Where Is Your Faith?
August 10, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Abraham Believed God
1. The character Abraham who is found in the Old Testament is often called "the Father of the Faith." For reflecting about "What is the faith?," he is an important personage. Even when Paul speaks about faith, he presents him as an example. Today we read from the Epistle to the Roman Disciples, chapter four and verse eighteen. It is written that "When he had no cause to hope, he still held on to hope and believed, 'As it was said, thus will your descendants become, and you will have become the father of many peoples.'," (verse eighteen). The "he" here is Abraham. We're told Abraham was told by God, "Thus will your descendants become."
2. This is a story that is found in Genesis chapter fifteen. At this time Abraham was still under the name of "Abram," and he did not have any children. Yet, God had led Abraham outside and had him look up into the starry expanse of the heavens and told him, "Look up into the heavens, see if you can count the stars." Then he said, "Thus will your descendants become." Therefore, [the statement of] "Thus will your descendants become" which Paul had quoted meant "Your descendents will become as the number of the stars." So what did Abram do after that? In the scripture the following is written. "Abram believed the Lord. The Lord recognized it as his righteousness," (Genesis 15:6).
3. Abram believed the Lord. This clearly does not mean that he "believed that God exists." That's hardly what it means, rather it means that Abram believed that the Lord God was true and loyal. He had trusted by firmly accepting the promises of the Lord and believing the one who had made the promises to him. This all-out trust [of his in the Lord] was the righteous relation and or connection between God and man. Abram was in a righteous relationship with God. God had accepted Abram as a person in a righteous relationship with Him.
4. Yet, after that, no child was born though a long time had passed. Both Abraham and his wife Sarah were racking up the years. Finally, they got to be about a hundred years old. The Lord said, "Your descendents will become as the number of the stars." But the world that appeared right before them was far from that promise. The word of God and the reality in front of their eyes did not match up. Today, if we go by the reality that is right in front of our eyes, we might not be able to avoid saying that God is unfaithful. We might have to come to the conclusion that it is not worth trusting in the Lord and it has been foolish for us to have believed in the Lord all this time. That's the kind of situation that Abraham had been put into.
5. But, what is written in today's passage of scripture? "About that time, about when he had turned one hundred years old, and his body had already become weak, and while knowing that the body of his wife Sarah could not carry a child, his faith did not weaken. Rather than falling into unbelief and doubting the promise of God, he was strengthened by his faith and he praised God. He had the conviction that God was the one who had the power to bring into reality that which he had promised. Therefore, again, it was recognized as his righteousness," (4:19-22).
6. That's right. The main thing that matters is what you believe. Now do you believe the reality in front of your eyes? Or do you believe the Lord's promises? He had looked steadfastly at reality. It's not that he did not look. He saw that his body had already gotten weak. He knew that his wife Sarah could not carry a child. Yet, even still his faith did not weaken. He did not fall into unbelief and never got close to doubting the promise of God. He never came to the conclusion that God was unfaithful. Even still with all that, trusting that God was faithful Abraham praised God.
7. The faith which God recognized as righteousness was not an act of trusting in the Lord temporarily for just that time. No, it wasn't that, but rather he had believed through thick and thin all the way through to the end. However impossible it looked to the human eye, he believed God had the power to bring what he had promised into reality, and [so] he trusted God. Yes, he did. Believing in the Lord is not believing in the reality before one's eyes now, but believing more in God's truth which is invisible to the eye, believing more in of God's word, and choosing that way.
Where Is Your Faith?
8. Well, a similar line of reasoning is also in a story from Jesus. It is found in chapter eight of The Gospel According To Luke which was read as today's gospel reading. "One day, Jesus boarded a boat with his disciples and he said, 'Let us cross over to the opposite side of the sea,' and they put out to sea. While they were crossing over, Jesus was sleeping. As the storm winds blew down upon the sea, they took on water and it became dangerous. Approaching Jesus they woke him up and said, 'Teacher, teacher, it looks like we're going to drown!' Jesus got up, and when he scolded the wind and the stormy waves, it became quiet and calm. Jesus said, 'Where is your faith?' The disciples were astonished with fear and said to each other, "What! Who is this person!? Upon his command, even the winds and the waves obey him, don't they?'," (Luke 8:22-25).
9. Jesus said, "Let us cross over to the opposite side of the sea." Since Jesus had said, "Let us cross over to the opposite side," then they would surely cross to the opposite side. Jesus had fully intended to do [exactly just] that. Therefore, he got some sleep. Whether the storm winds blew or whatever might have arisen, he was going to get some sleep. Since he would reach the opposite side, he had planned on waking back up.
10. On the other hand, as for the reality visible to the eye the storm winds blew down on the sea. Because they were fishermen they understood from their experiences. This was very dangerous. If things stayed as they were, the boat would sink. Each one of them would drown. According to the words of Jesus the boat would cross to the opposite bank. But as for the reality visible to the eye, they were still sinking. How did the disciples handle it? Waking up Jesus they said the following. "Teacher, teacher, it looks like we're going to drown!" Which did the disciples believe? Jesus as he slept with the full intention to go to the opposite bank? Or the storm right before their eyes? The words of Jesus when he said, "Let us cross to the opposite bank?," or their own experiences as fishermen? They wound up only being able to believe what they had seen and experienced, and now, what was visible right in front of their eyes.
11. However, why, now, to begin with, were they on the sea? It might have been because they had believed and followed Jesus on that first day. I think so and it is highly likely that they had just begun trusting and following Jesus. Jesus had said "Follow me!," and they trusted him and begun to follow him. So then, to believe through thick and thin is important. To believe to the end is important.
12. Therefore, after Jesus calmed the storm, he said to his disciples, "Where is your faith?" He said that. The disciples must have never been able to forget these words from Jesus for the rest of their lives. They must have recounted these words over and over again; for, this would not be the last [time] the disciples would be put into a storm. Indeed, the real storm for them would attack when Jesus was arrested and crucified, and then when Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to them, they must have been come into some serious questioning in a real sense. "Where is your faith?"
13. Well, the same could be said about us, that we are constantly finding ourselves between these two points of do we believe God and his promises, do we believe the word of God which he ultimately has given through Jesus Christ, or else do we believe what appears right before our eyes and what we're feeling and thinking as we see it.
14. The word of God states that God loves us. It says God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. However, if we only think of what appears within our vision, there will also be a lot of times when we won't feel like God loves this world, we won't feel like we're loved by God. At times [like those] which will you believe? Will it be the word of God? Or will it be what you see, what you feel, what you think? When your prayers go completely unheard even though you've prayed, when you're made to wait like Abraham, the gap will widen between the words of God's promises and what is visible to your eyes. But, even still, God's word states that God loves us. And then there will be a voice to ask us that question: "Where is your faith?"
15. The word of God states that Christ accomplished the atonement for our sins. For that reason then, it states that no matter the sinner, by just a faith that believes in Jesus Christ, a person receives forgiveness of sin, is justified (made righteous), and saved. So if someone is in Christ, then he or she is a newly created person. The old is passed away. Behold, all things have become new, it states. However, that which appears in our eyes is our own selves which has been living and sinning up to this point in time. What burns into our hearts are [these] deeds of ours one by one which we cannot cancel out. Therefore, our hearts say, "I've done something I can't undo. I can never cancel the guilt of my sins. I will never be saved." The problem, then, is [this] matter of "Which do [we] believe?" [Is it] what we see with our eyes and what our hearts declare? Or [is it] God's word which says, "You are a person made righteous?" "Where is your faith?"
16. Also the word of God states that we are changed into the same figure as the Lord through the working of the Holy Spirit. That is a word of promise. God is able to change us. There is no need for us to always stay miserable. We are changed through the Holy Spirit. Ultimately our salvation is perfected and we are made perfect. But when we look at ourselves in reality, we don't think that we've changed much. Upon seeing this, our hearts make the statement, "Nothing has changed yet! And will it ever!? " Yep, just like [when] Abraham spent several decades still not seeing the birth of the son promised to him! The problem, then after all, is [this] matter of "Which do [we] believe?" Do we believe what we've seen with our eyes and do we believe what our hearts declare? Or do we believe the promises of God? "Where is your faith?"
17. We are amidst God's promises. Since we don't see them yet, we will wait and hope till we do. We will wait as we believe. When Abraham had no cause to hope, he still held on to hope and believed. Rather than falling into unbelief and doubting the promise of God, he was strengthened by faith and praised God. Yes, he did. Let's believe in the one who has the power to make the promises come true and let's give praise from our hearts.