When I attended a house church, I remember a gentleman asserting once that he did not agree with the term ‘believer.’ He’d rather not use it. I did not get it then. I think I may get it now.
Yesterday morning I experienced one of those amazing times in the Old Testament scriptures when God breaks into what I assumed would be a drag reading and opens my eyes even more to the wonders of who He is and what it means to be His. In other words, He got my attention.
I was reading the account of Jericho’s walls coming down, a story I am very familiar with, and the following verse jumped out at me:
And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. (Joshua 6:17 ESV)
Joshua had received these instructions from the Lord. After the walls came down, the men of war were to devote everything in the city to destruction. Everything and everyone except Rehab and her family. Rahab, the prostitute. Rahab, the woman who made a profession out of sinning against the Lord. And not only Rahab but also everyone in her house. (I plan to write more about that little detail later.)
Scroll back to Chapter 2. When Rahab hid the spies, she shed light on why she did it. She believed that their Lord was the God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. She had heard, along with the rest of her people, all God had done for Israel and while her people were afraid and were ready to stand their ground against Israel, she believed in their God (Joshua 2:8-11).
Did God save her merely because she believed?
Yes and no.
Look back at Joshua 6:17. He says that Rahab and the people with her can live because she hid the messengers. That’s action, folks.
She was delivered from destruction she well deserved because she not only believed, she acted. Now, one could argue that he saved her because of her faith and that it was her faith that caused the spies to enter her house in the first place. Sure. That may be the case, but that is not what the Lord emphasizes here.
As someone who tends to make light of disobedience at times, this hit me hard. I remember when I was in middle school, my grandmother took us to her friend’s house one weekend for a cook out. After getting my food, I decided to eat on the deck outside. I looked ahead and could see the beautiful day through the open patio door. I walked quickly right into the closed patio door. They cleaned those sliding doors well. It hit me kind of like that. Except no one was around. No one was laughing. Or embarrassed.
God delivered Rahab because of what she did as a result of her faith. Faith is necessary, for without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must believe that he exists. We must believe that he rewards those who seek him. But here’s the key. That belief must lead to action.
Without action, our faith is dead (James 2:26). Our God is alive, not dead. So if our faith is dead, that means we are not with God. Get the picture. Faith must be foundation of how we live our lives.
Faith apart from works doesn’t save. And works alone will not do help you anymore than the next man. They are two sides of the same coin. And without God’s saving work in our hearts, neither will happen anyway.
If you are bristling at this, just recall James asserting that even demons believe (James 2:19). Thus, belief alone is not what saves people. I feel extremely comfortable writing this right now, because it’s straight scripture. God is consistent throughout the Bible. He is moved by the faith that compels action. People like to argue that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament. Nope.
But you are right to note that there is a difference. It’s not God. It’s the way he relates with his people. His covenant with the people changed. But he has always been a God who requires faith and obedience that springs from faith.
This is why it is so important that we understand that belief in Jesus Christ is transformative. We become new creations as a result of believing in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are new creations who not only think differently but live differently. And it is our transformed lives that separate us from those devoted to destruction.
Yes, Jericho was devoted to destruction, and so is everyone who does not submit to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But the kingdom of God is advancing. People’s lives are changing and Mark Seiford put it this way: “The kingdom advances here on the earth where faith and obedience are found.”
Faith is necessary, for by grace we are saved through faith. And this faith produces a godly life.
We are not perfect. I am sure Rahab wasn’t either. She was, after all, a prostitute. I’m sure she was still working through some things.
Hebrews 11:31 states:
By faith, Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies [emphasis added].
Those who are disobedient will perish. How am I counted among the obedient when I mess up every single day?
Because Jesus took the penalty of death that I deserve upon himself. That’s the awesomeness of the new covenant. God promises that if I truly trust in Jesus, relying upon his life, death, and resurrection for my salvation, he’ll give me everything that I need for life and godliness. He gives me everything I need to obey him. He’s given me his spirit. I have a renewed mined. I am able to understand and apply his word. I have love in my heart for him and his people. This is all because of Jesus.
I am without excuse.
And if I start to think that I am excused from obedience, from a heart that delights in the holiness of God more and more, then I am a fool. Faith without works is dead. It is all too easy and too common to live a Christian lifestyle and still be counted among those who are perishing.
I think this is why Paul instructs the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. But he does not leave them with that. He says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). There’s grace. There is strong help on our side.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in the faith, we are not only believers. We are Obeyers. A believer can believe and still perish. We follow Christ. We aim to keep his word because we belong to him. We are His. And we will not die. Because we are hid in Christ, we will live. Forever. With God.