January 13, 2019

What is Faith?

Passage: Hebrews 11:1-3

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Hebrews 11, this morning.

In the 1800’s, there was a famous French tightrope walker and acrobat named Charles Blondin. In the summer of 1859, Blondin became the first person to cross a tightrope stretched out, over a quarter of a mile, across the Niagara Falls.

People from both Canada and America came from miles away to see this great feat, which he would do several times. Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet in the middle of the rope. All of this, while over the powerful Niagara Falls.

On July 15, 1859, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow.

Once across, it is said that he asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?"

The crowds had watched and "Ooooohed" and "Aaaaahed!" He had proven that he could do it; there was no doubt about that. So, of course, the crowd shouted that yes, they believed he could do it.

It was then that Blondin posed the question, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?” And no one did. The crowd watched these daring feats. They said that he could do it. But did they truly have faith?

This morning, we are beginning a new sermon series on Heroes of the Faith, taken from Hebrews 11. If you read Hebrews 11, you will notice that there are a number of Old Testament characters in this chapter. And we will be looking at each one of these characters over the next few months, and how they lived out their lives “by faith.”

When I was first working on the picture for this series, I had “Heroes” in large text and “Faith” in small text. But then, I realized that the heroes of the Old Testament are not the point, but rather, it is the faith that each one of these characters possessed that is the point. So, I reversed it.

As I was mapping out this series, and what it would look like, I wanted to make sure that we had the right foundation, going forward.

I didn’t want us to look at these Old Testament characters and think of them as heroes for us to emulate, but that we would have the same faith that each one of them had that made them heroes.

And this one faith is what I want the focus of this series to be about. Not that we would become like these Old Testament characters, but that the same faith they had would be our faith, as well.

And here’s why: Maybe you grew up in a home, where your mom or your dad wasn’t shaken by anything. Like, if something came up in your family, like a death or a financial crisis or something like that, there wasn’t chaos, but rather, there was this unshakeable faith in God. Did you have that growing up?

Maybe you know of someone who, when bad things happened around them, and when you were trying to point out all the reasons why they should be concerned, they were just like, “Why would I worry about that? God’s got it under control.”

Do you anyone like that? Did it ever frustrate you when nothing seemed to get to them? Or, better yet, have you ever wondered how you could have a faith like that? This unbelievable, unshakeable faith that is not afraid of the future, that is not rattled by things that come up in life, but one that trusts in God?

Imagine how freeing it would be to live that way. Imagine if you could have faith like that. This is where God wants to meet you. Throughout the story of the Bible, you see God building into His Creation this confidence in Him. God wants His Creation to trust Him.

And the reason why this is the story of the Bible, and why it’s something that God desires for your life, is because the breakdown between mankind and God was over trust in God. Man decided that God was holding something good from him, so man concluded that God cannot be trusted.

And God, ever since, has been actively restoring that breakdown in the relationship, that mankind caused. And God’s desire is to draw us into relationship with Him—a relationship that is built on complete trust in God.

And that’s where this sermon series is going to take us. Over the next few months, we are going to take a look at what faith is, what faith does, and why faith is important for us, today.

And so, as we begin this series, and this look into these Old Testament characters, I thought it would be fitting for us to ask the question: What is faith? And fortunately for us, Hebrews 11 gives us a very simple and compelling answer to this question, and one that will set the tone for the rest of this series.

If you have your Bible opened to Hebrews 11:1-3, let’s read what it says about faith: “1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

This morning, I want us to look at three things that faith is, from Hebrews 11:1-3. For those of us who are notetakers, there is space on the back of your bulletin for this. I want us to see that 1. faith is an act of God, 2. faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and 3. faith is the conviction of things not seen.

1. The first thing that we see faith is, is that faith is an act of God.

Look at the beginning of verse 1: It says, “Faith is…”

Now, you might be wondering what these two words have to do with faith being an act of God. But what the writer of Hebrews is implying by saying that faith is, is that faith has already existed. Faith already “is.” So, before a definition of faith can be given, we need to understand where faith originated.

And so, if you can hold your spot here in Hebrews 11, I want us to turn back to Ephesians 2, where we will see where faith begins.

Here in Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul talks about our former state—before God, in His great mercy and love, made us alive together with Christ.

And here is what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9: “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

So, did you catch that? Our salvation, our being made alive together with Christ, when before we were dead in our sin, is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, which is not our doing. Who’s doing is this? It’s God’s. It is the gift of God.

It’s not a result of works, which is why we hold to what the Protestant reformers called, sola fide, by faith alone; it is a work that has already been done in us and for us by God.

And so, faith is not this thing that we muster up, as though we finally come to our senses, after years and years of greatly wronging and offending the holy God of the Bible, but rather, that there was nothing in us seeking out God when God created faith in us.

So, faith is. And the reason that faith is, is because faith is an act of God. It can’t be earned and it can’t be bought. It is gloriously the gift of God.

Now, I don’t necessarily know each of your backgrounds. I don’t necessarily know the home that you grew up in. But for some of you, maybe something that you struggled with, growing up, was this idea of having faith in faith.

Like, maybe you had a question about something, but the only response that you got to your question was that you just needed to have faith. I heard one preacher call this: faith-based answers to fact-based questions. Did you ever hear these growing up, where you just needed to have faith in faith?

Well, the good news is that that’s not where our faith originates. Our faith is not rooted in how much faith we have, or how much faith we can muster in hard times. Our faith is rooted in Jesus and what Jesus has done in us and for us.

So, if something comes our way, that would seemingly be faith-shattering, if our faith is rooted in Jesus, who created our faith, then we will be able to take every temptation, every trial, every hardship, and every question, because the weight isn’t ultimately placed on us, it’s placed on Jesus. And that frees us up, right?

The very fact that faith is, and that faith always has been, is encouraging for us, because it means that faith is an act of God, and not a result of anything we do.

Turn back to Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for...”

2. So, once we see that faith is an act of God—a work that God does in us—the second thing that we see faith is, is that faith is the assurance of things hoped for.

Now, if we aren’t careful, there is the potential to read this to mean that faith creates what we hope for. Like, if I have enough faith, then what I want will happen for me. And that’s not where the writer of Hebrews is going with this.

When I was in my teens, there were a lot of things that I had faith would happen for me, that did not happen for me, and that I'm glad did not happen for me. And there are also some things that I had faith would happen for me, that did not happen for me, and that I’m sad did not happen for me.

And so, I don’t think that the writer of Hebrews is telling us, that if we enough faith, then we can be assured of that which we hope will happen.

Instead, what I believe the writer of Hebrews is saying is that the follower of Jesus can be guaranteed of the promises of God. Faith is this confidence that what God started in us He will bring to completion.

And how encouraging is this, for those of us who are really struggling with where we are at right now. There are a number of us, here, who are either dealing with health issues or who have a loved one dealing with health issues.

And faith is this confidence in the face of sickness and in the face of uncertainty for the future, that God isn’t finished with us, until He returns or takes us home to glory.

Faith is a deep-rooted assurance in God, where we are grasping to what is really real. The world could be falling down around us, and we could have people saying things like, “Where is your God? Don’t you see how bad things are?” And the response of faith is, “I see more clearly than you do. What do I have to fear when God is on my side?” Don’t we want that kind of confidence?

Faith is not this vague hope grounded in wishful thinking—that maybe if I pray more, or give more, or have more faith, then I’ll get what I want. No, faith is confidence that something in the future—something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God—will actually come to pass because God will do it.

Faith is confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy, who has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation, and who will never leave us nor forsake us. That’s faith.

Let me use an illustration: When you sat down, this morning, did you consciously think about whether the chair, that you were about to sit down on, would hold you up? I know that Christmas has the potential to add a few pounds, but my guess is that you weren’t questioning the integrity of the chair.

And the reason why we don’t consciously think about whether something as simple as a chair, will hold us up, is because we trust that the chair will hold us up, from the numerous times that we have been held up by a chair. Does that make sense?

And so, faith does not create what we hope for. That would just be exhausting. Consciously going around, believing and hoping that everything will work out the way we want it to.

But rather, faith is the assurance that grabs hold of the promise of hope. It’s trusting in the God who has all things under His sovereign control, and who has had all things under His sovereign control, throughout every stage of our life. And how we can trust Him for tomorrow, because He has brought us through today.

3. And so, faith is an act of God, it is the assurance of things hoped for, and then, lastly, it is the conviction of things not seen.

Look at the rest of Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

And here is where the King James Version’s translation of this verse is helpful for us: It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

And the use of the word “evidence” here is helpful for us, here, because it provides us with the answer to some of these important questions about faith: Do you have faith? How do you know you have faith? What hangs on whether you have faith or not? And the answer to these questions is “evidence.”

You see, physical eyesight produces evidence of visible things. We can see something and we can believe it, because we were there and saw it with our own eyes. But faith enables us to see the invisible things.

A question that everyone asks in some form or another, at some point in their life, is: How did all of this begin? We all ask this question, because at our core, we want an answer for all of this. We want to know what our purpose is.

And do you know what the first words of the Bible are? “In the beginning God…” We have our answer right at the beginning of God’s Word to mankind. You want to know where everything got its start? From God, out of nothing.

Look at Hebrews 11:2-3: It says, “For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

And there are some who argue, “You weren’t there. How do you know that it actually happened in the way you’re saying it happened—that there is a God who spoke everything into existence out of nothing? Where is your evidence?”

And the answer is faith. “Faith is… the evidence of things not seen.” Because here is the important thing that we must understand about faith: Faith was never intended to prove the existence of God. Faith was never intended to prove that all of Creation began with God speaking it into existence. We don’t need to prove faith. Faith is itself the evidence of things not seen.

Let me use an illustration: If I knew that if I gave $500 to some organization, and that I would still have enough money at the end of the month to live on, it would not be giving out of faith. Faith is giving $500 when you have no idea what the rest of the month will look like.

Your vehicle might break down, or your house might go up in flames. There are a number of things that could come up in the month, but if you could see the days ahead, and know that you would be fine, then it’s not faith.

Faith is going in a direction, in which you don’t know the outcome. If you knew what every step in your life was leading you to, it would not be stepping out in faith. Faith is when you don’t know what the next few steps are for you. That’s the point. God is there. He is sovereign over your situation. He is in control when things are seemingly out of control. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

Turn over to John 20. This is a fascinating story of faith, or the lack thereof. Jesus has just been raised from the dead. And on one occasion, He appears to all of His disciples, except Thomas, who wasn’t with them for some reason.

And Jesus’ disciples tell this to Thomas. And you have to love Thomas’ response. I feel like if I would have been one of Jesus’ disciples, I would have been Thomas. But here is what Thomas says, in John 20:25: He says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

And you can feel for Thomas, right? Like, his teacher, the guy whom he walked around this world with, for a good three years, dies, and then he’s expected to believe that He has been raised back to life and that the rest of his buddies have seen Him alive.

Like, that’s not easy to believe. And so, his response is, “I will never believe, unless I see with my eyes and touch with my hands, the marks of Jesus.” And I believe that God meets us where we are at. Like, if our response to Jesus is, “I believe; help my unbelief,” I feel like there is room for Jesus to move there.

But look at what happens to Thomas. All the disciples are together. Thomas is there this time. And Jesus came and stood among them, and He says to Thomas, in verse 27, because he knew that this was a sticking point for him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And Thomas believes. But then, Jesus makes this incredible statement: He says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

And church, that is faith. Faith doesn’t need to see it to believe. Faith is the evidence itself of things not seen. Faith is seeing more clearly what others might not see, because you are confidently trusting God that He is true, that His Word is truth, and that He has everything under His sovereign control.

Maybe you are here, this morning, and you are not all-in on Jesus, for whatever reason. But my hope is that this will encourage you to put all of your chips in. This is the Son of God, who created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. We can trust Him to will and to work in our lives, as He guides us to greater dependence upon Him.

The question that I want to leave us with, this morning, is: Is today the day you get into the wheelbarrow? I’m not talking about tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to have its own challenges. But is today the day, when you say, “I’m not going to live on the fence anymore. I’m either in or I'm out. Today, I'm in.”

The people who watched Charles Blondin, saw what he could do, they knew that he was able to cross the tightrope with someone in the wheelbarrow, but no one had the faith.

However, later that year, in August of 1859, his manager, Harry Colcord, is said to have ridden on Blondin's back across the Falls. He had so much faith in Blondin, and his act, that he took up his offer and stepped out in faith.

In the beginning, mankind failed to trust in God, thinking that God was holding out on him. But all God desired for mankind was to trust Him—that He knows what is good for us and what the path of life is. Is today the day when we put our complete trust in Jesus?

I pray that this series would increase our faith in God, and that we would be drawn all the more to His goodness and grace. Let’s close in prayer…


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