Episode 1. The Sort of Faith that Pleases God
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Christians are always talking about faith. My faith walk; faith this; faith that. So what is faith? Not the theory? But what does it look like when you live it? The sort of faith that pleases God. …
Christians are always talking about faith. My faith walk. Faith this, faith that. So what is faith? Not the theory? But what does it look like when you live it? The sort of faith that pleases God.
What Is Faith?
Hey, a bit of a mile stone today. This program is the first in the 100th four-week series of Christianityworks, man, time flies when you’re having fun. It’s almost 8 years since the first Christianityworks program went to air.
Its’ been quite a walk of faith and so today on the program we’re kicking off a series of four messages which I’ve called quite simple, “Having the Sort of Faith that Pleases God”. Those two words “by faith”, appear over and over again in the bible. In fact, if we go to the New Testament book of Hebrews we’ll see that it’s pretty much the place where they’re most densely packed together, “by faith”.
Now faith, it’s something that Christians talk about a lot – our faith walk, faith this, faith that. But what is faith? When and where do we need faith? How do we get it? It’s something that Jesus talked a lot about so let me ask this, do we really understand what faith is? Do we really know what the outcome of faith is meant to look like in our lives? They’re the questions that we’re going to be pondering and exploring and journeying through together over these next few weeks on the program starting with today.
Okay then, so what exactly is faith? Well I suppose that many of the people listening today perhaps you’re one of them, would point me to Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1 to answer that question, it says that:
Faith is the assurance of the things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.
Well and good, that’s the most concise definition of faith in the bible, that’s the stock standard definition, tickity-boo, who needs a series on faith? We know what it is: it’s the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. But as much as we Christians quote that verse and its one of the most quoted Bible verses of all, do we really understand the context in which it was written? Let’s look at it again, it says exactly:
Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
So what’s that word “now” doing at the front of the verse? What’s that all about? Well, that word is called a conjunctive, in other words, it ties this verse to what came immediately before. Ah, so this verse doesn’t stand alone, there is a context, something that comes before that we need to get in order to really understand the verse.
So, what comes before? Well, here it is, the previous chapter, Hebrews chapter 10 and we’ll kick it off just at verse 26. Listen carefully because we’re going to unpack this in a moment. Hebrews chapter 10, starting at verse 26:
For if we wilfully persist in sin, after having received the knowledge of the truth, then no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the advocacies. Anyone who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witness. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the Blood of the Covenant by which they were sanctified and outraged the spirit of grace? For we know the one that who said ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ and again ‘The Lord will judge his people’. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall those early days when after you’d be enlightened you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution. And sometimes partners with those so treated. For you have compassion for those in prison and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions knowing that you yourselves possess something better and more lasting.
Do not therefore abandon that confidence of yours, it brings a great reward. For you needed endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what was promised for yet in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back but we’re not amongst those who shrink back or are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved. Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
So what’s the context? The context is two things, the punishment that will surely come if we reject God’s grace and mercy and continue on in sin and the second part is about the extreme trials that we’re bound to face in life. In fact the Hebrew believers, the ones who were reading this letter, were facing incredible trials! They were being persecuted like you wouldn’t believe. And so the writer of this letter was saying, you know something, you’re going to struggle with sin, and you’re going to face incredible trials and so what you need, what you really need to get you through, is faith.
To tell you the truth if you put it like that I’d frankly rather be in a situation where I didn’t need any faith, because faith is what we need when we’re battling sin. Faith is what we need when we’re in a dangerous uncertain place. Faith is what we need to be saved from something we can’t save ourselves from. To persevere through situations and ordeals to make it out to the other side of something we’d rather not be in the middle off.
Wouldn’t it be so much better from were you and I sit, if we didn’t end up in places were we actually needed faith? Because faith is the assurance of something we hope for, which by definition means we don’t have it right now and we wish we did. And faith is the evidence of that thing that we can’t see yet, because all we can see is what we’re in the middle of which are our circumstances, and we’re hoping for so much more. And yet, as we’re going to see shortly that’s exactly how God sets things up.
You have sin in your life and I have sin in my life, but in and of ourselves we just can’t get rid of. We’ve struggled with it for years and we couldn’t’ do anything about it until we started putting our faith in Jesus. We couldn’t overcome sin or set things right until we put our trust in Jesus. And the same thing’s true of the many obstacles we face in life. Perhaps you’re someone who’s been listening to these programs for a while and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh that Berni guy seems to have things all sorted out. What an easy life. He gets to be on the radio and tell us how to get it right.’ But you wouldn’t believe the challenges and the trials involved in getting out there and doing what Gods called us to do at Christianityworks.
The attacks that come against the ministry because Satan doesn’t want people hearing about Jesus, he doesn’t want us doing what we are doing. The trials when people fail, when the finances are tight, you name it. It’s either happened, or it’ s going to happen. And just in the same way you face trials, you face temptations, you have mountains that get in your road and stop you from doing the things that God’s called you to do. You have sicknesses you have struggles, and people come against you, financial issues – my friend that’s what faith is for.
Faith is the assurance of things we hope for and the evidence of the things that we just can’t see yet. You and I need faith and that’s why we’re going to be talking about it over the coming weeks on the program.
Big Picture Faith.
Are you familiar with that term that saying that someone’s lost the plot? What it means is that we’ve lost sight of were we are going, we’ve lost sight of the objective. We’ve managed to get things completely “out of kilter”, “out of bounds”, or “out of whack” as we as Australians like to say. “Oh man, hasn’t he lost the plot!?” And often it happens when we become focused on just one thing in our lives, let’s say a single relationship or a single thing that’s not going quite right.
When we’re hurting, we focus on just that one thing that is hurting. Sometimes we lose the plot when we are so focused on making ourselves happy that we forget about everyone and everything else and somehow, the more we try to make ourselves happy the more empty we feel. It seems to me that they one sure way of feeling depressed is trying really, really hard to make yourself happy.
So the reason we lose the plot is that we lose sight of the bigger picture, we’re so focused on that one thing that we can’t stand back. We’re busy working hard at life, living life, peddling harder and faster and then the storm strikes especially when there is a head wind blowing and it’s slowing us down. It is the easiest thing in the world to lose sight of the big picture, the context, the sense of meaning and purpose and direction that we once seemed to have for our lives and now the harder we go at it, the murkier it appears to get.
What was once clear when we were young now seems to be blurry. Sometimes it’s like we’re living our lives in a fog. You know what I’m on about here right? And then one day you wake up and you think to yourself, I think I’ve lost the plot!
That place right there is a scary place. I’ve found myself in that situation, when I’m busy working hard, even, working hard doing things for God, none of us is immune to this here. I don’t get some exemption certificate from this stuff just because I work in a Christian ministry. This is real life. This is real stuff. What we’re talking about this week on the program, in fact over the coming few weeks is faith. It’s a phrase, two simple words, “by faith” that appear over and over and over again in the Bible, especially in the 11th chapter of the New Testament book of Hebrews.
Now, we need faith for all sorts of things, we need faith in Jesus to be forgiven by God and to be set free to live an eternal life in His presence. We need faith to make it through the trails and the difficult situations and make it to the other side of those. And as it turns out we need faith to get a sense of the bigger picture, to keep the balance and sense of perspective right over our lives. So that we don’t loose the plot or so that when we do loose the plot we can pick it up again. Have a listen to this. Hebrews chapter 11, verse 3:
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible …
In other words, by faith we know that everything that was created, was created by Jesus. He is the Word of God that is being referred to there. The worlds, the cosmos, the universe, the little ant that crawls cross the floor, everything … the worlds were created by Jesus, God spoke them into existence through Jesus.
“Let there be light.” He said, and there was light! “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place and let dry land appear.” And it was so, and God called the dry land Earth, and the waters were gathered together and He called them the Sea’s. and God saw that it was good … and on and on.
A universe that with all our brilliant technology we can only see part of, and the part that we can see with our radio telescopes is so big, its so vast that it would take light – travelling of course at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second or 300,000 kilometres per second – it would take light 15 billion years to travel from one end of the known universe to the other!
Even the nearest star to the earth after the Sun is called Proxima Centauri, it’s about 4.6 light years away. Now that doesn’t seem too far does it? But if you and I were to hop into a car, say at 100km per hour and travel that distance of 4.6 light years, how long would it take us? Well, just about 7¼ billion years. And that’s without any toilet breaks. It’s the nearest star after the sun, and the rest are all much, much further away!
Why is this important? Here’s why. We live on this earth as though this is all there is. Now we know there is a sun up there and it’s really big and its really hot and its about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometres away. We know that there is a universe out there that’s huge. But day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, we live life really as though they don’t exist. We live life as though the only thing that exists is my own “here and now”, this instant: what I’m working on, what I’m doing, what I’m trying to achieve, what I’m feeling, what I’m struggling through, what …
Do you see my point? We completely loose sight of the big picture. I see all around me, every time I travel to India, I come back with a fresh realisation that the narrow privileged lives that we lead here in this affluent, blessed country we call Australia, is completely atypical, completely abnormal in the big picture of the rest of the world. And it’s in this narrowness that we lose our way; its in this narrowness that we loose the plot. Let’s look again at that verse on faith that I read out before. Hebrews chapter 11, verse 3:
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was made was made form things that are not visible.
Faith gives us the context that we need, faith is about knowing in our heart of hearts that there is God out there who made it all, He’s so big, so powerful, so intelligent, so loving, so awesome that He created the whole cosmos. Even the bits beyond human science can see. And He placed you and me here on this earth in perhaps the only inhabitable place in the whole universe. That’s the big picture.
And so instead of telling our God how big our problems are we need to start telling our problems how big our God is. Instead of obsessing about this problem or that disappointment, instead of sweating over the little things in our lives, in faith we can stand back and see the big picture, the God picture, the faith picture. By faith we understand that God made it all. By faith we can rest in this God who loves us so much that He sent us His son to die for us. By faith!
Now there is a huge part of me I have to tell you that wants so much to please God with everything that I think and everything I feel, and say and do, I really, really, really want to please God. Really I do! But someday it seems that all I have to do to blow it is to wake up and get out of bed in the morning. Does that make sense? You want to do what’s right, you know what’s right with all your heart you want to please God, but you just can’t seem to do it.
It’s like there is a war going on inside you, you want to do what’s right, but every time you want to do what’s right, evil intentions are lurking there right over your shoulder, whispering into your ear. Well it’s not just me, it’s not just you. The apostle Paul who wrote almost half the books in the New Testament he had exactly the same problem and you can read all about it in Romans Chapter 7.
So how do we please God? Let’s go back to that book towards the end of the New Testament, the book of Hebrews chapter 11, which is where we have been spending out time together today, and let’s have a look because there is an answer in there as to how you and I can please God. And the answer isn’t working harder at being good. Let’s pick it up, Hebrews chapter 11, beginning at verse 4:
By faith able offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous as God Himself given approval to his gifts. He died but through faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he didn’t experience death, and he was not found because God had taken for it was the tested before he was taken away that he had pleased God. And without faith, it’s impossible to please God for, whoever may approach Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.
That’s really interesting because back there in the book of Genesis, chapter 4 when we read about Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s two boys, were not really given a reason why it was that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God, but Cain’s wasn’t. There’s a bit of a hint. We’re kind of told that there wasn’t something quite right in Cain’s heart, but that is all we’re told. It certainly had nothing to do with physically what he did.
Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to God. Cain’s was rejected while Abel’s was acceptable to God and as a result, out of envy, Cain murdered his brother Abel. So what was the difference between the two. The answer is faith. Its there in Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4:
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approvable as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts. He died but through faith, he still speaks.
See Abel gave his offering to God in faith. And as God showed through His response to Cain, an offering without faith isn’t pleasing to God at all. It’s not just the physical act of making a sacrifice, that sacrifice has to come with faith. And again, we read that Enoch had been blessed by God because he’s pleased God because of his faith. Executive summary, bottom line, what’s God saying here? Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 6:
You see without faith, it is impossible to please God. For whoever would approach Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.
And it’s not just here in the book of Hebrews that we discover the importance of faith in pleasing God. Jesus himself told people the exactly the same thing. When someone asked him, “Lord what do I have to do to be saved?” He answered quite simply, “Believe in me”. How often have you and I worked so hard at pleasing God as though anything we can do, can possibly add to what He has already done for us, and what He’s planning on doing?
Sometimes I think that we behave as though God is totally completely and utterly depending on you and me to fulfil His plans. As though without us, God’s plans for this world are going to fall over in a screaming heap, and God’s going to go, “Oh man! What am I going to do?” And so we work so hard, we work hard! And we bring Him the offering and we bring Him the sacrifice. We see all the problems facing us and so we bring in the offering from the field like Cain with little to no faith in our heart.
Well, guess what? Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Would you please note that word, “impossible”? What it does not say is that without faith you won’t please God quite as much through your labours as you would have done if you put a bit of faith in the mix. That’s not what it says. The Bible clearly says that without faith it is completely impossible to please God.
The Greek words used there for “impossible” mean literally to be completely without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled. That it is unable to be done, it’s totally impossible. Why? Because God is God. And He has put us here in this physical world that is removed from His spiritual dimension, yet the spiritual dimension, the God dimension, the presence of God is as real and as present as the nose on my face.
The thing is that we just can’t see it. Our act of Love, our act of pleasing God is honouring him by believing that He is, that He does exist and that He is in the business of blessing and rewarding those who seek Him. Why does he do things that way? Well, just think about it, God has something of a problem when it comes to eliciting a free will love response from you and me. If we could see God for what He is, if we could see Him face to face in all His power and in all His glory, hey, there would be no free will involved. In the face of that power, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So He removes us from that presence, He puts us in a place where we lay hold of Him, not by seeing Him, but through a layer of adversity we call life. Through a cloud of unknowing, never quite seeing Him clearly in this life. And we lay a hold of Him, we honour Him, we love Him, we serve him, we obey Him by faith. And that is why without faith it’s impossible to please God. Ask Cain, ask Abel, they’ll tell you all about it, because by faith that story is still being told today.
So the next time that you feel the need to work your back side off to please God, remember this, your work isn’t so much the thing that pleases Him, it’s not about the sacrifice so much, its about you, its about me, its about our faith! When we do what we do in faith, my friend, that is what pleases God.