Faith

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Hebrews 11:1-6

Would you like to please God? Then I must tell you about something you’ve simply got to have.

This is the second in a short series of messages from the book of Hebrews, based on four different verses that all contain the word without, and which, taken together, name “Indispensables.” Here are four things – personal qualities, events or experiences – we cannot do without if we wish to have our sins forgiven, to please God, to be his children, to see him some day in heaven; in short, to be saved.

The first indispensable for salvation is one few of us would have guessed on our own. According to Hebrews 9:22 it is atonement by the death of a sacrificial victim. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” And as we also learn in the book of Hebrews (as well as throughout the New Testament), atonement has been made. The perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins has been offered, for Jesus Christ himself shed his blood on the cross to pay for sin.

But this raises a question. Because Jesus shed his blood for the sin of the world, does that mean everybody’s sins are paid for and therefore forgiven?

Scripture plainly says that some will be saved while others will be lost eternally – a hard and sobering truth – and the difference between those two categories of people is faith. While Jesus’ death is certainly sufficient to merit forgiveness of sins for every person who ever lived, it actually obtains forgiveness only for those who belong to him because they have committed their lives to him in faith. If you and I want the benefits of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to apply to us, we must believe in him, as one of the best-known statements in the Bible declares:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(John 3:16)

So the second indispensable for salvation is faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

WHAT IS FAITH?

While the opening verses of Hebrews 11 don’t tell everything there is to know about biblical faith, they do answer three important questions. The first is this: What is faith? The writer of Hebrews tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), which is a wonderful definition; although perhaps it’s not so much a formal definition as it is a description of how faith works. Faith means having the assurance that the things we’re hoping for – things like God, and Christ, and heaven, and eternal life – are real and will be ours some day. Faith is being sure that things we can’t see or touch or prove through our senses are nevertheless genuine. Faith is a persuadedness about the existence of things that are invisible. Faith functions like the eyes of the soul. Just as our eyesight convinces us of the reality of what can be seen, so faith convinces us of the reality of what cannot be seen.

“Seeing is believing,” we sometimes say. That’s true, for sight is the means by which we make sure of what is really happening, what is real, what is true. Suppose somebody comes up to you and tells you it’s raining outside. You can’t believe it. When you came indoors just a little while ago, it was cloudless and sunny with no rain in the forecast. So what do you do? You go over to the window and see for yourself. You confirm the reality of that statement by the evidence of your own senses.

But what about all those things that can’t be checked by sight or by any other of our senses? How can you be sure whether or not something invisible is real? Some things are invisible because they’re spiritual and impossible to see with our physical eyes – angels, the soul, God himself. Other things are invisible because they happened in the past before we were around to see them – like the creation of the world. Still others are invisible because they are in the future and are not yet here to be seen – like tomorrow’s sunrise, our room in the Father’s house in heaven, the Lord’s return at the end of time, and all the other “things hoped for.” The only way we can be certain about the reality of all those things is by faith.

The writer to the Hebrews offers an illustration of the way faith works in verse 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.

Science can tell us much about the visible world around us, but it has nothing to say of the invisible realities that lie behind our world.

Several years ago I read an account of a lecture delivered by a distinguished British biologist at Harvard University. The lecturer stated that, while evolution might explain the development of the physical organ we call the brain, it could not explain the development of the mind, the consciousness, or the human personality. Only a transcendent Creator, in his opinion, could account for these other things. The report I was reading said that the students and faculty in the audience hissed and jeered at that statement, but they did so not because of their scientific knowledge but because of their faith (in this case, their prior belief that there is no God.)

Only faith can tell us about the things we cannot see. You may believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, or you may believe that the universe and everything in it (including us) is the result of a random, impersonal, meaningless process of evolution, but either way you are walking by faith, not by sight, because there’s no way to prove either one of those things.

FAITH IN WHAT?

The second important question Hebrews answers is: What does faith believe? Out of the vast array of things that must be accepted by faith, biblical faith lays hold on two things in particular:

Anyone who comes to [God] must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

(v. 6)

Notice that before he states the specific things which faith believes, the biblical writer says something about the person who does the believing: “anyone who comes to God.“ Faith in God must be preceded by desire for God. In order to believe in God, you must be willing to come to him and draw near to him. If you would like to have faith in God, you first have to want to know him. The Bible says that those who seek for God will surely find him. But no one will find him who doesn’t care to seek. If you are one of those people who say they wish they could believe in God but they just can’t seem to find faith, the question you must face is whether or not you really want to meet God. Do you truly desire God? Would you really like to know him? If you honestly would, he will enable you to believe.

But back to those two basic facts which biblical faith accepts. Here they are: by faith we believe that God exists – that he is real – and that God is good – that he rewards those who seek him.

Let’s consider those two beliefs, starting with the belief that God exists. This doesn’t mean that “God” in general exists, the generic God most people talk of. It means that GOD exists, the true God, the living God. Biblical faith is not faith in any god or a god but faith in the God; the God of the Bible, the God who has revealed himself in his written Word and through his Son Jesus, the God who in Christ was reconciling the world to himself. This is what the writer means when he says that whoever would draw near or come to God must believe “that he exists.” “He” refers to the real God, the God who is there, the God who came into the world in person in Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, died on a cross, was buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven, who dwells there now in glory, and who one day will come again to judge the whole world.

But faith not only believes that this God exists; it also believes he is good. Faith believes that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, faith believes in the trustworthiness of God’s character. I really don’t think it’s enough to believe that there is a God. You also must know what he is like; you must trust in his goodness and depend upon his grace. You must be confident that if you truly seek him with all your heart and cast yourself on his mercy, he will never turn you away, never fail you, never leave you or forsake you. And then day by day you must rely on the promises of God’s Word, live out your confidence in his faithfulness, and reflect that confidence by the way you face suffering or hardship or disappointment as you live each day to God’s glory. That’s what real faith is all about.

FAITH’S EFFECT

Finally, Hebrews 11 answers this question: What effect does such faith have? Does having faith in the God of the Bible actually do anything? Does it make any difference in life? Most assuredly it does! It may not guarantee that we get everything that we want, but it does do this one thing: Faith pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (v. 6), but with it, we conclude we are well-pleasing to him.

Here is an often-asked question which is seldom, I think, clearly answered:

What’s the point of human existence?

What am I here for?

What does my life really mean?

C.H. Spurgeon, that great lion of God, gave a fine answer to that question when he said, “We were meant to please God.” He learned that from Jesus. Jesus’ life is the master pattern for the whole human race, and he once summarized the meaning of his life by saying, “I always do what is pleasing to God” (John 8:29). Think of that. Remember it the next time you find yourself caught up in a frantic effort to please somebody. All of us are always doing that, trying to please teachers and bosses, family and friends (and those we wish were our friends), even trying sometimes to please ourselves. But what matters is pleasing God, for that’s what we were meant to do. And the only way to please him is by faith.

“Why is that so?” I find myself thinking. What is it about faith that is so pleasing to God, so much so that just having it makes us pleasing to God? The answer to that question is perhaps the most important thing we can know. Faith pleases God because it relies on what he does to save us, not what we do to save ourselves. This, says Hebrews (in chapter 11), is the lesson of every Old Testament’s saint’s life. Do you want to know how to please God? Well, look at the lives of those who did, our writer argues. All of them, from the very beginning, pleased God only through faith. This is what the ancients were commended for, he says. There were never two ways of relating to God, one of them by good works (during Old Testament times) and the other by faith since the coming of Christ. No. It’s always been through faith alone that anyone has been pleasing to God. God justifies those who trust him and rely only on his grace, rather than on their own merits or good works.

Now, what about you? Are you pleasing to God? Are you sure of that right now? Whether or not you are depends entirely upon your faith, for remember: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”