The Key Steps to Becoming a Christian part 3. Believe – Ongoing Faith

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Last Saturday I was talking to you about repentance
and when I got home, I found out that I’d overlooked one whole sheet of my notes. I’m
going to give it to you now – just in a few minutes. What was the importance of repentance?
The answer is – repentance makes forgiveness possible. And without repentance, there is
no forgiveness. That’s on God’s side, but it applies also to forgiveness between
each other. Did you know that when Jesus said, you must forgive your brother 7 times a day,
he added ‘if he repents’. Did you ever notice that? You can’t forgive someone if
they don’t repent but if they do, you ought to. So all this talk about after somebody’s
blown up a bomb or something, of people saying, I forgive them… You can’t if they don’t
repent. What you can do is say there’s no bitterness or resentment in my heart, and
if they do repent then I can forgive them. It’s repentance that makes forgiveness possible
and I just finish by reading two verses which tell you this. One is from the end of Luke’s
Gospel, where Jesus himself says, repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to
all nations beginning at Jerusalem. That’s what Jesus said. And this is what Paul said
when he was describing his ministry; he said: so I was not disobedient to the vision from
heaven, first to those in Damascus then to those in Jerusalem then all Judea and to the
Gentiles also I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance
by their deeds. That’s an interesting little phrase. That’s what Paul’s ministry was;
he preached repentance to the Gentiles that they should turn to God and prove their repentance
by their deeds. Right, that’s all I’m going to say about repentance, and we’re
finished with that lot. Now I turn to the second step on the way of
salvation which is to Believe. And from one point of view this is the most important step
of all. It lies behind all the others. Faith is the key to every step you take in the Christian
life and so it’s essential that we should look into it. Now altogether there are five
elements in faith. It’s a recipe with 5 ingredients and it may sound a bit complicated
but it’s not saving faith until it has all 5 elements in it.
The first element in faith is historical. Faith is not based on feelings. It’s based
on facts, things that actually happened in history 2000 years ago and for which there
is historical evidence. Now of course, no-one was present. Every jury in every court has
to build up a case on two things. First, eyewitness testimony and second, circumstantial evidence.
I’m just supposing now; but supposing a man is on trial for the murder of his wife.
They must build up a case for that murder without having seen it happen, without having
been present and without knowing the husband. How do they build it up? Well, first if they
can find eyewitness testimony, that’s the best evidence in a murder case. If someone
can get into the witness box and say, I saw him stick a knife into his wife’s back and
then throw her body off the cliff, that’s the best evidence of all. But there may also
be eyewitness testimony to the fact that somebody saw him walking with his wife towards the
cliff edge and somebody else saw him walking back by himself. That would be eyewitness
testimony. But what would be circumstantial evidence?
The answer is, it is discovered that he not only had a wife but had a mistress, it’s
also been discovered that he had planned to go away with her, that he had bought two tickets
for the airline and not for his wife but for himself and the mistress, and then it was
discovered that he had embezzled money from the firm where he worked. And all this builds
up a picture until the jury is able to decide beyond all possible doubt that he murdered
his wife. Now for an event like the resurrection of
Jesus, we have both eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence, such that one leading
lawyer in England said that if anybody would examine the evidence for the resurrection
of Jesus from the dead, any jury in the world would come to a unanimous decision that it
happened. But why don’t people examine the evidence? They won’t. They’re scared to,
in case it might be true and if Jesus did rise from the dead, then life’s got to change.
It’s no wonder that people don’t want to know about the evidence. But for every
part of our faith there is historical evidence; even though we were not there to see it happen,
we’ve got eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence.
Now our faith is based on facts. It’s not shaky; it’s not based on feelings though
there may be feelings. But it’s based on hard evidence – facts! There’s a historical
element to faith. These things happened once, never again. And the first element in our
faith is to believe that they happened and in particular, 3 facts – the death, the
burial and the resurrection of Jesus. In 1Corinthians it says, those are the 3 basic historical
elements in our faith – that Jesus was crucified, that he was buried and that he was raised
from the dead. And all three are evidenced in the normal way any historical event is
evidenced. And so our faith stands very firm because
nobody can undo those facts. Nobody can put Jesus back in the tomb. He’s out! He’s
free! Nobody can put Jesus back on the cross. He’s been crucified for us – that’s
a fact! And nobody can bury him again. Incidentally, the burial of Jesus is as important to our
faith as his death and resurrection. It’s vital that he was buried. I’ve conducted
many funerals and I’ve noticed this: the burial is the final goodbye. It’s strange,
but when I go to visit a widow whose husband has died, she talks about him as if he’s
still around. She says, would you like to see him? I wouldn’t actually – but she would
like me to, so I do. And we go into the front room and there he is laid out on a bed and
she strokes his forehead, his hair and puts the pillow nicely under his head. And she
says, you can see him because he is in the front room. Now when the burial has taken
place, her language changes totally and she says, he was a good husband to me. He was
a good man. Now what’s changed her present tense talking about him to her past tense?
The answer is, the burial. The burial is putting a person out of sight and you know from that
moment you will never see them again or touch them again. And that happened to Jesus; he
was buried. Do you believe that, because that’s part of our faith? Not just that he died,
but that he was buried and then that he rose again. So this is the beginning of faith,
to accept the truth of this story, to believe that it actually happened and happened for
you. That’s the historical element of faith. The second element of faith is the personal
element. Now let me ask you a question: How many of you believe that I exist? Could I
see a show of hands? Well that’s comforting. How many of you believe in me? You’re a
little slower in that one… Actually I went to Hanover in Germany, a very posh modern
church and a big congregation and I said, how many of you believe in me? And about half
a dozen put their hands up. I said, how many of you believe that I exist? And all the hands
went up. But only about 5 put their hands up to say they believed in me. That’s the
difference. Personal faith believes in Jesus. It doesn’t just believe that he died, that
he was buried and that he rose again. It’s to believe in him. Now there was a lady sitting
in the front row, quite well dressed and she looked quite bright and intelligent so I thought
I could tease her and I said to her, now you put your hand up and said you believed in
me. I said, I don’t know if you believe in me. I said, if you gave me your money to
look after I would know you believed in me. And the whole place froze, went very quiet.
And the pastor told me afterwards that she was the richest lady in Hanover and that her
husband owned most of the property in the middle of the city and he died and left it
to her. And I had the feeling she’d paid for this new church and there I said to her,
give me your money to look after… I’ll know you believe in me. So it was pretty true.
But that’s the difference – believing that Jesus died and rose again is one thing;
to believe in him is quite another. That’s personal and that involves trusting and obeying
him. If you believe in someone, you will trust them and you will do what they ask you. We
do that every day. Whenever I get in someone’s car, I’m putting my trust in them and yes,
it involves obedience as well. There are just two people in the whole world whose car I
will not get into, who are dreadful drivers, and I just don’t trust them and I will not
get into a car with them. But every day, you’re getting on a bus, you’re trusting the driver.
You go on a ‘plane, you’re trusting the pilot. We’re putting our trust in people
every day. Put your money in the bank, you’re trusting they’ll give it back to you, though
people’s trust in bankers is not quite what it was. But nevertheless, every day you’re
trusting people, you’re believing in them, simply because they appear to be qualified
and know their job and so you put your life in their hands and you trust them.
I’ve never jumped with a parachute, but if I did, I’d be trusting a whole lot of
people. I’d be trusting the man who packed the parachute, I’d be trusting, well, a
whole host of people. Which reminds me of a funny story but I’m not sure that I should
tell it – The parable of the pessimistic paratrooper. He was told, your parachute will open automatically,
just jump out of the ‘plane, you’ll float down and a lorry will be in the field to pick
you up and bring you back to the camp. But he said, what if I catch the tailplane as
I jump out. You won’t, you’ll be in the slipstream so quickly you’ll never notice.
He said, but what if the parachute doesn’t open? It’ll open automatically; you don’t
have to do anything. If it doesn’t open, then pull the ring on your chest and it will
open. Well, the moment came and he jumped out of the ‘plane and he thought, I’m
sure I’ll hit the tailplane but he didn’t, then he said, I’m sure the parachute won’t
open and it didn’t. So he pulled the ring and still it didn’t open and as he was hurtling
to the ground someone heard him say, and I’ll bet the lorry’s not there either – The parable
of the pessimistic paratrooper. He wouldn’t trust anybody and therefore the whole thing
failed. Now then, Confucius is dead; Mohammed is dead;
Shinto is dead; Buddha is dead – but Jesus is alive! And therefore I can believe in Jesus.
I can’t believe in the others – they’ve all gone but I can believe in him. I was preaching
in Ealey in Cambridgeshire and at the end of the talk, a Jewess came to see me. She
was an attractive Jewess about 25 and she said, Mr. Pawson are you trying to tell me
that Jesus of Nazareth is still alive? I said, yes, that’s why I’m here; I know he’s
alive. She said, but if he is, he must be our Messiah. I like that word ‘our’…
He must be our Messiah. She said, how can I find out if he’s alive now? I said, come
with me and I took her to a little room at the back of the church and I sat her in a
comfortable chair and I said, I’m going to leave you for 15 minutes and I’ll come
back and in the meanwhile I want you to talk to Jesus – talk to him aloud because if
he’s alive today he can hear you. Tell him about yourself, tell him about your Jewish
upbringing, tell him all your worst fears, but just chat with him, talk to him. She said,
is that all? I said, yes. That’s how you find out if someone’s alive.
So I left her and I came back 15 minutes later and she jumped out of the chair and she said,
‘He’s alive! He’s alive!’ And suddenly she was teaching me the Bible. She knew the
Bible. It was in her blood, but she hadn’t got the key to unlock it all. She didn’t
realize that Jesus is alive today. And that’s all that happened. In fact, to convert a Jew
– all you need do is persuade them that Jesus is alive. That’s all they need. That’s
all that Saul of Tarsus needed on the Damascus road. He said, who are you, Lord; who are
you? And he said, I’m Jesus whom you are persecuting. And that, for Paul, was it. From
that moment he was a believer. So that’s the difference. You can know Jesus
as Friend, as Brother, as Someone you can talk to, Someone you can share your life with
– amazing! And that’s how you find out if he’s alive. And you very quickly do.
We’ve looked at the historical side of faith based on facts, we’ve looked at the personal
side of faith where you believe in someone, not just that – but in. The two words go together.
And the third is verbal – the historical, the personal and the verbal. Just as repentance
needs to be put into words, so faith needs to be put into words – spoken – in two
ways. First, the way I’ve already mentioned, talking to Jesus. That’s putting your faith
into words, especially if you talk to him aloud, because then you’re treating him
as a real person. So there are two parts to confessing Jesus with the lips; one is to
talk to him about yourself and the other is to talk to others about him. And in those
two ways, you cement your faith, you make it firm; you make it strong. Every time you
talk to someone else about Jesus, your faith is strengthened and every time you talk to
him about others, your faith is strengthened. Talking strengthens and that’s why the Bible
says, if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved. So there’s
a confession of the mouth and in fact Jesus once said this: if you deny me before men,
I’ll deny you before my Father. If you’re ashamed or embarrassed to acknowledge me in
front of people, I’ll be ashamed of you. That’s a pretty strong thing to say.
Now I want to mention what’s become known as the sinner’s prayer. Have you heard that
phrase? It’s a little, short prayer which you can teach someone to say when they want
to talk to Jesus. I want to say to you quite simply – don’t ever use it! That may come
as a surprise. I’ve found it’s much more helpful and interesting and informative to
say to somebody, you pray; make up your own prayer. You talk to him and then you listen
very carefully – and you’ll learn a whole lot more about their faith and where they’re
at. Sometimes there are lovely prayers – the first prayer that somebody’s prayed maybe.
But it’s their own, their own words, their own thoughts, their own feelings. Don’t
put words in their mouth, they’re your words, they’re not their own, and it’s very important
when their faith becomes verbal that it becomes their own words.
I think of a friend of mine who was asked one day, how do you know that Jesus is alive?
And like lightning he replied, well I was talking to him only this morning. I thought,
that’s about the best answer you could give. It was his own, genuine – it was his own
words. So get people to use their own prayer – don’t say, say this after me. Because
if you do that, you’re producing no more than a budgerigar. I’m sorry to say that,
but I mean it. There’s a lady in a South Wales home for
the elderly who has a budgie who sings hymns and when people go into the lounge of that
old people’s home, they hear a piping little voice singing, ‘What a friend we have in
Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear’ and they look and here’s a budgie singing
the hymn – because the budgie has heard the old lady sing it so often that it knows
it by heart. I tell you there are an awful lot of budgies in church – people who know
the hymns so well they can sing them by heart. But a budgie is not a believer. A believer
is someone who – in their own words – talks to Jesus and knows that he hears. That’s
the third dimension of faith – historical, based on facts; personal, trusting and obeying
them – because if you trust someone, you’ll do what they tell you; thirdly, verbal.
Fourthly – did you know that faith was so complicated? The fourth dimension is the practical
dimension because when you really believe, then you do something about it. Just as repentance
is something that you do, faith is something that you do. It is not just accepting the
truth of the gospel; it’s acting on the truth of the gospel. It’s doing something
about it. If you really believe in Jesus then life becomes different; you do things differently.
Now here I want to mention a big controversy that has arisen between Paul and James. They
seem to contradict each other. Paul says we are justified by faith not by works, whereas
James says, you can see that we are not justified by faith only, but also by works. And at first
sight, that seems a direct contradiction. James actually goes on to say that if your
faith doesn’t have works then it won’t save, it’s useless, helpless. What’s the
answer to this apparent dilemma? The answer is they’re both using ‘works’ in a different
sense and they don’t conflict at all. When Paul talks about works he thinks about good
deeds and we are certainly not saved by good deeds, so that kind of works is out. But when
James talks about works, he’s talking about actions of faith; that’s a very different
thing. An action of faith is to show someone you believe in them, that you trust them.
And James gives us two amazing examples, one of a bad woman and the other of a good man,
both of whom did something about what they believed.
Let’s just look at what they did. Let’s take Rahab first. She was a prostitute; she
lived in a brothel in Jericho, a house right on the wall. And when she saw the Jews camped
on the other side of the Jordan ready to come in and take Jericho, she’d heard how they
got out of Egypt and how God had divided the water of the Red Sea so that they could walk
across dry, and she believed that God would part the Jordan as well so they could cross
on dry land and invade the Promised Land. She really believed that, so that when two
spies came in from the Israelites to spy out the land of Jericho, she hid them from the
authorities and she got them to leave the city by another way. And so they literally
owed their lives to her. She was acting on her belief that God was with them and therefore
her faith was practical – and she became one of the ancestors of Jesus; she’s in his
family tree in Matthew 1. Fancy finding a prostitute there, but she’s there because
she believed. She acted on her faith. Similarly, Abraham was a much better man than
she was, as humans judge; but Abraham was told by God, I want you to take your only
son and sacrifice him to me in the place where I show you. And father and son set off together
to make this sacrifice but the son was puzzled. He said, you’ve got wood for the fire, you’ve
got a knife to kill the victim, but you haven’t got a victim, and that’s when Abraham had
to break the news to Isaac – that’s because you’re the victim; God has told me to sacrifice
you and you’re my only hope for the future and God has promised me many, many descendants
and you’re the only one I’ve got. He did have another son by the maid but that was
his wife’s suggestion. Isaac was his only son by Sarah and if he killed him, that was
the end of any hope of a family because by this time he was ninety and his wife was pretty
old too. There’d be no more and there weren’t. But because God had told Abraham, I want you
to do this, Abraham did it. And together they climbed Mount Mariah. I wish I had a little
sculpture I’ve got made for me by a Jew in Jerusalem – it’s got Abraham offering
Isaac on the altar and then an angel up in the sky saying, stop! Don’t do it! That
was a test of your obedience. And when Abraham stopped and didn’t kill Isaac, God said
the most amazing three words – I still can’t get over it. God said to Abraham, now I know
– that you fear me; which means, quite simply, that God didn’t know until then. It was
making God sure of Abraham and not just Abraham sure of God. Amazing! That Abraham’s faith
would be obedient as to cut off his only son, his only hope for the future but he did it
because he was obedient. He trusted God and it’s the most amazing example of faith in
the Old Testament I think. So that’s very practical. Justification
is by faith alone but faith is never alone. If you really believe in someone, you will
show it in action and that’s really how James ought to be translated. Faith without
action is dead! It cannot save. If faith never does anything to show that you trust the Lord,
it’s not saving faith. The only faith in the New Testament is the faith which acts.
The letter to the Hebrews has a wonderful chapter in it – chapter 11 – of all the
Old Testament heroes of faith; and it says this: Abel offered a sacrifice pleasing to
God. Enoch went for a long walk with God and such a long walk that God said, you’d better
come and spend the night with me. You can’t get home now. Noah built a big, big boat – an
ark. Abraham left home and lived in a tent. Isaac blessed his son and Jacob blessed his
sons. Joseph made arrangements for his own funeral. Moses’ parents hid him from Pharaoh.
Moses identified with slaves and fled Egypt and killed a Passover lamb. The people crossed
the Red Sea and then marched around Jericho until the walls fell. Rahab – there she
is again – hid the spies. Now, what is it with all these people, do
you notice? They did something and it says about every one of them, ‘by faith’ – by
faith Noah built the ark, by faith Moses did this, that and the other – by faith. And
it goes on – the whole chapter is of heroes of faith and all it does is say what they
did. And everything they did showed God that they believed in Him, that they trusted Him,
that they obeyed Him. And that’s all that God looks for. He’s only needing people
who believe in him. Halfway through that chapter, there’s a most amazing verse and it says
this: All these were still living by faith when they died. None of them lived to see
what God had promised. They all died still believing in what they couldn’t see. Isn’t
that amazing? If you want to know why God regarded them as heroes, that’s the reason.
Their whole life they believed in something that they never lived to see. That’s faith!
And of course, in a very real sense, all of us believe in heaven but we shan’t see it
before we die. You’ve got to believe in heaven until the last minute you breathe and
then you’re in this line of heroes. So much then for the great heroes of faith.
Now on the whole, you and I don’t need faith to live. We live in such a comfortable, well
provided society – we’ve got doctors, dentists, supermarkets – we don’t need
faith to live. That’s tragic really. In a former day, when life was more precarious
and not surrounded by safety all the time, you needed faith just to survive. You needed
faith for the next meal. We don’t; we just need to go to the supermarket and stock up
with food. We can go to a doctor and get examined; go to a dentist and get your teeth fixed;
go to a lawyer and just about get everything else fixed. That’s one reason why our faith
is weak and small. We don’t need it, not unless there’s a big crisis or some catastrophe
happens, then we try and have faith. But if you’re not living by faith all the time,
it won’t be very strong when you need it. I’ve got another dimension of faith which
I haven’t mentioned yet. What have we been through? The historical, the personal, the
verbal, the practical and there’s one other vital ingredient of faith. I wonder if you
could guess what it is. No? Anybody have a go? It’s the continual aspect of faith.
Faith is not saving unless it goes on believing. That’s such an important part of saving
faith. I read a book by a well-known preacher in London which said, if you believe for two
minutes during your life, you’ll finish up in heaven. All you need is two minutes’
faith. I don’t know whether to say ‘rubbish’ or ‘blasphemy’. Faith in the New Testament
is continual faith. It is faithfulness. Indeed, in the Greek language and the Hebrew of the
Old Testament, faith and faithfulness are the same word. And it’s the same thing.
Faith needs to be faithful if it’s to be saving. Believing today and not believing
tomorrow is no good. It won’t help you. It needs to be continual; so much so that
in the Greek language there are two kinds of tense of verb; there is what’s called
the aorist tense and when that’s used it means once only. And there is the present
continuous tense which means to go on doing something.
Now in English, we have a rather more subtle way of distinguishing between a thing that
you do once and a thing that you go on doing. We end a verb with ‘s’ if it’s continuous
and with ‘d’ if it’s one-off. Have you ever noticed that? Supposing you witness an
accident and someone is knocked down on the road by a vehicle. People rush to help and
someone says, ‘he breathed’, with a ‘d’ on the end. He means he breathed once. But
if someone says, ‘he breathes’, with an ‘s’ on the end, it means he’s going
on breathing. We usually say ‘he is breathing’ for that. That’s the equivalent of the Greek
present continuous tense. Now unfortunately, since we’re not familiar
with Greek – most of us – and we don’t notice whether it’s a ‘d’ or an ‘s’
at the end, we don’t get the message. Take John 3:16, everybody knows that verse – every
Christian; and yet, did you ever notice that the word ‘believe’ has an ‘s’ at the
end and not a ‘d’? It’s not, ‘whoever believed in Jesus has eternal life’, but
‘whoever believes’ in Jesus. That’s terribly important because the verbs of John
3:16 are divided up between one-off verbs – that something happens only once, and
present continuous verbs which means to go on doing it. Let me translate that verse for
you properly and it will be a shock. ‘For God so loved – one-off, means he loved once
when he gave once his only begotten son – that whoever believes – goes on believing – will
never perish – once – but go on having eternal life.’ Now has that changed the
verse for you? It must have done surely. It’s a promise to those who go on believing and
it’s a promise that they will go on having life. Now I used to think that eternal life
was a package that was given to you once only and you had it then for the rest of your existence.
No! You only have eternal life as you go on believing. He is the True Vine. If you go
on abiding in him, you will go on having life. Branches don’t have life in themselves and
I’m just a branch. He is the vine and as long as I stay in him – he said it, Abide
in Me, reside in me, stay in me – and you will go on having life from me. The vine has
the life, not the branches and he went on to say that if a branch doesn’t produce
fruit, he will cut it off and it will wither and die and be thrown into the fire. Nothing
could be clearer than that. So we need this continual faith. We need to
be able to say with Paul, the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God. It’s
a life of faith that saves you; it’s not the faith you start with, it’s the faith
you finish with that saves you. And I want to say much more about that in my final talk.
Let’s just finish by looking at one verse in the Old Testament. In Habakkuk – he’s
one of my favourite prophets because he dared to argue with God and had a huge argument
with God one day. He said, God, look at the state of Jerusalem. It’s your city and it’s
full of crime and vice and sin. What are you doing about it? You’re doing nothing; you’re
just letting it go on. And God said, Habakkuk, I am doing something about it. What are you
doing? I’m bringing the Babylonians. What? You can’t do that! That’s too much. They
kill everybody; they even kill all the trees and the bushes and the animals. They don’t
leave anything alive – we’ll all die. And even your faithful people in the city
will die. And God said, no they won’t – ‘The righteous will survive by keeping faith.’
Or in the translation that you may be more used to – ‘the just shall live by faith.’
That became the magna carta of the Reformation – Luther’s favourite verse. It’s quoted
3 times in the New Testament. Every time, it’s quoted to show that faith is continual
if it’s going to save. It’s quoted at the beginning of Romans where
Paul says that we are saved by faith. It is from faith to faith even as it is written
‘the just shall live by faith’. From faith to faith, or as one translation puts it – ‘faith
from beginning to end.’ And then it’s quoted in Hebrews – ‘we are not among
those who shrink back into perdition. We are among those who keep it up for the just shall
live by faith.’ And the word ‘faith’ there is being used in the sense of faithfulness.
So that’s my last word on faith. The just shall live by faith, meaning the righteous
will survive whatever happens by keeping faith. And that’s it.

 

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