I want you to turn in your Bibles with me to Hebrews chapter 10 - and I don't know what other preachers are like, but people ask me: 'What are you doing next week?', and I hardly know what I'm doing this evening or tomorrow, let alone next week. I just take it moment by moment, and the Lord tends to guide like that. I learned a principle years ago that, I think it's a glowworm - not very theological by the way, but it sounds good - a glowworm only shines enough light in front of it for the next step; and that's often the way God's guidance is. He doesn't show you guidance for the next month, and then you just follow it, He shows you it moment by moment, and step-by-step, and that keeps us with our eyes on Him. Well, I didn't get this message until Friday morning, and I'm not even sure if it's finished yet or not - but it will be by the time we conclude! I believe it's from the Lord for all of our hearts this morning.
It's entitled 'Nothing without Faith', and we're at chapter 10 of Hebrews and we'll read from verse 35: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward". Now I haven't time to give you the background to this book, but very quickly to summarise it: these were Jewish believers who were, through persecution, trial, and difficulty, tempted to leave their profession of Christ as the Messiah and go back to Judaism. That's why you keep finding in the book the exhortation: 'Go on! Go on! Don't turn back! Go on!'. So, in that light, the author says: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience", and I have need of that, "that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith" - now, can I tell you, that statement is found three other times in the scriptures. It is found in Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 - so four times God says: 'The just shall live by faith'. Now, if God says something once it's important, but if He decides to repeat it four times, well, you can understand the import of such a statement: 'The just shall live by faith'. "But if any man draw back", here's the drawing back again, "my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition", unto destruction, "but of them that believe to the saving of the soul".
Verse 1 of chapter 11: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", and down to verse 6 please, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him".
I want to start this morning by just reading to you a story that was told by a man called Ronald Dunn, a preacher and Christian writer, and the story is called: 'The House That Grace Built'. It's really an allegory of the Christian experience from conversion, and the tragedy of many Christian experiences after conversion. Just listen to it, I'm reading it word-for-word: 'Salvation is like a house built beside a broad and busy highway. Like everyone else, I was born on that highway and was spending my life following it to its destination. At first the trip had been exciting and almost effortless, the constant flow of the crowd carrying me along. But the farther down the road I got, the more difficult things became; my original joy had dissipated and I noticed that my fellow travellers rarely laughed anymore and their occasional smiles seemed forced. The backpack I had been issued at the beginning of my journey had grown heavier every day, and I was now permanently stooped from its weight. Worst of all, I had been overtaken lately by an unexplainable fear of reaching the end of the highway'.
'One day my attention was drawn suddenly to the side of the highway to a magnificently constructed house. Over its narrow front doors a sign silently announced in bold red letters: 'Whosoever Will May Enter and Find Rest'. I don’t know how I knew it, but I realized that if I could reach the inside of this beautiful house I would be saved from the highway and its destination. Pushing my way through the mass of indifferent travellers, I broke clear of the crowd and ran up the steps to the front door. But it was locked. Perhaps it's only stuck, I thought, and tried again. It refused to open. I was confused. Why would someone put up a sign inviting people in and then lock the door to keep them out? Not knowing what else to do (I refused to return to the highway), I pounded on the door, and shouted for someone on the inside to open it, and tried to pick the lock - but it was useless'.
'Suddenly a voice spoke my name, and I spun around. It was the Builder of the House. He placed in my hand a key with one word carved on it: FAITH. Turning back to the door, I inserted the key in the lock, twisted it, and heard a reassuring click. The door swung open, and I stepped across the threshold. Immediately the backpack fell from off my shoulders, my back began to straighten like a wilting flower reaching for the sunlight, and from deep within me my soul breathed a sigh of relief as an extraordinary sense of peace and well-being wrapped itself around me. The Builder of the House welcomed me to my new home, explaining that everything in the house was now mine to enjoy. This was the house that grace had built, and faith was the key'.
Now I want you to remember this: 'This was the house that grace had built, and faith was the key'. He goes on: 'Surveying my new surroundings, I saw that the House of Salvation was a house with many rooms and I was only in the foyer. Across the way was a door marked Answered Prayer. Next to it was another Daily Victory, and next to it, Every Need Supplied. The row of doors, each promising some spiritual blessing, stretched endlessly throughout the house. The discovery of these other rooms puzzled me, for I failed to mention that the foyer in which I stood was jammed with people. It seemed that everyone who entered the house stopped in the foyer, never advancing beyond it, as though the foyer were the entire building' - remember that as well.
'This was little better than the highway. Couldn't they see that there was more to the House of Salvation than the foyer? Surely the Builder intended every room to be occupied. Hadn't he said that everything in the house was ours to enjoy? I, for one, had no desire to spend my life standing in a foyer. This was my Father's house; I was his child, and all he possessed was mine. I went to the door marked Answered Prayer, grabbed the knob, and twisted. It was locked. I went to the next door, and the next, and the next. All were locked. But this time I didn't try to pick the lock or knock the door down. I remembered my encounter with the front door and knew I had a key for that. Although I had been in the house only a short time, I had somehow managed to accumulate a large number of other keys. Rummaging through my collection, I selected one tagged Doing Your Best, and tried it. It didn’t fit. Nor did the one tagged Religious Activity. The key of Sincerity proved useless. Next I tried the key of Tithing (I was getting desperate); but it was as powerless as the others. I was beginning to understand why the foyer was so crowded'.
'And then I heard a familiar voice. It was the Builder of the House. 'Child', he said, 'do you remember the key I gave you to enter my house?'. 'Yes, I remember'. 'What was it?'. 'Why, it was the key of Faith', I answered'. Now listen, the Builder said: 'The key of Faith is the master key that unlocks every door in the house'. Now Ronald Dunn says at the end of this story, and indeed it's the story of his own life, he says: 'That was the greatest discovery of my life. Faith is the master key of the Christian life. From start to finish, salvation is 'by grace through faith'. Everything we get in the Christian life we get by grace through faith. Grace makes it available and faith accepts it. Grace is God's hand giving; faith is man's hand receiving. Faith possesses what grace provides. Grace is God's part; faith is man's part. It is our positive response to God's gracious offer. Everything God demands of man can be summed up in one word: faith'. Without faith it is impossible to please God. The just shall live by faith.
Now, what I want to consider this morning is the question: what is this faith? First of all I want to say that it is faith in God, faith in God. You see, so often, when we're told to have faith we focus on our faith, but we ought to be focusing on our God. Let me illustrate it to you like this: a little child in a nursery school plants a seed, and he takes it home in a wee plant pot, and day by day he digs up the seed to see how it's growing. You know that if he does that every single day, it's not going to grow too far - and sometimes we're like that with our faith. We focus so much on our faith, concentrating on it and not on God, that our faith never grows. If we would just leave the seed of faith alone and focus on our God, we would see that our faith would strengthen day by day. We need to focus on God and let our faith look after itself. Chiefly we need to focus on the characteristics of God - and I don't have time to enumerate those, they are vast, but consider His faithfulness, consider His all-powerfulness, His all-knowledge, He is omnipresent, He is everywhere. We could go on and on and on - but as we focus on the wonderful faithfulness in the character of God, that is a faith-inducing exercise, our faith will strengthen and it will grow.
You see, we as Christians - and even non-Christians for that matter - need to realise that there is no virtue in faith per se, in and of itself. You see, we need to be careful and not have faith in our faith - you see that can happen - or have faith in our prayers, or our prayer life, or have faith in our personal holiness. It's a bit like people who go through one relationship after another, and after a while people begin to discover that they're in love with being in love - they're not in love with the person, they're in love with the whole concept of being in love. We can have faith in faith, have faith in prayer, have faith in holiness, and yet our faith ought to be in the living God! So what I'm saying is: have faith in God, don't measure your faith, measure your God! That's where faith comes from.
We see it in verse 6 of chapter 11: 'Without faith is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him'. Now to come to God, of course, you have to believe that He is. You're not going to come to God as an atheist or agnostic, and there is that initial faith of a belief in the existence of God. But that statement also means, 'believe that He is', that you've got to believe that He's active, not just that He exists, but He is active and He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him - that God is at work and, for that matter, even when it appears that He's not working at all.
Now, here's my question to you as I exhort you to have faith in God: do you perceive God as active? Do you perceive Him as active generally in this world? Or do you think He's just leaving it all lying in chaos? Do you perceive God to be active in your life, even though it might seem that the four walls and the roof of your existence presently is caving in upon you? Now, I know if we pushed individual Christians here today hard enough, they would admit that they believe in the miraculous. Praise God, we need to believe in the miraculous - but, you see, there's a danger here that sometimes that's the only way we believe that God is at work, when He does something supernatural, when He does something out of the ordinary. Listen to me: you need to be very careful, because if you're only looking for the miraculous and the supernatural, that is the first thing that will sap you of faith. You need to see God in everything!
You see, the problem is: we have divided everything into the natural and the supernatural, and that is a false dichotomy. The natural being what we can explain, and the supernatural being what we cannot explain. So we've been educated by our culture and one another to, for instance, go out to the car park and look at a tree, and we think of that tree as growing by natural laws, don't we? The seed was planted, the sprout came out of the soil, and it grew, and it bears fruit or blooms every season - but we fail to see that God is working in that tree. We fail to see that God is working everywhere and in everything. God created that tree, so God is pulling and shaping each leaf, God is erecting each blade of grass out of the sod. You see, let's face it, in everyday practice we tend to think of God as setting something in motion and then standing back and letting it go, isn't that right? We decide that God created the grass, and He started the growth, and then He moves off and He goes away and does something else.
Listen to what John White says on this very regard: 'The God of the Bible runs everything. He created nature and super-nature, which are actually all of one piece with no division between them. Nothing in nature works of itself, God works it. He intervenes unceasingly' - not just in miracles, in everything in life. Springtime and early summer is a wonderful time to witness this: 'Every musical note we hear, every sunrise and sunset we see, every birth we rejoice in, every exploding supernova we marvel at - all are expressions of His power'. You see, the problem is not with God, the problem is with our perception. Do we see Him at work everywhere? My wee daughter Lydia has a CD - sometimes it's playing in the car until we're nearly sick listening to it! - but one of the songs goes: 'I believe in miracles'. Sometimes there's wonderful truth in children's songs, and one of the lines in that song 'I Believe in Miracles' goes like this: 'Heaven and Earth are not so far apart'. Heaven and Earth are not so far apart, it's all to do with our perception.
Our faith is to be in God, and to increase our faith in God not only do you need to study His characteristics, and study what He has done and what He can do and will do, but you need to look and see - perceive Him in everything. Brother Lawrence talked about practising the presence of God, we also need to practise the perception of God! See Him everywhere!
So what is this faith? It is faith in God, not faith in faith. Look after studying God, and faith will look after itself. But secondly: it is faith in God's promises, that's right. You see, sometimes we as Christians perceive that faith is something that you can work up, that you look in the mirror and say: 'I will believe, I will believe, I will believe', until you do believe. That's the power of positive thinking, that's not faith. You see, faith's strength comes from God. It is a gift of His grace, in as far as Romans 10 verse 17 says: 'Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'. So faith is simply taking God at His word, and acting upon it. It is believing that He is as good as His word. Faith in God's promises.
Now I've said it already: we've got to understand, there is nothing meritorious in faith - all the glory goes to God, because God has given us the word of faith, He has given us the promise. What we are simply doing is presenting back to Him that which He has given to us, and there is no glory in that, I can tell you! Faith is in God's promises, but there is a warning here: if God hasn't promised a thing, all the believing in the world won't matter! So we're not talking about some kind of magic abracadabra, where you see a thing, and you want it, and you name it and claim it, and that's the thing over - no, no, no! This is not a blank cheque, so to speak. If you don't have a word from God on a matter, then you're not in a position to exercise faith on it. Now that doesn't mean you can't pray about things that God hasn't spoken to you about, you can, but what you can't do is have a right to claim it - you have to leave that up to God's sovereignty and providence, and the mystery of His will.
We all know about that - but if we haven't got a word from Him on something, we've got to realise that faith stretches as far only as the boundaries of God's word. But in converse to that, let me say this: there are promises in this book to cover almost, if not completely, every area of life! Now not all of them are specific to your situations, perhaps, some of them are general, but some of them are specific. Do you know what you need to do? If you're going to increase faith, not only do you need to broaden your knowledge of almighty God and see Him active everywhere, but you need to get familiar, conversant, with the promises of God's holy word. Do you know what I have in my Bible case here? I'm on to the second one in the last wee while - an orange highlighter. Every day when I'm reading God's word I highlight every promise I can in orange - it doesn't have to be orange, you can choose whatever colour you like - but the point is: I want to know where God's promises are for when I need them, and I want to know them, for I want to claim them! Because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God! Faith is not something I can work up, it doesn't come through being in an emotional meeting, it comes through the power that is intrinsic in the living word of God that gives us the faith, gives us the promise!
'Every promise in the book is mine,
Every chapter, every verse, every line.
All are blessings of His love Divine,
Every promise in the book is mine'.
As one old man of God put it one time: 'Tarry at the promise, and God will meet you there. He always returns by way of His promises'. I think that's wonderful. Tarry at the promise, and God will meet you there. He always returns by way of His promises. What is this faith? It is faith in God, it is faith in God's promises, but thirdly: it is faith expressed in praising prayer. I want you to turn with me to this one, keeping a marker in Hebrews 11. Turn with me to Mark 11 - easy to remember now, Mark 11 - now here is a verse, the grammar of which has baffled many a Bible scholar, usually a faithless one. Mark 11 verse 24, Jesus speaking now, the Lord is saying: 'Therefore', Mark 11:24, 'I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them'. Now let me just speak a little caveat there: when it says 'the things that you desire', that is implying that you'll only desire the will of God, and the will of God is found in the word of God, and those are the promises of God - so you're not asking anything outside the boundaries of God's word that we have spoken of. But if you're asking according to God's word, those desires: 'when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them'.
Now, there is one type of faith that says 'God can', and I think that most of us would have that - if we believe in God at all, we would have that much of faith. We have read the stories, the mighty miracles, we've known them from childhood, and we can say: 'God can'. Then there's another step up in faith, and it says: 'God will, God eventually will come through, God will do what He said'. But this biblical faith that the Lord Jesus is talking about here in Mark 11:24 says: 'God has!'. Now that's mighty: 'What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them', that you've already got them, 'and ye shall have them'. Now that seems to be a contradiction, this faith doesn't say: 'I'm going to get it', but 'I have it!'. Now let's face it: anybody can believe that he has something after he receives it, there's nothing special about that! But what this verse is saying is: that's only walking by sight, believing you've got something once you've received it, but biblical faith is believing you have something before you even have it!
Therefore, if that's the case - and it is the case - our praying can be, at times, unbelief in disguise. Isn't that a remarkable thought? Our praying at times can be unbelief in disguise. We need to get to the point of turning our pleading into praising. I have it written right beside this verse in my Bible: 'Two parts of sure-to-be-answered prayer'. Two parts to sure-to-be-answered prayer: one, pray for the promise - and if you know your Bible enough, that should come right away to you, maybe a promise to do with a certain situation - but if not, pray for God to give you a promise, and to make it yours. Then once you've got the promise, the second part of sure-to-be-answered prayer is: praise from the promise. Claim it by faith, and praise God that you already have it!
Now, you must not ask Him to give us an assurance of what He has already promised. Sometimes we do that: 'Lord, we would love to have Your presence' - He says you'll have His presence if you believe it and claim it. Claim what He has promised as yours, that's what faith is - but praise Him for an answer! Don't keep pleading because, at times, when you keep pleading, it is tantamount to saying: 'Lord, I don't really believe You're going to come through, but I'm hanging on here just in case'. Sometimes this, I fear, is the case. I believe, in spiritual warfare - and anybody who is involved in the meeting here will know that it's been very real in recent days - but we need to be careful when we engage in spiritual warfare, and I found this out myself, that we don't try and win battles over darkness that Christ has already won at the cross. An evangelist friend of mine recently told me to be very careful, he says: 'You can expose yourself to the powers of darkness when you get into a certain realm, and they can eat you up and spit you out, when what you need to do is come and claim and appropriate the victory of Jesus Christ over the devil and over the powers of hell'. I'm no match for the devil, none of us are - even the Archangel Michael, it says in the book of Jude, said: 'The Lord rebuke you', he wasn't strong enough for the devil, but he knew the Lord was. That's why Ephesians 6 says that we've to stand in the strength of the Lord.
You see, faith is not about achieving, it's about receiving. Let the battle be His, and rest in faith. You see, it's not the length of our prayers that matters, it's not the loudness of our prayers that matters, it's not the language of our prayers that matters, it's the weight of our prayers. Do you know how the weight of prayer is measured? Faith, faith. A heart that is filled with faith will have a mouth that is filled with praise.
I hope you're with me on this - faith in God, faith in God's promises, faith expressed in praising prayer, but fourthly and finally: faith as proof. What is biblical faith? It is faith as proof. Look at chapter 11 of Hebrews, and we're nearly finished, Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1, this is a wonderful definition of biblical faith: 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'. Now let me read this in the Amplified Version, which teases out many of the Greek thoughts: 'Faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality, [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]'. Faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses, in other words faith is like a sixth sense to the Christian that enables him to move into the realm of the unseen. A paraphrase of this verse says that faith is like the handle on things that we cannot see - think about it. But the Amplified Version, correctly I believe, uses this term 'faith is the title deed to things unseen' - the title deed! In other words, you only have a title deed if you own a thing, and we as Christians are told that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places - they are ours! But before I can take possession of them in my experience, I must prove ownership of them, and I do it by producing the title deed which is faith. Faith is the title deed of things hoped for! In other words, faith enables me to possess my possessions.
Think about it like this: God has deposited the riches of heaven in my account, but unless I know how to write cheques on that account, I'll spend all my days in spiritual poverty and I'll remain in the foyer of the house that grace built, not opening any of the doors. Are you with me now? You see, we say: 'Seeing is believing', but God says 'Believing is seeing'. If you want an example of that, look at verse 27 of Hebrews 11: 'By faith Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible'. You see, faith as proof happens when the things you cannot see are more real to you than the things that you can see with the naked eye. If you were to read through Hebrews 11 and replace the word 'faith' with this term 'by seeing the invisible', it would come alive for you - because all these great men and women of God overcame and triumphed in great spiritual victory by seeing the invisible!
Now friend, you might say: 'All this is well and good - what you're saying about faith in God, faith in God's promises, faith expressed in praising prayer - but what if nothing appears to happen? What if nothing seems to change? Where is the proof that God is active? Where is the proof that He is and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him?'. This is the point, my friend, true faith is the proof! Faith is the title deed, faith is the proof, faith is the victory - and that's not a faith that I'm drumming up myself, it's a faith that is based on what God has told me, that faith is the proof that God is going to come through! 'This is the victory that overcometh the world', John says, 'even our faith'.
Now I must read two portions of Scripture to you as I close, and God has, I believe, told me that I have to read them and not just to refer to them, I have to read them. The first is in Acts 27, Acts 27, and this is this faith, this biblical faith in action in the life of the apostle Paul. Paul is on a boat going towards Rome, and they enter into a storm, and they're all panicking - all the atheists, and agnostics, and godless men start to panic when things get out of their control. It's men and women of God who have the answer and come through for them - and that's not anything to do with us, it's the promises of God again. Verse 22 of Acts 27: 'Now I exhort you', he says to the crew, 'be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship' - so the ship is going to be wrecked, but everybody will be alive. Why does Paul know this? Is he some kind of visionary that has a red line telephone to heaven? Not a bit of it, God told him through a promise, verse 23: 'For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve', nothing to do with Paul, it's God's word to Paul, 'Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee'. Now that was enough for Paul, it didn't matter that the winds were roaring, and the waves were crashing, and the boat was breaking up. 'God hath given thee all them that sail with thee', now here is Paul's faith, 'Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God'! Can you say that? 'I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me' - whatever He told you.
Now come with me to the Old Testament, to 2 Kings chapter 6, and this is the last one. I'm sorry for shouting, but I just get excited! Second Kings chapter 6 verse 15, this is Elisha, and he had an old faithless right-hand man, and the story here is that the enemy, the Syrians are coming upon God's servant. Now I haven't time to go into it all, but the reason why this is, if you look down at verse 12, is that one of his servants - this is the King of Syria - said: 'None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber'.
Do you know what that means? You see, everything that the King of Syria tried to do against the King of Israel, God's prophet was filling the King of Israel in so that he could be forewarned. The King of Syria was tripping up every time, why? Because God's prophet was telling the King of Israel everything that was going on, even in the bedchamber of the King of Syria! So the King of Syria opens up all that he has - and boy, what a type of demonic forces - he opens all that he has onto the man of God, not the king now, the man of God. 'Therefore', verse 14, 'sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And Elisha answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see' - see? Sure he was seeing, and all he could see was the enemy - but the eye of faith was opened: 'The LORD opened his eyes; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha'.
'There’s more with us than be with them. 'Lord, open our eyes to see
The mountains around with chariots abound. We're trusting alone in Thee'.
The devil may boast and marshal his host, and march in a mighty array.
With Christ in the lead we're sure to succeed; we're certain to win on that day'.
My friend, now listen carefully: without faith it is impossible to please God. Nothing without faith, but Jesus said: 'If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth'. Little faith will bring us to heaven, praise God we saw that the other night when this wee woman who didn't even pray touched the hem of the garment of the Lord Jesus Christ. Little faith will bring you to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to you!
'Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to God alone; Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries it shall', or 'it has been done'.
May God bless His word to your heart, and give you this faith.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission, Moy, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Nothing Without Faith" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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