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Talk 3 - Faith

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"Faith Alone"

 

sermon outline – lots of jumping around again.

prayer

Heavenly Father,

today we come before you and consider what it means to have faith in you. Thankyou for the clarity of your Word. We pray for help as we examine the nature of faith because we want to be faithful people in your sight. Amen.

the challenge of faith

This morning we get straight down to business.

Faith has been a controversial subject ever since the church begun. In the first century the Apostle Paul argued that the difference between Christianity and Judaism is that Christianity says that salvation is by faith alone – justification by faith alone. Works does not make a person right before God. Paul says that a "man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom 3:28). Paul wrote Romans and Galatians to defend this position.

Fifteen centuries later, Martin Luther is arguing with the Roman Church and he quotes that same verse from Paul, "man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law". Interestingly the Catholic church distinguishes between belief in something understood and unconditional acceptance that whatever the Church teaches is true. "Explicit" and 'implicit" faith. Faith, according to Rome, is essentially trusting the church as the teacher.

There are other more common ideas about faith. You're having a bad day and someone says, "You've got to have faith" – what they're meaning is "keep your chin held high and carry on". The word "faith" is code for "keeping a stiff upper lip". Some people even say to me, "I wish I had your faith" as though acquiring faith is a deep mystery that somehow I've solved. Others think that you an either have faith or reason, but not both.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported this story on 2 March 07, "A faithful dog stopped paramedics from treating its critically injured owner after she was struck by a car in Sydney's north-west early today. The 41-year-old woman pedestrian was hit by a BMW sedan while walking her dog on an access road in Doonside about 5.20am. The driver stopped to help the woman. Police said the growling dog stood guard over the woman, delaying treatment by paramedics until officers arrived and secured the animal".

Modern people seem to find it hard to make what they say is "the leap of faith" required to be a Christian. Like the faithful dog, they think religious faith is usually well intended, but often misdirected.

The challenge of faith.

 

And yet faith is so common place and ordinary. We speak of belief in a remedy, trust in a doctor, confidence in a bank (maybe in the old days), reliance on a friend, dependence on a family member, assurance about a promise, persuasion that something is going to happen. All these expressions contain the idea of faith. Faith is such an ordinary thing that we hardly notice it.

the nature of faith

In the Bible the word "faith" is not  a dissimilar idea. But rather than trusting in a remedy, a doctor, a bank or a friend – faith in the Bible is squarely directed toward God as in 1 Pet 1:21, "Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God". The Bible speaks of faith in Christ as in Rom 3:22, "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". There is also faith in the reality of the resurrection (Rom 10:9), faith in the gospel (Mk 1:15) and the testimony of the apostles (2 Thess 1:10).

In all these things the nature of faith is always the same. It is responsive to God and his saving truth – a recognition of God's answer to our otherwise helpless need – a realization that the gospel is a personal address from God – a posture of trust and confidence toward the living God and his living Son.

Such is the Christian concept of faith. J.C. Ryle says:

"Saving faith is the hand of the soul. The sinner is like a drowning man at the point of sinking. he sees the Lord Jesus Christ holding out to help him. He grasps it and is saved. This is faith. (Heb 6:18). Saving faith is the mouth of the soul. The sinner is starving for want of food, and sick of a sore disease. The Lord Jesus is set before him as the bread of life, and the universal medicine. He receives it, and is made well and strong. This is faith (John 6:35). Saving faith is the foot of the soul. The sinner is pursued by a deadly enemy, and is in fear of being overtaken. The Lord Jesus Christ is put before him as a strong tower, a hiding place, a refuge. He runs into it and is safe. This is faith (Prov 18:10).

Some helpful words from J.C. Ryle. Now he's a handy little acrostic that captures the essence of faith (slide 1).

the source of faith

Now moving into the source of faith on your outline. The Bible treats faith's convictions as certainties. The convictions of faith produce knowledge about God and the world. And so the voice of faith is, "WE KNOW .....God has spoken and it is true". The certainty of faith is not grounded in fancy argument, nor on scientific experiment. We are in no position to do an independent check on God because there's no higher authority to appeal. Faith's certainty is not founded upon the infallible teaching of a church. Nor is the certainty of our faith based upon mystical experience or private dreams and visions.

The certainty of our faith relies upon the word of God revealed to us through the prophets of old and through the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. Says Heb 1:1, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways (OT), but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son". And again from 2 Pet 1:21, "For prophecy never has its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Paul tells Titus that his ministry is about "knowledge of the truth" for God does not lie (Tit 1:1-2).

God's words are found in Holy Scripture, the written witness of prophets and apostles to the Father and the Son. As 2 Tim 3:16 reminds us, all scripture is "God-breathed" – the words of Christ and the words of those who wrote the Bible are the very words of God himself. To believe these words is to certify that God is truthful (Jn 3:33). To reject the words of scripture is to make God a liar. 1 John 5:10 brings it together, "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar".

This is where faith starts: when the apostolic gospel is heard or read and the realization dawns that this is the very truth of God.

The problem is that sin and Satan have so blinded fallen men and women that they do not recognize the truth. Indeed this recognition only comes when the Holy Spirit enlightens and renews a heart. Paul says in 2 Cor 4:4, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ".

Saving faith is therefore a gift from God. If we have such a faith it is only because God in his mercy has opened our eyes. And if we desire this for others then we need to pray that God will open their eyes also, for otherwise they will never know the kingdom of God.

faith and salvation

Faith is coming to Christ. Faith means letting oneself fall into his open arms. Faith links a person to Christ, so that he becomes a person in Christ. And in Christ – through Christ – because of all Christ has done and will do – we have a perfect salvation.

            fruits of faith

In Rom 8 Paul reviews some of the fruits of faith in Christ. Let's take some time to look at Romans 8:

Verse 1 is a good start. Fruits of faith in Christ, "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". We are free from the law of sin and death.

Then verse 11, that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead shall also raise us. We have the sure hope of resurrection and renewed life. Death cannot hold us down.

Now verses 15-16, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry 'Abba, Father'. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's Children". We have sonship – and daughtership - and we are heirs to his glory. The strength and comfort of the Holy Spirit is ours. We have a renewed relationship with the Father – we are adopted into his family.

In verses 18 and 19 we have the promise that all of creation will be restored and we will share in this glory. We shall be liberated from frustration – and not only us – there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Verses 28ff are the favourite of many Christians, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". It doesn't say that all things are good, but God works for good – we have eternal security and assured victory through God's almighty love.

            faith alone

No-one can need more than is freely given in Christ. And faith unites us to Christ, making it all ours. When we highlight the absolute sufficiency of faith alone, we highlight the absolute sufficiency of Christ to save us from sin and death. When the Philippian jailer asked, "what must I do to be saved"? The answer was clear, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". Someone has written that "Christ will either be a whole Saviour or none at all. And if you think you have any good service of your own to recommend to God, you are certainly without any interest in Christ. Be you ever so sober, serious, just and devout, you are still under the curse of God".

If you are trusting in your own religion then stop trusting in your own religion. Stop trusting in your religious habits, all your little pieties, they will not save you. And until you cease to trust them Christ will not save you either, for you do not yet truly believe in him. The words of the hymn sum it up so well, "Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace".

This is how true faith speaks. Faith abandons hope in human accomplishment, it leaves all works behind and comes to Christ alone and empty-handed, to cast itself on his mercy. Such is the faith that saves.

the life of faith

Faith does not only exercise itself at the point of salvation. Faith is the controlling principle of the whole Christian life. The New Testament pictures the Christian life as a "walk" that is also a "fight".  You'll see in your NIV Bibles that Eph 4:1 speaks about "living a life worthy of the calling you have received". The idea is one of walking, the NASB says "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called". Walking is movement, progression through life and do this in a way that honours the Lord. And this walk is also a fight since Satan, the world and the flesh constantly oppose us and have to be beaten back.

By faith we draw strength from God for faithful obedience through thick and thin. The life of faith is not lived on beds of ease but in the combat zone.

            advice from the Book of Hebrews

The Book of Hebrews helps us understand faith in action. It gives us a picture of what the faithful life looks like and its worth turning too.

FIRSTLY, the writer to the Hebrews says that faith approaches God boldly through Christ. Heb 10:22 speaks about "drawing near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith". So Charles Wesley writes, "Bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ, my own". United in Christ by faith alone we have confidence to approach the throne room of God.

We move into Chapter 11 - that great roll call of faithful men and women. This chapter starts this way.

Faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see". Notice the emphasis is on the objects of faith – faith is sure of objects that are yet unseen. Faith lurches forward toward heavenly realities, faith takes us beyond this world to the reality of heaven.

THIRDLY, faith honours God by taking him at his Word. Faith accepts that what God says is true about matters outside the realm of our experience. Look at verse 3, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible". Faith acknowledges the sovereignty and power of God over his creation. And the accountability of creation to him.

The writer to the Hebrews can't contain himself. He goes onto chapter 12. Fourthly, faith translates into action by the example of those who have faithfully lived before us. 12:1, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us". The faith of men like Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph – they model faithful living for US. The faith of women such as Rahab the prostitute – her faith is there as a model for us. The "great cloud of witnesses" – to our peril we forget the history of the church and the example of the many faithful saints before us.

            strengthening your faith

"Sometimes", people say, "I feel my faith is like tissue paper. I could put my hand right through it". How can weak faith be made strong and little faith become great? Not by looking within to examine your own faith. Not by lamenting the fact everyone seems to know more about the Bible than you. You cannot strengthen faith by navel gazing.

Do you know that there is a hymn for every profession? Dentists: Crown Him with Many Crowns – Building Contractors: The Church's One Foundation - Obstetricians: Come, Labor On - Golfers: There Is a Green Hill Far Away -  Politicians: Standing on the Promises - Librarians: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent -  Lawyers: In the Hour of Trial - Students: Ask Ye What Great Things I Know. There's even a hymn for absent church members: Jesus, I am Resting.

And for Dry Cleaners: O for a Faith that Will Not Shrink.

This hymn echoes the words of us all, " O for a Faith that Will Not Shrink". This is how you strengthen your faith. Look hard at the objects of faith – the promises of God in Scripture – the unseen realities of God and your life with him and your hope of glory. Look at the living Christ himself, once on a cross, now on a throne. Paul says, "Inwardly we are being renewed day by day ... we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor 4:16, 18).

Perhaps the best prescription for reviving a feeble faith is given in Heb 12:1-2, "let us throw off everything that hinders ... run with perseverance the race that is set before us ... look to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith".

conclusion

This is where we conclude – with medicine. Strengthen your faith by focusing upon the objects of faith. Throw off the baggage that weighs your down. Are you running the Christian life with vigour? Are you keeping your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus? Do you look each day at the objects of your faith that Christ has won for you?

Dose your heart with this medicine as many times as you need  -you cannot overdose! The Royal Canadian Air Force once said that women should exercise 12 minute daily, and 11 minutes for men. A similar length of time committing the material this morning to the heart can do wonders for the fitness and vigour of your faith. Try it and see.

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