The Assurance of Faith – March 8, 2009
Proverbs 3:1-14, Hebrews 11:1-12
March 8, 2009
The overall theme for Lent this year is “A Closer Walk.” As you may know, there is a yearly event by that name that’s held every July in Wildwood. Our people have been there many times. You’ve may remember seeing pictures of that in the back of the sanctuary.
If you think about it, that title – “A Closer Walk” – is a great Lenten theme. Because that’s the point of Lent. This is a time when we examine our life of faith, when we try to be honest with ourselves about where we’ve failed, and where we may have drifted away from our Lord. And it is a time when we make specific decisions and take concrete steps to get back to the place where we are in “a closer walk” with God.
Now, I know what you’re going to tell me. Those are things we really should be doing all the time. And that’s true. But this season – the season of Lent – is a time that the Church has set aside to pay particular attention to those things. And I hope we will. I hope we will take an honest look at our lives of faith. I hope we will think seriously about our relationship with our God.
Last week we talked about Discipleship. We talked about not just being “believers” or “followers,” but striving to be true “disciples” of our Lord Jesus. This week, I want to focus in on one aspect of being disciples. I want us to think about this thing called Faith. And I want us to think about what it means to be people of Faith. And that means, “Do we live our Faith or do we just know about it?”
I chose for our scripture lessons today, two wonderful passages about faith! From the Old Testament, I chose this passage from Proverbs 3. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” And then from the New Testament, I chose this classic definition of Faith from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. “Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
First, let’s think about Proverbs. And this is a great “refrigerator passage!” This is one we should see posted before our eyes every day! “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” As we think about that, I want us to see what they knew even back in “Old Testament times.” That is, that Faith starts with trust. It doesn’t say, “When you see God direct your paths, then you can trust him.” That’s not it. Trust is first. And trust is a choice. Trust is a matter of the will. It is decision based.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? However, let me tell you that even though that’s a thought process, even though it’s “head driven,” trust is not “head oriented.” Solomon (the writer of Proverbs) is very clear that trust is a matter of the heart! Notice, he didn’t say, “Trust in the Lord with all your mind.” He said, “Trust… with all your heart!” So then, logically, if faith starts with trust, and trust is a matter of the heart, then faith must therefore be a matter of the (?) heart! Remember that from your High School Math? If A = B, and B = C, then A = C! (I know you’re thinking, “I was promised there would be no Math involved here!” Either that, or you’re thinking, “Do we have to know this for the test?”)
Trust is a choice of the mind, but it is a matter of the heart. But trust is not so easy a thing, is it? Because, by its nature, trust means giving up of one’s own security to another. When a person says “trust me,” they are saying, “let my understanding, my knowledge, my control be in force here.” “I know what’s going on.” “You’ll be fine.” “Leave it to me.” That’s not easy to do, is it? If we’re going to trust, we have to take a breath. We have to remember that the person saying that is trustworthy – or at least they appear to be so. And we need to set aside our own power and understanding and our own self reliance.
Some people can’t do that, can they? Some people insist that they must be in control of their own destiny – whether that means their whole future, or whether it has to do with the immediate moment. Is that you? Do you have to be in charge of your own life at all times? In wanting us to have faith, God says, “Trust me.” Are you able to do that? If not, what are your “reservations?” Is it that you cannot be absolutely sure of God’s existence? That’s part of faith, isn’t it? We have to trust to that which we cannot see. Every “proof” for the existence of God has that element of “faith.”
Paul knew that. And he was very big on “things unseen!” That’s what he said in Hebrews. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Remember, that was written to the Jewish Christians who were having some second thoughts about this Jesus character. Was he really the Messiah? Did they back the right horse? Paul was telling them about that nature of faith. And remember, this was all new to them. They didn’t have the kind of evidence we have! They didn’t have the background of over two thousand years of Christian history. They were told. They believed. And now they weren’t so sure.
Are we ever at the point where we aren’t sure? That’s a rhetorical question, I know! All of us go through times we aren’t “as sure as we were before.” We go through times when our minds are “not so convinced.” We have times when our hearts are wondering a bit. And remember that’s where faith ultimately resides – in our hearts!
As I’ve often said, there are so many parts of our lives of faith that we think are “automatic.” We think if we become a Christian then we will automatically be joyful, we will automatically have growth in our faith, we will automatically believe, and we will automatically “know things” for sure, without a doubt. Then, when those things aren’t happening, we think something’s wrong with us. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? That’s where this thing called “discipline” comes in. (Which is where the word “Disciple” comes from!) We need to learn to choose to do these things. We need to learn to pray when we don’t feel like praying. We need to learn to study, when we don’t feel like studying. And trust is like that. Sometimes we have to trust when we don’t feel like trusting!
There’s another great passage about this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. This is from chapter 4. And in a way, this brings the other two passages together. Paul writes, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.” (Remember that? We heard these words on Ash Wednesday!) “For this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Because we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen…” And the understanding here is, “…we choose to look not to things that are seen, but to things that are unseen…” We choose that “unseen world.” “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The other thing that passage does for us is the last thing I want you to see today about this thing called Faith. What I want you to see is that faith is tied to God’s glory. That means the glory that we know in this life, and – as it says in II Corinthians 4 – the glory that is being “prepared for us!” Our reward for having faith is not about the satisfaction of “knowing we were right.” Our reward is “knowing God!” And that’s the whole idea of our faith in the first place! When that day comes when we see God “face to face” our reaction will not be, “There, you see, I told you so! I told you there was a God!” It wont be that. It will be “Hallelujah!!” And it will be that because we will have known God all along!
That’s the idea! In the Christian experience, we don’t just strive to prove God exists, or to know that there is a heavenly reward. We strive to know the glory of God! That’s part of what St. Irenaeus said in the second century, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” And notice that’s not “the glory of God is man proving God exists!” We are to be fully alive!
So, as we make our way through Lent, I ask you, “Do you trust in the Lord?” “Do you look to things unseen?” or is your faith just about knowing God exists? At the end of the day, once you have chosen to have faith – in your heart – where does that leave you? Do you have the satisfaction that you made the right choice, and that your eternal soul has been safeguarded? Or do you know the glory of God?
Eternal God, you have called us, you have given us your glory. We need help to trust you and to have the faith to live this life. Help us to know the indwelling of your Holy Spirit, and the power and assurance he brings. Give us glimpses of the realm unseen, and fill us with the joy of your kingdom. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.