What does “the just shall live by faith” mean?

Four times the Bible uses the phrase, “the just shall live by faith.” The Bible uses that exact phrase four times. It is found first in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. The New Testament quotes Habakkuk 2:4 three times. The apostle Paul says it twice, once in the books of Romans (1:17) and once in Galatians (3:11) The author of Hebrews also uses the phrase in Hebrews 10:37.

To answer the question faith must be properly defined. Most people today think of faith as the personal acceptance of the truth of something or as an opinion held by the individual. An example of this kind of faith would be the statement, “I believe global warming is real.” Or, “I believe the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl.” This understanding of faith falls very short of what the Bible describes as faith. The Bible describes faith as the conviction of the truth of God’s Word that leads the person to obedience. One of the classic chapters on faith is Hebrews 11 which begins just a few verses after the statement, “the just shall live by faith.”

How do the just live by faith? They believe and obey God’s Word. Abel believed God’s commands about sacrifices and obeyed His instructions on how to properly sacrifice. Noah believed God’s warning about a coming flood that would destroy the world and he obeyed His instructions to build an ark. Abraham believed God’s promises to richly bless him and to make his family great. Abraham obeyed God’s command to leave his family behind and went on a journey to a destination he had not yet been told. Moses believed God would deliver the Israelites and he obeyed God’s instructions to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt.

Obedience alone is not faith. Faith must never never be confused with obedience. Obeying God’s instructions to love one another, to study the Bible and go to church is not the same as faith. Real faith will always produce genuine obedience, but obedience cannot always be traced back to saving faith. Many people go to church every Sunday, but not because they are Christian’s. Many people are kind to others, but not because they are saved or even believe in God.

Some people obey God thinking their obedience will be enough to outweigh their sin and get them into heaven. This is the exact opposite of faith. Obedience with the goal of achieving salvation is disobedience because it rejects God’s Word, refuses God’s grace and denies the need of Jesus’ death on the cross. Faith accepts God’s Word and follows its instructions. One is never made righteous by obedience, but those who have truly been made right with God will live in obedience. The just will live by faith.

The Bible makes clear that faith is more than acceptance of a fact. Biblical faith if far more than a personal opinion about something. Faith is more than personally accepting something as true for yourself. Faith is believing the truth of God’s Word so fully that you completely obey God’s Word. Biblical faith always produces obedience. Thus, those who are saved by faith (the just) are also those who will live in obedience to God’s commands (live by faith). Faith is not about stepping out to do something difficult. Faith is not imagining there is a presence with you when you are scared and alone. Faith is obedience to the Bible. The Christian lives by faith after salvation by being obedient to God’s commands.

The Bible means two things when it says, “the just shall live by faith”. First, those who are just were made just and given eternal life by faith. Salvation- eternal life- is only received by faith. Second, once a person becomes just the just person will live in obedience to the Bible. This obedience is not to try to get or keep righteousness, but is the natural result of true faith. The just will live by his faith. Through faith he will receive life life and faith will direct his life.

Why do churches have “members”?

Church membership can be a contentious subject. Every church handles the matter of members differently, though churches within the same denomination are likely to treat membership similarly. This author comes from an independent Baptist background and within that small subset of Christian churches the views on membership range from no membership at all, to every one who attends regularly is a member, to very strict membership rules regarding members. This answer cannot address why a particular church holds a certain view about membership. This article will attempt a brief explanation of the Biblical principles regarding church membership.

Membership is based on the practice of the New Testament church. The Bible does not give any specifc command instructing churches to have a list of members yet the earliest churches clearly had a way to recognize who was a part and who not. In Acts 5:12-13, while the church was still in its infancy, there was a distinction drawn between those who received the benefit of the apostles ministry and those who joined themselves to the church. 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 and 2 Corinthians 2:6 make it apparent that the church had a way to expel members by a majority vote and had a way to reinstate expelled members who later repented. From the very beginning the church had a way of defining who was part and who was not. That process, however it may operate, is called membership.

Understanding church membership is made more difficult today by many other groups who have members. You become a member of a country club by paying the dues. You become a member of a political party by registering your affiliation. Some groups, like the Kiwanies or Rotary club, limit their membership to certain kinds of people, such as small business owners. Many organizations have memberships which have more to do with paying the entry fee than being an active participant. This is not the case in the church.

The local church is described as a body (1 Corinthians 12) and the Bible presents a clear expectation of those in the body to be actively involved. The Bible consistently depicts membership in the church as much more significant than paying ones dues, attending services or voting in a business meeting. Membership is a commitment, a serious promise between the individual and the church body. A member is not just one who attends a church, nor even one who has attended a church for a long time. A member is one who has formally stated his agreement with the doctrines of the church, has officially submitted himself to the leadership of the church and has committed himself to caring for the church as a whole and to caring for its members as individuals. Membership is a declaration on the part of the church that they will care for the spiritual well being of the individual member and will work as members together to further the kingdom of God. Membership is a covenant between the individual and the church to seek each others mutual edification.

A clear church membership defines who the church is responsible to care for. The Christian’s obligations to his fellow church members are significant and time consuming. The New Testament contains dozens of specific commands regarding how Christians are to treat one another. These commands are taught and obeyed within the context of the local church. This kind of care cannot be given to every Christian in a small town much less in the many large communities around America. Many claim to be Christians but have no affiliation with any church. How is a Christian to care for these? How is a pastor to care for their souls? It is difficult to properly care for those who have joined themselves to the local church, much less to show this level of ministry towards those who only attend a few times a year. Church membership defines for the entire church who the church member has a specific responsibility to care for.

Those churches which practice a congregational form of government have members because it defines who has a voice in the direction and decision making of the chruch. This may sound restrictive to some, but it has a Biblical basis (the church in Corinth had a defined body of members who were able to remove from their membership a sinning brother). This is also reasonable. Membership serves the good and necessary purposes of protecting the doctrinal and ministry integrity of a church by restricting the decision making to those who are in agreement regarding core tenets of doctrine and ministry. Membership is not a means of promoting ecclesiastical elitism. Rather, membership is a Biblical means of promoting the health, harmony and growth of the church.

How is the Old Testament relevant to Christians today?

Those with a basic familiarity with the Bible know it is divided into two portions- the Old Testament and the New Testament. For many Christians the Old Testament poses problems and challenges. The Old Testament is obviously written about and to the Israelites. How are these ancient Jewish books relevant to American Christians today?

The New Testament mentions several particular benefits of the Old. The stories of the Old Testament are examples and admonitions to modern day Christians (1 Corinthians 10:11). The stories of the Old Testament teach the blessings of obedience to God and the dangers of disobedience. The Old Testament is a treasure trove of truth lived out. Except for the gospels the New Testament is mostly concerned with doctrine and application. The Old Testament gives stories of the people of God that teach Christians today how to live.

The Old Testament was written for our learning to give Christian’s hope. (Romans 15:4) The rich doctrines of the Old Testament encourage believers to endure and they give comfort in difficulties.The Old Testament gives many examples of faithful men and women that encourage believers to be faithful today. The Old Testament shows how the saints of old dealt with problems and trusted in their God.

The Old Testament points to Jesus. (Luke 24:27) On the road to Emmaus Jesus taught two of His disciples what the Old Testament said about Himself. Jesus’ teaching points to the vast body of material in the Old Testament that describes the work of the Savior. The work of Jesus did not end with His death and resurrection. His work will continue until all the promises of the Messiah’s kingdom are fully accomplished. Revelation reveals some details of this kingdom, but it is the Old Tesetament that gives a fuller picture of the reign of the Messiah.

The Old Testament is profitable for doctrine, correction, reproof and instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) For example, the Old Testament is the primary source for our doctrine of God. The Old Testament vividly displays the person, work and character of God. Through the histories, the commands, the psalms and the proverbs the reader is given a picture of the nature of God, particularly of God the Father, as He works in the world and with His people. The theology of the Old Testament is taught through proposition and experience. The proposition that the Lord is holy becomes plain when God destroys Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire. The proposition that God is merciful becomes real when He repeatedly delivers rebellious Israel from her captors. The Old Testament is a practical theology that teaches through living illustration.

Paul says in Romans 4:24 and in 1 Corinthians 9:10 that the Old Testament was written for our sakes. The early church only had the Old Testament for at least the first fifteen years. Though they had the teaching and preaching of the apostles the only written Word of God available to the earliest church was the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written to Israel and it was written for us.

Why don’t Christians follow all the Old Testament laws?

No Christian in the world follows all the laws given in the Old Testament. No Christian even attempts to follow all the Old Testament commands. Regardless of how a person views his obligation towards the Old Testament, the keeping of the laws regarding temple worship and sacrifice is impossible in this present day. Very few Christians are concerned about their inability to offer a burnt offering in the temple. Very few Christians attempt to keep other commands. Most Christians are not concerned if their garments contain fibers from different kinds of materials or if the meat they are eating falls into the category of “clean”.

Why Christians do not keep all the Mosaic law? The typical answer given to this question breaks into three categories the laws given to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Ceremonial laws were those which governed the worship of the Israelites. Civil laws were those given to govern the operations of Israel as a nation and her people as citizens. Moral laws were those laws which summarize God’s universal standards of right and wrong (the ten commandments are usually cited as an example of the moral law). The common explanation asserts the ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Jesus, and thus are no longer needed. The civil law is no longer needed because God does not at this time have a self-governing nation as His people on earth. The moral law is the only portion of the Mosaic law which is still binding on people today.

This author prefers a simpler view to the classic one given above. The Christian is under no obligation to obey the law of Moses because Jesus has fulfilled the law of Moses and because the church is not Israel. The law given to Israel was intended for that nation from the time of Moses until the time they finally and fully rejected their Messiah. The law given to Israel was always limited in its scope, purpose and duration. Christians today are under obligation to keep the commands given to believers in the New Testament. Christians have no responsibility to observe a Sabbath because that law was in no way repeated to the church. Instead, Christians are under obligation to do something that is not found at all in the Old Testament- gather together every Sunday with other Christians. When the New Testament repeats an Old Testament command Christians are bound to obey it, but asking Christians why they do not follow all the Old Testament laws is a bit like asking an East Berliner why he doesn’t follow all the laws of Communist Germany.

This does not mean the New Testament Christian disregards the Old Testament. Some of the laws given in the New Testament are summations of Old Testament laws. For example, the New Testament forbids immorality but does not describe what that is. To understand what God defines as immoral sexual behavior one has to read the Old Testament. The Old Testament also gives the historic and moral foundation on which New Testament commands are based. When Jesus was asked about divorce, he pointed to the events of creation recorded in Genesis 1-3. The Christian does not scorn the Old Testament but reads and studies it to learn the character of His God and the nature of the requirements God places on His people.

Because God’s character does not change one would expect significant overlap between the commands given to Israel and the commands given to the church. One would expect similarity between the Law and New Testament commands. One would expect the same basic principles to be at the foundation of God’s commands to His people. One would expect certain unalterable, moral laws to be universally applied to all men. This is exactly what we find when comparing the laws of the Old and New Testament. Christians don’t follow the commands of the Old Testament because God has given in the New Testament the commands which He expects believers of this age to obey.

Why do Christian’s feel the need to speak out against things they don’t like?

When Christian’s publicly oppose a particular activity some reply, “then just don’t participate in it.” The reasoning is that just because Christian’s are against something doesn’t mean every one has to stop doing it. Is it not enough for Christian’s to be privately against something? Why do they feel the need to speak out against things like gambling, drunkenness, drug abuse, pornography, homosexuality and abortion?

Christians are to be a loving people. Love for others actively seeks their good. As a result Christians have a deep concern for what is good for the community. Christians also recognize that sin is inherently destructive. Sin is not just a difference of opinion about how to live. Those things which God declares to be sin are destructive to the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well being of those who engage in them. Sin is not only destructive to the one who commits sin. Every sin affects others to their hurt. The drunkard’s sin affects his work, his family and his neighbors. The drug user’s sin has profound impact on the community. The sweeping changes brought about by the proponents of homosexuality give a powerful illustration of this reality. These changes do not just affect homosexuals. They have affected the legal definition of marriage, they are affecting our families at public bathrooms, our children in their school locker rooms and the Christian’s ability to live out his Christian convictions. Sin significantly affects the community. Loving Christians cannot abide by the patronizing advice of “just don’t spend your money on it”. Since we love others, we must oppose those things which will destroy our neighbors.

If Christians really believe this then why don’t they speak out against all sin. Why just pick on certain ones? It is true that Christians have rigorously opposed certain sins while ignoring others. It is also true that those who are serious about obedience to the Lord should be opposed to sin in all its forms. In the public arena this is not always easy to do. When the culture begins to actively promote a particular sin the Christian finds himself needing to oppose that sin with equal activity. As a result it seems to some that Christians are just choosing to oppose particular sins. This is not always the case. Christians are opposed to slavery, but very few are publicly fighting against slavery because the larger American culture does not promote slavery. When America attempts to reinstitute slavery expect Christians to be in the forefront of those who decry it as an evil institution. Christians appear at times to cherry pick what sins to oppose because the needs of the community require the Christian to address the sins most problematic or most promoted at that time.

Christians also measure their response to sins based upon the cost to others of that sin. Some sins cause greater damage to the community than others. Cussing is sinful (Ephesians 4:29), but the cost to others of uttering a swear word is not as significant as the cost of rape. The Christian performs a kind of spiritual triage in choosing which sins require a public reproof. We deal with the most destructive ones first. For example, Christians actively and vocally oppose abortion because of the death it brings to the unborn baby, the havoc it causes in the life of the mother and the destruction is wreaks in families and communities.

Christians are commanded by God to actively oppose sin. This opposition starts in the believers own heart as he strives for holiness in all things. This opposition is to take place in the church through believers exhorting and encouraging one another to forsake sin and walk in obedience. In the church believers are commanded to rebuke fellow believers living in sin. This opposition to sin continues outside the church walls. Because we love our neighbors Christians must speak out against sin, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

What are the most important things for a Christian to consider as he votes?

Our nation is racing towards the climax of the election cycle. Right now we are in the middle of the presidential primaries. On Tuesday the states of Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho will be having presidential primary elections. Every election leaves the Christian with a some very difficult decisions. The Bible informs every area of the believer’s life. This includes electoral decisions. How does a careful Christian honor God in his voting choices? Because no election is a clear cut choice between good and evil the Christian has to give more weight to certain issues when casting his ballot. What does the Bible says are the most important things to consider when voting?

Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Christians must consider which candidates will promote Biblical righteousness. The likelihood of finding a candidate with whom you agree completely is almost nonexistent. The possibility of finding a candidate who has a largely Biblical morality seems to be getting slimmer and slimmer. The reality is the Christian will probably have to chose the “lesser of two evils”. In doing so, much discernment must be exercised. The Christian must not vote for candidates who have built their political platform on the promotion of immorality and godlessness. Whenever possible, Christians should seek to vote for those candidates who have shown themselves to be promoters of Biblical righteousness (not necessarily of the ten commandments, but of those things which are in line with Biblical morality).

Romans 13 declares that God ordained the government to be a terror to evil doers. One must select officials who will punish evil. Government officials, from the lowest to the highest, are the servants of God. He appointed them, even the worst of them, to restrain evil. This means elected officials must be restraining evil in their own lives. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.” A wicked man in power is not going to promote justice. He is not going to restrain evil. The Christian should seek those leaders who are honorable men of integrity that will uphold justice.

A Christian should not vote for a person just because the candidate professes of Christianity. While some politicians do have a credible testimony of salvation, far too many take the name of a Christian to attract Christian voters. A competent person of integrity may lead with greater ability and righteousness than a nominal Christian who crafted an identity to attract Christian votes. Nor should a Christian vote with the assumption that the right leaders will fix America. While our elected officials wield great influence over the direction of America, the needs of this nation are heart needs. The transformation of the heart is only accomplished by Christ. No elected leader, no legislative body, no judge and no system of laws will ever make a person truly righteous. Vote with hope but do not place that hope in men. Trust in Jesus, hope in the eternal kingdom He has secured and remember only the gospel will change this country.

How do I know if God is speaking?

Many people experience the sensation of a spiritual force speaking to them outside the normal senses of man. Many religious people have had the experience of being in communication with God. The challenge facing those who think they may have heard God speaking is the uncertainty of rightly interpreting the source of those influences. The ability to distinguish between the voice of God and one’s own sinful longings. How does one separate the voice of God from the urgings of one’s own flesh and from evil temptations?

I am a strict cessationist, stricter even than many of my fellow cessationists. A cessationist is one that believes, among other things, God is no longer giving new revelation to man. God stopped talking directly to men when the Bible was completed and now speaks exclusively through His Word. He does not guide men through dreams, visions or voices. He guides men through the Bible. This does not deny the work of the Holy Spirit to give a person understanding of the meaning of the Bible nor the work of the Spirit to convict of sin and apply the Bible to the individual’s life. The Holy Spirit’s work takes place through a renovation of the heart and mind not through promptings or inner impressions.

God is speaking when you read and rightly understand His Word. His voice is clear and unmistakable. All other voices are ambiguous and leave the individual attempting to navigate a maze of pitfalls in the attempt to determine whether or not a voice is of God. Our own senses are very easily deceived. Mr. Scrooge was right on target when he argued with Marley’s ghost about the gullibility of the senses. “A little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” The unreliability of our senses, especially the internal impressions, makes it paramount that Christian’s have an accurate scale by which to measure out the true value of our sensations.

When reading the Bible there is no doubt about its source. The will of God is clear in the Bible. You know God is speaking when you read His Word. When you obey what He says in His Word you will know His power, His care and His guidance over your life. This will never fail. Though there may be times when you do not perceive the Lord to be as close as at other times, He will remain true to His promises. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Let me offer some closing thoughts for those who are now mad because I have seemingly denied the working of the Holy Spirit and the miraculous guidance of the Father in your life. Though you may believe God speaks in ways outside His Word, never imagine that He speaks without His Word. One cannot neglect the Word for a sensation of a conversation. One cannot let inner promptings guide him down a path that contradicts the plain commands of the Bible. God never speaks without His Word. Do not allow an experience or the desire for an experience to be more important than God’s Word. Remember the words of Peter, “We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed; as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:19)

Does Christianity promote violence and hatred?

The recent upswing of Islamic terrorism has brought violence in the name of Allah to the front of many people’s minds. For some this is also a time to resurrect claims that Christianity is a religion of violence and hatred. Some do this out of a general hatred of all religions asserting that religion is the greatest cause of war and violence. Some do this in an attempt to defend Islam by pointing out that Christianity has some infamous events in its own history. Does Christianity promote hatred and violence? Is the Bible full of hate and genocide?

The Bible does not lack wars, violence, murder and many other despicable evils. However, a description of violence is not the same as a prescription for violence. If this were the case one could argue that history books promote violence and hatred. To argue Christianity causes violence one has to show that Christianity either commands hatred between men, that the commands are based in hatred for people, or that the teachings will inevitably result in hatred. One can not simply point to violent passages in the Bible and say that Christianity is hateful. One must show that the Bible promotes violence. This is no easy claim to make.

The Bible includes many examples of wretched behavior. Even more, throughout Christian history men have done evil things in the name of Christianity. Yet these historic examples do not prove Christianity is hateful. Such examples prove a very different claim. The examples of violence in the Bible and history support a central tenet of Biblical teaching: humanity is hatefilled because man has rebelled against His Creator.

The teaching of the Bible is that the heart of man is the source of all hatred and violence. Titus 3 says, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient . . . living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” The Bible also teaches the worst wickedness of man is not only the result of his own natural bent toward sin, but it is also the result of rebellion against God. When man rejects the God of the Bible for a god of his own creation, the result is that God lets man go into all manner of great wickedness (Rom 1). The claim of the Bible is that man apart from God turns to great violence and all manner of acts of hatred. Religion is not the root of anger and violence among men. The rejection of the God of the Bible aggravates the violent heart of men.

The Bible teaches an ethic that is contrary to violence. Those who have committed violent acts in the name of God have done son despite clear Bible teaching to the contrary. The Bible commands over and over again to love one another. In the book of Genesis God repeatedly condemns the violence of men. In the law to Israel God commands they are to love one another. The importance of love for one another is a major theme throughout the Old and New Testaments. The moral principles of the Bible are built on the basic principle of love, love for God and love for others. The Bible does not promote war, violence, hatred or racism. All such evils are the result of man’s sinful nature, not the teaching of Scripture.

Does Jesus base a person’s salvation on his helping the needy?

I really wish those who take it upon themselves to lecture Christians on how they should behave would take the time to correctly understand what the Bible really says about how Christians are to live. The latest example of Biblical misapplication has come in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. As thousands have flooded into Europe fleeing intense persecution in Syria the pressure on America to take in these refugees has increased exponentially. Many have taken it upon themselves to declare that Christians have an obligation to welcome in the refugees. The passage I have heard used most to press home this duty is Matthew 25:35-46.

The pertinent passage in Matthew 25 teaches that when Jesus returns He will judge mankind. Those who are given eternal life are the ones who took in the stranger, fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty. Those who are sent to eternal judgment are the ones who refused to take in the stranger, feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. The application is obvious. Since Jesus will judge men based upon their treatment of the needy, then those who claim to be followers of Jesus have a duty to care for those in need. Is this what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25?

A simple reading of the passage makes it immediately obvious that Jesus is not giving a blanket commandment for every Christian to provide for every needy person he meets. When Jesus grants eternal life to the righteous He tells them “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it (cared for the needy) unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus is teaching that how His children treat their fellow Christians is how they treat Him. What is done for other believers is done for Jesus. He makes this same point in Mark 9:41. He tells His disciples, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you he shall not lose his reward.” When Jesus returns He will judge those who profess to be His followers based upon how they have served needy Christians.

When Matthew 25 is compared with the rest of the Bible one realizes this passage cannot be teaching that any one is saved by doing good deeds for others. Versees like Ephesians 2:8 declare salvation is only by God’s grace and is only received by faith without any works to merit salvation. 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from life unto death, because we love the brethren.” A man’s love of his fellow believer does not make him righteous, it is one of the proof’s he has been made righteous. Salvation is always and only the free gift of grace. The deeds of a man in this life are evidences of salvation.

The situation in Syria is serious. Tens of thousands of refugees are in serious need. Every Christian should be deeply concerned about those needs, especially the needs of the Syrian Christians. There is a clear New Testament example of Christian’s caring for the needs of believers across the world in distress. The Christian’s love for others will compel him to do what he can to provide real help those in need. This help cannot be defined based upon a visceral or political reaction, but must be built upon Biblical wisdom. Misusing a Biblical passage to make a point may make good rhetoric, but properly applied Biblical truth is always more powerful and transformative than any sound bite.

Does God reward those who give to churches and other ministries?

If you have ever tuned in to television preachers you have probably heard a request for money. Most of the time the requests for donations are joined with promises of great blessing to those who give. The promises may be that God will give you ten or a hundred times your gift. The promises may be that if you plant your seed of faith with a minimum donation to the ministry, God will reward you with prosperity and freedom from financial woes. Sometimes the promises are not so dramatic, but the great majority of televised ministries that ask for financial aid promise that God will give back to you many times more than you give. Is this Biblical? Does God reward those who give to churches and religious ministries?

When it comes to understanding the promises of God to Christian’s believers must start with the New Testament. The majority of the verses used to bolster the preacher’s claims come from the Old Testament. The promises made by God to Israel are unique, particularly the promises of physical blessing. Applying them to Christian’s today is a serious error in understanding the Bible. The nation of Israel was a unique people group on the earth, set apart by God to show His power and glory to the entire world. Because of their unique position, God promised Israel that if they would obey Him, He would give them rich blessings. God promised Israel that if they disobeyed His commands He would take away their blessings and bring them under intense suffering. The promises God made to the church are very different.

The New Testament church is a special group of people set apart by God to proclaim His salvation to the entire world. Because of the unique nature of the church, the New Testament promises those who follow Him will suffer persecution, troubles and afflictions. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” (John 16:13) “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) The promise to the believer is that the world will respond to the faithful Christian with hatred, mockery and persecution. The New Testament contains no example of a believer being made rich, or even financially stable, because of his giving to the ministry.

The only passage in the New Testament that speaks directly to giving and the blessings of God is 2 Corinthians 9. Verse 6 is one of the verses used by some preachers to promise rich reward to those who give. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” Is Paul promising that God will give rich financial rewards to those give generously? Two verses later Paul explains the blessing God gives to those who give generously. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work.” In other words, the blessing of God to those who give is grace to be more generous in good works. He does not promise a return of wealth but spiritual provision enabling the Christian to continue serving. The only promise of physical supply is found in Philippians 4:19. In Philippians 4 Paul tells Christians who gave sacrificially to his ministry that God would supply their needs. God does not promise to give rich financial rewards to Christians. He promises rich grace, many spiritual blessings and provision for daily needs.

Those who promise physical provision mistake the priorities of the Christian and the church. They misunderstand the true natures of the riches of God’s blessing. God is not working in the Christian today to make him physically healthy and prosperous. God is working to make the believer more like Jesus which will result in eternal rewards. Spiritual prosperity is worth far more than all the riches of this world. The Christian should not give to reap treasures on this earth but to lay up rich treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20)