BELIEVING THE WORD OF THE LORD
How marvelous that we can believe the Word of the Lord! We can be convinced of its truth, and of its application to us! Believing does not differ significantly from hearing.
Embracing the Message
Hearing accentuates the attentiveness of the individual, while believing underscores the embrace of and reliance upon the message. Our adversary is keenly aware of the power of believing. He engages in intense activity to stop this from occurring. Wherever he finds a person that does not see the relevance of the Word, he removes it, lest they believe and be saved. Here is the word of Christ on the matter. "And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved" (Luke 8:12, NASB).
Among other things, this confirms the means through which the Word produces results--it is believing. The Word of God not believed has no saving effects upon the individual!
Combining Hearing with Faith
Israel is a case in point. They were subjected to the Word of God, yet did not believe it. The poignant word of the Spirit on their experience illuminates many contemporary situations. "For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (Heb 4:2, NIV). Israel's deficiency was not WHAT they heard, but HOW they heard it. They did not believe what they heard, and therefore it brought no advantage to them. The Psalmist said of the ancient people, "Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe in His word" (Psalm 106:24).
We have a better message than they did--"the Gospel." It is a message of Divine accomplishment and the availability of blessing. It is a superior message of "better things," established on "better promises," and declaring a "better country" (Heb 7:19; 8:6; 11:16,40; 12:24). However, it must be believed before it will bring blessing!
During the early days of the church, the number of disciples was greatly multiplied. Without the supposed advantage of a church-growth program, they grew. They were not subjected to a seminar on church effectiveness, or to secrets of growth submitted by a highly effective disciplinarian. The Holy Spirit accounts for the growth in uncomplicated words. "But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand" (Acts 4:4). The great awakening in Samaria during the preaching of Philip is accounted for similarly. "But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike" (Acts 8:12). Over and over, the effectiveness of the Word of God is traced to belief of the message (Acts 11:21; 13:12; 14:1; 16:34; 17:12; 17:34; 18:8).
Believing Because Appointed
We must not view this in a simplistic way. Failure to be blessed by the truth occurs because people do not believe. Permit me to introduce another aspect of the matter. Divine involvement is seen in the belief of the truth. It is not merely an accomplishment of the intellect, even though that is involved. There is an interesting expression in the book of Acts--conducive to a lot of contemplation. "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48, NASB).
This passage has caused great difficulty to those embracing lifeless systems of theological thought. Some have viewed it as saying people DISPOSED to eternal life believed. While this may satisfy those wishing to protect their theological stance, it does not at all satisfy the text. The word employed here is tetagme,noi, and is used in this form only in this verse. It means, "To arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot):--addict, appoint, determine, ordain, set."(1) Another form of the word is used in Romans 13:1. There the Spirit affirms governing authorities "that exist are appointed (tetagme,nai) by God." Another form of the word is used in Acts 22:10, where Saul of Tarsus was informed of his appointed role in the Kingdom. "Rise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed (te,taktai,) for thee to do." These are the three uses of the word in Scripture. All of them reveal Divine involvement.
Of the passage we are considering (Acts 13:48), a word from a recognized linguist is in order--A.T. Robertson. "By no manner of legerdemain can it [appointed] be made to mean "those who believe were appointed." It was saving faith that was exercised only by those who were appointed unto eternal life, who were ranged on the side of eternal life, who were thus revealed as the subjects of God's grace by the stand that they took on this day for the Lord. It was a great day for the kingdom of God." (2) Of course, the words of A.T. Robertson are not the final ones. I only share them to confirm that honest scholarship--exceedingly difficult to come by--freely acknowledges the nature of the text.
Permit me to elaborate on this truth. Believing the Word reveals Divine preference. It makes known those to whom God is kindly disposed. Paul referred to this reality when writing the Thessalonians. "Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction . . . You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything" (1 Thess 1:4-8).
This is a remarkable text! The belief of the Gospel by the Thessalonians, and their consequent obedience, convinced Paul God had chosen them! Look at it this way, the choice of God required their belief in order to be implemented. His choice was not arbitrary, or without the requirement for involvement. Yet, it was not prompted by their response--their response was prompted by His choice! For some, this is too difficult to receive.
Those with Tender Hearts
The truth of the matter is this. God chooses those with tender hearts, broken and contrite spirits, who tremble at His Word. These are the people to whom He is attracted, and which He prefers. They are the ones He has chosen. This is consistently proclaimed in Scripture (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; 147:3; 1 Sam 16:7; Isa 66:2). When people of this caliber hear God's Word, He enables them to combine their hearing with faith, in order that they might be saved. All of this is done without God compromising His own nature or violating the volitional capacity of His creation!
We see an example of this in Lydia. "And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14, NASB). You may rest assured, if God had not "opened her heart," she could not have responded "to the things spoken by Paul." We challenge sophists that oppose this truth to affirm and support the ability of men to respond to the Word without God opening their heart. They certainly have a gargantuan task before them!
Several Scriptural affirmations are brought to light by this vein of truth. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ . . . to believe on Him . . . (Phil 1:29). "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" (2 Pet 1:1, NIV). "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17, NIV). "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (Rom 12:3, NIV). "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 1:14, NIV).
Believing Is Something You Do
Believing God IS something YOU do! Your will is involved, together with your affection and thoughts. This, however, does not mean there is no involvement of Deity. The verses we have just provided clearly trace our faith back to God. Some theology stumbles at this, refusing to accept faith as a gift from God. This condition--a revealed one--does not exclude our activity. For example, God gives us our "daily bread," but we engage in a significant amount of activity to gather it. Referring to the brute creation, the Psalmist says, "These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things" (Psalm 104:27-28). The fact that God gave them their food did not mean their effort was not required to obtain it! He gave it, they gathered it. Sometimes they "gather it" with considerable effort.
1. Strongs Dictionary
2. Robertson's Word Pictures
2. Robertson's Word Pictures