“Saving Faith”Categories: Sermons
As I continue to make my way through the list of sermon requests on my phone, the next on it came from Spud, who asked me to preach a sermon on faith. For the rest of you who have asked for a sermon, there are six more on the list, so I haven’t forgotten you!
That notwithstanding, I think that faith is an excellent subject for a sermon. This is true for a number of different reasons. First, it is a subject that is generally misunderstood in the wider religious world. Commonly, when we talk with our friends and neighbors about faith, we find that they mean something along the lines of mental assent, a bare acknowledgement that Jesus is the Son of God. This concept has about as much in common with Biblical faith as a jumbo shrimp does with a jumbo jet!
It is also true, though, that distortion of the Bible’s teaching on justification by faith has led some brethren to go too far in the opposite direction. Just to make sure that we don’t end up in the camp of the do-nothings, too often, we turn salvation from the work of God back into our own work. Neither one of these alternatives is useful, so this evening, let’s look at Bible teaching on saving faith.
In particular, I want to consider three characteristics that saving faith has. The first of these is that it COMES FROM THE WORD. This is evident from Romans 10:17. This is a familiar text to many of us, but I think there’s much more here than we commonly notice. It’s not only true that we have to hear the gospel in order to become a Christian, which is how we commonly apply this passage. Instead, throughout our lives, our faith always will be connected to the time we spend with the word.
This is most obvious in those who don’t spend time with the word. Back when I still lived in Illinois, with some regularity, I was invited to preach the funeral of unbelievers. Somebody knew that I was the preacher where Mom and Dad had gone to church, or where Grandpa and Grandma had come to church, and so, when there was a death in the family, even if they’d never met me before, they’d call me.
These people were not churchgoers, but at funerals, just about everybody wants to be religious, because otherwise you have to believe your loved one is dead forever and you’ll never see them again. So I’d hear all these irreligious people talking about how Mama had gone to heaven to be with Jesus, but the funny thing was, you could tell from their voices that they didn’t believe it. They didn’t spend time with the word, so they didn’t have any faith, so they didn’t have any hope.
To the extent that we will not commit to spending time with the word, that’s where we will end up too. If we decide that we’re only going to come to church once a week, or once a month, we’re going to hear less of the word, and our faith will weaken. If we decide that we’re too busy to spend time reading our Bibles every day, we’re going to take in less of the word, and our faith will weaken. Without exception, the more we interact with the word, the stronger our faith will become.
The second characteristic of saving faith that I want to consider is that it TRUSTS IN GOD. Look at the way Paul expresses this idea in Romans 4:4-5. In this text, we see two kinds of people. The first is purely hypothetical. It’s the man who earns salvation for himself by perfectly keeping the law of God. Nobody on earth today is doing this, and the only who ever has done it is the Lord! Nonetheless, if we were to keep the will of God perfectly and never sin once, we could contemplate the day of judgment with great confidence. We could demand entrance into heaven, because by our own righteousness, we had earned it.
On the other hand, we have the one who does not work, who has not kept the law perfectly. This does not mean that he’s not trying to keep God’s law at all, merely that in some point, he has failed. He has not earned the right to eternal life.
However, this non-worker does trust in God’s ability to justify him even though he is ungodly, and as a result, his faith is reckoned to him as righteousness. In other words, even though he has not been righteous, he is counted as righteous because of his faith. He gets the reward of eternal life even though he did not earn it, an accounting maneuver that is only possible because of the blood of Jesus.
Notice, though, that just as the perfect law-keeper contemplates eternity with confidence, so too can the one who is justified by faith. The law-keeper is confident in himself, but the recipient of grace is confident in God. I know that in my life, I have sinned, both before and after my baptism. Even though I hate sin and struggle against it, I am sure that at some point in the future, the cunning of the devil will tempt me to sin once again. I hate that thought, but I’m not discouraged by it, because my own personal record of righteousness is not the determining factor in my salvation. Instead, I trust in God to deliver me, and as long as I continue to trust Him, my salvation is certain.
Nonetheless, it is also true that saving faith IS OBEDIENT. Among other passages, this thought appears in Romans 1:5. Just as one of the characteristics of a tree is that it has a trunk, one of the characteristics of faith is that it obeys. Indeed, the more perfect the faith, the more perfect the obedience. Conversely, as the notion of a tree without a trunk is ridiculous, the notion of faith that doesn’t trouble itself to obey is ridiculous too.
This is true for several different reasons. First, belief that Jesus is the Son of God is an idea with consequences. If I believe that Jesus is King and the Bible is His word, then I am going to do my best to do what the Bible says. If the Bible says, “Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins,” I’m going to be baptized for the forgiveness of my sins, because that’s what King Jesus told me to do. For that matter, if the Bible tells me to stand on my head for 30 seconds while singing “Baby Shark” at the top of my lungs for the forgiveness of my sins, I’m still gonna do what King Jesus says--because I believe He’s King! What we believe is always going to be reflected in what we do.
Similarly, saving faith leads to obedience as an expression of gratitude. Once I know and understand all that Jesus has done for me, I should be overwhelmed by it. It’s not that Jesus merely saved my physical life. He saved my soul from eternal torment in hell, not because it was easy, not because I deserved it, but because His love for me was so great that it drove Him to the cross to die for me. Once I get that, how can I possibly think that my life belongs to me anymore? So-called Christians who don’t live lives of obedience have lost touch with the sacrifice of Christ. The more that sacrifice is in our hearts, the more we will strive to live for Him.