THE ONLY LIMIT TO FAITH


Romans 10:17
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ

When people struggle with their faith in God, it's not because their faith-object is insufficient. It's because people have unreal expectations of God. They expect Him to operate a certain way or answer prayer a certain way--their way, not His--and when He doesn't comply they say, "Forget You, God." But God doesn't change; He's the perfect faith-object. Faith in God only fails when people hold a faulty understanding of Him.


If you want your faith in God to increase, you must increase your understanding of Him as the object of your faith. If you have little knowledge about God and His Word, you will have little faith. If you have great knowledge of God and His Word, you will have great faith. Faith cannot be pumped up by coaxing yourself, "If only I can believe! If only I can believe!" Any attempt to push yourself beyond what you know about God and his ways is to move from faith to presumption. You choose to believe God according to what you already know to be true from His Word. And the only way to increase your faith is to increase your knowledge of God, your faith-object (Romans 10:17).


"Well," you may say, "that means there's a limit to our faith." Yes, there's a limit. But God isn't controlling it; you are. As the object of your faith, He is infinite. The only limit to your faith is your knowledge and understanding of God, which grows every time you read your Bible, memorize a new Scripture verse, participate in a Bible study, or meditate on a scriptural truth. Can you see the practical, tangible potential for your faith to grow as you endeavor to know God through His Word? It's boundless!

Furthermore, it is important to know that God is under no obligation to us. There is no way you can cleverly word a prayer so that God must act on your behalf. If God declares something to be true, you simply believe Him and live according to what is true. If God didn't say it, no amount of faith in the world will make it so. Believing doesn't make God's Word true; His Word is true, therefore I believe it.

Prayer:
Dear Lord, increase the boundaries of my faith today as I increase my understanding of You through Your Word.

 

GOD WORKS IN THE ORDINARY


Hebrews 13:5
He [God] Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you"

A devout Christian heard an urgent news report on his radio that a flash flood was within minutes of entering the peaceful valley where he lived. Immediately he went to his knees and prayed for safety. The words were still on his lips when he became aware that water was gushing under his door. He retreated to the second floor and finally onto the roof of his house. While he sat on the roof, a helicopter flew by and the pilot asked over the loudspeaker if they could lift him off. "It's not necessary since I have the Lord's protection," he replied.
Moments later the house began to break up and he found himself clinging to a tree. A police boat, braving the waters, approached him for rescue, but he assured them that the Lord would save him. Finally, the tree gave way and the man went to his death.

Standing before the Lord, he asked, "Lord, I'm glad to be here, but why didn't You answer my prayer for safety?"
The Lord responded, "Son, I told you over the radio to get out of there Then I sent you a helicopter and a motor boat!"
Nowhere in the Bible are we given the idea that God works only in the extraordinary. Much of the time He supernaturally works through His created order. Many people think God is present only when there is a miracle and that He leads only through signs and wonders.

There are people who always look for a sign. They walk by sight, not by faith. To them, God is only present in the miraculous. God was "really" at the church service if something unusual happened. Many desire and look for "visitations" from God.

But how does that square with God's omnipresence and the fact that He will never leave us or forsake us? Isn't God at every church service? Since God created the fixed order of the universe, would you expect Him to work primarily within that fixed order or outside of it? If God gave us a watch, would we be honoring Him more by asking Him what time it is or by simply consulting the watch?

Prayer:
Lord, forgive me for looking for signs when I only need to trust Your Word and live by Your promises.

 

PLACED INTO CHRIST


Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me
All unbelievers have an old nature which is characterized by sin. Before you came to Christ you were one of those individuals. You were a sinner because it was your nature to sin. This "natural man" cannot accept or understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).


What happened to the old you at salvation? You died--not the physical you, of course, but that old inner self which was empowered by the old nature you inherited from Adam (Romans 6:2-6; Colossians 3:3). What was the method of execution? Crucifixion with Christ. Paul announced in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ." And in Galatians 6:14, Paul disclaimed any right to boast "except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." At salvation you were placed into Christ, the one who died on the cross for your sin. Being in Christ, your old self died with Him there.


Notice the remarkable difference. In Adam you had an old self; in Christ you have a new self. In Adam you had a sin nature (Ephesians 2:1-3); in Christ you are a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In Adam you were in the flesh (Romans 8:8); in Christ you are in the Spirit (Romans 8:9). In Adam you could only walk after the flesh; in Christ you may choose to walk after the Spirit or after the flesh.
Aren't you glad to be a new creature in Christ?


Prayer:
Thank You, Jesus, that You have set me free from my old sin nature and that I can choose to walk after the Spirit today.

 

NO LONGER UNDER OBLIGATION


Romans 6:6
Our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin


Why did the old self need to die? The old self was independent and disobedient to God, so it had to die in order that "our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Romans 6:6). Death is the ending of a relationship, but not of existence. Sin hasn't died; it is still strong and appealing. But when your old self died with Christ on the cross, your relationship with sin ended forever. You are no longer "in the flesh" but "in Christ" (Romans 8:9). Your old self (the sinner) and your old nature (characterized by the sin which was inevitable since you were separated from God) are gone forever because you are no longer separated from God.


Does this mean that you are now sinless? By no means. The death of your old self formally ended your relationship with sin, but it did not end sin's existence. Sin and Satan are still around, and they are strong and appealing. But by virtue of the crucifixion of the old self, sin's power over you is broken (Romans 6:7, 12, 14). You are no longer under any obligation to serve sin, to obey sin, or to respond to sin.
You commit sin when you willfully allow yourself to act independently of God as the old self did as a matter of course. When you function in this manner you are violating your new nature and your new identity. Such actions must be confessed and forsaken.


Even though the old self, which you were in Adam, is dead, you still have to contend with the flesh. The way you learned to live your life before Christ is still programmed into your mind. Knowing that your old self was crucified with Christ makes it possible for you to choose not to sin. You no longer have to walk after the flesh; you may now walk after the Spirit. You are free.

Prayer:
Father, help me overcome the fleshly ways I followed before coming to You. I choose today to be tuned in to Your Spirit.

 

WHAT GOD HAS PROVIDED


Galatians 6:3
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself

Satan promotes his lies in the world by encouraging us to self-deception. We deceive ourselves when we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. "But I know who I am," you say. "I'm a child of God, I'm seated with Christ in the heavenlies, I can do all things through Him. That makes me pretty special." Yes, you are very special in the eyes of God. But you are what you are by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). The life you live, the talents you possess, and the gifts you have received are not personal accomplishments; they are expressions of God's grace. Never take credit for what God has provided; rather, take delight in accomplishing worthwhile deeds which glorify the Lord.
Furthermore, we deceive ourselves when we think we are wise in this age (1 Corinthians 3:18, 19). It is the height of intellectual arrogance to assume wisdom without the revelation of God. "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Sometimes we are tempted to think we can match wits and intellect with the god of this world. But we are no match for him. Whenever we think we can outsmart Satan on our own, we are prime candidates to be led astray by his craftiness.


However, Satan is no match for God. It is important for us not to lean on our own understanding, but to employ the mind of Christ and acknowledge Him in all our ways (Proverbs 3:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 2:16). We overcome the lies of Satan by divine revelation, not human research or reasoning. Satan is not impressed with our intellect; he is defeated by God's omniscience.


Prayer:
Lord, help me not to think more highly of myself than I ought, nor to demean myself, because I am created in Your image.

 

STRONGHOLDS OF THE MIND


2 Corinthians 10:5
We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ


The nature of the battle for your mind is clearly presented in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
The first thing you need to know about the battle for your mind is that it is not fought on the plane of human ingenuity or ability. You can't outsmart or outmuscle the flesh or the devil on your own. Your weapons must be "divinely powerful" if you are going to win a spiritual conflict.


The main targets which must be destroyed are the "fortresses" in the mind. The King James Version uses the word strongholds . Strongholds are negative patterns of thought which are burned into our minds either through repetition over time or through one-time traumatic experiences.


Thoughts determine behavior, and thought patterns determine temperaments. Strongholds are revealed in un-Christlike temperaments and behavior patterns. A mind-set impregnated with hopelessness causes us to accept as unchangeable something known to be contrary to God.


How are these destructive strongholds established in our minds? Usually they are the result of a number of subtle steps which lead us away from God's plan for us and mire us in Plan B behavior. We will look at these steps and how we should respond to them over the next several days.
Prayer:


Lord, I determine to prepare my mind for action today and avoid passivity in my thinking, because Satan loves passivity.

 

HOW YOU ARE PROGRAMMED


Colossians 2:8
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men . . . rather than according to Christ


The first step toward the formation of strongholds in our minds can be called "environmental stimulation." You were designed to live in fellowship with God and fulfill His purposes, but you were born physically alive and spiritually dead in a hostile world (Ephesians 2:1, 2). Before you came to Christ, all your stimulation came from this environment. Every day you lived in this environment you were influenced by it and preconditioned to conform to it.
The worldly stimulation you were exposed to was both brief and prevailing. Brief stimulation includes individual events, situations, places and personal encounters you experienced. You were influenced by books you read, movies you watched, music you listened to, and traumatic events you experienced or witnessed, such as a car accident or a death in the family. You learned a way (which may or may not have been God's way) to cope with these experiences and resolve the conflicts they produced.


Prevailing stimulation consists of long-term exposure to your environment, such as the influence of your family, your friends and peers, your neighborhood, your teachers, and your job. If you grew up separated from God, and were raised in a non-Christian environment, you developed a philosophy of how to survive, cope and succeed in this world apart from God.


When you became a Christian your sins were washed away, but your predisposition to think and behave a certain way, which you developed as you adjusted to your environment, remained programmed in your mind. In fact, you can become a born-again believer and continue to live on the basis of the lifestyle you developed while living independently of God. That is why Paul insists that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).


Prayer:
I know I was saved in a moment, Lord. But my character still needs daily transformation. Help me be as patient with others in their transformation as You are with me.

 

AT THE THRESHOLD OF TEMPTATION


Titus 2:11, 12
The grace of God has appeared . . . instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age


Yielding to temptation is another step toward a stronghold being established in your mind. Whenever you are stimulated to conform to Plan B instead of God's Plan A for your life, you are experiencing temptation. The essence of all temptation is the invitation to live independently of God and fulfill legitimate needs in the world, the flesh or the devil instead of in Christ. That's the great contest. And Satan knows just which buttons to push to tempt you away from dependency on Christ.


The moment you are tempted to get your need met in the world instead of in Christ, you are at the threshold of a decision. If you don't immediately choose to take that thought "captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), you will begin to consider it as an option. And if you begin to mull it over in your mind, immediately your emotions will be affected and the likelihood of yielding to that temptation is increased.
The Scriptures teach us that God has provided a way of escape from every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). But the escape is right at the threshold of the temptation. If you don't control the temptation at the threshold, you run the risk of allowing the temptation to control you. Rare is the Christian who can turn around after directing his will toward Plan B.


For example, a man sees a pornographic picture and is tempted toward lust. He has the opportunity to respond by saying something like, "My relationship with sin has ended. I choose to take this thought captive to the obedience of Christ. I'm not going to look at it or think about it." And he separates himself from the picture immediately and escapes the lust.


But if he hesitates at the threshold, stares at the picture, and begins to fantasize about it, he will trigger an emotional landslide producing a physical response which will be difficult to stop. He must capture the tempting thought in the threshold or it will probably capture him.


Prayer:
Dear God, I want to be obedient to Your perfect plan for my life today. I don't want to give in to Plan B thinking. Strengthen my will to obey.

 

WHEN STRONGHOLDS BECOME ENTRENCHED


2 Timothy 2:4
No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier


Once your consideration of a temptation has triggered an emotional response leading to a Plan B choice, you will act upon that choice and own that behavior. You may resent your actions or claim that you are not responsible for what you do. But you are responsible for your actions at this stage because you failed to take a tempting thought captive when it first appeared at the threshold of your mind.


People who study human behavior tell us that if you continue to repeat an act for six weeks, you will form a habit. And if you exercise that habit long enough, a stronghold will be established. Once a stronghold of thought and response is entrenched in your mind, choosing to act contrary to that pattern is extremely difficult.


Like environmental stimulation, a stronghold of the mind can be the result of a brief encounter or a prevailing atmosphere. For example, a woman goes into a deep depression every time she hears a siren sound. It turns out that she was raped 20 years earlier while a siren was wailing in the distance. In the weeks and months after the rape, the sound of a siren triggered traumatic memories. Instead of resolving that conflict, she relived the tragedy in her mind, deepening the emotional scars and locking herself into a thought pattern she cannot seem to break. That's a stronghold.


Other strongholds are the result of a prevailing pattern of thinking and responding. Imagine, for instance, a nine-year-old boy whose father is an alcoholic. When the father comes home drunk and belligerent every night, the boy is simply scared stiff of him. He scurries out of sight and hides. As the boy continues in his defensive reaction to his hostile alcoholic father, he forms a pattern of behavior. Ten years later, when he faces any kind of hostile behavior, how do you think he will respond? He will run away. His deeply ingrained pattern of thinking and responding has formed a stronghold in his mind.


Prayer:
Father, don't allow the enemy to deceive me into weak-willed actions that dilute my testimony and effectiveness as a believer.

 

RENEWING YOUR MIND


Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind


If the strongholds in your mind are the result of conditioning, then you can be reconditioned by the renewing of your mind. Anything that has been learned can be unlearned. Certainly this is the major path of renewal in the New Testament. Through the preaching of God's Word, Bible study and personal discipleship, you stop being conformed to this world and experience the transformation of the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).


If your past experiences were spiritually or emotionally devastating, then counseling and Christ-centered support groups will help the transformation. Since some of these strongholds are thoughts raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5), learning to know God as a loving Father and yourself as His accepted child is your starting place.


But you're not just up against the world and the flesh. You're also up against the devil who is scheming to fill your mind with thoughts which are opposed to God's plan for you.
Notice how Paul uses the word for thoughts (noema) in 2 Corinthians in relation to Satan's activity. We've already seen it in 2 Corinthians 10:5: "We are taking every thought [ noema ] captive to the obedience to Christ." Why do these thoughts need to be taken captive? Because they may be the enemy's.


In 2 Corinthians 3:14 and 4:4, Paul reveals that Satan is responsible for our spiritual hardness and blindness when we were unbelievers: "But their minds [ noema ] were hardened. . . . The god of this world has blinded the minds [ noema ] of the unbelieving." In 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 2:11, Paul states that Satan actively plots to defeat and divide believers: "I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds [ noema ] should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. . . . We are not ignorant of his schemes [ noema ]."


If Satan can place his thought in your mind--and he can--it isn't much more of a trick for him to make you think it's your thought. That's the deception.


Prayer:
In the name of Jesus, I renounce and refuse any thoughts which are raised up against the knowledge of God.

 

IGNORING THE ENEMY


Colossians 2:6
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him


There are three ways of responding to the demonic taunts and barbs being thrown at you during your daily walk with Christ, and two of these ways are wrong.


First, the most defeated people are those who consider demonic thoughts and believe them. A subtle thought is shot into your mind: "You don't pray, read your Bible, or witness like you should. How could God love you?" That's a bald-faced lie because God's love is unconditional. But you start thinking about your failures and agreeing that you're probably not very lovable to God. Pretty soon you're sitting in the middle of the street going nowhere.
These Christians are totally defeated simply because they have been duped into believing that God doesn't love them, or that they will never be a victorious Christian, or that they are a helpless victim of the past. There is no reason why they can't get up immediately and start walking again, but they have believed a lie and the lie controls their life.


The second response is just as unproductive. You try to argue with the demons: "I am not ugly or stupid. I am a victorious Christian." You're proud that you don't believe what they say, but they're still controlling you and setting your agenda. You're standing in the middle of the street shouting at them when you should be marching forward.


We are not to believe evil spirits, nor are we to dialogue with them. Instead, we are to ignore them and choose the truth. You're equipped with the armor of God; they can't touch you unless you drop your guard. With every arrow of temptation, accusation or deception they shoot at you, simply raise the shield of faith, deflect the attack, and walk on. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. The way to defeat the lie is by choosing the truth.


Prayer:
In the face of the lies the enemy throws at me today, Lord, I choose and embrace Your truth.

 

HOPE FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW


1 John 3:2, 3
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure


As children of the sinful first Adam, we were obstinate and ornery, helpless and hopeless, with nothing in ourselves to commend us to God. But God's love overruled our unloveliness. Through Christ God provided a way for us into His family. As God's adopted child, you have been given a new identity and a new name. You're no longer a spiritual orphan; you're a son or daughter of God. Romans 8:16, 17, tells us, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ."


If you're beginning to think you are some one special as a Christian, you're thinking right--you are special! Your specialness is not the result of anything you have done, of course. It's all God's doing. All you did was respond to God's invitation to be His child. But as a child of God, in union with God by being in Christ, you have every right to enjoy your special relationship with your new Father.


How important is it to know who you are in Christ? There are countless numbers of Christians who struggle with day-to-day behavior because they labor under a false perception of who they are. They see themselves as sinners who hope to make it into heaven by God's grace, but they can't seem to live above their sinful tendencies. Why can't they live the victorious Christian life? Because they have a misperception of who they are in Christ.


But look again at the hope-filled words of 1 John 3:2, 3. What is the believer's hope? That he will someday be changed into Christ's image? That's part of it, but that's only a future hope. What is your hope for today and tomorrow? That you're a child of God now ! You must see yourself as a child of God in order to live like a child of God. The blessed hope for the believer is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).


Prayer:
Thank You, Father, for the glorious hope of being Your child. I want to live in the security and blessing of that reality today.

 

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