Sermon Transcript May 19, 2013:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
We examined the claims of Scripture that Christ is preparing a place for us – that heaven is real and that the glory of heaven will be being there face to face with the One who gave Himself for us. We mentioned briefly Abraham and his faith in offering Isaac up on the altar to God. What faith! He took the son he had been promised, the son of his old age, born in impossible circumstances, the son named “laughter” because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God promised them the birth of a son in their old age, and he took him to offer him to God as a sacrifice. Abraham had such a faith in God that he obeyed without question when God commanded that he take Isaac and sacrifice him. Unquestioned obedience, even if it meant losing the fulfillment of a promise already given.
How could Abraham take God at His Word to the point that he was willing to kill his own son – the fulfillment of God’s promise after a lifetime of waiting? Is this faith, or madness? It is true, as I was told often by my mentor Dr. Larry Gilliam, “There is a fine line between faith and foolishness.” How did Abraham discern the difference between the two? How did he know what to do and think all the while that he was in his right mind and not being led astray by some cruel hallucination or self-deception?
First because Abraham knew the voice of God. Remember, His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:4-5). But we find that there is more to it than that. According to these verses his faith was not just in what God said, but it was rooted in who God is. It was His holy character, His inability to lie, His sure promises – it was that this was God telling him to do this thing. Abraham believed because he knew and trusted God.
We also know that there was more behind this faith. That is why we can say with assurance that true faith in God and His Word is never blind faith, it is never a leap in the dark. It is an informed faith based upon and given through the Word of God, which is true.
Isaac was given with this promise, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” This means that the great nation that was promised to come from Abraham, the nation through which the whole world would be blessed, this nation would come through the line of Isaac. So every promise tied to the covenant God made with Abraham hinged on the birth, life, and descendants of Isaac, the promised son.
How then could Abraham take this boy, this promised son, the heir of the covenant and head of a nation, and sacrifice him on the altar in worship and service to God? He had but one choice – obey or disobey God. His faith was such that while he was walking to the mountain, building the altar, and even preparing to thrust the knife into Isaac’s body as he lay bound helpless before him, Abraham trusted that God was able!
Able to do what? Able to keep His Word. Abraham trusted that God would honor His promise and keep His covenant. He had this faith to see that even if he killed Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead. He was so sure that God would keep His Word that He truly believed that if he obeyed the command that God could and would resurrect Isaac from the dead.
Staring down into the face of a promise about to be lost, Abraham trusted in God’s character, holiness, and ability to keep His Word even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead after he had been sacrificed.
Of course, Abraham was stopped and a ram was provided, Yahweh-Jireh he declared as God had provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s stead. But what faith! To obey beyond logic and reason. To obey because of Who God is. To so know and devoutly trust God to lay his son’s life on that altar with assurance that he would live again even if he died.
Do we trust God like that? Do we trust God with our lives and the lives of our family? Do we walk by faith not based on what we think or how we feel, but based upon God’s character? Do we know Him well enough to trust Him like this?
Face it, it is difficult to trust God with our own life, much less the life of our family. Not because He cannot be trusted, but because we have so little faith and doubt so easily. We must trust God, because to fail to do so is to claim that God is a liar, that He cannot be trusted, that He will fail, that He is not able to keep His Word. God is not mocked. He is not weak. He cannot lie. His promise is sure. Trust Him.
In this brief look at these verses we see another striking lesson. Do you see the foreshadowing here? The picture of God the Father offering His only Son on the altar (cross) for our sin? There is a great and grand picture in this lesson from the life of Abraham. God offered His Son, and He went through with it, determining before the foundation of the world to give His Son’s life for our redemption.
In seeing this picture, notice the gospel truth. God is able. He did raise Jesus from the dead! Jesus, the Son of Man, the promised Messiah, the only hope for the lost, this Jesus who was taken and crucified, God has raised up (Acts 2:23-24).
The lesson here is to trust God. He is able. Whatever the promise is, whatever the trial is, whatever the potential loss is – God is able. Do you believe it? It’s true. He is true.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.
As we have examined the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah we have seen that their trust in God, based upon His character and His Word, led them to obedience. They have been commended for their faith and set up before us as examples. We have looked in some depth at Genesis 22 where Abraham was instructed to take and offer Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord. We have seen Abraham’s faith that even in the event that God really would require Isaac’s life, God would and could raise him from the dead in order to keep His covenant promises to Abraham through his son Isaac.
But it struck me that as we looked at Abraham we forgot to look at Isaac. Now Isaac is listed as one of the faithful as we see in the verses following where we have been in Hebrews 11. But what about this specific situation?
Isaac had to have faith. His faith led to obedience. Think about this for a minute. It was Isaac who was bound and placed by his father on that altar. While the Bible does not tell us much about this encounter from Isaac’s perspective let us examine the Scriptures and see what we can learn about Isaac and his faith – faith that led him to be willing to die in obedience and submission to his father and to the Lord.
Genesis 22:6-8 gives us this glimpse of what Isaac was thinking. The two of them went together. Isaac knew they were going to worship, to offer a sacrifice to God. He was obedient to go with his father, and as any son, probably glad to have the time to be with dad. As they travelled along to the mountain he had a question. Where was the sacrifice? Abraham’s simple response exposes his faith, even as he knew that he had been commanded to offer Isaac – he replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”
Isaac accepted what Abraham stated. He had faith too that God would provide a sacrifice. What trust and submission to his dad then as they arrived at the altar and Abraham bound Isaac and prepared to offer him. The Bible is silent as to anything else the two talked about on this journey but you have to wonder what they said to each other as Abraham began to tie Isaac up and place him on that altar.
We hear nothing of questions, or a struggle, or resistance. Abraham obeyed God and Isaac obeyed Abraham – trusting him with his very life. Make no mistake, Isaac was old enough to fight off Abraham if he so desired. Abraham was well over 100 years old and we know for sure from the text that Isaac was at least 20. Surely he could have overpowered his elderly father if he so desired. His faith in God and in Abraham was such that there is no indication at all that Isaac did anything less that consent to what was happening.
We know that Ephesians 6:1 tells children to obey their parents. We know the duty we have to respect and obey those who have authority over us. But do we really have this kind of faith? Faith in God and His Word and His power over life and death to willingly trust God and those He has placed over us with our very lives?
Since we do not have any more information about this from this text, what else does the Bible tell us about Isaac so that we can see the example of faithful obedience that he is for us?
Isaac took time to meditate on the Lord (Gen 24:63), he prayed (Gen 25:21), he walked with God and was blessed by Him (Gen 26:12), he blessed his sons (Heb 11:20), and he died as part of the covenant wherein God identified Himself throughout Scripture as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Isaac was a man of faith, and we see the example of the obedience that faith will lead us to if we truly take God at His Word and trust Him with our lives. So often we try so hard to survive when God wants us to surrender. To give up. We forget at times that we live by dying and are commanded to crucify ourselves daily and to die to self.
Abraham, it says in Hebrews 11, figuratively received Isaac back from the dead, as if to say that to Abraham, Isaac was indeed as good as dead as soon as God asked for his life on that alter. Why? Because Abraham trusted God and obeyed Him. His hope was that God would raise Isaac from the dead. So when Isaac got off that altar and the ram caught in the thicket became the sacrifice provided by God, truly Isaac was received as being brought back to life from the dead.
Do we believe what the Bible tells us about heaven? About Jesus being the resurrection and the life and those of us who believe in Him though we may die we will live? Do we believe it? If God is able to give or take our physical life from us then why is it so hard to trust Him with our daily life?
Let us learn from Isaac. God can be trusted and faith leads to unquestioned obedience. Faith leads to faith. As we believe God He proves Himself true and that gives us even more cause to believe and know that God is able.
We know from the record given in Genesis that the Lord promised a son to Abraham from which would come a great nation. Abraham trusted God even though he was 100 years old before the son of promise was given. Despite Sarah’s barrenness and menopause, the Lord kept His Word. Of course Isaac had received the promises as well but after he was married it became clear that Rebekah was barren and could not have children. There were still no children given to her by the time she was in her late fifties.
As a result, in Genesis 25, Isaac prayed for her that she would conceive and bear children. Otherwise the promise and the covenant would be broken.
The Lord heard his prayer and Rebekah conceived twins. They struggled in the womb to the point that Rebekah wondered if she and they were okay. As she sought the Lord about it, the reply was that she had two nations in her womb represented by the two boys to which she would give birth. One would be stronger than the other and the older would serve the younger. Esau was born first with Jacob soon to follow, born when Rebekah was sixty years old.
As promised, during their growing up years, Esau came in from an unsuccessful hunt one day and was very hungry. Jacob had stayed home and cooked a lentil stew, and when Esau asked for something to eat he gave him the meal with one condition. Jacob wanted Esau’s birthright.
As the firstborn, there were certain promises and privileges afforded to Esau. He was so hungry and the stew smelled so good that he swore his birthright over to Jacob for the meal. As a result the older would now be forced to serve the younger.
The stew he ate was red in color and so Esau was called “Edom” which means “red.” His nickname then was “Red.” It is a name that stuck too. The descendants of Esau became the nation of Edom. Of course the descendants of Jacob (who name was later changed by God to Israel) became the nation of Israel. So the promises were fulfilled.
Later in life as Isaac was near death he called for Esau and wanted to bless him, to give him his birthright, ignoring or perhaps ignorant of the trade that he had made with Jacob. Isaac asked Esau to go hunt and prepare a meal for him. Rebekah heard this and after Esau departed to hunt, she took and killed 2 goats and made a meal. She also called Jacob to her and used the hair from the goats to disguise Jacob as Esau – Esau was very hairy, even from birth! Jacob was a mama’s boy, smooth skinned, and not at all like the hunter and outdoorsman Esau.
The deception worked. Isaac, who was blind, could not tell that it was Jacob. He was suspicious of the voice, but Jacob had the hairy feel and outdoorsy smell of Esau, so Isaac was fooled and gave the blessing of the birthright to Jacob.
After this, Esau returned and the deception was uncovered, but the blessing had been given and could not be revoked. Isaac did bless Esau, but it was not near the blessing of the birthright. It included the phrase that he would serve his younger brother, by virtue of Jacob having been given the birthright – fulfilling the promise.
As we see this drama unfold we have to stop and remember that Isaac is mentioned in Hebrews 11 for blessing his boys concerning their future. How was this a matter of faith amidst the deception and swapped blessings?
The faithfulness here is that Isaac passed on the promises made to Abraham by God. In faith, he believed that what God had promised his father, and later him, would still come to pass through his family line. Here are the blessings he gave, based in the faith that God would keep His covenant.
The Blessing Given to Jacob
May God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you!
The Blessing Given to Esau
Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.
Both of these blessings have an eye toward the future and toward the promises made and kept by God to this family. His faith was rooted in what he had heard and seen growing up in Abraham’s house. From his own encounters with God. As we have seen, Isaac was faithful. A man who knew God would keep His Word, and a man who was not disappointed.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
After examining the faith of Abraham and Isaac, we now see that the writer of Hebrews is moving through a list that starts with the Patriarchs – the Fathers of Israel, God’s chosen people. God identifies Himself often throughout the Old Testament as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and here we pick up with the faith of Jacob.
Just as Abraham had Isaac, the son of promise, so Isaac had Jacob, who while a twin of Esau had been chosen from among the two to be the one through whom the lineage of the nation of Israel (and of Christ) would flow. Interestingly, as we have studied Isaac and now Jacob we see that their faith is especially clear in their last acts – the things they did just before they died. They were faithful to the end of their lives.
For Isaac as we have studied, we saw that he blessed his sons according to the promise of the covenant that God had made with Abraham and with him. His faith was seen in that while he was facing death, having not seen a great nation or the fulfillment of the promises, he still had hope that God would keep His Word and hold up His end of the covenant.
Now we see that Jacob’s faith is presented to us as he is sick and dying and calls for the sons of Joseph that he might bless them. Why is this important and what relevance does it have to Jacob’s faith?
As the Covenant was unfolded through time and a people who belonged to God began to form a nation, we see that Abraham had one son, Isaac had two, and Jacob had twelve. They were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Isachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
Of course I hope you know the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite and his brothers were jealous. He had dreams that foretold that his brothers and the rest of his family would one day bow down to him and serve him. They plotted to kill Joseph, but Reuben prevailed in convincing them not to kill him so they threw him in a pit until they could decide what to do about him.
They ended up selling him into slavery with a band of travelers headed to Egypt and telling Jacob that a wild animal had killed him. They even provided “evidence” in the form of a coat that Jacob had made for Joseph, ripped and covered with blood. After being sold as a slave, Joseph ended up serving in the house of Potiphar.
Then he was accused falsely of immorality by Potiphar’s wife and he was thrown in prison. Ever had one of those days? Well for Joseph, it became a way of life and yet through it all he was faithful to God and obedient in his attitudes and actions, and God blessed everything he did. The story of Joseph finds as a climax the incident where he is brought before Pharaoh himself to interpret his dreams and through doing so with the help of the Lord, the land of Egypt and many other nations are spared destruction in a severe 7 year famine that Joseph was able to warn about and establish a plan to help feed the people during the lean years.
His position was that of second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. He was reunited with his brothers when they came looking for food in Egypt, and in the end he declared that what they had meant for evil God had meant for good. Oh, the power of God to accomplish His will even when we mess up and sin. God has His purposes and worked the circumstances of his brothers jealousy for good for Joseph and lots and lots of other people. Joseph ended up having his whole family moved to Goshen, a prosperous and fertile area of northern Egypt.
After all of this, as Jacob was nearing the end of his life, he called for Joseph and as we see in these verses in our study, he blessed Joseph’s sons. The result of the blessing, this act of faith in the continuing promises of God, was to reward Joseph’s saving of the family by bestowing a double portion of the blessing to his boys, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Each son of Jacob received one portion of the blessing, the inheritance, and the promise of being a tribe “in Israel” with an allotment of the Promised Land. Of course this was not fulfilled for hundreds of years as Israel was eventually held captive as slaves in Egypt and it was not until the time of Moses that they were freed by God to go inherit the Land – the same land promised to Abraham all those many years before.
When the portions of the inheritance were assigned, Jacob gave a double portion to Joseph by giving a special blessing to his sons. So out of Joseph came two tribes, and two allotments of land.
The faith of Jacob is seen that even as he is dying, in a foreign land, he remembers the covenant and the promises of God and looks with expectation toward the future for his descendants, a future in the Promised Land. God, after all, always keeps His Word.
This is the account of the blessing of Joseph’s sons. Notice the similarities with his own blessing received from Isaac, that was intended for Esau but given by Providence to him as the younger instead:
Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.” And he said, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!” So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”
The last thing Jacob is remembered for after this, according to Hebrews 11, is that he worshipped. At the end of his long life, after seeing God’s faithfulness and deliverance for his whole family, he came to the end of his days and worshipped God. He exalted and declared the glory of God. The God who had appeared to him at Bethel. The God who had wrestled with him and injured his hip. As he worshipped it says he did so leaning on his staff – remembering that wound, given by the very hand of God Himself as Jacob was marked for service to God and belonged to Him.
What a relationship with God! What a life lived that impacted and changed the world. All because God chose Jacob and worked through him to preserve a people that would one day be used to usher in the birth of the Messiah – God with Us – Jesus, our Emmanuel. Indeed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the whole world has been blessed.
By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.
We have seen the Patriarchs as they were faithful even to death. Perseverance is an important theme throughout Scripture. These men of faith did not fold once they came near to death. In fact, knowing that they were about to die only served to strengthen their faith.
We do not need to fear death if we are trusting Christ. We have His promises, His Word, and the testimony of those who have gone before us and were faithful to the end. They persevered. Their faith did not weaken or fail them, because they were trusting God, whose every Word is true.
In our study of Hebrews 11 now we come to Joseph’s faith. He had seen God do wonderful things, taking what others meant for evil and using it for good. He was able to save the land of Egypt, the region around it, and even his own family during the course of the seven year famine. He was reunited with his father and his whole family moved to Goshen where he could provide and care for them.
He saw his father’s faith in the face of death. He witnessed the blessing given to his sons. Joseph never strayed from his own faith in God. From being a young man sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused and imprisoned, to being elevated to the second highest seat in the land – through it all he humbly walked with God.
As Joseph was dying then, after living a faithful life to the age of 110, he spoke by faith about the fulfillment of the promises and the covenant when the nation of Israel, his family, would inherit the land promised to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made reference to the fact that they would one day leave Egypt. He prophesied a visit from God where He Himself would lead them out of the Land of Egypt.
He was so sure of this, by faith in God’s promises and covenant, that he asked the children of Israel to swear an oath. He made them promise that when the time came and they went to inherit the land promised to their fathers, then they would carry up his bones from Egypt. When the time came, he wanted his body to be buried in the Promised Land.
That is assurance. To know what God was going to do and to be so sure that he requested to be buried there when they went to inherit the promises. He was so sure that he had given instructions for his body to be embalmed as the Egyptians did with their dead, so that his body could then be taken on the journey to the Land and he could be buried there, however long it might be before God visited them. The promise of course given to Abraham in Genesis 15:13 was that Israel would sojourn and be afflicted in Egypt for over 400 years, and God was true to His Word.
After the years of enslavement God sent Moses to lead the people out, and when they left, guess what they took with them? Let’s read Exodus 13 to find out:
Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.” So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
Just as God had promised and Joseph had believed, the nation of Israel was leaving Egypt to go inherit the Promised Land. They took Joseph’s coffin with them so that he might be buried in the Land of Promise. After the journey and the wilderness wandering, once the nation began to inhabit the Land, Joshua led the people in a renewal of the Covenant from Mt. Sinai. It was here, at Shechem, where the Covenant was renewed. It was also in Shechem that Jacob had purchased a plot of ground.
Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel (God, the God of Israel). Genesis 33:18-20
On that ground, which Jacob owned and which had been passed by inheritance down to Joseph and his descendants, Joseph’s bones were laid to rest.
The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32
These Patriarchs persevered because they knew God was faithful. This is but one example. Jacob purchased this plot of ground and 500 years later it is where Joseph was buried as part of what he and his children had inherited from Jacob as members of the Covenant with Abraham. And while many people put a great deal of importance on the literal land that was promised what we often miss is that this Promised Land was just a shadow. It points to the work of Christ in saving His people. It points to the promise of heaven. It points to the fulfillment of the New Covenant wherein we inherit all that is Christ’s.
We can look to these men and their faith and see the faithfulness of God to keep His Word. We know that He has made promises to us, sealed by the Holy Spirit, that we might inherit something more than a Promised Land. We are co-heirs with Jesus Christ and have been given eternal life and the hope of a New Heaven and New Earth, untainted by sin, sorrow, and death.
Do you take God at His Word? Are you a man or woman of faith? Does your faith persevere and stick it out during tough times? God is always faithful and absolutely trustworthy. Do not let anyone convince you that His Word cannot be trusted. He has proved Himself faithful time and time again.
Testing Our Faith
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
In the book of Acts, chapter 7, we read the account of the stoning of Stephen. One of seven men chosen to serve the church and the first New Testament martyr for Christ. As he proclaimed the truth to those accusing him he preached a message about the history and heritage of Israel. That message reads very much like Hebrews 11.
Stephen starts with the call of God to Abraham. He recounts the history of Abraham’s journey from Ur and tells about the prophecy regarding Israel’s stay in Egypt, and he talked about the promises that God had made. He mentioned the Covenant with Abraham and the sign of that covenant, circumcision. God had separated a special people for Himself.
It was significant because those listening were Jews. They were descendants of Abraham. They knew this history, and Stephen was making a point. As he continued to preach, he told of the story of Jacob and Joseph and the burial of Joseph’s bones in Shechem. He kept going back to the promises and faithfulness of God just as we have been studying.
He went on to talk about Moses and the Exodus (still to come from our Hebrews 11 study). Then he made the point that the nation of Israel, though chosen by God, had continually been rebellious to God. They were a stiff necked people – a people who just like their ancestors persecuted the prophets and rejected the message of the gospel.
Stephen says that they resisted the Holy Spirit. For all that God did for them and through them there was only ever a remnant of faithful in Israel. The nation depended upon their ancestry for peace with God. They thought it was enough that they were Abraham’s descendants, but Stephen made the point that they had rejected the truth, rejected God, and while the Patriarchs had been faithful, on the whole the nation had been rebellious and had displeased God time and time again.
Here we learn that it is never enough to rest on the faith of others. For those who came after them were for the most part unfaithful. The “Hall of Faith” we find in Hebrews 11 is really a very short chapter when you think about it. How many more were not faithful?
Often we fall into this trap. We depend upon the fact that we might have been brought up in church, or that our parents are believers, or that we have always gone to church and tried to do what is right. But faith is more than that. Faith is not something automatically handed down from generation to generation. It is not something bestowed by birthright. It is not something we can give our children or grandchildren. Faith is a gift from God, given to whomever He chooses to give it.
So when we look at the faith of the Patriarchs, and our parents, and at our family and our church, we need to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. The Bible is clear. If we are in the faith there will be indicators. There will be evidence if we are not in the faith, too.
Sadly many in the church today are deceived. They think that they are in the faith, but they are not. Their faith is not true saving faith. It is an illusion, fake and false. It is faith in self instead of faith in Christ. It is faith in works instead of faith in Christ. It is faith in heritage instead of faith in Christ. Faith that is placed in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ is only deceptive, dead, and false.
We are told, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” What do we look for when we examine ourselves? How do we know if we are in the faith?
Some would say it is remembering your conversion – when you prayed a prayer or made a decision or asked Jesus into your heart. Some would say it is remembering your baptism, that public profession of faith made as you submitted yourself to the ordinance of the church. Some would say it was when you were confirmed before the church, or some other ceremony that is used for assurance.
But what does the Bible say? What do we look for to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith? We will quickly look at four things that we need to examine our lives for to see if we are in the faith.
Jesus said that we can know about any person and their faith by looking at the fruit that their lives produce. “A tree is known by its fruit.” Interestingly we often have the wrong idea about fruit. We think of leading people to Christ or doing good in the community as fruit. Giving, praying, witnessing, volunteering, etc. We think fruit is being successful and friendly. In the Bible fruit is more about the inside than the outside. It is a matter of heart and motive. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit we need to look for if we are going to see if we are in the faith.
As we have discussed before, there is bad fruit (works of the flesh) and good fruit (fruit of the Spirit) listed in Galatians 5. An easy summary shows us that if we are always bearing bad fruit then we are not in the faith. If on the other hand we bear good fruit consistently, then we can have assurance that we are in the faith. Here is the list again to refresh your memory: Bad Fruit includes adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. Good Fruit includes love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Which fruit is evident in your life?
Secondly we look at works. James 2:14-26 tells us that faith that does not produce good works is dead faith. In other words, the proof of the reality of our faith is seen in how we act toward others.
Think about this scenario. What would we do if you knew that a member of our church was suffering with some financial struggles? Perhaps a member of the family was out of work, bills were stacking up, maybe even someone in the family was having health problems. All of this piles up on a family and they are desperate and lonely. (Does this happen? Well if we do not know take our eyes off of ourselves and look around – true faith sends us out looking for those in need in the Body of Christ so that we might help!) In this case, as bad as it sounds, what would we do? Notice the question. It is not “What would we think, pray, or say?” It is “What would we do?” For as important as it is what we are saying or thinking, what we do proves our faith.
The example given in James 2 is that a person who has dead faith, faith that cannot save, that person acts like this:
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
They say, “Be Warm! Be Filled!” But it is all just words. They do nothing at all to actually help. Why? Because they are focused on self instead of Christ and His Body. The Apostle John goes further. He says that to act like this when there are people around us in the church who have needs and we see it and ignore it is to not even know the love of God!
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
This is but one example. The church today is just too full of itself – self-centered, self-absorbed, self-gratifying. All around us people have needs and yet we do nothing. Love and faith that does not count the cost of following Christ is neither true love nor saving faith.
It is true, love is a fruit of the Spirit and a mark of knowing Christ. Beyond fruit and works we need to see if we are truly living a life of love for God and our neighbor. If we say we love God but in actions and attitudes we hate our brother then the Bible says we do not love or know God. This is tough truth isn’t it? But as we have studied the Patriarchs and have seen their faith we see that true faith pays the price – true faith is built on love. Again, in 1 John 3:10-12 we see an example given of Cain. We are not to be like Cain, but like his brother Abel. Who was accepted? Who was faithful? Who was full of hate and murder?
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
Love is a mark of maturity and an indicator of the genuineness of our faith. Not love in words, but love in action. What have you done recently to show those around you that you love them?
Love as a mark of true faith leads us to obedience. If we constantly disobey the Word of God then we cannot claim to have faith. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commands (John 14:15). Obedience is fruit, works, and love all wrapped into one package. We love God and believe God and so we obey God. If we live in consistent and willful disobedience then we prove for all to see that we are not in the faith. You see, proof of salvation is not years ago where we prayed a prayer and “nailed down a stake” to remember our conversion. No. Proof of salvation, evidence of faith is seen in how we are living right now.
The Bible defines love for God as obedience to Him. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). As we examine our faith, what do we find? What are the test results that we get when we look at works, fruit, love, and obedience in our life right now today? Think of it this way – if we were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us of the charges?
Think about your relationships in the church. Look beyond yourself. Look to how you treat others. Are you bearing fruit, doing good works, loving others, and being obedient to God? If not, repent, and get in the Word and ask for faith. If we fail this test we have no hope and are in great danger. For this is the test that reveals the nature of our faith. Are we really trusting Christ? Are we saved? Are we in the faith? Our lives will tell. What is your life saying today?