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“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
Faith. Everyone has heard about it, many have seen it, but relatively few have experienced it in any depth. Yet Hebrews 3 and 4 tell us that Israel could not enter into God’s Rest because they did not have the faith required of them to enter into that level of experience. But why? Had they not seen all the miracles Moses did? Had they not seen the parting of the Red Sea, the manna sent from heaven, and the fiery presence of God upon Mount Sinai? Of course they did, and they were certainly convinced that these things came from God. Nonetheless, they did not have the faith necessary to enter the Promised Land. The question is: Why not?
There is a difference between mental persuasion and faith. One can be totally convinced of the authenticity of Scripture and that Jesus was the Son of God who died and rose again for us, and yet not have the level of faith needed to enter the Promised Land. If it takes faith only the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain, as Jesus said, then how little faith we must have! When we are confronted by mole hills, we are often frustrated and helpless to do anything. Or if we do, we seem to resemble the prophets of Baal in our antics as we try to manipulate God into doing something for us, rather than Elijah who simply prayed and got the job done.
Prayer is something that most people do not really believe will work for them. For this reason, prayer meetings usually fail to draw more than a handful of interested people, and many of them seem to attend more out of duty and pastoral compulsion than from a genuine interest. Most are not excited by the prospect of a prayer meeting, because they do not really expect much to be accomplished by their prayer. Thus, only the dutiful and the disciplined are able to enter that labor, and seldom is it a joyous celebration of God’s interaction with men.
Heb. 3:19 says, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” The kind of faith mentioned in this verse is not the kind that is necessary to “get saved.” All Israel were justified by faith when they left Egypt at Passover. In observing Passover, they were proclaiming their faith in the blood of the Lamb, and they all believed God on this level, or else they would have lost their firstborn sons. This gives us the type and shadow of the evangelical Christians today who have left the world (“Egypt”) and are on their way to the Promised Land.
The problem is that many Christians leave Egypt and even cross the Red Sea (that is, they are baptized—see 1 Cor. 10:2); but then they settle down on the far shore of the Red Sea, build a house (denomination), and assume they are in the Promised Land. In time, some become dissatisfied, realizing that there is yet more of God to experience beyond the Passover-Red Sea experience, and so they follow the Spirit (the pillar of fire) to the foot of Mount Sinai. This was the place where God came down as fire, and the people all heard the voice of God speaking to them in their own language. God revealed the Ten Commandments to the people on the day later celebrated as the day of Pentecost, or the feast of weeks.
This was supposed to be the day Israel attained the second major level of faith on their way to the Promised Land. Paul says in Rom. 1:17 that “the righteousness of God (is) revealed from faith to faith.” That is, God reveals Himself to men from one level of faith to another as we hear His voice. As He speaks, and as we hear, we move from faith to faith. There are three main levels of spiritual experience and faith, each typified by Israel’s experience in the wilderness and commemorated by a Feast Day. They are Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
When Israel came to Mount Sinai and God revealed His character to them by the law, the people were too fearful to enter into the second level of faith. We read in Ex. 20:18-21,
18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they removed and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not, for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick dark-ness where God was.
Because the people were afraid to die, they ran from God and from hearing His voice. Thus, they were unable to enter into the Pentecostal level of faith that God intended for them. Their refusal to hear the divine law meant that the law would not be written on their heart, but would remain only on tables of stone. The Spirit of God would not work within them to begin changing their hearts, but rather the law would be imposed upon them from the outside and regulate their actions through discipline. So the fulfillment of Pentecost would be postponed for another 1,500 years until after Jesus death and resurrection. The disciples in the book of Acts gathered in the upper room for the purpose of hearing His voice and receiving the divine revelation of Pentecost. They did what their forefathers had refused to do on that same day many years earlier.
Because Israel under Moses refused to hear the voice of God and allow the law to be written on their hearts, they were unable to enter the Promised Land the following year. The twelve spies saw that the land was bountiful, and as evidence they brought with them huge clusters of the first ripe of the grapes (Num. 13:20). This tells us that it was now the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar (about September). Ten of the twelve spies gave an evil report, reflecting the faithless condition of the people, and thereafter this day was observed as the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and repentance for refusing to enter into the Promised Land. If they had blown the trumpet signaling their decision to get ready to enter Canaan, it would have been the trumpet of the Jubilee. This was, in fact, the 50th Jubilee from Adam, and they should have “returned every man to his possession” (Lev. 25:9-13).
However, they did not have the faith to enter the Land, because they had refused earlier to hear the voice of God at the foot of Sinai on that first Pentecost. One cannot go directly from Passover to Tabernacles. One cannot go directly from Egypt to the Promised Land. One cannot bypass the revelation of the law at Sinai. Those who attempt to do this are called “lawless” (anomia) in the New Testament.
It would therefore be profitable for us today to learn the lessons of these Old Testament types and shadows. We see from the biblical account that there are Christians having differing levels of faith, depicted by Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In addition, from Moses to the Cross was a Passover Age. From Acts 2 to the present has been a Pentecostal Age. We are now entering into a Tabernacles Age. But in Jesus’ day, while most of the people observed Passover on a physical level, only a small portion of them actually had a revelation of Passover, which would have allowed them to move into the next level of faith: Pentecost. Most stumbled at the Cross (1 Cor. 1:23) and continued in the religious traditions of Judaism, unable to grow in faith.
At our end of the Pentecostal Age, we find the same thing happening on the next level. Many have stumbled and failed the test of Pentecost and are therefore ineligible to move further into the faith of Tabernacles. How have they failed? Primarily, it is because, like Israel of old, they are afraid to hear God’s voice, or they are afraid to die to the flesh. Instead of stepping fearlessly into the fire of God, as Moses did, they run the other direction. God has never tried to hide the fact that drawing near Him to hear His voice will indeed kill the flesh. A true revelation of God will always require a sacrifice of flesh as God writes His fiery law upon our hearts. Paul died daily, because God spoke to him daily (1 Cor. 15:31).
But today, many who consider themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic have been told that God wants us to be prosperous, and any adversity is certainly not of God. By this teaching, especially in America, we have come to think that we can enter God’s Rest without dying to the flesh, with no discipline, and in a lawless spirit. Such people may call themselves Pentecostal, but like Israel of old, they have come to Sinai in vain. They prefer the golden calf to the fire of God. That is, they prefer a god who promises them wealth and prosperity to the all-consuming Fire that kills the flesh as He writes His law upon our hearts. This is what is disqualifying the Church today from entering the Promised Land.
The idols worshipped by men “neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (Deut. 4:28). Only the God of the Bible sees, hears, and speaks to men. The nation of Israel was given such a demonstration in the days of Moses when God came down upon Mount Sinai as a consuming fire and revealed to all of them His law. In Deut. 5:24, Moses told the people:
24 . . . And we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth.
In other words, the day of Pentecost is the day when God revealed to the nation of Israel that He is a God that can talk to man without killing him. And yet, He is a consuming fire that will destroy the flesh in man, as we read in the people’s response:
25 Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
The people were half right. They were correct in saying that the voice of the living God would kill the flesh. They just did not understand that this was the whole idea behind Pentecost. God fully intended, by the hearing of His voice, to kill all flesh, so that they could be spiritually minded without the encumbrances of the flesh. The problem was that the people were afraid to die and wanted to hang on to their carnality, their flesh. They did not understand that the flesh that they so dearly wanted to keep alive was in reality already dead. They did not realize that the only way to true life was through death. This is the great paradox of the Christian faith. One cannot find life by seeking life. One must find it by the door of death. And this door is Jesus, who was crucified to show us how to die. But the Cross is too often the stumblingblock.
I have yet to see a true word from God that did not in some way kill any flesh that would block the path of obedience. The Word is a consuming fire. To the carnal man it is frightening. To the novice it is awesome. To the spiritual it is a way of life.
God’s main purpose in speaking to man is to instruct us in His ways. Deut. 4:36 says, “Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that He might instruct thee.” Instruction implies an impartation of knowledge. The method of instruction begins with commands, much as a father tells a small child what to do with little or no explanation. The child must learn to obey whether he understands or not. Simple obedience for the sake of obedience must be learned first. Then as the child grows, he learns to ask questions, which the Father will answer after the child has obeyed.
Finally, as a child approaches spiritual maturity, the Father gives understanding, by which the child is able to see the Father’s intent—and by this understanding, he is able to do the will of the Father without a specific command. Finally, as a fully mature son (or daughter), he does only what he sees his father do and says only what he hears his father say. In all respects, he is now in the image of his heavenly Father. He is fully in agreement with his Father and does the Father’s will not out of compulsion, but out of love and full agreement.
Before Moses, God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only by the name of El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3, where the name is translated “God Almighty”). This is the name of God in His motherly role of creation and genesis. Even as a child is nurtured primarily by his mother during his infancy, so also did God nurture creation.
Many years later, God revealed Himself to Moses by the name of Yahweh. This is God as Father, who came to bring discipline to His people by means of His law, in order to bring us to maturity in Christ (Gal. 3:24). Without the discipline of the law, we would remain lawless and grow up to be as spoiled children who have little regard for the rights and property of others. The law of God is designed to teach us phileo love, in order that we might mature into the agape love of God that is to characterize mature sons of God.
Finally, God reveals Himself to us the ways of El Elyon, the Most High God. This is the God of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18), of which Order Jesus is the High Priest and we, His sons, are priests under His leadership. These are the priests of God and of Christ who reign with Him on the earth (Rev. 5:10; 20:6).
Beware of those who teach that you may bypass either El Shaddai or Yahweh in the attempt to go directly to El Elyon. No child can bypass the nurturing of his mother in early childhood. Children who never learn to crawl do not develop the proper coordination needed to walk and run as they grow older. No child can bypass the discipline of a loving Father and still mature into a trustworthy son. Even as it takes time to bring a son to maturity, so also it takes time to bring spiritual sons into spiritual maturity. This is evident in the story of Israel in the wilderness under Moses, and we are reminded of these things each year in the three feasts that commemorate these stages of spiritual development.
Passover represents the first stage of spiritual development, in that it is the beginning of our personal relationship with God. Though justified by faith, these are yet babes in Christ who have need of the milk of the Word. They make many demands of God, much as a baby demands to be held, fed, and changed. It is the most immature of relationships, and yet the baby Christian believes that now that he has been “born again” he has now somehow “attained” all authority reserved for the children of God. In his conceit, he has little concept that he yet “differeth nothing from a servant” (Gal. 4:1).
Pentecost was (and still is) the celebration of the giving of the law by the voice of our Father God. Pentecost is the feast that separates God’s children into two classes: obedient and rebellious. This is evident in the story of Israel in the wilderness, where the people refused to hear the Father, but Moses was obedient. Later, we see that Caleb and Joshua also had ears to hear, for they disagreed with the other spies who had given an evil report. In the Church of the Age of Pentecost, we find the same pattern manifested. God gives messages to the seven churches, but only the Overcomers actually hear God and are obedient. Only the Overcomers are True Pentecostals. Only the Overcomers are willing to hear the divine law, so that it might be written on their hearts.
If Israel under Moses had been receptive, God would have begun to write His law upon their hearts and make it a part of their very nature. The people would have obeyed the law naturally—because they wanted to—not because they had to be obedient, lest they be disciplined. However, Israel refused to hear God’s voice directly, preferring to send Moses up the mount to hear God on their behalf. So the people only heard an indirect voice when Moses told them what God had said. The law remained external, imposed upon them from the outside even as a father’s commands might be imposed upon a rebellious child who prefers to go his own way. In some ways the law seemed stern or even harsh, but it was designed by a loving Father to break the will of His rebellious children, so that they would eventually be able to say with Jesus, “Not My will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
This is the cry of the son who has learned obedience by the things he has suffered. The disciplines of the Father are at first grievous in our immature eyes, but by the loving disciplines of the divine law we know that we are legitimate sons-in-training (Heb. 12:5-8). Without such discipline, we will never come into spiritual maturity.
Today most Christians prefer to depend upon a preacher or a denomination to go up the mount to hear the word of God on their behalf. The preacher then comes down once or twice a week to tell the people what the word of God is. Even if the preacher truly receives the genuine word from God, that word is preached AT the people, and hence it is coming to them from an external source. There is nothing wrong with hearing the word of God through an external source, for God often speaks through other people. The problem comes when the people hear the man, not the voice of God speaking through him.
When we are truly led by the voice of God within our hearts, the Spirit bears witness to the word and teaches us things that even the preacher does not know as he is preaching. There will also be times when the Spirit will NOT bear witness, and here is where the problems arise. If the preacher or denomination allows the people the freedom to hear the voice of God for themselves, there will inevitably be a diversity of opinions. It is not that God contradicts Himself, but (1) because our ability to hear is dependent upon the condition of our hearts; (2) God often gives certain details to one person, and other details to another.
Diverse thinking appeared in the Church from the earliest beginnings, even among the Apostles themselves. In the fourth century Church, after the persecutions had ceased and Christianity had begun to turn into a religion, a systematic attempt was made by means of Church Councils to stamp out diversity and bring all men into a single view called “Orthodoxy.” It was not long before Christians were being killed and even tortured as sacrifices upon the altar of Church unity. Soon the Church removed from men the right to hear from God for themselves, on the grounds that this could only produce disunity. The right to hear from God came to rest upon a single man, the bishop of Rome, who became the final authority of truth. Christianity became a religion and men were forced to hear the voice of men rather than the voice of God.
From the first Church Council at Nicea in 325 AD, the bishops decided the matters of doctrinal orthodoxy by political force, compromise, scholarship, and threats of execution and excommunication, rather than by divine revelation. They should have followed the example of Moses, who went to God in prayer whenever a matter arose that God had not yet specified in His law. (For example, see Num. 9:6-14.) If the bishops had done this, it would have forced them to repent of their own pride and of seeking their own desires, rather than truly desiring to hear from God and know His mind. Instead, their Councils began to establish Church traditions in the same way that had been done under Old Testament religion by the time of Christ.
After 1500 years of this, the Protestant Reformation split the Roman Church, and soon there were many different opinions. Most of these early denominations made some attempt to force their views upon others by various levels of persecution. But finally, especially in America, it was decided that all men needed the freedom of conscience to follow God’s voice as he would hear it—or the voice of men, if they so chose to hear and obey men. This did not solve the ultimate problem, of course, but at least it allowed everyone the freedom to truly hear God’s voice. Nonetheless, denominations often established themselves as “The True Church” and made salvation requisite upon joining their organization, submission to the decisions of the leadership, and accepting the doctrinal statements established by its traditions.
Through all this, Christianity has moved from a single Orthodox religion into a multitude of smaller religions, each thinking that The True Church is their own earthly organization. Many do not comprehend the idea that the Church is people, not organizations, and God is interested in having a personal relationship with—and speaking with—each person individually. While each should hear God’s voice independently, there is an inter-dependence of the people as well, based upon the law of the double witness that establishes all truth. But this principle only works if the divine law is written on our hearts, for God must teach us all how to apply the law of the double witness properly, or else it will not work. Only when we know the intent of the law will we know the mind of God in these earthly matters.
Our ability to hear the pure voice of God is fully dependent upon the attitude of our hearts. Are we in agreement with God’s law, or do we oppose His will? If we do not understand the law, do we cast it aside as unworthy of our obedience, or do we ask God to teach us His ways and explain it to us that we might know the mind of God? This is the true test of Pentecost, and most who consider themselves Pentecostal today could easily fail, even as Israel failed that first test at the foot of Mount Sinai. Let us ask God to write His law upon our hearts, that we might be found fully in agreement with Him and know His ways. Let us ask God to help us pass the test of Pentecost, so that we might receive a fresh vision of the Feast of Tabernacles and not fall short of entering into all His promises and blessings.