Summary: A discussion on the contours of faith

Beyond What We Can See

Bible Reading:

Hebrews 11: 1 - 10; 11: 32 - 12: 3






He stood at the precipice between life and death, a knife open ready to slit himself and die quickly. The future black as inky night. Everything that he worked so long and hard for had just crumbled around his ears. Literally. When his superiors found out he knew that everything would be taken away. Humiliation. Jail. Maybe even the death sentence. So - best end it now, while he’s still in control. Do it, before they do it to you.

You’ve probably read his story - the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16, overseeing the incarceration of Paul & Silas when an earthquake rocked the prison, miraculously freeing all the inmates. They remain, however.

The jailer drops to his knees before Paul & Silas - "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

And the famous answer......... remember the words?

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household."


This one word stands at the very heart of the Bible’s message.

Believe - have faith.

What is it – to have faith?

What are some of the contours of this cornerstone of Christian living?

Join me in a time of reflection on this topic, beginning with a reading from Scripture -

HEBREWS 11: 1 - 10; 11: 32 - 12: 3

Key to the entire passage are the opening words of ch.11:

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The Greek for our English "being sure" was a word that also carried connotations of:

- "confidence,"

- "certainty,"

- something than can be absolutely be relied upon; trusted

Faith - it’s not merely the purview of churched folk. In very elementary ways everybody exercises faith on a regular basis. Perhaps not in a spiritual sense, but they do exercise faith;

faith as confidence, certainty, relying upon and trusting something or someone.

Some of you travel extensively for work. You exercise faith every time you step onto that airplane; exercising confidence, certainty and trust that the support personnel, traffic control and flight crew all have things well in hand to bring you to your destination.

When you sit down in a restaurant to enjoy a meal, you practice at least some measure of confidence, certainty and trust that the cook had clean hands and that the server didn’t sneeze on your salad or slobber in your soup.

When you came into church this evening you showed confidence, certainty and trust that the pews would hold you. I didn’t see a single person checking underneath to make sure the screws were securely fastened or shaking the bench to ensure that glue joints were still tight. You plunked down.


As specifically defined by Hebrews 11:1, it is not an imaginary product of the human soul; it is not a form of desperate wishful thinking which we stir up because of some desires or needs or concerns.

It is based in something firm and real, even though beyond the reach of human senses. It is based in the living, eternal person of God.

Which, up until the last few years has been very difficult for the Modern Western Society to swallow. Modern society had its roots in the Enlightenment, in the age of reason. At the risk of hyper-simplification we can say about Modernity that whatever could be apprehended by the senses was given preeminence; was considered to be connected with "reality." It mattered the most and was pushed to the centre whenever decisions of significance needed to be made. If one could understand it and apprehend it, then it was given high marks.

Cut away from that, put on a separate plate and removed to a side room, as it were, were all things non-sensory.

Can you hear the word "nonsense" in there??

It was the stuff that didn’t really matter; sidebar material.

Sunday life.

And that dualism has held centre stage for a long, long time.

Body and soul; mind and heart. The first you rely on. The second is OK, but of a secondary nature.

Drastic simplification, I know.

But basically, that’s how it worked.

Because of this drastic split, this deep dualism, faith ended up to be a cheapened word, and certainly not one that was eagerly associated with everyday living.

Recently that has all begun to change.

As I mentioned last week, society is moving beyond modernity to a post-modern era. The assumption that reason was royal, that science could solve all woes, at in time the basic goodness of humanity would rise to the surface has crumbled to the ground.

The dualism between the spiritual world and the material world, the huge gap which Modernity created, has begun to shrink drastically.

People today are much more open to the mystical, to leaning and depending on that which lays beyond the sensory.

People are beginning to make significant life decisions based on spiritual, non-sensory type factors...... without considering them to be "nonsense." They are allowing spiritual statements and creeds to shape their lives. Which is part of the reason that people like the chap we spoke about this morning, Ekhart Tolle, are able to attract large followings.

Which is both a joy and a great burden for any committed Christian watching this begin to unfold.

It is a joy because it means that there is an increasing window of opportunity to present a credible witness of the reality of life in Jesus Christ to one’s neighbor, classmate and work associate.

It is a great burden, though, because what we see is many people turning their back on the Christian faith. It is almost as if any other faith option is considered before the Christian one. And that, I am afraid, is because the Church to a great degree has sold out on the true meaning of biblical faith over the last two centuries. The church has bought into the supremacy of reason and science. It has sought to prove and systematize everything. Logic was at the centre of theology. Very publically so.

And so, as people see that reason and the whole project of Modernity isn’t worth depending on, and as they begin to turn their back on it, they turn their back also on major institutions associated with it......... including the Church.

It seems more and more that the only churches who are really able to break through and effectively witness to our increasingly Post-Modern era are notfirst of all churches who can develop web sites with well organized displays of teaching and doctrine. They are churches who can provide people with living examples of people who practice what they say they believe, who have worship that experiences God’s presence.

And if people don’t see that they turn their back on the Christian faith and flock in droves to the guru de jour, many of them featuring some modified form of eastern mysticism. Which is faith in quicksand. There is nothing solid underneath to hold them up. Like sitting in a pew without glue or screws. Eventually it’ll come apart.

Faith - remember what we’ve said: that it is more than agreement with a series of propositional truths. Faith is trusting, relying on someone or something. Which implies moving

beyond agreement

to action.

Think for a moment about how that shows itself in the Scriptures. To begin - what’s the major literature form in the Bible? Is it a philosophical dissertation, with a systematic statement of propositions???


It is story..... it is telling the history, the living events, the acting out in trust (and mistrust) of God’s people, the Community of faith, down through the ages.

Faith is related to action, to living, to being and doing.

Faith is FAR more than just knowing.

And that’s why the whole of chapter 11, after this rich and almost explosive beginning, digs right into a long recitation of one account after another. "Remember when?..... that’s faith........ And remember this one?...... that’s also faith...... And remember the time?........ that was the sort of thing hoped for and not seen...."

They way they lived and acted.

That’s faith.

Which is also why we need to reaffirm that, contrary to what some may want to tell you - biblical faith is not about feelings! If it were, most of the saints in Hebrews 11 would have been abject failures. Because they all experienced struggle, felt dejection, worried, were depressed, questioned.

But in the world of action, they kept going. They had their beliefs and they acted on them. Feelings were not allowed to sway the day.

Doesn’t mean we toss them out, as some hyper-calvinists, especially those of the scholastic school have suggested we do. Feelings do fit into the picture. To be able to enjoy a worship service or other moment in life where spiritual feelings and passions run deep and wide is incredibly wonderful. In fact, probably one of the most passionate Reformed believers was John Calvin. But he’d have been the first to tell you that one’s feelings are not the foundation.

The foundation of faith is found in trust and obedience; trust and obedience exercised in response to the God who has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ.

Faith, says Calvin, is NOT an armchair event. It is concerned with activity: God’s for us, and ours in response to God.

Faith, he said, actively knows God; it does not merely know of Him.

Faith is a muscle created in me by the Holy Spirit.

A gift of God: Eph 2:8

By an encounter with the Word: Rom 10:17

It is a muscle I am called to exercise.

When we think about it that way, suddenly the whole matter of faith takes on a different colour. Things are different, now, when we ask the question, "So, what do you believe?" Because the answer is to be found not primarily in what a person tells, but far more importantly through what they show you by the way they live.

As they seek to secure and anchor their lives, what is the primary element that they rely on?

When they arrange their life priorities, what serves as the measuring stick?

When you say that you believe in God the Father as Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, what does that mean? How does it affect the way you live — The way you practice ecological stewardship; the way you handle your wealth.

When you say that you believe that Jesus has brought you forgiveness, that you are accepted by God, He your heavenly Father and you His forever child, what does that mean?

How does it affect the way you live — the way you are willing to extend forgiveness to others who wrong you; the value with which you view the lives of others, particularly the weak and voiceless on the margins of society?

When you say that you believe in the Holy Spirit, what does that mean? How does it affect the way you live – the degree to which you commit all things to God in prayer; how much you are willing to be still and listen for a voice of answer, to look for answers?

And when you begin to think about it in those terms, the observation of German theologian Paul Tillich suddenly makes an awful lot of sense.

Tillich said, "Perhaps the issue facing us today is not so much one of faithlessness, as it is one of idolatry."

In other words, misplaced faith; trust and dependence on something or someone other than the living God.

Sobering words.

Making me think - Is there an idol in my life?

In yours?

Back to our opening words - Paul was inviting the Philippian jailer and his household to place their trust, to base their actions, and to secure their eternal future into the strong hands of Jesus Christ.

Paul wasn’t telling them that they’d have to demonstrate a certain degree of knowledge. He doesn’t describe any specific level of faith-based activity.

He simply says believe.

Believe - join the journey of seeking to place our poor, empty, powerful lives into the hands of Him who has all power.

Hold our empty beggar hands up to him who was willing to extend his hands out on a cross to pay for our sins.

Begin the trip of walking with our feet throughout life as representatives of Him whose feet were pierced for our transgressions.

And remember, Mr. Jailer,

remember - the gift of salvation doesn’t depend on any human work of faith. Faith so small as a mustard seed is enough.

It is Christ who earns and works salvation; who secures our eternity.

It is the Father who grants forgiveness.


We simply receive.

And then, we move out and live a life of response.

Which is where the rubber of faith hits the road in our lives.

With salvation secured in the cross and resurrection of Christ, we need worry no longer. We don’t have to keep looking over our shoulder. We can look forward, as we said this morning, in hope and eager anticipation.

Seeking, all the while to make our beliefs translate into tangible action for the Master.

Saying, "I do not know what the future holds, but I know Him who holds the future in His hands."

Daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.

Living, actively,

based on the past-tense event of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection

with a present-tense confidence

in the future-tense reality of eternal life with God in heaven,

Living, actively.

And carrying on, stubbornly if needed.

Experiencing times when it all comes easily and acts out naturally.

And other times when we are hanging on by our finger tips, crying out, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief."

All the while praying, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Haste that day when my faith shall be sight. The clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend. When we will see that it is well with my soul."

Faith - the active steps of a believer. Which is the basis of this next song.

We’ll sing it and then I’m going to allow for a time of silence - for you to commune with God through the Holy Spirit of Jesus. I’ll end that silence with audible prayer and then another song of response.