A Faith Based on God’s Word
(Homily given at St. Mark’s Frankford, Philadelphia, PA, August 8, 2010)
So, I have a friend who runs a little diner around the corner from where I live. I stop in every now again and we chat about life. Sometimes I tell him about the different ministries that go on at St. Marks, and this past week we got onto the topic of church and faith. He grew up in the Christian faith, had been on church boards, and been to all the services. He was even the pastor’s son. Yet, after all his exposure to religious activity, he said he became disenchanted with the faith. According to him, faith is only something that people use to comfort themselves. They need to hope in something and so they say that God is with them. According to him, faith is only a way of coping with our own struggles to make the right decision. We don’t know which is the right path, so we say “God said” it’s the right path to give ourselves more confidence. I still claim him as a friend, but he is wrong. And though he tried to convince me that faith is self-created, I think he just didn’t understand what faith is actually about, what it is based in, and what its purpose is.
Maybe you have met people like him, those who are skeptical of your faith, or those who want to know how it’s possible for you to believe as strongly as you do. Or maybe even more confusing is when we think that we have faith, but then we start to doubt when God doesn’t operate the way that we thought that He would. There are preachers all over television who tell us to “name it and claim it.” They say that whatever we ask for we can have, if only we believe hard enough. Unlike my friend, they do believe in faith, but their understanding doesn’t hit the mark, either.
Is faith comforting? Yes! Does our faith provide guidance? Definitely! Scripture tells us all sorts of good things that should encourage our hearts. In the Psalm today [Psalm 33], we heard all of the following good news:
- The Lord watches over us.
- We heard that those who hope in Him, He delivers their soul from death. So if we hope in Him, He will deliver us.
- We heard that he will provide for us if we are in need.
- We heard that the Lord is our helper and also our protector.
Finally, the Psalm says that our hearts are glad in Him, because we trust in Him. This part of the Psalm hints at the nature of our faith and why it is so deeply encouraging to us. We have gladness and joy because we trust God. More specifically, we trust God’s promises to us. How do we know that the Lord watches over us? Because He just told us! How do we know that we have hope of eternal life? Because He said so! It’s not just because it’s a nice idea. When we have faith, it is not based on our own thoughts and feelings, but our faith is based on God’s words to us. We do not have faith in what we want God to do, we have faith in what God says that He will do. Thankfully, what God says that He will do for us is greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine ourselves.
Having faith in God is much like having faith in a trusted friend who you know will keep their word to you. If they promise to do something for you, you know that they will do it…that is, if they are a person that keeps their word. Well, we know that God always keeps His word, and whatever He says He will do, it will be done. In the Old Testament lesson, we read of a perfect example of faith, an example that Scripture continually points us toward to help us better understand what it means to have faith.
We read that the Lord came to Abraham and told him that He would reward him greatly. The Lord promised that Abraham, who had no heirs, would not only bear a son, but he would also have descendants that were as numerous as the stars in heaven. That was an incredible promise that God made. Not only was Abraham old, but his wife was in her 90s—well past childbearing age!
And when God told him this, Abraham believed God, and God accounted it to him for righteousness. The Lord took pleasure in Abraham because Abraham took the Lord at His word. Whatever God said, Abraham took it to be true and ordered his life by it—this is the faith that is pleasing to God. God counts us as righteous and pleasing to Him when we, like Abraham, hear God’s word to us and take Him at it.
When God speaks to us, He tells us things that we would not have known on our own. When we open the Bible, we read truths about ourselves, about God, and about His workings in this world that we could not have discerned for ourselves. God speaks to us about how we are to know Him, what it means to be saved, what life in the church is to be like—things that we both want and need to know, but which we cannot know unless we open our ears to hear, and then believe in what He tells us—even those things that we cannot see and do not understand.
And yet, faith is not simply believing in what you cannot see or cannot prove. Faith isn’t believing that we will receive what we really want. Faith is believing what God says is true, and what God says that He will do, even though we cannot see it right now. Again, that is great news, because our good and loving heavenly Father knows how to give us good things and keeps us as the apple of His eye. If we read Scripture and become familiar with all the things that God says He will do in us and through us, we will be overjoyed at what He says is in His will for us.
So, how does Abraham’s example of faith guide us?
- Because God had told Abraham to up and move, he did, even though he did not know where that move would lead. But because God told him to go, he did. Faith enables us to take a risk and act when we don’t know the outcome, because God has promised that He will make it turn out right.
- Faith enables us to do that which we would not have the power to do on our own, because God’s Spirit is working through us. Faith enables God’s power to work in us and through us. This is why it says that by faith Abraham received power of procreation, even though Sarah was well past childbearing age.
- Biblical faith points us beyond this world. We read that the biblical characters, by faith, confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, but they sought a heavenly country. God promised Abraham a son, but God’s promise did not stop with Isaac, it pointed to a whole host of spiritual heirs in faith, which are you and I—believers who look to Abraham as our spiritual ancestor. Even though Abraham could not see all of his descendants who would walk with God, though He could not see that even Jesus the Savior would descend from his line, Abraham still believed God and knew that the world that he currently saw was not the end. Because God had promised him something greater than the goods of this world.
- And so, faith in God redefines us and changes our path. When Abraham believed God’s word, everything about His life and purpose changed. The day to day things were the same—he still had to work, still had to sleep, still had to tend to his family. In the everyday, things looked the same, but inwardly his purpose became completely different. As the Scripture said, he now sought a heavenly country where righteousness reigns. Even though he lived in this world, by faith he was assured that God had something better awaiting him.
- When we encounter God and have faith in His word to us, like Abraham, we are called out. We no longer order our lives according to our own thoughts and desires, nor do we order them according to what the world or anyone else says is right or true. Growing in our faith is the process of reading and hearing God’s word, and allowing that word to transform how we see ourselves, others, the world, and God.
Placing yourself in the Gospel: So, if faith is based on what God has said is true or will happen, we should ask the question, “How do I know what God is saying to me, or what He has promised me?” We’ve talked a lot about what God promised Abraham and what he said to Abraham. Abraham is an example of faith. But the promise of a son was to Abraham specifically. To know what applies to us, we look to those portions of Scripture that apply to all believers, like the promises in the Psalm reading. We look to the epistles to see what the apostles taught about our life in Christ. We learn not only about how God will provide for our needs, but also about how it is that He wants us to live our lives. We learn who we are, and by continually referring back to God’s word, we learn how it is that God can completely change our lives.
Living our lives in the power of His promise. Like Abraham, faith can completely change everything about us if we know what God has promised to do in us. The greatest promise of all is the promise that comes in Christ, that we hear in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” We are well past Holy Week and Easter, but the Christian faith always looks back to Good Friday, Jesus on the Cross, crucified for our sins. And once again, we hear God telling us that if we believe in Christ to make us right with God, He will embrace us and usher us into His Kingdom. The heavenly country that Abraham saw afar off is the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns as King. Those who believe in Christ eagerly await His coming again, knowing that they have a sure reward.