“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]
I would imagine that Noah’s neighbors knew a lot about the ark. They saw him build it from scratch. They heard Noah preach about the coming judgment for one hundred twenty years. But even with all those neighbors knew about the ark and the coming judgment, they perished miserably when the floods came because they were not in the ark.
Likewise, a good person may know a lot about Jesus Christ and the Bible, but that knowledge will not save him. You can have a certain conviction that the promises of the Bible are true, but only when you have a firm confidence, given to you by the Holy Spirit, that those promises are for you, will they benefit you. Only then are your sins forgiven through Christ because only then do you have a true faith.
The best definition for faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. Faith says “Yes” to everything that God says. Faith takes God without any “ifs”. What God said, we believe.
So often we wonder why people backslide in the church. Once they were excited for the church and participated in many of the church’s activities. Then, it seemed, they became bored or angry with the church and lost interest. One reason people backslide is because they are not sound in their faith. They have not really committed themselves to Christ.
A good number of people are committed to a church, or a denomination, or some of the programs a church may offer. They go to church because they enjoy the beautiful singing, the friendly people, and the good minister. They are, then, committed to the good singing, the friendly people, and the good minister. But they are not committed to God. If you place your faith in anything but God, what will happen when that thing changes? Only God does not change.
Have you ever heard somebody say that he was disappointed in a fellow Christian? He will tell you how that person cheated him out of some money or property and then he will end his accusations with this statement: “And he calls himself a Christian!”
Then he will use that anger and bitterness as an excuse to skip church because he refuses to forgive that person. How foolish such a person is! He is willing to give up his faith in order to save his own pride. But then, if he had true faith in Jesus Christ, his faith would not have been shattered because a fellow sinner cheated him out of some money or insulted him in some other way.
When a person has faith in Jesus Christ, he has something to hold on to so that he will not backslide. With true faith a person can stand fast in times of trial and temptation because he knows the truth of God’s Word and has the assurance of God’s salvation.
Some people think that when the Heidelberg Catechism teaches about true faith in God’s Word and in Jesus Christ that it must be some kind of miraculous faith. Others say it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Still others say it really does not matter what church you belong to as long as you are a good member in that church.
But it really makes all the difference in the world [and afterwards] whether you believe the truth or a lie. The devil wants nothing more than to have us believe a lie. You do not have to worship him or become a member of some cult or sect. You do not have to paint Satanic symbols on every bridge or overpass to be wrong about what you believe. No matter how close to the truth you may be, if you are believing a lie then you are being greatly deceived. You MUST believe the truth that is the Word of God. You MUST have knowledge and a conviction that God’s Word is true and that it is for you.
That means taking the time to study God’s Word so that you know what it contains. You cannot have a sure knowledge and certain conviction that the promises of God is true if you have no idea what that Word contains or what the promises are. The Holy Spirit will never give you a deep rooted assurance of salvation through Christ if you do not take the time to know who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross of Calvary. Faith means knowing in Whom we believe: knowing God the Father; knowing God the Son; and knowing God the Holy Spirit.
One of the joys of the ministry is the people you get to visit. Most Elders will say the same thing about being an Elder.
In one of the churches I served, I visited an elderly woman who was dying of cancer. We would talk about the promises of God found in His Word. She knew she was forgiven through the grace of God. She knew Christ’s sacrifice had made her right with God. She knew she was going to heaven. Her faith never wavered.
“You have a great faith,” I told her.
“No,” she replied, “I have a great God.”
Another person I visited was dying of emphysema. As he lay there on the hospital bed he literally shook, the pain was so intense. Being his pastor, I struggled to find some comforting words. All that came out was: “You must really be suffering.”
He turned to me with tears in his eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “Not near as much as my Savior suffered for me.”
I have never met anyone who had a sure knowledge and a certain conviction that everything God reveals in His Word is true, who didn’t at the same time have a deep rooted assurance of God’s grace and the comfort He brings through His Spirit. You cannot truly know God without having a true faith in God.
Instead of mourning because you have no faith; instead of living in fear because you have little faith, study the Word of God. Get to know those heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. Look at their lives and see how they grew in their knowledge of God and His grace. See Jesus Christ presented in the Bible as your Savior and Messiah.
Anything else is unbelief. To not study the Word of God is unbelief. To not desire to know more about Jesus Christ is unbelief. To not want to serve Him is unbelief. And unbelief is sin. It is not believing the Word of God. Not believing His Word is what placed us in our sin and misery in the first place. Unbelief is not a “misfortune,” it is a sin.
Do not look at all kinds of religions and denominations to see if you have the right faith. Look and see if you have the right Jesus Christ in your life. Look to God and see if you are serving Him and glorifying Him in your life.
True faith always looks to God!
Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan and editor of The Outlook.