YouTube video sermon
Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 11:1-3, 6
Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 1 and Hebrews 11. One of the benefits of pastoring a non-denominational church like ours is that we’re reminded of, or rather introduced to, Christian traditions in other like-minded congregations that we (ourselves) might not have known. For example, I grew up in a Baptist congregation and the church that I was in didn’t celebrate or acknowledge – at least in any formal way – Reformation Sunday. So, just before last week’s service, Geneva Larson, who comes from a Lutheran background, was eager to remind me that it was Reformation Sunday.
If you’re wondering, Reformation Sunday is the Sunday closest to October 31, and it’s called Reformation Sunday because it’s a reminder and celebration of the reformation movement that began when an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther had no intentions of splitting the Catholic Church, rather, he just wanted to address some of the excesses and abuses that he had seen and become convinced were opposed to God’s Word. Nevertheless, what sprang from that attempt to correct the Catholic Church did, indeed, lead to the Reformation, and ultimately to the establishment of many Protestant denominations of today.
So, although it’s a week late, I thought I’d offer a nod to Reformation Sunday as we start this new 3-part series: Faith, Hope and Love, by considering faith. After all, it was Romans 1:16-17 that God used to gain Luther’s attention about how someone is “made right,” or “justified” before a holy God. And Hebrews is tied into Romans by the fact that Hebrews 10:38 quotes the same verse from Habakkuk that Romans 1 uses. Plus, the author of Hebrews gives us a working definition of faith. With that as our introduction, let’s read these two passages together.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed beginning and ending in faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.
“Our God and our Father, we do pray that we might have that kind of faith. We pray that You would help us to understand what genuine faith is. Speak, then, into our lives now as we open your Word. Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; make the Bible come alive. Show us ourselves, our need, our Savior, and bring our lives under the truth of your Word and in conformity with its application. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
What is faith? What does it mean to live by faith? Are you a man/woman of faith; and specifically, have you placed your faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ? That’s what I want us to consider this morning. See, this matter of faith is not a marginal issue. It’s not something that we can place far off in a corner, something we can push away for another day. It’s a pressing matter today, and every day. Faith is the indispensable channel of salvation. Faith is the corridor down which we walk into the experience of what it means to truly be a Christian.
For example, in Ephesians 2:8–9, in those well-worn words, we read this: “For it is by grace you have been saved,” and then comes the phrase, “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Where do the works come in? The works come in as an expression of faith, not as a replacement for it. Even faith itself is not something that we generate, but is a gift from the hand of God. So, let’s explore this for just a moment.
What Faith Is Not
In seeking to say what faith is, it’s important for us also to make clear what faith is not. In fact, the Puritans did this all the time when they preached. When they were giving a definition of something, they would always spend a long time explaining what it wasn’t, so that in finding out what it wasn’t, you would move closer to what it was. So, let me tell you what it isn’t, and perhaps we can narrow it down.
First of all, it is not simply a subjective religious feeling. It’s not a religious feeling that’s divorced from the truth that God has revealed in His Word. That may seem like a bit of a mouthful, and indeed it is, but it is very important. Faith is not simply a vague and internal feeling, “Oh yes, I’m a person of faith” – but it’s not connected to, it’s not tethered to, it’s not informed by objective truth found in the Word of God. That’s not genuine faith.
The Bible says that people who deny objective truth in favor of feelings (only) are not only deceived, but are contrary to Jesus. 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar? It is the [person] who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a [person] is the antichrist – [they] den[y] the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” So, faith isn’t simply a feeling – regardless of how warm and fuzzy it makes us feel. There must be an objective reality that informs our faith.
Secondly, Christian faith is not the kind of positive mental attitude that seeks to make our dreams and our desires a reality. This, of course, has been popularized in the book The Power of Positive Thinking. Now, it is good to think positively. It’s nice to be around people who are positive rather than people who are negative. But positive thinking is not biblical faith. This is what Norman Vincent Peale says. He says, “Before you get out of your bed in the morning what you ought to do is say out loud in your bedroom, ‘I believe, I believe, I believe.’” Now, he doesn’t say in what or in whom; doesn’t really matter. Yes, it does! It’s crucial! You see, it is the object of faith that gives it significance; it’s not the immensity of our internal sensations or our mind’s ability to dream up stuff that gives foundation to our faith – it’s the person and work of Jesus.
So genuine biblical faith is not simply pumping ourselves up to believe that which the evidence precludes. Real faith, as Hebrews 11 makes clear, is not based on our feelings, which are unstable and fluctuate with the circumstances. Rather, genuine faith – biblical faith – is reliable because it’s based on the trustworthiness and the reliability of God. That’s the reason I included verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” In other words, we start with God.
That’s where Genesis 1:1 starts, is it not? “In the beginning God…” It doesn’t start with an argument for scientific creationism. It doesn’t start with an argument concerning the existence of God. It says, “In the beginning, God.” And every individual who’s been created has been stamped with the very handiwork of God; they’ve been made in the image of God. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1).
What Faith Is
So, back in Hebrews 11:1, the writer isn’t talking about a wistful longing for something that may or may not happen. He’s not talking about believing in the improbable. He’s talking about a belief in what God says as opposed to what man suggests. This faith creates surety of what we hope for and certainty of what we do not see.
Do you ever wonder why it is that you believe what you believe? Do you ever think about that when you get down on your knees and you pray? And there’s no one in the room. And you can’t see anyone, and you can’t hear anything. And you say, “O God, I know that you hear my prayers.” How do you and I know that? How are we so certain of that? “O God, and I know that you know my circumstances, and that you mark my steps, and that every day of my life was written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 37:23, 139:16, paraphrased). Where did that come from? “O God, I know that when I die, I’ll go to heaven, but I’ve never seen heaven. I only have those descriptions at the end of the Bible and in various other places.” Where does all this come from? It’s a result of God’s grace and mercy to us in opening our eyes to the truth of who He is, and such faith creates certainty.
Believing faith is not the fluctuating notions of some kind of subjective dimension within the spirit of a man or a woman, but it is that which is engendered in us as a result of a consideration of what is before us and saying, “I’m going to examine it and look at this. And I am concluding that it takes more faith to believe in nothing than it takes to believe in a creator God.”
But you see, in our foolishness, and in our rebellion, and in our disinterest, and in our selfishness, and in our unwillingness to allow anyone else to take charge of our lives, we do not choose to believe in such a God, because such a God will have every right to make demands upon us. Such a God will have every right to call us into conformity with His commands. And so, rather than have to face the fact that we have broken God’s commands, and that we must say we’re sorry for that, and that we must accept His forgiveness for that, we choose, instead, not to come and confess! We would rather go on our own way. And when people ask us about faith, we’ll say, “Yes, I have faith. I’m optimism about tomorrow.” But it’s not biblical faith.
If you were to continue with Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith (as it were) – then you’d discover that all of these people heard the Word of God, they heard the story of God, they trusted the promise of God, and then they lived in the light of the promise. They heard the story, they trusted the promise, and then they lived their lives in faith.
Here’s the story: “I’m gonna flood the world.”
Here’s the promise: “As you build an ark and the people run into it, they’ll be safe.”
“Okay, build the ark.”
Some of us have okayed the first two, but we’ve never built the ark. Some of us have said, “Yeah, I understand the story, and I actually heard the promise, and I think I believe it.” But we never took the final step. And that’s why, when asked the question, “Are you a man or a woman of faith?” the answer has to be, “No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I’m not.” And what I want to say to you this morning is, you don’t have to walk out this building in that same position. You can, in a decisive act, make certain that you are a man or a woman of faith.
What’s Involved in Faith?
First of all, knowledge. Faith is dependent upon what can be known about God. In John 17, Jesus, as He’s about to pray to the Father, says in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” How can we know God? Well, He’s shown Himself in creation, He’s shown Himself in the Bible, and He’s shown Himself in Jesus.
In the opening chapter of John’s gospel, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [but Jesus] has made Him known” (John 1:14-18).
The fact of the matter is that Jesus is the exegesis of God. That’s the word that’s actually used here. When somebody says, “Well, how can I know God? How would God make Himself known so that I could know Him?” the answer is, in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so important to consider the claims that Jesus made. Because it’s in knowing Him that we know God. And it’s this knowledge of God which gives the basis for our certainty.
When you travel as you do and some of you quite frequently, so that you know this stuff off by heart – “Good morning, Mr. Norris. Do you have a form of identification?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Have your bags been in your possession at all times?”
“Yes, they have.”
“Did anyone ask you to carry anything for them?”
“No, they flat-out did not, and if they had, I would have said no, because I don’t even want to carry my own bags,” and so on it goes.
But the issue is, did anybody unfamiliar to you get access to your stuff? Because you don’t want untrustworthy people getting ahold of things. You’re not simply gonna entrust that which is precious and important to you to just anybody. If we protect our luggage with great care, certainly we ought to give great consideration and care to our souls, right? So, you’re gonna have to use your mind as you read God’s Word to ask the question, “Is what God has made known of Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – such that I may with confidence, on the knowledge that I have, move forward from here?”
And 1 John 5:9 says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” In other words, if we are prepared to trust relatively untrustworthy people at significant points in our lives – at the bank, on the bus, crossing a bridge, undergoing heart surgery – wouldn’t we trust God? What kind of proud arrogance is this, that I would trust my bank manager and I wouldn’t trust God who has revealed Himself in the person of His Son? That I would trust the airline pilot, but I would refuse to trust Jesus Christ?
The second thing involved in faith is assent. Not money. Not “a cent” but assent (a-s-s-e-n-t). Once we’ve recognized that certain things are true and are to be believed, then it involves our giving mental assent to them. Biblical faith is more than simply giving assent, but it is never less than giving assent.
You see, we talk about individuals who are inspirational, or who command confidence – someone who is so trustworthy that we’d be compelled to trust them even against our will. You sometimes listen to people… I watch these documentaries on World War II and listen to the stories of those in Korea or Vietnam or even Iraq and Afghanistan, and you find yourself saying “Why would you run over there like that? Why would you rush the beach, or climb out of the trench, or jump from that airplane?” And often they say, “Well, we had a captain. I’d trust him anywhere. He said, ‘We’re going,’ we’re going. Everything inside of me said, ‘I’m not going,’ but the captain, he compelled my belief. He compelled confidence in me.”
Folks, if you read the Bible and consider the claims of Jesus Christ, you’ll discover someone who compels belief. Everything inside of you is saying, “I don’t want to believe this stuff. I don’t want my life taken over. I don’t want somebody in charge of me.” But when you come and lay your life open before Christ, and when you see Him on the cross, and you understand that He bore your sin and all your rebellion and all of your emptiness and lostness and brokenness, He will compel belief in you. And knowledge will be followed by assent.
Finally, genuine faith involves trust. Faith that is “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” involves not only knowledge and not only assent, but it involves trust. Intellectual assent, alone, cannot be equated with genuine faith. James makes that clear in James 2:19, where he lets us know that the devil and the demons are not atheists; they have an orthodox view of God. There has to be the transfer from the knowledge to the assent to the trust.
We see the summons to trust Christ in all of his invitations. He says, “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Your life is all messed up; you’re carrying around shopping bags full of disgruntlement and disenchantment and all kind of things in your life. He says, “Come to me, and I’ll take those shopping bags for you. I’ll take all that rubbish.” He says, “If you would take my yoke upon you – in other words, if you would bow down underneath My commands and you would let Me run your life – if you would take My yoke upon you and you would learn from Me all the things I’ve told you in here, then you would find rest for your souls. And you would discover that I’m lowly, and I’m gentle, I’m humble in heart, and I’ll take care of your life” (Matthew 11:29, paraphrased).
Genuine, biblical faith is knowledge in an objective reality – Jesus. It’s acceptance of that knowledge, and it’s trust on the basis of the knowledge.