December 22, 2015

How to determine real from imitation

Jeremiah 42:1–43:13; Romans 9:30–10:21; Proverbs 24:23–34

Most people do not try to imitate junk. People create fakes to replace only what is thought to be genuine and valuable. This holds true for Christianity where there are many pretenders. How can I distinguish between the real thing and all those imitations?

Real faith follows through. In the OT when Israel was taken captive to Babylon, a few were left in Judah. They said to the prophet Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 42:5–6) That sounded real, but was it?

Jeremiah gave them the same message as before: remain in this land and do not fear the king of Babylon. Don’t go to Egypt and think you will be safe, but trust God to keep you safe. If you go there, what you fear will follow you and you shall die. (Jeremiah 42:10–16)

But this was their reply: “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you . . . .” so they “came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.” Soon after, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, came and overthrew all of Egypt, including those who pretended to believe God but refused to follow through with obedience.

Real faith hates evil. Solomon was not perfect himself, but he knew that a wise person was impartial in judging what is good. He wrote, “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” (Proverbs 24:23–25) False teachers wink at evil or cover it with excuses.

Real faith depends on faith. The Apostle Paul wrote how the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness attained it by faith, while Israel pursued law and rules thinking that would lead to righteousness, but they could not keep the law. And why not? “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.” (Romans 9:32) They stumbled when it came to trusting Jesus instead of their own lifestyles based on their traditions.

Imitation faith depends on self. Paul had a desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites. He knew “that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1–4)

Real faith is not about faith by itself, but about the object of faith. What counts is who or what is being trusted. Salvation from sin is spelled out like this: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9–10)

Paul goes on to say there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. Jesus is Lord of all and bestows His riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Yet he says it like it is: no one will call on Jesus unless they believe in Him, and no one will believe in Him without hearing about Him. Yet even those who hear need to go one step farther: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16–17) True faith trusts Jesus and what He has done and that faith results in obedience.

Jeremiah and Isaiah agree with Paul that Christ has been found by those who did not seek Him. He even shows Himself to those who do not ask for Him. Yet many are like Israel of whom God says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:20–21) Instead of believing God and doing what He said, they worshiped idols, fake gods and closed their hearts to the true God.

Why create a fake? Is it because the original comes at too high a price?

Salvation from sin is by the grace of God. It is free. I cannot earn or deserve it, but simply believe it. Yet believing it changes lives. Instead of doing my own thing, God changes my heart. He gives me a desire to abandon self, even put it to death. True faith results in becoming a servant of the Most High God, the Lord Jesus Christ. My life is not longer my own.

False faith costs nothing, leaves me in charge, and renders any change meaningless. Real faith is free, but it changes everything. 

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