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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:Saved by Faith
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Also read: Hebrews 10:19 - 11:2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Lord’s Day 7 places before us one of the most important questions not only in the whole of the catechism, but in the whole of our human existence. That question is: What is true faith?

I wonder how many of us could write out a satisfactory answer to that question right now--without looking to the catechism for help. My guess is that more than a few of us would struggle to replicate the eloquent answer that is supplied for us here in our catechism.

I think that’s partly due to our own mental apathy and laziness. We’re reluctant to do the hard work of committing things to memory--we were disciplined enough to do that back in grade school, high school and in catechism class. So now we think our homework days are over.

But the unfortunate consequence of that is that we don’t always have the answer we need right at our finger tips (tip of our tongue). If anyone should ever ask us what faith is about, or what we mean when we say we are saved by faith, we could very well be at a loss for words.

But beloved, I think there is another reason we may be a little rusty on our definition of true faith. It’s mainly because in our everyday life we hear the word ‘faith’ used in so many different ways, by so many different people. It seems like the word faith is just as prominent in the vocabulary of unbelievers as it is in the vocabulary of believers.

We hear investors who talk about faith in the economy; we hear politicians talk about faith in the American people/spirit; we hear neighbors who are not overtly religious say in a moment of crisis that they their faith brought them through. (Their faith in what? In whom?).

So that’s why we need to revisit Lord’s Day 7 this morning. This Lord’s Day isn’t talking about just any old faith. This Lords’ Day isn’t talking about some loose, generic, abstract faith. No this Lord’s Day talks about TRUE faith—the only kind of faith that matters, the only kind of faith that man really needs.

So let’s open our hearts to God’s Word this morning as He speaks to us from this Lord’s Day. Here, we consider how God’s Word teaches us the Meaning of True Faith

1) The Significance/Centrality of True Faith;
2) The Substance of True Faith;
3) The Summary of True Faith.

1) The Significance of True Faith

Beloved, we need to take just a moment to get our bearings in the catechism and ask, ‘How is it that we’ve come to this point where we talk about true faith.’ If you recall, the catechism has been making the case against sinful man, saying that God’s justice requires that man be punished for his sin—God will not punish another creature for man’s guilt; besides, no other creature can bear the weight of God’s wrath against sin and release others from it.

God’s Word informed us that man’s only way out, his only hope is to find a substitute sufferer, a Mediator who is like us in that he is truly human, sharing our nature; yet he must be unlike us in that he is wholly righteous, without sin, and powerful enough to bear the weight and fury of God’s wrath against sin. In other words, this Mediator must be fully God.

Lord’s Day 6 finally called our Mediator by name. He is our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who promised to us in Paradise; who was proclaimed by the Patriarchs, prophesied by the prophets, and portrayed by the sacrifices. Finally, our Savior came in flesh and blood, humbly taking upon himself the weakness of our humanity, all to accomplish the work of redemption.

So now, question 20 (of LD 7) is really asking, ‘Since this Jesus, the only Mediator between God and man, has now come, how is it that fallen and sinful man can appropriate or acquire this Savior as his own? Is Jesus automatically the Savior of all men everywhere and of all ages? Are all men saved through Christ just as all were lost through Adam?

This is a perfectly logical question. When Adam fell into sin, the whole human race fell with Him. Humanity left God’s side and joined ranks with the devil. But now, when we consider how Christ died for man’s sin on Calvary’s cross, does the mirror opposite happen? Is all humanity saved from sin, snatched from Satan’s grip, and brought back to God’s side?

Some might say, “That only seems fair; that’s only proper.” But the answer we receive is, NO. Only those are saved who by true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his blessings. This means that all humanity is ultimately divided into two families. There’s the family of those who are still lost in Adam; and there are all those who’ve been saved out of Adam’s family and by faith have been grafted into Christ.

This holds true to the testimony of God’s Word. John 3: 18 says whoever believes in me is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in me stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. Clearly the line of demarcation falls between those who by faith believe in God’s Son, and those who refuse to believe.

Jesus makes this same distinction in his high priestly prayer in John 17: 9, saying, I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. This was even made clear by the angel that foretold of the birth of Christ. The angel told Joseph that the child born to Mary was to be named Jesus, because he would save His people from their sins.

Granted, there are passages in the Bible like I John 2: 2 which tend to confuse us a bit. That passage says that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.

But what the apostle John writes there has to be understood in the full width and breadth of Scripture. As one commentator noted, heresy begins when we take one passage of Scripture, remove it from its context, and build our entire belief system around that one verse. But as Reformed Christians who compare Scripture with Scripture, we know that I John 2 is not teaching universalism, that Jesus has atoned for every human, head for head.

That passage means that Jesus Christ is indeed the atoning sacrifice for all the people in the world who put their faith in Him. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please God. Romans 3:22 says that a ‘righteousness from God has been revealed that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’

So the only way for a member of Adam’s sinful and fallen family to be saved is if that person severs ties with his sinful family; severs ties with his sinful way of life; and by faith is united to, connected to, grafted into the family of Jesus Christ.

This Lord’s Day draws upon the imagery of a vinedresser or tree gardener. He takes a branch from one tree (an old, dying tree), and grafts that branch into a new living tree. Once that old branch is linked to the new tree it draws its life from the new tree; it shares in everything that happens to that tree; it eventually will bring forth the natural fruit of that new tree.

The point is very simple. We who are lost in Adam need true faith in Jesus Christ to be saved (need His new life in us). And God holds all men responsible to do that—to heed the call and command of the Gospel, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!

So let’s be clear. The criteria that God uses to judge whether we are in the family of faith, or whether we’re part and parcel of the lost is not, “Did you go to church?” The criteria is not: “Were you a covenant child?” Nor is it: “Did you learn your Catechism”, or “Did you go to Christian school”; “Did you stay away from sex, drugs and alcohol?”; “Did you give generously for worthy causes in God’s kingdom?” (That’s the wrong thing to ask/wrong place to look!).

No, the criteria is true faith, and true faith alone. That’s why it’s imperative that each of us understand what this faith is, and just as importantly, that’s why each of us has to grapple with the critical question: do I have true faith? Have I by faith, been connected to Christ, so that His righteousness is mine, so that His Word and His Spirit are alive and growing in me? Do you have true faith?

2) The Substance of True Faith

So that is the significance of true faith. Without true faith in Jesus Christ, we are still hopelessly connected to the fallen race of Adam. But now we have to ask ourselves, what exactly is true faith? Of what does it consist? Here we consider the substance of true faith.

Let’s take a look at this beautiful answer which we find there. In fact, let’s recite this answer together. True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His Word is true; it is also a deep rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.

If you look closely at that answer with me, the first thing that should catch your attention is the fact that faith is defined with such definitive and absolute terminology. Just look at those words--faith is a described as a knowledge and conviction; a deep-rooted assurance.

That’s ironic because to many people, even to many Christians, faith is thought to be an elusive, indescribable hope (a wish or whim) that everything will work out all right. Others have said that faith is a matter of shutting our eyes to the facts and taking a leap in the dark.

But that’s not how true faith is defined. True faith is not blind. True faith is not a leap in the direction of the unknown. And as I mentioned at the outset of the sermon, true faith is not some generic, abstract notion as if “faith” can be found by anyone at any time.

No. True faith is grounded in truth…in the truth of God’s Word. In praying for His disciples Jesus said to the Father, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” True faith rests upon the sure foundation of the truth of God’s Word. We believe that God is not a liar; everything He has revealed to us in His Word is true!

That doesn't mean we understand everything God says. But it does mean that when God speaks, we listen and we believe. It means that God's Word is more trustworthy than the word of men; it means that God’s Word is more reliable than scientific data--even if data suggests that our earth is billions of years old, even if that data suggests that we are descended from apes, even if that data suggests that there was no world wide flood.

True faith means that we believe what God says even when we can't see it with our eyes, and even when everyone else around us refuses to believe it. Remember, truth is no less truthful simply because someone doesn’t believe it. Truth is what God declares it to be.

The wonderful thing about this is that knowledge and conviction go hand in hand with our assurance. In other words, we can be fully assured that the same God who is telling us the truth in Genesis 1:1 is telling us the truth in Matthew 1:1 and in John 3:16, and in Hebrews 10. We can trust what the God of truth says about ourselves, and about our Savior Jesus Christ.

So our faith in Jesus Christ is inextricably bound to our knowledge and conviction of the truthfulness of God’s Word—that everything the Bible says—even about our sins being forgiven and our being made right with God—even that is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In this respect, I want to focus our attention a moment on the passage we read this morning. In this passage it is clear that the Christians addressed in this letter were in trouble. From verse 32, we can assume that they had come to believe in Jesus Christ years before. Initially, these Christians stood strong and endured the resulting persecution with good courage.

But it’s also clear (vv. 35-36) that lately, these brothers and sisters were faltering in their Christian faith. Their confidence was wavering. The trials that characterize the Christian life were just getting too much to bear. So the apostle seeks to encourage these saints. How does ho go about it?

He reminds the Hebrews that Jesus Christ is coming again soon. That’s the thrust of the quotation we find in vs. 37, "For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’" The comforting point is that Christ’s coming will bring relief from the trials of this life. But that’s not all. There’s more.

We don’t need to wait for Christ’s return to find comfort and relief in our troubles and trials. For as verse 38 says: "but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. Then what does the Apostle do? He reminds them, by way of the cloud of witnesses listed in chapter 11, that God’s children are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but we are of those who believe and are saved. Understood in those words, is the fact that God’s people are of those who persevere and are victorious even in the face of sin and Satan and suffering and cancer and sickness and heartache.

And beloved, if any one of us would be tempted to think that it is impossible to stand fast in the face of a trial; if we harbor any doubts that we can persevere in the face of injustice and conspiracies, and pain, and hardship and slow developing promises, just read Hebrews 11, and see what the saints before us had to endure!

These were saints who truly walked by faith and not by sight. These were saints who were given the covenant promises, who were tested and tried by God; who believed despite everything to the contrary; whose lives were constantly in jeopardy. Yet, they were sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see.

For these saints, their faith in God and in God’s promises functioned as their sure foundation, it gave them reason to hope, it emboldened them to stand in the flames, it strengthened them to shut the mouths of blasphemous giants, to slay thousands of the enemy with the jawbone of an ass.

You know, in Psalm 69:2 we hear the psalmist cry out that he is sinking down in the miry depths where there is no foothold, where there is no substance on which to stand. Certainly, boys and girls, you’ve heard quicksand. Quicksand is often found in marsh land or swamp land, and it is basically a patch of sand or clay that has no substance to it, the bottom could be twelve feet down for all we know, and if an animal of a man steps into it, and cannot pull himself free, his own weight will pull him beneath that sand, and he suffocate—dying a terrible death.

Interestingly enough, the same word used in Psalm 69 for ‘foothold’ or ‘substance’ is used in Hebrews 11:1. Faith is the substance of things not seen. Our faith in God, our knowledge and conviction that He is with us and will never leave us nor forsake us; our faith that He is in complete control of our lives come what may;

Our faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord; our faith that all our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s atoning blood; our faith that everything God reveals to us in His Word is true--that faith is the substance of our lives, the foothold for our feet, the solid rock upon which we stand!

Without that faith, the trials and troubles and tribulations of this life would surely swallow us up alive. We would sink in the miry depths, and we would die an awful and terrible and unending death. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we are of those who do not shrink back. We are of those who find only weaknesses in ourselves, but find every ounce of our strength in the Lord and in His promises!

And remember this, God doesn’t just recommend that we live by faith. Boys and girls, young people God doesn’t say, ‘You young Christians can just wait a while and put off believing until you’re older or more mature’. No. God commands us to have faith now.

We stated how faith was created in us by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. The Holy Spirit has been in your heart since before your baptism; and every Sunday as you come to church to hear the preaching of the Word, and everyday as you or your parents read God’s Word, the Spirit is building you up in faith.

So as we open our heart to receive His Word, we see that God is already equipping us with the faith we need. God commands us to believe His Word and promises but He is also graciously gives us all the strength we need to believe His commands.

What a glorious Lord and Savior we have; what an incredible miracle true faith is; what a firm foundation we have to stand upon amidst all the trials of life, and even as we face the last enemy, death itself. What unending peace is ours, what unshakable hope.

3) The Summary of True Faith.

We’ve discussed the Significance of true faith and the substance of true faith. For just a moment we look at the summary of true faith. We find that summary expressed in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, A creed beyond doubt and confessed throughout the world.

This creed is a summary of everything that God promises us in the gospel. If we were to ask a hundred Christians what must a Christian believe, we’re bound to hear someone say, “A Christian has to believe in Jesus Christ.” That’s very true. But we have to be careful. I think you’d agree with me that we’ve got to define our terms.

For, who is Jesus Christ? Who do men say that he is? Is He merely a man, a great teacher, a prophet perhaps? Is He fully God, but not quite fully man? So you see, we really have to let God tell us who His Son is, and we’ve got to let God tell us what it is that His Son Jesus has done. And that means that we have to listen to the whole of Scripture.

So, when it comes to answering this question, "What must a Christian believe?" we're certainly not looking for the bare minimum; we’re certainly not looking to find 13 essential fundamentals of the Christian faith, and let everything else hang in the wind. It’s not like we can believe what the Bible says about Jesus and feel free to disagree with what Genesis says about Creation, or argue about what Paul says concerning women's roles, or question whether we really have to believe all that stuff about Jonah and the great fish?

No, we’re not here to ask “What the bare minimum that I can believe and still be a Christian?” The Catechism resists that line of thinking. Instead, the Catechism instructs us to confess with our whole heart and mouth, "We have to believe everything God promises us in the gospel." Beloved, you know that the whole of Scripture is gospel—not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The whole Bible is full of God's promises, those promises which are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And God demands that you and I believe everything He promises, everything He says. God demands that you and I have faith that what He says is true and that all His promises are ours in Jesus Christ.

We want to believe it all, beloved, because all of it is good news; all of it is about the comfort that we enjoy in Jesus Christ. So we submit to God’s Word and we let God teach us how to think, and how to live, and how to obey--even when we don't feel like it. We learn to pray, Father, help me trust you when my heart is pulling in the other direction. Don't let me live by my feelings, don’t let my doubts overwhelm me; let my life be anchored in your promises.

And in faith, we fix your eyes on Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the cross for our salvation. And we eat the Lord's Supper and we pay attention when someone is baptized and we grab hold of God's promises and remind ourselves: They're really for me! God said so!

That’s what we believe. Everything God promises to us in the Gospel—in short, all of God’s Word. And, God’s Word has taught us today about true faith. That by true faith God has united us to Jesus Christ; by true faith God keeps us attached to Him; and by true faith, God enables us to accept Christ's blessings, and He gives us forgiveness and righteousness and life everlasting. That is the significance, substance and summary of true faith.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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