Faith Alone

Bible Book: Hebrews  11 : 1-6
Subject: Faith

Faith Alone

Mark Adams

1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 – This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 – 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. 4 – By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. 5 – By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For, before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

As Pastor Kevin has just reminded us—we have several families who have children who will soon be heading off to college. And—I’m sure those families have been making a list of the things their child will NEED as they begin this next chapter in life. Here’s some things I would put on the list:

  • They’ll need a good laptop or notebook.
  • They’ll need those special extra-long sheets that fit the standard dorm room bed.
  • They’ll need to pick the right food plan.
  • They’ll need a way to have access to spending money.
  • They will need phone chargers—I recommend three or four extra—because my girls were always losing theirs. They still do.
  • They’ll need a few jump drives to back up their work.
  • They’ll need things like extension cords—and power strips—for their dorm room because plugs are never where you need them. And there are never enough.
  • Depending on the location of their school they’ll need the right kind of clothing.

I remember my daughter, Becca, who went to school in Wheaton, Illinois—learned she only needed shorts for a couple weeks of the school year. The rest of the year it was too cold to wear them. In fact, she realized that she needed a good pair of boots to trudge through all the snow that was pretty much always on the ground.

Well, I could go on and on—but the reason I mention all these NEEDS is because this morning I want to talk about something we ALL need in life—whether we’re headed for college or not—and I’m referring to our last “SOLA:” FAITH. I say that because, as Paul puts it, “The righteous LIVE by faith.” (Romans 1:17) If you are our guest, I’ll bring you up to speed by saying that today we’re coming to the end of a series that we’ve called: “CONVICITONS THAT CONNECT.” For the past month or so we’ve been looking at some of the core beliefs that define our Christian identity—those non-negotiable beliefs that unite us. Here’s a quick review of our study:

  • All GLORY belongs to God;
  • JESUS is our one and only Lord and Savior;
  • The BIBLE alone is our source of authority for it is God’s Word.
  • We are saved by the GRACE of God.
  • Then, as I said, today we’re looking at FAITH—the faith that saves us by His grace and enables us to live.

Now—at the onset of our study I need to remind you that everyone has faith in something. I mean, there is a sense in which EVERYONE—not just the righteous—everyone lives by faith.

John Bisagno once put it this way, “Faith is the heart of life. Think of it. You go to a doctor whose name you can’t pronounce. He gives you a prescription you cannot read. You take it to a pharmacist you have never seen. He gives you medication you do not understand—and yet you take it.”

Do you see the point? The truth is, none of us can get through a single day without living by faith.

  • When you flip a light switch you put faith in the electrical wiring.
  • When you turn the ignition switch in your car, you trust the starter and the motor.
  • In a few months when you college kid parents slap a 50 cent stamp on snail-mail a letter and address it to their campus post office box you will put your faith in the US Mail Service.
  • When you punch in a number on your cell phone you put your faith in Verizon.
  • When you sit in those soft wine-colored chairs you have faith that I’m going to stop preaching in time for you to (go to Bible Study/eat lunch).

Everyone has faith in something.

But, of course that’s not the kind of faith we’re talking about. We’re saying that a Christian is someone who has put their faith in Jesus—and then bases their everyday lives on their faith in Him. To make sure we understand this little SOLA word—FAITH—let’s break it down a bit.

Let’s begin by looking at what faith in God is NOT.

(1) First, Biblical faith is not FAITH in FAITH.

I say this because many times in Christian circles we link the effectiveness of our faith to how strongly we can convince ourselves that there will be a positive outcome to a particular situation.

We decide to exert our will power such that no doubt will enter our minds. We convince ourselves that if we pump our “faith” up enough, God will honor our desires. We sing, pray, read Scripture, scold ourselves for any second thoughts—and try to convince ourselves that we can believe enough to get God to do what we think is right.

But that is not Biblical faith—it’s not a trust in God’s wisdom and power. Actually it is confidence in ourselves and the amount of belief we have conjured up, in an attempt to control God. This is the kind of false faith that fuels the “name it claim it” or “blab it and grab it” philosophy that so many television preachers proclaim. And the sad fact is this flawed kind of faith will not outlast the first major disappointment of life. You see, when we can’t claim what we name or grab what we blab; when a loved one is not healed or a promotion does not come through or an unforeseen tragedy hits—false faith like this will crumble like a stack of cards in a gentle breeze.

In their book, We Let Our Son Die, Larry and Lucy Parker recount the tragic story of the way they embraced this kind of misguided faith. In painful and painstaking detail, Larry and his wife paint the picture of how they had come to believe that if they just had enough faith, God would heal their diabetic son. Eventually, their son Wesley got ill and needed insulin. Believing that God would heal Wesley, they withheld the insulin and, predictably, Wesley lapsed into a diabetic coma. The Parkers, warned by some about the impropriety of not having enough faith, believed that God would heal Wesley. Sadly—tragically—Wesley died.

But even after Wesley’s death, the Parkers, undaunted in their “faith,” conducted a resurrection service rather than a funeral service. In fact, for more than a year following his death, they refused to abandon their firmly held faith that Wesley, like Jesus, would rise from the dead. Eventually, both Larry and Lucy were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse. Their nightmare is the result of faith in their own faith—not faith in God. Theirs was not Biblical faith, but rather a warped form of religious positive thinking. Let me put it this way: it was faith in faith rather than faith in Him Who is faithful.

The late Ron Mehl, who endured Leukemia by embracing a Biblical faith in God and who finally succumbed to that disease in 2003, wrote a book for his sons to read after his death. He titled his book After Words. I wish I could find enough copies to give our graduates! In his book Mehl says, “Faith isn’t trying to manipulate God or circumstances to get what I want. It is resting in Him so that I can have what He wants.”

Mehl was a wise father—because genuine faith—Biblical faith—does not believe that God will do what we say. It is a faith that knows and trusts that God will do what He says. It is a faith that acknowledges God’s limitless wisdom and knowledge and goodness—a faith that says He knows more than we do and that He is always working out His absolutely perfect purposes.

Genuine faith is resting on the promises of God, no matter what happens—His assurances that we will encounter hardship and heartache in this life, but that He is with us and is working in all things for our good and His glory—and that when this life ends we’ll enter that perfect world where everything will be set right. Biblical faith is a relationship of trust in God. It’s an experience-built confidence in the character of our Heavenly Father.

Listen, faith in and of itself is worthless. You see, the VALUE of faith is rooted in the soundness and worthiness of its OBJECT. Buchanan says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God but without God it is impossible to have good faith. Faith like that has nowhere to lay its head.”

You know, one of the things I love about God’s Word is its absolute honesty. It tells it all about its “heroes.” God holds nothing back. There are no “skeletons in the closet” for the people He uses. I mean, God tells us not only about the great things our Heroes of the Faith have done—but also about their mistakes—their flaws—their weaknesses. For example, Abraham—in the Bible we read that Abraham was an ignorant, confused, superstitious, passive, and cowardly man at times.

So—why then is his faith revered? It’s because he put his faith not in his confused, cowardly self but in God. God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations—and as he aged, and no child was born to Sarah—he realized only God could make that kind of thing happen. Paul says Abraham knew his body was as good as dead. He was an old man with an old wife. He knew no pharmaceutical company could help him. There were no IF treatments back then. But he still had faith. He did not allow his life to be determined by what was possible due to human power. He was completely dependent on God, God alone.

John Ortberg writes, “The hero of his story isn’t Abraham; it’s God. Abraham’s dad, Terah, might have had stronger faith, but he put his faith in the wrong gods. Abraham put his faith in the right God. It was better for him to put little faith in a big God than big faith in a little god. This is good news. This is why Jesus says you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. Why? Because it is not about the size of your faith; it’s about the size of your God.”

Tim Keller talks about this aspect of faith. He says, “When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, Pharaoh pursued them, and God parted the Red Sea. The Israelites went through the sea on dry ground with a wall of water on their right and a wall of water on their left. Some of them probably loved it. Some of them probably said: ‘In your face, Pharaoh. Eat your heart out. We are cruising now!’ Some of them were probably more timid. Some of them probably said: ‘We’re going to die. I’m going to die!’ Not all of them expressed the same quality of faith, but they were all equally saved.”

Do you get the point?

It is not the quality of your faith that saves you; it’s the object of your faith that saves you. I love this quote from James Dunn: “The character of Abraham’s faith is determined by the character of the God in whom he believed.” His hope was not in how strong his faith was; his hope was in God—the God Who created this universe out of nothing.

(2) Faith is not a BLIND leap in the DARK

 This leads to a second thing Biblical faith is not. It’s not a BLIND leap in the DARK.

Some people think faith in God means you ignore logic and reason. They ridicule Christians for their faith that God exists, saying that kind of faith makes no sense. But the truth is, believing there is no God requires an unreasonable kind of faith.

I mean, if atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists put their faith into words it might sound like this: “By faith we believe that this amazingly intricate universe evolved from mindless matter. We believe that order accidentally emerged from chaos.” Of course, they are hard-pressed to find any evidence for this “statement of faith”—because true scientific observation consistently proves that order does not grow from chaos and that design points to a Designer. I don’t know about you, but I find my Christian faith more logical, more reasonable. When it comes to my statement of faith, I look to verse 3 of our text where it says,

“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.”

Do you see what I’m saying? Both creeds require faith. But only Christian faith is actually compatible with logic and reason. As I told you a few weeks back—truth does not contradict truth. Ours is a faith that is based on truth—based on historical evidence. It is supported by the Biblical record, by personal testimony, by archeology, and by our own experiences. We can look up and down and all around and see the fingerprints of our Creator. And as Christians we can also look back in our lives and see abundant evidence that God is worthy of the trust and faith we put in Him.

In fact, the longer we walk with God, the more we know Him, the more we know that we can trust Him. Author Tim Hansel tells the story about the day he and his son Zac were out in the country, climbing around in some cliffs. Hansel says at one point in the day he heard a voice above him yell, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” He turned around to see Zac jumping off a rock, flying straight at him. Apparently, Zac had jumped first and then yelled, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” Well, Hansel became an instant circus act, instinctively twisting to catch his son in mid air. They both fell to the ground and for a moment Hansel could hardly talk.

When he found his voice again he gasped in exasperation: “Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that?” Zac responded with remarkable calmness: “Sure! Because you’re my dad!” Zac’s whole assurance was based on the fact that he believed his father was trustworthy. He’d no doubt experienced his dad’s quick instincts and firm grip in the past. His relationship with his father deepened his faith and enabled him to live life to the hilt. He could risk the joy of that jump because he was confident—he rested in—the strength and love of his father that he had experienced every day of his life.

Now I love this story. I think it illustrates my point well. But I must point out that Biblical faith is faith in God even if He doesn’t catch us—even if He doesn’t heal us or our children. Genuine faith says, “My understanding of the Bible and my life experience has shown me that I can trust God’s goodness even if I can’t see it from my perspective.” It’s the faith of Job who said, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)

But, in any case—faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It makes sense to trust in the character of God.

Okay, enough of the negative. What is faith?

I want to answer this question in two ways and the first flows logically from what I just said.

(3) You see faith is BELIEVING in what we can’t always SEE.

As the first verse in our text puts it, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Now—the phrases “being sure” and “do not see” seem to contradict each other, but people who practice genuine faith know that there is no contradiction—because the Bible teaches us that real faith anticipates. It visualizes the future in the present. It sees in advance. It believes God’s purposes will prevail somewhere out there over the horizon—so it is being sure even of what you don’t yet see.

Noah embraced this aspect of faith. Remember? He was warned about an impending flood. He had never even seen rain before, much less enough water to flood the world, but he was so sure of this future event that—in faith—he built the ark as instructed by God. When we accurately understand God’s character, we can embrace a faith that does not see and then believe—it believes and then it sees.

Matthew Henry put it this way. “Faith demonstrates to the eye of the mind the reality of these things which cannot be discerned by the eye of the body.”

The great musician Ray Charles went blind at age seven. When he was just a small child something gathered over his eyes and turned his world grainy and gray—finally closing him in utter darkness. He lived his childhood in rural poverty in a one-room shack at the edge of a sharecropper’s field. In the popular film about his life there is a scene from this chapter of his life. Ray runs into his house and trips over a chair. He starts to wail for his mother. She stands at the stove, right in front of him and instinctively reaches out to lift him. Then she stops. Backs up. Stands still. Watches. In a moment Ray stops crying. He quiets. He listens. He hears, behind him, the water on the wood stove whistling to a boil. He hears, outside, the wind pass like a hand through the corn stalks. He hears the thud of horse hooves on the road, the creak and clatter of the wagon they pull. Then he hears, in front of him, the thin faint stretch of a grasshopper walking the worn floorboards of his mama’s cottage. He inches over and, attentive now to every sigh and twitch, gathers the tiny insect in his hand. He holds it in his open palm and says, “I hear you too, Mamma.” She weeps with pride and sorrow and wonder. Later in the film Ray explains to someone, “I hear like you see.”

Buchannan writes, “This is faith’s motto: I hear like you see. I trust in God—in what He’s done and is doing and will do—as much—even more—than others trust in what they touch and taste and see.”

One thing we must understand about faith is the fact that it is believing in that which is often imperceptible from our limited perspective. In his book Beyond Jabez, Bruce Wilkinson shares the story of an old African woman who demonstrated faith in God’s power to provide. Although she lived in a tiny mud hut, she had taken on the responsibility of caring for 56 orphans. A small group of Wilkinson’s “Dream for Africa” volunteers had arrived in this grandmother’s native Swaziland to plant gardens. On the final day of their visit, they came upon her tiny home, surrounded by the many children in her care. They saw that a number of little gardens had been dug up all around the hut, but oddly, no plants were growing in any of them. The volunteers learned that, earlier on the same day, the woman had told the children to dig lots of gardens.

When the children asked her why—since they had neither seeds nor money—she responded,

“Last night I asked God to send someone to plant gardens for us. We must be ready for them when they come.” Wilkinson’s volunteers had come with hundreds of ready-to-plant seedlings.

God sent them to the very place where one of His servants had begged for His intervening hand.

The faithful grandmother and her children were ready when the answer came. She had faith in what she could not yet see.

(4) And then second, faith is ACTING on what we can’t always UNDERSTAND.

You see, faith is not only a way of seeing—it is also a way of living. Genuine faith is more of a verb than it is a noun. In verse 8 of Hebrews 11 it says: “It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country God had promised to him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going.”

Abraham’s faith motivated him to obey God even when it meant leaving his homeland and heading off for some unknown destination—a trip that must not have made much sense to him. And the truth is many times God’s commands don’t make sense to you and me. As Oswald Chambers says, “Common sense is not faith and faith is not common sense.” I like the way Chambers puts it because as it says in Proverbs 3, faith often requires us to “lean not on our own understanding.” The fact that God’s instructions didn’t make sense to Abraham didn’t stop Him from acting on his faith. And his example teaches us that authentic faith—growing faith—is always characterized by action.

In fact, I would go so far as to say our actions validate our faith. Let me give you an uncomfortable example to ponder. Imagine a pastor or Bible study teacher—tells you that the Bible teaches we if we tithe, we can trust God to provide for our needs. He quotes Malachi 3:14 where God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” You say, “I believe that! I have faith that God will take care of me. I have faith to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” But—then later when you get around to writing that first tithe check—you see the bills that are coming and you get afraid—so you don’t tithe. How alive—how valid—would you say your faith in God’s promise is? We show our faith by our actions.

Let’s say you hear a sermon on witnessing. Your heart begins to break for people who don’t know Jesus. A co-worker comes to mind. The pastor or teacher says that we can trust God to go before us in every witnessing encounter—that He will help us. He quotes Luke 12:12 where Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” and you say “I believe that! I have faith that God will go before me! I’m going to share my faith with that person whenever God opens the door for me to do so.” And the next day it happens, the person is obviously interested—but you back out.

Is that a valid faith—a strong faith? We show by our actions how much we trust God. James says that “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2) He says we SHOW our faith by our works. Martin Luther, that champion of grace alone, understood this principle of faith because in the preface to his commentary on Romans, he says that it is, “…impossible to separate works from faith-yea, just as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.” Luther also said, “…faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing that which is good. It does not even ask whether good works should be done; but before the question can be asked it has done them. And is constantly engaged in doing them. He who does not do such works, is a man without faith.”

Look at the men and women of faith listed in Hebrew 11—that Hall of Heroes of Faith. Their faith in the future made them act in the present because genuine faith is not passive. No, it is dynamic and forceful. Truly faithful people actively obey God day in and day out. Listen to their achievements beginning with verse 32:

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms—enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war—put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:32-35)

The faith-filled activities of these people have changed the course of history because their faith led them to boldly act in obedience to God! I think that one of the first science fiction novels I read as a teenager was H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. If you read it or have seen movie adaptations of it, then you know that the only way you could tell if the invisible man was in the room, was if things were moving. There would be a teacup and a saucer going across thin air about this high. Or a hat would be hanging in thin air with nothing underneath it—or a door would slam. So, the only way you could tell the invisible man was there was by his actions—the effect that he had on the things around him. And we see genuine faith in people who claim to be Christians by their actions. One way to put it would be to say that faith is a belief in the unseen that can be seen by others. This is what James 2:18 means when it says, “Show me your faith without deeds. I’ll show you my faith by what I do.” The truth is people know what we believe by the way that we behave.

So let’s ask ourselves this morning: What would people who know us and work with us—people who share our carpools and play dates—what would they say we believe? What would they say about our faith? This is an important question for us to consider because genuine faith is visible.

One of the reasons many churches don’t grow is because their members don’t embrace this kind of faith. As Buchannan puts it their motto is, “Believe but carry on as usual.” You know, when it comes to belief in God we often put people in one of two groups: theists and atheists. We group them according to those who believe in God and those who don’t. In Our Daily Bread, Vernon Grounds points out that we need a third category: apatheists. That’s apathy joined to theism; indifference married to creed. Apatheists believe in God but don’t really care. They’re glad God is out there, somewhere doing something, hearing prayers and spinning planets but His existence impinges little on their own. It doesn’t guide their actions, shape their decisions, and correct their attitudes. God is not a present, urgent reality to them. Instead He’s a distant, occasionally interesting idea. Their belief is such that it doesn’t prompt them to do anything.

In 1959 the USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev made an unprecedented visit to America. This was right after the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev was his successor and he had already caused a global stir in a speech he gave in which he had denounced Stalin’s many atrocities—his genocidal policies against the Ukraine, his cold-blooded assassination of anyone who had become “redundant,” anyone whose existence no longer served “the party.” Khrushchev criticized Stalin for his purges-the way he ruthlessly killed anyone he didn’t trust, which was almost everyone. Well, Khrushchev was scheduled to appear at the National Press Club in Washington and it was widely expected he would deliver an abbreviated version of his Politburo speech. Every newspaper and magazine of any standing made sure they had at least one reporter present so the room was packed. Khrushchev did not disappoint—he delivered—via translator—a shortened but potent indictment of his former boss, complete with corroborating evidence. When he finished he the floor for questions. Someone called out from the crowd,

“Mr. Khrushchev, you have just given us an account of Mr. Stalin’s many crimes against humanity. You were his right-hand man during much of that time. Well, what were you doing while all this was going on?” The question was translated to Khrushchev and when he heard it he exploded in anger, “Who said that!?” he demanded. No one answered. “Who said that?” he bellowed at the audience. There was only silence. “Who said that?” Again there was just silence. Everyone present just looked at their shoes. Khrushchev said, “That’s what I was doing.”

Unfortunately his inaction illustrates the faith of many Christians—a workless faith characterized by looking at our shoes and doing nothing while a lost world slips further and further from God.

Remember, Jesus says that on the day of Judgment He will be able to see His true followers in one way: their faith. Their belief will be translated faith into action. When confronted with the hungry, the suffering, the poor, the imprisoned, they will be those who didn’t look at their shoes.

In faith, they will have said, “Here I am. Send me.” Well, is your faith the kind that makes you an expert on the state of your footwear—or is it the kind that makes you wear your shoes out as you obediently allow Jesus to use your feet and your hands, and your voice to share His love with those who desperately need it?