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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:Why Faith?
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-09-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1                                                                                     

Ps 40:2,4  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Hebrews 11:1-16; 1 John 5

Ps 33:5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 23

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 83:1,2

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


Beloved, there are many religions in this world, but all of them ask the same question. It’s this: How can we have peace with God? No matter who the god is, this is always Issue #1. People put that question in different ways, but it always comes down to the same thing: “What must we do to be saved?”

One religion will say we need to meditate and pray until we become absorbed into the divine being. Another religion calls for ritual, offering incense and sacrifice to God. Still another demands submission—and the most submissive receive heaven’s best reward.

Though there are many answers to that central question, across the board one thing is the same: When it comes to being at peace with God, the essential effort comes from us. It’s what the worshipers do. Do they obey? Do they pray? There’s a direct relationship between the level of human devotion, and the amount of divine blessing.

We know to reject that way of thinking, but we shouldn’t conclude that this question is so foreign to the Christian faith. We may not have asked it recently, but for us too, it’s a central question: How can we have peace with God? Like the man who once said to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Or the jailer of Philippi who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The question is always essentially the same, but for us, the answer’s different. For the true God says we have to believe. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is.”

Uniquely, distinctively, for the Christian, faith is what’s needed. Sure, you could argue that every religion expects that its followers will believe. There’s not much point in going to the mosque if you don’t believe that Allah is alive! But the true God says: Not by works, but by faith—and by faith alone. Underline the first part of Q&A 60: “How are your righteous before God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.”

So we want to consider why. Why faith? Why has God said that we can have peace with him, apart from every human work, all personal contribution—why has God made faith the key that unlocks the door? Why doesn’t He demand joy from us, or contentment, or wisdom, or self-denial? Let’s then look at Lord’s Day 23 under this theme,

We are called to live by faith alone:

  1. in God
  2. to his glory
  3. for our salvation

 

1) As Christians we are called to faith in God: In answering the question, “Why faith?,” let’s first look at what faith is. There’s a description of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Especially that last phrase is key to think about: “Faith is… the evidence of things not seen.”

For we don’t see God. After all, God is spirit—that is, He doesn’t have any physical shape or material substance. Writes Paul in 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory.” God is invisible. We can’t see him, nor can we represent him, with clay or crayons or cardboard. It can’t be done.

This makes our God very unlike so many other gods. Go to their shrines and temples, even into the homes and cars of their worshipers, and you’ll see them. You’ll see gods, big and small gods, male and female gods, gods that look like elephants and gods that look like jolly fat men. These believers won’t actually say, “This is my god—here, sitting on this pedestal, or living in this building.” An idol is only a symbol or representation of a god.

But our God is invisible. And even if He was visible, we couldn’t see him, because his majesty and glory are overwhelming. Remember how Moses was only able to have a partial glimpse of God. The LORD even took on a different form so that Moses wouldn’t be shattered. God told him, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exod 33:20). In his greatness, He dwells in “unapproachable light.”

We can’t see him. We can’t touch him. But what we can do is believe in him. Because of who God is, this is the extent of what we can do: we can have faith that He’s there. In a certain sense, He is unable to come down to our level. He won’t show himself in a physical form. Our only link to him can be through the avenue of believing.

There’s nothing before my eyes or in my hands, yet we’re certain! We can be so certain of what we believe, Hebrews 11 uses the word “evidence.” It’s the same Greek word used in a court of law for that compelling exhibit which helps to seal the case. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen…” It’s as if our God’s existence is a plain fact. Measurable data. And in a sense it is, because—here’s the wonder of it—this invisible God reveals himself.

He shows himself in creation: in the stunning expanse of a night sky, in the beauty of a newborn’s fingernails, and in all the coloured splendour of a wildflower. “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom 1:20). We don’t actually see God when we gaze at a flower, or as we marvel at the body’s design. But we do see evidence of his power and majesty, and we believe.

God reveals himself to us in another way too, in his Word. In the Holy Scriptures, He tells us about his compassion and his mercy, his goodness and grace, justice and holiness. He tells us things that we’d never learn from creation, not from a hundred years of peering into a microscope or a telescope. And He tells us things that are wonderful and amazing, even things we can’t understand: about election, and eternity, and providence, and grace, and heaven. Who can wrap his mind around these things?

For all the certainty we have, God tells us things, that—very simply—we just have to believe. Think of that other definition of faith, from Lord’s Day 7, “True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word.” The Word gives us a full portrait of the invisible God and what He’s doing, as far as we need to know.

Now, we live in a time when people say that if there’s not a video of something, then it didn’t happen. People want to see. They want to be able to watch it, and re-watch it. The image is truth. So the Bible is disappointing to people—there’s no pictures in it, there are only words: words to read, words to study, words to believe. And maybe we struggle with that too: we might wish it was more tangible, more able to be proved. Yet Scripture is words that you can believe, because you know the God who spoke them.

Compare it to when someone gives us unexpected and surprising news. “As of this morning, Australia has a new prime minister.” We say, “Really? Is that a fact?” The message might be hard to believe, yet because we know the person speaking is trustworthy, we accept it. So we say, “I’ll take your word for it.”

The same is true for God and his Scriptures. Says John, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God” (1 John 5:9). When God witnesses—when He speaks—you can believe him: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” You can take him at his Word. Believe that He’s faithful, that He’s gracious, that He’ll be with you. For we know all this, by the witness of God!

Faith then, doesn’t need to see, to feel, to taste or to touch. But we trust his Word. Take the angels, for example. God says He sends angels every day to surround us protect us from harm. We don’t see them, but by faith we know they’re there. They’re guarding us when we drive, preserving us when we’re sick, defending us when Satan attacks. They’re there!

The Father also says his loving hand is always resting on us. By faith we know it’s present. We’re convinced that it’s there to hold us; his hand is there to guide us; we know it’s there to open up in blessing. We’re sure of his Fatherly hand, confident that every minute of every day it’s resting on our shoulder, shielding our life, directing our steps. We know it!

We also don’t see the one God sent into this world to save. Christ walked on this earth for just a little while and He was seen by just a tiny portion of humanity. Before you knew it, Jesus Christ had come and gone. We saw none of it—we would say that it’s second or third-hand information that we receive in the Bible. There’s not even any grainy black-and-white footage, yet we can be certain of it, all the same. Like Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even thought you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:8).

So you can try to prove the existence of God with philosophical arguments—some of those are interesting. You can show it’s historically possible that a man named Jesus of Nazareth once walked the earth—it’s a plausible case. You can defend the Bible against every attack on its authenticity and truth—and we sometimes need to do that. But at the end of the day, nothing can take away from that one demand: to find peace with God, to be reconciled to him, you must believe in God, and his Son as your Saviour. As our Lord said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 21:29).

Beloved, you can’t avoid it. You can’t substitute for it. It’s the only way to receive eternal salvation, where you say simply, “Lord, I believe in you. I know you’re there, and that you care. I know you sent your Son, and I believe in him to save me from my sin and its penalty.” That’s what it takes. “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

 

2) As Christians we are called to faith, to God’s glory: If God has one purpose or one goal, it’s his own glory. It’s not that He needs an ego boost like we often think we do—God wants praise, because it’s reasonable. It’s only fitting that He receive adoration, because He’s such an awesome God. As the angel choirs in the book of Revelation constantly sing, “God is worthy: worthy to receive worship and honour and adoration forever!”

This chief purpose of God gives us insight into whatever God does. For example, why does God elect some to salvation, but not others? It’s for his glory, so that we would marvel at his justice in condemning, and his mercy in saving. Why does God bring hardships onto his dear children? For his glory, that we would learn and learn again that we can be perfectly satisfied only in him. And why does God demand faith, and not something else? He does it for the glory of his Name. He wants faith, that He’d be the more greatly praised!

Just how does our faith glorify God? Faith is the one attitude that is the exact opposite of depending on myself. Faith requires a rejection of boasting in whatever I can do. We all prefer the path of human works, personal goodness and outward observance. Then we’re getting the glory, as we stand on our own two feet before God.

But true faith puts all that into the garbage. Whatever was to my gain, I count as loss! When we come to God in faith, we’re saying, “God, I need your help. Because I can’t do it!” We’ve tried, but it’s never enough. Our prayers, our time, our best works—they’re never perfect. They’re never finished. So we can’t depend on myself any longer. We need help, and we need God’s help. We need Christ—and him alone—to give us peace. Faith is letting go of all our human pride. That’s humbling. As Paul writes in Romans 3, “All our boasting is excluded. On what principle? On that of works? No, on the principle of faith.”

Or think of Q&A 60: “My conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, [I] have never kept any of them, and [I] am still inclined to all evil…” That’s the confession of someone who recognizes that they stand before God with empty hands. We’ve got no hope in ourselves.

But then we come to God in faith. And when we do, “God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ. God grants all this to me as if I never had nor committed any sin if only I accept this gift with a believing heart” (Q&A 60). You can hear that our faith needs to rest simply on God through Christ. That’s the only thing it can do!

This humbles us, and at the same time, it glorifies the LORD. Because when you really trust someone, your trust honours that person. Think of a concrete example, like when a parent hands the car keys to their seventeen year old daughter. “Here you go. Be back by 11.” They’re not just saying they trust her, but they’re showing it. There’s an honour for her in that. And that’s true whenever we trust someone to handle a problem or to deal with a responsibility. It’s like a compliment, a tribute to their ability. By your trust, you’re saying you know that person, and that’s enough for you to leave it with them.

How much more with God! You glorify the Father when you look to him in trust. You honour him when you surrender to his care, when you say, “Lord, I’m in your hands. And I’m glad that I am.” Such a faith means that we accept who He is, and we depend on what He says. Like Psalm 9:10 says, “Those who know your name will trust in you.” It means that when you know him in all his greatness, that’s enough—it’s enough for you to rest in him. As we trust in God more and more, He is praised more and more.

And God is further honoured when you show this faith in action. For true faith will most certainly work. All the works of faith are directed heavenward—your joy, your contentment, your wisdom and service and self-denial—it’s all for him, and it praises him. For God knows we’re doing it to thank him for salvation. God knows we’re doing it out of adoration for his mercies in Christ.

And if there’s any doubt that God requires faith because it brings him the glory, consider where faith itself is from. Even faith is one of God’s gracious gifts! Paul writes in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ… to believe in him.” God has granted us faith. What God demands, God gives. What God seeks from us, God provides us. What other response can we have, than to give the God of our salvation all the glory and praise? We praise him for his great works!

 

3) As Christians we are called to faith, for our salvation: Every other religion will ask, "What must we do to be saved? How can we build a peace with God?” But our God always asks another, more important question. He asks not: “What have you done to deserve my love? No, He asks: “What has Jesus done in love for you?”

And what has Jesus done? Jesus came to this earth as a man like us. Jesus obeyed God’s law completely. Jesus suffered in body and soul, and fully drank the cup of God’s wrath. And when He was done He declared, “It is finished.” For Jesus has done it completely, and Jesus has done it for all who believe. All his benefits belong to us.

Compare it to a massive transfer of money, from one bank account to another. One account was overflowing with all manner of cash and bonds and treasures. There was hardly room for it all—the numbers ran off the page when the statement was printed every month. And from that brimming account, there was a total transfer into another account, one that was completely empty, seriously overdrawn, whose owner was so badly in debt, without hope of ever breaking even. But the transfer will go ahead anyway: an exchange of hopeless debt for infinite riches. From Christ’s account directly into ours, and transacted by God the Father for all who believe—for every last one!

God takes “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,” and “He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience with Christ has rendered for me” (Q&A 60). That’s the gift.

But then, in case we missed it the first two times, the Catechism underlines the need for faith, with words left hanging for effect: “If only I accept this gift with a believing heart” (Q&A 60). This is the gift you can get, if only you’ll believe…

If you start thinking about it, you could get hung up on that if only: “If only I accept this gift with a believing heart.” That puts the pressure on, and makes it sound like it might not even happen! Because what if our faith is weak or inconsistent?

And it’s true: faith isn’t easy. Think about how we can go through an average day without much thought at all for God in heaven—we go through with barely a passing prayer. At the end of the day, you’d almost say that it’s like we got by on our own, that we did it in our own strength. Did you really trust in God for all good things? Did you really seek him for mercy and strength? Were you really living by faith?

Other times we’ve got this bad feeling that faith can’t be enough, but we’ve still got to work for salvation. We’d never say that aloud, yet we show it by our actions. We think God must expect more from us, and we feel guilty that we’re not better Christians. So for a while we’ll really try hard. And some of that is good—but what’s our motivation? Are we still trying to earn something with God? And then when something bad happens in our life, we can have the thought, “God, I don’t deserve this. I’ve been trying hard, haven’t I? You owe me.” So are we really living by faith alone?

Then there’s all the times that we struggle to place ourselves fully in the hands of God. From day to day, we can be anxious about many things. Fearful. Hesitant. Plagued by worry. Are we really trusting in God?

Whatever the cause, we can all be a people of little faith, and full of doubt. And then we remember that phrase, “If only…” Salvation is for me, “if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.” Does our uncertain faith mean then, that our salvation is also uncertain? Is God looking for a certain quality of faith, up to a certain standard?

The Catechism gives a good, pastoral reminder: We’re not “acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of [our faith]” (Q&A 61). Salvation doesn’t depend on the strength of our conviction, or the solidity of our faith. But it depends on Christ! We’re not saved because of faith, but by faith.

What is this faith like? It’s like the trembling arms that reach out and embrace Jesus Christ, the one who came to save sinners. Faith is the humble connection of the wilted branches to the life-giving vine. Faith is the fragile nerves linking the body to its powerful Head. Don’t put your faith in faith. But put your faith in the living God!

That’s why when John speaks about faith, he uses triumphant language: “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5). Even with our weak and humble faith, we can overcome: overcome our weaknesses, our sufferings and hardships, and overcome Satan’s accusations. Not because our faith is so strong, but because our God is so great. Because we believe in the God of heaven and earth, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

So what must we do to inherit eternal life? How can you be assured of God’s favour and blessing? How can you and I enter the Kingdom? We need to think carefully about that question. It’s the most important question we’ll ever face. How can you have peace with God? Do you have peace with God? Throughout our life, we need to come back to this. We need to embrace ever tighter what God has given through Christ, and strengthen our grip on the gospel of grace. 

We have not seen Christ, yet we know him. From his Word, we know the greatness of his love, that He even gave his own life in our place. So keep looking to him. Keep seeking him. Keep trusting him. Like it says a bit later in Hebrews, “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (12:2). Your life depends on it.  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 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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