Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"TO LIVE BY FAITH IS TO ACCEPT ALL GOD SAYS AND ACT ACCORDINGLY."
21. Q. What is true faith?
A. True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word. At the same time it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits. This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.
 John 17:3, 17; Heb. 11:1-3; James 2:19.  Rom. 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb. 4:16.  Gal. 2:20.  Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:10.  Rom. 3:20-26; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10.  Acts 16:14; Rom. 1:16; 10:17; I Cor. 1:21.
22. Q. What, then, must a Christian believe?
A. All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.
 Matt. 28:19; John 20:30, 31.
23. Q. What are these articles?
A. 1. I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.BR> 2. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
3. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary;
4. suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell;
5. On the third day He arose from the dead;
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
7. from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;
9. I believe a holy catholic Christian church, the communion of saints;
10. the forgiveness of sins;
11. the resurrection of the body;
12. and the life everlasting.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 20:3,4 (after ordination)
Psalm 3:1,2,3 (after collection)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Not all men, we learned from Scripture last week, are saved by Christ. Yes, God "sent" His only Son into the world to save sinners, but the persons Jesus came to save are only "His people", the ones whom the Father has given to Him. This, we learned, was the doctrine of election.
Yet this doctrine of election, we learned too, does not provide for us material assuring us of our salvation, for we simply are not able to look into God’s book of life in heaven to discover whose name is written in that book. Instead, we may and must work with the doctrine of the covenant – the gracious fact that God sovereignly claimed us for Himself, gave us rich promises in Jesus Christ. We need to work with this good news by responding to it –how?- by accepting, receiving what God graciously gives to us. With the hand of the body I accept the chocolates you give, and after I’ve received them I can enjoy them; with the hand of the soul I accept the forgiveness of sins, righteousness and salvation God grants in Jesus Christ, and only then can I enjoy these gifts. The hand of the soul: that is faith. To accept God’s gift, to embrace it as my own: I do that by faith.
I want today, congregation, to give greater colour to the matter of what faith is. For we all have our specific lives to live, and each day, in our personal circumstances we need to live ‘by faith’. Just what does that concretely mean? What does it mean to live ‘by faith’? How does my faith affect my daily existence?
To answer the question properly, I need to give you a more complete definition of what faith is than I did last week. Last week I told you that faith is accepting what God gives. Today I want to develop that further. For faith is not only accepting what God gives; faith is accepting whatever God says and acting accordingly. That brings the matter directly into our daily lives, for day by day we do things, we act. And our actions show whether we live by faith or not.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
TO LIVE BY FAITH IS TO ACCEPT ALL GOD SAYS AND ACT ACCORDINGLY.
All of us, brothers and sisters, are familiar with the Bible. So we know that the world did not come into being through a process of evolution; instead, a few thousand years ago God spoke a word and the world came into existence. We do not dispute that fact, we accept it for true. Question: does that mean that we have faith?
Again, we accept that Noah once built an ark, we believe that the animals of the world entered the ark two by two, and all flesh perished in the waters. Does that mean we have faith? We accept as true that God gave Israel manna in the desert, accept as true that David killed Goliath, accept as true that Mary gave birth to the Son of God in the stable of Bethlehem, accept as true that Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross to save sinners. Does this mean that we have faith?
We might be tempted to say that the answer is Yes, to accept as true that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners means we have faith. But the correct answer, congregation, is No. To accept as true the factuality of what happened 2000 or 4000 years ago does not mean that we have faith. I accept as true that Guido deBres lived four centuries ago, wrote a Confession, and died a martyr’s death on account of the faith. Accepting this historical event as true does not mean that I have faith. I accept as true that nearly 50 years ago the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. But accepting this historical fact does not mean that I have faith.
Over the years, theologians have given a name to the concept of accepting as true the events recorded in the Bible. They’ve called it historical faith. But it’s to be clear in our minds that ‘historical faith’ is no more ‘faith’ than a box car is actually a car or a road train actually a train. Stronger, ‘historical faith’ is not faith at all. It can look like the real thing, and can make people say the right things, but in fact it is not the real thing. It is sham of the evil one, and many are the victims who are happy to say that the Bible is true and Jesus paid for sin the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost – but they do not have true faith.
Why I say that this so-called ‘historical faith’ is a sham, is not the real thing at all? Consider what James wrote in chap 2. He says in vs 19:
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!"
That’s to say: the demons accept as fact that "there is one God." In fact, the demons know only too well that everything recorded in the Bible is fact. They know that Jesus died for sinners, know that God has poured out His Holy Spirit. But that does not mean that the demons have faith. For –and this is the point of the apostle- true faith by definition is accompanied by works. Look at vs 14:
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"
And the apostle gives the example of the person who receives a visitor in desperate and obvious need, and you wish him a good day and God’s blessing, and close the door on him – and leave him in his hunger and nakedness. Is that faith? Not at all; that’s the sort of conduct one expects from a person still dead in his sins. It brings the apostle to this conclusion:
"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (vs 17).
The point? You cannot separate works from faith, you cannot separate faith from works. Faith by definition involves action. What action? This: one acts in a fashion consistent with what one believes. That is faith; faith is to accept what God says and act accordingly.
So, when the apostle to the Hebrews sets out to explain to his readers what faith is, he describes it like this:
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).
What the apostle means by that difficult sentence is made clear by what he writes further in the chapter. He mentions Noah, for example. The man was told to build an ark because, God said, He would send a flood to destroy the whole world. Noah, of course, had never before seen a flood that size, and the whole thought of building a huge boat on dry land is ridiculous. Yet Noah did what God said. He did not wait till he saw what God had foretold; rather, he accepted God’s word for true and acted accordingly. This, says the author of Hebrews, is faith. He writes: "by faith Noah … prepared an ark…" (vs 7). Faith, you see, is not just accepting as true whatever God says, and then putting God’s words on the shelf; faith includes that one acts according to God’s word. That’s what Noah did; he fetched his axe, chopped down some trees, and began building that ark, did so because God said He should. That is faith.
In the same way God told Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, and go to a land that God would show him. What is faith? To stay put until Abram knew exactly where he had to go and what things would be like and how things would turn out in this foreign land? Is faith that Abram would send out an investigative team to discover which foreign country might be most receptive, most prosperous, most attractive? No, that’s not faith. Faith is to accept what God says –go to a foreign land- and act accordingly – without even knowing where he’d end up. So I read in vs 8: "by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going." He went, blind to the future, trusting that the God who told him to go would provide for his needs.
Faith: is that simply that I accept as true whatever I read in the Bible? Is faith this, that I accept that I’m by nature on the edge of the pit, and I can’t escape God’s just judgment, and God send His Son to pay for sin so that I go free? Is that faith?? No, congregation, NO! That is not faith! Faith is that I accept whatever God says and act accordingly in the specific circumstances in which I find myself. You cannot, you cannot separate faith from works, or works from faith.
Now I hear you say: if this is faith, surely, I don’t have faith. If God were to tell me to build a huge boat in the middle of the paddock, would I do it? If God were to tell me to pack my bags and travel to an unknown land without giving me a clue where I’d end up or what things would be like, would I go? And we say: if that is faith, we must not have true faith….
Who, congregation, has faith? Beloved of the Lord, I am constrained to impress on you that not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ in fact have faith. Let there be no uncertainty on the point. Just because we accept the truth of the Bible, just because we maintain that God in fact created the world and Noah built an ark and Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans and God’s Son paid for sin does not at all mean that all of us in fact have faith. I say this on the basis of Jesus’ words in Mt 7. He said this:
"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" (vss 21ff).
Let nobody here today take for granted that you have faith; let each instead examine the self. I urge it because no one shall be saved unless he believe. As we said last week: "only those are saved who by a true faith … accept all [Christ’s] benefits." None of us shall benefit from God’s gift of His only Son to save sinners from the pit unless that person believe in Jesus Christ. Faith is imperative! And what is faith? Not that I consider God’s word true and do nothing with it; faith is that I consider God’s word to be true and act accordingly. That’s what Jesus says: "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
Who has faith? Noah did. God told him to build an ark, and he did so – foolish though the project was to the human mind. Abram had faith. God told him to travel, and he did so – though he didn’t have a clue where he would end up.
Who has faith? Have I? Have you? They had faith, you have faith, I have faith as often as, in the heat of our circumstances, we accept whatever God has said and, in our circumstances, act accordingly. Who has faith? He who accepts what God has said about obeying the authorities of the land, and so sticks to the speed limit – though he’s late for work. Who has faith? He who accepts what God has said about marriage, and so sticks to the spouse – though humanly speaking the marriage is a mess. Who has faith? He who accepts what God said about His providing a Mediator in Jesus Christ, and so not being anxious any more about whether my sins are forgiven – though past sins were O so horrendous. Who has faith? He who accepts anything God has said, and in the nitty-gritty of daily life acts accordingly.
Have you faith, my brothers and sisters? That is: are you, in the dirt and grim of your lives, working with all that is promised us in the gospel? As you confront the sins of your life, are you comforted with the promise of God given to you in the covenant, the promise to forgive your sins through the blood of His only Son? As you face the disappointments of your life, are you comforted with the promise of God given to you in the covenant, the promise to be your Father who cares for you well, averts all evil or turns it to your benefit? As you tangle with the challenges of your life, are you comforted with the promise of God given to you in the covenant, the promise to give you His Spirit so that you receive the strength and wisdom you need to handle the challenges He lays on your path? Certainly, we have only a small beginning of the obedience God requires, also in the area of trusting in Him. But be not surprised on the point, beloved; Abram too, when he came to the land of Egypt, failed to trust his God and, lest Pharaoh demand his life, said that Sarai was his sister…. He too, like we, had only a small beginning of the obedience, the trust that God required. But tell me: do you see in yourself the wanting to do God’s will in your circumstances? (cf Rom 7). Do you see in yourself the striving to work with God’s promises and to obey God’s commands in whatever situation you find yourself?
These, my brothers and sisters, are questions you can and must answer for yourself. Next week, the Lord willing, we hope to celebrate the supper of the Lord, for the strengthening of our faith. But surely, faith cannot be strengthened if faith is not there to begin with. Who, then, may come to the table? Those with faith. That is: those who accept what God has said, and act accordingly. Shall you come to the table next week? Shall I? That depends on how we answer that question about whether or not we have faith. This, then, is our homework for this week: do I believe what God has said? That is: do I accept His words and live that way in the nuts and bolts of my life?
3. What happens to faith?
One question still requires our attention today. It’s this: the faith God works in our hearts does not remain static, dormant; rather, it grows. That’s our third point: what happens to faith?
I read in the Bible of ‘great faith’; I read also of ‘weak faith’. Jesus was once approached by a centurion with the request to heal his suffering servant. Jesus volunteered to come to heal him. But the centurion said not to bother coming; only speak the word from a distance, he said, and the servant will be healed. Then Jesus said: "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Mt 8:10).
Some time later, Jesus’ disciples were in the boat at sea, and a big storm came upon them. Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. Peter asked for permission to come to Jesus on the water, and received that permission. So he got out of the boat, and began walking to Jesus on the water. Then we read,
"But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
Jesus’ reply? This: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (vs 31).
Here, let’s say, are two extremes. Here’s a reference to "great faith"; here’s a reference also to "little faith". No doubt we may think of a whole range in between.
Does the fact that Peter had "little faith" mean that in fact he had no faith, that he would be lost? Not so, congregation; the fact that "he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’" shows that he knew where his salvation lay. But the thing is: ‘little faith’ has to grow. Peter may not be content with ‘little faith’. He has to become a man of faith, so his every action is determined by the promises of God to him. That God is his caring Father for Jesus’ sake, that his sins are washed away through the blood of the Saviour, that God the Holy Spirit works in his heart to renew it more and more: these are promises that Peter needs to work with, promises that determine Peter’s actions.
But how is Peter’s faith to grow? We know: by Peter listening to the words of Jesus Christ, digesting those words, working with His teaching.
So it is also with us. How shall our faith grow? Our LD says: "this faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel." Yet, congregation, God the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the gospel not only to work faith, but also to strengthen faith. We look at ourselves, and find our faith so weak; though we’d love to speak and act like the centurion, we time and again catch ourselves acting like Peter. Well now, what shall we do? Despair? No, not at all. God would have our little faith to grow. How is it to grow? Says God: through the work of the office-bearers! That is the instruction of the apostle in Eph 4. At His ascension the exalted Christ gave gifts to men. Vs 11:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers."
"for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
Notice those phrases describing growth. Paul speaks of "coming to", speaks of "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." The images of growth continue. Look at vs 14:
"that we should no longer be children … but … may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…."
See, congregation, God knows that His people "do not have perfect faith and … do not serve God with such zeal as He requires." So what does He do? He gives us office-bearers, so that through their labours we may grow in faith. Today we receive more office-bearers from God’s gracious hand. Is this gift not delightful evidence of God’s love for you?
So, beloved of the Lord, receive these brothers not simply as men who need God’s saving work as much as you do (they do!), but receive them as tools God is pleased to use for your growth in Him.
And, dear brothers, see there the work given to you to do in God’s flock. Exhort, admonish, teach, rebuke – that the people of God may grow in faith, may grow in accepting whatever God has said in His word, and acting accordingly. Amen.