Goodness! Nearly a year has passed since the last entry was posted! It’s a good thing the Word of God is eternal and unwavering, not like we humans. Like Christ, it waits patiently to be picked up again where we left off…
In the last post Paul had begun his third missionary journey, once again making the rounds of the churches he had founded to strengthen the believers. The picture was one of working his way around the perimeter, reinforcing the defenses and “hardening” the faith of his spiritual offspring.
We met a man named Apollos. The unusual thing about him at that point in time was that his knowledge concerning God was excellent but incomplete. (We are about to meet a similar group of men, also in Ephesus.) Paul’s coworkers in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila, took him to a quiet place and explained to him “the rest of the story.” God put a desire in his heart to go to Corinth to help the believers there refute the claims of the Jews against them. The church in Ephesus encouraged him to do so and furnished him with letters of introduction. He left for Corinth before Paul arrived at Ephesus.
We noted an important “turn of words” that Luke used to describe the believers who were greatly helped by Apollos’ arrival in Corinth — “those who had believed through grace.” It is from this passage (Acts 18:27) that we take the phrase “grace believers” that marks the difference between those who believe as I do and those who we lovingly recognize as brothers and sisters in Christ but who believe on a different basis.
The Bible is a long and detailed volume consisting of many individual books from many different times, and we believe God has revealed himself to men a little at a time (progressive revelation). If that’s the case, then we can reasonably expect that the way in which people in different times have “believed” can differ. How many ways can the expression, “those who had believed through ________” be completed? There are many passages we could turn to, but the 11th chapter of Hebrews holds not only a long list of believers of different times, but also a very important connecting thread.
- Abel believed through sacrifice.
- Enoch believed through desiring to please God.
- Noah believed through building an ark.
- Abraham believed through obedience and conversation with God and angels.
- Isaac, Jacob and Joseph believed through promise.
- Moses believed through conversation with God.
- Joshua and Rahab believed through obedience.
- Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets believed through obedience
These are all Old Testament examples, of course. What of the New Testament?
- Mary believed through announcement.
- The wise men believed through astrology.
- The scholars in the temple when Jesus was twelve years old believed through amazement.
- John the Baptist believed through revelation.
- The Disciples believed through demonstration.
- Jesus’ followers believed through miracles.
- The thief crucified next to Christ believed through observation.
- Peter and John believed in the resurrection through observation.
- Early believers in the Jerusalem church believed through signs, wonders, repentance, and water baptism — all through apostolic authority.
- The Ethiopian eunuch believed through Philip’s witness.
- Paul, the quintessential non-believer, believed through personal encounter with the risen Christ.
- Paul’s converts believed through “the foolishness of preaching.” (I Cor. 1:21)
You object, you say? Patience! What do they all have in common? They believed. (They had faith.) As the author of Hebrews states, “… 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 seek Him.” (Heb 11:6 NASB) That is the common thread that the author of Hebrews is trying to drive home. The 11th chapter of Hebrews is, after all, what has come to be known as the “Faith Chapter!”
Paul himself draws a clear distinction between what Jews require and what Gentile believers require in I Corinthians 1:22-24: “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Later in the same passage Paul says, “… God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, …” (I Cor. 1:27-30) In other words, under Paul’s message, which is foolishness to the world, God has done it all for us and we have nothing to boast about. God has granted us an immeasureable unwarranted favor. As Paul also said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “… by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, [so] that no one should boast.”
We conclude that there is belief itself, which is the common thread throughout the history of mankind, but that there is also a mechanism through which belief occurs, separate from faith itself, and that this mechanism has changed as God has revealed Himself progressively throughout history. Faith through obedience, sacrifice, miracles and apostolic authority have all been set aside for believers today, and have been replaced with grace.
As believers today and students of God’s Word, that places the burden of figuring out exactly what it means to believe through grace and live in grace on our shoulders. I confess that I have much to learn yet about that. Have you noticed that this terminology and emphasis is absent from the preaching and teaching of the modern evangelical movement? When was the last time your pastor used either phrase in a sermon, let alone preached an entire sermon (or dare I suggest an entire sermon series) on the subject? I suspect my own ignorance and lack of ability is not due to a failure to listen to my pastors’ sermons! I believe that this concept of grace is the daily living out of the heart of the mystery in believers lives, and is woefully absent among us.
It is important to keep this perspective in mind as we study the 19th Chapter of Acts in the next post. Remember that the Book of Acts describes a period when the Kingdom program with its accordant miracles and conferring of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands is on the wane but not yet gone, while the Age of Grace we have been discussing is still on the rise. It should come as no surprise, then, to find Paul working miracles when the circumstances are appropriate. Note that Apollos required neither miracles nor laying on of hands. The people we are about to encounter as Paul arrives at Ephesus will require both. The first half of the chapter (vv 1-21) includes the stories of the men who had believed but had not received the Holy Spirit, Paul’s miraculous powers over sickness and demons (even at a distance), and the Jewish exorcist Sceva and his seven sons. If the idea of dispensationalism has any validity at all, we must apply it as we study this passage and realize that because these believers in Ephesus needed these things, it does not mean that believers today need them! In God’s eyes the authority of His Word, and in particular Paul’s authority as the apostle to the Gentiles for the Age of Grace, is a settled matter and no longer needs miracles to authenticate it.
Next time: Paul in Ephesus