Preaching and Worship Resources about Faith
Faith is the believer's attachment by mind, heart, and will to Jesus Christ and to all his benefits, including the future coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness. The person of faith believes that the gospel is true and believes in its central figure, Jesus Christ, trusting him alone for salvation, daily guidance, and all else that is good. Both God's gift and our calling, faith clings to all God reveals, but especially to God's benevolence, not only in general, but also personally: "not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven [and] have been made forever right with God" (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 21).
"Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, `Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!'" (Gen. 28:16).
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps. 23:1).
"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" (Ps. 27:1, 14).
"I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps. 121:1 - 2).
"`Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you'" (Matt. 7:7).
"`Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you'" (Matt. 17:20).
"He asked them, `But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, `You are the Messiah'" (Mark 8:29).
"He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:11 - 12).
"`God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him'" (John 3:16 - 17).
"`No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me'" (John 6:44).
"`Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:1 - 2).
"`You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.'" (John 15:16).
"Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30 - 31).
"We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:6, 11).
"You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, `Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15 - 16).
"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
"It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
"By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8 - 9).
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Points to Ponder
Faith does have a cognitive component — for example, "I believe that God is one." But as the epistle of James points out (2:19), the devils believe this too and shudder as they do. Belief that certain claims are true is a necessary but not sufficient component of true faith.
Belief and trust Along with belief, the Christian also trusts God the Father to provide all that's needful for thriving, trusts Jesus Christ and his saving work, trusts the Holy Spirit to regenerate and keep on regenerating the believer's heart. Christians know it is safe to lean on God with all their weight, that God is a refuge and strength, a bulwark, a mighty stay within the shifting currents of life.
Calling and gift Faith is the believer's calling: "Believe in God, believe also in me" (John 14:1). But faith is also God's gift ("No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me"). In this respect faith is like other precious commodities: Patience, for example, is the believer's calling ("Clothe yourselves with . . . patience" (Col. 3:12), but also fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). How, exactly, this mystery of faith is to be parsed is not wholly clear, and has predictably caused plenty of spats, as between Augustinians and Pelagians and between Calvinists and Arminians. Yet all believe that God is active in the believer's acquisition of faith, and all agree that the believer has an urgent responsibility to cling to God' s saving grace. We are, after all, not our own.
Faith in community One of God's regular ways of introducing human beings to the life of faith is by seeing to it that so many are born or adopted into a Christian community. From early on, by word and by example, children begin to understand that life centers on Jesus Christ, on the Word of God, on the worshiping community, on evangelism and the hunger for social justice. The life of faith seems natural to such children, almost inevitable. They feel connected to God, connected to their family, and connected to the Christian community.
Responding to their calling, believers and their children engage in edifying worship. Songs, prayers, Bible readings, preaching, sacraments, gifts, recitation of creeds, communion of saints — all these things express faith and strengthen it. They expose believers to the breathing of the Holy Spirit. Openly accepting supernatural reality, believers defy secular materialism. Time after time, they say "I believe in God, the Father almighty." In an act of defiance they practice their faith; they rehearse it.
How do we have faith? When it comes right down to it, it's hard to say how we have faith. Maybe the plainest thing to say is that we have a strong inner conviction. We discover that we have faith. We are convinced that the gospel is true, and that it is not only for others but also for us. And we discover that the Bible writers knew about our mysterious, unshakable conviction. They call it the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the hidden persuader. It is the Spirit who stimulates childlike faith in what our parents religiously say or do. The Spirit witnesses to the truth of Scripture, telling us in our hearts that they are from God. The Spirit sparks faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the Holy Spirit who broods over our deep places when we ache with the sense of God in nature.
Contending with evil People of faith must learn to contend with evil. It can contaminate faith. It's harder to believe in God when we see children suffer, old people suffer, or animals suffer. Maybe "all things work together for good for those who love God," but the good is often hard to spot. As Ernest Campbell remarked, nobody comes on the news to report the day's gains and losses in goodness. Nobody says, "Forgiveness was up two points today. Courage was off a half. Faith stayed the same." Nobody does that. We must spot goodness with the eyes of faith, and sometimes we strain to see it.
But goodness is real enough, and sometimes it shows up in strange places. Douglas Nelson told in one of his sermons of visiting a terrible little cell in the dungeon of an old English castle. No light had ever come into it from the outside. On one wall, the stone had been worn into the shape of a hand, because men dying of thirst leaned there while they licked the filthy moisture that leaked from the moat through one small crack. In that darkness someone had scratched — with a belt buckle, perhaps — the old words of Jacob: "The Lord is in this place — and I did not know it."
We need faith even to believe in our own redemption, and the reason is not that we are so humble. The reason is that we are not so faithful. We secretly think Jesus isn't up to the job of saving us. So we consider others "dead to sin and alive to God," because we think love requires us to give them the benefit of the doubt. But we won't give ourselves the same benefit. Maybe it would help to recall that ethicist Lewis Smedes used to remark about the scope of God's rejecting grace. God rejects our pride, to be sure; but God also rejects our despair. The reason is that, of course, we needed to be died for, but also that in God's gracious judgment we are worth dying for.
Misplaced faith can be tragic or even dangerous. Before World War II, both Germans and Japanese believed in their own national and cultural superiority, and drew from their faith a sense of entitlement. Because of their superiority they were entitled to other people's land, their treasure, their obedience. Both nations had to accept painful but clarifying defeat and rehabilitation.
A final illustration of the distinction between belief and trust. In the summer of 1859, a French acrobat named Charles Blondin announced that he would cross Niagara Falls on a high wire. Huge crowds gathered on both sides of the falls. Sporting men bet large sums on Blondin's chances. High above the deadly torrent the daredevil started slowly along the thin wire, carrying only his fifty-pound balancing pole. Foot by agonizing foot, leaning into the stiff wind, Blondin made his way across the whole length of the wire. Then Blondin came up with an even more outrageous stunt. He would attempt the crossing with his manager riding on his back. Bigger crowds gathered; larger sums were bet. Two questions: Do you believe Blondin could succeed? If so, you would be like the men who bet on him. But now the harder question: Would you have trusted Blondin enough to get on his back?
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|