Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Matter of Confidence: Salvation Through God's Eyes - Part One

by Fred Bischoff

If there were ever a time when we should see the importance of it, now is the time. We might think this modern, global “Babylon” in which we’re all immersed, runs on hedonism, power, and greed,[1] but nothing runs without confidence. Even ask a con man. After all, where does he get his dubious title?

Perhaps no one has said it more simply in our current crisis than Joe Nocera, business columnist for the New York Times, and author of Good Guys and Bad Guys. Recently, when asked what gets credit moving again, his answer was, “It’s confidence.” He added, regarding the solution attempted so far to fix the system, “instead of restoring confidence, it is helping to destroy confidence.” He further noted, “If banks don’t have confidence in each other, they won’t do inter-bank lending, and if banks don’t have confidence in businesses and customers, they won’t lend the money. It’s really, really that simple. . . . It’s so clear that nobody trusts anybody to pay anything back. . . . Banks are scared.”[2] If banks are scared, where does that leave the rest of us? We’re just beginning to see. But perhaps, hopefully, we’re looking for and leaning on something more secure.

Cosmic Confidence

But what does this have to do with the bigger picture, from a biblical perspective? Could the cosmic system run the same way? Could it be really, really that simple? The issues that call for our attention at present are bigger than any global system.

Babylon is fallen, but it has been surviving for a long time, at least from a human perspective. The dynamics revealed to us through Scripture’s view of earth’s history meet their ultimate development in the events cryptically described in Revelation. Babylon’s core principle, selfishness, shows its ultimate doom.[3] The final destructive reaping of what has been sown is actually pictured as restrained supernaturally[4] until everyone has opportunity to internalize God’s ownership/identity/character.[5] This principle from God Himself, opposite to that of Babylon, actually has a preserving quality, for a while, on the doomed system.

So what does confidence have to do with this process? Revelation makes it clear that the historical precedent continues through the end—the majority reject the very thing needed to continue any organization, system, or government. Nocera spoke of “a psychological answer . . . not a physical answer . . . not a monetary answer.” I would submit it is a spiritual answer. The Spirit’s work has preserved faith—immature at best in Babylon, but still effective. This is the source of confidence. Even one phase of Babylon is shown to have its strength (symbolized by horns) in its lamb-like qualities.[6]

There is no question who the Lamb is in Revelation. What is His strength? What might we find in the New Testament that is described as “of Jesus”? A quick check of this phrase describing character qualities yields “the name of Jesus,”[7] “the blood of Jesus,”[8] and “the testimony of Jesus”[9]—all different ways to say the same reality, His character revealed in the witness He gave of pouring out His life for others. But another descriptor jumps out of the gospel accounts, especially Paul’s, and that is “the faith of Jesus.”[10] So what does the Lamb have in the way of faith that could explain both why the final, global collapse is a final loss of faith, genuine faith, and why the Lamb’s kingdom will last forever? Remember, things don’t work without confidence.

Love’s Faith

Love—self-sacrificing, other-centered love—is the strongest power in the universe, being the essence of God’s character,[11] the fruit of the Spirit,[12] and that which motivates anything good that exists.[13] We see its relationship with faith simply and clearly by reflecting on two texts, both from Paul. The first could be paraphrased, “In Jesus Christ, the only thing that has power to overcome is faith working by love.”[14] Paul shows more of this dynamic of love by a phrase buried in his extensive description of it. Love “believeth all things.”[15]

Vastly different from saying agape is gullible, Paul in essence is stating, “If you value others as God does, it will empower a view of them that will enable you to see and treat them not as your physical eyes see them, but as your spiritual eyes can—not as they are but as they can be.” And we ask most emphatically at this point, can we picture God doing that very thing? I submit unless we do, we have yet to believe what He believes. In Christ’s Object Lessons, Ellen White writes,

Christ, the heavenly merchantman seeking goodly pearls, saw in lost humanity the pearl of price. In man, defiled and ruined by sin, He saw the possibilities of redemption. Hearts that have been the battleground of the conflict with Satan, and that have been rescued by the power of love, are more precious to the Redeemer than are those who have never fallen. God looked upon humanity, not as vile and worthless; He looked upon it in Christ, saw it as it might become through redeeming love. He collected all the riches of the universe, and laid them down in order to buy the pearl. And Jesus, having found it, resets it in His own diadem.[16]

Can we see what He sees? We must, in order to love as He loves. Of course, this way of “seeing” is not natural to our self-bent hearts. It is a gift of His Spirit that alone can enable such confidence, one that is willing to invest and even to lose, not for selfish gain, but to benefit another. That is why the answer to lack of confidence is a spiritual one. Only those with the Spirit at the end will have genuine faith in anyone or anything.

The “Merchantman” doing the business described above is the author and finisher of faith.[17] Can we grasp how He does business? It’s more secure than anything we see around us. Can we see His life here as a demonstration of such “faith working by love”? To shine a light on it, let’s attempt a paraphrase of what is perhaps Paul’s most significant passage on this reality—Romans 3:22-26,

The righteousness of God is manifested through the faith of Jesus, the faith that God manifested through Jesus. This righteousness is into all. It is upon all the believing ones. There is not a difference, for all have sinned. All come short of the glory of God. Since all have this great need, all are being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God has set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy seat. He did this through the faith He expressed when Jesus poured out His life. And this was done in order to declare His righteousness through the passing over of the past sins, through His forbearance. God’s setting forth Jesus Christ as the mercy seat declares His righteousness in the present time. This leads one into the reality that He is both just and the One who is justifying the individual sinner, again, out of the faith of Jesus.

The atonement, the gift of Jesus, was the act of faith and love in response to no faith and no love. This is Paul’s repeated theme, especially in this chapter. Through God’s faith seen in Jesus’ faith, His righteousness is commended (3:5), abounds (3:7), is manifested (3:21), and is declared (3:25, 26). God Himself is righteous by faith—not that He needs faith-righteousness (as we do), but that He is full of it. He is its source. That is how He functions. He is faithful![18] He is not simply saying, “You can trust in Me.” His actions show He has placed trust in us. This faith in the face of unbelief is His righteousness in passing over past sins. And how was this just? He sets forth the atonement to declare He was still righteous in being forbearing in His goodness and longsuffering (2:4). And Paul emphatically affirms that God’s faith will prove effective even in the face of a response of unbelief (3:2, 3).[19]

The Faith of the Gospel

Let’s consider that effectiveness further from a practical viewpoint, as seen in the life of Jesus. His entire time here could be described as an expression of faith and love directed to the fallen human race. Everyone He encountered felt the pull of selfless love, the vision of faith projected to each one individually, full of hope. The self-deceived and self-satisfied resisted the idea that He saw something better for them. Of course, we know His closest disciples battled and often were overcome by this self-sufficiency and self-focus.

But in the other-centeredness of this faith and love, He was looking for fellowship. Let’s state it plainly—love was looking for love, and faith for faith. And when He found it, He was ecstatic! He was constrained to verbalize it. “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”[20] “O woman, great is thy faith.”[21] Sadly, these happy occasions were few and far between for Him. Usually He was dealing with the life-draining lack of faith. “O ye of little faith” was His recurring lament.[22]

His own people, the recipients of “the oracles of God” that chronicled His deeds of faith and love through the millennia, too often responded to His faith with unbelief.[23] “He came unto His own”[24] with faith and love, and they responded, by and large, with unbelief[25] and homicidal hatred.[26]

To the end, as His faith and love entered His final firestorm, He was looking for faith, for those who saw what He saw. He wept when a vision of foreknowledge, seeing the fruit of unbelief, attacked His vision of faith.[27] But He kept looking, hoping.[28] He decided to show His disciples what the result of no faith was, by illustrating it in a tree.[29] In twenty-four hours it was “dried up from the roots.”[30] Peter acted as if Jesus might miss the sight, but it was the twelve that were struggling to see what they needed to. So Jesus pointedly told them, “Have the faith of God.”[31] To Peter He later said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”[32] He knew the storm the twelve faced, and how weak their faith was.

He drove the faithless merchants of grace, takers not givers, from the house that was called “My house,” but the leaders responded by challenging the authority of faith and love.[33] He left His house for the last time with the heart-broken, ominous words, “Your house is left unto you desolate.”[34] Who wants to live in a house with no faith and no love? Why should it even be left standing? And so He left it to its doom. With what measure they had measured (no faith, no love), they would sadly, reluctantly, be measured.[35] As He had warned them, “Thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”[36]

The greatest demonstration of faith and love was also the ultimate revelation of no faith and no love. It was not a fig tree that withered from the roots in twenty-four hours. It was another tree, on a hill nearby, on which the Lamb was placed. It was not the nails that held Him there. It was His faith and love. But what killed Him was our lack of faith and love, a world of unbelief and lovelessness. In six hours He was dead, His heart broken from its core with no faith and no love. How else to describe sin in the language of the heart? Ellen White describes it:

Christ would never have given His life for the human race if He had not faith in the souls for whom He died. He knew that a large number would respond to the love He had expressed for humanity. It is not every heart that responds, but every heart may, and can if it will, respond to that love that is without parallel. “My sheep hear my voice,” Christ said. A heart yearning for God will recognize the voice of God. God cannot respond to one soul that does not respond to His grace offered, His love bestowed. He is waiting for a response from souls.[37]

[1] See Rev 18:3. Scripture sources are King James Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] On Bill Moyer’s Journal, November 21, 2008.

[3] Compare Daniel 5; see the same in 2 Chron 36.

[4] Rev 7

[5] Compare Rev 14.

[6] Rev 13:11. The word here “lamb” (arnion) occurs some 30 times, all in Revelation save once. It is actually a diminutive form of the noun, speaking clearly of the spirit of the One who described Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29), who gave Himself in the ultimate sacrifice of self (Gal 1:4; 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25; 1Tim 2:6; Tit 2:14). This two-phase or two-part symbol (“two horns”) likely speaks of the dual face of genuine agape love that the Lamb addressed precisely—love primarily toward the Creator God, and secondarily to one’s fellow humans (Matt 22:37-39). Another way Jesus described this was, give to God what is His, and to the government what belongs to it (Matt 22:21). It is not insignificant that John Adams described explicitly that the new experiment in human society in his day (that has come to be known as the United States of America, and which is easily identified with Rev 13:11) was repudiating the failed methods of mandating what is God’s (canon law) and what is the government’s (feudal law) in his A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765). This document is easily available in PDF form on the Internet, and actually references the prophecies in 2 Thes 2 and Rev 17.

[7] Acts 2:38; 3:6; 4:10,18; 5:40; 8:12; 9:27; 16:18; 26:9; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 2:10.

[8] Heb 10:19; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 1:7.

[9] Rev 1:2,9; 12:17; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4.

[10] Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; 3:22; Rev 14:12 (compare Gal 2:20; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9; James 2:1; consider also Rom 3:25, 26 in the Greek). We will not address the long-running scholarly debate on whether the original language intended “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus” (see Sigve Tonstad, “pistis christou: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 2002, Vol. 40, No. 1, 37-59). We are simply looking at evidence that faith is a dynamic of divine origin, an expression of God’s own agape.

[11] 1 John 4:8, 16.

[12] Gal 5:22.

[13] 1 Cor 13:1-3; compare 2 Cor 5:14.

[14] Gal 5:6.

[15] 1 Cor 13:7.

[16] Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941), 118.

[17] Heb 12:2.

[18] Paul equates righteousness with faith and love (Eph 6:14; 1 Thes 5:8). The NT clearly describes God as faithful: 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Thes 5:24; 2 Thes 3:3; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 2:17; 3:2; 10:23; 11:11; 1 Pet 4:19; 1 John 1:9; Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11.

[19] Observe in these two verses that God’s action of faith (“committed”) is contrasted with the Jews’ action of no faith (“did not believe”), and His “faith” is contrasted to their “unbelief.” The verb and noun attributed to God are the basic ones used throughout the NT.

[20] Matt 8:10.

[21] Matt 15:28.

[22] Matt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8.

[23] Rom 3:2, 3.

[24] John 1:11.

[25] Matt 13:58; 17:20; Mark 6:6; 16:14.

[26] Mark 11:18; Luke 19:14; John 7:7; 8:59; 10:31-33; 11:8; 15:18, 23-25.

[27] Luke 19:41-44; see Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940), 575.3-578; foreknowledge: “He saw . . . the city . . . plowed like a field”; faith: “He saw . . . what Jerusalem might have been.”

[28] Mark 11:11.

[29] Mark 11:13, 14.

[30] Mark 11:20.

[31] Mark 11:22 (Greek; see The Bible in Basic English, “Have God’s faith”; Douay Rheims Bible, “Have the faith of God”; Young’s Literal Translation, “Have faith of God.”)

[32] Luke 22:32.

[33] Mark 11:15-17, 27, 28.

[34] Matt 23:38.

[35] Mark 4:24; compare Rom 12:3.

[36] Luke 19:44.

[37] See White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 21 (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1981, 1987, 1990, 1993), 370.

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