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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Believe in the Word of God, and in the God of the Word
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-08-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 27:1,6                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 9:14-29

Ps 115:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 7

Hy 71:1,2

Hy 65:1,4

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


Beloved in Christ, “You just have to believe.” Have you ever said that? At Bible study, or over a cup of coffee with a friend, or maybe in Catechism class, you’re talking about what it means to live according to the Bible. But then you get to a cul-de-sac—you reach a point where you can’t go any further. That’s when we’ll say to one another: “You just have to believe.” This is something we can’t explain, something we can’t define, something we can’t convince a person to accept: “You just have to believe.”

Take creation, for example. You can try reconcile the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture, but at the end of the day, it comes down to faith. You have to believe that God, in six normal days, created all things out of nothing, simply by the word of his mouth. Or take election: How can it be that God chooses to save some people but not others, yet everyone remains fully responsible before Him? Or providence, the teaching that God governs all things—even those terrible and wicked things that happen. When you dig into it, there are things about providence that unsettle us. At such times, we say it again, “You just have to believe that the Father’s in control. Accept it. Don’t ask any more questions. Have faith.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. For faith means that we don’t have all the answers. Faith acknowledges what is unseen. And there is a certain mystery to our faith, because—like Isaiah tells us—the LORD’s ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts. We can’t grasp all the majestic details of the person and works of the LORD.

Some people don’t like this approach: “It’s too easy,” they say. “It doesn’t make good use of the brains that God gave us.” And there may be times when we say this too quickly. There may be times when we don’t wrestle long enough with an issue. You don’t find faith in the same corner as ignorance. Rather, true faith is well-informed. We believe, because of who God is, and because of what his Word says! This is our theme,

As God’s people in Christ we are saved by true faith:

  1. believing all that God has revealed
  2. and believing that it’s true for me

 

1) believing all that God has revealed: In today’s culture, people identify as following one of many hundreds of religions or faiths. Whenever that diversity in religion is mentioned, and people point out how many gods there are, the question gets asked: In the end, aren’t they all the same? Aren’t these different names for god just referring to the same ultimate reality? It’s just many roads that all lead to the same destination.

In a way, the Catechism anticipates that kind of question. It asks, “Are all men, then, saved… just as they perished through Adam?” (Q&A 20). In the last number of Lord’s Days, we’ve seen how all people are in the same boat, spiritually-speaking—and we’re all sinking. So are we all saved? Is the important thing that we depend on a god, whoever he or she may be? Because it’s aiming to summarize Scripture and not to be politically correct, the Catechism delivers a difficult message: not all people are saved. There’s a need not just for any faith, self-chosen, but there is a need for “true faith” (Q&A 20).

And you can’t talk about true faith without also talking about its object, the “target” of faith, if you will. Where is this faith directed? That’s what the Catechism explains, “True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed in his Word” (Q&A 21). There are not many roads, but there is one road you can take. There are not many gods, but one God. We look to the God who is revealed in his Word!

Those last three words make all the difference. We accept as true all that God has revealed… in his Word. To be sure, we can learn things from observing creation, and from watching God’s providential care of this world. As we look out the front window every morning, we learn a little of God’s power, his majesty, his faithfulness. But the Scriptures take it to the next level: to the level of sure knowledge, and firm confidence—a saving faith.

Those two ingredients are essential: knowledge and confidence. We know God’s Word, and we are sure of what it says. Faith means receiving life through the promises of the gospel. Faith means we accept whatever God says, we are confident in whatever God promises, and we obey whatever He directs us.

Knowledge and confidence—it’s a simple recipe, but it’s easy to mess up. Too much of one, and not enough of the other, and faith begins to flop. So how are the knowledge and confidence of faith related to each other?

For a long time Christians have accepted a contrast between these two parts of faith, as if it’s impossible to hold them in balance. It’s sometimes described this way: You can have a head knowledge of the Bible, or you can have a heart knowledge. The tendency to separate head and heart can go in one of two directions.

First, some people are rationalists, where they’re focused exclusively on the Word of God. Sounds good of course, but what I mean is, their faith is all about upholding the historic Christian faith, defending the Bible against any attack, ensuring that doctrine is coherent and reasonable, and that all the proof texts line up neatly. The knowing means it’s real.

Some are rationalists—all head—and others are mystics. They’ve got the notion that the Christian faith is all about how you feel. More than anything, they want that daily sense of God’s nearness. They crave the peace that you can get through prayer, and the warmth of being safe with the Father. The doctrine isn’t so important as the feeling. The feeling means it’s real.

But neither are enough. A strictly rational approach to faith is insufficient. And a Word-less faith is impossible. True Christian faith is more than the intellectual acceptance of certain truths—you can memorize the Catechism every week, but do you live it? You can give intellectual assent to every point of the Christian faith, but do you know all these things to be true for your own life? And true faith is also more than the cozy feeling you get when you sing your favourite hymn, more than a vague sense that God is with you.

I read somewhere an observation that captures it well: “For a Christian the object of faith is both the Word of God, and the God of the Word.” Knowledge of God through Scripture, and a love for God from the heart—faith that involves our entire being, including our intellect, and also our will and emotions.

We need to say more though, something more about knowledge in this point, and later on something about confidence.  

With regard to knowledge, faith is sometimes portrayed as being the opposite to reason. Faith in God involves something that simply cannot be confirmed. As we said at the beginning, it’s a favourite clincher in any argument, “You just have to believe.” And it’s true that our faith isn’t based on evidence that is indisputable, where you can prove that there is a God. Sure, there are Christians who can be very convincing on YouTube; they bring forward powerful arguments that leave atheists in tears and requesting baptism. It can be done, but we shouldn’t expect it—no human is capable of persuading someone else to believe in the unseen. Even so, faith does enable us to reason. It enables us to recognize evidence.

Think of how Jesus answers the two disciples whom John the Baptist had sent to him. John was in prison at the time, getting frustrated and discouraged, and he wants his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” That’s a question that gets right to the heart of Jesus’ identity.

Now listen to how Jesus responds. He doesn’t just say, “Well, tell John that he just has to believe. I can’t make him accept it—he just needs to have faith that I’m the one.” No, Jesus tells the disciples to report to John what they have seen, what they have heard: the sick are healed, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached. In effect Jesus says, “Who am I? You want to know? Look at all the evidence.” John’s faith in Christ can have a sure basis.

Or consider Abraham. The patriarch is taken as a shining example of someone who believes in God, who simply accepts the LORD’s Word. Take that well-known instance of Abraham’s faith, when he’s ordered by God to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Certainly this took heaps of faith—as he goes up the mountain there’s no sacrificial animal in sight, and he simply has to trust in God, that God knows what He’s doing.

Even so, Abraham isn’t acting blindly. He’s not taking a wild jump into the unknown. By this point in his life he’d known the LORD for a long time. When he looked back, he could see that God had always been faithful. He had protected Abraham, just as He promised. He had provided, as He said. God had even given a son—this son—though Abraham and Sarah were hopelessly old and shriveled. Yet it happened! By this moment in his life, this one thing could not be doubted: God is faithful. So as Abraham goes up the mountain with Isaac, he has a faith that is built firmly on what he knows about God. The future is unknown, but God is not.

Isn’t that what we can do too? Isn’t that the foundation of our faith: God, as He has been revealed to us? What has God said in his Word, and what has He done? Has God not given you a world of reasons to trust in Him? Look at the evidence. Look at the story of the world, and the story of your life. What can we know about the LORD?

The Catechism gives us quick sketch of this God in Q&A 21, and again in Q&A 23, the Apostles’ Creed. First, the God we know is Triune: one being, and three persons. Not one person is greater than the other, not one is older than the other, not one is more important—but all three are equally eternal, and equally worthy of our trust. Definitely one of the mysteries of faith!

So we believe in God the Father. This is what He has done: “God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace” (Q&A 21). The Father gives what we do not have, and what we do not deserve. He gives out of mere grace, even adopting us as his own children.

We also believe in God the Son. He’s mentioned in the third last line of Q&A 21: the Father has given so much “for the sake of Christ’s merits.” Only because of what Jesus suffered and accomplished—only for that are we counted righteous before God.

And we believe in God the Holy Spirit. For “this faith” that we now have as Christians—this most precious connection to the Triune God—“this faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel” (Q&A 21). The Spirit knows we can’t do it ourselves. He knows that even though God’s self-revelation is undeniably clear, we want to look the other way. So the Spirit helps us: He gives us ears to hear, and eyes to see, so we come to depend on Him for life itself.

From our perspective, that’s the most amazing thing about the Triune God: He thinks of us. He’s concerned for us. He enters a covenant of love with us, and He gives us his precious promises. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God speaks in his Word, and He tells us, “I’m a God you can believe in. I will uphold you. I will save you. I will renew you. I’ll be faithful to you always.” And we can believe that. We can believe all that God has revealed in his Word!

 

2) and believing that it’s true for me: What is faith? It means I affirm everything that God has revealed in his Word. That’s the knowledge side of it, but for not a second is that separate from what we ought to feel in our hearts. See how the Catechism links them, “I accept all this as true… At the same time [I have a] firm confidence” (Q&A 21). Knowledge and confidence are meant to run together.

Isn’t that how it goes in everyday life too? Personal trust can only be built on what we know of a person. For instance, you need someone to take care of your house when you go on holidays—get the mail, water the plants. You’re giving them the keys to your house, so you need to trust this person. Is he honest and reliable? Will he do the job, or will all the plants be dead when you get back? You need to know something about him or her. You choose a person whose integrity you don’t need to question—because you know them.

As we said, we know certain things about God. We know that He’s all-powerful, that He is loving, that He’s present everywhere, that He’s good. Those are the facts, because the Bible tells us. Then the application: Do we trust this God? Trust Him enough to depend on Him?

We can’t avoid the question. The Catechism makes it such a personal definition: “Not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins…” We don’t just say, “Sure, I believe in God. I know the proof-texts, and I accept what the church teaches.” No, true faith means that we say, “This God is for me. All that He says in his Word is true for me. For I too, am a hopeless sinner. I too, need a Saviour—and I have one in Christ. And now I too, will serve the Lord with my life. I’ll serve Him with all that I am, by the power of the Spirit.”

Yes, true faith involves the whole person, where we believe in God right from the centre of our life, from the heart. Think of John Calvin’s emblem and motto. He pictured the whole of the Christian life as a heart being handed to God, presented to the LORD “promptly and sincerely.” That’s the impulse of faith, that we live completely by our reliance on God. Every day.

And that is the challenge we face: believing God’s Word as true, every day. The Catechism uses the word “undoubted” in Q&A 22, when it describes the Christian faith. Undoubted: that’s a pretty loaded word, a big claim. It’s like reading on the side of a product you bought at the shops: 100% Satisfaction. Always Dependable. Life-time Guarantee. Undoubted.

From one perspective, it’s true. Our faith can be undoubted. That is, there really is no reason to waver. Objectively, we know what God says, and we know that He doesn’t lie. God won’t forsake us. God won’t do evil, but He is the fountain of all good. Yet from the side of the believer, there is changeability, and uncertainty. This is what Jesus sometimes calls “a little faith.” When we believe something is true, but not fully, not constantly. It’s striking that Jesus says this in the Gospels about his own disciples. He even says it about Peter, the one who makes that great confession of faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yet Peter struggles to maintain his faith.

We see it in Matthew 14. Peter had started so well. During that raging storm he’d stepped boldly out of the boat, and he went walking on the water toward Christ. He was kept afloat by his faith, if you will. He believed firmly in the word of Christ. He knew enough to trust that with the Lord all things are possible, even this, defying the very laws of nature. That’s how he made it out, perhaps ten feet, perhaps twenty. “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (v 30).

There’s that awful moment when Peter stops looking to Christ, and he starts seeing all the reasons why he should really be back in the safety of the boat. He considers the wind, the waves, the darkness. And at once, Peter is not so sure. His faith begins to deflate. And as it deflates, Peter begins to sink.

Then hear what Jesus says to Peter as He catches him and pulls him up, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v 31). Christ doesn’t let him drown, but He does rebuke him. Because it didn’t need to go this way—Jesus could handle the storm, no problem. But in a matter of seconds, Peter has gone from certainty in the Lord to uncertainty, from faith to doubt.

How well we know about this! We believe in God’s great power—we believe that the LORD can do incredible things like create the universe, raise the dead, save sinners from hell, and direct the nations. So we rely on the Lord for many things, and we pray in confidence.

But then there’s a new trial in our life, a new source of worry on our mind, a new temptation that we have to fight. We start seeing the wind and the waves. We look a bit closer at our circumstances—and at once we lose our confidence. “Maybe God can’t handle this. Maybe He won’t. Maybe I’m alone on this one. Perhaps this time, there’s no grace.” We begin to sink in our doubt and uncertainty. This is what Jesus calls smallness of faith—that doesn’t imply limited size, but smallness of expectation. “A little faith” doesn’t give God the credit for all that He’s promised and all that He’s done.

We struggle to present our heart fully to God in faith. Maybe we want to keep a few things under (what we think is) our control. Maybe we haven’t grown enough in the knowledge of God to know He can be totally trusted, all the time. We can all be people of little faith.

But we see other models in Scripture too. Besides the people of “little faith,” there’s a model of “great faith,” whom Jesus meets in the Roman centurion. This man comes to Jesus in Matthew 8 requesting help for his paralyzed and tormented servant. Keep in mind that this is a Roman military officer—a Gentile and an outsider—and probably someone who knew next to nothing about Jesus.

Yet see what indicates his great faith: first, he comes to Jesus, confident in his goodness. He might be a Gentile, but this much he knew: Jesus can help me! Second, the centurion recognizes that he’s not deserving of anything, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof” (v 8). Third, he is sure of Jesus’ power to heal, that all He has to do is give the command, “Only speak a word, and my servant will be healed” (v 8). The centurion is totally confident, he is deeply humble, and fully dependent. And Jesus marvels. He says, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 10).

Great faith—that can seem so far from what lives in us. It’s a daily struggle to find peace in the promises of God. We might be like another character in the Gospels, from Mark 10, that man who pleads with Christ to cast a demon out of his son. He knows Christ can do it—he has seen Jesus do it before, or he’s heard that He can do it—but the man is struggling to accept that it could be true for him, in his situation. He’s lived with the suffering of his son for so long, it probably seems unlikely that it could ever change.

That’s like any of us: we know God’s power, we know God’s faithfulness, we know his mercy, yet in the moment, in the difficulty of our own situation, we waver. It might be true for others, but what about me? It might be true at other times, but what about now? So the man cries out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (v 24). Faith, and doubt. Knowledge, but not so confident. Can God really provide for us? Can He heal? Will He lead me in his ways? Will all things—even this miserable suffering—will it truly work for my good? Can the church really survive these wicked days? Will Christ ever come back? “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

And God will. He’s the Triune God who is also our God. Pray that prayer. Pray it often. Pray for God to strengthen your confidence in Him. Even as we flounder in the waves, God won’t let us drown. He helps us. He points us, again and again, to his unfailing Word. He affirms to us that everything He said in his Word is true. It’s true, not only for others, but also for you.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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