“FACTS ABOUT FAITH”
1. From time to time visitors come to our church and are favorably impressed by the friendliness of our members, are kindly disposed to the dynamic, challenging and scholarly preaching of our pastor, and express an interest in joining our membership.
2. Of course, this creates a myriad of problems for both our church and our visitors, for any number of reasons. I will mention three:
a. First, our church’s philosophy of ministry is so very different from most churches, despite superficial similarities, that visitors do not generally know what they are in store for at our church after visiting for only a few services. Understanding where our church comes from takes months to discern, not days or weeks.
b. Second, the amount of time it takes to sit down and explain our church’s distinctives, and the complexities associated with those distinctives, make it unlikely that a comprehensive explanation is even possible in one or two sittings with the pastor. I am always concerned that my failure to remember to mention something important will leave some prospective members with a feeling of betrayal or deception, because something important to them has inadvertently been omitted in a discussion.
c. Third, unlike most churches that I am familiar with, our church is committed to growing by means of evangelism. Practically speaking, that means we do not look to add members by courting members of other churches, even disappointed or disgruntled members from other Baptist churches. Despite our best intentions to the contrary, there can be a tendency for our church members, who love their church and who want to see their church grow, to set their hopes for God’s blessings on Christians transferring from other churches. Such good-intentioned members who focus on persuading members of other churches to come here to Calvary Road Baptist Church, not realizing the ramifications of what they are doing, can be subtly tempted to short cut past the arduous and time consuming process of evangelizing and discipling the lost in obedience to our Lord’s Great Commission.
3. So you see, different from other churches, we do not see the visitor who wants to join our church as an unmixed blessing, especially if he comes from another church. For every person who joins our church there is a possible distraction from our goal of reaching the lost with the Gospel, either because that new member is not in complete agreement and harmony with our well thought out philosophy, or because our members will subtly shift from a mentality of focusing on evangelism to a mentality of encouraging the Christians they work with and live next to coming from their churches to come to our church. This is not good. We do not want to engage in the practice of enticing folks from other churches to attend here, unless those churches clearly do not preach the Gospel.
4. On the other hand, we recognize that the sad state of Christianity in these last days has left some very good people without a decent church home. Since everyone needs a church home, we certainly want such folks to feel welcome here. But we must be careful to communicate to our guests that their preconceived notions that have developed from their experiences in other churches simply do not apply here. You begin to get an idea of some of the problems we have to deal with because we consciously reject decisionism.
5. Another issue has to do with those who have come to Christ after coming to our church without any previous experience with other churches. There are some of you who have been in our church for a while, and you are getting well grounded in the faith. But since this is the only church you have ever had any real involvement with, you are not very familiar with other church’s approaches to ministry. This is really a good thing in most respects.
6. For those of you who do not really know what it is like in other churches, and for the sake of visitors who will come to our church as we reach out into the community to find and bring in the lost to hear the Gospel, I have sought God’s help to bring a series of messages that I hope will become a small book that we can give to visitors. My goal is to provide a context in which our church’s ministry can be better understood by everyone, those who are members as well as those who are visitors.
7. Since our church is a Christian community, and since every church is supposed to be a Christian community, allow me to rehearse a few things with you about the Christian faith, what the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians 6.10 as “the household of faith.”
8. You hear a great deal about faith these days. President Bush ran for the presidency 4 years ago using the concept of “faith based initiatives” in his campaign. As well, you will oftentimes hear the politically correct term “people of faith” mentioned in the various news medias.
9. It seems that people are generally aware, on some level, that faith is important, but it must be wondered if the general population has any real notion of what faith is. To address the issue of faith, to rehearse to our church members some of the basics about faith from the Bible, and to form a doctrinal foundation for this series of messages from God’s Word, let us begin with father Abraham’s faith. Turn to Genesis 15.6.
10. I refer to him as “father Abraham” because he is so designated in nine different verses in God’s Word:
a. In Genesis 32.9, Jacob prays to God: “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac.”
b. In Joshua 24.3, God, speaking to the children of Israel now in the promised land, refers to “your father Abraham.”
c. In Luke 1.73, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, made reference to God’s covenant with “father Abraham.”
d. In Luke 16.24 and 30, the rich man in Hell cried out for mercy to far off “father Abraham.”
e. In John 8.53, the Lord Jesus Christ’s adversaries referred to “our father Abraham.”
f. Responding to those adversaries, the Lord Jesus Christ, in John 8.56, referred to him as “your father Abraham.”
g. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, referred to “our father Abraham” in Acts 7.2.
h. Finally, in Romans 4.12, Paul makes reference to “our father Abraham.”
11. Is the patriarch referred to as “father Abraham” because he is the ancestor of the Jews? To be sure, that is part of it. But the Lord Jesus Christ is descended from Abraham through His mother, Mary, yet He termed him “your father Abraham” when responding to His antagonists, who were unbelieving Jews.
12. There are other verses in which Abraham is described as “Abraham our father.” In Romans 4.1, Paul writes, “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?” It could be argued that Abraham is described as father because he is the physical ancestor of some. But he is also a spiritual ancestor to others, and for that reason, too, he is “Abraham our father.”
13. When did Abraham become the father figure he is portrayed as in Scripture? Where did it all begin? It began in Genesis 15.6, where you should have turned by now. Please stand for the reading of our text: “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
14. This is the first place in God’s Word in which the notion of faith appears, translated here by the word “believed.” It is important to point out that when we find faith first mentioned we find it mentioned in connection with Abraham.
15. Why is this important? Allow me to read from Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics by J. Edwin Hartill, one of the most widely used of all books written on the subject of interpreting the Bible:
IX. THE FIRST MENTION PRINCIPLE.
1. That principle by which God indicates in the first mention of a subject, the truth with which that subject stands connected in the mind of God.
(a) Newton said, “I find in Scripture this principle of interpretation, which I believe, if conscientiously adopted, will serve as an unfailing guide to what was in the mind of God. This is the keystone of the whole matter.”
(b) Dr. A. T. Pierson - “This is a law we have long since noted, and have never yet found it to fail. The first occurrence of a word, expression, or utterance, is the key to its subsequent meaning, or it will be a guide to ascertaining the essential truth connected with it.”
(c) The first time a thing is mentioned in Scripture it carries with it a meaning that will be carried all through the Word of God. . . .
(d) There is only one speaker throughout all Scripture, although there are many mouths. Only one providing, governing, controlling mind - Heb. 1:1. God spake through “holy men of old” in the past, but in these days He speaks through His Son. No matter when, where, or how, the message is given, God is the speaker, and since there is only one speaker, and since that speaker knows from the beginning what He is going to say, He can so shape the first utterances as to forecast everything that is to follow. He is able to do that.
16. Since it is mentioned for the first time in God’s Word in connection with Abraham, who is a pivotal character in God’s unfolding drama of redemption, it behooves us to take a good look at this thing called faith, so we might see its significance in the Christian’s life and in a church’s practice.
1A. Let Us Look, First, At THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
1B. The importance of faith is declared in several key passages in Scripture.
Please turn with me to read them.
1C. Habakkuk 2.4, the last phrase: “. . . the just shall live by his faith.”
2C. In Romans 1.16-18, in a passage dealing with the gospel of Christ, the power of God, the salvation of sinners, Jews and Greeks, the righteousness of God, and the wrath of God, Paul quotes that phrase that was first mentioned in Habakkuk, dealing with that concept first mentioned in connection with Abraham:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness
3C. In Galatians 3.11, to show the confused Galatians that no one is justified by keeping the Law, Paul writes, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”
4C. And in Hebrews 10.38, leading up to the great 11th chapter of Hebrews, the faith hall of fame, these words are written to show how God is pleased by faith: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
2B. The importance of faith is not only declared by these passages we have looked at, as well as many others; the importance of faith is also described.
Since Paul told Timothy to “give attendance to reading” God’s Word in First Timothy 4.13, I will read Hebrews chapter 11 to you to give you a sense of how important faith is described to be:
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
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, wrought 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:
36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
3B. Is faith important? From just a cursory look at four declarations in the Bible, and from reading this single chapter in the Bible, keeping in mind the association of faith with a key figure in the Bible, Abraham, it cannot be denied that faith is important. Faith is important to God. Faith is an important component in the Christian faith. Faith should be important to you.
2A. Let Us Now Look At THE USEFULNESS OF FAITH
How is faith useful? What is its benefit to you, as an individual?
There are three uses of faith that I would like to make you aware of:
1B. First, faith is useful to please God.
1C. Whatever faith is (and we have not yet defined what faith is), it is something that God is pleased with. We saw, in Hebrews 10.38, that if anyone does not live by faith “my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Serious words, indeed, to those who are faithless.
2C. As well, Hebrews 11.6, which I read to you moments ago, makes a strong statement, showing that it is impossible to please God apart from faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
2B. Next, faith is useful to save sinners. Apart from faith a sinner simply cannot be saved from his sins.
Turn with me to read these verses with your own eyes:
1C. John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
2C. John 3.18: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
3C. Romans 5.1: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4C. And in a verse that shows “Human effort and God’s grace are mutually exclusive ways to salvation,” Romans 11.6 reads, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
3B. Third, faith is used to sanctify believers. Apart from faith a child of God cannot be sanctified, which is to say, faith is crucial for the Christian to grow spiritually.
1C. Romans 6.11 declares, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This act of the person who is already a Christian reckoning himself to be dead to sin is possible only with faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
2C. So, it is clear that faith is a matter of profound importance. Beyond being important, faith is practically useful. It is useful to please God. It is useful to save sinners from their sins. It is useful to Christians to experience growth and victory in their Christian lives.
3A. Finally, Let Us Consider THE IDENTIFICATION OF FAITH
Time is running too short to fully develop this topic, but I would like to spark your interest in two aspects of this idea of identifying faith.
1B. First, consider the possibility of identifying faith.
Is it possible to spot genuine faith? Is it conceivable that someone could identify, not with perfect accuracy or certainty of course, whether someone else possesses faith? If you could identify faith, here are three ways you might accomplish the task.
1C. First, by discerning its substance. Can you not identify something by discerning what it is made of, what its ingredients are? In Acts 6.5, Luke states that Stephen was “a man full of faith.” How did he know Stephen was full of faith? Was that a determination that resulted from God’s direct revelation, or was Luke commenting on the early Christian’s discernment of faith because they knew what it was made of, what its substance was, thereby giving them the ability to recognize it when they saw evidence of it? No one sees wind, but we sure can discern its presence. What if it is the same with faith? Just because you cannot identify faith does not mean another person cannot.
2C. You might also identify faith by discerning its object. Though a great many people talk about faith these days, it is quite obvious that most do not know that faith must always have an object. Thus, while it is possible to discuss and consider faith apart from its object, it is not possible to actually possess faith that is isolated from its object. To put it another way, you cannot simply believe. You have to believe in something or someone. That said, for faith to be Biblical, for faith to be the kind mentioned in God’s Word, it must have the proper object. So, what if you discover that someone’s faith is not fixed upon Jesus Christ for salvation, or not fixed upon the Word of God as the unique source of truth pertaining to spiritual matters? Then you have discovered that person does not have faith, haven’t you?
3C. Third, you might identify faith by discerning its source. Where did the faith come from, if it really is faith? What if the supposed faith came from a source not sanctioned in the Bible? What if the faith comes from something patently opposed to God? Is it still faith, real faith?
4C. No one is arguing for perfection in identifying faith. After all, we human beings are imperfect creatures, are we not? But our inability to perfectly identify faith with complete accuracy does not mean we are completely in the dark about faith. It is likely that faith, to one who knows what its substance is, and what its object is, and what its source is, can sometimes be identified with some degree of confidence.
2B. Finally, consider the necessity of identifying faith.
1C. Consider the necessity of identifying faith as it relates to salvation. If there is no way to identify faith, how can one be sure he is really a Christian? Romans 5.1 tells us, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 2.8-9 reads, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Two passages showing the correlation of faith to genuine salvation. But if you are unsure about faith you cannot be sure about having peace with God, unless you are willing to build your house upon the sandy foundation of presumption or feelings.
2C. Consider, also, the necessity of identifying faith as it relates to sanctification. How do you grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ if you do not know whether or not you have faith, because you are convinced that no one can tell who has faith and who does not? If you don’t know whether someone else has faith, how do you know that you do? You just know? That may satisfy you, but such thinking is not satisfactory.
3C. Consider, finally, the necessity of identifying faith as it relates to sin. Romans 14.23 tells us, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” If you do not know what faith is you do not know what sin is. If you do not know when faith is present you do not know when sin is present.
1. I think the argument has been made that it is good to identify faith, because it is good to know when you are truly saved, it is good to know when you are growing as a Christian, and it is good to know when you are and are not sinning.
2. My friend, if those things are good to know then there are powerful reasons for wanting to be able to identify faith . . . if faith is identifiable. And it is logical to presume that if you know the substance of a thing, and the object upon which a thing fixes itself, and the source from whence a thing comes, you may very well be able to identify that thing.
3. And would it not be good to identify such a thing as faith? After all, it has a number of wonderful uses. With faith you can actually please God. With faith you can actually save sinners from sins. With faith you can see believers grow to spiritual maturity.
4. In light of these things, is faith important, or what? And we have not yet gotten around to defining what faith is yet. That comes, the good Lord willing, in the weeks to come.
 Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.
 J. Edwin Hartill, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1947), page 70.
 See footnote for Romans 11.6 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1714.