Today Paul is going to speak to us about faith and so we ask the question: What is faith? In Hebrews chapter 11 and verse 1 the writer speaks these familiar words: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Exactly what does that mean? The word faith comes from the Greek word Pistis. In general it speaks of having a conviction of the truth of anything or belief with the predominate idea of trust.
In its relation to God, it can be described as the conviction that God exists and is the Creator and Ruler of all things as well as the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ Applying it to Christ it is a strong and welcome confidence/assurance/belief, that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God. So in general, faith speaks of trust or reliance upon someone or something. And relating to God, it speaks of our trusting in, relying upon our Father for salvation and everything that pertains to life and godliness.
When we as Christians speak of faith, we are speaking of the fact that we know whom we have believed and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed unto Him against that day. And what have we committed to Him? Our eternal, never dying souls! We have entrusted our eternal salvation into the hands of Him who cannot lie, Who called us forth from the grave of self and has led our hearts from earth to heaven, from death to life everlasting!
Going back to our opening verse I would like you to consider this rendering of Hebrews 11:1 from the Amplified translation. It reads thus: “Now faith is the assurance, the confirmation, the title deed of the thing we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality (faith perceiving as real, as fact, that which has not been revealed to our senses.) The very fact that we possess faith in God and not just faith in faith or in whatever the current idol of the world is an evidence of the work of God in our lives for apart from God there is no faith. So the faith which we possess and exercise toward God is the substance, the evidence of the work of God. It is the tangible evidence of things not seen.
With our physical eyes we haven’t seen God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit but we believe in them; we have faith in them. Why? It is simply because God has visited us and has granted us the faith, the ability to believe in Him! And His calling is His enabling. Paul will speak to us about this kind of faith, the God granted gift. And he will demonstrate the reality of the God kind of faith, not only in his words but in his deeds. You see, Paul would not have done any of the things that he did apart from first being granted faith in God.
And remember, true, God sent, saving faith is not some ethereal substance that has no object. Turn on your radio or your television and you will hear about a special group of people called: ‘people of faith.’ You hear it mostly from politicians and reporters. So who are these ‘people of faith’? Well they include anyone who worships anything; except those pesky Christians with their absolutes and what not. These ‘people of faith’ represent those who worship idols in whatever form they can conceive and We know there is a lot of idolatry in the world today. Years ago a gentleman by the name of Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote an article entitled ‘the mush god’. Consider what he wrote and see how it matches up to the ‘gods’ of today’s ‘people of faith.’
“The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God’s presence is felt during Brotherhood Week and when the Rotarians come together. He is the lifeless deity President Carter was referring to when suggesting peace might come to the Middle East because the Egyptian president and the Israeli prime minister both worshiped the Great Mushy One. The Mush God has no theology to speak of being a Cream of Wheat divinity. He has no particular credo, not tenets of faith; nothing that would make it difficult for believer or non-believer alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells the Reverent/Rabbi/Father/Mufti or so and so will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer because this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hookers’ convention and he/she/it will not be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the optimists club, protector of the buddy system, the Mush God is the Lord of secular ritual; of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that just the divisive and the derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are not chiseled on tablets of stone, but are written in the sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all wars holy, all peaces hallowed”.
This is the ‘god’ who has been invoked by countless celebrities in recent months. Paris Hilton, before she went to jail was seen coming out of a book store carrying a large bible for all to see. Michael Vick says he has “Found God.” I pray that this is so!
But we must ponder the question; why is it that in times of crisis people suddenly ‘find God?’ Well you can be sure that the ‘god’ they have found is not the Holy God of the Bible. No, they have found but the mush god. They are merely using the name of God for their own purposes. The main purpose is to get out of trouble. It’s always, “Oh God if you just get me out of this I will serve you!” But when they are delivered they get amnesia. I guess we could call the ‘religious conversions’ we see today, “photo op religion.” Those involved are like the Pharisees who performed their religious acts to be seen of men.
The hard question that we must ask is, “What happens when the cameras are off, the lights are down and these people are home, apart from the prying eyes of the public? When the press conference is over and there’s no one there except the only One who really matters, do they still have the same religious fervor they displayed in public? I dare say no! Indeed they have acted as the Pharisees acted, for the same purposes. And like the Pharisees they have their reward.What about us? What kind of religious fervor do we have? I have been convicted of my own shallow Christian life when compared to great Christians of the past. When David Brainerd was on his death bed and he thought the end was upon him he cried out “Even so come Lord Jesus”. And when he recovered a little he actually expressed disappointment! He really wanted to go home to be with the Lord. His faith was demonstrated for all to see and it wasn’t merely a sunny day religion. It was a deep commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived and breathed true biblical religion.
Then there are the examples of the Martyrs in England and elsewhere who would not compromise in the least, even when threatened with death! They loved not their own lives even to the death. Like Paul they could say “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Ro 8:18) I truly believe that what they and the Puritans exhibited is the normal Christian life and what we have today is a pale reflection; specifically because everything about life in general is carried on in this manner.
I look at these godly men and women of the past, of whom the world was not worthy and I am shamed into silence and embarrassment by my lack of zeal, my spiritual coldness and my utter laziness in the things of God. God has granted me many creature comforts and I have thanked him by, in many cases, actually turning these things into idols. And isn’t that just like mankind. We are so ungrateful and so full of ourselves that we forget Whom it is that saved us, and Whom it is that calls us to follow. I am going to share a poem with you. It was written by a woman named Helen McDowell. The title of the poem is “Once, I Prayed”. What I want you to do is listen very carefully to this exposition of modern Christianity because in this poem all of our wretched hearts are laid bare. And the solution to the whole matter is also stated in clear unmistakable language.
Once I prayed, I knew not what I said. “Show me myself Oh Lord” alas I did not dread, the hideous sight, which now I shudder to behold, because I knew not self aright.
And I was led, in answer to my prayer, step by step to see my wretched heart laid bare. Then I prayed, “Stay, Lord I cannot bear the sight.” And pityingly His hand was stayed, His hand was stayed.
Now I pray. I know the prayer is right. “Show me Thyself Oh Lord, be to my soul the bright and morning star, to shine upon the grave of self and lead my heart from earth afar, from earth afar.”
Have you seen yourself in these humbling words? I have. They are right on the money! And in light of the truth we have just heard, what, I ask you, is the proper heart attitude for the Christian? Is it to look to self and all that self can get? Or is it to look to God, bow before Him in humble adoration and worship Him in an attitude of humility and thanksgiving for the great and manifold blessing that He has lavished upon us? And included in this, is there also a plea that The Lord of the Harvest would send our laborers into His field with the specific prayer; “Here am I, send me!? I think we know the answer to this! This was Paul’s attitude wasn’t it! From the opening of his letter to the church at Rome, Paul oozes humility and gratitude. And his longing was to impart to this church and to whoever read his letter some spiritual gift, some solid truth, to help them mature.
That’s the key isn’t it! Maturity! We must grow up. We cannot be babies our whole lives can we? There is a time for milk and soft food and there is a time when we must get out of the high chair and sit at the table with the grownups and eat solid food. There is a time to be spoon fed and there is a time for us to learn to use the silverware for ourselves.
We’ve stayed babies long enough. ENOUGH! GROW UP! Stop relying upon other people to lead you around and carry you along. This is the rut that most church members fall into and stay. They will not think for themselves. Do you want to know your responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ? Here it is; You must sit down before your bibles and call upon God to teach you, to show you wonderful things out of His law! Exercise your minds. Use what God has given you. And then you must go out and live the truth He has deigned to reveal!
Spiritually speaking, it’s time to get out of your parents house and move into your own place. You have to learn to cook and clean and do all the things that were done for you. Again, I am speaking of our spiritual growth.
I want you to notice something that the Apostle John says in his first epistle; (1Jo 2:27) He says, “As for you, the anointing (the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit) which you received from Him abides in you, (He has settled down and made Himself at home in your heart. He is with you right now and is ready and able to lead you into all truth. Jesus said that the ministry of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit would be to lead you into all truth and to bring to you remembrance all that Jesus said.) …and or because of this John says, you have no need for anyone to teach you; that is, you don’t have to go and find someone to do your thinking for you…but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” Have you availed yourself of the Holy Spirit?
Have you called upon God to grant you wisdom, to instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, to council you and watch over you? Have you done this? You see, this is the mature way. Or would you rather be strapped into that high chair and be spoon and bottle fed for the rest of your days? I know this is hard stuff but we have to grow up! We have to eat solid food! We have to take those shaky first steps. We don’t have a choice! It is our responsibility to follow after Jesus, to obey Him, to let the word of Christ richly dwell within us. But know this; if we will be obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ, then we can rest assured that with each successive step our legs will grow stronger. We will learn more, we will go deeper into His truth and His truth will be a solid foundation that no man, woman or child, no catastrophe, nothing will shake. Turn with me to (Jer 33:3) and consider the words of God through His prophet Jeremiah. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Did you hear what God said to you? He is commanding you to call upon Him and He has issued a promise; that He will answer you! He will show you great and mighty things that you don’t know and probably never thought of. And the argument that many Christians overuse is not an option to us. They say, “I don’t have time.” Let me make it easy for you. Take one verse and just tear it apart. Dig deep into your concordance and find every cross reference that you can concerning the passage. I’ll even print you notes from Robertson’s Word Pictures, a Greek Bible Scholar to help you get into the language. In this way you will mine out treasures from God’s word that you never knew were there and you will be strengthened and edified and equipped for (2Ti 3:16) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. The Philips translation gives us this illuminating rendering of verse 17 when it tells us that “The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work.”
The depth of your commitment to the Word of God speaks volumes about your love for Him! You see, as I have said many times before, when you open the word of God and read what is written there, you are hearing the voice of God pure and simple. Do you love hearing His voice? Are the words of His mouth sweeter to you than honey from the honeycomb? I hope so! Listen to the heart of the Apostle Paul and hear the heart of a Christian whose heart burns like a volcano for his Lord, His truth and His people!
We begin in verse 8 where Paul says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. These are no mere political rhetoric. Paul isn’t buttering his audience up with soothing compliments. He actually thanks God in prayer for his brothers and sisters in the Roman Church! Then he makes an astounding statement that should just drive us to our knees in repentance for our lackluster faith. It seems that the faith of those who are part of the Roman church is amazing. It is being spoken of throughout the known world. People from Thessalonica. Galatia, Cappadocia and other places have heard of the fervent devotion exercised by the church at Rome.
And talk about building a Church in the middle of Ku Klux country! Rome was the home of idolatry if there ever was one. It was the Babylon of its day and everywhere you turned there was a ‘god’ to worship from the ‘gods’ of Greece to emperor worship; you could find it in Rome. In the face of such opposition these Christians stood tall and strong for Jesus! Paul genuinely loves these brethren and says in verse 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Isn’t it wonderful when you can get together with like minded brothers and sisters and speak freely of the truths of the word of God! I find it wonderfully refreshing and also exceedingly rare. And so I cherish those times and relish each moment. Here in our little fellowship we are able to do what many churches cannot; we are free to dig into the word and find out what God is saying without repercussions! What a joy it is to be un-muzzled, to be free to tell the whole truth! We are able to encourage one another in our mutual faith in our mutual Lord and Savior. In verse 13 Paul laments his inability to have come to Rome sooner. He says, “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you in other words, it was my desire to come (but I was hindered until now), And who was the Hinderer? It was the LORD. Though Paul wanted to go, it was not yet time in God’s will! He would go but on God’s timetable.
Notice what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to go to Rome to see the sights but to preach. He wanted to proclaim the word of God in Rome…that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. Paul’s burning desire was to see souls saved to the glory of God! Notice what he says in verse 14 “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.” I am obliged by virtue of my calling, and as being entrusted by God with talents to that purpose. You are not beholden to me for this desire, as if it were an arbitrary favor, for it is my bounden duty. In another place he declares that “The love of Christ constrains us.” As Christ’s bond servant/love slave, Paul was under orders to preach the gospel and he poured his whole being into his task for He loved Jesus and wanted others to love Him too! Notice his zeal…15 “So, as much as is in me, I am filled with a burning desire; a desire that has been planted in my heart by my Lord. And because of His working in me I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” And then Paul says something that many times we cannot relate to. He says 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; we on the other hand clam up and will not open our mouths for anything. We know the gospel, we know the truth but we won’t tell anyone. We are like secret agent Christians or undercover Christians. “Don’t tell anyone you believe in Jesus or you’ll blow your cover!”
That mentality is foreign to what we are to be about. We are called to (1Pe 3:15) simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. Why? Paul answers; “for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Here is where men from every tribe, tongue and nation can find forgiveness of their sins, freedom from guilt, deliverance from the wrath to come and a brand new life in Christ Jesus. There is only one gospel; only one good news. All other gospel’s are a lie for there is only one name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved. And that name is Jesus.
17 For in it in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed for the truth of God will convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. from faith to faith; The beginning, the continuance, the accomplishment of our justification is wholly by faith. as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Another rendition of this passage reads, the just shall live by his faith. Again here is where the rubber meets the road. Paul has just spoken of saving faith and he concludes with a statement of action. The person who has been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who has been granted this saving, justifying faith will, for the rest of his days live according to that faith. It speaks of perseverance, for the man or woman who has truly been saved by faith in Jesus Christ will never fall away but will continue on, living for Jesus to the end of his or her days. Their lives will be characterized to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon their maturity, in continual devotion to God!
They will not fall away for the Lord who bought him will keep him and will continue to perform that good work of deliverance until the day Jesus calls them home to their eternal rest! And these shall hear the unutterably beautiful voice of Jesus Christ say, “Come ye, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…As we come to that time when we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I ask that you would now bow with me in prayer and search your hearts, examine yourselves to see where you are in your walk with Jesus. Look deep inside and ask the hard questions of yourself in the blazing light of the presence of God Almighty. As you look to the Lord let your prayer be that of the sweet Psalmist of Israel who said: “(Ps 139:23-24) Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.