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"Growing Faith in God."
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3. In Covenant with The King

Growing Faith

 

Warm-up Question: If Satan were to take control of your town, what do you think he would do?

 

Know Who You Are in Christ

Over half a century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was asked that same question, “If Satan could take control of a town in America, what would he do? He surprised everybody by saying, "If Satan were in charge in Philadelphia,” he said, “all the bars and the pool halls would be closed, pornography would be banished, there would be pristine streets and sidewalks, occupied with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each another. There would be no swearing, and the kids would answer, “Yes sir, no ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday where Christ is not preached.”

 

Satan has been very busy seeking to make people religious and respectable. If he can produce a pseudo-Christian, he can lull that person into a mediocre state, which will keep the individual from hungering for a real relationship with Christ. On the surface, everything may look fine. That is the nature of a good counterfeit. There is more than one way that Satan can deceive someone to follow him. If Satan can lead an individual down a path of public self-destruction, a life that is full of recklessness and harm to others, he will do so, causing as much destruction along the way as possible. Often, however, our enemy takes a more subtle, less noticeable approach, but just as effective. He leads multitudes down a path that appears to be safe and self-righteous, keeping them unaware of life with Christ; he will still succeed in leading those individuals in the darkness. In Satan's view, either strategy will suffice for his purposes.

 

There are two things that Satan tries his utmost to hinder: 1) He seeks to keep the “not-yet Christians” from entering churches that preach Christ. 2) The other strategy is to keep the true Christians in the dark concerning who they are in Christ and hinder their fruitfulness. The enemy’s first objective, in other words, is to keep us from experiencing life in Christ. If he fails in this task, the second objective is to keep the life of Christ from spreading to others (his plan of "damage control.") After all, if we live a life of fulfillment in Christ and realize the available power; it will attract many others to the true faith. People are attracted to the "real thing." They know it when they see it. If we are ever to live a life of faith in Christ, we must view ourselves as God sees us.

 

We must know who we are in Christ. When I awakened to my sinful nature, I tried to live a more moral life by self-reformation. I thought it would take away the guilt that I had about my sinful lifestyle. What drew me to change my lifestyle was that I came across the law of God, the Ten Commandments. Satan convinced me that I could reform myself and be a better person if I lived by the Ten Commandments. But no matter how hard I tried, it did not work. I was a sinner by nature and by choice. The Ten Commandments served to show me that I had fallen short of God’s law and that I was guilty before God and in need of forgiveness by a Savior (Romans 7:7). I saw how futile it was to overcome my sinful nature by living a moral life in my strength. Only then were my eyes opened to see the good news that Christ took my sin upon Himself and that if I repented and believed the Gospel, I would be saved.

 

Trying to live a good life was admirable, but I needed to connect to the presence of Christ to see a change in my character and overcome my sinful nature. God saw my hunger for a righteous life and showed me His righteousness, giving me more than I could have imagined; a real relationship with Him. How beautiful it was to lay my burden of sin and know that it was at the foot of the cross. Life is entirely different when a person comes to Christ. There is a different Spirit at work in your life—life can never be the same as before. From that point on, the only strategy left for Satan is to try to deceive you and limit your growth in Christ to one of mediocrity so that your life is not damaging to his rule on earth.

 

If you are a Christian, Satan has a plan to thwart your growth in Christ; his objective for your life is mediocrity. Can you think of ways that he might try to accomplish this?

 

Following the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29, God is pouring out His Spirit on all people. The phrase all people include each of us reading these words. God is opening our eyes in a spiritual sense, making us aware of the power and authority available to us when we step out in faith in Christ. At the cross of Christ, the Lord broke the enemy's power:

 

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

 

Satan was not annihilated at the cross of Christ, but the death of Christ broke his power over all who come to Christ for new life. Christ has given to His Church the mission to enforce what Christ accomplished at the cross. We who are Christians are the Body of Christ; Christ is the head. Jesus said, "I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19).  We are the extension of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, in carrying on His work in the world. The things He did when He walked on earth, we are now to do, by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

 

John the apostle wrote, “the one who is in you is greater than the one [Satan] who is in the world (1 John 4:4). When we begin to believe what God says about us, we can step out in faith and take steps to minister in the power of the Spirit of God. Satan attempts through all kinds of lying and deception to keep us from receiving a God-given vision of who we are in Christ. More than at any other time in history, Satan is losing ground to the Church as Christ’s followers learn to walk in obedience to the Spirit and His power. As we said in the last two sessions, it is not about how great your faith is; it can be as small as a mustard seed, it is about our obedience to the Spirit by stepping out with the faith we have. Let me tell you the story about the faith of Nneka, a Nigerian pastor’s wife:

 

On the morning of November 30, 2001, Daniel Ekechukwu, the pastor of Power Chapel Evangelical Church in Onitsha, Nigeria, with his friend Kingsley Iruka, took a goat as a Christmas present to a village near the town of Owerri. On the way home, going down a steep road, the brakes failed on Daniel’s 20-year-old Mercedes 230. Gathering speed, it hurtled downhill and smashed into a stone pillar. Without a seat belt, Daniel was catapulted violently forward. His head hit the windshield, and the steering wheel knob punched into his body. Iruka was not severely hurt, but Daniel was bleeding from the nose from a head injury and vomiting blood from severe internal bleeding.

 

Rescue came soon. Marvelously, Daniel held up until he was placed in the local hospital's intensive care or the best Nigerian equivalent of it. They sent for his wife, Nneka. She found Daniel still alive, but just barely. He hung onto life long enough to ask her to take him to his family doctor's hospital in Overri— a grave mistake. It meant anything but a smooth ride for one-and-a-half hours. Within minutes of being lifted into the ambulance, Daniel felt himself dying. He tried to whisper his last words and instructions to Nneka. But his speech slurred, became incoherent, and stopped as he drifted into unconsciousness.

 

The ambulance driver pushed on at full speed with warning sirens blaring. Reaching the Owerri Regional Hospital, they ran in shouting, "Emergency! Emergency!" Daniel's doctor was not on duty, so a medical staff member took charge and checked Daniel's limp form. He turned to Nneka with a sad face. He could only certify that Daniel was already dead. Nneka was brokenhearted, but a Bible verse came to her mind from Hebrews 11:35, “Women received their dead raised to life again.” Then a non-rational conviction seized her: This meant her! The text in Nneka’s head made it impossible for her to accept the plain evidence that Daniel had gone or allow him to be buried. Her agitation dictated that something had to be done. But at 11:30 P.M., when they brought Daniel’s body to Dr. Jossy Anuebunisa at the St. Eunice Clinic, he confirmed the death.

 

From there, they took the body a short distance to the Ikeduru General Hospital Mortuary. The resident mortician, Mr. Barlington R. Manu, carried out the routine checks at 1:00 A.M. on Saturday. The mortuary had no cold storage facilities, so the mortician administered the usual chemical preservative injection and prepared the body for embalming on the following morning. With help from a staff member, he laid the body out on a mortuary slab between two other dead people. Everyone then retired for the night.

 

Convinced her husband would live again, Nneka wanted the body taken to the church in Onitsha where Reinhard Bonnke, the famous German evangelist, was to speak at a dedication ceremony of the Grace of God Ministries. So the following day, Sunday, December 2, they went to the mortuary to take the body, but the mortician was worried about their intentions. To hide the fact that a body was being taken to a church service, she dressed it for a funeral as a pretext, placed it in a coffin, and shut the lid. They took Daniel in his coffin and set off on the long drive to Onitsha.

 

Arriving at the Onitsha church compound, the state security officer and the ushers saw them driving up with the coffin and ordered them to turn around and leave. But Nneka pled and persisted, so after checking the coffin for a terrorist bomb, they relented and allowed the body to be taken out and carried into the church, but only to the downstairs area.

 

The church bishop’s son, Paul, and another pastor on the church staff, Bathcomery Nkwando, laid the body on a table and found rigor mortis had made the limbs "stiff as an iron rod," they said. Two other staff pastors, Lawrence Onyeka and Luke Ibekwe, joined them to guard the body. Meanwhile, Reinhard Bonnke was upstairs preaching and praying with no knowledge of the body downstairs. Before long, the pastors noticed a slight twitching of the stomach of the corpse. Then they saw the corpse draw a breath and begin breathing "in short bursts." Encouraged, they called for a video camera and threw themselves into powerful petitionary prayer, stripped the body of the mortuary gloves, socks, and shirt, and began massaging it from head to foot. As this news broke out in the sanctuary above, it created pandemonium. Then at 5:15 P.M., nearly two days after his death, Daniel opened his eyes, sat up, and leaned on Pastor Lawrence. To give him a clear space, they seated him on a chair on the platform, where hundreds of people saw him slowly recovering. He had not yet collected his thoughts, and for a while, could not recognize anyone, not even his own son. By evening, however, he was entirely coherent, and he is 100% lucid today. This miracle of God was a very public event and was documented like no other resurrection.[1]

 

We do not know where Nneka was in her journey of faith when this event happened. How many times had she responded before to the promptings of God? A gift of faith came because of a Spirit-inspired Word to her heart, which she grabbed hold of and did not let go. Where did this faith come from that arose in Nneka's heart? It originated when the Spirit of God prompted her with a Scripture read sometime previously.

 

The Holy Spirit reminded her of God's Word, and she did not dismiss the Spirit's promptings. A Rhema word from God caused faith to arise and believe that even death could not hold her husband down. This kind of Rhema word drops into your mind as a distinct thought separate from the usual chain processes of thought. What do I mean by that?

 

Let me give you a simple example of hearing a Rhema word. In 1983, Sandy, my wife, left me in England to visit her parents and family in the USA. She was gone for two weeks with her plane due into Heathrow Airport in London at around 5:30 A.M. It was a good two-hour drive from our home for me to pick her up from the airport. I was exhausted when I arose at 2:30 A.M., but as I was getting dressed, a sudden thought dropped into my mind, "take your passport." I thought to myself, why on earth would I want to take my passport to the airport? I wasn't going anywhere to need my passport, so I immediately dismissed the thought out of my mind. Twenty minutes later, I was getting my car keys together to go out the door to the car when the sudden thought dropped into my mind again, "take your passport." It was a ridiculous thought, but I immediately remembered where it was and responded by dashing upstairs and getting it, just in case.

 

When I got to the airport, I checked on the screens everywhere to find the carrier and the flight number. The plane was on time and had just landed. Two hours went by, and still no Sandy. I was worried and began wondering if she had a problem and couldn't get on the plane. When I was starting to lose my patience, a voice came over the loudspeaker system, “Would Mr. Keith Thomas come to the Information Office?" Now I was scared! As I walked up to the office, there was a man in uniform waiting for me. "Mr. Thomas?" he asked. "This can all be cleared up quite easily if you happen to have your passport with you." Smiling to myself, I happily pulled out my passport and showed it to the British Immigration Officer to release my wife. Sandy just needed to prove she was married to a British citizen to enter as a Resident of Britain. They had not given her the correct stamp in her passport when she had left, and it was not clear why she had been allowed to stay in the country for such an extended period before. She happened to have a copy of our marriage certificate in her passport case, so all she needed was to prove that Keith Thomas was a British citizen to enter the country. How glad I was to have heard God whisper in my ear to bring my passport. That is a much smaller matter than the previous story, I know. The point is that faith grows as we exercise it. Why do I share that story? To share that often God is speaking to us—our problem is that we are not always listening:

For God does speak—now one way, now another—though man may not perceive it (Job 33:14)

 

I wish I could always be that perceptive, but I, like you, are learning how to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The voice of the Spirit does not always come as scripture, but it could come as a distinct thought that does not always follow a pattern of cognitive reasoning. Nneka had a Scripture drop into her mind along with the thought of how specific it was to her situation. Armed with the scripture, she could stretch her faith to believe that God would raise her husband from the dead, even though such a proposition was a crazy thought.  God is looking for His people to see things from His perspective and step out in new ways to trust Him to continue His work of the Kingdom here on earth. We are empowered and authorized to be His hands and feet to exercise His will on earth.

 

Why does the enemy want to keep people in the dark concerning the power of the cross and what happened there?

 

Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” Our worldview about God's power and authority affects how we act and the choices we make.  Four times in the sixth chapter of his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote about truths that they should know, using phrases such as “don’t you know…” that would help them become mature in their faith (Romans 6:3, 6, 9, 15). Knowledge of what God has given us in Christ is crucial to living a life of faith. We can expect God to move in supernatural ways when we understand how He works in us and through us. Faith in God is but expectation. What are you expecting God to do at any given time? Do you input your mind and heart with God’s Word for the Spirit to use in the same way as Nneka did? Each of us, I hope, can believe that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), but can you dare to think that it is possible for you? Faith does not just accept that God can do something for you; faith believes that God will do something you have asked Him. Satan would like us to think that Nneka was a super saint, and that kind of miracle is way beyond the scope of you or me to believe God for anything miraculous. But as we considered in the previous study when we thought about the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, we saw that the supernatural acts of God are the children's bread, the staple diet of one in covenant relationship with God. The Canaanite woman was not in a relationship with God, but her faith made up for it. This intimacy with God is part of our inheritance as His children, one bound by a covenant with Christ. Paul the apostle was very clear with Gentile believers that we are grafted into the nourishing sap of the Olive Tree of the covenant that God made with Israel. With our being joined together with them, we can receive the same promises made to Abraham and his descendants (Romans 11:17-24).

 

We are in Covenant with God

 

When God wanted to enter into a relationship with the human race, He called one man, Abram, telling him to leave his country and go to a land God would show him (Genesis 12:1), the land of Canaan, later to be called the land of Israel. It was quite a leap of faith for Abraham. He went, not knowing where he was going. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). His faith was strong because he listened to God and learned that He could expect God to keep His word.

 

How do you imagine Abram telling his wife Sarai (their names were changed to Abraham and Sarah at a later date) about the conversation he had with God?

 

When Abram, under the direction of God, arrived in the land of Canaan, God told him that He would give all the land to him and his descendants after him (Genesis 13:14-17). God confirmed this to Abram by entering into a covenant with him:

8But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?" 9So the LORD said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon." 10Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." 17When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants, I give this land (Genesis 15:8-1).

The covenant was sealed with the shed blood of innocent animals. The heifer, goat, and ram were cut in half, and God walked between the animals to confirm and assure Abraham that He would keep His side of the covenant. In ancient contracts of that period, people pledged their blood to be shed if they broke their side of the covenant. God put Abraham to sleep because this covenant was not conditional on Abraham doing anything; it was all because of God’s grace. The Lord was the only one that shed innocent blood. Later, He told Abraham that the sign of the covenant between them was that he and his descendants would undergo the rite of circumcision, an outward sign of an inward change that they would understand at a later date.

This kind of agreement between two or more persons, to do or not do something specified, was known as a covenant. Blood Covenants were solemn and binding on those who entered them, and they were not to be entered into lightly. When one violated or defaulted on their side of the covenant, there were consequences for such actions. There were great blessings to be in a covenant with God, blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28). I believe this nation, America, has been under the benefits and blessings of the covenant of God for many years now, and my longing, and yours too, I'm sure, is that we may stay obedient to God that His blessings may continue to us as a nation.

Interestingly, the most solemn covenant between a man and woman, the union of a man and woman in marriage, is taken before God and relatives and ratified by the shedding of blood. The act of marriage breaks the hymen of the woman, and blood is shed on the wedding night. The marriage was not considered ratified until the act of marriage occurred, and blood was shed (Deuteronomy 22:13-22). Blood has always been a vital part of the meaning of covenant relationships, as it is a message that God has woven through His contact with the human race. The shedding of blood is a frequent theme, like a shadow and image of the blood covenant He would establish through the shedding of the blood of His Innocent Son.

A New Covenant Promised

Even amid their painful trials as a nation, God never left them without hope. He spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah about a new covenant:

31"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, “declares the LORD. 33"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 Emphasis mine).

What things stand out to you about this new covenant relationship?

In the above passage, God says that the relationship the Israelites enjoyed was one of the most intimate, that of a marriage relationship. He said that He was their husband (v. 32). For thousands of years, God has been preparing a body of people that will lovingly enjoy God forever in the most intimate of terms, that of a marriage relationship. He wants the Israelites and every Gentile (Non-Jew) to enter into a covenant relationship by shedding an innocent substitute, removing the sin barrier to the kind of relationship God wants for all of us. In the books of Leviticus and Hebrews, Scripture says:

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11).

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

Why can't God look the other way when it comes to our sin? He's God; can’t He do anything He wants?

This covenant relationship makes us one with Him. When we repent (change our minds and the direction of our lives) and trust the finished work of Christ on the cross, we enter into a relationship likened to a marriage relationship where the Spirit of God comes and takes residence upon the throne of our lives. In this relationship, we share our suffering and our joys and become one with Him. Jesus prayed for us at the Last Supper with His disciples:

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).

Can you ever imagine Christ praying for something that the Father would not give? No, never! If Christ prayed that we might enjoy life so intertwined in God, it is not only possible; it is also His will that we experience this. Just so we may know that God’s ultimate purpose is that we may be one with Him, He says it elsewhere:

To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).

What difference does it make for us to be in covenant with God? It makes a great deal of difference, for He has promised that if we ask anything in his name, He will do it (John 14:14). God has given us a signed check to ask what we will, and it shall be done for us (John 16:23). What is lacking is our perception of our marriage relationship with God and who we are in Christ. When we are in a covenant relationship with someone, our desires change. If it is a genuinely loving relationship, the things important to God will be important to you. We need to align our will with the will of God. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts, but those desires need to be in line with His will and purposes. If we ask according to His will, we know He hears us, and that we will receive what we ask for (1 John 5:13-15). John the apostle writes, "Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be complete” (John 16:24).

Knowing who we are in Christ gives us the confidence to live life soaring far above a life of mediocrity. So many possibilities open up to us when we truly believe what God says about us and our standing with Him. He wants us to take steps of faith, considering that He WILL work on our behalf. What things do you believe God wants to do in your life? Are there positive changes you desire but have not dared to think possible? God wants you to experience the joy of answered prayer and the reality of living in a covenant relationship with Him!

In closing, let me finish with an excerpt from a book by Paul E. Billheimer entitled: “Destined for the Throne." In it, he has an affirmation which he calls "Affirmation of Identity." As a child of God, I encourage you to repeat this affirmation and make it personal by reminding yourself of who you are in Christ:

"Because I am a part of Christ, "accepted in the Beloved," I hold the same place in the Father's bosom as Christ does. Because I am a part of Him, the Father loves me as much as He loves Christ. Because I am a part of Christ, I have His wisdom—because He is made wisdom to me (1 Corinthians 1:30). Likewise, I have His righteousness. My righteousness is as good as His in the eyes of the Father because it is His righteousness. Because I am organically a part of Him because Head and Body are one unit, all that Christ is and has is accredited to me."

Prayer: Father, thank you for bringing me into a covenant relationship with You. May Your Spirit living in me have the reins of my heart so that I may be led and guided by You.

Keith Thomas

Email: keiththomas@groupbiblestudy.com  

Website: www.groupbiblestudy.com

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