Second-Hand Faith

“…I am left, I alone…”

– 1 Kings 19:10

Hypothetical questions: If the person who led you to Christ suddenly told you, “I’m sorry. I misled you. I was wrong. There is no heaven or hell. Jesus is a fairy tale. God does not exist. … I have proof, and here it is…,” how would your faith fare?

What if all of the great Christian preachers, teachers, authors, apologists, radio and TV personalities, etc. you look up to suddenly said the same thing? What if everyone in the world abandoned Jesus and urged you to do so… what would you do?

I’ve thought about questions like these off and on for many years as a way of identifying whether my faith is real or not. It’s somewhat hypothetical: there will always be true believers. But there may come a time when it seems everyone around me has abandoned the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It has happened to some degree before and will happen again.

Since the early church, there have been those who appeared to be saved, and even had leadership roles in the church, but who fell away (2 Timothy 4:10). John tells us they left because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19), meaning they were not really saved. These are somewhat isolated examples, but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of ‘the apostasy’ of the last days. There will come a time when there is a mass defection from the faith. I believe this speaks of people in the church that we would identify as believers, maybe even strong believers, because you can’t fall away from the truth unless you first have the truth. Some will fall away completely, while others will be seduced by a different gospel. I think we’re seeing this happen in America today. 1

I think one reason people fall away is because they have a second-hand faith. They believe in the doctrines of the Bible, and they say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t really trust in Him. They think they are saved because they agree with what the Bible says, but God hasn’t given them new birth. They don’t have the internal Witness, the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin and helps them become more like Christ. They’ve heard or read inspiring stories of other people’s faith, but they haven’t stepped out in trusting obedience to the Lord and seen Him work in their lives. Then, when someone comes up with a convincing-sounding argument, or when difficulties arise, they easily fall away. Their faith is built on sand, not the Rock.

Do you believe in Jesus only because you’ve been taught to? Do you have a second-hand faith? Or have you stepped out in obedient faith and seen God prove Himself to be true?

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, supply with your faith virtue, with virtue knowledge, with knowledge self-control, with self-control perseverance, with perseverance godliness, with godliness brotherly affection, and with brotherly affection love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the full true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his sins of the past. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make sure of your calling and election, for if you do these things you will not ever stumble; for so an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

– 1 Peter 1:5-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. I don’t believe this has anything to do with losing salvation. Salvation cannot be truly lost if you have it. But there are many in the church who think because they did this or that at some time in their lives they are saved. Although repentance and faith are necessary prerequisites, salvation is not based on something we do. It is entirely the work of God, and what He does, He carries on to completion.

God Is Good

God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

– Genesis 1:31a

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

– Acts 14:17

Paul said that everyone can see God’s power and deity through what He has created (Romans 1:20). I believe you can also add God’s goodness to that. What are some of the practical, everyday things you see and experience that let you know that God is good?

For myself I see incredible beauty in what God has created, from the galaxies down to the sub-microscopic details. But more than that, I see that God gave us the capacity to enjoy what He has created, to get pleasure from these things.

Imagine a world in which we can see, but not in color, where we can eat, but it all tastes bland or awful, and where we can hear, but we can’t appreciate vibrations in the air as music and singing. God could have made the world that way if He wanted to. We would have to eat to survive, but we would avoid it otherwise. I’m so thankful that God made the world enjoyable. It tells me that God is a good, loving God.

Whenever I eat a cherry, I marvel as I think about how different it is from foods we make on assembly lines. There’s no comparison between our candy and God’s. A cherry looks and tastes better, and is better for you. There’s no wrapper to throw away (the skin is edible), and the throw-away part (the pit) is good to toss since it can grow into a cherry tree. A cherry is incredibly complex, and yet God makes trillions of them every year with no effort at all, along with strawberries, bananas, kiwis, etc. … yes, and even okra :P.

I believe that God has the wisdom and power to create the world instantly, in less than a nano-second, but I think He took time to make it beautiful and enjoyable, a thing of glory, a piece of art.

And all this in a world affected by the curse. I can’t image what things were like before the fall, of what the new heavens and new earth will be like.

Book Giveaway: How To Gain Victory Over Sin

It’s been a few months since I published my second book, How To Gain Victory Over Sin. The ebook is free, but the paperback version isn’t simply because it costs money to print books.

But from now until May 3, you have the chance to win one of 10 free paperback editions of the book through Goodreads.com. All you need to do is click on the ‘Enter To Win’ button below. If you do win, I’ll send you the book, asking you for an honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever. (Of course, you don’t have to enter the contest to post a review!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

How to Gain Victory Over Sin by Andrew Bernhardt

How to Gain Victory Over Sin

by Andrew Bernhardt

Giveaway ends May 03, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Note on ‘Galilee of the Nations’

We’re studying Matthew in my church adult class, and this little tidbit came to me during the study, which seems to give some insight into why Jesus began His ministry in Galilee rather than Jerusalem.

Now when Jesus heard that John was delivered up to prison, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great Light, and upon those sitting in the region and shadow of death, Light has sprung up.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.

– Matthew 4:12-17

The context of Jesus’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” is closely related to the prophecy of “Galilee of the nations.”

Galilee was divided into two parts: upper and lower. The boundary dividing the two parts was roughly in an east-west line through the Sea of Galilee. The upper (northern) part was called “Galilee of the Nations” because this was where gentile invaders first entered Israel (see Jeremiah 1:13-15 for example), and gentile influence was felt strongly there. At the time of Christ, there were also Egyptians, Arabians, and Pheonecians living there. The gentiles influenced the Israelites in various way, including their speech (Matthew 26:73). As a result, Galileans were not held in high regard in Judea.

When Jesus preached His message, He was announcing a new invasion. He chose Galilee of the Nations because it was the appropriate place to begin this new invasion. His call to repent was a call for the people to cease their hostility against the new King and allow Him to rule.

Counting All Your Blessings

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (VW)

Here’s a thought that can either be very uncomfortable or very comfortable, depending on the strength of my faith: When bad things replace good things in my life, I still have just as many reasons to give thanks to God.

Faith is essential for this to be a comforting thought, because I must trust that God works all things to my good, including allowing the bad things to happen to me. Even if I violently lose my life for the sake of the gospel, I have a crown of life waiting for me, and an eternal weight of glory that far surpasses the light and momentary trials of this life. The eternal blessings are no comparison to the worst that can happen to me here.

…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

– Hebrews 12:1-2 (VW)

Lord, strengthen my faith!

New page: The Greater Miracle (Full)

Many times the greatest miracles are those that don’t seem impressive to outsiders, but are appreciated by those who experience them. Such is the miracle of forgiveness.

Some time ago I had posted part of a message I gave in 2007 on the subject of forgiveness called “The Greater Miracle”. The full message is now available to read here. In the message I describe why forgiveness is greater than any physical miracle, and I also describe what makes God’s forgiveness so special. Both of these still amaze me. Give it a good read and see why!

Just Published: How to Gain Victory Over Sin

I just published the e-book version of my new book, How to Gain Victory Over Sin. It is available through Amazon (for Kindle), Google Play, and Smashwords. This is a free e-book, although Amazon will show 99 cents until they realize it’s free elsewhere.

Links to get the book are on my new ‘Books’ page, where you can also download the PDF version.

New Book: How to Gain Victory Over Sin

Victory Over Sin book cover

I am in the final stages of publishing a new free book called How to Gain Victory Over Sin, which is based on something I had posted last year called Victory Over Sin. This book will be made available in e-book form from Amazon.com (for Kindle), Google Play, Smashwords (other formats), as well as here in PDF and other formats. Eventually a paperback edition will be available for a minimal cost.

The book’s subject is understanding why we Christians have such a difficult time withstanding temptation, and why we need the Holy Spirit to do so. It’s a subject we can all benefit from… I know I have in studying this.

The first and main part of the book can be read on this website here. I hope to have the e-book versions available next month (if not sooner).

Personal Apologetic: The Dispersion Of National Israel

By human standards, the existence of the Jewish people today remains a mystery. No other ancient people has survived for thousands of years, retaining their national identity through much hostility.

We have much evidence that Israel was a nation thousands of years ago. Archaeologists have made many discoveries from the time of the kings, and they are still doing so. The most prominent of those remains is the temple mount in Jerusalem, but other remains exist, and the historical records of other ancient nations mention the existence of national Israel/Judah 1. Israel’s existence as an ancient nation is not seriously disputed.

The history of ancient Israel was generally not one of peace. There were internal conflicts, one of which led to the kingdom being divided, ten tribes (variously known as ‘Israel’, ‘Ephriam’, or ‘Samaria’) versus two (‘Judah’). There were wars and battles, with their neighbors as well as themselves. Eventually, Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and later Judah by the Babylonians. From the captivity on, Israel/Judah remained a people without their own nation for thousands of years. But unlike every other ancient people, they retained their national identity when scattered. All of this was prophesied in many places throughout the Bible. One of the first of those places is in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy reads like the last will and testament of Moses. After leaving Egypt, the people of Israel traveled in the wilderness for 40 years. They were about to enter the Promised Land, but Moses was not allowed to enter. So before being taken away from them, he reviewed the history of their deliverance from slavery and travel through the desert. He reviewed the Law and he pronounced blessings on them. And within this review he gave a list of blessings and cursings: blessings if Israel would obey God, and cursings if they would not.

The blessings and cursings are given in Deuteronomy 28. Interestingly, most of this chapter (54 verses) is devoted to the cursings. God told Moses beforehand the people would not obey Him (Deuteronomy 31:16-18), therefore the cursings were elaborated on. Because Israel did not obey, the cursings can be understood as a prophetic description of the history of Israel covering a period of thousands of years.

The cursings start out bad, and get worse and worse. The repeated defeats before their enemies in the book of Judges was foretold. The later ecologic disasters and disease were predicted. The cannibalism of 2 Kings 6:24-29 and Lamentations 4:10 were prophesied here. The prophetic cursings also tell of the dispersion of the people of Israel, which began with the Assyrian captivity of Samaria (Israel) (722 B.C.) and the Babylonian captivity of Judah (597 B.C.), and was fully realized during Roman times.

It shall happen that as Yahweh rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so Yahweh will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone. Among these nations you shall find no ease, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot: but Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul…

– Deuteronomy 28:63-65 (WEB)

This ‘scattering’ happened with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D, where more than a million Jews died, and almost 100,000 shipped to Egypt as slaves:

Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, You shall see it no more again: and there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies for bondservants and for bondmaids, and no man shall buy you.

– Deuteronomy 28:68 (WEB)

The historians of the time say there was such a glut of slaves that people didn’t buy them.

“…as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines.”

– Josephus, De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 2.

“There were many to be sold, but there were few buyers; for the Romans despised the Jews for service, nor were there Jews left to redeem their own.”;

– Hegesippus, De excidio Urb. Hieros. l. 5. c. 47. p. 645.

All of the curses in this chapter came about… even down to the last one.

Most scholars assume the book of Deuteronomy was written in the 6th to 8th century B.C. time period, because it records prophecies about the time of the captivities. If they could, they would probably say the book was written hundreds of years later to account for what the Romans did to them. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contains portions of Deuteronomy dated before these events happened. These portions also include that last prophecy about the Jews returning to Egypt as slaves.

This chapter of Deuteronomy is only one prophecy of many in the Old Testament that refers to what would happen to Israel when Israel did not follow the commands of God. But no matter how bad things got, Israel would never be totally destroyed. There would always be a remnant so that eventually the people could be restored as a nation again. This is implied in the Deuteronomy prophecy, where the Hebrew people would live with no rest from fear in lands not their own, but other biblical writers say much the same thing:

My God will cast them away, because they did not listen to him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.

– Hosea 9:17 (WEB)

A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of you; and a third part shall fall by the sword around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them.

– Ezekiel 5:13 (WEB)

Israel would retain their national identity, but because of their sins, they would not exist as a nation until the last days. In the meantime, they would be scattered around the world, living in fear, suffering persecution, but never being totally destroyed. Their scattered but continued existence would be a witness to the world of the existence and sovereignty of God.

Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar; Yahweh of Armies is his name: If these ordinances depart from before me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever.

-Jeremiah 31:35-36 (WEB)

Don’t you be afraid, O Jacob 2 my servant, says Yahweh; for I am with you: for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you; but I will not make a full end of you, but I will correct you in measure, and will in no way leave you unpunished.

– Jeremiah 46:28 (WEB)

Are you not like the children of the Ethiopians to me, children of Israel?” says Yahweh. “Haven’t I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord Yahweh are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the surface of the earth; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says Yahweh. “For, behold, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet not the least kernel will fall on the earth. All the sinners of my people will die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil won’t overtake nor meet us.’

– Amos 9:7-10 (WEB)

Now, you could take the existence of the Jews today as chance occurrence. After all, remnants of other ethnic people exist around the world. But…

* How many of those ethnic groups have held on to their ancient identity over thousand of years? Yes, there are some.

* How many of those people had prophecies made that they would destroyed as a nation and scattered throughout the world, but still retain their national identity?

* How many of those people were prophesied to suffer much while they were scattered throughout the word? History records much of the sufferings of the Jews, including multiple genocide attempts.

* How many of those people were prophesied to go through all this, yet never to be completely destroyed?

* How many of those people had their prophecies fulfilled?

Yes, you could still believe it was all fulfilled by chance… but it would be a very slim chance! And the chances rapidly shrink the more you research history and the scriptures.

In case this doesn’t convince you, in the next post I’ll be looking at the biggest examples of prophecy fulfilled in our lifetime: the return of Israel as a nation.

Notes:

  1. For example, the Prism of Sennacherib mentions King Hezekiah and contains an account of the siege of Jerusalem that agrees with 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. Other extra-biblical references to Israel’s kings are listed at http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/3415420/biblical-characters-existence-confirmed-by-archaeology .
  2. I.e. Israel, Genesis 32:28

January 2014 Update

My posts have been sporadic lately, but that’s kinda normal for me. Writing still doesn’t come easy. But I do have some more posts in the works.

I haven’t abandoned the Church Impossible series of posts. I have the next one mostly finished, but there are some other things in the works that I think are more important, so it might be a while before you see the series continue.

I am putting together a personal apologetic where I give my own intellectual reasons for belief in God and the inspiration of the Bible. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, and I’m finally getting around to it. This will initially be released as a series of posts, but when complete, I’ll make an all-in-one version.

I’m also writing an expanded version of Victory Over Sin to replace the existing work. This will also be available as a free book, downloadable as a PDF and probably in various e-pub formats. This is mostly finished.

Lastly, I’ve started working on some new mazes in my free time. The last one I drew was way back in 1996. I have a small one that is mostly finished, and a larger one just started based on van Gogh’s Starry Night. I plan this one to be a “12-in-one” maze. You’ll see what that means if and when I finish it.

That’s all for now!