KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada

A COMPLETE FAITH

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4–5)

This declaration, known as the Shema (meaning, “hear”), is the basis of the Jewish faith. Yet, James wrote: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (Jas 2:19). James reminded the Jewish believers in his day that their faith should be superior to that of demons, who know that God is the One and only Lord. It is the same for us who have received God’s grace through faith today; believing in the one true God is the foundation of our faith, but believing this alone is insufficient.

To nurture a complete faith that is pleasing to God, we must submit to His teachings and biblical truth. We must be continually transformed through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, leaving behind bad habits, and eventually regaining the image of God.

A critical aspect of this transformation is being able to discern and correctly judge the events happening around us so that we can adjust and cleanse our thoughts, speech, and behavior accordingly. How does discernment help us adjust our behavior and complete our faith?

DISCERNING THE TIME FROM JESUS’ EARTHLY MINISTRY

When Jesus was preaching the gospel of the kingdom, He told the multitudes:

“Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Lk 12:54–57)

In Palestine, when a cloud rises from the west, where the Mediterranean Sea is, it naturally signals impending rain. When the hot south wind blows in from the desert, the weather will be dry. These are logical conclusions to draw. Anyone who fails to read these signs and prepare for the forecast weather lacks common sense. In Jesus’ time, the Jews heard Him speak with authority and witnessed Him performing miracles from God (Mt 7:29; Jn 3:2), but they were unwilling to believe what they saw or draw near to hear the heavenly message. Jesus indicated that the Jews were deceiving themselves; they were hypocrites who appeared to have faith but lacked the heart to pursue the truth.

Discern True Worship

Our understanding of the Lord should not stop at the elementary principles of the word (Heb 5:12–6:1). A spiritual babe can only digest milk, not solid food; this means he esteems and pursues only worldly benefits, and is unable to focus on spiritual things and eternal life. Only a spiritually mature individual can take solid food and nurture his spiritual life. In doing so, he trains his mind to be wise, to discern good from evil.

Jesus said: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). When God made a covenant with His chosen people at Mount Sinai, He handed down the Ten Commandments and the Law, His holy words, through Moses. This was meant to benefit the people: if they obeyed the Law, they would receive life (Deut 4:1–2). However, they lacked the knowledge of God, and so were unable to understand the Law’s true essence. They eventually twisted the Law away from God’s will, adding many Jewish traditions to it (Mt 9:10–13, 15:1–9, 19:3–8; Jn 2:6).

Therefore, the Lord Jesus came to usher in the era of “new wine,” teaching God’s original intent behind the Law. They were to put off the pursuit of outer godliness and worship. And they were to receive the new wine of Jesus’ message of grace with “new wineskins,” that is, a new heart, to return to worshiping God in spirit and truth (Mt 9:10–17).

Discern Jesus’ True Identity

On reading Jesus’ teachings of new wine and new wineskins, some have come to the same conclusion that the Pharisees did: Jesus came to abolish and replace the Mosaic Law. However, Jesus said, “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Therefore, as we learn about the Lord, we should study the Old Testament Law and Prophets to gain a fuller understanding of His nature. Otherwise, we will base our knowledge on our limited understanding and experience, shaping our perception according to our ideals.

The Jews in Jesus’ time failed to discern Jesus’ identity even though they were familiar with the Old Testament Law and Prophets. They were unable to understand the heavenly message He preached. Jesus warned: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1b). The Pharisees were experts in Jewish laws and traditions and practiced strict observance of these in their outward behavior. However, they overlooked mercy and forgiveness. They neglected self-transformation from the heart by obeying God’s teachings. Not only did they deceive others, but they also deceived themselves (Mt 15:14).

The Lord Jesus came to make a new covenant through His blood, opening the door of grace in the New Testament era. He reminded the people to identify their spiritual immaturity and ignorance (Lk 11:37–54). He wanted them to know Him as the prophesied Messiah, who would die on the cross for the sins of man, and understand how His death would impact their lives. This was why He wanted the people to discern the time and judge all things according to the truth He preached.

After that, the Lord Jesus said:

“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.” (Lk 12:8–10)

It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, an unforgivable sin, to deny that Jesus’ work came from God and to attribute it to Satan (Mt 12:24–32). In fact, through His actions, the Lord Jesus proved Himself to be the Messiah of which Moses and the Old Testament Prophets spoke. He wanted the Jews in His time to know Him through the miracles He performed and His authoritative teachings. However, many of them were blinded by their foolishness and stubbornness, unable to recognize His identity (Jn 9:39–41). Conversely, those who truly know the Lord Jesus willingly believe and confess that He is the fulfillment of God’s word.

Peter’s denial of the Lord Jesus also serves as a warning to us; Peter was one of the Lord’s closest apostles, but even he buckled under extreme pressure and disavowed his Master before men. Although Peter boldly followed Jesus to the high priest's courtyard after Jesus’ arrest, he subsequently and, most painfully, denied Jesus three times, just as the Lord had predicted. Peter was devastated, but the Lord had already forgiven, comforted, and encouraged him before this whole affair. Peter truly understood the Lord’s love and forgiveness, and that understanding helped him to persist in his faith into old age (2 Pet 1:12–15). After this incident, he did not deny his Lord and Master again, even unto death (Jn 21:18–19).

A key takeaway from Peter’s experience is that we must always acknowledge the Lord Jesus and hold on to Him, despite the external pressures and sufferings we may face. He is our Master and Savior who redeemed us and set us free. We may be weak at times, but we know there is nothing in the world that can separate us from Jesus’ love (Rom 8:37–39).

Discern True Riches

Let us return to the passage in Luke: the Lord Jesus continued with the parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:16–21). This parable helps us to put material wealth into perspective. A man may be very prosperous on earth, but if he does not work hard to prepare for the life to come, then he is, in fact, very poor. When he dies, he will be unable to bring his possessions with him. Conversely, a man who makes preparations for his soul is wealthy before God; whether or not he has many possessions in this life, he has saved up riches in heaven. This drives home the Lord’s reminder to be watchful and prepared: “…for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Lk 12:35–40).

DISCERNING THE TIME BEFORE JESUS’ SECOND COMING

Watch Out for Challenges of Faith

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3)

“These things” refers to the Lord’s prophecy about the temple: “…not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mt 24:1–2). The disciples wanted to know when this utter destruction would occur. Today, we know this happened in 70 C.E., around thirty-seven years after the Lord spoke these words.

However, the Lord’s answer points not only to the physical temple of Jerusalem but also to the challenges of faith His disciples and subsequent believers would face. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who was sent to abide in us. Since we were bought at a price and belong to God, we should glorify Him in our body and spirit (1 Cor 6:19–20). God allowed the physical temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed. Today, if we do not learn the lessons from the failure of God’s chosen, we, as individuals, will continue to fall short of God’s glory and, likewise, be abandoned by the Holy Spirit and destroyed.

Peter, James, John and Andrew privately asked the Lord two questions: When would the temple be destroyed? And what would be the signs of the end of the age, when Jesus comes again? (Mt 24:3; Mk 13:3–4).

The Lord’s answer to these questions was: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Mt 24:4). This is because both then—the time before the temple was destroyed—and now—the end time before Jesus comes again—there would be individuals who fall away because of deception. Their bodily temples would be destroyed just as the Lord had prophesied (Mt 24:2, 10).

Watch Out for Signs and Calamities

How should we be watchful, and of what should we be watchful? The Lord Jesus mentioned two things: signs and calamities. When one sees the signs, the calamities will be imminent.

The first sign Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24 is the appearance of false christs, who come in the name of the Lord to deceive many. The second is wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. The third is famines, pestilence, and earthquakes in various places. Believers will experience tribulation and be hated by all nations for the sake of the Lord’s name. These signs have been fulfilled throughout history but are also happening in this present time. We can also observe how they are fulfilled both physically and spiritually.

It is evident how the Lord’s prophecy has come to pass historically—there have been wars between nations, civil wars, famines, and earthquakes. The Roman army surrounded the holy city in the fourth month of 70 C.E., and burned the holy temple in the eighth month that year. Christians were severely persecuted and murdered by the Romans, and at the end of the first century, with the passing of the apostles, the early rain of the Holy Spirit ceased descending on the church.

On a spiritual level, we can see how the signs will manifest today. There will be false christs who exalt themselves and love to be followed and idolized by others (2 Thess 2:1–4; 2 Tim 3:5–6). There will be co-workers who criticize and judge one another maliciously, as though they were nations going against nations. There will be preachers who speak according to their own will and not the word of God (1 Thess 2:13). This preaching is akin to famines and earthquakes, being unable to satisfy man's hunger and thirst. On top of this, the addictive nature of multimedia entertainment, boundless information, and social media on the internet can easily distract us from pursuing God’s word. These worldly distractions are also great earthquakes that have caused a famine of the truth. These phenomena may not be widespread, but their existence signifies the last days, the coming of the Lord, and the beginning of sorrows (Mt 24:8).

What are these sorrows? They refer to people falling away, betraying and hating one another, and rising as false prophets to deceive many (Mt 24:9–12). Therefore, every believer must be vigilant when receiving teachings from others; we must study the Bible and discern whether what we hear is biblically sound. We must strive to obey the truth and build the foundation of faith upon the Rock (Mt 7:24–27).

God’s Servants Must Be Watchful

Finally, the Lord’s advice to remain watchful and discern the time is most important for those who serve Him. A servant of God must self-reflect, lest he become a false prophet who deceives others. Not only will he cause others to fall, but he will fall too. To avoid this, he must unceasingly train himself in humility and serve God with his whole heart. He must not serve his own ideals and ambitions.

May we learn from these teachings of Jesus to truly understand His nature and His heavenly message; to hold firm in our faith to Him, our Lord and Savior; and to discern the time, being vigilant and prepared as the day of His second coming draws near.

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