When we co-opt the apostle John’s language and talk about faith as victory that overcomes the world, we do so without smirking or crossing our fingers behind our back because our faith is in victory that overcomes death. If your god can’t do something about death then he can only offer so much.
Abraham believed in the God who overcomes death.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)
Faith that believes in resurrection power is at the top of the faith chart. What is more impossible than being raised from the dead? In Abraham’s case, he was prepared to act based on it. In our case, we are prepared to eat and drink based on it.
There is no “figuratively speaking” with the resurrection of Jesus because He died. He wasn’t almost sacrificed. He carried the wood of His altar, was bound by nails to it, and though God could have sent 10,000 angels to take Him off the cross, a “close to death” would only made us close to salvation. He died and was three-days-buried dead.
But then He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The angels told visitors to His tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This is literally speaking.
When we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim His death but not because He’s dead. He lives! Our faith is in the resurrection and the life! May your faith be nourished by such a meal in such a powerful Savior who has overcome death for us.
God will test our faith. The apostle Peter wrote that various trials cause heaviness:
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
Solid faith, not faith-leaf—like gold leaf, a thin layer of faith hammered around the outside—solid faith now will result in our being esteemed and rewarded by God when we see Jesus Christ and will no longer need faith.
In the meantime the “various trials” that do this testing are manifold. One could translate the Greek adjective “multi-colored.” The trials come in different shapes and sizes. They also come in different degrees of importance to us.
God tests our faith through national elections, but that doesn’t hit quite as close to home as, say, losing your home. Or if He’s given you a job, you know it was by His grace that you got the job, and now He appears to be taking that job away by requiring you to stand up for righteousness. Or if a child or a spouse gets very sick. Or if the plans you had, plans to be productive and minister for Him, get interrupted. These and more will test your trust in God.
I’ve heard it said, “Put your Isaacs on the altar.” If God wants you to surrender something you think is important, even crucial, for His mission, then You must trust Him that He will bless you as He takes it away. This is a test of faith, a purifying of faith, and a strengthening of faith. We need it. And if we fail a test, we don’t have to wait a certain amount of time before we try again, we just need to repent and turn back to Him in trust.
On God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1) to leave and seek what he could not see:
[I]t is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.
—John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis
Here is an outrageous claim that I believe is true:
We must rejoice more when we remember Christ in communion if we want to stop abortion in our nation.
The decision of Roe v. Wade came 43 years ago last Friday. Since 1973 over 59 million unborn babies have been killed that we know about in the United States. God knows how many have not been counted.
The Supreme Court’s decision and its consequences have worked alongside a swelling cultural desire to stifle faith. You can believe whatever you want as long as you believe that your faith can’t breathe in public. Faith, if it must exist, cannot be allowed to grow to full term. This is analogous to abortion, a desire to kill any fruit.
Living faith has two eyes to see, two ears to hear, a mouth to speak, two hands to work with, and two legs to stand on. Watch out for living faith. Living faith is fruitful. Living faith is dangerous to the status quo. Living faith is a weapon against selfishness and greed and fear, our own and then our community. Living faith makes those who don’t have it afraid.
Which is why our celebration in communion is so crucial. Any external fixes, including changes in the legal and medical and cultural policies on abortion, must be driven by internal faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel is our only hope of salvation, but those who are saved by faith will live by faith. This is a meal that nourishes our faith. We eat and drink and our gladness grows, our hope blooms, and our union with the Head–Christ–and His body is sensed.
The evil one sows doubt. The world suffocates conviction. Our own flesh attacks trust. But faith that is fed conquers kingdoms, enforces justice, obtains promises, and is made strong out of weakness. Faith that is fed is ready to be imprisoned, mocked, mistreated, and sawn in two. Faith lived out makes us men and women of whom the world is not worthy (see Hebrews 11:32-38), and it will have an impact on generations yet to be born.
Of all the good gifts of God that have been abused, perhaps nothing has been more abused than the gospel. Salvation is not by works. No man can do anything, give any amount, or feel any emotion enough to earn favor with God. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That’s it. We are declared righteous by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Paul knew that such a good gift would be abused. “So, you’re saying that it doesn’t matter at all what I do? Actually, more sin on my part makes for more glory on His part?” Sort of. After more than two chapters in his letter to the Romans about justification he addressed those who thought they should sin more, sin on purpose so that grace would be seen as more great.
That’s not how it works, of course, because the grace that justifies is grace that changes. But if someone can’t misunderstand the gospel that way, then it probably hasn’t been presented truly.
Let’s try it out. What do you need to do so that you can eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord? How much or how long do you need to have obeyed? What sins for what duration do you need to have avoided?
It does not matter how many good works you did or didn’t do this week. It doesn’t matter what sins you avoided or didn’t. If you believe in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, then you are righteous by faith and the Father receives you into fellowship. Communion is in remembrance of Him, not in remembrance of you.
This means that even if you’ve been thinking about communion wrongly, if you’ve been fearful rather than celebratory, even that doesn’t change your invitation to the Table. There is a seat at His Table for everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Christ from the dead. He has made all of the arrangements, and that is a reason for our hearts to be glad in remembrance of Him.
The Bible contains some hard truths, truths that cut against the grain of our sin. Scripture is profitable, Paul wrote, for teaching and reproof and rebuke. Through the God’s law sin is revealed. The mirror of the Word reveals our imperfections. The living and active Sword divides in order to rearrange us and make us more pleasing sacrifices to Him.
Spiritual leaders sometimes say hard things to confront or challenge. Paul wrote that way to the Corinthians but he wanted to make sure that they understood his motivation. After his first letter he had avoided coming to Corinth again and exercising his authority to confront them with the following clarification.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
Even when he challenged them to change, it wasn’t because he thought he was the boss. He wasn’t motivated to get others to act for him. He wanted others to act for their joy. He pressed, he pushed, he admonished, and he taught in order to stimulate their faith for their own gladness.
Many things attack our faith which means our gladness is vulnerable. Selfishness attacks faith, as does bitterness, envy, fear, cynicism, greed, lust, pride, and any sort of cistern drinking. The river of faith flows toward joy, so whatever is blocking up faith must be recognized and removed. Someone on the bank can see the crash coming, even help pull some of the flotsam and jetsam from their position on the side. But it usually requires effort from the one in the boat, too. “We work with you for your joy.”
Our corporate worship is for our faith for sake of our joy. We are in it together, pursuing the same goal. We need to confess any sin that is blocking the exercise of believing or the experience of gladness in God.
I’ve posted about Enoch a few times the last few weeks. Though he is exceptional, he is also an example.
The author of Hebrews includes Enoch in the Hall of Faith.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)
Genesis doesn’t explicitly state the part about pleasing God but it makes sense. It also sets up the inductive conclusion in the next verse. The particular instance of Enoch leads to this general principle.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Enoch believed that God is and that God is a certain way. Namely, God is eternally and unchangeably a giver to those who depend on Him.
The communion meal is an expression of our faith, not our works. We eat and drink in dependence on God through His Son. And we know what to expect. We’re not obligating God to do anything. We don’t demand wages. But we know that He loves to provide for and fill up and bless His people. He has given us His own Son. How will He not with Him graciously give us all things?
Leave your righteousness, leave your strength, and leave what you counted as gain. Receive by faith His righteousness, His strength in your weakness, and His reward for seeking Him.
Near the end of his first letter the apostle John utilized the overcoming language that he had heard Jesus use.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, ESV)
Verse 4 is one of the first phrases I memorized in Greek: ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. The nike that niked, the victory that victoried, the triumph that triumphed, the overcoming that overcame is our faith. When we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we win in Him.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal of overcoming. We eat and drink by faith as Jesus overcomes our hunger and thirst. He is true food and true drink, eternally filling (John 6:35, 51). We come to this table because He overcomes our sinful distance. We commune with God the Father through His Son. We eat this supper because He overcomes death. Dead men don’t eat, but resurrected men have quite an appetite.
In Jesus we have victory. He invites us to share together the symbols of His triumph, His body and blood. What we have here cannot be taken from us; we cannot be defeated. Even if they lead us like lambs to the slaughter, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the power of the cross.
The apostle John wrote:
Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
So, as Christians, we should go and overcome. If we have faith like a grain of mustard seed, we will say to a mountain, “move from here to there” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for us. Our Lord is the Son of God. He is Lord of lords and King of kings, the beginning and the end. All things have been given into His hand. As we break the huddle on Sundays, we should follow His lead right up the middle.
Were it deeply engraven on our minds, that in God alone we have the highest and complete perfection of all good things; we should easily fix bounds to those wicked desires by which we are miserably tormented.
—John Calvin, Genesis
Genesis 15:1, while a special revelation to Abram, stimulates the faith of all Abram’s children. Darby’s Literal Translation stretches out two branches of God’s promise on which belief hangs: “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward.” The LORD protects (He is “shield”) and the LORD blesses (He is the “exceeding great reward”). In Him are security and satisfaction. Our belief is bolstered and our fears are banished as we deliberate over His posture toward us. That, at least, was John Calvin’s commentary take-away.