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14. Baptism and Victory: According to Your Faith Be It Done to You

Chapter 14

Baptism and Victory: According to Your Faith Be It Done to You

2 Kings 13:14-19
Montreal, July 6, 1981

 

Baptism involves dying with Christ in order to be raised with him into a new life, a life of victory over sin. But given that you have died and finished with the old life, what is the “secret”—if you can use that word—of entering into the fullness of the victorious Christian life? A brother once told me that he could not find victory in the Christian life. What is the secret of victory? This is what I would like to share with you in this message.

Let us turn to 2 Kings 13:14-19. This passage fascinated me when I was a young Christian, and I have returned to it many times. It is a passage about defeating the Syrians:

14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, cry­ing, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows”; so he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow”; and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands upon the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward”; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. And he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 He continued, “Take the arrows”; and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; and he struck three times, and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” (2 Kings 13:14-19, RSV)

If God has given us victory, why aren’t we victorious?

This passage fascinated me when I was a young Christian because it has an import­ant message. I wonder if you see what it is. It is a mess­age of victory.

Joash, also called Jehoash, was a king of Israel who started his reign in 800 B.C. He reigned for 16 years as we are told in verse 10 of the same chapter. The name Joash means “Yah­weh has given”.

Yahweh God has given us the victory, so the question is whether we have received it. There is often a vast gulf between what God has given and what we have received. God has given us the victory that we all badly need. So why don’t we have what He has given us? What is the missing link between the granting of victory and the actual experience of victory? We must have missed something in be­tween, unless we are ready to say that God has not given us victory, or that He wants us to live defeated lives, or that His grace is not sufficient for us to gain victory in the Christian life.

When we look at the church, we might say, “Has God given it victory? Where is the beauty that God meant the church to mani­fest? Does the church radiate His beauty and glory to the world? Is it a church filled with spiritual power as God meant it to be?”

To ask the question is already to answer it. The church has been, for the most part, a dismal failure. To be sure, there are exceptional servants of God today just as there were exceptional men of God in Elisha’s day. The nation of Israel was in bad shape, but thanks to God, there was an Elijah, there was an Elisha, there were other men of God. But the church is not meant to depend on one or two per­sons to salvage what is left of its name. The church is called to be a light to the world just as Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles. God had chosen Israel to be His servant, yet Israel failed just as we have failed. What is the problem with Israel and with us?

Let us look at the situation. The mighty prophet Elisha was about to die, so Joash the king of Israel became desperate and said to him: “My father! My father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” His plea for help indicated that Elisha was crucial to the safety, the future, and the defense of Israel, even more so than its armed forces put together. (The cavalry and the chariots would be equivalent to tanks in today’s terms.) Elisha was vital to the welfare of the king and the survival of Israel, but was about to die. No wonder the king was very despondent!

It’s remarkable that one mighty man can be so crucial not only to the church but the entire nation. This has occurred many times in history, and one such example is a man called Ambrose who was more capable than his Roman emperors. The emperors would turn to Ambrose in times of crisis, for their best hope was in him and not the armies of Rome. When the Huns stood at the gates of Rome, ready to wipe Rome off the map, whom did the emperor turn to but Ambrose of Milan? The Hun warriors were sweeping across Europe, wiping out everything in their path, and now they stood at the gates of Rome. This mighty man Ambrose was able to turn back the Huns from the gates of Rome, accomplishing what the emperor knew the armies of Rome would not be able to accomplish.

Joash failed for lack of faith

Similarly the king of Israel depended on Elisha, a mighty man of God, for protection against Syria. Syria had been a longtime menace to Israel. It attacked Israel again and again, putting Israel under constant economic and military pressure. It is ironic how history repeats itself because in our modern time, Israel is again in a danger­ous state of affairs with Syria. So after a few thousand years, we have a similar situation. I wonder if his­tory would have been different—one in which modern-day Syria would not be a threat to Israel—if Joash the king had done what Elisha wanted him to do.

Though Elisha was weak and dying, yet by God’s power Elisha gave Joash a final chance to root out Syria forever as a threat to the survival of Israel. But Joash missed the chance. What happened?

We note a few things. First, the king obeyed Elisha, the man of God, faithfully and without questioning. In verses 15 to 18, the king did whatever Elisha told him to do. Elisha said, “Take a bow and arrows,” and the king took a bow and arrows. He said, “Stretch out the bow,” and he did. He told him to open the window eastward, and he did. He told him to shoot the arrow out the window, and he did. He obeyed every instruction.

But there was a step beyond which Elisha could not take him, namely, stepping forward in faith. That is precisely where the king failed. He failed not for want of obedience, but for want of faith. I would like you to under­stand this very clearly. Faith is something that no one—not me, not anyone else—can do for you. Elisha could not plant his own faith into Joash. When it came to the step of faith, Joash was on his own.

There are several points I would like to share with you.

Five principles of faith and victory

1. God has given us the victory, but we need faith to obtain it

Notice Elisha’s prophetic promise to Joash in verse 17:

“The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.”

Elisha was telling Joash that he will gain total victory over Syria (“until you have made an end of them”). In fact it was given to Joash as a promise. But two verses later, the promise was rescinded: Syria will be struck three times but will not be terminated (v.19). Why? Because of the king’s lack of faith to draw upon the promise. God had given Joash a decisive victory over Syria that Israel could not have achieved in its own strength. In those days Syria was far more power­ful than Israel.

When Elisha said, “Take the arrows and strike the ground with them,” what did Joash do? He took the arrows, struck three times, and stopped. The man of God got angry with him: “Why did you stop? You should have struck five or six times!” I wonder how you would do if a man of God said to you, “Take the arrows and strike the ground.” You might strike just once because Elisha didn’t say how many times. That would give you one victory. At least Joash struck three times, one-two-three, which is not bad, yet not good enough. I was telling myself: From this story I have learned that I should keep on striking and striking until Elisha says, “Stop! Stop!” Then I will have total victory.

2. God’s promise of victory is of His mercy, for His people

The second point has to do with God’s mercy to Joash. Joash was not worthy of God’s promise of victory for he was not outstanding in spiritual terms. Yet God granted him this promise for the sake of Israel. In fact verse 11 says that Joash did evil in the sight of Yahweh, and followed in the sins of Jeroboam. Joash was an evil king who deserved no grace or mercy, yet God in His kindness gave him the promise of victory for the sake of His people Israel.

It is the same with us sinners. In which areas are we better than Joash? Yet God has granted us the promise of victory that requires faith to take hold of. But Joash didn’t have enough faith. He had obedience and perhaps some faith, but not enough faith. Isn’t that the problem with many Christ­ians? There is faith but not enough faith. So you live in a twilight Christian existence: you are defeated a few times, then you gain one or two victories, then you are defeated again. What kind of a see-saw Christian life is this?

3. Victory comes from faith; obedience alone is not enough

Third, grasp the difference between faith and obedience. While there is a close connection between faith and obedience (in fact obedience is integral to biblical faith), there is also a distinction. Joash was a king, yet he obeyed the prophet Elisha to an impressive degree and showed deep respect for this man of God. It reveals some­thing of Joash’s character, who is more honorable than many people who have high opin­ions of themselves. If we think we are superior to Joash, we are probably deceiving ourselves.

But here is where obedience is not enough. There is a point at which obed­ience and faith part company, with faith going beyond obed­ience. When it comes to faith, there is a point beyond which a man of God cannot take you further. You are on your own. It was only after Joash had struck the ground three times and then stopped that Elisha said to him, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have total victory over Syria. But you went halfway, and that is not good enough.”

To be sure, if Elisha had told him to strike the ground five or six times, Joash would have obeyed and struck five or six times. So why didn’t Elisha tell him to do just that? Because if he did, the victory over Syria would be attributable to Elisha’s faith and not the king’s. But the promise of victory was made to the king, not to Elisha. My faith cannot substitute for yours, just as yours cannot substitute for mine. I have to stand or fall by my faith, not yours. Elisha had to let him go on his own to strike the ground according to his faith, which went only halfway, much like the faith of so many Christians.

4. Faith by nature takes initiative, and presses on to victory

Where else does faith and obedience differ? In this fourth point, I would like to bring out the truth that faith, unlike obedience, has a certain initiative of its own. Obedience is doing what someone tells you to do, but faith is acting on your own and continuing on your own. With the initiative of faith, you make wise and vital decisions.

Those who will be baptized today have taken that initiative, not because someone pressured them to go for baptism. They have taken the step of faith out of their own initiative. I didn’t tell them, “Get baptized.” In reality we cannot constantly cross-examine people as to whether they are ready for baptism. They have taken that step as an act of initiative.

The step of baptism is only the first step, for they will have many more steps to take in the days and years to come. It is good to take the first step, but if you stop there, you won’t enter into the fullness of victory. You will have to take the next step, then another step, then another step, and keep on going towards the fullness of victory.

But many stop at the first step, that of bap­tism, saying to them­selves, “I have arrived!” No, you haven’t arrived. You have taken only the first step of your journey, and there is still a long way to go. Some Christians take a second step followed by a slow third step, and then come to a halt. Soon they will be sliding back.

Why did Joash stop after three strikes? Why did his init­iative come to a halt after three strikes? Why do people stop prematurely, even reversing direction? What is the root problem? Why do we lose our momentum? Why do some step on the brakes while others step on the accelerator, going from strength to strength?

The secret is to keep pressing towards the mark. That was Paul’s secret. He refused to stop or allow anything to side­track him. Your commitment will be tested by fire. Some people, as soon as they run into a hindrance, become discour­aged, demoralized, exhausted, and so they slow down. But that is precisely where you must not slow down, but keep pressing forward! You must press on even if you feel tired and your steps are getting heavy, saying, “God, I am getting tired.” It is precisely when you are feeling tired that Satan will try to hold you back. Stopping at that point would be a fatal mistake for you because that is when your faith is being tested. If you take just one more step, you might suddenly find yourself lifted up on eagle’s wings!

I have battled adverse situations many times, being physi­cally and men­tally tired, much like Gideon’s men who were “faint yet pursuing” (Judges 8:4). But if you persevere and carry on, soon you will feel that you are being lifted up, for God’s grace has taken over. God’s power is transforming imminent defeat into glorious victory!

Many Christians stop just before the point of victory, and sur­render just one step away! But God will help you go on. A.W. Tozer says that God often allows you to arrive at the point of hurt and discourage­ment, and then there is victory! Just when you think you cannot go on and are about to collapse, you are lifted up. So you say, “What’s happening to me? This is too good to be true!”

God uses adverse situations to test our faith, for it is through testing that our faith is strengthened. Like a wise father, God does not pamper us, but allows us to fall down when we are learning to walk. When we trip and bash our nose on the ground, our natural reaction is to say: “I’m not going to take another step! This matter of learning to walk is ridicu­lous! I’ve already got a bruised nose.”

If your father holds your hand to prevent every fall, how are you going to learn to walk? Every parent knows this, and God has to let us know it too. When we are dis­couraged, sitting on the floor and crying, “I’m never going to make it!” that is when He comforts you. He lifts you up and says, “Stand up and see. You will not only walk, but will run and not be weary.” That is wonderful! As I said, the story of Elisha and Joash fascinates me.

5. Your faith determines the extent God’s victory will be yours

The story of Joash fascinates me because it tells me some­thing about faith. Faith is like opening a tap that is connected to a reservoir, even a whole lake! The water flows from the lake into your home through the tap. If you open the tap slightly, you will get a trickle from the reservoir. If you turn it more, you will get a reasonable flow of water. But if you turn it all the way, you will get showers of blessing! What fascinates me about the story is that it is we who determine the degree to which God’s victory will be ours. God has put the matter into our hands!

Imagine a situation in which we are thirsty, so we turn the tap slightly and get a weak trickle. Then we say, “Something’s wrong. Has the reservoir gone dry?” No, the reservoir has not dried up. It is you who did not turn on the tap fully.

Or you can picture faith in terms of window blinds. The sun is shining outside but indoors you sit in darkness. It is not because the sun does not shine but because you have the blinds down. If you lift the blinds a little, some light will come in. To get full blazing light, open the blinds all the way!

Your lack of victory will affect others

A remarkable thing about faith is that our faith affects not only ourselves but other people. If your faith is small, your blessing will be small, and you won’t have much to share with others. Even worse, if you close the door of faith, you will hinder others. We see this in Matthew 23:13 where Jesus says, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the king­dom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” You have shut the door of the kingdom on others. It is not just you who are affected by your lack of faith, others are being block­ed from entering the kingdom of God.

The question of being victorious is not limited to my salvation. You and I may be responsible for the blood of others whom we have prevented from entering the kingdom. They look at the likes of us and say, “Who wants to be a Christian? If that’s a Christian, forget it! I don’t want to be like them!” It was the kind of thing that prevented me from becoming a Christian for a long time. I looked at Christians and said, “I don’t want to be like them.”

What do your friends see when they look at you? Do they say, “What a fine Christian! That is what I call the victorious life!” This won’t happen until we open wide the doors of our hearts to let God’s grace flood into our souls. We cannot live the Christian life in our own strength.

“According to your faith, let it be done to you”

We are dealing with vital principles in Scripture that many Christ­ians have not learned regarding the ABCs of the Christian life. A principle of the Christian life that we see again and again is summed up in the statement, “According to your faith, let it be done to you” (Mt.9:29).

In this story, two blind men approached Jesus to beg him to heal them. The Lord asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said, “Yes, Lord.” And he said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you.” And instantly they could see. Many blind men remain blind, but these two had faith: “Yes, Lord, you can do it.” And Jesus did it! How many blessings have we missed in life, I wonder?

This “according to your faith” principle is seen also in Matthew 9:22 and 15:28, and in the other gospels (Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50; 17:19). The very name Joash means “God has given”. God has given us the victory, but do we have it?

Be an Elisha, full of faith

In closing I would like to put a challenge before you as I put it before myself. How exciting the Christian life will be if we could learn this challenge! Jesus wants his disciples to grasp the infinite possibilities in the Christian life when he says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). That is something to think about! In the Greek, “to him who believes” is in the singular and includes anyone. You can be an Elisha! Why be content to be a Joash?

Elisha was a good disciple, for he imitated his teacher Elijah. I often think of Jesus’ words, “It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher” (Mt.10:25). Elisha was like his master Elijah in many ways, even in the way people spoke to them. Joash said to Elisha, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2Kings 13:14), the same words that Elisha had earlier spoken to his master Elijah (2:12) just after Elijah had been taken up into heaven.

I dream of what God can make of me and His church

Learn the lesson of faith well: “All things are possible to him who believes!” That puts before you the endless possibilities of the Christian life. I find that very challenging! I aim by God’s grace to rise up to these possibilities. And do you know what? I dream! When you see these possibilities before you, you start to dream. If there were no possibil­ities, there would be nothing to dream for. I dream of what God will do in this generation, even through a man as weak and unworthy as I! I am nothing, but what God can do through a nobody like me excites me!

What do I dream for? I dream of what the church can be. I start with myself. I dream of what God can make of me, this worthless lump of clay. Even as a young Christian, I started to dream. I looked at the Bible, the life-transforming word of God, and knelt before God, saying, “Lord, I am spiritually dull; I lack spiritual insight and understanding when I read Your Word. Teach me through Your Holy Spirit and illuminate my mind. Bring light to my understand­ing of Your word. Open it to me, that I may serve You and bring this Word of life to others.” That was what I dreamed.

I could not predict when God will answer my prayer for a deep under­stand­ing of His Word. But after a time, it happened! God was bringing to my understanding verse after verse which I previously could not under­stand. I was filled with joy and excitement whenever I discovered new things in the Word of God. This includes things regarding the future, the past, and the present. I even gained the ability to use the sword of the Spirit in spiritual battle! The sword of the Spirit is a weapon that, by God’s grace, I was beginning to wield with some skill, though there is still more to learn.

I dreamed on. I looked at the church and said, “God, I beg of You to raise up for Yourself mighty men of God in this generation!” I saw nothing obvious for one year, nothing for two years, but I kept saying, “O God, where are the people? Raise up for Yourself people in this generation!” Then I started seeing God raising up people of God! He said to me, “Here are some of them; train them up”. That was more than I had bargained for because the thought of giving a training had never occurred to me. I had not asked for it, yet it came to pass. God committed some part of His work into my hands.

I continued to dream, aspiring to see the revival of the church in this generation, when the church will again be conformed to the pattern of the New Testament church. I hoped for a church in which small groups of disciples are committed to God and to one another, caring for one another and building up disciples, in a community of mutual love and con­cern, along with a deepening of the spiritual life while the body of Christ grows in this generation.

No dream is too big for God if you seek His glory

To this day I keep on dreaming, asking that the church of God reach out to China and the world with power. And those days will come! But no matter how hard I dreamed, I could not dream anything greater than what is already poss­ible by God’s power.

To understand Jesus’ striking words, “All things are possible to him who believes,” let us read Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, RSV)

Look at the words: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Even your highest thoughts will be lower than what can be achieved by God’s power! I have come up with bigger and bigger thoughts, yet I can’t think of anything that is beyond the reach of God’s power. He is able to do far more than what you can think. So think hard. I determine to think hard about God’s church and its glory, because only then will you have something to ask for.

Catch a vision of the possibilities so that we may be motivated to press on. Joash was not fully motivated and lacked dynamic faith. He stopped after striking the ground three times. Will God give you only three victor­ies against Syria? Take hold of the arrows and keep striking the ground until your arm is tired and God gives you total victory! Don’t keep the tap at a trickle. Launch out into the deep!

I say to you who will be baptized today and are launching forth: If you stay on this path, walking even when you are tired, until God lifts you up on eagle’s wings so that you will run and not be weary, the day will come when others will say to you as was said to Elisha, “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen”! Faith in God will be so manifested in your life that others will say, “You are more vital to the people of God, the church of God, the spiritual Israel, than all the armed forces put together.” When God’s power is manifested in your life, you will have victory. I pray earnestly that we will all experience this victory through faith.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church