Keeping the Faith in the Last Days – Conclusion
Let us now direct our attention to conditions associated with losing one’s faith, with the understanding we are speaking in the most general terms.
Such conditions are generally symptomatic of deeper spiritual circumstances. They may also be both good and bad. Symptoms are often observable, but the causes are not always as obvious. Some of the more obvious indicators include:
“FALLING AWAY” AND ITS CAUSES
The principal causes of falling away are issues of faith and beliefs. They arise from the clash between life goals, lifestyle and behavior.
A secondary cause may originate in the ecclesia and its organization—issues with people and their ways of doing things.
Jesus taught the people to seek first the Kingdom of God, rather than fame, wealth, daily security and food. If they did this first, all these other things would be added to them.
Jesus taught the people to seek first the Kingdom of God, rather than fame, wealth, daily security and food.
The Sermon on the Mount went much deeper than just this surface level exhortation. Jesus spoke not only to his disciples, but also to the assembled elders in Israel, the Rabbis, those who were the spiritual leaders. (See Matthew 6.) His teaching in the three chapters (5-7) of Matthew’s account outlined the essence of a spiritual viewpoint for the main principles of the Law.
The elements of the Beatitudes are but the tip of the iceberg of our thought processes. Spiritually guided minds need to see the roots of these instructions. In considering the parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-9, 18-23), we sometimes focus only on preaching the word. But the parable is a wonderfully concise picture of the believer’s life, except for the seed falling on the “wayside.” It is not productive at all, does not sprout and bears no fruit. This does not describe the “believer.” However, the remaining parts of the parable do apply to our ecclesial and personal life as followers of the Lord.
Seed falling into shallow soil or in the crevice of a rock aptly describes the behavior of some who immediately flourish, and then collapse just as rapidly.
In our ecclesial associations, we can either allow weeds to flourish, or we can carefully weed and care for the plantings of the Lord.
Seed among thorns could well describe most of us since we live among thorn-like influences everywhere. But, whereas those among thorns are choked out eventually by the other plants (interests), the seed in good ground brings forth 30, 60, 100 times the amount of seed planted.
In our ecclesial associations, we can either allow weeds to flourish, or we can carefully weed and care for the plantings of the Lord. Jesus explains that the thorns and weeds represent the cares of this life. Note also, they are represented as just being there. These are not sown by an “enemy.” They are just ordinary, daily responsibilities that can grow so large as to occupy all our time and thought, and thus prevent us from yielding fruit. In the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus warns about the cares of this life which are to come in the last days (Luke 21:34-36).
Other forms of falling away are described in the hard sayings by Jesus in John 6. Many of the Jews couldn’t accept what they heard. The message so completely differed from what they expected of the Messiah. Peter’s declaration at this time showed how Jesus’ close disciples dealt with the falling away of followers. He said: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of Eternal Life.” (John 6:66-68).
There is a certain level of desperation displayed here. They clearly did not understand what Jesus meant, but who else would teach them, if not Jesus himself? So, they stayed, and the Lord taught them.
even serious lapses in service and attitude are, in the Lord’s time, corrected
A final note on this subject comes from the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 13:13, John Mark left the missionary work to return home to Jerusalem. Later (Acts15:36-41) when Barnabas, his uncle, intended to take him along, Paul objected. This split up the partnership of Paul and Barnabas, and Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus with him. It’s not until much later that Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 4:11) asking him to bring Mark to him, as he was now “profitable” to Paul for the ministry. So, we can see, that even serious lapses in service and attitude are, in the Lord’s time, corrected.
MATTERS OF FAITH
In cases where a former believer (active member) stops attending Meeting, there will usually be more than one reason why.
A few of the reasons may relate to the pressures of home life, school, employment or distance. Something has replaced the hope of salvation and the Kingdom of God as a “career objective.” We tend to loosely call these “matters of faith.” In other words, the individual has lost his commitment to the principles of “the Faith.”
In some cases, the basis of having confidence in the Bible which leads to a belief in God has been dismantled. Unless belief can be rebuilt (and all things are possible with God), no progress can be made. It is helpful in these matters to review the Biblical definition of faith. Not because of some allegiance to an organization, but because the Bible definition is practical and pragmatic.
Hebrews 11:1-2, 6 defines “faith” from a God-given point of view:
So, faith as the Bible defines it is what is hoped for. It is the evidence or conviction of things you cannot see.
Now, this very definition presents a couple of challenges of its own. Faith must have something to do with God. What we hope for must be connected with what God has promised. So, we need to know something about what God has spoken to have “faith.”
without faith, one cannot please God
The second part of verse 1 links faith to a conviction of things unseen. Said differently, the things spoken have created a convincing image (vision?) in the mind. What we have been told, even though it has not happened yet, is something we want. The conclusion in verse 2 says that this was the way the elders in the Biblical records obtained a good report.
These two connected parts of comprehension allowed the faithful people listed to succeed. Verse 6 sums up the idea that without faith, one cannot please God. Faith involves believing God exists and that He will reward those who seek Him and His ways.
In this chapter there are at least 40 examples of people who believed and accepted what God had said. They pleased God. Now upon reflection, here is the essence of the challenge of any age: to believe that God exists, that He has communicated ideas to mankind and that He intends in the future to take account of how we have conformed to them.
When sight of this is lost, coming to Meeting, Bible class, Sunday school and other activities makes no sense at all. Why bother if God does not exist? So, this is a critical decision a believer must make. Resolving this issue takes serious effort both on the part of the one who has the problem and those who wish to help.
To conclude that God exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him is the largest commitment we will make in our lives. It easily transcends the decision about who we marry, what school we attend, where to live, and so on. This is the “big decision,” and it must be made before we are baptized. And the truly challenging part is that it is a personal decision.
We should be very clear about this with one another, with our young people and interested friends. Everyone who comes to God must make this decision and the commitment that comes from it.
MOMENTS OF CONVERSION
But intimidating as this dedication might seem, it is not a one-way street. For those who truly seek after God, He will be found.
Jesus said this to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:4-42), who, while she was genuinely interested in worshipping God, was initially confused. We are told that she had five past husbands and now a livein, to whom she was not married. Yet within her, the Lord saw the capacity of true belief. He says to her that
The Lord deliberately took a large detour from the other side of Jordan, through Samaria, on his way to Galilee (John 4:1-4). Obviously, he intended a particular purpose in Samaria. This thought must be encouraging to the likes of us. We may feel lost, alone, unworthy, of no significance or interest to God. But He knows where we are, and He cares for us and has things for us to do.
If we combine two passages from Paul and Peter (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), we read:
And James writes:
And John writes:
All of us at times join our voices with the distraught father of the son Jesus was about to heal:
Have we not all had occasions we felt our faith was not up to asking the mountain in our path to “be thou cast into the sea”? (Mark 11:23). Those are the times to pray.
And when we are working to help others to stronger faith, we must pray together. A hymn comes to mind here. It is hymn 222 from our Hymnbook: When my love to God grows weak, When for larger faith I seek, Then in thought I go to thee, Garden of Gethsemane.
All our paths to God, lead through his son, Christ Jesus. It is through the Garden of Gethsemane (the Garden of the Olive Press and the Vineyard), where the route to salvation leads.
But some may feel put off by their experiences at the ecclesia—from offense, denial, isolation or other interpersonal issues. The latter may be by individuals or groups within an ecclesia. That these occur is by no means unusual, for the ecclesia is an assembly of men and women who have made a commitment to God and to Christ to serve. They are quite often struggling themselves to deliver on their promise of allegiance.
external pressures often impede the desire to read and follow scriptural advice.
The likelihood that anyone is specifically singled out to be driven out of the ecclesia is very small, I would hope. But offense does occur, and when it happens, restoring those offended and those that offend, must become a top priority for the ecclesia.
This is often not an easy task, given that strong feelings will be present. But the situation must be resolved in the spirit of Christ. Christ is nearby to lead us in what we do, providing we seek his guidance and follow his ways. I categorize the above reasons as external pressures. They are real, serious and will need to be brought under control by both sides. No one else can steer your boat!
We have an abundance of Scriptural advice to help us here. Unfortunately, the external pressures often also impede the desire to read and to follow this advice. When one is sick and requires a certain medication, but does not take it, recovery will not happen.
If the patient is too sick to take the medications required to recover, hospitals have nurses and caregivers to administer them. But you must have access to the nurses and caregivers. The ecclesia has been described as a hospital for the spiritually sick. This makes the members the nurses and caregivers. Jesus has told us that “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41).
The setting of his advice is the Garden of Gethsemane. This makes a strong argument for staying close to where spiritual “care” is available. Angels came and ministered to him in his time of temptation. About the subject of falling away, Paul writes, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (2 Tim 4:10).
Paul’s one-line analysis, “having loved this present world,” says much. This was in the first century, the age of Nero, an insane, bestial Roman Emperor, who at the end of his reign, became an active persecutor of the Apostles and believers. How could anyone love that age?
Paul’s statement suggests the source of many problems we may have in our own age. The world’s immediate call drowns out the call of a kingdom to come. There was a TV personality who railed against, “Pie in the sky, by and by.” His message: “Get it now!” “Instant Gratification.” We’re always attracted to a quick reward. Winning a short race or competition usually feels as good as winning a lengthy race. The applause is similar, and one is often far less exhausted as with the marathon. But, for those who wait on the LORD, the gift of endurance surpasses anything that we have heard, seen or had come into our minds.
Psalm 1 is a wonderfully concise description of both a godly and an ungodly life.
I doubt there is a much better description anywhere of the way God perceives a believer’s life. It’s the description of security in God’s sight. Read the word of God daily, whether through the daily readings or your own method. Do this before your regular dose of “news” from the world.
In our consistent meditations and prayers to God, we have the opportunity to confess our fears and doubts and to ask Him to increase our faith. Of course, God already knows the problems we have. And we can and should sing hymns. The music lifts our spirits and the words rise as a prayer to God. No matter how badly we think we sing, it is music on key to the Father.
We have a relatively simple, yet comprehensive recipe for spiritual health
Paul advised Timothy (1 Tim 4:7-16) with a shortlist of practical spiritual exercises—exercises in “godliness,” comparing them to bodily exercise. He even gave Timothy some specific tasks in order to cultivate godliness (v. 12): to be an example to the believers in word, conversation (way of life),
Paul said, “Meditate on these things and give yourself wholly to them.” (v. 15). Here is a relatively simple, yet comprehensive recipe for spiritual health. Paul ended his remarks by writing, “Continue in them, for in doing this you will both save yourself and those that hear you.” (v. 16).
THE FINAL VISION
Jesus, in Revelation 21:22-22:4, took the description of the godly to an even higher level. Here the very same types of people of David’s Psalm 1, are used to describe the lives of the immortal saints. They are the trees (woods) of life planted by rivers of the waters of the life-giving spirit, coming from the throne of God and the Lamb. This is why the godly will never perish. God ultimately nourishes and sustains them.
We’ve been addressing some problems that are more or less constant in our ecclesial life. Now let’s shift our gaze and conclude with a few thoughts of things to come, of a great wedding in the future. We read in Revelation 22:17 that “the Spirit and the bride say, Come.”
It is not hard to understand why the Spirit would extend a call to us, but why a call from the “bride”? The all-important clue is in the invitation to John in Revelation 21:1- 27. He is invited to come with the angelic messenger to see the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. (This is not the way we usually do weddings, is it?)
This is a preview of the great wedding to come, and we are invited. We are to be a part of the Lord’s Bride.
And then he was carried away to a great high mountain, where he saw an enormous, brilliant city descending out of heaven from God! The heavenly voice intones, “Behold, the tabernacle of God with men.” This is the house of God. The city is immense. As it is “measured,” its dimensions are 12,000 furlongs (or Stadia, i.e., 0.1 Roman miles) or about 1363 miles on all sides: length, breadth and height.
What is the splendor of the ancient city of Babylon in comparison to this? There is no equivalent to the great temple of the Kingdom Age. However, the numerical dimension (a thousand times larger) may not be the important characteristic. It is a city measured by God. This is the place where both He and the Lord Jesus will dwell.
The description is of a gigantic cube— yet a city. The cubical shape draws our minds to the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temples. In Solomon’s Temple, built according to the plans from God to King David, the Most Holy Place was plated in gold, symbolic of tried faith, immortality and fitness for the presence of God. But this new “city” is entirely of gold, flawless, exuding holiness, righteousness and permanence. It is the representation of the Saints! We can hardly find words to describe it.
They are the Bride. She is the Lamb’s wife. She has made herself ready. (Rev 19:7-9). The Almighty and His beloved Son will dwell there. Compared to images of the universe and its components, this revelation takes us far beyond the present.
We are looking through John’s eyes, at the eternal power itself and what it will produce. This is a preview of the great wedding to come, and we are invited. We are to be a part of the Lord’s Bride.
In an earthly wedding, the Officiant presents the bridegroom and the bride to the assembled guests. In the great wedding of the Lord Jesus and his Bride, he will present her to his Father and all the hosts of Heaven! He has died on the cross for her. He has been raised by his Father’s power for her. From his Father’s side and throne, he has guided her and now declares her to be sinless, worthy of being part of his Father’s eternal household in glory.
This is the love story beyond any other. We need to be sure that everyone hears it.
David Cooper (Pomona, CA)