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First Corinthians The Epistle of Sanctification - Book 3

An in-depth commentary/study on chapters 12 and 13 of First Corinthians.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 6

Faith of an Overcomer

There are different levels of faith, and each level has its own reward. Passover faith justifies us by the blood of the true Lamb of God. Pentecost faith sanctifies us by a continuing process, as He writes the law in our hearts as the Holy Spirit leads us through various life experiences. Tabernacles faith glorifies us when we are transformed into His image.

Passover Faith

Moving to a higher level of faith requires something different. Level one requires a person to have faith in the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death on the cross. Believing in Jesus as a great prophet or teacher is insufficient and cannot justify anyone, because sin is not merely a matter of ignorance that calls for a teacher. Sin is an offense against God and/or men, which requires satisfaction in a court of law. By faith, true believers call upon the blood of Jesus to pay for their sin and thereby restore right standing before the law.

Just because one has been justified by the blood of the Lamb does not mean that he is qualified to enter the Promised Land. A Passover level of faith only ensures a person that he or she has left Egypt and has become part of the church. To go the distance, one must continue the journey through Mount Sinai (Pentecost) and then continue to the Promised Land (Tabernacles).

There are many who never leave Egypt in their lifetime. Others are justified and leave Egypt (the world’s way of life). Others continue to Mount Sinai, as it were, to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (“fire”). But only a few catch the vision of Tabernacles to go the full distance and to receive the promises of God. So Heb. 4:1 says,

1 Therefore let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.

This might be frightening to believers, if they do not know that God has vowed to bring them into the Promised Land in the end. Those who understand the New Covenant know that God is responsible to bring them into the Promised Land. This is how we enter His “rest.”

If they think that death is their deadline to qualify, many will be afraid, and this is why it is so important to understand the promise of God.

Pentecost Faith

Pentecostal faith, which was required on that first Pentecost when Israel received the law at Mount Horeb, comes by being willing to hear His voice so that the law can be written on one’s heart. Israel as a whole refused at that time to hear His voice in Exodus 20:18-21, and for this reason, King David lamented in Psalm 95:7-11,

7Today, if you would hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness; 9 when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways. 11 Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.

To refuse to hear His voice is to fail as Israel failed under Moses. To hear is to obey, for the Hebrew word shema can be translated either way. In other words our obedience is evidence that we have heard. By hearing His voice, we are led by the Spirit. The Spirit leads us through many circumstances in life, teaching us the mind of God, showing us His nature, disciplining us when necessary, but always causing us to grow until we come to the measure of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

Tabernacles Faith

Tabernacles Faith, which is required for overcomers, believes the promises of God, following the example of Abraham, the father of faith. Romans 4:21 says that Abraham was “fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Abraham did not have faith in his own ability. He had faith in God’s ability to do the impossible.

Tabernacles faith is a faith in God’s promise, knowing that He also has the power to do what He has promised. In other words, the highest form of faith is based in the New Covenant—God’s vow to us, not our vows to God.

Tabernacles faith again is seen in the story of Caleb and Joshua as they distinguished themselves from their colleagues in Numbers 13 and 14. Recall that when the twelves spies returned to give their report, ten of the spies showed Israel the good fruit of the land, but they spread fear by their report of the giants. Num. 13:31-33 says,

31 But the men who had gone up with him [with Caleb] said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

The result of this report was that “the people wept that night” (Num. 14:1), because they did not have faith that God was able to fulfill His promise to bring them into that land. They saw only their own inability to fight the giants, because they had an Old Covenant mindset. They thought that victory depended upon their own flesh, ability, skill, and determination—which they lacked.

Hebrews 3:19 explains this, saying,

19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief [apistia, “lack of faith”].

These were church people, for Acts 7:38 (KJV) calls them “the church in the wilderness.” It is not that they lacked the faith to come out of Egypt at Passover, but rather that they lacked Pentecostal faith to hear God’s voice at Mount Horeb, and so they lacked Tabernacles faith to enter the Promised Land.

Their faith was small, or too weak to endure to the end, because it was based on the Old Covenant. They had made a vow in Exodus 19 but they had already failed ten times to obey and show their faith in God. So Heb. 4:1, 2 admonishes us, saying,

1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Many have thought that these verses were referring to salvation itself, and so they have taught that men might lose their salvation. But that is not so, for He is the Savior of the world. The real issue is whether or not a person is an overcomer. Those who fail to become overcomers will receive life at the general resurrection, as Jesus says in John 5:28, 29. Even the unbelievers who are judged at that time will be released at the Creation Jubilee at the end of time, as the law commands.

This second opportunity is mentioned briefly in Heb. 4:5-9,

5 and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 He AGAIN fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

The reason for this second “today” is for God to fulfill His promise. At the first “today” in the time of Moses, the people failed to enter the Promised Land, because they were trying to become overcomers by the power of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was man’s vow to God in Exodus 19:8, saying, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” Having been disobedient, they were disqualified, for they failed to keep their vow. A vow is only as good as one’s ability to keep it.

The New Covenant Promise

The generation that made its vow to God in Exodus 19:8 all died in the wilderness, having failed to fulfill their vow. Only Caleb and Joshua lived to cross the Jordan River. Hence, Heb. 4:6 says, “they failed to enter because of disobedience.” But we know that no man is justified by his works (Rom. 4:2), but by faith. Paul was speaking of one’s Passover faith, by which justification is granted. In terms of the story of Israel, such faith was required to leave Egypt. But Hebrews 4:6 was talking about something else—Tabernacles faith that is required to enter the Promised Land.

So we find that God gave Israel two covenants, one in Exodus 19:8 and the other in Deut. 29:1, where we read,

1 These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.

It was by this second covenant that the next generation of Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, who, as a type of Christ (Yeshua), was commissioned under the New Covenant. The nature of this second covenant is stated clearly, and it is based upon the oath (promise) of God—not upon the promise of men. Deut. 29:10-13 says,

10 You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God; your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into HIS OATH which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Notice the difference between the two covenants. In the first covenant at Horeb, the people had to vow obedience in order to be God’s people and for Yahweh to be their God (Exodus 19:5, 6). But the second covenant put no such requirement upon the people. It was not Israel’s oath, but God’s oath that was to make Israel His people. In other words, the responsibility shifted from man to God. Man had already failed, but God cannot fail.

If God should fail to make them all His people, He could no longer blame the Israelites for their disobedience. He would have to blame Himself for His own failure, for if He were unable to fulfill His vow, then He ought not to have made such a vow in the first place. If the goal, then, depends upon man’s will and his ability in any way, then there would be great uncertainty about God’s ability to fulfill His oath.

In no way is this possible. God’s will is stronger than man’s. God’s wisdom constructed a plan by which He would be able to save all mankind, even if it might seem impossible for Him to fulfill His promise. In His infinite wisdom, God gave authority to man but kept sovereignty for Himself. That way He retained the right of eminent domain over His creation, including the right to overrule man’s will. Hence, man’s will is limited. In the end only God truly has free will.

The scope of His New Covenant oath is given in Deut. 29:14, 15,

14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God, and with those who are not with us here today.

This covenant was universal. It was not limited to those who had gathered in His presence in the plains of Moab. Because the New Testament applies the story to later generations, we know that this New Covenant is also timeless, for it includes every generation that was not present in the plains of Moab.

God’s promise was not merely to make salvation available for all mankind. His promise was to make it happen! God’s promise was not merely to make salvation available to all through Christ. His promise was to send Christ to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He paid sin’s penalty not only for believers, but for the whole world (1 John 2:2).

The prevailing belief that Jesus was sent to die only to give man the opportunity to be saved by his own will, his own decision, and his own vow is just another form of the Old Covenant. How does that differ from Israel’s opportunity in Exodus 19? There God made salvation available to the people, if only they would decide to follow and obey Him. That method could not succeed, nor was it ever intended to be a success. It was designed only to prove that man cannot be saved by exercising his own “free will.” Man’s decisions are only as good as his ability to make good on them.

That is why God made a second covenant with Israel, telling us in Deut. 29:13 that it was the same promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Most people are well aware that God’s promise to Abraham was a foundational revelation of the New Covenant. So also was this one.

The real question, then, is whether or not God is able to fulfill His promise. Secondly, we must ask ourselves where our own faith lies. Do we have faith in our own vow to follow Jesus and thereby be His people? Or do we have faith in God’s ability to make us—and all men—His people? Heb. 8:6 says,

6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

The comparison and contrast here is not between the promises to Abraham and the promises to us. No, those are the same. The contrast is between the promises of men and the promises of God. The Old Covenant is based on the promises of men; the New Covenant “has been enacted on better promises,” because they are based on the promises of God.

Paul speaks of “the promises of God” in 2 Cor. 1:20 and in Gal. 3:21. Paul described his own gospel message in Acts 13:32,

32 And we preach to you the good news [gospel] of the promise made to the fathers.

This was not the promise that the fathers made to God, but the promise that God made to the fathers. The Old Covenant promise was conditional upon man’s will, but the New Covenant promise was conditional only upon God’s will and His ability to fulfill His word. A child of the Old Covenant, Paul says in Gal. 4:23, is “born [or begotten] according to the flesh,” that is, by man’s fleshly promise; while (by contrast) a child of the New Covenant is “through the promise” (of God).

An Old Covenant Christian is not yet an overcomer, nor can he inherit the promises of God, because he depends upon his own promise, made by his own will. His faith must be shifted from himself to God. To do that, he must understand the difference between the two covenants.

But thanks be to God, who has taken upon Himself the responsibility to change our hearts and to see to it that we all make that shift in the end. His own reputation, in fact, is at stake, for He has vowed to make us His people and to be our God, even though we were not present when He made such an oath in the days of Moses.  No man will enter the Promised Land until God has granted him such faith; but God will grant all men such faith in His own time and in His own way.