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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Essential Nature of Saving Faith
Text:Hebrews 11:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-02-24
Updated:2021-03-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Blue Psalter Hymnal unless otherwise noted)

313 - We Praise Thee, O God

373 - Beautiful Savior  

327 (Red) - ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

446 - My Faith Looks Up to Thee  

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


Pastor Ted Gray
02/21/2021
“The Essential Nature of Saving Faith”
Hebrews 11:1-7
 
One of the most touching requests recorded in the Bible is in Mark 9:24 where a man whose son was possessed of an evil spirit says to Jesus, “If you can, take pity, and help.” Jesus replied, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” At that point, the man exclaimed, “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
 
The disciples had a similar request in Luke 17:5 where they plead with the Lord, “Lord, increase our faith.” Every true believer can relate to those sentiments. By God’s grace we have within us the gift of faith in His Son, and yet at times our faith wavers, and with the disciples we plead, “Lord, increase our faith!”
 
The Lord answers that request in many ways, including through this 11th chapter of Hebrews. This chapter is one of the best-known chapters in the Bible as it describes for us what it means to live a life of faith in Almighty God. It uses the life of the ancients, as verse 2 puts it, meaning the believers of the Old Testament (“people of old” – ESV), as an incentive for us to follow in their footsteps of living by faith in God.
 
The chapter begins with a brief definition of faith. It says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Or, in the ESV, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That definition reminds us of the apostle Paul's explanation, in 2 Corinthians 5:7, that we live by faith and not by sight.
 
When we live by faith in Christ and not by sight, we have the assurance of the things that we hope for. The word translated as “assurance” in the ESV, and “being sure” in the older NIV, is the same word that is used for the title deed of a house.
             
After years and years of paying your mortgage, you finally gain title for your house. That title documents that the home is yours. And in a similar way this chapter will describe the glory of heaven, telling how its architect and builder is God Himself. And we have the title to our eternal home. Not through payments we have made; but through the ultimate and only sufficient payment made on our behalf by Jesus Christ. We have full assurance of what we hope for through saving faith in Jesus Christ alone.
 
Not only is faith a full assurance of all that we hope for – the glory of heaven because of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on our behalf – but also true saving faith gives us certainty and conviction of things not seen.
 
When we live by faith and not by sight, there are many things that we do not understand. And yet we trust and believe that the Lord has a purpose for those circumstances and events in our lives, and that He will give us what we need to get through those circumstances.
 
One of the best illustrations of being certain of what we do not see is the example in verse 7 describing Noah’s faith. Can you imagine how Noah felt, when the Lord said to him, “I am going to flood the earth and destroy everything in it.”? At that time, great floods had not been experienced. Noah was not familiar with hurricanes and thunderstorms, with their torrents of rain, that we experience.
 
Furthermore, many commentators believe it took about 120 years for him to build the ark. During that time all those around him undoubtedly had a great time making fun of crazy Noah building an ark. But Noah was certain of what he did not see. He was certain that the Lord would do exactly what He said. So in holy fear, by faith, he built an ark to save his family.
 
Both the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen, spring from belief in God’s existence. That is a third integral part of true saving faith. Verse 6 points out that “anyone who comes to (God) must believe that He exists.”
 
Everyone has faith in something. Some people put their faith in their bank account, in their job stability, or the ability of someone else to support them. Everybody has faith in something, but true believers have faith in God Himself. We have faith that God truly exists. We have faith that the record of who He is, revealed both in nature and in the special revelation of the Holy Bible, is accurate and true. And we have faith that through Jesus Christ, we who believe in Him are rewarded – not because of any goodness in us but only by God's grace – with everlasting life.
 
This passage also addresses one of the key questions of our world today: How did the universe come into being?  Verse 3 states, “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.”
 
It takes faith to believe that everything we see in this universe was created simply by the command of God. Perhaps no portion of Scripture is more keenly debated than the opening chapters of Genesis. There we read, time and again, how God spoke and this universe, and all that is in it, came into being.
 
But it takes even more faith to believe that all the intricacies of our universe just happened to fall into place by chance, or through evolution. It takes a lot of faith to believe that a little blob of protoplasm – which needed to have an origin somewhere – evolved over billions of years into all that we see around us.
 
After all, if the rotation of the earth was any slower it would drift into the sun. If it rotated any faster our planet would spin off into the solar system and be destroyed. There is good reason why the Lord designed the earth to rotate at a little over a 1000 miles per hour at the equator.
 
As we move we are tilted, it seems straight, but in actuality we are at a 23% angle. Before trying to straighten up, be glad that the earth is on its axis at just the right angle! If it weren’t, our planet would be scorched from the sun and there would be no seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. 
 
Which takes more faith to believe? That Almighty God, by the power of His word, spoke and the intricacies of creation came into being? Or to believe that all that we see around us just evolved over billions of years?
 
Some people question whether belief in creation is necessary for a Christian. After all, we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. So does it really matter what our view on the origin of the world is? “After all,” they reason, “it is not a ‘salvation’ issue.”
 
But Scripture gives us many reasons why our faith in Christ must include faith that our Triune God is the Creator of the world, just as the opening chapters of Genesis – and many other chapters – declare.
 
One reason is that the creation declares the glory of God. Creation reveals the splendor and the majesty of God with remarkable power and force. In Psalm 19 David wrote:
 
The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of His hands
 Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they display knowledge.
 There is no speech or language
   where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes into all the earth,
  their words to the ends of the world.  (Psalm 19:1-4)
 
God created the world, not just for a place for us to live, but as a way to reveal His glory and deity to all humanity.  As the Belgic Confession puts it in Article 2: “…The universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: His eternal power and His divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.” (Art. 2, “The Means by Which We Know God”).
 
But to see the reality of who God is by what He has created, we need, in John Calvin’s words “spectacles.” In the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power, we see God’s identity both in the Word He inspired and the world that He created. But we only see that reality by God’s grace through the “spectacles” of His Word as it is applied by the Holy Spirit to our hearts. As John Calvin put it, "For just as eyes, when dimmed with age or weakness or by some other defect, unless aided by spectacles, discern nothing distinctly; so, such is our feebleness, unless Scripture guides us in seeking God, we are immediately confused."  (Institutes, I.xiv.1)
 
Belief in creation, as it is recorded in the Bible, is crucial because creation clearly reveals that there must be a Creator. The evolutionist goes to great – and absurd lengths – to deny the biblical record of creation. And the evolutionist does so in a futile effort to deny the existence of the Creator, God Himself.
 
Consider the example of the rotation of the earth: Is that really by chance? Something that evolved over billions of years?  Or is it by the grand and intricate design of Almighty God?
 
The same truth of creation is evident in the way that we are formed. In Psalm 139:13 and 14 David wrote: “For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Even the slightest reflection on how we are created should instill in us the same response of praise, because how we are created reveals the ingenuity, wisdom and majesty of God.
 
It was Sir Isaac Newton, who formulated the law of gravity and built the reflecting telescope, when asked why he believed in creation, replied, “If I had nothing more than the human thumb I would believe in the Creator.”  Newton observed how the thumb is placed in just the right position on the hand to work effectively with the fingers, how it is protected by the thumbnail, how even in something as common as the human thumb we see the creative genius of Almighty God!
 
Another reason why belief in creation is integral to our faith is that throughout eternity we will not only praise God for salvation, but also for His creative power. Revelation 4:11 records this song of praise sung in the glory of heaven:
 
“Worthy are You, our Lord and God,
        to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
      and by Your will they existed and were created.”
 
There are many people who profess to be Christian, who profess to have a true saving faith, and yet deny the reality that God is the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. But this passage in Hebrews 11 teaches with clarity that true saving faith includes believing that God did indeed bring the substance of this world into being, “so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
 
This 11th chapter of Hebrews also brings us to the heart of justification by faith. We see that in verse 4 where we read, “by faith (Abel) was commended as a righteous man.” And we see it in the last part of verse 7 which describes how Noah, through faith, “became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
 
In this chapter we clearly see that faith is the instrument by which we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Each person listed in these pages, as a person of faith, was justified by their faith. The only way that any of us can receive true righteousness is by faith. We cannot produce righteousness by the works of our hands. In fact, Scripture tells us that all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6).
 
But faith is the instrument, or the vehicle, which transfers our sin and our guilt onto Christ Jesus, and also transfers His righteousness to us. We repent with the assurance that our sins are borne by, and forgiven by, Jesus’ sacrifice. We believe in Him with the assurance that His righteousness is also transferred to us through faith, for “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).  This chapter drives that point home repeatedly as we see that believers are justified, not by works, but by God’s grace through saving faith in Jesus Christ alone.
 
But just as we who believe are commended as righteous by the gift of saving faith, the world is condemned by their lack of faith. Did you notice the last part of verse 7 where it says, “By (Noah’s) faith he condemned the world.”?
 
All those people who mocked Noah for the 120 years or so that he built the ark, condemned themselves by their mockery. They condemned themselves by their refusal to believe the message that Noah proclaimed. When we look at his life more closely we will see that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. He gave the warning that he had received from the Lord to those people around him who made fun of him for building the ark. And by their refusal to believe the warning of God, they condemned themselves, and they serve as an example of all those who come under God’s judgment for their refusal to believe in Him.
 
Romans 1 teaches the same truth, that a lack of faith brings condemnation to those who refuse to believe in God. Who God is, is obvious from what He has made. It is not as though people do not know who God is. People do know who God is. It is self-evident. The Scripture tells us, not once but twice, that it is “the fool who says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psa. 14:1; 53:1)
 
Again, creation itself declares the glory of God; His identity is clearly revealed from what He has created. As Romans 1:21 puts it: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and foolish hearts were darkened. … (v 23, 24): Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.”
 
But in contrast to the tragic outcome for unbelievers, verse 5 teaches that those who believe in the Lord are pleasing to Him and rewarded by Him. Verse 5 describes how Enoch was commended as one who pleased God. And verse 6 begins by saying, “Without faith it is impossible to please God…”
 
You can be the nicest person in the world to your neighbor. You can be helpful and kind to other people; you can live by “The Golden Rule”.  If you are wealthy, you can leave great sums of money to good causes, whether in education or medicine or other beneficial areas, in order to help others. And while those actions are evidence of what we call God’s common grace, no one can truly please God unless they have saving faith in Him, by trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, alone for salvation.
 
Verse 6 also makes the remarkable statement that God will reward those who earnestly seek Him. That God would reward any of us is one of the most astounding truths in all of Scripture. It is astounding because He rewards us, not for what we have done, but for what He has done. Consequently, it is a reward of His grace, not our merit.
 
Consider that it is He who gave us the gift of faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 so clearly teaches: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 
 
Likewise, consider how God graciously gave us new birth from above through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. None of us could give birth to ourselves, but God has given us new birth by the regenerating power of His Holy Spirit, for “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  (Titus 3:5-7).
 
And God the Father is the one who in sovereign grace accepts the work of His Son on our behalf, and credits the righteousness of His Son to the life of everyone who believes in Him.
 
And yet, although God has done all the work, who is rewarded? It is all those who by His grace believe that He exists and earnestly seek Him through the study of His word, prayer, the proper use of the sacraments and fellowship with His people.
_______
 
One of the most touching requests of Scripture is found in those words to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” And “Lord, increase our faith.”
 
In both of those requests we see that the focus of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is crucial to see for this reason: Faith is only as strong as its focus. People have faith in many things, even a strong faith, but their faith will let them down if it is not rooted in Jesus Christ alone.
 
Those whose faith is in wealth often find that it so quickly slips away. Those who put their faith in humanity are sure to be let down. Faith is only as strong as its focus, and the focus of our faith must always be on Jesus Christ.
 
After this beautiful 11th chapter concludes, chapter 12 begins with that word “Therefore.”  In other words, it connects what it has to say with this chapter. And it says, in Hebrews 12:2, “Therefore…Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
 
Is that where your faith is rooted this morning?  And if it isn’t, are you seeking the Lord with all your heart? God is sovereign in salvation with His electing love, yet He gives this promise in Jeremiah 29:13, You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”
 
Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). There is no other name under heaven given to us, by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). And the assurance of Scripture is that when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved (Acts 16:31).
 
May the faith that we see exhibited in this chapter also live within each one of our lives, this week and always! Amen.
 
 
 
Bulletin outline:
 
 
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do
not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. – Hebrews 11:1-2
 
                     “The Essential Nature of Saving Faith”
                                           Hebrews 11:1-7
 
I. Faith’s definition:
     1) Being sure of what we hope for (1a)
 
 
 
     2) Certain of what we do not see (1b, 7a)
 
 
 
     3) Belief in God’s existence (6b)
 
 
 
II. By faith:
     1) We understand the origin of the universe is by God’s command (3)
 
 
 
     2) We who believe in Christ are commended as righteous (2, 4) while the
          world is condemned for their lack of faith (7b)
 
 
 
     3) Believers are pleasing to God and rewarded by Him (5, 6a)
 
 
 
III. Application: Faith is only as strong as its focus (Hebrews 12:2). The
      only faith that saves is faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; 16:31)
 
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Ted Gray

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