A missionary working among children in the Middle East was driving her jeep down a road when she ran out of petrol. She had no jerry can in her car. All she could find was a potty. She walked a mile down the road to the nearest petrol station and filled the potty with petrol. As she was pouring the petrol into the tank, a large Cadillac drew up occupied by wealthy oil sheikhs. They were absolutely fascinated at seeing her pouring the contents of the potty into the jeep. One of them opened the window and said, ‘Excuse me! My friend and I, although we do not share your religion, we greatly admire your faith!’
How can I have faith? There’s another story about a man, dying of thirst, who staggers up to a disused well on an old desert road. The man begins to pump the handle like crazy but there is no compression and nothing happens. But just then he notices that there’s a note in a bottle lying beside the well. The note reads:
“This well is in good working order and will produce ample drinking water to satisfy your needs. You just have to prime the pump first to be able to get at the water. Look underneath the white rock beside the well and there is another bottle buried in the sand with just enough water for you to prime the pump. Pour all of the contents from this bottle into the chamber by the pump handle and then continue to pump furiously until the water flows. Don’t think that it won’t work – it will. And don’t drink any of the water in the bottle – there is only enough to prime the pump! Just have faith, follow these instructions and the well will deliver plenty of water. Afterwards, please refill the bottle with fresh water and put it back under the rock for the next traveller.”
– Signed, Indian Joe.
What is the price for the life-giving water? Faith in the written word; making a commitment; a willingness to risk it all; to step out in faith. Jesus said: “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21v6).
The title of this evening’s talk is ‘how can I have faith?’ Firstly, how do we define faith? The Bible says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Simply put, the biblical definition of faith is “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove.”
So, how can we have faith? In the NT Paul writes: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV). Faith comes from hearing the gospel explained, but faith is also a gift from God. In his letter to the Ephesian church Paul said: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so no-one can boast” (Ephesians 2v8-9). Faith is a gift from God. We can ask God to give us the gift of faith. The disciples said to [Jesus], “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17v5) – And he did. We too can ask God to increase our faith.
You have heard me say this before: True Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a relationship. Years ago, when I was searching for faith and I began to explore the evidence for Christianity, I became convinced that it was true… but I thought the answer was to delay; to go ahead and enjoy life as much as I possibly could now and put off making a decision, or put off becoming a Christian until I was much older or on my death bed! I thought Christianity was all about restrictions and rules and not doing stuff that I enjoyed. What I hadn’t realised is that Christianity is about a relationship – a relationship with a God who loves us and wants only what’s best for us; a God who wants us to experience His love, His joy, His peace and His guidance. When someone becomes a Christian they become a new person. The Bible says: “The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)’
People’s experiences vary greatly. For some people, as they examine the evidence of Christianity their journey to faith is like a capital V – a sudden change, for others it is more like a gradual U – as the realisation of Jesus’ love for them impacts upon their heart. What’s important is not so much the experience as the fact that when we receive Christ we become a child of God and a new relationship begins. The Apostle John writes: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NIV).
How Can We Have Faith? Three ways: firstly (1) The Word of God
When it comes to faith, if we were to rely solely upon our feelings we’d never be sure about anything, because our feelings go up and down depending on all sorts of things. One day we feel wanted and loved… the next we feel rejected and abandoned. Our feelings are changeable and can even be deceptive at times. Feelings are important but when it comes to faith we must not rely only on our feelings. We must instead trust in God’s promises, which do not change; we must rely on the Word of God… because God is always as good as His word.
So far on Alpha we have looked at ‘Who Jesus Is’ and ‘Why Jesus Died’ – Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. On the cross a transfer took place, Jesus took our sin upon his shoulders and He paid the price to set us free. Question is… have we accepted what He has done for us?
If I were to ask you, on a scale of 1 to 10 how certain are you of being saved and going to heaven, how would you score? Think of a number (pause). Now, if you scored yourself anything less than 10, that most likely means you don’t feel worthy to go to heaven: And that’s true; because none of us are, or ever will be worthy enough in our own right. But a Christian, by definition, has to score 10 because a Christian is someone who is trusting in Christ for their salvation: Jesus’ death, on the cross, paid for our sin for all time. We are saved from the judgement of sin and hell. Period! Now that might sound arrogant or presumptuous, but it is not… its faith; its taking God at His word, it’s trusting in the finished work of Christ! That’s why the very last words on Jesus’ lips, moments before he died, were: ‘It is finished.’ (John 19:30) The price for our sin is paid in full! Those who repent and believe in Christ are saved – 10 out of 10 – not because of anything we have done but because of what Jesus has done. Religion is spelt D-O and Christianity is spelt D-O-N-E. It’s so very liberating when you understand this – Christianity is not about religion it’s about relationship, it’s about trusting in Christ!
Now supposing we were to go into Wokingham town and do a survey and asked people this question: If you died tonight and stood at the door of heaven and God said, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ how would you respond? – Now, really, there are only two answers that question: one is wrong answer and the other is the right answer. The wrong answer, basically, adds up to any statement that says ‘because of what I have done’. For example, God, you should let me into heaven because…
- I’m a kind, considerate person. I’ve tried to help others. I give to charities (my good deeds).
- I’ve kept the 10 Commandments (not killed anyone; don’t lie or steal or commit adultery.)
- I’m a good, law-abiding citizen. I might not perfect but if you balance things out I’m a fairly decent person.
- I’ve read the Bible: maybe not all of it but some of it, and I pray quite often. (That doesn’t make you a Christian.)
- Well, I’ve been baptised, confirmed and I regularly go to church and take communion. (That doesn’t make you a Christian.)
- I believe in Jesus (so does the devil!)
- And I grew up in a Christian family and my parents are Christian. (Great, but being born into a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than being born in a launderette makes you a washing machine!)
This is how people try to get right with God. But none of these ‘good works’ individually or collectively can ever make us right with God or qualify us to get into heaven. Let me read to you from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7v20-23: “Jesus said: What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.” – In other words, sin is not just doing, saying or thinking wrong things; it’s a heart issue. And you can’t fix the problem be putting sticky plaster over it to cover it up; you can’t get right with God by doing good and charitable works.
Suppose you go to the doctors with red spots all over your body and he diagnoses measles. Imagine he then tried to cure you by covering all the spots with band aids or plasters. You’d say, ‘Hey, hang on a minute, that’s no solution! The spots are only the symptoms – the real disease is within; it’s in the blood stream!’ So it is with our sin – it’s a heart issue and we can’t fix the problem by doing good works to try and impress God or cancel out the bad stuff! As the old adage goes, ‘The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart’. All of us have this incurable disease called ‘sin’, which has been inherited and passed down from one generation to the next, right the way back to Adam and Eve. It’s only Jesus’ death on the cross can pay the price for our sin. Only He can forgive us, make us clean and restore us into a right relationship with God.
Friends, we need to understand that God’s standard is 100% perfection and by this standard everyone fails, so no one can ever be saved by good works, no matter how hard we try. If we could attain forgiveness and reconciliation with God through our own efforts then Jesus death would have been absolutely pointless. Jesus’ death on the cross makes us – those who are trusting in what Jesus has done – it makes us right with God: Jesus paid for all our sin, 100%! That’s why He came… to show us the Way to heaven and rescue or save us from hell (which is eternal separation from God). Let me put it another way: if hell is not a reality then why did Jesus bother coming at all? “I have not come to call the righteous [people] but sinners,” said Jesus: If sinners don’t really need rescuing why the rescue mission?
The correct answer to the question: ‘why should I let you into heaven’ is, ‘God you should let me into heaven because of what Jesus has done for me!’ We are not saved because of anything we have done but because of what God has done for us in Christ. It’s Ephesians 2v8-9 again: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast.”
Question then: If we are not saved by our good works or by our own efforts; if salvation is a free gift to those who believe, well does that mean I can live any kind of life I want, as long as I ask God for forgiveness? No! If we look again at Ephesians 2 and the very next verse, v10, we read: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Friends, we are not saved by doing good works BUT for good works, which God has planned in advance for us to do. God has good plans that He’s waiting for us to accomplish.
As one pastor said: “There is something that you will never do unless you come to Jesus. There is something wonderful that God will never be able to accomplish through you, until you surrender to do His will. There is something of ultimate importance that God wants you to achieve for Him. (…) I am convinced that God has a special mission for you to perform in His name. And when you come to grips with Jesus, you will come to know that purpose. When you discern His mission for you, you will know what your life is all about. Then, and only then, will your quest for meaning and purpose be realised.” Citation
So, do you see then, that our good works do not lead to our salvation – it’s the other way around: our salvation, knowing that we are forgiven, reconciled, restored into a right relationship with God, leads to our good works. For a Christian, good works are the fruit of our salvation not the root of our salvation!’
‘There are many ways of speaking about starting the new life of the Christian faith – becoming a Christian, giving our lives to Christ, receiving Christ, inviting Jesus into our lives, believing in Him and opening the door of our hearts to Jesus.’ In the last book of the Bible, Revelation 3v20, Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” – The invitation is open to everyone but it requires a personal R.S.V.P.; a response; the door of acceptance has to be opened from the inside. Jesus knocks but he doesn’t force entry!
Based on this verse, Holman Hunt, a nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite artist, painted a famous picture entitled, ‘The Light of the World’. In it Jesus is carrying a lamp in one hand while knocking on an old door which is overgrown with ivy and weeds. In Hunt’s painting there is no handle on the outside of the door, so Jesus cannot open the door, only the resident living within can open it.
Faith is taking God’s promises and daring to believe them. Faith is hearing Jesus calling or knocking on the door of your heart and opening the door to him.
How Can We Have Faith? Secondly (2): The Work of Jesus
Although a clean slate, forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life are offered free to us – it doesn’t come cheap. It cost Jesus his life. We receive the gift by repentance and faith. To become a Christian you have to do two things; have repentance and faith – repent and believe. In Mark 1v15 Jesus said this: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news [the gospel].” (Mark 1:15) In other words, turn your life around; do a U-turn; stop living life your way and live God’s way. Confess your sin and accept Jesus. Repent and believe, and receive forgiveness; healing; restoration; new life. Repent and believe: let’s look at these two things. First repentance…
We need to understand that there is difference between being sorry or remorseful for things that we have done wrong and being repentant – which is not the same thing. When my children were growing up and they committed some minor misdemeanour and were sorry for what they had done, I would often say to them: ‘It’s good that you are sorry but I don’t want so much to hear sorry as to see sorry.’ In other words, its right to be remorseful and apologise but to change your wrongful behaviour, that’s what really matters! To be remorseful is to be sorry. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was full of remorse. In fact, he felt so sorry for himself, and was so full of guilt for what he’d done, that he went out and hanged himself. But as far as we know Judas didn’t repent; he didn’t seek forgiveness and restoration; he didn’t seek to live a changed life that honours Christ. He was remorseful, yes, but not repentant (cf. Matthew 26:24–25, 27:3–5 and John 17:12). To be remorseful is to be sorry but to repent is far more than just being sorry: to repent is to confess your sins, your wrongdoing, and to seek God’s forgiveness; to repent is to want to turn your life around; to turn away from your old way of life and to seek to live a new life through the Lord Jesus. – Jesus calls us all repent… and then to keep on repenting when we know we have sinned.
Let me illustrate what happens using this architects plan or drawing of a house. (Show plan) When I become a Christian, Jesus comes to live in me spiritually, by his Holy Spirit. Then, over the days and years that follow, the Holy Spirit wants to change me from the inside out, to make me more like Jesus. When you buy a house there are two stages; MOVING-IN DAY (this happens once) and the RENOVATION and REDECORATION (which is on-going).
Becoming a Christian is the moving-in day. This occurs once when God gives me the grace to repent and surrender to Jesus – when I ‘open the door’ and the Holy Spirit moves in to take up residence. This happens, genuinely, only once, although many Christians can’t specify the exact day on which it took place. Remember some people’s journey is like a capital V – a sudden change, for others it is more like a gradual U. Being a Christian is an ongoing or progressive work. The various rooms in the house represent all the aspects of my life: Marriage; Family; Money; Ambition; Leisure; Sexuality; Time; etc. The Holy Spirit is not content to remain in the lobby. Once he has entered my life, he will want to change me into his image; into what I should really be like. This does not happen all at once – it is a gradual work, like renovating a house. The point is: when I become a Christian, I must be willing for Jesus to become Lord of all. This willingness is the beginning of repentance, and what this means in practice will be worked out progressively as I grow in this new life, by his Spirit. Citation
What does it mean it practical terms to repent? It means I put Jesus first. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34.) When Jesus was around, at the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, to ‘pick up your cross’ meant to carry your own cross to the place where you would be killed. Jesus says that if I am to follow him, I must go through a kind of death experience. I must die to my old self; my old selfish ways, desires and ambitions, and I must live for Him. – People everywhere are trying to gain the whole world. To a small or larger degree their aim is to accumulate power, money, fame, popularity, pleasure, business success, or just to keep ahead of the Joneses. Now these things are not wrong in and of themselves, but they are wrong; they are sinful if we live for them above everything else. When Jesus is number one in our lives these things fall into the proper perspective. Citation Jesus said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
The thing that most often stops people from entering into God’s kingdom is pride. – Pride: wanting to do things my way. Ultimately, pride is behind all sin. Ask yourself this: what’s stopping you? Am I too proud to accept salvation as a free gift? Am I too proud to submit to Jesus as king?
I remember as a young boy I would sometimes fall over in the playground and graze my knee, as children are apt to do. With my knee smarting and bleeding I would cry out seeking comfort. The school nurse would put a Band-Aid on the wound to make it better but first of all she would clean it with neat Dettol, which would often hurt more than the initial injury itself. The experience was that of desperately wanting to receive the healing comfort of the Band-Aid but not that of the cleansing. Isn’t that so true to life? We want God’s blessing and we want to be comforted, but we don’t want to have to go through the painful experience of facing up to our sin, of being purged and cleansed, in order to be comforted. There is, however, no other way: We have to recognise our sin, confess and repent of it, and then, by faith, receive the cleansing and purification of Jesus before we can be comforted. We have to repent so that we can be forgiven. We have to take that step of faith and open the door of our hearts to Jesus.
It may sound hard to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is, but mostly it’s not – mostly it is wonderful. Jesus said He came to give us abundant life; life in all its fullness (John 10:10). One thing I can promise you is this: You will never meet a Christian who ever regretted making the decision. Again, you’ve heard me say this before but: You will never find an atheist who can ever say atheism has really changed my life… but, friends, every Christian can say that.
How Can We Have Faith? Thirdly (3): The Witness of the Spirit
To become a Christian you have to do two things; repent and believe. We have looked at what it means to repent, now let’s look at believing, at taking the step of faith.
Charles Blondin was a famous tightrope walker and stunt artist in America. Some years ago he stretched a wire rope across the top of Niagara Falls and walked across it several times, always with a different theatrical variation: He walked across blindfold; he went across on stilts, he carried a man on his back and he even sat down mid-way across while he cooked and ate an omelette!
A newspaper reporter came up and asked him what he proposed to next.
Blondin said he was going to wheel a man across in a wheelbarrow. “Do you think I can do it?” Blondin asked.
“Oh yes”, said the reporter. “You are the greatest tightrope artist of all time. I believe you can do it.”
Blondin replied, “You do; you really think I can do it?”
“I know you can,” said the newspaper reporter.
“Well then,” replied Blondin, “you get in the wheelbarrow!”
Friends, there’s a difference between faith and knowledge. There is a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. You see, you can believe the Christian message is true but unless you are willing to step out in faith and put your trust in Christ, you are never going to know what it’s really like; you’ll miss salvation by a foot, 12 inches, which is the distance between the brain/head knowledge and heart knowledge. Faith is trusting in God.
Imagine a young lad stuck up in a tree and his father comes to rescue him. “Let go and I will catch you,” the Dad says. Now the boy might agree in his head that his dad can catch and hold on to him, but until he trusts him enough to let go of the branch he will always remain stuck. – And that’s where some of you are this evening. You are stuck in the tree. You know God can catch you. He is not going to let you fall or hurt yourself. He says. “Let go. I’m right here. I’ll catch you.” Friend, let go of the branch. Trust yourself into God’s capable hands. He will catch you, and hold on to you, and put your life back on to a solid footing again.
Faith is trusting in God, but we are not called to have blind faith – we are called to have faith in God’s Word. Remember, Christian faith does not depend upon our feelings, which are always changing, but on the facts of what God has done and promised.
Let me illustrate with this visual aid.
Imagine three men walking along the top of a narrow wall. The first man is called FACTS, the second FAITH and the last, FEELINGS. – As long as the middle man, Faith, keeps his eyes on Facts, he can walk securely and steadily on the wall. But if he turns around and keeps looking over his shoulder for Feelings, he starts to wobble and feel insecure. Similarly, in the Christian faith, solid faith is based on the facts of Jesus as learned in the Bible. If we go too much by our feelings, our faith will always be unsteady and weak. Citation
When a person becomes a Christian, God’s Holy Spirit comes to live within them. There are two particular aspects, of the many activities of the Holy Spirit, which help us to be sure of our faith in Christ. Firstly, he transforms us from within – like the renovation/redecoration process we discussed earlier. Secondly, he brings about a deep, personal conviction that I am loved; that I am God’s child; I am in Christ and Christ is me.
Let me conclude this talk with a final illustration: When a person accepts the forgiveness and new life that Jesus offers, for free, their sins are covered by the blood of Christ and their place in the God’s Kingdom is secure and protected forever.
Let me illustrate using these old CDs/cases: Before we become a Christian we are all wrapped up in self, we’re immersed in our own sinfulness… (put Ian Seymour ‘CD’ in Ian Seymour CD case). But when we become a Christian we are covered with the blood of Christ and Jesus comes to live in us by his Spirit. We are protected in Christ. We are in Christ and Christ is in us… (put Ian Seymour ‘CD’ in Jesus Christ CD case and Jesus Christ ‘CD’ in Ian Seymour CD case). And on the last and final day when we stand in front of the gates of heaven, God will look upon us and see that we have accepted Jesus; that we are covered by Christ’s sacrifice; 100%. Jesus has paid our dues.
“When we die, we are either in Christ or in sin. Those who die in their sin will have to give an account for it. Those who die in Christ stand in His righteousness. They won’t give account for their sin, because it was accounted for on the cross. They will be rewarded for deeds done while on earth.” Citation For the good works God has planned in advance for us to do.
Is that the position you want to be in? Then, friends, let go of the branch. God will catch you, and fill you with his Spirit and give you wonderful new life… Or, if you are unsure whether you have really believed in Jesus, then let me say a prayer – you can repeat it privately in the silence of your heart – a prayer which you can use as a way of starting the Christian life and receiving all the benefits which Christ died to make possible. May we bow our heads and pray…
Heavenly Father, I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. (Mention anything in particular that is on your conscience.) Please forgive me. I now turn from everything I know is wrong. Thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. From now on I will follow and obey him as my Lord. Thank you that you now offer me this gift of forgiveness and your Holy Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.