AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - June 18, 2006
Biblical in Faith, Presbyterian in Background, Serving the Lord
FEATURES AND FOCI IN FAITH - Nahum 1:8
"The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble,
and He knows those who trust in Him;
but with an overflowing flood, He will make an utter end of its place,
and darkness will pursue His enemies."
This is our keynote verse as we ponder FAITH. That God is good, like the flowers of the Golden Showers creeper, the glory of the stout-hearted oak, the tingling exhilaration of oxygen-rich pure air, is foundational to all thought, practice and life. To accuse Him of sin who made liberty which begets sin through lust of various kinds, is mere madness; for all depends on Him, He needs nothing and provides all, including the darkness which pursues His enemies, as in John 3:19,3:36. There is reason for it; if you turn out the light, that is what is left; and what is left pursues what is righteous, as did Judas the Lord; and this is its way.
Yet the Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He KNOWS those who trust in Him. This is the second great feature. I KNOW MY SHEEP and they FOLLOW ME! (John 10). You, He says Israel, are "the descendants of Abraham, My friend!" What a place to be in, to be the friend of God! Yet Christ Himself (John 15) declared, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made know to you." Earlier, He declared this: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." Despite lapses or little faith here or there, they were now His friends. He knows, you see, those who put their trust in Him. That is faith, but it has many substitutes, and four of these we see below. Let us regard it.
I FORMAL FAITH - II Timothy 3:1-5
Here there is a form which is featured, a mode of speaking, of looking, an attitude that this is what one does, ceremonies in which one participates, here is the regulatory religious body, and one seeks not to offend it. One goes to church, or Satan worship, or whatever else fills the chosen bill, and that is the skin over one's life; but it never touches the heart: yet if it does, it is as what is outside, and there is no love, trust and security. It may lead to lust, to hatred, to murder, or to giving a pittance; it may become a feature, like beer and footy, but is an external thing, either in behaviour or in its rites. It may impel, but it does not control. It may impassion, but it does not lead. It may be changed and exchange: it is chosen. However Christ declared this: "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you."
In formal faith, you do not trust in the POWER of God: either there is no power or it is not of God. The ultimate, intimate, internally reigning God of all comfort is not yours, in this artifice. You are one natural object, and it is another, and if the so-called 'supernatural' enters in, it too is a natural object, a mystery or a thought, an idea or a culture, or even an evil spirit, like the devil, to whose hand your soul is simply sold. It neither reigns nor rules and evokes hope, at best, but faith has no end in it, for it ends, like all the rest of creation, without God.
This is the kind shown in II Timothy 3, predicted for perversion of faith at the end of the Age: "having a form of godliness but denying its power." "From such people turn away", we are told, for they are "always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Christianity is their lair, but their excesses can spill like liquid, into any domain as they veer and sneer, leer and luxuriate in being lost. Many linger with them, and are lost.
II FICTIONAL FAITH - Isaiah 7:10-14.
Here there is the appearance of actual faith, but it has learned never to put itself on the spot where action has meaning; for its object is a fiction, it lives a story, and there is no story teller: God Himself is missing. In the above prophecy, King Ahaz of Judah, a tricky, deviating denizen of spiritual drabness, is offered UNLIMITED help through the prophet Isaiah, as he confronts an impossible seeming team of enemies now at his door.
In answer, he does not say, "I do not believe," nor does he decline, averring, "Who is God that I should serve Him! " It is faith, you see, but fictional; for it does not actually work. Instead, he cries, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord." In this, he uses the WORDS of faith, as if sanctity forbad him to dare to actually ask God for anything real; but he refuses the offer being made. He wants to appear religious, not to be faithful; to talk religion, but in an inoperative manner. God's reply ?
"Hear now, O house of David!
Is it a small thing for you to weary men,
but will you weary my God also!"
Isaiah then predicts the coming virgin birth of the Messiah, further itemised in Isaiah 9,with His works then foretold in 11, 32, 49-55, 61 and so on; but it will not help Judah, for just as they did not ASK in FAITH, what was OFFERED by divine authority from God, so do they not GET the things most important. Yet these great things, they had them shown to them, though it came for another generation! God is not mocked. Those who believed received.
III FICTITIOUS FAITH - Zechariah 11, John 6:70, Matthew 26:14-16.
Here there is an inwardly acknowledged lack of faith. It is not just little, it is not even in hospital, sick: it is absent. Judas, for example, ACTIVELY PLANNED to betray Christ, had the whole episode worked out to the last monetary unit - 30 to be precise, just as Zechariah 11:12 predicted for the sale of the Lord, declaring it, with irony, a 'princely price.' That was the price of God, and many have more expensive ones, this the price of land. The walk in the company of the people of God, in the sight of His actions did nothing to alter the walk of the heart, which had other objectives, and found God not convenient.
IV FUNCTIONAL FAITH - Luke 10:30ff.
In this illustration, a man was in trouble, a victim of robberies, left lying by the road. Religiosity passed him, dressed in robes. They knew, the priest and the Levite, HOW to look after number one, in their functional faith, their use of God for their own purposes, speaking the right words, perhaps, but not doing them, deploying God as a bulwark against flood, or a comfort feature and focus in life, but knowing nothing at all of saving faith.
Save ? What was there to save but themselves from difficulties and their lives from shame! What is all this, for the number one question is the number one person, oneself.
TO die daily is religious verbiage (I Corinthians 15:31, II Corinthians 4:11, Galatians 2:20), and to sacrifice for the Lord in the love of God is a foreign language. Their 'faith' is a fidget function of craving personality, and its centre and focus is themselves. It took a man with heart to show the concern that the others lacked, and this concern exemplifies what faith does in its life, not just in this or that case, but as a characteristic: it seeks to SERVE GOD HIMSELF, and His commands are signs and signals on the way.
V SAVING FAITH - Matthew 16:13-16, Luke 22:61-62
In this case, we see Peter examined with the rest by the Lord Jesus Christ, and asked to identify Him. Peter declared that He was the Son of the living God, the Christ. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, said Jesus, but My Father who is in heaven.
This is faith which starts with God, in believing in Him, proceeds with Christ, in receiving both Him and His testimony, continues as did Peter, in walking with the Lord and meeting the challenges of time, as after Gethsemane, in the garden, when soldiers of test came. It may waver, as Peter did, but is contrite as Peter was (Luke 22:61-62): "
"And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.
And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, Before the cock crows, you will deny Me thrice.
And Peter went out, and wept bitterly."
Saving faith is not perfected faith, but operational faith. If you fall, you arise, having repented, and you seek as Peter did, the face of the Lord (John 21:7); nothing will hold or delay you, because you believe. Does the financier doubt when he sees that the price falls, and his shares are in danger ? Money is his desire, action is his necessity. There is no 'talk'. He acts. If GOD is your desire, and your ways are in peril, then you act. You do not luxuriate in talk: you walk, yes run! Moreover, you do not merely run TO Him, as did the rich young ruler, only to talk and go; but you run to seek forgiveness, and CONTINUE to walk with Him, in all He desires you to do.
Saving faith has identified who God is, where the truth lies, has repented of lies, and has arisen to take the offered gift of eternal life, and thus having received the Lord, finds Him through the power of the Spirit of God who resides in all Christians. He is "the guarantee of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14), just as the Lord Himself is the ground and His word the rock (Matthew 7:24ff.) of those who are "kept by the power of God through faith for salvation", even the resurrection of the body (John 6:39-40, Romans 8:23). These, believing Him and this, are irrevocable in their conviction, facing whatever it takes with peace and power, revived in extremity, delivered in places impossible to man, living in the grace of God, because it is HE whom they desire, whom they trust. HE, it is He who is a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He KNOWS those who trust in Him.
He does not merely know OF them, just as they do not merely know OF Him. He knows them and they know Him (John 10:27-28). It is a thing of head and heart, sinew and strength, and it is with all, that they love Him, and it shows, just as does a love for children, or relatives, or other friends; but this love outdoes all others, for it is foundational, not fictional, far less fictitious.
There is one more sub-type in 'faith', one ought to mention, and that is blind faith; and that is one which lacks knowledge, exercises the will for the thrill or the pride or the self-belief, making of man the criterion and of Christ a word; and this type being unenlightened, like anything else blind, has all the scope for collision with reality which it deserves.
"He who follows Me," said Christ, "shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12).