Faith Proven by Works

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. 


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As was noted in last Monday’s reflection, Abraham for all intents and purposes had mentally offered his son to God before he attempted the physical act. Because of his demonstrated faith, God later reiterated his plans to bless Abraham and give him descendants beyond number (Genesis 22:16-18). 

Abraham not only believed God, he clearly demonstrated through his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering that he was prepared to prove his faith through his actions. As James later wrote, faith without works is no faith. James cited the example of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on the altar as faith and action working together.

According to James, Abraham’s “actions made his faith complete.” (James 2:17, 21-22.) God was never interested in Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice and later gave the Israelites strict instructions through Moses that anyone who offered their children as a sacrifice to the pagan god Molech should be put to death. (Leviticus 20:1-5.)

In what ways are you putting your faith in the Lord into action? Can people see through my actions that I have faith in God and believe his promises? Even though God does not require us to sacrifice our children as burnt offerings, he freely gave his only begotten Son as atoning sacrifice for our sins. All that he asks is that we offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) by demonstrating unwavering faith through our actions. As Scripture tells us, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). 

Just as God tested Abraham to be sure that his faith was real, God is going to test our faith in the crucible and furnace of affliction. It is not a question of IF but WHEN. We can be sure that God is not going to demand that we sacrifice our children as a burnt offering to him. God does not delight in our offerings as much as in our obedience. But God will test our faith to be sure that we are truly on his side. 

I do not know how God will test my faith or how your faith will be tested. It will come through our trials and tribulations, but when we abide in Jesus regardless of whatever comes our way, we will definitely be able to pass the testing of our faith like Abraham and Job and many others before us have done. It is important to remember that it is through our actions in the face of travails that we demonstrate the vitality of our faith. 

The only way to be sure that our faith will not fail is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus became the pioneer and perfecter of our faith because he learned obedience through his own temptation and looked beyond the pain of the cross to the joy that awaited him.

Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for your love for us demonstrated through the sacrifice of your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Help us to persevere when our faith is tested by looking unto Jesus who alone is the author and finisher of our faith. Let us follow his perfect example as we live out our faith one day at a time. By abiding in Jesus, we can overcome our trials and tribulations and bring God glory. Keep us faithful to the end in the power of your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for your nearness to us at all times. Accept our humble prayers offered in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Gathered for Good

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Babbling in Babel,” rooted in Genesis 11:1-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Hebrews 10:19-25


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of ancient truths have gotten a lot of modern confirmation recently.

We are for the most part social creatures, and when we’re separated, we suffer. We can gather for very wrong reasons, however, and suffering can ensue anyway.

Most gatherings have such a clear purpose that we create specific words to designate their types: party, play date, potluck, rally and worship are just a few examples from a very long list.

But even those specific types of gatherings can result in either good or evil. What really matters is whether the right person is invited to the event.

If I say “wild dancing,” you might imagine a party that’s gotten out of control. But what if I tell you I’m talking about King David as he brings the Ark of the Covenant home to Jerusalem?

Or I could talk about “committed worship,” and that might sound good to you, until I clarify I’m talking about a gathering of people who practice human sacrifice.

The Creator, Redeemer and Comforter of the world wants to be in the midst of our lives and included in our gatherings. When we make God the honored guest at any kind of social event, opening our hearts and our group to the influence of the Holy Spirit, good naturally flows from the moment.

Think about gatherings you know of that went well and gatherings that collapsed in a heap of ignominy. Which ones were rooted in Christ’s teachings about love of God and love of neighbor, and which ones were not?

Dear Lord, it can be such a struggle to be mindful of your presence in every moment, inviting you to influence all we say and do in community. Help us live as if we are already in the eternal day when we will be bathed in your holy light. Amen.

The Concept of Covenant

As I mentioned in last Saturday’s posting, the nature of my contribution to LifeTalk is changing a little. I’ll now be writing on Wednesdays and Fridays, with these devotions serving as preludes to what will be preached at Holston View United Methodist Church on Sundays.

The Sermon for Sunday, July 4 is “Covenant with Freedom,” which will draw primarily from 2 Samuel 5:1-5. It will be viewable online.

Today’s Bible passage: Genesis 15


By Chuck Griffin

Religious covenants are serious business, much more serious than a simple contract. Hey, blood usually is involved.

To set aside a people through whom a savior eventually would come, God first established a covenant with Abram, later renamed Abraham after being designated father of the Israelites. In the 15th chapter of Genesis, we see that covenant formalized in a vision, one where God made binding the promises he had offered Abram if the old, childless man would move to a new place.

God’s grant of land, a vast number of descendants and even a blessing unto the whole world became guarantees for Abraham and his descendants at this point. A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, symbols of God’s zeal and holiness, passed between the halves of sacrificial animals arranged at God’s instruction. In effect, God was saying, “If I fail in my promises, may the same be done to me as was done to these animals.”

Contracts usually have a termination point. A covenant with God goes much further, potentially creating an eternal relationship. It takes a lot of reading to explore the biblical concept of covenant—in many ways, it is the primary theme of the Bible. This covenant with Abraham and its ensuing effects keep arising in Scripture until finally we have that great blessing for the world, Jesus Christ.

Christ both affirmed the covenant made with Abraham and established a new way for all people to enter a covenant with God. He did this, of course, by going to the cross, shedding blood and dying to pay for our sins.

Again, God did all the real work and made all the promises in this relationship. Believe in what has been done, and we are drawn into the arrangement.

As the Book of Hebrews reminds us, this new covenant is embedded in our minds and written on our hearts. We are changed the moment we formally enter it through baptism, and the Holy Spirit continues to work within us for our betterment the rest of our lives.

Lord, help us as we read your word to grasp the importance of a covenant life with you. We thank you for the great gift of life you offer us. Amen.

What Shall We Do by Faith?

Hebrews 11:4-7 (NRSV)

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.


By Chuck Griffin

I prefer to plan. I enjoy visualizing where I want to go and devising how I am going to get there. If I cannot make my plan work, I become frustrated.

As a young man, this strategy worked well for me. A time came when people called on me to handle the planning of strategies and messages, with specific goals in mind.

As I grow older, however, I wonder if this tendency to plan can sometimes be a weakness rather than a strength. In particular, being wired in such a way can make it difficult to let God lead.

As we see in Hebrews, good things happen when we have faith that we are part of the big plan God already has put into place. The examples in the verses above are just the beginning of a long list of faithful people, one that stretches through the Bible and into the present. The reward for faith, even for Old Testament characters, amounts to salvation and a promise of eternal life.

The problem with planning is it can limit us. Planners can achieve only what is humanly possible. Aligning ourselves with God’s plan, even if it doesn’t always make sense in human terms, opens us to divine possibilities.

I don’t want to give you anything sounding like a plan, but here’s something we all should watch for in our lives. Do you ever have what seems like a holy desire to do something others might call irrational?

Let’s bathe those desires in prayer and see if they remain. If they do, God may be calling us to take an unplanned step in faith.

Lord, we should pray this prayer more often: Make us bold for you!

Lower than the Angels, for a Little While

Hebrews 2:5-9 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

By John Grimm

Angels are cool.  They are literally the messengers of God, for that is what the Greek word means.  Though angels are higher than humans, they are not the ones to rule humanity.  Angels have some authority, yet they do not have the ability to give me salvation.  They can tell me what God has in store for me.  They cannot deliver me from my sins.

It is Jesus Christ who delivers me from my sins.  He is the one who became for a while lower than the angels.  It is Jesus who is crowned with glory and honor.  How did this happen?  Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering, death and resurrection.  Therefore, I can praise Jesus and I can honor Jesus.

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before his crucifixion is known now because she gave glory and honor to Jesus.  Now I have the time and means to give glory and honor to Jesus.  I started to give praise to Jesus when I first believed in Jesus as the Son of God.  I continue to heap praise upon Jesus for all the times he has been with me in my life.  Once God’s reign is established on the new earth, I will continue to give honor to Jesus. 

Praise you, Jesus, for coming to earth, to be a little lower than the angels.  Thank you for suffering so that we may live for all time with God.  This day is a day that we choose to praise you!  You are due all honor because of the great work you have finished for humanity.  We praise you.  Amen.

The Great Sympathizer

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


Just recently my online small group spent some time discussing the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. We were struck by how easily we could relate to the temptations Satan put before our savior.

Yes, the magnitude of what it took to tempt one who is divine is astonishing. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. He was tempted to fling himself from the pinnacle of the temple and demonstrate his ties to heaven, an act certain to inspire a following. And he was offered a world under his dominion, if only he would place himself below Satan in the grand scheme of the universe.

When we boil those temptations down, however, we see how they appeal to basic human desires for immediate gratification, recognition and control. Satan simply offers us less because he knows how easy it is to draw mere humans toward defeat and death.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the priest who represents us in heaven, Jesus, is deeply sympathetic toward our plight. He has felt our desires. And while Jesus did not succumb to those desires, he certainly understands how fragile humans can easily do so, making our circumstances even worse.

Jesus went to the cross out of love for us, and even after the terrible pain from bearing the weight of every sin ever committed, he continues to love us. He stands there in the heavenly temple, ready to make us holy despite our sins.

We certainly respect what Jesus has done. Our hearts should be filled with gratitude, and there is no need for cringing fear when the time comes to approach Christ in heaven. He has lived among us and understands our circumstances.

Lord, we thank you for the sacrifice making our forgiveness and restoration to God possible. As you represent us in heaven, may we be so bold as to speak for you on earth. Amen.

One Life to Live

Hebrews 9:23-28 (NRSV)

Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.


You may think “One Life to Live” is a long-running soap opera. It’s been around a lot longer as a biblical concept, though.

Christianity, unlike a lot of religions, is about singular moments. Cyclical sacrifices were an important part of Jewish ritual, of course, but they merely foreshadowed the only sacrifice that would matter. Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us the gift of eternal life.

These verses from Hebrews also remind us of how singular each of our lives is. We are not caught up in endless cycles of misery, moving from lifetime to lifetime with little memory of what we have learned. We have one life, one death, and one hope for eternal life in Jesus.

How rare we are! How precious our lives are, each as unique as a snowflake. The eternal nature of God’s mind means our maker never has to repeat an action.

People may seem similar, but even twins are never truly identical. They can never inhabit the exact same point in space and time, and therefore, the universe God has placed them in will give them at least slightly different perspectives and thoughts, making each twin unique.

We move toward a unique moment, too, when Jesus Christ returns to make the relationship with those who have accepted his grace into something full, complete and eternal.

We will be judged as individuals, and the moment will be like no other, in that we will finally know ourselves and value ourselves as fully as God knows and values us.

Lord, help us to better appreciate the gift of life. No matter how broken, every human has the potential to be in relationship with you through Jesus Christ, and therefore every human is at least a smoldering ember ready to burst into a holy, eternal flame. Let us treat each other as such. Amen.

Forward Looking

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NRSV)

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.


At this point in Hebrews, “all of these” means the ancestors of the Israelites. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others were promised much by God regarding what would happen to their line over thousands of years.

As today’s Scripture notes, these were big-picture people, loyal followers of God who thought about more than their immediate needs. They are examples for all of us.

Ultimately, those big promises were fulfilled long after their deaths when God came among us in flesh through that line of Israelites, as Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice willingly offered on the cross, all the world has been blessed, given the potential to overcome the devastating effects of sin through simple faith.

By virtue of living so much later, we have been blessed with a clearer understanding of the work God is doing. Even we should not get too comfortable, though—our individual decisions to follow Christ make us strangers in this world. We hope for so much more, and we invite others to see more than what is obviously before them.

Like any traveler on a trip, we have to eat and find places of shelter. We are never truly home, however.

This sense of disconnectedness from the place where we were born could make us a little sad, until we remember something important: We will go home. God has prepared a city for us, too, and once there, we never again will feel displaced.

Lord, help us to treat this world on a daily basis as a place to offer grace from on high and promises of a better life. We are grateful for the occasional tastes of home we receive now as we align our hearts with yours. Amen.

Do Good

Hebrews 13:16: Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


We’re continuing with our Monday focus on behaviors we can practice throughout the week, a particularly good exercise during the season of Lent. Last week, we focused on the first rule for traditional Methodist living, do no harm.

This Monday, we move to the second very simple rule: Do good.

Be an active Christian, not a passive one. In our daily living, we should be making the world more like the kingdom of heaven. This sounds like a simple assertion, but if we are not intentional about doing good, we will miss many opportunities.

We do good in a couple of basic ways. We of course need to relieve suffering. When the kingdom of heaven is fully present, Christ’s work on the cross will be complete, and suffering and death will come to an end.

A good guideline for identifying those who suffer begins at Matthew 25:31, which recounts the scene of judgment Jesus gave us. We of course are dependent on God’s grace to be saved, but it’s also clear that salvation is supposed to change us so we do good, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness in Christ is identifiable by how we treat the least among us: the hungry and the thirsty, the vulnerable strangers we encounter, those lacking the basics for living, the sick, and the imprisoned.

You are invited to spend the week considering how you might do good toward these people, and then follow through. I would suggest we start as close to home as possible and then work out from there, considering our church family, our community, and then beyond.

If you’ll look at the larger context surrounding today’s Bible verse, you will see Jesus’ teachings embedded there. You also will see that our acts of good are a response to the great act of good Jesus performed on the cross, overcoming sin and death for us.

That larger context reminds us of our second big opportunity to do good. Tell the story of Jesus Christ to people needing to hear it. Our willingness to do so may be the difference between eternal life and eternal death for someone.

Again Lord, let our eyes see and our ears hear what you would have us do. Amen.

The God Who Speaks

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 1:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.


These words and what follows in the opening of Hebrews remind us of the astonishing change God wrought in the history of the universe through Jesus Christ.

Even in their sin-soaked brokenness, people had always received at least some indirect word from God. In particular, prophets would arise who would speak on God’s behalf, usually issuing a call to repent, an exhortation to live as God would have them live.

In those prophecies, there also were promises. God said he would provide a way out of sin, an opportunity for otherwise hardened hearts to be softened, beating once again to God’s rhythms rather than the world’s.

In this season of Advent, we move toward celebrating the incarnation, the strange fact that God actually took on flesh and lived among us. Not only that, God came among us not as a king but as a vulnerable, very poor baby, fully experiencing what it means to be human.

How does the Son speak to you? Are you in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, letting his words challenge and shape you?

Advent is a good season to reconnect with the one who is always available. God continues to speak a new, life-changing truth to all of us.

Over the next few days, try something. Read the first two chapters of each of the gospels. It’s my prayer that starting these stories will renew a desire to hear what the Son has to say.

Lord, thank you for the ongoing blessing of your holy word. We particularly thank you for the penetrating, life-changing words of the Messiah. Amen.