20 November 2017

Living by faith in the son of God

“I live by faith in the Son of God.”

Faith – now there’s a word to reckon with.  We talk of faith in God, of having faith, of the Faith.  And we are told, “The righteous shall live by faith” ( Rom 1: 17) and that, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”( Heb 11:6).  In this we see something of the importance of faith.  But what does it mean to have faith?  Let us look at this, for it is a vital subject in the matter of our salvation.

THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY

Faith is not a vague feeling.  It’s not a wispy cloud that blows about here and there.  There are definite things about it and we see first that it must have an object.  We have faith in all sorts of things, in the regularity of the seasons, so that we sow seeds in anticipation of good conditions for growth. We have faith in the laws of physics, so that we can use electricity safely.  In these instances faith has an object, and when it comes to our salvation, faith must also have an object.

People sometimes say, “I have faith” by which they mean that they believe in God.  Well that is good, but it will only make deists out of us; it won’t make us Christians.  After all, the Muslims, Jews and a host of other people believe in a god but they are not Christians.  Christian faith, the faith that saves, is faith in Jesus Christ.  The Christian puts faith in Him alone as God and Saviour.  And there are good reasons for doing so.  He alone is the Saviour that we need and the Lord we must obey.  He is the object of faith.

People make individual journeys along the road to Christ and they do differ.  C.H. Spurgeon was converted in a country church on a snowy day under the ministry of a country layman who took as his text “Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.”  Spurgeon said, “He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say.  He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.”  Spurgeon told how, after general comments, “he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.  He then said, ‘Young man, you look very miserable.’  Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made on my personal appearance from the pulpit before.  However, it was a good blow struck.  He continued, “And you will always be miserable — miserable in life and miserable in death — if you do not obey my text.  But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”  Then he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ.’”  Spurgeon did and so for the greatest preacher in Victorian England the journey began.  C S Lewis came to faith in his own rooms in Magdalen College when He knelt before God in commitment.  In his book “Surprised by Joy” he tells how he knelt and admitted that God was God, the most reluctant convert in all England.

Many roads lead to Christ and we must not try to force everyone onto one road, for God deals with us as individuals.  However, saving faith must have an object and that object is Jesus Christ.  He alone is the Saviour we need and the Lord we must follow.

We have talked about the different routes to faith in Christ who is the object of Christian faith.  But in considering the basis of faith we see also that there has to be a starting point.  It must have a beginning.  The Bible traces that back to the grace of God.  Grace is God’s love and goodness to us without our deserving it.  Paul tells the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith.”  If we think of a plant, faith is the stalk that bears the flower of salvation, but the root of it all is the grace, the undeserved mercy and love of God in choosing us to be his children and to give us salvation.  That’s what the apostle Paul was saying to the Ephesians and it was out of his own experience.  He was going down the road to Damascus with very aggressive and hostile thoughts about Jesus when the Lord stopped him in his tracks.  That was an act of grace, and in a way that’s how faith begins for all people.  The Lord stops us in the way we are going and makes us think.

In our experience faith must have a beginning.  For some brought up under the church’s influence, it happens in the early years.  Looking back there scarcely seems a time for such people when they didn’t have faith in Jesus, yet somewhere in those years there was the birth of faith and it has flowered since.  For others, faith comes later in life, sometimes after years in the wilderness.  In their lives there were prodigal years, but there came a day when faith was born and the prodigal came back home.  For others there is a merging, a growing together, perhaps when the things taught in childhood take on a new significance and people start attending church again and perhaps begin to pray again after silent years and then faith is born in a commitment to Jesus.  Faith is the result of the grace of God, but it has a beginning in our experience when we put our trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.  That is the beginning of the journey.

IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY

Yet that is only the beginning, not the end.  We are saved through faith but we have to walk by faith.  We have to live by faith in the heat of the day.  Faith is a main characteristic of the Christian life.  It is all too frequent for people to look back to the time of that initial commitment to Jesus as being the defining time of their Christian life, but continuing faith is to be the thing that defines our daily life in the heat of the day.  And that is not easy.

There are places where difficult decisions have to be made, or where a storm breaks over us through illness or bereavement, or disappointment, or injustice or betrayal by those we trust, by redundancy, failure in business, divorce, rejection, family tragedy.  The situations are many.  But they are unpleasant and they call us out of our comfortable and pleasant places to put our faith to the test, to step out with the Lord and go with Him, leaving behind all our props and stays, trusting Him alone.  It is not easy, but it is then that faith proves its genuineness and it is through these times that it grows and we grow with it.  The great comforters of this world are those who have been through the storm themselves.  It is then that we grow and our resources grow and as a result we have largesse of spirit that we can share with others.  Paul wrote a word that has brought comfort to millions since he first penned the words, “He is able to do far more abundantly beyond what we ask or think.” ( Eph 3:20).  Now where do you think he experienced the truth of that?  Was it not in those situations where he was called to walk by faith, where the Lord let the storm blow on Him and where faith was tested and grew as a result?  He told the Christians in Corinth that he had suffered, “with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Cor 11: 23-29).  It was in those situations that he had to walk by faith, that his faith grew and that he grew as a Christian and was able to write those words to the Ephesians.

And in our modern age there are many places where we too have to stand alone in faith.  Jimmy Carter, ex President of the USA, tells of the blessings he has known in life but then writes, “I have also witnessed the deaths of my father and siblings when they were far too young, confronted public defeat more times than I wanted, and faced bankruptcy as well as the self-doubt, private losses and disappointments that are part of the human lot.” But he says, “Throughout these three score and ten years, my faith as a Christian has provided the necessary stability in my life.”  But such times were not easy.  He tells how he was visited by white Americans who were disturbed at his broad-minded views on race.  They pointed out that his local business depended on their support and that it would suffer if he continued treating blacks as equals.  But he felt called to step out of his safety zone in faith over the issue.  Over the years his fellow Georgians have come to see the rightness of his views.

Some may have to walk by faith in the boardroom today or in the staff room,in the works canteen, on the team or indeed in the marriage, or when the doctor speaks words we never wanted to hear.  Modern life has lost many of its strong foundations and people are very easy about moral principles.  The Christian will sometimes have to walk by faith, knowing that others will take a different view and sometimes aggressively so.  And it can be scary.  But in the heat of the day, we walk by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.

We have to walk by faith also in the matter of prayer, when answers are long in coming.  We may have prayed for years over some situation or for some loved one and it would be easy to give up and despair but in the heat of the day we are called to walk by faith.  In many of his letters Paul says, “I remember you always in my prayers,” and we are told to “pray without ceasing.”  So we continue to lift our petitions to God and, if answers are slow in coming, we continue to walk in faith in the heat of the day, growing in faith and growing as people.

 THE LAST MILE

And so all of us come to the last mile, when the evening comes on and we look to the end of the journey.  For some it comes early, perhaps unexpectedly in the full strength of life.  For others it comes after many years which have drained away our strength.  But whenever, the practice of life in the heat of the day will be the practice also in the last mile.  We walk by faith in the Son of God.  He said “I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am you may be also.”  And in the last mile, it’s a matter between you and Him.  No one else can take you over the river.

So that faith, lived out in the heat of the day is the same faith in the last mile of life.

Some years ago, one of my members suffered from cancer.  She had chemotherapy but the cancer returned and she decided she was having no more treatment.  I used to visit her every day and there she was lying back in bed waiting for Him.  She was walking by faith in the last mile.  A minister I know who was very eminent in our Church and full of honours said recently that in the end he is just trusting Jesus.  Walking by faith in the last mile.

You must think about the last mile.  How will you do in the last mile?  There are deathbed conversions, but in my experience they are very few.  Most have decided these things in the heat of the day.  And in the heat of the day it is so easy to put these things off, to wait for a more convenient time.  Yet, in the last mile you will probably not be very different from what you are now and you may well have lost the desire to do anything about the most important matter of your existence – your salvation.

In the last mile some people look back on life and console themselves that they haven’t been too bad, have lived a mostly decent life.  I talked to a man recently about this and he said, “I don’t do anything bad; He won’t be too hard on me.”  That’s salvation by works.  That’s us trying to pull ourselves up by our own laces.  That’s us trying to write the cheque for the ticket.  That’s us trying to rewrite the rules.  But that’s a broken bridge that won’t take you over.  In Galatians Paul says, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  So many in churches are walking that old bridge of salvation by works, thinking they’ll buy the ticket themselves by the way they live, their virtues and good points.  They sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ with gusto but don’t believe it.  They’re building that old bridge of works.  You’ll come to the end of that and realise with despair that you won’t make it.  When the Tay Bridge Disaster occurred one wild, stormy night and a train disappeared on its way across, an engineer walked/crawled out to the end of the track where the bridge had broken and peered down into the darkness with despair and hopelessness at what had happened.  A day will come when many will get to the end of their broken bridge of works and peer down into the darkness in despair and utter hopelessness.  Put your faith in Jesus the Saviour as the object of your faith, walk by faith in Him in the heat of the day and then in the last mile wait for Him to come for you.  Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Sidlow McFarland