Tag Archives: faith

Learning Obedience through Suffering

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭5:8-9, 14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is one of those passages in the Bible that is deceptively complex. I’ve read this passage before, but I think I have often missed some of the crucial truths buried within this passage. First of all, let’s take a closer look at some crucial parts of this passage.First of all, notice that the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus–the perfect, sinless God-man who always obeyed his Father. Second, allow me to highlight some important words in this passage:

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect…”

Some important and puzzling questions arise from these words. Wasn’t Jesus already obedient to the Father? How can someone who is perfect and omniscient learn obedience? Doesn’t that imply that he was not sufficiently obedient at one point in time? How can someone who never sinned be made perfect? How could Jesus be more perfect than he already was? Does this mean that he lacked some aspect of perfection?

I think the key lies in the type of perfection and obedience that is being described here. Of course, Jesus was in one sense already perfect and obedient. He never sinned, even in his youth, and he never disobeyed the Father. But I don’t think the author is primarily talking about sin here–he is talking about the perfection of faith. To be sure, sinlessness and perfect faith are related very closely, but they’re not the same.

Sin is, to put it simply, doing something God forbids. But faith is taking an action or attitude that is rooted in a trust or belief that God will do what he says.  We see this in the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews himself:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We see in this definition that belief is a crucial part of faith, but we also know from James that “Faith without works is dead.”  Furthermore, when we read on in the examples of faith provided by the author of the letter to the Hebrews we can see that all of his examples are people who demonstrated their belief with an action or attitude:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents…

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin…

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land…
[These people] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1, 17, 21, 23-25, 27-29, 33-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Notice that all of these examples of faith use action verbs (I.e., “offered, blessed, crossed, etc.”).  Faith is not merely belief, it is belief that results in action.  Jesus, while he was sinless, had to learn obedience and be made perfect just as we do because the perfection the author is talking about is perfection of faith.  Jesus’ faith was perfected through suffering.  He suffered as a homeless man trying to find food and shelter.  He suffered the rejection and persecution of the religious and political leaders of his time.  He suffered constant temptation by Satan, and no doubt, the temptations that accompany the lifestyle of a single man.  He suffered rejection and disbelief by his family and close friends.  He suffered the stresses of ministry and constant relocation.  He suffered the frustration of having to wait to begin his ministry until he was 3o.  He suffered knowing that many of his followers were only there for the miracles and free bread.  He suffered the weight of the knowledge of what was to come on the cross.  If ever a man on earth knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Isaiah describes the Messiah as “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)

When Jesus began his ministry, he was perfectly sinless.  But he had not yet reached perfection of his faith.  That may sound strange, but perfect faith only comes through trials (See James 1:2-4 below).  Furthermore, Hebrews 5:14 seems to indicate that these trials (or “opportunities to practice discernment”) will be constant.  Why?  Because faith, unlike belief, requires action to be made complete.  For example, you can’t really say that you have faith that God will provide for your finances if you’ve never had to choose between being obedient to God in your finances (I.e., tithing) and paying your bills.  If there is no action accompanying the belief, then it’s just a hypothetical belief at best, or dead faith at worst.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

‭‭James‬ ‭2:14, 17, 26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a significant lesson for us to learn in Hebrews 5.

If Jesus, the God-incarnate Messiah, was required to undergo trials of such severity and frequency in order to achieve the perfection of faith necessary to be obedient in the mission that the Father gave him, how much more trials are required for sinners such as you and I!

So many times when we undergo trials, we’re surprised by it.  Oftentimes it seems like pointless pain and suffering.  But for the believer, there is no such thing as pointless suffering!  All suffering, in the life of a believer, is designed by God to bring us in conformity to the image of his Son.  So, whatever suffering you may be enduring right now, know that God is with you in the midst of it and there’s a purpose behind it all.

Let these words of scripture sink into your heart as you meditate on what God is doing in your life:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. 

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans‬ ‭8:16-39‬ ‭ESV

What verses or passages from scripture give you comfort when you’re suffering?  Share them with us in the comments below!

A Must-Read: “How to Give Away Your Faith,” by Paul Little

“So you want to witness!  I did too, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it without stubbing my toe in the process.”  (17)

 Introduction

             In How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little shares his wisdom gained from many years of experience in personal evangelism.  Little often spoke to students about spiritual matters on college campuses around the country in seminars and more informal settings, gaining a wealth of knowledge concerning the cares, concerns, and obstacles unbelievers–especially students–have in relation to the gospel.  His experience in this area makes this book an invaluable resource for Christians in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Summary

            While many books have been written proposing methodology of witnessing and many books have been written about the proper theological content of the gospel, in How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little marries the two subjects in a work that is both practical and theological in nature.  Little begins his book with some practical advice to the would-be-witness: witnessing is comprised of two components, one verbal and one non-verbal.  Little notes that a Christian’s gospel presentation will only be taken as seriously by the unbeliever as it is by the believer—if a genuine Christian lifestyle is not in place, the verbal witness will likely be ineffective.  True, saving faith, Little observes, will always produce a godly lifestyle (32).

In the next chapter, Little describes various actions or attitudes which can either repulse or attract non-Christians, laying a practical foundation for becoming an “effective ambassador” for Christ.  He points out that oftentimes what Christians perceive to be a rejection of the gospel is nothing more than a rejection of the obnoxious methods used to convey the gospel, not the message itself, noting that the Christian witness must achieve a balanced enthusiasm for the gospel in order to be an effective ambassador (40).  In chapter three, Little lays out an eight step process for witnessing, drawn from his observations of Jesus’ witnessing method to the Samaritan woman at the well.  In chapter four, he continues his practical wisdom by acknowledging some of the many social obstacles Christians frequently encounter when witnessing and lays out some basic principles and guidelines for overcoming these obstacles.

In chapter five, Little shifts from his practical and methodological focus to a more theological one.  In this chapter, Little deals with the theological content of the gospel message and also offers several practical arrangements for presenting it.  His focus, however, is primarily on clearly defining what the gospel message is (and isn’t) and how to truthfully and accurately convey this message (93-95).  Chapter six is primarily apologetic in nature, offering concise responses to seven basic questions that Christians should be prepared to answer about their faith, including the infamous questions of “the problem of evil” and “what about those who’ve never heard?” (116-134)  Chapter seven addresses the relevancy of Christianity in modern culture.  Little notes that Christ fills the spiritual void in our lives, provides purpose, gives us hope over death, provides inner peace, is an ever-present friend, helps us control our fleshly appetites, and helps us integrate our knowledge in a way that puts all truth in its proper context and relation to God’s universe and plan (141-151).

In the final three chapters, Little deals with facets of the Christian walk which can affect one’s witness to unbelievers.  Chapter eight deals with worldliness and the topic of Christian liberties.  Chapter nine deals with the daily battles for faith and holiness.  Finally, in chapter ten Little exhorts the believer to focus on the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer which, he concludes, are necessary in order for the Christian to be spiritually charged enough to be an effective witness (198).

Critical Evaluation

             Paul Little’s book, How to Give Away Your Faith, contains both instruction on the content of the gospel message in addition to practical methodological advice garnered from years of evangelistic encounters.  Thus, it will be helpful in this review to critique both separately.

One beneficial aspect of Little’s overview of the content of the gospel message is that he concisely summarizes the gospel in a way that avoids the two extremes often observable in other similar works.  First, he is conscious of the fact that no book on evangelism would be complete without careful consideration of this topic; Little avoids a purely methodological work which gives no attention to the message conveyed in the gospel presentation.  Secondly, he avoids over-complicating the message in a way that would leave the reader confused or less certain of the basic message.  Little avoids the error of other authors by keeping the message simple and plain, even breaking it down into five basic facts: the person of Jesus Christ, his diagnosis of the sinful human nature, the facts and meaning of his death, the facts and meaning of his resurrection, and steps to becoming a Christian (95-101).  Although I would have liked to have seen a more explicit discussion of the aspects of “Lordship” and “counting the cost” in his discussion of becoming a Christian, his gospel presentation is essentially theologically sound.  One thing I enjoyed in his discussion of the content of the gospel is that Little also provides instruction for encouraging a new Christian.  This is a step often neglected in other works, but is critical for the sanctification of the new believer.  However, as previously mentioned, I would prefer to see more of an emphasis on lordship in this section than on “assur[ing] the believer of salvation…” (106)  Assurance is given by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as the believer lives in accordance with the Bible’s instruction.  Providing assurance is not the job of the witness but of the Holy Spirit.  Stressing obedience and the process of sanctification, however, is something that the witness can—and should—do.

Much of Little’s book deals with the practical and methodological considerations of witnessing to non-Christians.  I found the chapter on overcoming social barriers to be especially insightful.  For instance, Little states that when offered an alcoholic drink Christians often reply, “No thanks, I’m a Christian.”  While we may feel that such a reply is a good witness, Little remarks that it actually has the same effect on the non-believer as saying, “Drinking is inherently non-Christian.  You clearly aren’t a Christian since you’re drinking.”  While unintended, this statement may come across as a “holier-than-thou” attitude and actually damage our witness to these people.  Instead, Little suggests opting out of such activities on the basis of personal preference or simply asking for a soda as a substitute (80-81).  Little’s observations in chapter three of Jesus’ method of witnessing were also very helpful, especially his observation that Jesus was able to dodge questions that had the ability to side-track the conversation (72).  While I also found helpful his advice not to use the question “Are you a Christian?” to lead into a conversation, I did not find the question he uses (“Have you ever personally trusted Jesus Christ or are you still on the way?”) particularly helpful.  While I do like that Little offers the “easy out” in the second half of this question (“are you still on the way”), the first half seems loaded with Christian jargon that might be difficult for a non-Christian to understand and is entirely subjective and difficult to evaluate.  After all, what does it mean to “trust Jesus” and how would a non-Christian know how far along “the way” they are to becoming a Christian if they don’t even know what “the way” is?  For a question that is meant to diagnose one’s spiritual condition, this question seems inadequate.  I would prefer a series of questions that is more objective: for instance, “Do you believe in heaven/hell?  Which do you think you’ll go to and why?”  These would offer an instant look into both the person’s spiritual progress and their religious presuppositions.

Conclusion

             While there are a couple relatively minor changes I would make in Little’s methods and the content of his gospel presentation, I can say that I would highly recommend this book without reservation.  This book is a monumental accomplishment as it effectively partners biblically based methodology with sound theological content to adequately prepare the Christian to be a good gospel witness.  This book is extremely accessible to laity, also, making it ideal for small group studies in a church environment.  I currently know of no other book which accomplishes what Little has done in How to Give Away Your Faith, and I fully intend on using this book as a resource in the church to which I minister.

Little, Paul E., Little, Marie, ed. How to Give Away Your Faith. rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,2008. 202 pp. $15.00.

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