Published November 23, 2006
Hebrews 11:1-2, 5-7, 32-38; 12:1-2
Related Sunday School Lesson, Bible Studies for Life, Dec. 3
What are you getting for Christmas? Are you dreaming about that perfect gift? Most gifts are soon forgotten, but there are some gifts that can change your life. For the next five weeks we are going to explore some “life-changing” gifts.
This week’s lesson is about a “life-changing” gift that works – faith. Though faith is a response to God’s love, it is important that we see faith as a gift of God. Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus is the source of our faith. Faith is not self-produced. God’s gift of faith is greater than something we could manufacture.
I. The nature of faith
Faith that works is real. “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for” (11:1). The popular TV show Survivor spawned many other reality TV shows. Most of us have questioned the authenticity of their reality. The dictionary defines real as: true, existing as fact, being an actual thing, genuine, not counterfeit, authentic, not artificial. Consider the following four scenarios.
A counterfeit $20 bill appears to be worth $20. At 49 I think I can run as fast as I did at 19. I believe the bridge is not sturdy enough to provide safe crossing, so I do not attempt to cross it. I believe I am incapable for a particular task, so I do not attempt the task.
In the first two instances, appearance and belief cannot make up for the truth. In the second two instances, failure to believe in that which is not seen translates into failure.
The spiritual implication is serious. Choosing to believe what the world teaches when it opposes God’s truth denies reality and sets up serious consequences. Choosing not to believe simply because you cannot see it also denies God’s truth and results in forfeiting the good things God has provided. The good news is that faith is real and it works.
Faith that works pleases God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6). Rick Warren has helped many Christians understand that worship is for God’s pleasure. Worship is the first and primary purpose of a believer. Out of worship flows obedience to God’s Word, love for other Christians, benevolent service to the world, and evangelism which reaches the lost.
When a person participates in worship reciting the Lord’s Prayer it is thought to be an act of worship. The question is, “does it please God?” I think it is safe to say that God has heard more people recite the Lord’s Prayer inside a sanctuary than he has seen live the Lord’s Prayer in their daily life. God finds pleasure watching his children forgive one another, not hearing them recite scripture on forgiveness.
So why do we spend more time reciting and less time obeying? Faith, or should I say, lack of faith is the answer. If we believe God will bless our obedience in matters of forgiveness we will offer forgiveness. That is a faith that works and it pleases God.
II. Examples of faith that work
Faith that works overcomes adversity. “Who by faith conquered kingdoms?” (11:33). Scripture answers this question with a list of men and women who overcame adversity through faith in God. Noah exercised his faith through the adversity of public opinion, Abraham through the adversity of God’s testing, and Sarah through the adversity of old age.
Read the list, read their stories, and look for your story. Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. You will find at least one story that resonates with your own adversity. God tells us these stories to help us with our own story.
Faith that works is encouraged by the heroes of our Faith. “Such a large crowd of witnesses” (12:1). I remember watching the finish of the marathon during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I don’t remember the winner but I do remember the crowds cheering the runners. Imagine running the race of life and entering the stadium with that large crowd of witnesses cheering you on. Then imagine one by one these witnesses joining you on the running track and personally encouraging you as you face the obstacles of life’s race. How would they encourage you?
Gideon might say, “One plus God is greater than the crowd minus God.” Rahab, the prostitute, might encourage you to remember, “God brings great things through fallen and forgiven people.” Joshua would remind you, “Walls tumble when you walk with God.”
What crowd is holding you back? What sin needs forgiveness? What wall separates you from God’s promises?
III. Faith that works is completed by God
Our faith is completed by God. “The source and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). Does your faith seem to fall short of Abraham’s faith? Is Noah’s faith greater than yours?
Perhaps these heroes of the faith make it look too easy. Read their stories again and notice the doubts they overcame. Courage was not always their middle name. Failure was part of their faith journey. Obedience did not come easy every step of the way. What they had in common and what we can have in common with them is a relationship with God, the source and perfecter of our faith.
Paul wrote this, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” [Phil 1:6 (HCSB)]. Faith is God’s life-changing gift for you. Faith is a gift that works and the process of a maturing faith lasts a lifetime. With your trust and obedience, God will empower your faith to grow.
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