Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Good Testimony

For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. (Hebrews 11:02, NKJV).

The it here is the weight and solidity of faith. By faith, and faith alone, good testimony is obtained before God.

The phrase is used twice in Hebrews, both in Chapter 11. It is a derivation of the root from which we get our word, martyr, and literally means to bear witness of a positive nature. 
It is instructive to note that the three other instances in the New Testament (so, 5 in all) refer respectively to the man who ministered to Paul's blindness in Damascus (the Ananias of  Acts 22:12), to the qualifications of those in church leadership (2 Timothy 3:7), and to Demetrius, an acquaintance of the elderly John whom he mentioned in his last epistle (3 John 12).

In each case, it is the unsolicited, voluntary report of a good and decent person from an eye witness. In that sense, faith is our character witness.

Whatever we do NOT from faith is therefore sin (Romans 14:23), and acts as a witness against us at the Judgment Seat of Heaven.

This means in turn that all our "good" deeds on earth, if not fueled by faith, no matter how vaunted and beneficial from the human perspective, serve not as recommendations, but indictments.

Are you generous and charitable because it does something for your self-image or self-esteem? Then keep your treasure for God is not fooled, nor mocked.

Are you diligent in religious activities, studies, and practices because you believe it earns you credit in Heaven? Then you are wasting your time, and treasuring up for yourselves evidence of hypocrisy.

Do you stumble in sin daily, and grieve because you know that such behavior breaks your Lord's heart? Do you go to Him as a trusting child to implore forgiveness? These are acts of weighty and solid faith, achievements of substance that please God far more than any outward piety or righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).

Any "good" thing done for reasons other than loving and obedient gratitude to the Creator and Savior is likened to a whitewashed tomb, adorned on the outside, but on the inside full of dead men's bones and corruption.

This both complicates and simplifies a life of faith, doesn't it?

The complication comes from ruthlessly weeding out any thoughts of self-righteousness and self-worth (a remarkably difficult task in this era of culturally promoted self-worship) and simply allowing the Spirit of God to work in and through you each and every waking moment, motivating, directing, and empowering. The self-surrender involved here is hard and takes long and diligent practice. 

Children do it far better than adults; humble people better than the proud; those poor in spirit better than those who think highly of themselves.

In fact, the more worldly success you've experienced, the higher the regard you receive from worldly neighbors and worldly family and worldly friends, the more control you think you have over your own destiny, the harder it is to live by faith.

On the other hand, it simplifies things because neither your own plans nor power nor position amount to a hill of beans from the heavenly perspective. A true life of faith is, in this respect, one spontaneous adventure after another. 

Spontaneous because the directing force comes from above, not within, where you have to grit your teeth and strive and obsess. It is an adventure because the outcome is not up to you, but in the hands of Someone far greater and better than you.

And while some adventures may not be safe, all adventures change something fundamental inside the adventurer. And adventures under the loving hand of God change you in the direction He wants you to go, for your good and His glory.

In reality, the Christian walk of faith is not the staid and safe and colorless tedium portrayed by popular wisdom. It is the diametric opposite.

Sometimes it means heroically walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes it means purposefully taking the hard, rather than the easy path. Always it means putting all your trust in Someone you have not seen, not as a striving or work, but as a simple act of devotion.

For remember this above all else:

...without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV).