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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:True faith is how we take hold of Christ for salvation
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 71:1-3
Psalm 33:1,6
Hymn 61
Hymn 1
Hymn 66

Scripture reading:  Hebrews 11:1-16
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 7
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

One of the benefits of regular catechism teaching is that we are periodically reminded of humanity’s most serious problem.  Our most serious problem is the fact that we are sinners and God is a holy and just judge.  We have sinned against infinite majesty.  We have offended the most glorious King in the universe and he is not going to look the other way.  Instead, he tells us in the Bible that our sins deserve eternal punishment in body and soul.  Our sins deserve everlasting conscious torment in hell.  Not only that, but our sins already now make us deserving of every manner of brokenness and grief as we live on this earth.    

There is, however, a way of escape.  God has graciously provided a means by which we can escape these punishments.  It is through the satisfaction made by Jesus Christ.  The gospel tells us that Christ was made sin and a curse on the cross.  His death is the only and most perfect satisfaction for sins.  Through Christ rescue is available!  Through Christ we can have forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation.

The question is:  do these benefits apply to all people indiscriminately?  There are people who teach that.  There are people who believe that Jesus died on the cross and he paid for the sins of everybody on the face of the earth, everyone who has ever lived and who ever will live.  They believe that because of Jesus, everyone will get to be happy forever after they die.  But brothers and sisters, the Bible reveals that this is wishful thinking. 

The Bible teaches something different.  Turn with me for a moment to John 3.  We’ll read from verse 16 to 18.  Verse 16 is often quoted to point to the love of God for sinners.  But what people often miss in this verse and in the verses following is the need for faith.  The one who believes in the Son of God will not perish, but have everlasting life.  The one who believes in Jesus is not condemned.  However, those who do not believe are condemned.  Just these verses alone illustrate the fact that to be saved by Christ from the coming wrath, you need to believe, you need to have true faith.

Because true faith is necessary for salvation, it’s crucial that we understand what true faith involves.  We need to listen to what the Bible teaches so that we can be sure that we are joined to Christ for salvation.  We also need to be aware of the various counterfeit forms of faith.  These counterfeit forms are deadly to us and others.  The Bible’s teaching on true faith is essential knowledge.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, let’s listen attentively this afternoon as we learn again about true faith.  We’ll see that true faith is how we take hold of Christ for salvation. 

We’ll consider: 

1.      What true faith is not

2.      What true faith is

There are numerous varieties of counterfeit faith.  They all have one thing in common:  they will not unite you to Jesus Christ.  These different types of counterfeit faith will not be instruments to bring the benefits of Christ home to you.  Instead, they will leave you thinking that you have salvation, when in reality, you’re still on the broad road.  These counterfeit forms of faith give you nothing but a false sense of security.  Let’s go through some of them. 

Well, first of all, true faith is not brain-dead.  True faith is not this kind of belief where people turn off their brains and stop thinking.  The influential American writer H. L. Mencken once defined faith as “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”  In other words, faith is gullible, it’s a belief where you turn off your brain, where you’re uncritical and undiscerning, and believe anything.  In this way of thinking, faith is opposed to reason and logic.  People who have faith have turned off their brains and just run with their heart or gut-feeling or what have you.  True faith is not anti-intellect.  Rather, as Christians, we’re expected to read the Word of God and to engage our minds with it.  We’re expected to hear the preaching of Scripture and mull it over in our heads, thinking about what we hear.

But if true faith is not brain-dead, it is also not limited to an intellectual grasp of spiritual things.  True faith is not merely made up of knowledge, nor is it found with mere engagement of the mind.  You see, there are religious studies departments in universities across the country.  There are men and women who teach in these departments and some of them teach courses about the Bible.  They might have a wider breadth of knowledge about what the Bible says than you or I do.  They like to think deeply about religious matters and even debate and argue about them.  But that is not the same thing as true faith.  True faith is not just knowing about the Bible, or knowing about God, or about Jesus.  True faith runs far deeper -- it runs in the way of relationship.

True faith is also not mere custom or tradition.  Whenever there is a baptism, we hear the warning that we must not use this sacrament out of custom or superstition.  As if we get our babies baptized because that’s just what we do as Canadian Reformed families.  One common counterfeit form of faith falls along the same lines – I call myself a believer because my parents went to church, my Opa and Oma went to church, our family goes to church, and therefore I’m a believer, I have faith.  In her novel Home, Marilynne Robinson describes one of the characters as having this kind of faith. Glory Boughton is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in small-town Iowa.  Her father is dying and she’s come back to care for him.  Robinson writes about Glory, “Faith for her was habit and family loyalty, a reverence for the Bible which was also literary, admiration for her mother and father.”  Faith as habit and family loyalty.  If that’s all your faith is, it is not true faith and it will not unite you to Christ and it will not save.  True faith is not merely about walking in your family way, merely externally doing what your parents did, but about personally resting and trusting in the one who died on the cross in your place.

Last of all, true faith is not to be confused with optimism or a positive attitude.  Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “You just gotta have faith.” By which they mean to say, “Keep your chin up and trust that better times are coming.”  People who aren’t Christians will talk like that too.  But there are also some who call themselves Christians who describe faith in these kinds of terms.  They make faith out to be essentially a positive mental attitude.  Many times this turns out to be a simple matter of believing in yourself.  Faith is really about self-confidence.  It’s about turning inward and finding the strength within yourself.  But true faith is not to be described merely as optimism and it certainly can’t be painted as an inward looking activity.  Rather, true faith is about looking outward to someone who has done for you what you could not do for yourself.  Because of him, you do have hope and you can have an optimistic view of life, but you also have more understanding of the big picture.  For instance, with true faith, you can begin to understand how suffering fits into God’s plans for us.

So true faith is not just optimism, certainly not inward looking.  True faith might be inculcated and taught us to by our parents and community, but it’s essence is not habit or loyalty to other human beings.  True faith is not merely intellectual, but neither is it something to be disconnected from our brains. 

It’s important that we be aware of these counterfeit and defective forms of what passes for faith around us.  It’s important first of all for us and for our families.  Let’s say you were to go to the bank and take out $100 in cash.  Then you take that $100 bill to a store and try to buy something.  Then they say, “Sorry, we’re not taking your $100 bill because it’s a fake, it’s counterfeit.”  -- you would be upset.  You thought you had a $100 bill, but you only had a worthless piece of paper.  When it comes to faith, we’re talking about something far more valuable.  We’re talking about your well-being for today and into eternity.  We’re talking about where you’re going to go when you die.  Wouldn’t you want to be sure that you have the real thing?

And if that’s true for you, it’ll also be true for the people around you.  The people that you care about.  They might say they have faith.  But is it a true, saving faith?  Maybe you have watched that Ray Comfort video Genius.  There’s that one memorable scene where Ray Comfort is speaking to a homosexual transvestite.  The man says that he’s a Christian.  Ray Comfort challenges him on that, challenges him on whether he really has a true faith.  Some of our friends and neighbours have convinced themselves that they have faith, that they are Christians.  But the reality for some of them, maybe even many, is that they have counterfeit faith.  They are not truly grafted into Christ and accepting all his benefits in a biblical way. 

So it’s good for us to be aware of the counterfeits out there, but it’s equally important that we have a firm grasp on what the real thing is.  What is true faith?  How can we be sure that we have it? 

Our definition of true faith begins with a sure knowledge.  Knowledge is crucially important for faith.  One has to know the basics of what is to be believed.  One has to know the basics of what the Bible says about God, about ourselves, our sin, our Saviour, and so on.  Knowledge of God’s Word is crucially important.  We have to know all that is promised us in the gospel.  We have to have at least a basic understanding with our minds of these things and how they fit together.   

Second, true faith takes that knowledge and works with it.  Faith includes not only knowing the knowledge, having it up there in your gray matter, but also accepting it as being true.  Let me give you an example of what the difference is.  I find Islam fascinating.  It’s a false religion, but its intricacies are an amazing (and sad) testimony to human creativity.  I can read the Qur’an and I know what it says.  I may have a basic knowledge of the message of the Qur’an.  But that does not mean that I’m a Muslim.  I don’t accept it as being true.  Similarly, someone could read the Bible and know the basic teachings of the Christian faith.  Someone could even conceivably go to catechism and go to church each Sunday and have an intellectual interest in Christian doctrine.  But they don’t accept it as being true.  They may have the knowledge of a Christian, but without accepting it as true, that person is not a Christian.  He or she does not have faith.  So, true faith is knowledge, but it’s also approval or assent to that knowledge – thinking and saying that it’s true. 

Then last of all, our Catechism says that true faith is also a firm confidence.  In other words, a true faith not only engages our minds, but also our wills and hearts.  True faith always has light and heat, illumination and passion, head and heart.  A true faith has heart-felt confidence that all the truths of the gospel are not just for other people, but also for me, personally.  When I hear the minister say that “God has granted you forgiveness of sins out of mere grace for the sake of Christ’s merits,” I say to myself, “Yes, that’s true for me too!”  When I hear the minister say that “God has granted you everlasting righteousness and salvation out of mere grace all because of Christ,” I say, “Amen.  That’s my God.  That’s my Saviour.  This good news is for me!”  So faith must include personal appropriation of what the Bible teaches.  You take ownership of it.  It’s not enough to know what the Bible says, it’s also not enough to be able to say that the Bible is true.  You have to go all the way and say that what God offers in the gospel is also for you personally and individually.

Therefore, we say that true faith consists of three components:  knowledge, assent, and confidence.  That approach comes straight out of Scripture.  Think of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  How can we be sure of what we hope for if we don’t know what the Bible teaches?  How can we be certain of what we do not see, if we don’t know anything about what the Bible says and don’t agree that it’s true?  How could Abraham be said to have faith if he didn’t know what God had said to him, if he didn’t believe that it was true, if he didn’t accept that God’s promises were for him personally?

It’s important to understand and have in place the component parts of faith.  We should also make explicit that true saving faith is always directed towards a person.  Like I mentioned earlier, true faith is not turned inwards, but outwards.  It’s directed outwards to Jesus Christ.  He is the one in whom we must believe.  In Acts 16, we find Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi.  You remember how the earth shook and the prisoners were freed.  The jailer feared for his life and fell down before Paul and Silas.  He said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  What was their answer?  Did they say, “You just gotta have faith.”  Did they speak about faith in some generic sense?  No, of course not.  They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  True biblical faith is faith in someone, it’s faith in Jesus.  You have to believe that he lived a perfect life in your place.  You have to stop your own striving to earn favour with God, and rest in what Jesus has done for you.  You have to trust that he took your place on the cross.  You have to be convinced that he is on your side in heaven now, interceding for you.  Faith in Jesus means that you’re sure that he’s coming back for you.  If you die before he comes back, you’ll go to him.  If he comes back after your death, he’s going to resurrect your body and reunite it with your soul and you’ll live with him forever on the new earth.  True faith looks to Jesus and takes hold of him for all of this.  True faith is always personal – it always involves us being connected to Christ and looking to him. 

And all that I was just saying can be found in the Apostles’ Creed.  This is everything that’s promised us in the gospel, in the good news.  This is the content of our faith.  We have a person that we direct our faith towards, but the Bible reveals the content of our faith, it tells us what this person Jesus has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us.  We have to believe in Jesus, but there are certain things that entails.  There are things that follow from saying that we will believe in him.  The core doctrines or teachings of the gospel that we need to believe to be saved are encapsulated in the Apostles’ Creed, summarized there.  Those teachings we’ll be going over again in the next few weeks. 

Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God.  When it says that, it’s speaking about true faith.  True faith pleases God.  Why?  Because it unites us to Christ the Son of God.  He is the one who has pleased the Father in our place.  And as we are joined and united to him by faith and the Holy Spirit, God looks at us too as his beloved children.  We are pleasing to God through our faith in Christ, we are accepted.  Without true faith in Christ, it’s all impossible.  Therefore, true faith is desirable and necessary.  Brothers and sisters, hear the call of God’s Word this afternoon again to place all your trust in Christ alone.  Don’t turn inward, but turn outward to the Saviour through whom we have these wonderful gifts of the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation.  Have true faith and you will be saved.  AMEN.                 

Prayer:

Our gracious and merciful God,

The gift of faith is so precious and we thank you for it.  We thank you for saving us through this gift.  We thank you for giving us a sure knowledge of your Word and also the acceptance of that Word as truth.  We thank you for giving us the firm confidence, for working in us a persuasion that the gospel is true for us.  We pray Father that you would increase our faith daily.  Help our faith to grow in consistency and in its fruits.  Father, we pray that this would happen so that you would receive more glory through us your children.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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