Sunday, August 11, 2013

Faith is NOT the Assurance of Our Guesswork

Trinity 12:  Gen 15:1-6, Heb 11:1-16, Luke 12:22-34

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  -Heb 11:1

Now one finds this passage misquoted out of context on wall art and stitched into couch blankets all the time and well meaning people use it to validate themselves in all sorts of ways.  After all, all you need to do is believe something... anything really...and be really, really, really convinced about it and it has to be true.  Isn't that what it means?  Well what is this "faith" that the apostle is talking about and what are these "things" that we hope for and don't see?

The temptation here is to make this "faith" a piece of head knowledge that we conclude or just an impression of the heart that moves us to feel something... and as fallen creatures we want to make these "things" into our own image of what we wrongly think we should put our faith in: people, treasures, fame, legacies, purposes, the American Dream, political ideals, even a god of our own making who supports our opinions and excuses our actions, etc, etc... the list is as limitless as man's sinful imagination.

But this faith is not the assurance of our guesswork.  It is not a kind of reasonless fideism that amounts to little more than positive thinking or letting whatever our heart wants be our guide and presumptuously call it a movement of God.  This faith is an external gift which God gives to us which we hear with our ears by the Word of Christ [Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:17].  God reveals Himself concretely so that there is no mistake.  We have no excuse to be blown around by every wind of doctrine.  He comes to Abram and speaks His promises to Him [Gen 15:1-6].  He comes to Noah with terrible words of judgement and warning, but also the sweet means of salvation.  God did not rely on these heroes of the faith to know the hidden will of God or force them figure these hidden messages of God by blindly searching the depths of their being.  Additionally, these faithful witnesses did not go forth with the blind confidence that God would back their whims no matter what they might be.  They did not have to test the whims of the culture around them to see what the popular course of action might be as if God was speaking to them through the trends of mankind's cultural development.  Instead, Almighty God called them and declared His promises and--by the gift of faith--they believed and it was counted to them as righteousness.  From that they naturally responded with action from faith.

And what are these "things" that we hope for?  They are the very "things" that were hoped for by those saints who have come before us.  They certainly are not the things of this world or a place in this life only [Heb 11:13-14, 1 Cor 9:24-25].  They are not the things that we encounter every day and desire for ourselves because the Scripture clearly says that we have convictions of things not seen.  Wealth, success, fame, happiness, power, glory... we may not have it personally, but we have at least seen it around us.  These cannot be those "things" that we don't see.  Faith does not hope for mortal stuff or earthly glory. 

These "things" are not the things of this world that we see all around us: the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life [1 John 2:16-17], but are the very "things" that God has promised in his Word which are ours through the Son by the work of the Spirit which are salvation through the Gospel by the death of Christ and an eternal kingdom which lies ahead for all who believe. [Rom 1:16].  Not this world, but a better country, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called our God, for He has prepared for us a city [Heb 11:16], a city that St. Augustine calls "The City of God" which is "The Heavenly City [that] outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity."

How could sinful man with his limited understanding be sure of such a wondrous thing without having seen anything like it?  And as a free gift no less?!?  Indeed, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him, but the Word of Promise that went out to Abram and now goes out to us does the very thing that it says must be accomplished [John 6:44].  God draws man to Himself and makes what must be out of what is not.  He brings Abram on this journey of promise and by pure declaration transforms Him through His divine will on account of Christ.  By grace alone, God declares something new about Abram.  Abram who is a fatherless old man doomed to see his wealth pass to another upon his death.  Abram a man whom Hebrews calls "as good as dead" would have God name him Abraham the father of many nations.  From Abraham's seed would come the messiah, the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29].

And even today, this Word that does not return void comes to us in our hearing and declares us to be what we were not.  We too would be "as good as dead", but are given new names and made new by the working of the Holy Spirit.  Just as Abram is named Abraham so the Spirit mercifully regenerates his own and makes us new by the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:4-7].  We were named "Sinner", but God declares us "Righteous" in Christ.  We were named "Fruitless", but by grace we are made "Fruitful".  We were named "Slave", "Enemy", and "Old Adam", but God calls us out of our sinful condition and declares us to be called "Heir", "Child", and "Saint".  God always keeps His promises and with this promise He provides the means with which it is accomplished.  With this new good name we bring forth the good fruit that God gives us to bring forth in the form of good works in keeping with the fruits of repentance [Matt 3:8-9].

So, as heirs of the promises of God with our new name, we hope for this heavenly kingdom that is to come and eagerly await its consummation with repentant joy.  We wander here as strangers and exiles with that coming promised land in mind.  What good are Sodom and Gomorrah to us when we are being lead to the place of God's choosing? What good is the Land of Ur?  So, as children of God called by his name, what profit is there in thinking of those lands from which we have been called out of?  With what lies before us, let us keep our eyes fixed on that prize so that we do not have the opportunity to return from whence we came.

With such a bountiful inheritance, what worry or need do we have that the Lord does not provide for us?  What paltry treasures, titles, or experiences could we care to possess when compared to that heavenly glory that is yet to come and the peace that comes in the knowledge that it is most assuredly ours no matter our present circumstance?  Like the undeserving and spoiled heirs of a rich father, we are without want or need and are free to cast off or give away the things that others desire and fight over [Luke 12:29-34].  God has given us the knowledge that those things are passing away and we are certainly provided with all of our needs.  How easy it is to give away the temporary small things when the one big thing is in view!  Even the best and truest things of this life are here today and gone tomorrow.

But our faith is not in those "things"... that guesswork of man's feeble mind, that impulse of his heart, that idolatry of his sinful desires, that creation of his seemingly grand designs, or even that work of his mortal hands.

No, our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Heb 12:1-3].

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my 
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

No comments: