the children away. Mark and Luke both quote Jesus’ declaration that only those who have childlike faith will enter the Kingdom of God. All good students know that when the teacher repeats himself you can be sure that the information he’s giving will be on the test. So what all was Jesus saying, that God ensured it would be repeated to catch our attention?
First, any time His disciples tried to keep people from Jesus they were rebuked. Here He rebuked them and then the event was recorded repeatedly in the Gospels.
Moral: Do not stand in the way of anyone who is trying to reach Him; He does not appreciate it (and may well make an example of you for posterity’s sake).
Then He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those children and others like them. We cannot enter the Kingdom of God, He says, unless we have their kind of faith. This is a powerful warning. How do we heed it?
The key, of course, lies in understanding a child’s faith. A child’s faith is, in a word, absolute. The child of a normal father – even one who is only decent, rather than outstanding as a father – tends to trust his father completely. Whatever Daddy gives him he receives with confidence that it is a good thing. When Daddy holds him, he knows the world is safe. Whatever his need, he walks convinced that Daddy will fill it. That is, after all, what daddies are for.
God wants us to trust Him in just this way. He desires…demands…our absolute confidence in Him. He wants us to come before the throne of grace as boldly as any child would run to his father’s chair. He wants us to whisper in His ear, sharing as any earthly child would, telling Him about our hopes, our dreams, our needs and concerns.
He also wants us to love as freely as a child loves, throwing our arms around his neck, climbing up into His lap, playing “I love you most” with him, and in general letting Him know that He is the most important One in our whole world.
Our tendency, in today’s culture, is to rush to grow up. He says, “Come as a child.”
God spoke these words to me, and then explained further. Whether for good or evil, our dreams open doors.
I’m obviously not talking about what we dream while we sleep, but rather the thoughts we think while awake. We know from II Cor. 5:10 that we are to cast down “imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” These are the evil dreams He spoke of, those imaginations that inspire fear and, once they get hold of us, create feelings that can completely overpower our faith.
The thing is, dreams – godly dreams – are some of the very things God created the imagination for. By creating pictures with our imaginations, daydreaming if you will, of the things we know God wants us to do, or be, or have, we are building up our faith – and our faith opens doors to our future.
Consider what happens when you hear someone give their testimony, how it inspires you to think, “Well, if He did that for them He can do what I need too!” This builds your faith. Take it further and imagine God actually DOING IT and your faith is built more.
The world got hold of this truth long ago. They use fancy phrases and scientific labels, but the bottom line message is that if you can see yourself doing something, if you dream of it long enough, imagine clearly enough, you have a much better chance of actually DOING it. Athletes have used this “technique.” Business tycoons use this “principle.” It’s time for the church to wake up and use what God designed for His purposes from the very beginning. It’s time for us to open doors with our dreams.