What is Faith?

Posted on November 9, 2014. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , |

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.


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