Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Discerning a Heart of Faith

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)
This verse is often quoted out of the blue, as if it were not related to a context. But the word “for” at the beginning of this verse alerts us to the fact that it is connected to the idea of the previous verse: “Be diligent to enter that rest.” The “rest” in view is the rest God has for His people. In the larger context, the author illustrates his point by reminding us that the children of Israel died in the wilderness instead of enjoying the Promised Land, the rest God had prepared for them.

What does this have to do with the Word of God being living and powerful and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart? Everything. Because it has to do with faith. The children of Israel did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelief, even though God had promised He was giving the land to them.

It is not that they were unable to believe. No, they were unwilling to believe. Had they been willing, they would have been able because faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Every promise of God carries with it the faith to believe that promise. The children of Israel heard the promise but they did not give any room for faith to arise in them to believe it. The word of promise tested them and found they had rejected faith.

The Word of God offers us many wonderful promises and gives us the faith to believe. But it also probes us with surgical precision to see whether we will lay hold of that faith. There is no fooling God. He discerns the thoughts and intents of our hearts to see whether we are willing to believe Him.

In the wilderness, God promised the children of Israel that He was giving them the land of Canaan, and that promise tested them: Were they willing to believe God above all else? Would they believe the truth of His Word more than the facts of their current circumstances? More than the giants in the land? More than their own eyes?

As we know, out of all that generation, only Joshua and Caleb choose to believe God. They were not unaware of the circumstances, and they had certainly seen the giants in the land, just as the other spies had. But they understood that the truth of God’s promise was far greater than what they experienced with their senses. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The greater reality is not that which can be seen or felt but is apprehended by faith. That is why Paul teaches us, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The same Word of God by which faith comes also discerns our hearts. It cuts through all our rationalizations to reveal whether we are willing to believe the promise of God. Those who are willing enter into His rest.