Bible Studies For Life
February 5, 2023
DOES IT CALL YOU TO TRUST GOD?
Hebrews 11:1-6, 13-16
We remember from last week’s lesson that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). One of the ways that we know that God is talking to us is that our faith increases as our knowledge of God’s word increases. These two themes, the word of God and faith in God are nestled nicely together in Hebrews chapter 11. Three ways that our faith is expressed are highlighted.
Faith is expressed in belief (vv. 1-3). The terms “faith” and “belief” are not identical, but they are inseparable. Faith is belief, but it has an element of trust built in. We can believe in something without necessarily trusting in it. Therefore, belief comes first; it provides the foundation for faith. That’s where the writer begins in Hebrews chapter 11. Faith has an element of both hope and expectation (v. 1), but it is not a “leap.” Rather, it is based on solid evidence! For no better foundation for faith exists than the belief that there is one true God and He made everything. Why should we believe in God? Just look around! Somebody made it all, and the Bible tells us who (v. 2). And once we believe in Him, we can start to trust Him. For reflection: When we served on the mission field, we found it best for those who had no Christian background, to start with the story of creation. But if someone already had Christian concepts, we went straight to the cross. Do you think that makes good sense? Why?
Faith is expressed in worship (vv. 4-6). The story of Cain and Abel is not about a sacrifice made unacceptable by a bad attitude. Rather it is about a sacrifice made unacceptable by a lack of obedience. Both sons of Adam knew the right thing to do (see Gen. 3:7 as it relates to Heb. 9:22). Abel’s offering rightly required the shedding of blood while Cain’s did not. In fact, Cain’s anger did not occur until after his sacrifice had been rejected! Abel took God at His word (that’s faith!) and brought Him what He required. But Cain thought he knew better, acted on his presumption, and was rejected. Although he was slain by his brother, Abel’s obedience is still an example for us today (v. 4).
The example of Enoch (Gen. 5:21-24) is fascinating. The account of his translation to heaven is brief and to the point: (1) he became a father to Methuselah at age 65; (2) he walked with God for the next 300 years; (3) and he “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” The Hebrews account offers a bit more commentary. Verse 5 tells us that Enoch had gained approval by God. While the idea of approval often connotes a connection to good works, verse 6 points out that Enoch’s approval was the result of exercising his faith. So, while Abel worshipped God through his sacrifice, Enoch worshipped God through his walk. For reflection: Compare Genesis 4:10 and Hebrews 11:4. What can you note from these texts?
Faith is expressed in perseverance (vv. 13-16). There is a bundle of “faith” truths wrapped up in these verses. First, all of those faithful saints died having never seen the results of their faith journey (v. 13). That is especially true of the prophets (see vv. 32-40). But second, that did not diminish their faith. They took God at His word, accepted their part in redemptive history, and admitted their earthly stay—like ours—is only temporary (v. 13). Third, these saints of God did not dwell on their past but on their future (v. 14). As attractive as their earthly lives may have been, they all gave up some part of it to move God’s redemptive plan forward (v. 15). Fourth, they will receive a reward for their faithfulness. What they gave up on earth is nothing compared to what God has prepared for them (see 1 Cor. 2:9). They looked forward to a heavenly place…and God has it ready for them, and for us! For reflection: Compare the walk of faith in these verses to what happened in Numbers 14:1-4. What applications can we make?
January 29, 2023
DOES IT BRING CONVICTION
Jesus said in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” But that conviction is based on God’s unchanging truth. And God’s truth is revealed to us through God’s unchanging word. This week’s lesson reminds us what happens when the word of God is proclaimed and the Spirit of God convicts. Three key words outline the text.
Proclamation (vv. 32-36). It seems that many churches today, in an attempt to reach the culture, have done everything they can to obliterate the pure preaching of the gospel. Preaching is seen as old-fashioned, irrelevant, and often even offensive. But proclamation of the gospel (as “foolish” as it seems today) is exactly the method of salvation that God prescribed (see 1 Cor. 1:21). The apostle Paul made it startlingly clear in Romans 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In Acts 2, the manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost and its accompanying miracles, gave the perfect opportunity for Peter to preach the gospel. In his message, Peter explained the miracles as a fulfillment of prophesy (2:14-21); proclaimed Christ as both the Son of God and the divine Savior of man (2:22-24); and magnified Him as the victorious Lord of all (2: 25-36). Notice that before Holy Spirit conviction took place, the facts of the gospel had to be explained. That’s where God’s word comes in. For reflection: What facts about the gospel do you think need to be known before someone can be legitimately saved? What are the possible consequences of making a “decision for Christ” without that cognitive component?
Conviction (v. 37). “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Notice the sequence of events in verse 37. Simply put, they heard the word of God, were convicted by the Spirit of God, and inquired of the people of God. Over and over in the book of Acts, this pattern continued. And it’s the same process today! If you know the Lord Jesus in a personal way, it’s because someone shared the gospel with you, the Holy Spirit used the word of God to convict you of your sin, and someone led you to repentance and faith. Again, all three components are necessary…and it all begins with the word of God. For reflection: Take a moment to reflect on your own spiritual journey. Who was it that shared the gospel with you? How many times did you hear it? How did you feel each time? How did you respond each time?
Instruction (vv. 38-41). The only thing disappearing from our churches faster than bold preaching (with the possible exception of Sunday night services!) are bold invitations at the end of the service. Appeals for repentance, conversions, rededications, and special prayer are rare in many of our churches and totally absent in others. But these verses give strong support for gospel appeals. The people had questions…and the preacher had the answers! Notice the elements present. There is the exhortation to repent (v. 38) and to follow through with baptism. Please understand that baptism isn’t required for forgiveness of sin! Rather, we are baptized because we have been forgiven of sin. In addition, an explanation is given regarding the filling and gifting of the Holy Spirit. But verse 40 is equally significant: “And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, ‘Be saved from this corrupt generation!’” Notice the urgency of Peter’s message and the strong appeal to accept the gospel message (see verse 41). The results? Three thousand people heard the gospel from the word of God, were convicted of sin by the Spirit of God, and were led to repentance and faithin Christ by the man of God. For reflection: What is it about a gospel invitation that makes many so uncomfortable? Is it really too old-fashioned? Does it seem too confrontational? Does it play too much on guilt and emotion? What is the problem here? And how do we fix it?
January 22, 2023
DOES IT AGREE WITH THE BIBLE?
Genesis 3 records one of the most pivotal points in history: the fall of man. The narrative focuses on a seemingly innocent conversation between the cunning serpent and the truly innocent woman, Eve. There is plenty of room for speculation as to the timing of this event (how long after creation?), the physical form of the serpent (what did he originally look like?), and the location of Adam during the meeting (where was he at the time?), but the sequence of events and subsequent consequences are startlingly clear. This week’s lesson reminds us that the fall of man was signaled by a subtle devaluation of God’s authority followed by an outright denial of God’s word. Each part of the conversation highlights a different way God’s word was treated, and the results.
About and doubt (v. 1). Here, what God said was talked about, and the result was doubt. First, the tempter is identified. He is the serpent. Whether the creature was Satan in disguise, or God’s created serpent possessed by the devil, his identity is clear (see Rev. 20:2-3). Second, the tempter is described; but only in a single word: cunning. The word means shrewd, crafty, or manipulative. Jesus bluntly referred to Satan as a liar in John 8:44, calling him a “murderer from the beginning [who] has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of liars.” Here Satan is setting up his lie by creating doubt. He doesn’t quote God. Rather, he talks about what God said…or didn’t say. “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” How absurd that assertion must have sounded! For reflection: What the Bible says is only as trustworthy as the One who wrote it. How does our view of inspiration affect God’s credibility?
Alongside and altered (vv. 2-3). It always bugs me when preachers misquote the Bible. With a dozen translation at their fingertips, why don’t they just read the text so they get it right? No one knows for sure whether Eve misquoted God, added to His actual words, or simply paraphrased His intent. But the prohibition against even touching the tree in the middle of the garden (v. 3) was not in the original statement found in Genesis 2:17. In any case, it’s always risky to paraphrase what we think God said, or what we think He must have meant. By placing our own interpretations alongside of God’s word, we are in danger of missing God’s meaning at best or altering God’s meaning at worst. For reflection:Remember: what God actually says in His word always outweighs what we think he said, and what God means always outweighs what we think He means!
Against and accusation (vv. 4-5). Satan’s response to Eve is wrong on at least three levels. First, Satan calls God a liar by directly contradicting what God had indeed said in Genesis 2:17. Second, Satan assumes the position of God, accusing Him of intentionally manipulating Adam and Eve to keep them in their place. Third, Satan accuses God of being maliciously jealous, not wanting anyone else to be like Him. We must note, God is indeed a jealous God, in that He will not allow His children to worship any other God (see Ex. 20:5; 34:14). But God certainly wants His children conformed to His image (see Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2, et al.). Simply put, He wants us to be like Him! By blatantly attacking God’s word, Satan mischaracterized God and falsely accused Him. For reflection: I have always been taught that the Bible and God are not identical but are inseparable. What do you think is meant by that? How does John 1:1 relate to this statement?
Abandoned and rebellion (v. 6). We all know the disastrous ending to the story. Once God’s word was sufficiently doubted, and His character sufficiently smeared, Eve abandoned the truth altogether and ran headlong into rebellion. If only she had taken God at His word! For reflection: Notice the progression of Eve’s fall. Sin occurred when she abandoned God’s propositional truth in favor of her own personal desire. How do we discern the voice of God? We begin by asking, “Does this voice compromise the unchanging truth of God’s word?”
Special Focus Session
January 15, 2023
VALUED BY GOD
Psalm 139:1-10, 13-16
Psalm 139 points out at least two theological truths about the person and work of God (what we in the classroom would refer to as Theology Proper). The first truth involves His attributes. The three “omni’s” of God we see in the text, refer to essential attributes of His deity. His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence not only help us to understand the nature of God, but also assure us that He is able to accomplish what He says He will do. The second truth involves how God relates to His creation. He is both transcendent (somewhat “out there” and far away), yet immanent (right here “with” us). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David joined these lofty theological truths together to highlight both the greatness of God and the significance of God’s greatest creation: mankind. We can structure this week’s lesson around the three “omni’s.”
Mankind and God’s omniscience (vv. 1-6). Simply put, omniscience means all knowing. One of the attributes that makes God “God” is that He knows everything. Verse 1 summarizes David’s conclusion (while alluding to His transcendence and immanence): if God knows everything about everything, then He knows everything about me! The verses that follow point out poetically some of those things God knows. God knows about our actions (v. 2). He understands our thoughts (v. 2). He knows when we move, and when we rest (v. 3). In short, He knows all of our ways. He even knows what we will say before we actually say it (v. 4). Verse 5 goes even further: because He knows us so well, He protects us by setting Himself around us and He steadies us with His hand. All of these characteristics demonstrate God’s immanence. In the final verse in this section, David exalts in the truth that God’s knowledge is extraordinary, beyond his comprehension, and out of his reach. That shows His transcendence. For reflection: What are some ways that you personally see God as transcendent (“out there” and far away)? What are some examples of His immanence (His “closeness” to us)?
Mankind and God’s omnipresence (vv. 7-12). While the first stanza of the psalm highlighted God’s relationship to man, the second stanza highlights man’s reaction. But the overall emphasis is on God’s omnipresence. The term means that God is everywhere at the same time. Verse 7 is rhetorical. It should not be taken as David’s literal attempt to escape from God’s presence, but rather as an affirmation that God is always present, everywhere. The imagery in the verses that follow is metaphorical, the idea being “wherever I go (up, down, east or west; in the darkness or in the light), You are there.” The Hebrew construction is more emphatic, stating, “Wherever I go, YOU.” Notice as well that these verses are personal. “I,” “me,” and “my,” are scattered throughout the text. And not only is God there with us…He is there for us (v. 10). For reflection: What are some ways that God’s omnipresence encourages you? Are there times that it might frighten you? Why?
Mankind and God’s omnipotence (vv. 13-16). The Bible makes much of God’s power, and much of God’s power is seen in His creation (see Jer. 32:17, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11, et al). Yet in all of creation, nothing stands out more emphatically than the creation of man, who alone is made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Here, David recounts to His Creator the intricacies (and mysteries) of human life itself. Notice that God does the creating (v. 13); it is personal, remarkable, and wonderful (v. 14). But human life is also valuable. It is planned by God in advance (v. 16) and superintended by God in its progress (vv. 13-15). For reflection: What do these verses teach about the sanctity of human life? How much ownership do you think we can legitimately claim over our own lives?