Last week vs. this week
Last week I spoke to you about the dark days ahead and suggested a way for churches to stand together as Canadian governments (federal, provincial and municipal) become increasingly hostile toward Christ and His followers. Today I want to speak to you personally. What will happen to your confession when the going gets tough? Here’s the problem; everyone wants their church to stand for Jesus, but that can’t happen unless individual members are willing to stand on their own.
Prov. 24:10 If you do nothing in a difficult time, your strength is limited (HCSB). (If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. KJV)
God help us to stand firm and to keep making the good confession when the waters rise against us. And may God help us to remember that if we turn to Him in such times, He will give us strength.
Isaiah 40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding. 29 He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. 30 Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, 31 but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.
Spiritually speaking, tough times are not just coming; they’re upon us already. And in such times one of the Enemy’s chief weapons is to make each one of us feel all alone, like you’re the only believer left.. Let me tell you, if you stand up for Jesus you are never alone, but there are times when it feels that way. Elijah complained to God that he was the only believer in Israel but God assured him that He had kept for Himself 7,000 souls who remained faithful (I Kings 19:18).
Let’s talk about the title of this message. Most of you have probably already said to yourselves, “Isn’t this the name of the organization that Pastor Shafer is going to work for? Well, yes, it is. But have you thought about what the words mean? What is a faith that is in some sense beyond belief? Some of you are probably even asking, “Is there a difference between faith and belief?
Yes there is. Belief has to do with the mind, what you think is true, and the problem is that what you think—or what you want to think is true—may have nothing to do with truth, or reality.
Let me give you an example. Someone may say to himself, “I don’t like to work hard so I’m going to tell myself that success is accidental; it happens to some and it doesn’t happen to others, and nothing I do will make a difference.” That’s one example of a belief that does not fit with the facts of life.
Here’s a different example of what I mean, and maybe this is closer to the issue at hand. (Calvin and Hobbes) As you can see, Calvin believes in Santa Claus because he thinks that will bring him more presents. But really, he’s ready to believe in aanything that will bring him presents. If it will bring him more presents he’ll believe in the Man in the Moon, or the Great Pumpkin—or even God. A lot of people approach Christianity like that. “I’ll believe in God as long as I have hope that God is going to come through for me. But if God doesn’t ‘come through,’ then I’m done with Him. I’ll believe in something else.”
Needless to say, true Christian faith is altogether separate from all such forms of false belief. In fact, the Bible almost never speaks of “belief.” You might even say it deals exclusively with “faith,” which is an active, life-transforming force. “Belief” is about going with the flow. Faith gives you strength to swim against the tide. Belief is compatible with the broad way that leads to destruction that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13. Everybody going to hell on that broad way believes in something, and most of them will tell you they believe in God. But their belief means nothing, neither to themselves or God. Faith, on the other hand, keeps your feet strong on the narrow and difficult road that leads to life.
Faith is greater than belief
Fwiw, the word “belief” is found only once in the HCSB, in II Thess. 2:13, and even there it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
II Thess. 2:13 But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
For whatever reason the translators felt that “belief” would work better than “faith” in our English translation, but if you check the original language the inspired Greek word is “faith,” meaning the Thessalonians have a “moral conviction,” about Who Jesus is. They are fully persuaded that what they believe is true accompanied by an equally strong conviction that opposing, contradictory views are “not true;” they have also come to rely upon what they believe, and their lives are characterized by a constancy in professing that one faith. Related words include having “assurance” that in Jesus they have got hold of the truth, thus making their lives to shine with “fidelity,” that is, faithfulness to what they believe.
Such faith cannot be sustained unless it is based upon truth, what Francis Schaeffer used to call true truth, truth connected to reality. Think about the “just so” stories the atheists tell one another about the origin of matter, or the beginning of life. When their beliefs are examined with the fully opened eyes of faith, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I’ll tell you this.
We have to cry when we hear the abortionists declaring there is nothing wrong with what they do. Why do we cry? Because faith informs us that reality includes a time when God will bring in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And when that happens unbelievers will be left outside, in a place of torment. The Bible makes clear who will be left out: “the sorcerers (witchcraft), the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15). Unless such people repent and believe, they will all perish—forever!
Peter is writing to Christians shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. You would think Peter would cut them some slack because they were facing persecution like nothing you could ever imagine.
I’ll tell you how bad it got. Back in Matthew 24:21 Jesus called what was going to happen to Jerusalem a “great tribulation,” the kind that “hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again!” Nothing the Chinese Christians are facing today, nor anything you and I will face in our lifetimes will ever compare to what those first-century Christians went through. Yet, as you will see, Peter held those Christians to a high standard.
I Peter 3:8 Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, 9 not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.
10 For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, 11 and he must turn away from evil and do what is good. He must seek peace and pursue it, 12 because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil.
13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? (If you become the Christlike person Peter has just described, the answer is, almost nobody who knows you. Even in tough times of persecution it will require an outsider to do you any real harm.
In the coming days, as persecution grows against Christians, we need to love our neighbours—meaning real friendliness and sacrificial service—offered in such a way that they feel protective toward us. Let me give you an example. When the Muslim Brotherhood came to burn down the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical church in Cairo, it was the church’s Muslim neighbours who filled the streets so the brotherhood couldn’t get near enough to do any harm.)
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. (These are the same words Jesus used when he gave the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. From personal experience Peter was well aware that godly people can and will suffer, specifically for their righteousness.)
Do not fear what they (unrighteous people) fear or be disturbed, (Here the ESV reads, “Have no fear of them,” which at first glance seems very different from “Do not fear what they fear.” In fact, while the HCSB is more literal, both translations are getting at the same thing. Peter is saying that ungodly people will persecute Christians by trying to scare them with the things they fear. But Christians should not be afraid because we fear God.
“We’ll laugh at you,” is very frightening to a person who depends upon the crowd for self-esteem. “We’ll take away your property,” is scary for those who never heard Jesus say, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
“We won’t let you earn degrees at our universities.” This could be especially disturbing for some unless you are seeking what Jim Elliott called the A.U.G. degree (Approved unto God). Or what about, “We’ll kill you.” This is the greatest fear of those who don’t know Jesus, but to believers, “to die is gain! (Phil. 1:21). These things, and more, really do scare unbelievers, but Christians should not be so easily frightened.)
15 but honour the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. (In verses 14-15 Peter is clearly quoting from Isaiah 8:12-13. “Do not call everything an alliance these people say is an alliance. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe.”)
Always be ready to give a defence (Grk. = apologia, explanation) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (Peter mentions this twice. Suffering for serving Christ is to be expected.)
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. (If Christ suffered for us, how dare we think it unfair, or too hard, if we should be asked to suffer for Him?)
I Peter 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defence (apologia, explanation) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
1. Why would anyone ask about your hope?
a. Because you love those who don’t love you.
b. Because you are willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10).
c. Because you consider yourself blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of your faithfulness to Christ (Matt. 5:11).
d. Because the thought of your reward in heaven causes you to be glad and rejoice (Matt. 5:12).
e. Because you love your enemies, and you bless those who curse you and then you pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).
If you live this way people are going to ask you about your hope. They’ll wait until they don’t think anyone else is listening, but then they’ll ask, “What keeps you going, man?”
2. What will you say when they ask?
My life, and all my expectations, are anchored in Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah and my Lord and Saviour. He is the son of David by actual genealogical records, and by His resurrection He was proven to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). As Messiah He is the fulfilment of 1,500 years of O.T. prophecy, all of which came true. And you know what? Fulfilled prophecy means I can trust the Bible to be the very word of God. All God’s promises are true in Christ, and because I have Christ all His promises are true to me as well.
The Bible explains how Christ’s atoning death payed for the sin of the world so that by faith in Him my life can be accepted in God’s Beloved Son. Because God has given me the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption, I am enabled to trust with a faith that is beyond belief that I belong to Him and my life is safely in His hands. That means I don’t have to fight and strive with others for my piece of the heavenly pie. In Christ I already have it!
Even if I’m treated unjustly on earth, I don’t have to fight for my rights. Instead I can trust that justice will someday be satisfied when Christ sits on His great white throne and examines the records of men’s deeds.
I have confidence that even though I am saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, still I am blessed to know that I can actually please God if I live by the ethical truths that are established by the Ten Commandments and explained throughout Scripture.
But most of all, I want to live a life that reflects the joy and reality of Christ living in me! Therefore my whole life is focussed on laying up treasure in heaven. In Christ I’m already richer than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates put together, and someday all of heaven will be mine.
Is this your hope? Is your life lived so that people will ask you about your hope? Do you have such a hope?