To Live by Faith
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 5 January 2002
As we look back into the lives of some of the greatest men and women who ever lived and try to discover the source of that greatness, we may perhaps be surprised to learn that what pleased God the most about these people was not so much their various accomplishments but the power or force that propelled them. Noah devoted his whole life to building an ark by which all animal and human life was saved. Abraham became ancestor of a great nation, Moses delivered that nation from slavery, gave them a civil and religious code which has impacted every nation on the earth, and then carved out a brand new country for them through Joshua. David established an empire and his son built it into one of the most fabulous states in the world. And we can read about many, many more, from the prophets right the way down to the Saviour Himself.
But if this is all we can see, then we are missing the element which links these great souls together. More importantly than that, we will miss what really counts in God's eyes and what actually makes life worth living in the first place. That element is called FAITH.
If the eye balls confer upon human beings that faculty called sight so that we can navigate round the physical world, then Faith is that faculty which enables us to move around the invisible world of spirit. It's a word you rarely hear spoken of outside religious circles and yet faith is the most central principle of every human being, believer or unbeliever.
As human beings we like and need certainty. We want life carefully defined so that we can comfortably live it. Ordinary people are happiest when they have a regular salary coming in, have a stable marriage, and have their own home. We all of us long for stability and safety. And yet you would be surprised just how uncertain life is. It has been said that about the only things we can be certain of is that we are alive and that one day we will die. Everything else depends on faith.
So what is faith? "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb.11:1, KJV). It's real and there is always evidence for true faith, but the kind of evidence is not what you would use to test a scientific theorem. For instance, a bruised eye is evidence that you have been struck hard in the eye. Someone may even have seen the event take place but whether they did or not, there is still physical evidence - the bruise - of the assault.
When God commended the ancients, it was always because of their faith and not in what that faith led them to do. The building of the ark by eight unskilled labourers was an incredible feat but what impressed Yahweh was not this battleship-sized ship but the fact that Noah believed Yahweh when He told him that this amazing job would be accomplished. Even more amazing than that, that Noah actually believed God when He said the world would be drowned.
Now we have heard the ark story hundreds of times so we are perhaps not as amazed by it as was Noah when he first got the divine commission to build it. Something comparable might be one of our pastors in India being told that in 32 years' time he would be responsible for dissolving all the church denominations in Europe and becoming the apostolic head of all the Churches of God from Spain to Siberia under the rulership of Christ. Absurd as that may seem to us today, considering the sheer size and power of the largest Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran Churches, why should we not believe such an assertion if Yahweh declares it? God can do exactly what He wants. If I told you what I will be doing in the Millennium and the way I'll be dressing you'd probably laugh. Well, when Noah and his family started building that boat the people laughed at them and though they were lunatics for it was not at all unlike a Swede opening a winter coat factory in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Yet if Yahweh told you to go and do it, would you?
What God sees in the Spirit we are blind to in the flesh. Yahweh's logic isn't the same as ours. When Yahweh ordered a rabble of untrained and undisciplined ex-slave labourers to conqueror the civilised and highly militarised collection of city states called Canaan He never intended to use conventional military wisdom. He didn't send Joshua and other hand-picked leaders to Sandhurst or West Point. He didn't tell them to go and study under great Egyptian or Greek generals. He didn't call a Cromwell to create a New Model Army. Instead he told the people to march quietly around a city called Jericho blowing trumpets. He didn't tell Abraham and Sarah to report to a fertility clinic and take a special course of injections so she might get pregnant even when she was nearly 100 years old. He just expected them to have faith and obey. And when they did, He did what He promised He would do.
Faith is spiritual vision. It enables you to "see" without ever opening your eyes. Faith enables us to do things which people based in the flesh say is impossible. The most unlikely people have changed history because they had faith in a calling that was far greater than they were able in their own strength to fulfill. Some faith was, of course, the wrong kind of faith: Hitler believed he would establish a 1,000 yearlong Reich which lasted a mere 12 in spite of a promising beginning. The Bolsheviks also thought they would establish a Millennium of atheistic socialism but didn't quite manage a century. Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims have all thought they would conquer the world but because their faith was false, God intervened and made them stumble.
God expects faith of every living soul. Our faith, or lack of it, is what pleases or displeases Him. And what we have faith in is what makes us righteous or unrighteous. Faith by itself is not enough. A few weeks ago there was a rather gruesome story in the newspapers about a Korean evangelist who was, I believe, visiting either Australia or New Zealand. Someone in the congregation died and he prophesied that he would be brought back to life again. A prayer vigil went on day after day as the congregation refused to let the body be buried. In the end it completely rotted, turning black. But the Korean still believed in spite of the fact that it was obvious that the Lord was not going to bring this particular dead person back to life. Luckily the police were called and the whole ridiculous business concluded.
Now don't read me wrong. I do most certainly believe that the dead can be brought back to life but only when Yahweh commands it. The Korean believed in a right principle but couldn't hear what Yahweh was actually telling him. He was putting his faith in the wrong thing at the wrong time. And if he belongs to a certain charismatic movement which is powerful in Korea, then his action is consistent with the false rhema doctrine that is widely held internationally and which has caused many people to lose their lives. Faith in the wrong things at the wrong times can not only make a monkey of you but even kill innocent people.
We all live by faith. We believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. There's a pretty high probability that it will but it's not guaranteed. You may die before sunrise tomorrow so for you it may be your last. It is also possible that Yahweh could make the sun stop still in the sky as He did once before in the days of Joshua. Even things that seen 100% certain aren't. Scientists know that and is called by us the 'Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle'. Even the things we take for granted like sunrise require faith on our part. So it isn't a question of whether we have faith or not but what kind of faith we have.
I know a lot of Christians who believe they are people of faith and yet who demonstrate by the way they live that they have almost none. For example, I know people who have been told by the Lord to do certain things but who keep procrastinating by claiming He must first put other things in place before they will obey and act.
Let us imagine you are Abraham. You are a very wealthy merchant with high civic positions in the Mesopotamian metropolis of Ur. One night Yahweh appears to you and tells you to quit everything you are doing, pack your backs, and move to an entirely foreign land about which you know next to nothing.
Now the real Abraham did just that. He quit everything. I am sure you can picture the protests of family and friends. They tell him that unlike the highly developed cities of Mesopotamia, which were then our equivalent of Stockholm, London and New York, Canaan is a wild barren area where people live in tents. Such a change would be the same as a Texan oil tycoon with flashy offices in Dallas and a big country ranch suddenly being told to go and live in a Mongolian Berber's tent in the Gobi Desert and start herding goats.
Now Yahweh didn't give Abraham permission to do an Internet Scan or make a preliminary business trip to set up a subsidiary of his Ur office in Canaan. Abraham didn't day: "OK, Lord, I'll go, but not before I have bought some land outside Hebron, found a good school in Jebus for my servants' sons and accumulated enough capital to ensure my first year's survival. None of this was allowed. He was just told to go. And He did, trusting Yahweh to sort things out once the decision to be obedient had been made.
This was the faith that made him a righteous man, not his subsequent journey. The journey could have been undertaken in several different ways, but the nature of the faith behind each would have been different and they would not all have pleased our Heavenly Father. True faith does not have visible evidence but operates on the basis of what we know about the true Nature of the Almighty.
This is why believing in Christ is never enough to making us right with Yahweh. Having the right belief in Him is what counts. So if a wife leaves her husband for nothing more than her lack of faith, she cannot expect the Lord to tell her to go back, or to claim that He hasn't told her when. The fact of the matter is she should have returned to him yesterday. It's as absurd as a thief asking Yahweh when he should return stolen property to its rightful owner and then expecting an answer he will never get, and then wondering why he isn't getting any blessings. People do ask the most foolish questions at times.
The things that are obviously wrong in our lives require no word from God for us to know when to something about them because now is the time to do something about them. And the longer we delay, the worse it gets for us. If we have stolen, then we have the clear example of what to do in the story of Zaccaeus. The Lord didn't tell him to return what he had defrauded others of - he just knew he had to do it as a token of his genuine repentance, to return more than he had taken. When Hagar ran away from Sarah an angel instructed her to go back home with her son Ishmael, not because the conditions were now favourable or right but because that is where she was supposed to be! Families aren't supposed to be separated. Period.
Faith. Faith in the right thing at the right time. Faith not in our abilities or lack of them but in what God expects of us now. So much precious time is being wasted by Christians as they wait for the right "moment" to do things they were told to do years ago. That's occultism, waiting for that which seems favourable visibly. When God tells you to go, you go, and let Him provide your needs. And I know it's true. I have seen Him do the impossible, moving insurmountable obstacles without any effort being expected on my part; and I have seen vast amounts of effort wasted in projects in which I tried to accomplish His will in my own strength instead of faith in His.
I am not saying that faith is necessarily easy, only that it is much easier than you probably think. We are too easily put off by carnal thinking reinforced by the world of friends and secular ideas. We build our own cages of doubt and wonder why there are obstacles in the way. We procrastinate and wonder why our journey is like pulling along iron balls on chains with our feet. Worst of all, we can grow so "comfortable" with our spiritual incarceration that we begin to forget what real freedom is like.
One of the biggest illusions comes when we think we are indispensable to others or that a change of circumstances will cause too many problems for others like children and relatives. I once knew a lady in England who had been a witch and a madam responsible for looking after prostitutes. Because the prostitutes trusted and "loved" her because she looked after their "interests" in a dangerous environment, she relates how she actually had grave doubts about leaving them to fend for themselves or under a less kind madam if she accepted Christ and left that lifestyle. Now you may think that that was a crazy thought considering what prostitution and witchcraft are and yet it was a real temptation for her ... she really believed she was indispensable when in fact she was part of the problem. In the end she witnessed of Christ to them, converted some, and left the rest to their own choice of darkness.
True faith means making uncomfortable and sometimes painful choices. If we look hard enough we will always find "good" things we have to abandon in order to be obedient to the Lord, and this may deceive us into thinking that maybe the Lord is wrong. But when we do this we actually mock Yahweh and tell Him that He still needs us in a situation where He may have previously blessed us in the days of our ignorance. But circumstances change. Circumstances which appear to be in His absolute will often turn out only to be circumstantial - adaptations He makes, through His grace, based on less that good choices. Thus He does not abandon us completely if we make deliberately wrong choices. Nevertheless the blessings He does give us in such circumstances should never be interpreted to mean that He is pleased with what we have done. He is still waiting for us to repent and do what we were supposed to have done in the first place. We cannot exploit grace and mercy indefinitely.
I would invite everyone to carefully read the 11th chapter of Hebrews sometime. It's all about faith and what pleases God. Speaking of many of the great ones, Paul says:
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" ( Heb 11:13-16, NIV).
What distinguished the faith of these servants of God is that they never looked back after Yahweh relocated them into a new life. They stuck their callings out. Their primary attachments were heavenly. Abraham never longed after the old luxurious life of Ur. Moses never regretted leaving the courts of Egypt. Yah'shua (Jesus) never wished He was back in heaven as God. All these men had their eyes firmly fixed on what Yahweh called them to be doing and had renounced fully their old lives of glory.
Are you clinging on in any way to the past or to a way of life now gone? For if you are, you are demonstrating a lack of faith in what Yahweh wants for you today and likely preventing yourself from moving forwards into spiritual prosperity. The pasts is dead, tomorrow is not yet, and all that matters is today. The real tomorrow belongs to the heavenly country. It's day will come in God's own time. But for the us is today and the boundless blessings and potential of it. Today is the day of salvation, today is the day of reunion with loved ones. Today is the day of prosperity, not in the things of the world, but in the things of the Spirit. Today is the day we can put everything right that we have wronged, come out of our hiding place, and meet God and be reunited with those from whom we have become estranged.
"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith" (Rom 1:17, NIV).
"The righteousness that is by faith says: ... The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the... name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom 10:6-13, NIV).
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Last updated on 1 January 2002
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