Faith That Expects God
Topic: Faith Passage: Hebrews 11:1–11:6
Faith That Expects God
Pastor Allen Snapp 5/24/15
This past Monday I received a call that my 95 year old grandmother had been having pains in her chest and left arm for a few days, and I decided to drive to Michigan to see her for what I think will be the last time. I finally admitted to myself late Friday night that I wouldn't have time to work on a new sermon and that I needed to do something I rarely do, and that's pull an old sermon out of the file.
So as I'm driving back and praying about what message I should share this morning, I remembered a series we did seven years ago called Expecting God and very quickly I felt I wanted to take a message from that series called Faith that Expects God. What inspired this choice is that, while driving to Michigan and back, I had the chance to listen to the messages by Andy Sassaman and Don Sauter, and the Lord used those messages to remind me of the importance of having and cultivating a living and vital faith in God.
Faith is a gift from God, but like all gifts from God we need to develop it. Paul tells Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God he received and we need to regularly fan our faith into flame if it's going to remain bright and strong. Our faith in God takes hits all the time - between circumstances and adversities and the cares of this life and science and the media and entertainment and mountains that seem too big to get over - things have a way of chipping away at our faith in God, and unless we are proactively fanning it into flame, I know for me, my faith takes a hit and my expectation that God is and will do great things grows dimmer and weaker. So let's read this passage in Hebrews and then we'll ask God to fan our faith into flame through His word this morning.
The phrase Expect God is technically not found in the Bible, but the concept most definitely is. God makes it clear that He wants His people to approach Him with great expectancy, or faith. Expectancy for blessing, for provision, for deliverance, and for salvation, is expressed in terms like:
- Believe in God (John 14:1)
- Trust in the Lord (Ps. 37:3)
- The Lord will be your confidence (Prov. 3:26)
- Have faith in God (Mark 11:22)
Believe, trust, faith, confidence. Over and over again we see that God’s dealings with His people correspond to their faith - or expectancy - in Him. Faith is essential to every aspect of our walk with God, beginning with our salvation – we are saved by grace through faith. J. Gresham Machen says that faith is “the means which the Holy Spirit uses to apply to the individual soul the benefits of Christ's death." Christ's atoning death on the cross does not save us until we believe in Christ! That is, until we apprehend his grace and apply it to our lives by faith.
Faith is not only essential to our being saved, it is also essential to our continued walk with God. Paul says, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2:20. The Christian life is a walk of faith from beginning to end.
Heb. 11: 6 says without faith it is impossible to please God. That means that with faith it is possible to please God. Faith in God pleases God. Not because faith is a kind of work that earns
God's approval, but because the nature of faith looks to God with expectancy. Faith says, I need God and I believe God will come through for me. I put my trust in God. And that confidence in God glorifies God because it says that God is faithful, He is powerful, He is good, He is worthy of my putting my faith in Him. When the church is walking in faith it pleases God, and when the church has little faith, little confidence in God, asks little of God, and doesn't actively believe that God is powerful and working on the church's behalf, God is displeased with the church.
Faith makes a difference
God doesn't just do what He's going to do, whether His church has faith or not. God moves in His church in accordance to our faith. We see this in Jesus' earthly ministry: when people came to him in faith, he worked mighty miracles. Where there was little or no faith, the Bible says he could do very few miracles. God moves in accordance to our faith. That's why we want to continually be stirring up our faith, raising our expectancy in God.
So it's not enough to be faithful in our Christian walk, God wants us to be faith-filled in our Christian walk. Not only be faithful to pray, but be faith-filled as we pray. Not only be faithful to witness to unsaved people about Jesus, but be faith-filled that Jesus can and will save people as we share the gospel with them. Not only be faithful to come to church, but to be faith-filled as we come to church, expecting God to meet us as we worship the Lord together. Expecting God to minister to our hearts and needs. And expecting God to use us to be a blessing and encouragement to others.
Let's unpack these verses from Heb. 11.
I. Biblical faith is centered on God
...whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists …(vs 6)
1. Faith believes that God exists
Biblical faith is always centered on God. Faith isn't the focus of faith, God is the focus of faith. Some teachings on faith have centered so much on faith, that it's as if faith is what we are supposed to be focused on. As if faith is what is so powerful and life-changing. No, God is so powerful and life-changing and faith is really just looking to Him with expectancy. Nature of faith is that its eyes are not on itself (do I have enough faith) but focused on God. Biblical faith is not focused on faith – it's focused on God.
Faith believes that God is God. Faith is the ability to see God as great and glorious, even in the midst of dark and difficult surroundings. We need an experience like Elisha’s servant when he woke up to find they were surrounded by the Syrian army, and cried out to Elisha, “alas…what shall we do?”
Elisha told him not to be afraid “for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then he prayed and servant’s eyes were opened to see the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire. This servant didn’t need to be talked into a different attitude or perspective – he really just needed his eyes opened to the greater reality that was around them: armies of God.
This is what the heroes of faith in chapter 11 have in common. Whether they went into unknown lands or parted the Red Sea or shut the mouths of lions or were sawn asunder, they saw what cannot be seen with physical eyes and yet is so much more real: God is God, beside Him there is no other, and He is worthy to be trusted with our lives.
2. Faith believes that God is good
…and that He rewards those who seek Him…
Biblical faith believes more than God exists. The demons believe that and tremble! Believes something very specific about God: that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. God is generous to those who come to Him and ask.
When we come to our heavenly Father we can know that He hears us and He wants to pour out His blessing. Faith speaks of God’s character as generous and kind. Doubt and fear says God isn’t good – isn’t faithful – isn’t listening. We might think that having little faith mostly says something about us but really it says a lot about our view of God. Do we believe He is a rewarder of those who seek Him? Or do we believe (at least functionally) that He is an ignorer of those who seek Him?
Our faith can be most tested when circumstances around us look like God isn't being good to us. It can seem like He's forgotten us, abandoned us, or even punishing us. When our fervent prayers don't seem to get an answer. Andy's excellent message on when prayers seem to go unanswered spoke of this. Sometimes when we ask God for something - maybe a healing from a long standing illness, or provision for a serious need, or the salvation of someone we love - and we don't get the answer we wanted, or in the time frame we wanted, we can not only feel like prayers don't make a difference, we can feel like faith doesn't make a difference. After a while we can stop asking God for healing. Or provision. Or salvations. It's not just our prayer life that's taken a hit, it's our faith that's taken a hit.
Let's believe that God is good, even though we may not see His goodness in our situation. Let's continue to draw near to God knowing that He is kind and generous and faithful and that He rewards those who don't give up seeking Him in their circumstances but continue to seek Him expecting that He will reward us in His perfect way at His perfect time. Faith isn't believing for one specific answer, and it certainly isn't demanding that God do things our way. It's a deep confidence that God will be good to us and will provide for us all that we need and more.
This is another thing the heroes of the faith had in common: they believed that God’s rewards were far better than any earthly treasures. They had a faith that saw God's rewards and desired His rewards more than anything on earth.
II. Faith believes God’s promises when their fulfillment is yet unseen
Faith is a kind of eyesight that sees what is unseen. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction (or strong belief) of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Heb. 11:1-3
Faith sees something realer than what is seen. It sees the promises of God, and believes them, before they are fulfilled. Noah built an ark before there was a drop of rain. Abraham left his people to go to a land God was calling him to without knowing where that land was. Joshua had the priests step into the river before God parted it. David believed that God had given Goliath into his hand before he hurled a single stone. Faith sees the unseen through the promises of God. Like old hymn, Standing on the Promises of God.
Illustration: The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.
Fear can do that to us too. We can be imprisoned by fears and anxieties time and time again – even when we have seen God’s faithfulness to our lives – and refuse to jump when God calls us to cause we can’t see where our feet will fall. But God often calls us to jump without seeing where our feet will fall. Not talking blind faith, talking about walking by faith and not by sight. That's different than blind faith. It's seeing with different eyes than our physical eyes: we may not be able to see where our feet will fall or what's on the other side of the wall, but we know that our feet will fall on the promises of God. When we stand on the promises of God, we are standing on solid ground.
God wants to do more in and through His people than they can naturally do on their own. Than we can do on our own. God is glorified when He works in and through His people in ways that are obviously God’s work and not simply our natural ability.
Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends. ~ George Muller.
Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.
Faith always has this component to it: believing God’s promises when their fulfillment is yet unseen. That will often bring us to a crisis of faith: do we believe or do we doubt? Will we trust or not? Crisis of faith is a common and necessary thing: do not be discouraged if in some area you feel faith drained and weak. Crisis of faith – press in to God and ask Him what He is doing and how you can trust Him in this season. The prayer of the father who brought his demonized son to Jesus. Moment of desperation and honesty he cried out, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!” He had faith…and he had doubt. That can happen to us too. It's ok to be honest with God about where our faith struggles. What we don't want to do is to give in to the doubts and to believe what we see more than we believe God's promises. We want to fan our faith into flame so that we believe God's promises and believe God's goodness even though situations try to tell us otherwise.
III. God responds to His people according to our faith
Already touched on this – but worth emphasizing. God responds according to our faith – if we have small faith, we see little. Much faith (and it’s Christ-centered, biblical and balanced) then we will see greater manifestations of the power of God!
Over and over again Jesus linked faith to answers.
1. When four friends lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, it says,
…when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." Matthew 9:2 (ESV)
2. As Jesus is making his way to the centurion’s house, a crowd pressing in around him, a woman who had suffered a blood discharge for 12 years pressed through the crowd with one thing on her mind: “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”
Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:22 (ESV)
3. Not long after that there are two blind men in the street calling for him to heal them. Jesus asks them if they believe He is able to heal them and they confidently answer yes.
Then he touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith be it done to you." Matthew 9:29 (ESV)
4. Wonderful story of the persistent Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon possessed. When Jesus told her it wasn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (meaning what was at that time meant only for house of Israel and not for the Gentiles) she responded, “yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Almost hear Jesus laugh as he says to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:28 (ESV)
These are just some examples – throughout the Bible we see God responding to the faith of His people. What would these stories have been if the four friends saw the crowded house and didn’t drop their friend through the roof? If woman with discharge saw crowd and said, probably wouldn’t work anyway? If blind men had not called until Jesus heard them? If the Canaanite woman took Jesus’ statement as a rejection? They each had faith and that faith pressed in to receive an answer – received an answer according to their faith.
God is faithful to His promises, and He is faithful to His children. He will meet us with His provision. He will give us all that we have need of. He will answer our prayers (though maybe not the answer we want, it will be the best answer). The Lord will guide us when we don't know what to do or where to go. If we lift up the name of Jesus, Jesus will draw people to himself.
Let's pause and ask God to stir our faith. To help us believe God for great things. To help us stand on God's promises right now in whatever situation we find ourselves. Maybe like Peter Jesus is calling some of us to get out of the "play it safe" boat and step out in a new way believing God's promises. Not being foolish. Not being presumptious. But being confident in God and expecting God to be faithful and to do great things in us and through us.