Sermon October 12, 2014

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

October 12, 2014

“Sola Fide”

Hebrews 11:1-13

We come now to the fourth in our series of sermons on the five essential beliefs of Christianity that have come down to us from the Protestant Reformation. First written in Latin, they came to be titled the Five Solas. Sola in Latin means only or alone. These five foundational statements about Christianity are: Sola Scriptura – scripture alone; Solus Christus – Christ alone; Sola Gratia – grace alone; Sola Fide – faith alone; and Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory.

I had a little debate in my mind about what order to do these sermons in. There’s general agreement about these five statements which define the Christian faith. However, all Five Solas stand on their own, so there’s not one established order to the list. It seemed logical to me to start with Sola Scriptura because what I would say about all five statements would be drawn from the Bible. I picked Solus Christus next because what makes us Christians is what we believe about Christ. More than the doctrines we believe is the person of Jesus Christ. And I decided that Soli Deo Gloria would come last – as what seemed to be an appropriate closing statement.

So what about grace and faith? Which comes first – grace or faith? Grace is the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. I think of grace as synonymous with God’s love. We experience the love of God not as something we have earned or deserved, but simply as a gift.

I think we can look at grace and faith as gift and response. A key verse is Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Grace is God’s free and unmerited love for us in the gift of salvation, and faith is the humble trust with which we receive it for ourselves.

Hebrews 11 is a litany of the great men and women of faith in the Old Testament. Each of them trusted in God, and we can read about how God blessed them and watched over them and preserved them. Hebrews tells us about faith. It says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It is the dynamic of faith in God that makes a Christian different from a non-Christian. Henry David Thoreau once said: “If I seem to walk out of step with others, it is because I am listening to another drumbeat.” By faith, Christians are listening to a different drumbeat. Faith is believing that there is another dimension to life than that which can be experienced by our senses; that reality goes deeper than what we are superficially aware of.
Faith is not merely positive thinking. It’s not just being optimistic, or hoping for the best. Faith always has an object. It is trusting in someone or some thing. And of course faith is only as valid as the object or the person in whom it is placed. The object of our faith is God. Hebrews says: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible …Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

I realize that there are people who think that to be a Christian means not only that you must have faith to believe in God, to believe in Jesus Christ, but also that you must forfeit your intellect and reason. These people would put faith and reason at opposite ends of the spectrum. In that view, faith becomes a substitute for reason. Faith becomes what you rely on when there is no reason to believe in something. Faith becomes something which is anti-reason or anti-intellect.

I disagree with that premise. Faith is not a desperate act of the will that trusts without evidence. Faith is not believing in something you know isn’t true. Faith and reason go hand in hand. Pascal, the great 17th century mathematician and theologian, made the following observation – He said: “There are only three sorts of people: those who have found God and serve him; those who are busy seeking him and have not found him; and those who live without seeking or finding him. The first are reasonable and happy; the last are foolish and unhappy; and those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable.”

We have a reason to believe in God. Behind our reason, our intellect, stands a rational Creator. God has created our minds in such a way that we can make great discoveries and solve tremendous mysteries. When we use our reason we are using what God has given us. Johann Kepler, the father of modern astronomy, peered out into the universe and exclaimed, “Oh God, I am thinking your thoughts after you!”

God invites us to satisfy our minds. We are not expected to give up our brains in order to believe in God. The evidence for God is all around us. Psalm 19 says: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.”

However, we realize that we cannot prove God. You cannot prove the absolute and infinite with finite arguments. We cannot make God the answer to a philosopher’s syllogism or a scientist’s experiment. People sometimes ask me – Why doesn’t God simply use his absolute power to prove once and for all his existence? But in his wisdom, God chooses not to. He does not overwhelm us with his power and might. He does not batter us into submission with irrefutable evidence. And in no way would such an act express the deepest realities of who God is. God has come to us in Jesus Christ, and the Bible is a witness of his love and a guide to having a relationship with God.

Frederick Buechner wrote: “Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved. I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window. I can prove that the world is round if I’m clever at that sort of thing – that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound. I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate. I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful.”

The really meaningful things in life cannot be proven scientifically. If God cannot be proved, or disproved, by logic and reason then he must be understood in another way, and that way is faith. I do not mean that faith is contrary to reason, but faith moves beyond reason. Instead of proofs, we have just enough evidence to assure us of the love of God. On the basis of that evidence we believe in him.

What does it take to believe in God? The skeptic says – I need sufficient reasons to believe. However sufficient evidence comes only after the fact. If we want to wait until we have all the facts before we put our trust in God, then we will never do it. As David Lloyd George is quoted as saying, sometimes nothing but a big step will do. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. St. Anselm put it this way: “I believe in order that I may understand.”

Faith in God is not a leap of suspended judgment. Faith is our response to the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s goodness and love. And our statement from the Reformation emphasizes that it is faith alone that counts. There is nothing that can be added to faith to make it better, to improve on it.

If there was anyone who could claim to be righteous, the Apostle Paul believed it was him. On the road to Damascus, Paul came face to face with the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the whole course of his life was fundamentally changed. All of his former confidence in his own goodness was shattered in an instant. All of his good works became like so many dirty rags. Paul says in Philippians: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”

Not neutral, not just inadequate, but loss. All of Paul’s supposed advantages, all totaled together, and he says it is a loss. It’s worse than nothing because it is an alternative to gaining Christ; it is an impediment to gaining Christ. Paul had an impressive resume. His credentials were above reproach. But when he had a personal experience of God’s love, he realized that what he formerly treasured was worthless.

I think it was a paraphrase of Paul’s words that we sang in our hymn –
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.

What does it mean to have faith in Christ? It is not an act of the brave or the courageous. It is not something accomplished by the morally superior. It is not a set of rituals and prayers to be learned and repeated. It is a gift. It is trusting in the grace of God, the sufficiency of Christ. It is believing that in Jesus Christ God has come to you personally to show that he loves you and accepts you. And it is faith alone that saves us.

The book of Hebrews holds up Abraham as its great example of faith. The promise of God’s blessing came to Abraham as sheer grace. It was entirely a gift and there was no action on Abraham’s part to deserve it. The Bible says that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

When Abraham trusted God, God credited him as righteous. Abraham was not accepted as righteous on the basis of anything he had done to deserve it. Abraham was still a sinner, but by faith, God declared that he was righteous. When we trust in the good news of Jesus Christ, though we are still sinners, we are saved by Christ’s death on the cross. This is the good news of the gospel.

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