Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Trial of Faith (Part 2)

One of the most critical sources of evidence in our judicial system for determining identity or family relationships is obtained through DNA testing. DNA is the abbreviated name for a nucleic acid found in humans and most other organisms. The scientific name is deoxyribonucleic acid. The letters "DNA" are much simpler; but that is about as simplistic as it gets for non experts. It is a very complex aspect of biological science and even more complex is DNA testing. Over the years DNA testing has been recognized in our judicial system as a reliable and relevant source of evidence, that is, provided strict standards are met for testing.

In the trial of faith called for in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to determine the presence of Christ in our life or whether we are born of God, Scripture provides another source of evidence. It results from what could be called spiritual DNA testing. This testing will reveal certain clear cut, definite characteristics in one born of God.

If we are born of God, according to several key verses in 1 John, certain birth traits will be evident. We first need to identify the traits. Then comes the matter of comparison or a Holy Spirit aided introspection to determine the presence of these characteristics in one's life. In a sense this evidence is like scientific evidence - it has an objective nature. Even so, it can involve difficulties when we seek to apply it. That difficulty is caused by several factors. One major cause for the difficulty is abnormal spiritual growth.

There are several traits listed; but the first one that I want to note is found in 1 John 3:9. John says, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. " John is talking about persisting in habitual and continual sin. From the very outset, there will be questions about this trait. Some may wonder how much of a Christian's life can be controlled by sin and that person still be born of God? That question actually raises a more serious question. Why would a person want to know that when the presence of sin, and certainly significant sin, is not in any way an acceptable characteristic of a Christian's life. Yet some walk very close to the edge in that respect. It will help to realize, too, that John is not describing a state of sinless perfection. He is describing the results of God's nature abiding in us - the presence of the divine life which, like a seed, grows and which will have a definite impact on one's life when it comes to the kind of life that is lived. This growth may be affected temporarily; but if there is no growth, then there is no divine life. The divine nature will cause a child of God to hate sin and love righteousness. It will give one born of God the desire and will to do God's will. The source of this desire, according to Philippians 2:13, is God.

As we look at our life and these traits in light of being born of God, we may see some serious issues concerning our sanctification. If so, that should be a wake up call. The seed is meant to grow. This aspect of identifying our spiritual roots, like all of the evidence will require a thorough understanding of and practice of progressive sanctification. There we will learn that while we are never free from sin, we never give up - we press on with the assurance that our identity with the One who lives in us will become more and more manifest. We strive. We pursue and continually go for more. We experience the tension that is within us. We stop playing games with the salvation God has granted to us. This will be true as to the remaining traits noted by John.

In 1 John 4:7-8, he says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." There is a certain kind of love that can only originate from God. It reflects God's essential nature. It is produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of one born of God and one who is yielded to the Holy Spirit. It is the love reflected in 1 Corinthians 13. This characteristic of spiritual birth is expressed in the sense of continuous action. It is meant to be an on-going characteristic or trait.

A third trait is expressed in 1 John 5:4- 5. "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?" A strong trait in one born of God is a continuous, unshakable faith that Jesus is the Son of God. This is more than mental assent. True faith works and involves transformation and repentance. The statement of John is both deep and broad. It means, for one thing, that Jesus is the focus of our life. It means that the gospel is more than the entry point for our conversion. Our life is gospel centered. We have a gospel centered view of life. It is the day-to-day controlling factor in our life because it is through the gospel that we see, by means of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus." Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6. He calls this the gospel of the glory of Christ which encompasses all that the gospel is. This steady focus is the bedrock foundation for an overcoming faith. If the evidence of that trait is weak then the problem can be found in how much dominance the gospel has in our day to day life. It also may be true that we are relying on the wrong testimony. Certain witnesses are not true or reliable witnesses. John says in 1 John 5:6-11 "...And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." This trait of overcoming faith is not the faith exercised at the point of conversion. It is faith that is present now. That means the gospel should be driving our life moment by moment.

There is another factor that can have impact on recognizing these birth traits. In order to recognize this evidence we have to know something. John gives us this clue in 1 John 2:29. "If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him." He is speaking here of Jesus. The first knowing opens the door to the second knowing which is by means of experience. The more we know the first, the more we can know in the latter sense. This was a driving force behind Paul's statements in Philippians. This takes discovery of a family likeness to a much deeper level. John speaks of this in 1 John 3:1. "...The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him." In fact the natural mind actively works to suppress that knowledge and in so doing deprives itself of what it desperately needs. But for the one born of God, the light of the gospel has shone and enlightened our darkened minds so we may behold His glory. We need to let that light shine brightly. We need that if we are going to discover the critical traits of family likeness. We need this is we want to experience the life given to us through faith in Jesus Christ. We need this if we are going to be able to look into His Word - our true source of discovery - and see Jesus. Only that seeing will let us see the traits of one born of God. Just as DNA testing is one of comparison - so is spiritual DNA. Paul describes this process of discovery in the awesome words of 2 Corinthians 3:18. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." Only as we behold His glory will the traits of family likeness be manifested.

If we want to find the evidence to successful conclude the trial of faith we need to look to Jesus or as the writer of Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Back up a chapter and take a good look at those witnesses and you will see how strong their spiritual birth traits were. The reason - they were strong in the faith and they were strong in the faith because of the One to whom they looked.

A trial should hopefully end with a verdict. Sometimes the fact finder, if it is a jury, cannot reach a decision and the judge must declare a mistrial. If the fact finder is a judge, inability to reach a verdict is not an option. A decision must be reached even though it may require more evidence. For the trial of faith, a decision has to be reached. It may involve seeking and developing stronger evidence. If you are of the faith, there is a way. Look to Jesus, pursue Him with the assurance expressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Pursue Jesus with all diligence or as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:10 "Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."

For some the evidence may be lacking - not because of abnormal spiritual growth but because that person has never been born of God. Some may have given external signs of conversion but have eventually fallen away. For some Matthew 7:21-23 may be an ever present frightening thought. If you are experiencing a sense of worry or fear or if the verdict is not favorable, seek help. Maybe you are experiencing a season of darkness and cannot hear the Lord's voice or experience a sense of His love and presence. Continue to seek Him in prayer, weeping, reading and hearing His Word. In "The Glory of Christ," John Owen said, "Faith continually seeks him and thinks of him, for in this way Christ lives in us...But we experience the power of his life in us only as our thoughts are filled with him and we continually delight in him. If, therefore, we would behold the glory of Christ, we must be filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory on all occasions and at all times. This is the mark of a true Christian...Let that glory so fill our hearts with love, admiration, adoration and praise of him that our souls will be transformed into his image." Finally, I would encourage you as I encourage myself, read and re-read the high priestly prayer of Christ in John 17. Faith ebbs and flows. There are degrees; but the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, does not. We may struggle at times to know if we are born of God. Not so with the Lord. 2 Timothy 2:19 "But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his..." Over the course of my life I have, at times, walked in seasons of darkness to the point of despair. I pressed on, realizing later that the Lord was pulling me. At times I pushed the trial too far and too long. It became my effort unaided by the Holy Spirit. The verdict would not come and I fell deeper into despair. I finally came to realize that while we should pursue the trial of faith with all diligence, we must do so carefully. We can lose sight of the purpose and forget there is a life to be lived by faith. We can let our own mind and heart dominate us in that pursuit. Our eyes and heart can become closed to His Word. John Piper, in his book, "When Darkness Will Not Lift," says, in effect, that introspection can become self-absorption and small mindedness. It may start out as introspection aided by the Holy Spirit; but it can, instead, be introspection of our own making. He says we "need to embrace a vision of life that is far greater than our present concerns." Pursue the trial of faith. If we find our hearts faint and starving, we need to repent and never stop trusting in the gospel. Then get on with living the faith that we have been freely given with knowledge, as stated in Philippians 1:6, that the Lord will complete what He started.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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