Storeroom Sermons of David Chadwell

The Agony of Change
(Part 3)

Perhaps among the most difficult spiritual analysis to make is the analysis of the anatomy of faith. What is faith? Most Christians are more proficient at telling people what faith is not than they are at telling people what faith is. I often fear, with all of us, our concept of faith is more a reaction to faith concepts we reject instead of a concept of faith arising from understanding scripture.

Faith always, at its foundation, speaks to our personal relationship with God. Faith believes God is. Faith believes God acts. Faith believes God rewards those who trust Him. Faith trusts God to keep His promises. Faith understands God is the source of human hope that is greater than death.

The essence of faith involves God's character. Jesus came as a human because of God's character. God made Jesus the Christ in his death and resurrection because of His character. Salvation and its incredible forgiveness exists because of God's character. The church, God's family on earth, exists because of God's character. Hope exists because of God's character. God's promises may be trusted without doubt because of God's character. Christians will never be abandoned by God because of God's character.

The beginning of faith involves the person's conviction that God knows what He is doing. Even when we do not understand what God is doing, He knows what He is doing. Even when we question what God is doing, God knows what He is doing. Even when we are distressed by God's actions, God knows what He is doing.

Humans often question God's acts. Humans are often distressed by God's acts. God rarely, if ever, does things as we would like them done.

The person who has faith never reaches the point that he or she understands everything God does. The person who has faith never reaches the point that he or she is never distressed by God's actions. The contrast between a person of faith and a faithless person is seen in this fact: the person of faith trusts that God knows what He is doing; the faithless person has no confidence in the fact that God knows what He is doing.

All of us form perceptions of what God should or should not do. When God's actions fit those perceptions, people of faith are not troubled. However, when God's actions do not fit our perceptions of what is appropriate behavior for God, people of faith are deeply troubled.

  1. If you understand this, you grasp what a quandary the salvation of gentiles outside of Judaism placed Jewish Christians in.

    1. For 2000 years, Jews understood from God they were His people. (See scriptures such as Exodus 19:1-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; and such related scriptures.)
    2. The dividing line between them and other nations was that they were not to be idolatrous (See Exodus 20:1-6).
      1. The first thing delivered to Israel was this understanding about God: He could not be represented by any form of idol.
      2. He was the Deliverer, the only God.
      3. Idolatry must be totally rejected.
    3. It took God many generations to get idolatry out of the Israelite people!
      1. How then could God save people who worshipped idols without using Judaism to get idolatry out of them?
      2. How could people who worshipped idols go immediately from idolatry to salvation in Jesus Christ?
      3. Was not Christian existence threatened by a people who went from the moral systems of idols to the moral system of Jesus Christ without understanding God's character as did the Jews?
    4. If someone was to go from idolatry to salvation in Jesus, he (or she) must yield at least to the basic concepts of Judaism! (Remember the insistence of converted Pharisees in Acts 15:5?)
      1. The fact that God produced gentiles' salvation by (a) paying their redemption debt in Jesus' death (blood) and by (b) providing them hope that deserved confidence through Jesus' resurrection was beyond these Jewish Christian's comprehension!
      2. What God did in Jesus' death and resurrection attacked these Jews' concept of obedience.
      3. The fact that God provided the salvation that did not depend on culture, nationality, past revelation (scripture), or past human acts defied their understanding. (Remember how difficult it was for Peter to grasp this truth in Acts 10?)
      4. God either did not know what He did, or Jewish people who claimed such things (like Paul) misrepresented God.
      5. This is the background of the Jewish council in Acts 15.

  2. The thought is astounding.

    1. People could come from any culture or any background and be saved Christians because of God's accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection.
      1. So Jews could be Jews and be Christians saved in Jesus Christ.
      2. In the same way, gentiles could be gentiles and be Christians saved in Jesus Christ.
      3. That is considered by us to be an astounding but wonderful concept as long as we refer to a situation about 2000 years ago.
        1. Jews did not have to become gentiles to be saved.
        2. Nor did gentiles have to become Jews to be saved.
        3. Each could retain their culture and traditions of origin (that did not conflict with God's ethics) and be in Christ.
    2. Many of us have no difficulty with that concept if we are talking about what happens in other nations, especially cultures in struggling nations.
      1. When we do foreign mission work, we stress the truth, "God can save you right here right now--you do not have to do things American-style to be saved."
      2. Thus, men can sit on one side and women on another in a worship assembly, and it is okay.
      3. Two adults can control everyone's children in an assembly, and it is okay.
      4. Buildings can wear the marks of the culture that denotes the building as a church building, and it is okay.
      5. Baptisms can occur in different settings than in America, and it is okay.
      6. Women can dress quite differently from American women, and it is okay.
      7. Christian men can conduct church business quite differently from Christian American men, and it is okay.
      8. The church can meet the legal requirements of the culture by having proper registration with the national government, and it is okay.
      9. Most of us would affirm without difficulty that people do not have to become Americans to be saved.
    3. If you understand those realities, you understand the background of Acts 21:17-26.
      1. First, consider the pre-Christian background of the Christian we know as the apostle Paul.
        1. Consider what he said about himself in Galatians 1:11-17.
          "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my motherís womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus."

        2. Consider further what he said about himself in 1 Timothy 1:12-16:
          "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life."

        3. Consider still further what he said about himself in Acts 26:9-12:
          "So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests ..."

        4. Before his conversion, this man did anything he could do to destroy Christianity.
          1. He regarded Christianity to be a heresy that composed the greatest threat in existence to Judaism.
          2. He agreed to the execution of Jews who believed Jesus was the Christ.
          3. It was this violent, hostile, accomplished Jew who became the apostle to the gentiles.
      2. Now consider what a problem he was to Jews and Judaising teachers after becoming a Christian and converting gentiles.
      3. Look carefully at Acts 21:17-26.
        1. Paul reported in detail to the Jewish leadership what he did as he converted gentiles to Christ.
        2. The leadership understood and were happy.
        3. However, Paul's presence in Jerusalem presented a problem.
          1. Paul's work in evangelizing was often controversial (see Acts 13:16 and chapter 14 as an example).
          2. Most Jewish Christians did not abandon Jewish religious ways (21:20). The moral/ethical expectations of Judaism and the moral/ethical expectations of Jesus Christ are frequently the same.
          3. Paul's evangelism was falsely reported--Jews in other places said Paul taught Jews to stop Jewish practices (21:21). Paul did not teach Jews who were converted to cease Jewish practices.
          4. The problem: how were they to correct this misrepresentation of Paul?
          5. Conclusion: let Paul do a very Jewish thing to prove Paul was Jewish in his personal Christian preferences--he just did not teach gentiles to do things in Jewish ways. (There was a distinction between what you were culturally and nationally, and what you were religiously).
          6. Paul did not have to become a gentile to teach gentiles.
          7. Gentile salvation did not depend on a gentile doing things as Jews did them. It depended on faith in Jesus Christ.
          8. Paul and the Jerusalem leadership understood that distinction, but most Jewish Christians did not.
        4. If your immediate reaction is a negative emotion, note the first recorded place two apostles went after the conversions of Jews and proselytes in Acts 2 was to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1).

There are two enormous temptations in this matter among American Christians in American congregations.

bulletTemptation one: to declare submission to preference is a declaration of loyalty to Jesus Christ.
bulletTemptation two: to confuse preference with teaching from God.

All Christians are entitled to live by their preferences. No Christian is entitled to impose his or her preferences on other Christians. Read Paul's affirmation of this fact in Romans 14.

We all need an improved understanding of Romans 14:22:
"The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."

This is not a statement to impose "my" preferences on "your" convictions, but an encouragement to live by your convictions while preserving unity in the family of believers.

Next week as we conclude this emphasis, I urge you to read the letter to the Galatian Christians. I urge you to read it once, but read it more than once if possible.

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