Have you ever heard someone say that they “believe in God”? What does that even mean, really? There might have been a time when that statement was rooted in some kind of Christian orthodoxy but now it tends to reek of mythical traditions, doesn’t it? We hear phrases such as: “I believe in Santa Claus” or “my daughter still believes in the Easter Bunny”. We say things such as “I believe in luck”, “he believes in doing the right things,” or “they believe in supporting the president”, and these all sound legitimate but what is it that they actually saying? Where is the content? What is the meaning of those things?
As Christians, we are often called ‘believers’ but what do we actually believe? Is it enough, in our multicultural, global, technological communities, to simply say that we are ‘believers’? Is it enough to say that we have faith? Is it enough to say that we believe IN God?
This morning I want to argue that the time for generalities and empty platitudes is over for those of us who believe God. When the Bible speaks of trusting in God there is a definite expression of content that is being revealed. The authors of the books of the Bible fully intended for their readers to trust God, Himself! When the Bible speaks of believing in Christ the intention is that we would actually believe Christ! Christ is the content.
When we, as Christians, speak of faith it is imperative for us to speak of faith in the same way that the Author of Hebrews spoke of it. This past week I taught on Hebrews 11:17-19 (By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.) and we learned 4 things about the content of our faith:
“The authors of the books of the Bible fully intended for their readers to trust God, Himself!”
Faith is based upon the promises of God – This is the dynamic that started my thoughts for this article. Faith is believing God! There is no way of separating our act of faith from His act of communication. Faith comes from hearing the Word. R.C. Sproul’s conversion experience is a really interesting example. He says that in his “own conversion experience, a young man quoted to me a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes: “If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (11:3). I’m probably the only person in history who has been converted through that particular verse, but that image of a tree lying dead on the floor of the forest—inert, rotting, no longer producing fruit, worthless—gave me a picture of my life. I saw myself as a rotten tree, and God used that verse to quicken me to saving faith.” (I found this in his Ultimate Questions article about ‘What is Faith’). He heard the Word and God connected the dots in his heart to bring him into a place where he trusted what God was saying. Faith is taking God at His Word. It’s not magic, it is the Spirit of God opening our eyes to His Presence.
In our passage, above, the Author of Hebrews reminds us that God had made certain promises to Abraham, personal and incredible promises! God had promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations – lots and lots of generations would follow him. Abraham was promised a child through Sarah, and then Isaac would have children and his children would have children and so on. Abraham actually believed that God would make his life look a certain way in the future because of what God had promised! He was planning accordingly and made his decisions based upon what God has said. Even though God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham was completely convinced that God’s plan was going to come about through Isaac and so he followed His instructions. God’s promises provided the structure for Abraham’s choices – this is faith! This is what faith looks like for us too! Faith is when we hear God’s promises and then think, plan, and act as a result of what He has said. Think about how these promises affect out lives:
◦ Hebrews 13:5 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
◦ John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
◦ Isaiah 40:31 – “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
◦ James 4:7 – “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
◦ 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In what ways do these promises effect how we live our days out? Consider the assurance, confidence, peace, joy, satisfaction, courage… etc that come from resting in what He promises! In essence, faith is trusting the fidelity of God. “When I am faithful, I am relying on One whom I deem to be perfectly faithful!” (I think I read this quote in R.C’s article but it could’ve been somewhere else.)
“God’s promises provided the structure for Abraham’s choices – this is faith!”
“God’s promises provided the structure for Abraham’s choices – this is faith!”
Faith is based upon the power and ability of God – When faced with an impossible situation, Abraham’s focus wasn’t on his abilities but God’s! Notice the direct connection between God’s Word and His abilities! Because it was God who had made these promises, Abraham ‘considered’ God’s abilities. We should really think about what this means. The passage doesn’t reveal that Abraham blindly followed some kind of vague inclination about a spurious dream that he wondered about. On the contrary, faith is thoughtful and conscious! We do not accidentally believe! Faith is an active, serious considering of the truth! It meditates. It is deliberate and focused. Think about the equation here – God spoke to Abraham and based upon his knowledge of God’s power and ability Abraham acted. In fact, he was actually going to kill his son. Imagine the tension here. It was not some empty kind of ignorant, blind confidence or feeling. His life was really affected by his view of God! Imagine the trepidation and the tension when Isaac asks about the sacrifice. Abraham tells him that God will provide for Himself the lamb but in this passage we see that Abraham wasn’t looking for a ram caught in the thicket! He was looking for a bloody corpse that was going to be resurrected somehow. When Abraham acted on his knowledge of God’s promises and power he was looking for God to bring his dead son back to life! What a perspective! THIS is what he believed about God’s ability! THIS is what we celebrate this coming Easter weekend! The Gospel is intimately connected to this truth right here – the resurrection of Christ Jesus! This is an astounding reality, possibly the most supernatural aspect of the Gospel found in the Old Testament! The Gospel has us looking at a bloody corpse that WAS resurrected – This is the substance of our faith. What we actually believe about God’s power and ability affects us in tremendous ways. What kinds of things have you seriously and deliberately thought about God in the past year?
“The passage doesn’t reveal that Abraham blindly followed some kind of vague inclination about a spurious dream that he wondered about.”
Faith results in obeying God – When we know God’s Word, when we believe Him when He speaks, and when we understand His ability to do whatever He pleases – the faithful person obeys! This is the key to the command for us to “be holy as He is holy”. A correct knowledge of Him and a personal understanding what He has commanded is the key to holiness! This is the idea behind Jesus’ incarnation! He came to show us this about His Father! This is the why the author of Hebrews says in 11:6 – “… without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Because of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises and power, it’s almost impossible to imagine Abraham rejecting the Father. What a precious truth. Obedience is bound up in who God is. We must be holy BECAUSE He IS holy!
“Obedience is bound up in who God is. We must be holy BECAUSE He IS holy!”
Faith is directly connected to glorifying God for His Word and His Power! – This is such a default point of the passage! Remember that this is what Abraham told his men when he took Isaac further up the mountain: “I and the boy will go over there and worship...” Throughout this narrative, God is central. His Word and His work is exalted. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 4:20-21 – “No unbelief made him (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Notice again the words ‘fully convinced’ – Abraham thought this through.) As we read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 we see that the greatness of these saints is nothing compared to how great God is in this passage! These people believe because of how incredibly faithful and amazing He is! We are then told that all of these witnesses are on the sidelines watching us run this race and every one of us is to be focused on, not the audience but on, the Founder and Finisher of our FAITH!
Faith isn’t some accidental, capricious feeling that we ought to exercise at our leisure and for our temporary well-being. Believing in God, as a general statement and practice is not enough. A Christian’s faith is established and completed by a resurrected bloody corpse Who was promised and sustained by the God who works through His powerful Word! This is the focus of our worship this week!
“A Christian’s faith is established and completed by a resurrected bloody corpse Who was promised and sustained by the God who works through His powerful Word!”
Think about this when we gather together this Sunday – the active reality of who He is and what He has done! What are some ways that we can actively ‘consider’ how great He is this week as we prepare to worship with our families? Personally? (Confession of sin, repentance, proclaiming the Word?) Corporately? (Remembering Him as we celebrate the Communion, actively considering the words of the songs we are singing, engaging our minds as we listen and learn from the sermon.)