Faith Worth Believing In

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Thomas Schreiner once wrote, “The course of history is determined by God; human beings do not ultimately secure the future by their own actions” (The King in His Beauty, 391). It is when the hearts of men and women rebel against this truth that they begin to skew things like faith.

I know of a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer. The church she belongs to assures her that if she would just have enough faith, she would be healed. They tell her that God responds with favor to those of his people who demonstrate faith. And of course they make what seems to be a logical conclusion. The more faith you have, the more favor you will experience.

So, the woman no longer says, “I hope God heals me” or, “I pray God’s will be done for me.” She now says with renewed confidence, “I know God will heal me. The size of my circumstance does not compare to the size of my faith!” She prays incessantly. She reads her Bible three times a day. She attends church regularly. She gives offering weekly. She does all of these things for one purpose: stronger faith so that her circumstance will change.

It seems to be a consensus in much of America, especially in the Bible Belt, that good things will happen if someone just “believes” enough. This is especially true when it comes to forms of suffering. Cancer is a disease that is rampantly destroying life. It does not discriminate against gender, age, race, or social status. It is commonplace for many Christians and churches who encounter cancer to respond with “faith.” They create attitudes like the one in the story above; that adequate faith can somehow trigger or activate God to heal or bless. It is as if God is a power source merely waiting for us to turn on the switch of faith.

It simply is a common misconception that faith can change circumstances. The value of faith is understood as the ability it has to “get” God to do what we want. All is well and good with this philosophy, until reality sets in. When we pray fervently for our loved ones to be healed only to watch helplessly as they deteriorate before our eyes. This kind of prosperity theology that views faith as a kind of light switch will lead to nothing but despair.

In the end of this theology has one of two outcomes. If the premise holds that faith triggers God to act, yet the suffering does not cease, either faith is not strong enough or God is not powerful enough. If bad things happen because our faith is insufficient, then faith is a farce because no one in the history of the world has been immune from bad things. Even worse, if bad things happen because God is insufficient, there is no hope for our suffering and we are lost in its darkness. When hardships like cancer come, we need much more than a “when you wish upon a star” faith. We need deep, true, real, and genuine faith that can see in, through, and beyond our circumstances.

However, what we see in the book of Daniel (and in all of the Bible) is that faith is not interrelated to our circumstances in ways that many modern American Christians think that it is. Faith is not defined in Scripture by circumstances. Biblical faith is defined by the grace of God and expressed in obedience to God. Biblical faith is received from God and produces obedience. Biblical faith’s relationship to circumstances is one of response. Faith is not determined by nor determines circumstances, but instead responds to and shines in circumstances. As preacher and author Bryan Chapell once wrote, “Biblical faith is not confidence in particular outcomes; it is confidence in a sovereign God” (The Gospel According to Daniel, 53).

The book of Daniel teaches us a few aspects of biblical faith. The basis of biblical faith is God’s sovereign grace. The fruit of biblical faith is obedience. These two aspects of biblical faith are seen throughout Daniel.

In Daniel, God’s people exhibit legitimate and sincere faith in God despite their current condition. God’s people are experiencing judgment. They are exiled in Babylon under the rule of an incredibly ruthless leader as a result of breaking covenant stipulations. However, what we see over and over again is the resolve of God’s people to trust God despite their circumstances.

The narrative accounts in Daniel 1, 3, and 6 most clearly demonstrate unrelenting trust and devotion from God’s people as they face persecution and suffering.

Faith Refusing Food

In Daniel 1, four Judean boys are ripped away from their homes, forced to learn a new culture, and stripped of their identities. They are commanded to learn Chaldean customs and to eat the king’s food (1:5). However, they resolved to trust God and obey him by refusing to partake of the diet prescribed by the king. The food may have been sacrificed to idols or it may have been unclean, we simply do not know. We do know that it was defiled (1:8).

Regardless of this dire circumstance, Daniel and his friends trusted God and obeyed his Word. It may have meant losing their lives, but it was this radical and sacrificial faith that marked these boys. And according to Steinmann, this faith that produced the fruit of obedience resulted from God himself. He writes, “Daniel and his friends are able to resist defiling themselves with the king’s food because of God’s strength that is in them” (30).

Faith Refusing to Bow

Daniel 3 gives us the picture of three of these same boys (excluding Daniel) exhibiting similar resolve and similar faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego “function as a model for all Israel” as they are tempted to commit idolatry by bowing to a golden image built by Nebuchadnezzar (Steinmann, 388). The faith of these three men is exhibited in their radical devotion to God. Their faith produced the fruit of obedience to the Torah as they refused to worship false gods. What we see in Daniel 3 is three boys trusting the sovereign God with their lives regardless of the outcome. Their circumstance had no bearing on their faith. They responded to their circumstance with faith no matter what would happen.

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Dan. 3:17-18).

The faith exhibited in Daniel is a faith that works. And while faith is seen as a response to God’s grace and goodness, obedience is seen to naturally flow from the spring of faith. As Steinmann notes, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are able to resist Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship the idol he had erected because God is with them” (30).

Faith Refusing to Compromise

Likewise, in Daniel 6, Daniel himself refuses to stop praying out of uncompromised devotion to God. King Darius was somewhat hoodwinked by his own satraps in establishing a law that forbade worship of anyone or anything except the king for a period of time. This edict presented Daniel with a troubling circumstance. However, he responded with fervent faith in God.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously (6:10).

Daniel’s circumstance did not determine his faith. He continued his worship “as he had done previously.” However, his faith did not determine his circumstance either. After being caught in the act of defiant worship of God, the satraps brought Daniel’s case before the King. In Daniel 6:16, we see that despite his bold faith in God, “the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!’”

For Daniel, faith expressed itself in works of obedience in refusing to compromise despite his circumstances. And this active faith is the product of God’s grace. Steinmann puts it this way, “Daniel worships God daily without ceasing even under the threat of death, a testimony to the work of God’s Spirit in his life” (30).

The Eternal Value of Biblical Faith

Misunderstandings of faith and its relationship to various circumstances are detrimental to the soul. If we believe that faith determines circumstances we will quickly see how insufficient such a “faith” actually is. However, true biblical faith in the face of any and all circumstances will sustain the soul in the midst of turmoil. Steinmann says of the instances of biblical faith throughout the book of Daniel,

This integrity of faith in the face of persecution is not simply the product of belief in an omnipotent God. Instead, it is the product of faith in a merciful God who will keep his promise to send his Messiah and establish his kingdom. Daniel and his friends can defy errant and arrogant human kings because they are servants of the eternal King, the Son of Man, who establishes his eternal covenant with his people (Steinmann, 31).

The people of God have something much better than a counterfeit faith that functions as a light switch, turning God’s blessings on and off. They have true biblical faith that produces the fruit of obedience regardless of circumstance. When God’s people trust in God in such a way that it overflows in obedience despite suffering and persecution, even unbelievers take notice:

He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions (6:26-27).

Daniel shows us that biblical faith is a product of the mercy of God which in turn produces the fruit of obedience. This kind of true and lasting biblical faith is sufficient to sustain the woman who suffers from cancer while she may or may not be healed. Her confidence is found in the God who sent his Son to ultimately heal sinners through his death, which inaugurated a kingdom that will never end. The faith that originates with God is the means back into his eternally joyous presence. This kind of faith is worth believing in.


 

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

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Salvation by Grace Through Faith in Daniel 9

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In his work, The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan Thomas Watson opens with an epistle to the reader in which he writes, “The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven.”

Daniel shows the place of repentance and faith in relation to salvation in Daniel 9. Indeed, by God’s great grace and mercy, repentance and faith in Christ are the means to eternal soaring.

Daniel 9 is largely a prayer from Daniel on behalf of his people. Based on Daniel’s prayer, the people of Israel rebelled against God and disobeyed him because of a lack of repentance and faith. “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan. 9:13).

Repentance and faith, along with a reliance on the truth of God’s word is what leads to obedience. In fact, faith in God’s forgiveness expresses itself in obedience to God. Steinmann writes, “The person who has received God’s forgiveness wants to live the way God’s Word teaches us humans to live. Saving faith in God manifests itself in good works prescribed in the Scriptures” (Daniel, 426).

Obedience to God flows naturally from a heart that repents and trusts Christ. A life that is void of obedience is one that also lacks true repentance and saving faith. So, Daniel cries out what Paul would later declare, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and not by works of the law. And at the same time, this salvation expresses itself in works of obedience. Obedience is the fruit of trust in God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Christ. It is never the basis.

In Daniel’s prayer, he admits that Israel had fallen under God’s judgment due to their rejection of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It was a rejection of grace that led to both sin and subsequent judgment.

Daniel then requests God to save his people once again; to forgive his rebellious people for their iniquities (Dan. 9:16). He does this on the basis of the redemptive act of delivering Israel from the hand of Egypt by parting the Red Sea (Dan. 9:15). The act of God in saving Israel from the mightiest army in the world is a perfect example of the way God saves. There is no participation on the part of the people. They do nothing. He does everything. Daniel’s prayer is a demonstration of full reliance on God’s grace and power to forgive. Forgiveness then comes not by the works of Daniel or Israel, but by the grace and will of God.

As Paul would later write to Rome,

What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works (Rom. 9:30-32).

Righteousness is credited to sinners by faith in the Christ who became sin for them (2 Cor. 5:21). It is not a product of a life of attempts at obeying God. Obedience doesn’t produce righteousness. Credited righteousness by grace through faith produces obedience.

Daniel teaches us that we fall into sin, rebellion, and disobedience when we fail to repent of our sin, trust God’s forgiveness in Christ, and listen to the word of God (Dan. 9:13). When we pray, we should ask God to save our lost family and friends not because they are worthy and not based on their good deeds or ours, but solely because God’s glory deserves to be praised by all people!

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Dan. 9:18-19).

Steinmann sums up the matter well:

God hears the repentant sinner’s prayer because of the merit and atonement of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God keeps his promises most vividly in the ministry of Christ, who fulfilled them all (2 Cor. 1:20). God has redeemed his people through the work of Christ. Through faith alone in Christ alone, believers are credited with his own divine righteousness (Ibid., 427).


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Hope and Comfort in the Midst of Persecution

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I have recently been considering how I would respond to intense persecution. In light of the rapid change in the shape of American society and culture, and the public’s view of Christianity, it is likely that persecution of Christians in America will increase before it will decrease. What will this look like? I do not know. But it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Christian churches and leaders will face fines, imprisonments, and maybe more in the future. From time to time I ask myself, “Will I be willing to boldly face increasingly harsher persecution?” Or maybe a better question, “Is there any hope and comfort in the present and future for those facing persecution?”

Reflecting on Daniel’s vision of the goat and the ram in Daniel 8, Lutheran scholar Andrew Steinmann states,

The little horn in Daniel 8, representing Antiochus, who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era, is a foretaste of the greater persecution by the little horn in Daniel 7, representing the Antichrist, who wages war against the saints throughout the church age until Christ returns. By demonstrating how God would deliver his people form Antiochus Epiphanes, the vision in Daniel 8 offers hope to Christians throughout the church age, who must face the Antichrist’s persecution and corruption of the Gospel (Daniel, 390).

With all eschatological (end times) prophecies in Scripture come confusion, debate, and disagreement. However, there are two clear and primary things to draw from the visions found in Daniel 7 and 8.

(1) God’s people will face persecution

In Daniel 7-8, there are visions of harsh persecution that will afflict God’s people. There are mild forms of persecution that all of us experience in one way or another. You may be ridiculed for your faith at work. You may be shunned in various ways in your family. However, some Christians abroad face harsher forms of persecution. People are actually put to death for their faith in many countries. Daniel 8 foretells of a figure who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era. Most conservative scholars see this figure as being fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphranes. And this figure prefigures the Antichrist who will come to persecute God’s people until Christ returns. Persecution is clearly part and parcel of the establishing and fulfilling of the eternal kingdom of God.

(2) God is in control of persecution

The theological truths that communicate hope and comfort to those being persecuted in the vision of Daniel 8 appear to be that, although this passage communicates times of persecution and corruption, God is all knowing and in control of all things, including the persecution of his people.

How does the reality of persecution and the sovereignty of God provide comfort to those who are being persecuted?

Specifically regarding comfort and seeing Daniel as a whole, I think its important to look at the overarching themes of Daniel when communicating the truths in Daniel 8 to those in difficult situations. Mainly, we see that no matter what happens, God is in control and ultimately those who who belong to him will persevere. In Daniel this is portrayed in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, as well as in the various prophecies about coming persecution from antichrist figures. God sovereignly rescued his people from persecution. Another theme of comfort is that God sets and removes rulers and will ultimately dethrone all earthly rulers to rule his eternal kingdom.

Nevertheless, the message of Daniel 8, and all of Scripture for that matter, is to persevere. Those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13). The response of God’s people in the face of persecution must be perseverance. This means that in and through all persecution, we must place our trust and faith in the One who knows all, sees all, and who works all things in his sovereign grace for the good of his people. This sovereign God will one day righteously judge all.

No amount of persecution will stop God’s purposes from coming to pass. God plans all things and he always fulfills what he plans. The persecution led by Antiochus Epiphanes did not prevent the Messiah from coming to redeem humanity. Likewise, the antichrist’s persecution will not be able to stamp out the gospel. His people will persevere through faith. God’s sovereign goodness is our only true hope and comfort in the midst of persecution. Take hope in the fact that God will never leave his people in the midst of the harshest persecution. Take comfort in the fact that God sovereignly works all things, including persecution, for the good of his people and the renown of his name.

In the words of Steinmann, “God’s salvific plans cannot be thwarted” (390).


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Radical Faith in the Face of Ruthless Suffering

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This semester I am taking a course entitled, “Interpreting Daniel.” It is what you would expect–a verse by verse exegetical examination of the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel is a theologically rich and full book. Truly one semester is not nearly enough time to adequately pursue all of the issues in Daniel.

I wanted to share just one of the many things that have both alarmed and captivated my heart and spurred me to greater faith in Christ. This particular insight came from an unsuspecting place in Daniel.

3Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility,4youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.5The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.6Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.7And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
–Daniel 1:3-8, ESV

Let’s break down what is going on here. The king of Babylon, who had recently conquered Judah and taken its people into exile, ordered Judah’s finest to be specifically brought to him. He clearly has a desire to assert his self-proclaimed glory by showing his dominance reaches to the heights of Judean society.

The king orders for “youths without blemish” from the Judean nobility to come to the king’s palace to be indoctrinated with the “literature and language of the Chaldeans.” They were ordered to eat specific food and drink specific wine, food and wine that came from the king himself. While this on the surface seems like a walk in the park compared to what the word “captivity” typically connotes, the next few verses highlight the sinister intentions of the king and his ruthless brutality. “And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego” (v. 7).

In years past, I would have thought very little about the brutality of this captivity, and surely would have belittled the significance of the name change. However, after further study it is clear that Daniel’s captivity was indeed as bad as one would assume, maybe worse.

Consider what Daniel and his friends likely endured as a result of exile.

1. Daniel and his friends were torn from their families

These young men were specifically chosen from Judah’s finest, and in the process were ripped away from their families. Being taken into captivity was like the Gestapo storming a Jewish home and dragging mother and daughter into one train car while throwing father and son into another.

2. Daniel and his friends were likely castrated.

The fact that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the “chief of the eunuchs” seems to indicate that they themselves had been made eunuchs. It was not uncommon for the king of Babylon to castrate men of conquered nations, so it is likely that Daniel and his friends were castrated when they were taken captive.

3. Daniel and his friends were robbed of their identity

Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael, and Azariah had names that reflected their faith. Their identity was found in being part of the people of the one true and living God. When the king of Babylon brought Daniel and his friends to his palace, he not only had them trained in Chaldean culture, but he also renamed them, not simply because he didn’t like their names, but as an exercise of theological dominance. He renames these four Judean young men after his gods. He is essentially desiring to wipe out their religious affiliation. He wants their to be no semblance of the God of Judah. The king of Babylon had conquered God’s people and now he wanted to show that he had essentially conquered their God. He had no place in Babylon and the king wanted this name change to reflect what he arrogantly felt was a certain reality.

4. Daniel and his friends were teenagers

The king of Babylon called for those who were “youths without blemish.” Based on the historical context, conservative scholars have placed Daniel’s age at the time of being taken into exile at around 14. Daniel and his friends were barely teenagers when they were taken into Babylonian captivity. This is alarming and disgusting to think of fourteen year-olds suffering such cultural and theological dominance, and physical brutality at the hands of one of the most ruthless men on the face of the earth at the time.

So, to this point we are given a picture of four young teenagers who were torn from their families, castrated, culturally and theologically dominated, robbed of their identity, and treated as property by a ruthless king with uninhibited power. Yet, after all of this, we are told that these young boys were resolved to fully devote themselves to God. They remained faithful in the midst of severe persecution, suffering, and abuse in a place where their God was seemingly dominated by a ruthless human king.

If anyone had a reason to doubt God’s goodness it would have been these teenagers. However, Daniel and his friends clearly trusted the sovereignty and goodness God despite their circumstances. They did not “defile themselves” with the king’s food and drink. Even though they would have reasonably been broken down after what they had been through, they demonstrated strength in weakness that only God can provide.

These boys have taught me that our circumstances do not determine our attitudes toward God. God’s self-revelation determines this. God has declared himself to be good and sovereignly faithful to fulfill all of his promises to his people. We trust this because he has said it is so, not because our circumstances may seem to tell us otherwise.

The fact that Daniel unashamedly and boldly trusted God over and over again throughout Daniel after initially suffering such atrocities is truly amazing. I am amazed at his faith. I am amazed at his resolve. I am amazed at his unhindered trust in God. He did not allow his circumstances to dictate his theology. Instead, his theology rooted him in something much greater than his circumstances.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.