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Great Themes of the Bible: Faith

A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on October 28, 2012.

Hebrews 11:1-3

Meditation Text:
There is no faith, as such, apart from conduct.  Real faith always means obedience to God; it means a living obedience, offered here and now, at this actual moment of time, to His loving will, which has an absolute and special significance at this particular moment.  If faith does not issue in such obedience it loses its meaning, and is perverted—it becomes a mere theory; obedience, too, becomes mere ethical legalism if it is not based on faith of this kind.

                                                              —Emil Brunner in The Divine Imperative

If you were to go to any of the great military colleges—Annapolis, West Point, VMI, The Citadel, etc.—you would not have to look very far to find some memorial walk.  It might be a plaque in the ground that you walk over.  There will be a place where there will be a list of the heroes of the school.  They will be graduates of that particular school who have served their country in war, sacrificed their all, and died in service.  We can imagine places where we have seen that.  There are numerous monuments like this in cities and towns around the country.  It is interesting to see how states in the South and states in the North describe their beloved dead from the Civil War.  You can see the long list of names in many communities of people who gave their all for what they believed in.

It is not just war.  There are similar memorials in other places.  There are seminaries and colleges where you can go and see the names of people who have given their lives in the service of the Gospel.  Some people say that Overland, Ohio is the town that started the Civil War because of the number of people that Overland raised up to be concerned about the rights and the treatment of all people regardless of the color of their skin.  At Overland College, you can see the memorial to missionaries from Overland who went out and gave their lives in different places around the world, spreading the good news of Christ.

Yale University is not thought of as a bastion of Christian faith today.  It is one of the more secular schools in the Ivy League.  In Woolsey Hall, there are plaques to the graduates of Yale who have died in conflict, but there is also a place where you can see those Yale graduates who have died as missionaries overseas.  They gave their all for what they believed in.

Military schools have their roll call.  Schools that have produced missionaries and ministers have their roll call of faith.  It resembles what we hear in the Book of Hebrews in Chapter 11 in the great roll call of faith. 

We go to enough weddings where we hear 1 Corinthians 13 and we all know that is the Love Chapter.  Hebrews 11 is often thought of as the Faith Chapter, and as we are moving through Great Themes of the Bible (themes that appear in so many different places in all the different books of the Bible) perhaps there is no theme that summarizes this as does the Faith Chapter.  It tells us about faith through the roll call of faith. 

It gives the most concise definition of faith in those first verses.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Then after a few more words, it begins the great roll call of faith.  It gives us the characters from Genesis that we often don’t think about.  We don’t think about Abel.  We think about Enoch who walked with God, and Noah and the flood.  Then it goes on to give an extended story about Abraham whom we often call the Father of the Faithful, and Moses. 

Then in verse 32 it says, “And what more should I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,” and begins to list all these others.  If we could read the entire chapter, it would be a fairly concise roll call of people who have demonstrated faith. 

What did they demonstrate in their lives?  A lot of times we think that it means we believe in the impossible.  In Alice’s adventures underground, one of the characters says, “There’s no use trying . . . one can’t believe impossible things . . .” 

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

We often think that is what it means to live a life of faith.  I would tell you that it is not that.  Clarence Jordan said, “It is turning dreams into deeds and betting life on the unseen realities.”  That was his translation of Hebrews 1.

In another place, he said, “It’s not belief in spite of evidence, but it’s living a life in scorn of consequences.”  Let me explain what that might be. 

What does it mean to live a life in scorn of consequences?  It means being obedient to the will and the way of God even when there is no clear evidence why.  A lot of times we want to believe that if we are following God’s will that means we are on the perfect path and everything will work out right.  It is a guarantee.  We think if we are walking God’s way, by faith, then that means things will work out right for us and we will have no problems whatsoever.  No, it means walking that path in scorn of the consequences, even if things were not to work out right because it is God’s way.

Let me give you some examples.  If we were in living in Holland in 1942 under German occupation, and the Germans were taking our Jewish neighbors and we felt that God spoke to us and said, “People have a right to live and not be prosecuted, not to be executed, and not to be thrown into concentration camps”  what would faith be?  Faith would be helping our neighbors by hollowing out a place in the wall, floor, basement, or in the barn.  It was a life in scorn of consequences.  It was believing that this was the will of God that people should live and I must help my neighbor.  It is faith when we live by obedience towards the things of God, even when we think, I might die because of this

That happened over 60 years ago.  Let’s bring it closer.  We could think about the Deep South at the end of segregation when things were not going particularly peacefully.  Imagine you were a white person who owned a store and you wanted to sell to African-American customers, but your neighbors told you they did not think that was a good idea.  You believed God was saying to you, People have a right to live, to buy, and to be treated equally.  You said, “I don’t care what my neighbors say, I am going to be obedient to the voice of God that I hear through the Holy Spirit and through scripture, and I am going to do what God says.”  That would be a life in scorn of consequences. 

There is nothing visible that would say to you, “This is a really good way.  Do this and everything will be fine.”  There is only the invisible sense of the purpose of God.  I believe that God is real.   I believe that Christ is God’s son raised from the dead, and that Jesus Christ asked me to live this way.  Even if I can’t see the reason why, even if I can’t understand why I am being asked to do this, I will lead an obedient life in scorn of consequences.

We are still decades in the past.  Let’s bring it even closer.  This has been Bullying Awareness Month.  If you go to a hatchery, you see all the cute yellow chicks running around.  Do you know what happens if you take a cute yellow chick and paint it black, blue, green or red and put it back in with the others?  The others will peck it to death because it is different.  What is bullying except realizing that somebody seems different?  Why do they seem different?  Who knows?  Sometimes they are different because they dress differently.  Sometimes they are different because they have character and their character threatens us.  Sometimes it is just a matter of our own personal insecurity. 

I remember in high school there was a young man who was of Lebanese descent.  One day, somebody in class called him a camel driver.  “Hey, camel driver.”  Everybody started laughing.  Things could go viral before the internet.  Everybody knew you could get a laugh if you called him that.  If you called him that in the hallway, class or wherever, everybody else would titter, guffaw, whatever they were going to do to laugh.  The more insecure people who needed to impress others would call him that.  Sometimes it is our own insecurity that causes us to do these things.  What would Jesus want us to do?

If you have been to children’s camp or youth Passport,  have had a conversion experience, were baptized, have now taken communion and are following Christ, have read the Church Covenant about the way we treat each other, and all of a sudden there is somebody who gets bullied, what would Christ’s will be for us?  Would it be to exclude, to join in knowing we, too, can get a laugh, or would it be to ask us to stand with somebody because we know that is what Christ would have us do? 

It is not just about youth and teenagers.  It is also about adults.  It is about a job where they expect you to do something that costs your integrity, and if you don’t do it, you are threatened to be fired.  The invisible thing is if this is God’s will, I don’t have a clue whether I will find a job or not.  Faith is not believing, I will walk out of here and have a job tomorrow.  Faith is believing, Whatever I do, I have to live a life of Christian integrity that God has called me to live.  It is obedience to the call of Christ.

We want to make faith something we do with our minds.  We want it to be like believing really hard.  But belief, the things that we hold true in our minds, only become faith when we act on them.  They only become faith when we are obedient to what Christ would have us do. 

The meditation text for today says that if it is just something we hold in our minds and not something that we live out, it is just a theory.  It only becomes faith when we actually believe.

If we want to have more faith, it is more than just believing impossible things.  It is not believing harder.  It is taking the things that I already know God is speaking to me about and becoming obedient in scorn of consequences.  No matter what.  I can’t see, I can’t prove, I can’t hear, I can’t touch, I can’t taste, I just know.  A life of faith is following Jesus Christ along that path and wondering where it will lead.

Someone asked Mother Teresa to pray for them for clarity because they had a decision to make.  They wanted clarity so they would know the right thing to do.  Mother Teresa said, “I won’t do it.” 

They thought that was rather harsh and asked why she would not do it.  Mother Teresa replied, “Because I am going to pray for you to have faith.” 

It is not faith if everything is clear.  It is faith when you don’t know and follow what you think to be God’s call anyway, and I am going to pray that you will have enough faith—not enough knowledge, not enough clarity—but enough obedience.

This is why scripture tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God.  It is only when we give our lives totally, and no matter what may come, this is the path that Jesus Christ is walking and I must follow him.  That is faith.  You can find it in every book and in every chapter throughout scripture.  Faith is a life in scorn of consequences.