This is the first message in our present sermon series The FaithFULL Life.
Most of us have experienced the frustration. You are late for an early morning meeting, barely make it to the car without spilling your coffee. You get situated, put the keys in the ignition, and then as the car cranks, you notice it — the orange glow of the low fuel indicator. Not only are you late, but now you have to stop for fuel. At this point, we make a judgement call. We’ve been driving on fumes already. Surely, the car has enough to get you to meeting. And so you risk it, running on fumes just a little longer.
Obviously, this experience is not limited to cars. We all know what it is like to run out of gas – not fuel in the tank as much as faith in the soul. We know what it is like to spiritually live on fumes. Like with our cars, we think we can go a little farther, and a little farther. But at some point, we run out. Some of us are there today. You are spiritually depleted. Out of gas – out of faith.
That is the focus of the sermon series that begins today. We are calling it The FaithFULL Life. When we hear the word faithful, we typically think in terms of faithfulness, where we are called upon to live obedient, faithful, lives in devotion to God. Now when we are faithFULL in the way that I am going to talk about faith, we will begin to live more faithfully in devotion to God. But our faithfulness is NOT what this series is about. Notice how we are spelling the word. Not faithful with one “l,” but faithFULL, with two “ls” and with caps, to emphasize that what we want is to live a life FULL of faith – a life full of faith in GOD’s faithfulness to us!
We are talking about having a God consciousness – an awareness of God’s presence, power and purpose. A Romans 8:28 kind of faith, where the apostle Paul says, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose.”
• We are talking about having a God-consciousness when a child isn’t home by curfew, and isn’t returning texts.
• A God-awareness when the bills are about to be due and funds are low
• Faith in God’s sovereignty during an uncertain and contentious election
• Faith in the wake of a devastating diagnosis
• Faith in God’s grace when your sinful flesh causes you look your depravity in the face.
The question for us is, “Will I see God in these situations?” Will I look upward, or will I turn inward?
This is the question presented for us in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. Although we are not sure who wrote the letter– maybe Paul or an apostolic associate – Hebrews was written some time before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD to a community of Jews who had become Christians, and apparently were under severe persecution for their new faith. Because of the persecution, some are considering leaving the church for the relative safety of their previous life in Judaism. In light of this pressure, the author of Hebrews exhorts the Jewish believers to hold fast to their profession of faith.
That is the context in which the author of Hebrews throws down…
I. A Challenge… to Believe Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
Notice how strongly this is stated. Hold unswervingly! It’s like a child who will not let go of his toy truck. He will not share. He holds unswervingly. He is unyielding, even under threat of punishment.
Yet the object we are to hold is not a toy truck. It is the gospel itself – the promise of God’s grace to sinners that if we look to Jesus as our sin bearer, we are declared forgiven of all of our sin. ALL of it.
I love how Francis Schaeffer puts it in his book True Spirituality, “I’m convinced…that this is when we begin to make our forward steps as Christians: When I know through experience that I can lay hold of Christ’s blood by faith to cover my sins this morning, and then to cover my sins this afternoon, even if they’re the same sins—when I know this, the preciousness of Christ’s blood becomes a tremendous reality, I begin to live in the light of His presence and in the light of His work—not just in the past or in the future, but in the present.”
People have asked me on many occasions whether or not I think that the Christian life requires effort. My response is, absolutely. However, it is not primarily the kind of effort that many assume, which is the effort to either save ourselves through good works (which it isn’t), or change ourselves through moral commitment (which it isn’t). The primary effort in the Christian life is to believe the gospel! To really believe that there is no more condemnation – that Jesus was condemned for me, for my past sins, present sins and future sins! And whatever I face, he is in it, is with me and has everything totally under his control.
This is why the author of Hebrews challenges us so strongly. He knows the stakes are high. This is also why he provides…
II. A Definition of Faith Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is assurance of what we hope for and conviction about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
By ancients, the author is talking about the people he will list in the rest of chapter 11. People in the Old Testament like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon and more people who were faced with the challenge to live by faith, not to mention those in the New Testament, throughout church history, and those of us here today.
What defined their faith is what can define ours, and is represented by two words in verse 1: confidence and assurance, words that simply express what the author challenged us with in 10:23, to “hold unswervingly.” He is just broadening his terminology. He is using a variety of verbal hammers to strike the same nail. In fact, the word confidence can be translated foundation and the word assurance can be translated conviction, or convicting evidence. The faith he is commending is that which has a foundation built upon evidence. It is not wishful thinking.
It is the kind of faith I remember witnessing when I was a pastor in Memphis and would visit families at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Many of the children at St. Judes are there as a last medical resort, suffering with various forms of childhood cancer and other rare conditions. The hope in the eyes of the parents I met at St. Jude’s could only be explained by a faith that had such a firm foundation in truth that they were able to live with a relentless confidence in the nearness of God – the love of God, the power of God, and the purposes of God. As we sang earlier, “when we see you, we have strength to face the day.”
Their hope often transcended the promises of present healing, but was attached to greater promises of eternal healing and eternal life – a height, width, breadth and depth of grace that was much more developed than my ivory tower understanding of faith. The faith I saw in some of those parents is what enabled them to endure the weight of uncertainty, sorrow and severe disappointment. Even if and when they collapsed under that weight, they were confident that they would fall into the welcoming, loving arms of their Father.
The lesson for me in those days and for us today, is that a faith that is only based on possibility tends to run out when stress and weight is placed upon it, where hope quickly gives way to despair.
Yes, the stakes for living by faith in the grace, power, wisdom and love of God are high.
So, in order to press his pastoral challenge home, he presents…
III. An Example of Faith Hebrews 11:3 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.
Like we said a few weeks ago at Easter, the faith that we talk about is not a sentimental faith based on legend, fable or myth. It is a faith, but it is not a blind leap of faith. Rather, our faith is based on compelling, convicting evidence. That is the argument in verse 3. We may not understand exactly how God did it, but the universe itself displays the kind of order that demands a creator. Faith in God as creator does not stretch the intellectual limits of reason, because we are able to observe evidence of intelligence in the orderly design of the universe.
When my eldest, who is now 20, was a child, she had a crisis of faith. We used to recite the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday at our church, like we did this morning. Yet, one Sunday, Ann Ferris declared that she could no longer recite that creed – not until she could be convinced that there really was a God. She wanted to own her faith, and needed to discover for herself whether or not God existed.
Her journey led to a book by Susan Schaeffer McCauley, wherein Susan re-tells a story told by her father about a man walking through the woods. He happens upon a small cabin with smoke rising from the chimney. The man knocks, but no one appears to be home. So he walks in, and discovers a fire in the fireplace. Over the fire there is a pot of beef and vegetable stew simmering. On the table there is a blackberry cobbler with steam rising off of the browned crust. There are tables and chairs, utensils and glasses. In other words, there was evidence of intelligence present. The cabin didn’t build itself. The food had been intelligently prepared. There was order and design. There was evidence of life – of intelligent life. The same is the case with our universe.
The point that Dr. Schaeffer was trying to make is that Christian faith is not an illogical leap, but actually is reasonable. It fits with the way the world really is. It fits with moral, philosophical, and even scientific realities. The late theologian John Murray wrote, “When evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable result… In such a case, faith is compelled… [even] demanded.”
When Ann Ferris realized that all that exists reveals a creator, she was convinced. The next Sunday she recited the Apostles’ Creed, probably with more enthusiasm, conviction and assurance than anyone else there!
What some of us need to perceive today is that a faith crisis is often the place where we are put in a position where we must stop at the gas station. We know we are out and we have to deal with it. We’ve been running on fumes and can’t put it off any longer.
Maybe that is exactly where you are now. If so, we need to come full circle, not necessarily to a challenge, but to…
IV. An Invitation to Believe
For you to believe… to really believe, and hold this faith unswervingly. Yet, in order to receive this invitation, you need to know where you are on the faith spectrum. It may be that you are a skeptic and consider yourself a non-believer. However, being a skeptic doesn’t mean that your faith is empty. Actually, it may be full, just in another way. Consider this graphic below.
You will notice that it looks like the letter “V,” and shows how there are two ways to be full of faith. In the top, left corner we see that one can be full of faith in self – faith in one’s own understanding of the world, one’s own system of morality, and intellect.
The movement from faith in self to faith in God often travels, not straight across, but through the pit of despair, the low point in the V. This pit of despair is when we are totally faithless. Empty of faith not only in God, but in self. At this point, life is miserable and feels hopeless.
But that low point can be a place of unexpected hope and life. This is because at that low point, we can finally look up from a posture of humility, acknowledging our need of rescuing grace.
There is a story told by an older woman of a life defining tradition that she experienced as a child growing up. It wasn’t a once a year experience, but an event that took place every day. Upon waking, she would find her father sitting in his “Daddy chair” in the den enjoying his morning coffee. Noticing her, he would look her in the eyes with a smile – and say the same words every day, “Good morning, precious. You are so loved by your Daddy.”
You may think that got old. The same look, the same smile, the same words, every day.
But isn’t that what we want more than anything else in this world? To hear a father pronounce his unqualified, unconditional affection over us and to us. To be called precious. To know, unswervingly, being convinced with full assurance that we are loved and held by our Abba, Daddy, Father, God. We can hold unswervingly to God because we are held unswervingly by the Father!
The father who, according to Paul in Romans 5:8, “Demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Not when we had our act together. Not when we showed him how good we could be. But when we were sinners, unworthy, unlovable sinners, that is when he gave Jesus so that we might be adopted into the family of God, having a Father who now greets us when we wake, “Good morning, precious. You are so loved by your Daddy!”
If you are ready to be reconciled to God like this – to experience his forgiving grace, to entrust your life to this God – then let me invite you to pray with me and receive this Jesus as your Savior and Lord as we close.
“Father in Heaven, I confess that I am a sinner deserving of your displeasure and justice. But I thank you that Jesus was willing to receive that justice in my place so that I can receive and rest in your mercy. Thank you for opening my eyes to the wonder of your grace. Let me now hold unswervingly to the truth that I am fully forgiven and eternally loved in Jesus. For I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.”