Faith is one of the foundational doctrines listed in Hebrews 6. Faith is easy to talk about, but having real faith can be difficult. How is our faith tested? Why do we lack faith and struggle with faith? Listen for answers to these questions and to gain an understanding of how we can have real faith. This is the first sermon in a series covering the fundamental teachings of Hebrews 6.
[Gary Petty] You may have heard the story before…it’s an old story that…it’s been told in a lot of different ways to make a point. It’s not true. It’s fiction. It’s about a man that was hiking through the woods, looking at the trees, and enjoying himself, and hiking through the woods. He wasn’t paying attention, and he comes to this underbrush, and he steps off a cliff, and he falls about 20 feet, as he goes down, hitting trees and brush. Finally, he grabs a hold of some brush and lands on a big bush that’s there. And he’s just lying there in shock for a while. He slowly gets his senses back, and he realizes, “Oh, I think I have broken my arm and sprained my ankle.” And he’s lying there on a bush. He looks up. He’s fallen about 20 feet. He can’t climb up. Then he looks, and it’s probably 50 feet to the ground, and he can’t climb down. He’s lying there, and you know, the panic sets in, and he starts yelling, “Help, help! Is there anybody up there that can help me? Is there anybody that can hear me?” He realizes he doesn’t have his cell phone, and what’s he going to do? So, all day long he hollers, “Help! Help! Somebody help me!”
As time goes on, he becomes dehydrated. He starts to lose his voice. And it starts to get dark. He says, “I’m getting cold. I’m going into shock. I’m going to die here, and who knows when anybody will find me?” In desperation, as he lies there hanging on to that big bush in pain, in shock, he silently says, “God, I haven’t paid much attention to you. I don’t know much about you. But if you could just please save me. Could you help me? God, could you help me in any way? I mean, I would turn my life over to you. I would follow you. I would obey you, if you could just help me.”
And suddenly he hears a voice, from someone right on the edge above him, that says, “I’m here.” He says, “Good! Who are you? Finally, somebody came! Who are you?” “Well, it’s God.” “Yeah, how do I know you are God?” He said, “You just prayed silently in your head. You’ve been yelling all day and there’s nobody up here. You just prayed silently. Who would know that you prayed except me? So I’m here.” The man thinks about it, and he says, “You really are God. You’ve come to help me.” He said, “Yes, I have.” “Well, how are you going to save me? Angels? Are you going to heal me? What are you going to do?” God says, “Well, do you really believe that I am all-powerful – that I can do whatever I say I can do?” “Yes!” “Do you believe that I’m going to save you? You simply have to do what I say.” He said, “Yes!” “So, you believe and have total faith now that I am God, I can save you, and you’re just going to do what I say?” And he said, “Yes!” He’s getting really excited now. “Yes, I will do whatever. I believe, I believe, I believe!” He hears the voice say, “Just let go.” There’s a long silence, and then you hear the man yell, “Is there anybody else up there?”
Now you know, that’s a silly joke that’s been around for a long time. How many of you heard that before? Some of you heard it before, and the rest of you figured out where it was going to go. There’s nothing subtle about it.
Faith is a very difficult subject. We can talk about it. It’s easy to get up here and read scriptures about faith. You go home, and you read scriptures about faith. But real faith, having faith, experiencing faith is difficult. It is interesting that in Hebrews 6, we have – the apostle Paul tells us in Hebrews 6, what he calls – the foundational doctrines of the church. Of all the things that we learn from the scriptures – you know, to love God and love our neighbor. We start with that. But then, we get to, what are the foundational doctrines of the church itself? We learn about God, but then he says, “Okay, here are the things that we build off of as the people of God. Hebrews 6:1 Hebrews 6:1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
American King James Version×and 2:
Hebrews 6:1-2 Hebrews 6:1-2 1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
American King James Version×– Therefore leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ…. So he starts with: We have to know who Jesus Christ is. If we don’t know who Jesus Christ is, we are not Christians. So, we have to know who Jesus Christ is. …let us go on to perfection . So, we have to move forward into perfection – in holiness. God makes us holy. That is what the whole doctrine of sanctification is. God is making people holy. …not laying again the foundation . So, here’s the foundation: Repentance from dead works, faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms of the laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, and this we will do if God permits. So he says, “This is the foundation. We don’t have to lay this again.” We don’t have to lay this foundation again. We have six basic teachings. And he said, “This is what the church is built on – after Christ. Now obviously, Christ is the foundation, but then this is laid on top of that.
This is actually going to be the first in a series of sermons where we’re going to go through those six foundational concepts. I’m not starting with repentance. I’m starting with faith – and there’s a reason for that. Faith and repentance are connected together, but usually faith happens first. This is what brings us to repentance, because we have to start believing something and moving towards something. So, we’re going to look at a definition of faith. You say, “Oh, a series of doctrinal sermons. Well, that’s just some information we’re going to receive.” No, this has to be more than information. These doctrines are the foundation of our belief system. The foundation of our belief system.
I read something very interesting this week that I’m actually – because of it – I’m creating a sermon I’m going to give sometime in the future. It was by a young man. He was an evangelical who went out the witness for his church. And he was talking about his experiences witnessing for God and he was out doing this. He gave a list of people that he had talked to and that he had wonderful conversations with. He said he had talked to…I can’t remember if it was a Hindu or a Buddhist. He had talked to somebody who was basically an agnostic – sort of believed God existed. He talked to a person who was a homosexual who believed that God didn’t care about those kinds of things. He talked to all these people and said he had wonderful conversations. He had long conversations with them and he felt like there was a connection. In other words, he liked them, they liked him he like them, and he invited everyone of them to his church. And he said he realized that not one person that he talked to was interested in coming to his church. They were interested in the conversations, but they weren’t interested in his beliefs. So, then he started talking to other young people that went to his church.
He came to a conclusion most of them were really not interested. Then he talked to people of all ages in his church and realized that most of these people really aren’t interested. They do it, but what is missing? It was a fascinating article as he went through sort of a self-examination of what is the problem here? So, he went to his pastor, and he told his pastor – this was an article that was in a Christian magazine – and he said, “I went to my pastor,” and he said, “I figured out why most people we talked to aren’t interested, and even people in our church aren’t interested.” He said, “Because we are quoting a book no one has read.” He said, “Even people in our church haven’t read the book.” He says, “I’m out there trying to teach people what a book says and none of them believe in the book.” To understand these doctrines – what Paul said are the foundations built on top of Christ – we have to know the book. The book tells us what these mean.
So, what is faith? Our definition has to come from the book. What most people believe faith is, is a feeling. Now, emotions and feelings are part of faith, but emotions and feelings aren’t everything about faith. It’s part of it, but it is not everything. We have to really understand what faith is. Let’s go to Hebrews 11 – just a few pages over. This just seems like such an odd sentence. What in the world does this sentence mean? Verse one:
Hebrews 11:1 Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
American King James Version×– Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The substance of things hoped for. It is the reality of something you hope for. And it is the evidence – absolute evidence – that something exists. In other words, your faith that God exists is based in the reality that He does exist. And you must believe that that’s reality. It is the substance . You know, it‘s like saying, “I believe there are cars outside parked in the parking lot. I can’t see them, but I believe they are there. I can see them in my mind and I know they are there. There is a substance to my belief. It’s there. And there is a reality, in other words, to my belief. There is a reality in what you have faith in. In fact, faith is only as real as what you have faith in .
Notice how many movies today people talk about faith. You just have to believe. But they don’t tell you what you have to believe in, because nobody wants to talk about God. You just have to have faith, or you just have to believe. I am amazed at how many times you find that in movies or television – just have faith. Faith in what? As if faith itself is the substance. Faith itself isn’t the substance. The reality isn’t your faith. The reality is what you believe in . It’s the faith that you have. In other words, if I have total faith in Hindu gods – which there are people who do – total faith in Hindu gods, that faith is meaningless. It’s just as real as having faith that the earth is flat. It’s meaningless. It denies reality. There is no substance to it. Faith is an absolute belief in God. And you hope for it, and there is substance to it, because you know it’s real. You know He’s there. Verse 2 says:
V-2 – By faith the elders obtained a good testimony . He is talking about the people that are in the scripture. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. In other words, we believe in God because of the reality of creation. The reality of creation shows us there is a God, period. That leads us to the belief in this great God.
This is a nice definition and we can understand this intellectual understanding of it. And that’s good. We need to have that. But you know, the reality of it is, you and I face challenges to our faith. When we face these challenges, we are just like the man hanging off the cliff, because the problem to the challenges to our faith is, eventually, you and I will be faced with an impossibility that only God can solve. That happens to us. We will be faced with impossibilities that only God can solve. What do we do? Look at Hebrews 11, verse 6. Go down here just a few verses. Here the writer of Hebrews states:
V-6 – Without faith it is impossible to please Him – to please God. For you and me to have a relationship with God, we have to have faith. Now we are going to talk about how you and I can grow in faith, because “Oh my, I’m lost here, because my faith is very small. I believe God exists, but that is about it.” There has to be more to it than that. Now he says: for he who comes to God – now here we find elements of faith, but actually, what we are looking at is a progression of faith - he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him .
Now we have three things here. We must believe that God is . That’s where faith begins. To believe there is a God – a creator of all things. We must believe that He is a rewarder . In other words, we obey Him. We follow Him. We actually trust in Him. And because we trust in Him, we seek Him. Look at the elements there. We believe that He is. We believe that He rewards us. Now why does He reward us? When we go through repentance – our turning to Him, our giving of our lives to Him…. God requires that we give our lives to Him. In doing so, He promises to change us. He promises rewards – not only in this life, but in the future – not because we earn these rewards. He gives them to us, because of our response to Him. Our response to Him is we must seek Him. Without seeking God, there is no faith.
Oh, you believe. Faith starts with belief, and moves into trust. And that’s what you find in the scriptures. It starts with belief and moves into trust. So, when people say, “I believe and that is enough,” the scripture says, “That is not true” – especially the book of James. Another sermon I hope to do – or series of sermons – in the near future is on justification, and sanctification, and salvation, and how those things fit together. So, it starts with the belief in God, and moves toward acceptance of God as our redeemer, and moves into this trust. “Okay, I don’t just accept God. I trust God, and therefore I will seek Him. If I am seeking God, I will do what He says. If I seek God” – which is an element of faith – “then I will do what He says.” So, to have faith in God and not seek His guidance, seek His commandments, and seek what He does in your life, is not really faith. It’s simply belief.
So how is our faith then tried? How is it tested? What are these things come upon us? We’re tested in a lot of different ways, just because of the world we live in – where most people don’t have true faith in God. We’re tried by Satan. We’re tried by our own weaknesses. Sometimes we have a lack of faith in God simply because we’re tired, or we’re sick. When you are sick. and worn out. it is easy not to have faith in God, because of our weakness. But what are some of the areas we are tested in?
Well, of course the belief that God really exists. If we are still struggling with the belief that God exists, we can’t trust Him. How do you trust somebody that you don’t, at your core, believe exists? If you don’t believe He exists, you can’t trust Him. So, if we are still struggling at that level, then we’re not really talking about trust yet. And that’s a struggle. Does God exist? That’s a struggle. If we are at that level of a struggle, then we can’t trust Him yet. We’re just struggling with, does He exist? Once we work through, “Okay, He exists,” then we have to believe, can we trust Him? Boy, now we are entering a whole new world.
We also are then tested: do we believe the Bible is His inspired Word? His inspired word. There are lots of people who believe in God, but don’t believe in the Bible as His inspired word. They just don’t believe it. So, our faith will be tested. And what is interesting, how do we prove what faith is? Through the book. That’s why I am thinking about doing a whole sermon on The Book. Everything we know about God comes from either observation of nature or The Book. Our observation of nature can lead us to wrong conclusions. In Pantheism, God is nature – mother nature – worship it as a God. It is to study nature without The Book. So, The Book is central to Christianity. Without The Book, there is no Christianity. There is no Christ. The only mention of Jesus in secular history is that He existed. The Romans said he existed and the Jews said He existed. But we don’t know anything about His teachings from the Jews or the Romans. We don’t know who He is, except He was some man, who was a traveling Rabbi and the Romans killed him. That is all we know from secular history. It is The Book that tells us. Without The Book, we don’t know. So, we have to believe in The Book – that is, the Word of God. We have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – that The Book says that, and we believe that.
And only His death and resurrection can pay for our sins – that God loves us enough to do that. Sometimes, we can’t forgive ourselves, because we won’t accept God’s forgiveness, because we don’t believe it. We don’t believe that God has forgiven us. So, we hold on to our sins. We don’t believe that He’s personally involved in our lives – that He’ll work out all things for our good, even though it may be painful at the time. We have to believe that He is our rewarder, that He listens to our prayers. We have to believe and trust that His laws and His ways are good for us, even though, sometimes, you can obey God and have a negative penalty at the beginning of it – other people dislike you or you lose a job or something. You have to believe that obeying Him leads to good in your life.
Also, one area that we are really tried in the church, is the belief that Christ is the head of the church. We are always trying to solve everything ourselves, because we really don’t believe He is the head of the church. That has been a profound lack of faith in the church over the last 20-30 years – the belief that Christ is the head of the church. We are always trying to solve everything ourselves. So why do we do this?
We have this definition. Everybody here believes that you have to have faith. Everybody here believes that faith is one of the foundational doctrines of the church. Everybody here believes that the Bible says, “You must have faith.” Why do we have such a hard time really having it – really having it? Well there is a number of reasons. I want to go through some of the reasons why we lack faith – why we struggle with faith – because this lays the foundation now for what we are going to talk about in repentance – when we talk about repentance. And we’ll talk about baptisms. I say, “Baptism s ,” because there are more than one. We’ll go through the laying on of hands, and go through the resurrections, and we will go through eternal judgments. So, you know as we go through each of these, remember these are just surveys of these subjects. We can’t go into total detail on all of these or we’d spend the next year on these – doing nothings but these six subjects. So, we are going to do a survey of each one.
The first reason or way that we lack faith – there are a lot of reasons – these are not all of them, but these are ones that are quite common – is what I call the hero fallacy . We somehow believe that we read the Bible, but it doesn’t mean anything to us, because, well, first of all, those people seem to be in such weird cultures and so far away and so distant from us that we can’t relate to them, and secondly, they weren’t like us . These people weren’t like us. These people, somehow, had a nature different than us, and they were more spiritually stronger than us, or smarter than us, or something, because none of us could have the faith that they had.
James 5 – James, chapter 5 – this whole statement here, I think, is very interesting. Verse 17. He is talking about what God did to Elijah. Notice the little parenthetical statement James makes.
James 5:17 James 5:17Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
American King James Version×– Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth produced its fruit .
Now he could have just said, “Elijah prayed and these miracles happened,” but he says, “Elijah, who was in nature just like us.”And you go read the story of Elijah, and what happened after he did this? His faith collapsed. He was so overwhelmed by what happened, he ran away, hid in a cave, and said, “God, just kill me. This is too much for me.” Isn’t that interesting? We pull out the great events, and sometimes we miss the humanity of these people. When you read the stories of the people in the Bible, you are going to find certain people you are drawn to. You know me, I am drawn to David. I am drawn to Paul. I am drawn to Abigail. I mean, there are just certain people in the Bible I am drawn to. I look at these people and say, “Yeah, I associate with these people.”
I have had people ask me about prayer. One of the things you can do, in prayer, is start studying all the prayers in the Bible – not the instructions about praying, but the actual prayers. There are a lot of them. You can buy a book called All the Prayers of the Bible , and it’s probably 250 pages. This is all the prayers of the Bible. I’m not saying go buy it, because you can do that research yourself. But when you do the research, and look at all the prayers, you will find certain prayers that the prayers themselves mean something to you. I think of Hannah’s prayer. That means something to me. I think of Agar’s prayer in Proverbs. That means something to me. Somehow, in studying their prayers, you connect to those people.
They were real people and their lives, though different than ours…. They would find our lives unbelievably hectic, unbelievably fast, and unbelievable chaotic. They would be amazed that we live better than the kings of their day. They couldn’t even imagine the wealth that you and I have, and how you and I live. It’s just beyond them. But when you strip it all away, we are people, just like them. That is what makes it so interesting in Hebrews, where Paul, once again, talks about them . Hebrews 11 talks about all these people in the Faith Chapter. We say, “Oh great, he talks about Abraham and Sarah when they received their son, Moses who received protection from God.” And he goes through all these people. But you know, we’re mentioned in there, too. Let’s go to Hebrews 11, because this is called the Faith Chapter. Let’s start in verse 30 – he says:
Hebrews 11:30-35 Hebrews 11:30-35 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
American King James Version×– By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe when she received the spies with peace . She believed in God, and she followed God, and because of that she was saved. Or what more shall I say – verse 32 – for the time would fail me to talk of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens, women received their dead raised to life again.
When we read that, boy, that’s inspiring! But there isn’t anyone in this room, that I know of, that’s conquered armies. Most of us haven’t brought down kingdoms, right? You look at that list and say, “Wow! I have never stopped the mouth of a lion.” Now the point here is, neither did they. God did it, and they were participating with what God did. Remember, it’s their faith. It’s their trust in God. It’s who or what you have faith in that matters. If you have faith in the United States government, well, welcome to an unhappy life. Right? What do you have faith in? If it is in God, then God does these things. We like to stop there, but let’s pick it up in the second half of verse 35.
V-35-38 – Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they may obtain a better resurrection. And others had trials of mocking, and scourgings, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, were sawn in two, were tempted and slain with a sword. They wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted and tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in desserts, and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth.
Wow! Now these are people who are listed as people of great faith. See, we look at the heroes and say, “Daniel, he’s my hero, because God shut the mouths of the lions.” It’s generally accepted that the one sawn in two here is Isaiah – ripped apart. One legend has it that they tied horses to his arms and his legs and pulled him apart. Paul had his head cut off. Peter was crucified – at least from what we know from history. Wow! It said these endured, because of their trust in God. That’s the other side of faith. This hero fallacy can’t separate us. The people of the Bible never had trials. We say, “The people had faith there, because God always answered their prayer.” God answered their prayers, but not always in the way that they wanted it answered. They trusted in His answer. Now, I don’t like that. I want God to answer every one of my prayers the way I want Him to, and that’s the way I am. Now maybe you are different, but that’s the way I am. But you know, He is not going to. And we have to trust Him. Notice verse 39 :
V-39-40 – Now all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise. They did not receive the promise yet of the resurrection. They are not in heaven. Why? Verse 40: God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
In other words, we’re going through out test of faith now, and our trials of faith, and our trust in God, so that when Christ returns, whether we are alive or dead, when we are changed and resurrected, we will be in the same group as Abraham and Sarah. This is our calling. This is what faith is about. They are not perfected until everybody is ready to be perfected. That’s us, and, if Christ doesn’t come back for a hundred years, it’s the next generation, and the next generation, and the next generation that is perfected for that. And that is our faith. Our faith is in that – that we are being perfected for that. When we are changed we are made perfect. This process is complete. And that’s our faith. We can’t say, “Oh, we are not like these people.” Yes, we might be some of the fortunate ones who are there when Christ returns. Of course, we’ll have to go through the tribulation to be there. I don’t know how you define fortunate. We might be one of the ones who die and are resurrected then. The point is, is that our faith is that . Our trust is in God to get us there in what He is doing.
The second reason we lack faith is sometimes – and I want you to listen to this, because we can do this – sometimes, we can do an action that is right, but we’re relying on our own power and our own righteousness instead of God. What do you mean? Sometimes we can do something that’s right and feel so good about what we are doing, but we are doing it because of ourselves, and we’re not doing it for God. Let me show you an example – Matthew 17 – because it’s really not faith. Well, it is faith – it’s faith in ourselves. We can have faith in ourselves, thinking that it’s faith in God. This is a very interesting story here – Matthew 17, verse 14:
Matthew 17:14 Matthew 17:14And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
American King James Version×– And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Jesus kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord have mercy on my son for he is an epileptic and suffers severely, so he often falls into the fire and the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered and said, “Oh faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him and the child was cured from that very hour.
So, the disciples come to Jesus privately and say, “Well, we did what was right. In the name of Jesus, we had cast them out, like you told us to.” He had given them instructions on how to cast out demons. “We stood there and boldly did what you told us to do, and nothing happened. How come?” Jesus said, “Because of your unbelief.”
Now understand, the confidence they had to stand before a demon-possessed person and say, “In the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of God, I command that you leave.” That takes a lot of courage. That takes a lot of belief, doesn’t it? They had to have belief to do it. He says, “No, you’re missing something in your belief. This is actually unbelief. You were doing it because you thought you had the power to do it.” And they didn’t have the power to do it. God did. So, they were calling on God’s power to do it. They did not have the power to cast the demon out themselves. God had the power. And they were calling on God’s power. Notice what He says to them. “I say to you, if you have faith as 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.” Now the next statement is what’s very important. “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
He says, “Your problem, guys, is that you were not close enough to God. You weren’t praying. You weren’t fasting. You weren’t in the attitude and a state of mind that God could work through you. So what happened is, God didn’t work through you. You were standing there in your own power, representing God, believing in God, but,” He said, “you weren’t close enough to God, because you forgot where the power came from.” Sometimes, what we can do, if we are not careful, is we’re living our lives on our own power, forgetting where the power comes from. It comes from God. You and I can’t do this. We can’t. Only God can.
A third reason. A third reason is, we simply haven’t accepted that God loves us, and He has our best interest at heart. Many times, we can believe in God, but we resist Him, because of a struggle that we really don’t trust God’s motives. We really don’t trust God’s motives. We buy into a wrong viewpoint of God. We literally try to make God in our own image. “Well, God really doesn’t condemn people that worship idols. He really doesn’t, because a loving God wouldn’t do that.” So, at that point, what we are doing is, we’re creating God in our own image and believing in someone who really doesn’t exist.
What if someone treated you that way? What if your husband, or your wife, came home every day – let’s just say “your husband” – you can switch this any way you want – your husband comes home and says, “Honey, I know you really like Coca Cola, and I bought you another six pack of Coke to show you I love you.” She says, “I hate Coca Cola. I haven’t had Coca Cola in years. We have an entire garage full of Coca Cola.” And the next day, he shows up and says, “Sweetie, I know you love Coca Cola. Here’s a six pack of Coca Cola.” After a while, she’d say, “You really don’t know me, and you really don’t love me, because I am telling you I don’t like that.”
Don’t we do that with God? We come to these conclusions and we make God in our own image. Because we don’t accept God – who He is. We don’t accept who He is. That is what makes Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount so interesting, when He says that God knows what you need. God wants to give it to you, so don’t be so anxious. We hold on to our anxieties. You know why we hold on to our anxieties? I hold on to my anxieties because I know why I’m doing it. I don’t trust God. So, we hold on to them. Now a certain amount of anxiety, as a human being, is normal. Jesus suffered anxiety, so I am not saying anxiety is a sin. I am saying, if we hold on to them until we are obsessed with our anxieties, what we’re doing then is, we’re not trusting God. We are not trusting God.
So I’m not talking about normal anxiety I am talking about obsessive anxiety – which we all do from time to time. We hold on to these things – these fears – because we don’t trust God enough. That’s why Jesus talked about that in the Sermon on the Mount. Let go of it! Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and God will take care of the rest. That is such a simple statement. We all know if by heart, but we don’t live by it. Because it’s hard. It’s a test of our faith. We just don’t yet totally trust “I will do what He says, because He knows what He’s doing, and He loves me.” We don’t accept His love, because we don’t want Him to be who He is. We want Him to be somebody else. We want to make Him into our image – whatever it is. We make Him as an elderly grandfather. We make Him as genie in a bottle. Most people see Him as this sort of, angry cop in the sky – this guy that is just out to get you – to punish you. That’s not who He is. Now God has anger and He is love. He is all these things, but we misinterpret who He is. We make Him in our own image.
A fourth reason is, that we lack the experience of stepping out in faith in the small areas. So, when we are faced with the big issues, we are totally unprepared. God works through us and prepares us in small ways. It’s very interesting. This is what David told Saul in 1 Samuel. We know the story here. Goliath is out there challenging the people of Israel. No one is going out to face this guy. I mean, he is twice as big as anybody. Before services, we were talking about his spear. None of us can even throw this thing. When he hurled this thing and it hit somebody, it was like throwing a telephone pole at them. It would kill them immediately. Here is David going to face this huge guy. 1 Samuel 17, verse 32:
1 Samuel 17:32 1 Samuel 17:32And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.
American King James Version×– And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine and fight with him. You are but a youth, and he is a man of war from his youth.” He said, “What do you know? This man has been killing men his whole life. He is an expert warrior. He knows nothing but combat. He’s huge. He’s strong. There is no way you are going to go out there and survive very long at all.” But David said to Saul – now this is interesting. Here is his faith – “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it and delivered the lamb out of its mouth, and when it rose against me I caught it by its beard and struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them – seeing that he defied the armies of the living God. Then notice verse 37 :
V-37 – “Moreover,” – David says – “the Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He shall deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go and the Lord be with you.”
In other words, “I understand, Saul. I have no chance of beating this man, but God will. And I know God will. I fought a lion and I fought a bear. And I prayed, and God helped me, and I killed them both to save my flocks. If God can help me kill a bear, He can bring this guy down.” And God did. Now he did it through David, but David wasn’t under any illusion that he went out there, and he was just bigger stronger and faster and a better warrior than Goliath. He didn’t go out there with that illusion. He didn’t come back and say, “Look what a man I am!” He came back and said, “Look what God did.” Look what God did.
We trust in ourselves, and then we have these big issues that come up in life, and we are totally unprepared. God didn’t have David just go out and face Goliath, God prepared him to face Goliath. When we don’t notice, and we don’t react properly in these small issues of faith, what are we going to do when the big things happen? This is one of the reasons we don’t have faith. We’re not following God in the little areas – in the small areas. We’re not stepping out in faith in the small ways. Because the big issues are going to come. They come for all of us from time to time. All of us have faced major confrontations, major tests of our faith. And you will again. You will again. We face these major tests of our faith, and sometimes we aren’t dealing with the minor tests, if you will.
Another reason: we lack faith because we don’t understand what it is. We have been talking about that from the very beginning. We don’t have a proper definition of faith in our own minds. Faith involves such trust. It involves sacrifice, and pain, and dedication, and commitment, opposition from others. Faith involves all these things and being true to God – staying true to God. What we do is, we confuse faith with wishful thinking, or just simply emotion, or hope. Hope and faith are connected, but they are different. Sometimes, what we think is faith is just stubbornness. “I’m waiting for God to give me a job. So, I am watching the Price is Right all day long.” Is that still on? I don’t know if that’s still on. Who would know? Is it? Well, okay. When I was a little kid – I don’t know, 6th or 7th grade – and was sick, and stayed home from school, my mom let me watch TV, and I would watch the Price is Right , Family Feud , and a bunch of other shows that probably aren’t on anymore.
So, we confuse stubbornness with faith. “I’m just sitting here waiting at home for God to give ma a job.” That’s not faith. Faith is. “God will give me a job, I have to go look for one. I have to do my part. I have to participate in what God is doing.” Sometimes it’s laziness. Sometimes it’s fear. We fear something. “So I will just trust in God,” and we are actually fearing something. Sometimes it’s self-righteousness. We confuse all these things with faith – with faith. We have to understand what it is. It starts with belief and moves toward a dedication and understanding of substance of things hoped for. And then God is our rewarder, so we are willingly obeying Him, and we love Him, and we seek Him. It is interesting that seeking God is part of the explanation of what faith is. If you have faith, you are seeking Him. If you believe and you are not seeking Him, then you don’t have faith. You have belief. Belief is just an element of faith.
Then one last reason. We lack faith because we don’t ask God for it. You know, this isn’t a matter of you and I just working up enough faith. “I’ll just work up enough belief, and then all these things will happen.” If we do that, we can be like the disciples trying to cast out the demon. “I worked up my faith. Here I am. I’ve worked it up. I cast you out.” God says, “No, no, no, no. I cast them out. You just happen to be the ones there saying the words. I cast them out, okay?” So, what we have to realize is, sometimes we don’t have faith because we don’t ask for it.
Mark 9 is one of those profound sections of the scriptures. Mark 9 has had a profound effect on my life. It is one of those places I go to, every once in a while, because it brings something back into focus here. Even the apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” They even said, “Increase our faith,” because they realized, of themselves, they brought this little bit of faith, and for God to be in them, He had to expand their faith. Look at verse 14.
Mark 9:14 Mark 9:14And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
American King James Version×– Now when He – speaking of Jesus – came to his disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes disputing with them. And immediately when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed and ran to him, and greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What were you discussing?” And one in the crowd answered and said…. So, there was this huge crowd of people around the disciples. Jesus walks up, everybody says, “Oh wow! It’s Jesus!” And this big crowd turns to Him, and He says, “What are you all talking about?”
This man says, “Teacher I brought you my son, who has a mean spirit. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, he foams at the mouth and gnashes his teeth, and he becomes rigid. I brought him to your disciples and asked them to cast it out, but they could not.” Once again, another case where the disciples were trying to do something they weren’t prepared to do. There wasn’t enough prayer and fasting in their lives. There wasn’t enough closeness to God for them to actually call on God’s power, so they were literally trying to use their power – “I cast you out,” instead of “in the name of Jesus Christ, Almighty God cast you out.”
He answered and said, “Oh faithless generation, how long will I bear with you ? Bring him to Me.” Then he brought him to Him, and when they saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed in him and brought him to the ground while foaming at the mouth. So, He asked his father, “How long this has been happening?” And his father said, “Since childhood. And it has often thrown him both into the fire and the water to destroy him. If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. And Jesus said, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
There is that remarkable statement about faith. This is absolute. It is not just belief. It is trust . You believe God is there, and you believe God can do great things. Do you trust in God? Do you trust that God will do what is best? Do you trust that God is actually going to be involved? It’s the next statement that is so human, and it’s so real. And it’s a statement that I have found myself in from time to time. That’s why I keep going back to Mark 9. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” He understood, “I can only go so far. You’re saying, if I have faith, all this can happen. Why I have some faith, but I am too small to have that much faith.”
And it says: When Jesus saw that the people all came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit. And it left. It left . Some scholars believe this is actually the same story that we read in the other one. This one just has more details.
But, Lord I believe; help my unbelief . I think this is a great lesson for us. I think you and I, crying out for God to help us, as we do, we also have to cry out in those times, “I believe, help my unbelief. Help me to have faith that I do not have. Help me to grow in a way that I cannot.” “If I can just work up enough faith….” You and I can’t work up enough faith. We can only give ourselves to God, and believe enough to let Him do some work in us. Now it takes our belief. It takes our faith. But we are sorely mistaken if we think we have enough. We only have enough to submit and let God do His work. We have enough to submit and let God do His work. We have enough to go to God and say, “I believe, help my unbelief,” and have Him help our unbelief. If we don’t face the fact that all of us have weak faith, then we can never grow in faith. And the only way we deal with weak faith is to go to God and say, “I believe, help my unbelief.” There is no other way to do it. Then have God work in you.
Sometimes we don’t have faith, because we don’t ask for it. We haven’t gone to God and asked Him to help us grow in faith. Now the problem is, you will ask to grow in faith, and you are probably going to have a test on your faith. He may not give you Goliath, just a bear. You know, you may not get Goliath, but you’ll just get a bear. But He is going to test it. But it’s always in little ways, until you get to the big ways. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It begins with belief and moves to an acceptance of God as a rewarder, which leads to our willingness to obey, and then matures into trust. In trust then, we commit our lives to seek God and His guidance and His ways and His desires in our life – not our desires, His desires. We give up our desires for His because we believe His are better. God’s desires are better than ours. Remember, faith only becomes real when you face the impossible. That’s when it is real. So, faith is only real when you and I are hanging on the cliff. We can’t get up and we can’t get down, and God says, “I have the solution. Have faith in Me and let go.” And faith is when we do.