Spiritual Tenacity

The word “tenacity” comes into English “from Latin tenacitas ‘an act of holding fast,’ from tenax (genitive tenacis) ‘holding fast, gripping, clingy; firm, steadfast'” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It’s not a word that’s used in any of the Bible translations I frequently read (WEB, NET, TLV, KJV), but the same concept is expressed with terms such as “hold fast” or the related idea of endurance.

When we hold fast to something on a physical level, it’s either because we love it so much (e.g. hugging your child tight) or because we need something to keep us from falling or getting pulled away (e.g. clinging to a rope when climbing a cliff or holding onto a tree branch to keep from being swept away in a flash flood). Something similar is happening on a spiritual level.

When we’re living in covenant with God and have a relationship with Him, He wants a close and loving relationship with us. He also expects an exclusive relationship, but there are other things pulling at our time and attention that could draw us away from Him if we don’t hold on tight. Putting something before Him, making covenant relationships with conflicting things, or holding tight to something other than God would mean that we’re being unfaithful to Him (Ex. 34:12-14). In contrast, holding fast to God involves having a faithful, love-filled relationship with Him.

Image of a woman reading a Bible. Overlaid with text from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, NET version: “God chose you from the beginning for salvation through
 sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter.”
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What are you Holding Onto?

In the Old Testament, Joshua warned ancient Israel about the importance of staying faithful to God. With God’s guidance, Joshua led them into the promised land, fought and conquered the land under God’s leadership, and saw the people settled in their promised inheritance. The surrounding nations weren’t completely gone, though, and neither were the influences from Israel’s past. So when Joshua was old, he called Israel together to give them instructions and warnings.

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day. …

“But if you do at all go back, and hold fast to the remnant of these nations, even these who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you; know for a certainty that Yahweh your God will no longer drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, a scourge in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you.”

Joshua 23:6-8, 12-13, WEB (emphasis added)

Here, Joshua presents the people with two options. They can “hold fast to Yahweh your God” or they could “hold fast” to the ungodly nations around them. Similarly, we see other people in the Bible holding fast to either good or bad things. A psalmist tells the Lord, “I hold fast to your rules” (Ps. 119:31, NET). Yahweh promises good things to those who “hold fast to my covenant” and keep the Sabbath (Is. 56:1-7, WEB). God praised Job to Satan as an example of “a pure and upright man,” saying, “he still holds firmly to his integrity” (Job 2:3, NET).

In contrast, there are others who “hold fast to their deception” (Jer. 8:5, NET). Proverbs says, “The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare him. The cords of his sin hold him firmly” (Prov. 5:22, WEB). Jesus chided people who rejected God’s law to “hold fast to human tradition” (Mark 7:1-8, NET). Clearly, we need to be careful what we’re clinging to. Are we holding on to God, or to things that are trying to tug us away from Him? Trying to do both isn’t going to work. “No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). We need to make sure the one we “hold to” is God.

Image of two hands holding each other, one older and one a small child. Overlaid with text from Psalm 119:31, 117, WEB version: “I cling to your statutes, Yahweh.
    Don’t let me be disappointed. ... Hold me up, and I will be safe,
    and will have respect for your statutes continually.”
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Holding on to Hope

There are strict warnings about who or what we choose to hold onto in this life. We can’t have divided loyalties when we come to God. He’ll work with us through our doubts, but He expects us to choose Him when it comes down to it. The admonition to us today is still the same as the one Joshua gave Israel: “hold fast to Yahweh your God.”

God also told people in the Old Testament to hold onto His covenant, including the Sabbaths (which are a sign of being in covenant with God). That continues today. For example, Paul told the Corinthian church to “hold firm the traditions” and “hold firmly the word which I preached to you” in an epistle contextualized by his discussion of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Cor. 11:2; 15:2, WEB). Paul also gave similar instructions in three other letters (2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; Tit. 1:8-9). We need to carefully hold on to the truth God gives us and obey his instructions. And when we do that, we’re holding on to some amazing things.

Christ is faithful as a Son over his house. We are his house, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. … we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:6-7, 13 WEB (emphasis added)

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. …

And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy.

Hebrews 4:14; 10:23 NET (emphasis added)

 God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:17-19, NET (emphasis added)

Look how positive this wording is. We’re to “hold fast” to our confidence in Christ and the glory of hope, the confession of our faith and hope, and the hope of joy set before us in the future. Holding onto God, His word, righteousness, and goodness also means holding onto hope and joy. It makes me think back to part of our Isaiah study from earlier this year about the joy found in keeping covenant with God (see “Isaiah Study: Joy in the Sabbath Covenant With God“). In a close relationship with God, obedience flows naturally from love and honoring God brings joy while strengthening hope.

Image of two men's hands gripping ropes on a ship. Overlaid with text from 1 Tim. 1:18-19, NET version: “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in 
keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight. To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith.”
Image by Gusli2 from Pixabay

“Hold on to What You Have”

We can sum up the Bible’s “hold fast” instructions with this verse: “hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NET). Our spiritual walk requires tenacity–a conviction to hold tight to God and the goodness associated with Him while rejecting the things which would want to pull us away or present alternative things to cling to.

Something that helps us greatly in our quest to hold fast to good is that Jesus holds fast to us. He says that He and the Father hold Their people in Their hands (John 10:27-29). He also holds the keys to death, the spirits of God, the angels of the churches, and the keys to David’s kingdom–wonderous things we can only begin to understand (Rev. 1:16-18; 2:1; 3:1, 7). It’s in the letters to the churches in Revelation that Jesus describes Himself as holding these things, and it’s also here that He counsels us to keep holding on.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. …  The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:11, 13, NET

The “crown” here “refers to a wreath … worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office” (NET footnote on Rev. 3:11). It’s not so much a symbol of ruling as it is of victory. Think of the laurel crowns in ancient Rome and Greece that still influence our language today; we use the word “laurels” for “a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction” (Vocabulary.com).

We’re part of a spiritual war. We’ve joined up on God’s side–the one guaranteed victory in the end. Until the time when we receive our crowns of victory, we’re called to be soldiers in a war that mostly takes place on a spiritual plane but also bleeds into the physical realm. I have a book about this called Like An Anchor Study Guide: The Armor of God coming out early next year, but for now I’ll direct you to my series of blog posts on Spiritual Warfare if you want to read more about this.

You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21:17-19, NET

Jesus Christ and God the Father are the ones who make victory possible. We get to play a role, too. It’s our job to hang on to them and endure. That’s how we win. Spiritual tenacity is a vital component to living a victorious, godly life.

Featured image by S. Hermann / F. Richter from Pixabay

Don’t Despise Your Role

I caught myself doing something I’m not proud of a few weeks ago. I was talking with someone about why I’d been traveling last month for the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) and made a comment about the “weird religious things” I do. I felt bad about it immediately, repented and asked God’s forgiveness, but it still kept bugging me. Why was my first reaction to downplay rather than to explain my faith?

Just a few weeks later in a sermon, I heard a speaker at church using a similar phrase in the context of explaining our “weird religious stuff” to people who have no background with our faith. I’m not the only one doing this, and I think I know why. We recognize that our faith is very different than what the world thinks is “normal” and that’s becoming increasingly apparent. Religious people are no longer the majority in the United States. According to Gallup, “In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque,” which is 20 points lower than it was in 2000 (“U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time“).

When you’re going to church on Saturday and keeping God’s holy days (as I do), then you have some very visible differences from other Christians as well. We laugh self-consciously at the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9, which says “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” and agree that we’re certainly peculiar. We know we’re odd, and so we laugh at ourselves before someone else can.

The thing is, “peculiar” comes from the Latin word peculiaris, which relates to private property (Oxford Languages via Google). That’s why modern translations say things like, “you are … a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9, WEB). Our peculiarity isn’t because we’re strange and odd; it’s because we belong to God. That will make us look strange to the world that we’re living in without being a part of it (John 17:14-16), but that doesn’t mean we should think of ourselves as weird.

Being self-effacing and deflecting conversations about your faith in certain situations isn’t necessarily a sin. You don’t always have to engage with people who are actively hostile or have zero interest in learning about God. But evading or downplaying is not the best thing to do. Especially if it might come across as you being embarrassed about your faith or unwilling to confess that you follow Jesus Christ, because then we are getting into sin territory. God wants us to be lights in a dark world, not cover up the light He’s shining through us. He wants us to speak about Him boldly because we love Him too much to stay silent and we respect Him too much to downplay His importance.

Image of a woman studying a Bible overlaid with text from 1 Peter 1:14-16, NET version: “Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, because I am holy.’”
Image by MarrCreative from Lightstock

Esau’s Problem

There’s a story in the Old Testament that comes to mind when I think about the value we place on God’s gifts. Part of God’s law includes a special place for the firstborn. He told Moses to write, “Sanctify to me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of animal. It is mine” (Ex. 13:2, WEB). Culturally and theologically, the firstborn had a special role in the ancient Biblical world. They were set apart for God’s own use, and they inherited a more significant blessing from their father. Even before Exodus, we see this pattern in the stories of the patriarchs. There were rights and privileges that should belong to the firstborn. We also see this disrupted several times–Isaac was the son of the promise, but not Abraham’s firstborn, and Joseph was chosen for special blessings over his older brothers. That disruption also happens for Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau.

Jacob boiled stew. Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with some of that red stew, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.

Jacob said, “First, sell me your birthright.”

Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?”

Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”

He swore to him. He sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank, rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:30-34, WEB

This didn’t turn out so well for Esau. He lost the firstborn blessing and it was his younger twin Jacob who became the patriarch of Israel and is part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. But what does that have to do with us?

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through it many become defiled. And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Hebrews 12:14-16, NET (italics mark allusions to Deut 29:18 and Gen 27:34-41)

There’s a danger that we could also become like Esau. The writer of Hebrews warned about it strongly. We’re to diligently follow peace, holiness, and grace, avoiding things like bitterness, immorality, and godlessness that’s here exemplified by Esau selling and despising his birthright. He didn’t value that gift and so he let it go in exchange for something relatively worthless. There’s little chance Esau was actually “about to die” after a day of hunting in the field, especially when he had a tent to go back to where his whole family lived. They likely had a whole household and if there wasn’t other food available right that moment there would be later. But he didn’t consider consequences or think through his options. He wanted immediate gratification of his hunger more than he wanted significant, long-term blessings.

Image of a man reading a Bible overlaid with text from Luke 9:25-26, NET version: “For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Image by Creative Clicks Photography from Lightstock

Firstborn Inheritance with Jesus

There’s another question earlier in Hebrews that also seems relevant to this conversation. Near the beginning of this book, the writer reminds us of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ and of how important it is to properly reverence and appreciate Him. Then, he says this:

Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:1-4, NET

For Esau, the problem was that he despised his birthright. Here, the danger is that we might neglect the great salvation offered through our elder brother Jesus Christ, who is sharing His firstborn inheritance with us. In both situations, improperly valuing the gifts, inheritance, and roles that God gives you leads to a poor outcome.

And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

Hebrews 12:16-17, NET

God offers abundant forgiveness for sins, but sometimes you still have to deal with the consequences. In Esau’s case, he couldn’t get his birthright back. In our case, continual and deliberate neglect of God’s word and despising His gifts can have eternal consequences.

Image of a woman reading a Bible overlaid with text from Phil. 3:13-15, NET version: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are ‘perfect’ embrace this point of view.”
Image by Pearl via Lightstock

Living With Joyful Integrity

The question of whether or not you can “lose” salvation is hotly debated in Christian circles. At one extreme, some say that anyone who confesses Jesus is permanently saved regardless of how they live after. At the other extreme, some say you can’t have any certainty that you’re saved until the very end and live in fear that they won’t measure up.

Bible writers strike an interesting balance between the two–teaching and displaying both a sense of urgency and a sense of confidence. Paul, for example, said in Philippians that he was still striving “to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:8-16). He hadn’t been perfected yet, but he was confident God could get him there and by the time he wrote 2 Timothy he was sure that God would reward him for his faithfulness (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Similarly, Jesus promises that His father wants to give His children the kingdom and that no one will ever take them out of His hand (Luke 12:32; John 10:28-29) while also warning that people who claim to follow Jesus without sincerely doing God’s will won’t inherit the kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:1-13; 31-46).

Image of a man sitting on a beach with the blog's title text and the words "God has blessed us with incredible gifts and roles. When we see Him and His work in us as precious, we’ll align the way we talk about our faith and live our lives with the value we place on following Jesus."
Image by Aaron Kitzo via Lighstock

Basically, if we do our best to follow God, obey Him, honor Him, and keep growing closer to Him then He’ll make sure we succeed. He even calls us perfect so long as we’re heading that direction. On the other hand, if we “deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth” and show “contempt for the Son of God” then we’re not on a path toward eternal life in His kingdom (Heb. 10:19-39).

This might have taken too harsh a turn from our starting point of referring to some aspect of your faith as a “weird religious thing.” However, if we’re downplaying the importance of our faith in a little thing like that, will we be faithful when we’re confronted with choosing between our faith and fitting in with the world for a larger thing? It’s a question I ask myself, especially when I read stories of people being persecuted and killed for their faith. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to deny Jesus or die, I intend to stay faithful. But what if the compromise is easier to justify, such as staying quiet about a moral issue so you can get a promotion? Can I really expect to respond with faith then if I’m reluctant to express how important He is to me now when there aren’t even any negative consequences?

We need to live with integrity, aligning the way we talk about our faith and live our lives with the value that we say we place on following Jesus. In writing this, I’m speaking to myself as much as (and perhaps more than) anyone else. I pray this study helps keep me on-track. I pray the next time I could describe my faith as weird, I instead let others see how much joy following Jesus brings me. And I hope this gives you something to think about as well, even if you are always honest and joyful about your faith when talking with other people.

Featured image by Matt Vasquez via Lightstock

God Chose You Even Knowing You’ll Mess Up

This Sabbath follows shortly after the Passover–a day when we remember Jesus’s death and His sacrifice for sins. He told us to keep that day “in remembrance of me” with the symbols of His new covenant. As we think about His sacrifice, we’re forced to consider the terrible price that justice for humanity’s sins–including our sins–demanded. Jesus died an excruciating death. He endured that with His eyes fixed on “the joy set out for him” because He knew that sacrifice was needed to grow His and His father’s family.

Recognizing the high price Jesus paid for us should humble us deeply and move us to genuine repentance. It should also boggle our minds with a realization of His overflowing love. God has been inviting people into His family for thousands of years even though He knew the cost of that welcome. Moreover, He still chooses us today knowing that even after we receive the gift of forgiveness we’ll mess up again. Thankfully, Jesus’s perfect sacrifice keeps covering those sins when we repent after making a mistake; He doesn’t need to be sacrifice again each time we slip-up (Hebrews 10:1-18). God chooses us and keeps showing us mercy even knowing we’ll mess up. This is a kind of love that people rarely offer to each other, but the Creator of all things gives it to us.

A History of Gracious Relationships

Long ago, God chose to form a covenant with Abraham and with his children. Those descendants grew into a nation called Israel, and God delivered them from Egypt on the first Passover. About 50 days later (very likely on the day of Pentecost), God made a covenant with them as well. About 40 years later, when Israel was finally ready to go into the promised land, God had this conversation with Moses:

“Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. This people will rise up and play the prostitute after the strange gods of the land where they go to be among them, and will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come on them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Haven’t these evils come on us because our God is not among us?’ I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.

“Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land which I swore to their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they have eaten and filled themselves, and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant. It will happen, when many evils and troubles have come on them, that this song will testify before them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants; for I know their ways and what they are doing today, before I have brought them into the land which I promised them.”

Deut. 31:16-21, WEB

God knew Israel wouldn’t be faithful, but He chose them anyway and told them to keep coming back to Him when (not if) they strayed from the right path. Similarly, He choses us knowing we’ll make mistakes and already planning to keep welcoming us each time we turn back to Him repentantly asking for forgiveness. When we begin this relationship with God He asks us for faithfulness, we promise to be faithful, and He accepts that promise even though he knows we’ll slip up and He’ll need to forgive us again.

Even at my best, my faithfulness involves falling, picking myself up (or Him picking me up), and then recommitting to walking with God. I’m encouraged looking at centuries of Bible history that records God’s grace-fueled relationships with people. There’s so much forgiveness available from God; so many calls in His word for people to keep coming back to Him. The whole process of us trying to be faithful to God is enabled by His faithfulness.

Image of a woman writing in a notebook, with text from Romans 3:24-26,  NET version: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. ... God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.”
Image by Corey David Robinson from Lightstock

Saved Before We Were Good

Paul’s letter to Rome is one of the Bible books that I find most fascinating. There’s so much packed into this letter about our relationship with God and how His expectations for us work in the New Covenant. Paul spends quite a bit of time discussing the topic of God choosing us even though it’s still a battle for us to live in the spirit rather than in the flesh.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11, NET

God’s love is so amazing. No one could reasonably expect someone as perfect or as important as God to die for people like us. Most human beings would hesitate to die even for a good person, and we weren’t even good (Rom. 3:24-26). We are family, though, because God the Father decided He wants us to be His children. He claims us as His, justifies us even though we fall short of His glory, and gives us life through Jesus’s faithfulness.

Image of a smiling woman with her arm raised in worship with text from Lamentations 3:22-23, TLV version: “Because of the mercies of Adonai
    we will not be consumed,
    for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning!
    Great is Your faithfulness.”
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

Mercies and Great Faithfulness

It’s incredible to think of how much God loves us and of the high price He was willing to pay to remove our sins and get us into His family. Knowing that God chose us despite our past sins and even though we aren’t perfect yet should both humble and inspire us.

It’s a strange sort of balance that we’re to have in our thinking. We’re supposed to be confident while acknowledging we have no power or strength on our own. We can fully embrace our importance to God, yet we must never become puffed up and self-important. We get to be heirs in God’s family alongside Jesus, but we must give thanks for God’s mercy and continue following His example rather than boasting about what He has given us.

Image of a man praying with the blog's title text and the words "Knowing that God chose us despite our past sins and even though we aren't perfect yet should both humble and inspire us."
Image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock

So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was diligently seeking, but the elect obtained it. The rest were hardened …

But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God—harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even they—if they do not continue in their unbelief—will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Romans 11:5-6, 18-21, NET

Here, Paul explains to his readers that even though many of the the peoples descended from ancient Israel turned their backs on God, He hasn’t given up on anyone. Rather, the Lord “has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all” (Rom. 11:32, NET). This is a tricky verse, but I think it means that God chooses to treat people who ignore Him or who’ve broken covenants their ancestors made with Him as if they are ignorant and disobedient rather than unredeemably wicked. We’re accountable for what we know and what we do (see Rom. 2-3), but God still chooses mercy over judgment whenever He can (James 2:13).

As we embrace our godly identities more and more fully, we also become more and more like God. And the better we understand His holiness the more easily we see how far from being like Him we really are even as we get better at living His way of life. Alongside that comes an increased appreciation for the incredible gifts of His faithfulness, forgiveness, and mercy that keep guiding us back to Him when we miss the mark. God isn’t surprised that we aren’t perfect yet. He chose us anyway, and He keeps choosing us. We can take comfort in that, knowing that He’s just as invested (and often more so) in getting us into His kingdom as we are in being there.

Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns

Combating Doubt with Faith, Hope, and Love

I’ve been thinking about the topic of “double-minded” again. The phrase only appears two or three times in the Bible (depending on the translation), but I wrote a whole post on it a few months ago and this month it’s the topic for my church’s scripture writing group (click here to download a copy for yourself). As I write out these scriptures each day, other scriptures keep coming to mind related to how we can avoid being double-minded and instead be whole-hearted for God.

Being able to maintain a whole-hearted level of commitment is very important for us. We don’t want to be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind … a double-minded individual unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8, NET). Doubt like that has no place in a faithful life. But saying we need to have faith without doubting and really living that way are two different things. What is it that can keep us from being tossed around like this by turmoil, questions, and fear?

Fixed on Jesus

The double-minded person is described as “tossed around” and “unstable.” You could say they are wavering between two ways of being and thinking: faith and doubt. So that means we need to find something unwavering to hold on to if we’re going to avoid being trapped in this sort of mindset.

we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

Jesus endured the cross without wavering, and He’s now sitting at God’s right hand advocating for us (Heb. 12:2; Rom. 8:34). He isn’t going to leave us on our own, and that gives us confidence. We can come to God the Father through Jesus at any time from anywhere with anything we need to talk about.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings

Hebrews 10:19-22, NET

Holding on to Jesus is the first step in combatting doubts and fears that would make us double-minded, unstable people. Faith is where our journeys as Christians start, and if we feel ourselves wavering then we need to go back to that foundation and focus on Jesus. He’s where our confidence to keep enduring comes from.

Anchored in Hope

Continuing to read in Hebrews 10, the author adds another layer to how we can hold fast to Jesus: “And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb. 10:23, NET). Being double-minded makes us wavering; hope in Jesus is something we can hold on to unwaveringly. For Christians, hope isn’t a nebulous possibility. It is a sure and certain thing.

so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:18-19, NET

We have faith in God, He proves Himself faithful, and that gives use a solid foundation for hope. If we can hold on to faith and hope, then we have an anchor to keep us from being tossed around like a wave on the sea. We have a way to combat double-mindedness as we keep moving forward in faith and hope.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

Philippians 3:13-15, NET

And the Greatest is Love

Faith and hope are commonly paired in scripture (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:5; Col. 1:23; 1 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:21). They’re also spoken of alongside love as something we ought to put on (1 Thes. 5:8). Indeed, Paul tells us “faith, hope, and love” are what endure and remain, and of the three “the greatest is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NET). It would make sense, then, that love would also play a vital role in keeping us whole-heartedly focused on God.

One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, WEB

Loving God wholly–with all the focus of our hearts, souls, and minds–leaves no room for being double-minded. Being whole-hearted for our God, who “is love” helps us become love as well (1 John 3:10; 4:7-12; 5:2). That transformation toward being like God changes our minds as well as our actions.

The Spirit God gives us (a gift we commemorate tomorrow on Pentecost) is a spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Tim. 1:7, NKJV). Modern Bibles often translate sophonismos (G4995) as “self-control” or “self-discipline,” but it also means “soundness of mind.” The root words refer to someone who is “sane” or restored to their senses (Thayer’s dictionary, G4994 and G4998). If we want to avoid being double minded, we need to have faith in God, trust Him and hope in His word, and be filled with His spirit of love. That’s what will make our minds “single” as we follow Paul’s example of continuing to press on toward the wonderful future God promises us.

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The Lord’s Wonderful Faithfulness Toward Us

We often talk about our faith–faith toward God, faith in His promises, faith that He really does exist and that He really is God. In addition to that, the Bible frequently talks about God’s faith toward us. He is described as “faithful” in all His dealings with humanity, and it’s often in the context of praise.

I’ve noticed myself thanking God for His faithfulness in many of my prayers lately. I love the reassurance of knowing God is faithful. We can anchor our hope in that truth, knowing He won’t fail us. He’s constant, reliable, and committed. His faithfulness is a fact that doesn’t change, but sometimes we can lose sight of or forget about it, which lets doubts and worries get a foothold in our lives. The crazier life gets, the more we need to remember the faithfulness of God in order to stay confidently grounded in our faith through the storms of life.

Faithfulness in His Work

God’s faithfulness has been part of all His dealings from the beginning. One psalmist wrote, “All his work is done in faithfulness” (Ps. 33:4, WEB). Those works include creation, His dealings with people, the covenants He made, and the promises He gives us for a good future.

Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth.

Isaiah 25:1, WEB

From our more limited perspective, it might sometimes seem as if the world and its history are random, chaotic, and miserable. But since the very beginning, God has been working on (and doing) wonderful things. He shares details about that work with us in the Bible, and invites us to be part of the continuing work today.

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6, NET

Paul doesn’t use the word “faithfulness” in this verse, but that’s the concept He’s talking about. God will always be who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. That’s what makes Paul’s confidence possible. And because God’s faithfulness is unchanging, we can also have the same confidence today that Paul had nearly 2,000 years ago. God started a good work in us when He called us into His family, and He’s not going to give up on us.

Faithfulness in His Life and Death

Paul speaks more directly about God’s faithfulness in Romans, where he connects it with righteousness and Jesus’s sacrifice. In this letter, Paul is talking about the role of the Law for New Covenant believers and the transition from keeping the letter of the Law under the Old Covenant to keeping the spirit of the Law under the New Covenant.

Today, under the New Covenant, Paul writes that the “righteousness of God” has been revealed “apart from the law” to those who had been under the law (the Jewish people and ancient Israel) as well as to “the whole world” (Rom. 3:19-21). This happens “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Romans 3:25-26, NET

God’s faithfulness finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, who faithfully held up His part of the covenants He made with people and died to make a new, better covenant possible. We live because of Jesus’s faithfulness, and we can trust that the Father (who was willing to give up His Son for us) and the Son (who was willing to give up His life for us) will remain faithful into the future as well.

Faithfulness in Relation to Us

After reaching this point in our study of faithfulness, it’s no wonder that the psalms are filled with praise for God’s wonderful faith toward us. What can be more amazing than the Creator Lord of the Universe committing Himself to you, and me, and every believer? We ought to be in awe of His faithfulness and of the incredible love at its core.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give him thanks.
Praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His loyal love endures,
and he is faithful through all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5, NET

I will give you thanks before the nations, O Lord.
I will sing praises to you before foreigners.
For your loyal love extends beyond the sky,
and your faithfulness reaches the clouds.

Psalm 108:3-4, NET

These Psalmists could praise the Lord’s faithfulness like this even before Jesus came as the Messiah. How much more cause do we have now to sing praise, knowing what we know today and being recipients of His grace? We have such incredible proof of God’s faithfulness recorded in scripture, both in the stories of faithful believers and in the reality of Jesus’s sacrifice.

Many of us (perhaps all of us reading this) have also all been on the receiving end of His faithfulness. Accepting Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf lets us participate in one of the most significant proofs of God’s faithfulness, and if you’re like me you also have an abundance of other examples of God’s faithfulness showing up in your life. Today, I invite you to join me in meditating on the Lord’s faithfulness toward you and the proofs of His ongoing faithfulness in scripture. Though other parts of our lives might seem unstable, unreliable, or unpredictable God is faithful. We can trust Him to be exactly who He says He is, do exactly what He says He’ll do, and never give up on the work He has begun inside us.

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What Does It Mean To Be Double-Minded, and How Can We Fix It?

I love it when a phrase in a book or a comment from a friend prompts an unexpectedly deep Bible study. Just last week, someone in my church’s scripture writing group suggested we study the phrase “double-minded.” Since there are only two verses in the Bible that use this word (at least in most translations), it sounded like a challenging and intriguing study. It’s also a study that’s relevant to things we struggle with today. It’s so easy to find ourselves becoming filled with worry, questions, and doubt. There are so many different versions of “truth” being marketed today, and it gets confusing. We need to be clear in our own minds what we believe and why so that we’re not double-minded. I hope you’ll find reading about this topic as fascinating–and helpful–as I did. We begin in the opening part of James’s epistle.

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8, NET

The word translated “double-minded” is dipsuchos, meaning “two spirited,” “vacillating” (Strong’s Dictionary), “wavering, uncertain, doubting,” and “divided in interest” (Thayer’s Dictionary). It comes from two words: dis (twice, again) and psuche (breath, spirit). Zodhiates adds that “such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (dictionary entry 1374). Sounds like something a lot of Christians struggle with today, doesn’t it? James is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it appears once again closer to the end of his epistle.

Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10, WEB

Though there are only two verses using this word, James makes it clear that being “double-minded” is not a good thing. From the context as we read James 1:8, we can say that faith and stability are the opposites of double-mindedness. Then James 4:8 recommends that the double-minded purify their hearts, indicating that being double-minded has something to do with the state of our hearts. It also appears to be something that we can fix, and which God will help us correct.

How Long Will You Waver?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah confronted the people of Israel about their idolatry. They’d constantly sway back and forth between faith in God and following pagan religions. This wavering, uncertain, divided loyalty was not something that pleased God.

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word.

1 Kings 18:21, NET

You can click here to read the entire story. Right now, I want to focus in on the phrase “paralyzed by indecision.” The more literal translation from Hebrew would be, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?” (NET footnote). Here, though, it’s an idiomatic phrase and does not refer to physical disability or injury. It’s a picture of someone’s thoughts and loyalty swaying back and forth unsteadily, similar to how James describes the double-minded individual as tossed by the sea. Other translations of this phrase in 1 Kings 18 include, “How long will you waver between the two sides?” (WEB) and “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (NKJV).

The need for us to set doubt aside and be loyal to God alone is also discussed in the New Testament. In his Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts, Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NET). We’re not meant to live in a state of indecision. Knowing who Jesus is removes doubt and replaces it with faith. This sort of faith is absolutely essential, “for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6, NET). We don’t have to get rid of all doubt before we come to Jesus, but at the very least we need to reach a point where we can say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NET).

Don’t Divide Your Loyalty

The only other Bible verse that uses the word “double-minded” is found in certain translations of Psalm 119:113. In the World English Bible it’s translated, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.” The New King James Version is almost identical: “I hate the double-minded.” Offering a slightly different reading, the New English Translation says, “I hate people with divided loyalties.” We cannot afford to live as double-minded people with divided loyalties. It’s impossible to be loyal to God and serve things that are incompatible with His way of life.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:24, WEB

Our loyalty and service belongs to God alone. We must follow Jesus’s example of rejecting the siren call of temptation and say, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him'” (Matt. 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13, NET). This is exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” right before he said, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, WEB). God wants the entirety of our hearts, not just the pieces leftover after we do other things in our lives.

O Lord, teach me how you want me to live.
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks with my whole heart.
I will honor your name continually.

Psalm 86:11-12, NET

Learning to Have an Undivided Mind

Though there are only 2 or 3 scriptures that directly talk about being double-minded, many scriptures talk about the importance of having “one mind” and being “like-minded” with other believers. This doesn’t mean that believers will all have the same personalities, types of lives, or individual opinions. Rather, this like-mindedness is rooted in all of us learning to think in the same way that God thinks. If we’ve been recipients of God’s spirit, then “we have Christ’s mind” (1 Cor. 2:16, WEB). The more we learn to have the same mind as Christ, the more like-minded we become with each other as well.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6, WEB

God wants His people to live in unity. We’re meant to care for every follower of Christ as much as we care for ourselves. We’re to work on resolving differences peacefully and prayerfully, seeking to have God’s perspective rather than defend our own opinions. We’re to replace double-mindedness, doubt, and instability with faith and loyalty, following the example of Jesus Christ in how we act and think.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, WEB

Through the power of God working inside us, we can choose to change our thoughts. Whether our minds are divided or whole is in large part up to us. We’re not helpless victims of our own doubt but rather mighty warriors who are strong in the Lord. Through Him, we have the power to overcome worry, doubt, and division and instead commit ourselves to lives full of faith.

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