Romans 10:17 “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
There are some people you meet who speak admiringly of men and women who have faith. “I wish I had faith,” you hear them say, “but I don’t have faith. I am so glad that you’ve got it. I am sure it helps you, but it’s not for me.” It is as if they were speaking of some natural feature like blonde hair, or a high I.Q., or a fine singing voice, or being tall. They consider that some possess such gifts while others don’t, and there is no point in agonizing to get what’s impossible for some. They accept that they are people who constitutionally don’t have religious faith. That is the attitude of millions of people in the continent of Europe. But real Christian faith is not like a talent, or a physical attribute that some have from birth while others lack it. You must think of faith as part of a character that you develop, FOR EXAMPLE, through listening to the voice of your conscience and other personal influences. Conscience speaks to you and says, “Don’t start taking drugs; don’t drink immoderately; keep your marriage vows; be a good role model for your children; do an honest week’s work for your boss; don’t betray your country, protect the unborn child; don’t cheat the benefit system,’ and so on. You may not and you must not say, “I wish I had values like that, but I don’t. I am glad that others have them, and that my parents had them, and I am sure that it helped them and it helps you, but I can’t live like that.”
Hear me! This is God’s world; the heavens declare his glory every single day; you have a conscience that tells you that that there is a certain way to live and that word is God’s voice speaking to you. Obey the voice of your conscience. Say to yourself, “I believe that that is important.” You are without excuse to scorn it. Think again! Turn around! Change your lifestyle or you will face a desolating future. You don’t simply accept your excesses and your indulgences and your lusts and your pride and say to yourself, “Well, that is just little old me!” Consider the pain you have caused others. Don’t be so selfish. You can change, we can change for the good. We can know transforming grace. We can be elevated and lifted up. We can discover a joy and peace that we had never known. We can know God for ourselves, personally, through his Son, Jesus Christ. You can have true faith, rational faith, saving faith, an attitude that helps you understand who you really are, how you should live, the purpose of life, deliverance from guilt and moral weakness. You can believe! You can! Even you. You can’t sing like Pavarotti. You can’t become as handsome as Brad Pitt. You can’t run as fast as Ursine Bolt, but you can develop true and real faith. You can1
Faith is not like the Rock of Gibraltar, totally static, which you have to go to, and some do and most don’t. Faith is dynamic; it comes to people. We know that to every single Christian faith has come. There was no DNA that gave them faith from their conception so that they had it while others didn’t. It was influences that were totally outside themselves that caused faith to come into them, to come right inside them so that they became believers. It was nothing natural at all. It was in fact quite supernatural, the voyage that faith took when it came to them. Faith comes! It truly comes. Many of the people who are members of this church would tell you, “There were years when I didn’t believe. I had no faith, but it came to me. There were years when I thought Christianity was not for me. I am not that sort of person. I am not that type. I don’t need that crutch. I am contented with my life. I would tell people to back off if they raised the subject of religion, but then certain things happened and I found faith developing and growing in my life.
I have been reading Rosaria Butterfield’s autobiography, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I found it quite gripping. Fifteen years ago she was a lesbian professor of English literature in a New England college, quite the unlikeliest person to whom you would think the Christian faith would come. Today she is a pastor’s wife in the psalm-singing Reformed Presbyterian church. She speaks in her book of listening to Ted Donnelly at a conference, and of the books she commends at the end there is J.C.Ryle’s Holiness, and Dr Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression, and Joel Beeke and Mark Jones’ A Puritan Theology. Faith came to her. Why do you think that it couldn’t also come to you? Why are you so special? Are you superior academically and intellectually and scientifically? Are you different emotionally? Are you quite self-sufficient and self-integrated needing nothing and no one outside yourself? Have you got it all together? Have you made a roaring success of life? Have you read and thought deeply and wisely about this person, Jesus of Nazareth, and have come to settled conclusions as to why he cannot possibly be the Son of God?
Many of you would pause at that and acknowledge that you couldn’t claim those things about yourself. But you would acknowledge that you have needs, even that you have very deep needs, or even that your life just now was at a cross-roads, though no one here knows that except you. You are just aware of the burden you’re bearing and you are wondering where to turn. I have a friend who was exactly where you are, and one evening he went to a Christian meeting and the preacher, a man named Manley Beasley was preaching and he happened to say something very simple but it touched my friend quite deeply. In fact he had to go out of the service before it ended to think and pray about what he had heard. The words seemed to be designed just for him. What a wonderful occurrence, but every Christian has had some experience of that.
So what were the words that came to him, that helped him, that brought renewed faith and trust in God to him? This is what Pastor Beasley said; “A need is positive evidence of God’s abundant supply to meet that need. In fact the need is created to bring us to the supply.” You are saying that you haven’t got it all. You admit that. You don’t have all the answers to the great questions, and increasingly you are aware of an emptiness and a distress. I am saying that God has allowed that need to develop in your life even until today, and he has done so in order to bring you to himself, the God who gives us trust, God the Spirit who comes with faith into our hearts, and resides there as the dove and the comforter and our advocate. The New Testament tells us that “By grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephs. 2). The faith that saves us when we are at the cross roads, aware of this burden, wondering which way to go, what’s it all about, isn’t there more to life that materialism – the faith that saves us from despair and teaches us our chief end in life – it comes to us from God because he loves us, and he gives us trust. He creates it in our lives. That is what my friend saw that day as he listened to the Rev. Beasley. His need was given him in order for him to go to the God the one who meets our needs. I am saying to you that your need is positive evidence of the living God’s abundant supply to meet that need. In fact your need has been created by a divine hand to bring you to the divine supply. So faith comes to men.
FAITH COMES FROM HEARING THE MESSAGE.
This is so important. Let me refer again to my friend who had that word in that service and walked happily in the power of this truth for some time. “God has created these needs in my life to bring me to himself, to meet those needs abundantly.” But then after a while some doubts began to grow . . . He thought, “Was this a legitimate need? Surely I have created my own needs in the past. Those things that I referred to as ‘my needs’ were in fact desires and ambitions and objectives of my own heart and flesh.” He examined his own understanding of ‘needs’, but after a while he believed that some were indeed true needs, those that God legitimately and lovingly created and that he promised to meet, even if God had to move heaven and hell to do so. It is God who defines our true needs, what they are, and it is God who fulfills our needs . . . every single one of them.
In other words we are dependent on something outside ourselves. We are not self-sufficient. All of us have an external life-support system. Spiritually we depend on communication and information that comes from God, a divine revelation. Paul calls it a divine ‘message’ in our text, words and convictions from him to create our need and give us this faith. This divine message is crucial to distinguish between what our real, genuine, eternal needs are – as things of paramount importance – and what we merely imagine to be our needs when in fact they are only our own frustrations and longings. Without God’s message we have nothing to shape and inform and educate and clarify our needs. A friend of mine met a man in his neighbourhood whom he knew not to be a Christian. He was a very simple man and he came to my friend with a concern. He told him that he had talked on the door with a young man who had read to him John 3:16. “Do you believe that?” he asked him. “Is that from the Bible?” he asked the young man. “Yes,” the young man replied. “Then I believe it because I believe the Bible.” “Praise God, you are saved,” the young man told him. “I am?” “Yes you are. Now what is your name?” Well this friend was suspicious of this young man and so he made up a false name and gave that name to him. The man opened his notebook and with his ballpoint pen he wrote down the name he’d been given. Then he shook the man’s hand and told him that his name had been written down in the Lamb’s book of life and that he would see him in heaven. The man then told my friend (whom he knew to be a preacher), “My problem is this. If that is the name that is written down up there then it’s the wrong one. How am I going to get that straightened out?” It was a ridiculous scenario. It is amusing but also tragic. Much that is called evangelism today is conducted on that level, raising hands, and ticking boxes on a card, and repeating a sentence phrase by phrase. I am saying that to have real faith in God you must become acquainted with the real message from God about his Son Jesus Christ. Faith is a response to hearing God’s message and the clearer and fuller it is the better. So we have to ask, what is that message? There is a lot of confusion about that, and so let me clarify the muddle.
i] As it is a message it is not going through a series of ceremonies. It is not watching a baptism or being baptized; it’s a message. It is not having a bishop laying his hands on your head, it’s a message. It is not kneeling at a rail at the front of the church and receiving a wafer; it is hearing a message. You can go through ceremonies every day of the week and never have heard and understood the message God has given us.
ii] As it is a message it is not about experiencing certain feelings. It is not that some things make you smile, and other affections make you feel good, and other feelings give you a sense of peace, and other emotions make you feel religious or reverent or that you can come to accept yourself. It is about hearing a message and thinking about it and understanding the consequences of that message for your life.
iii] As it is a message it is not about joining a group. It is not about sitting in a room and feeling accountable to that group, sharing with them your falls and fear and hopes, no matter how classy a group it might be, a group of the most beautiful and talented people. No. It is hearing a specific message. You can belong to the most religious group of people in the world, but that won’t give you personal faith that changes you. That requires something other than membership of an organization.
iv] As it is a message it is not becoming a member of a cause, fully paid up and attending regular meetings. The cause may be political, making a more just society, getting the government off our backs, getting the troops out of Afghanistan. It may be a cultural cause, advancing the rights of a minority language. There are good and bad causes but that is not hearing the message God gives that creates faith in his Son.
v] It is a message of good news and so it is not a list of prohibitions. It is not a Berlin Wall. It is not a line of boundary posts with a warning on each one. “Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t have sex outside marriage. Don’t take drugs. Don’t be violent. Don’t steal,” and so on. Though those are wise words, they are not the message that creates the faith that can save our souls. In a small nation like ours with small farms then there are fences and stone walls and hedges around fields and even up mountains. But in the Australian outback it is impossible to build walls because they would have to be hundreds of miles in length. So what do farmers do? They create a water hole and make sure that it is always full so that livestock will never wander far away. The abundant fresh water is a magnet which will draw them back day after day. So it is with us. What we offer men and women is not a rule book but good news of hell subdued, sins forgiven and peace with heaven through Jesus Christ, good news of a Saviour willing to be our prophet, priest and king who offers himself to repentant sinners, good news of an indwelling, helpful Spirit.
So what is the message we must hear in order for there to be faith that can change us for the better?
3. THE MESSAGE THAT CREATES FAITH CENTRES ON JESUS CHRIST.
Do you see how Paul summarizes it so succinctly in our text? “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” in other words, the gospel concerning Christ. The message is nothing more or less than Jesus Christ himself, the words that tell us all about him, and that describe him in the glory of his person and the perfection of his finished work. Listen to the apostle Paul reminding the Christians in Greece what was the message that he brought to them that had changed them. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the [message] I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this [message] you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul is taking about the historic person, Jesus Christ. The one who was born to Mary, whose future husband Joseph was a carpenter in Nazareth where our Lord lived for thirty years. He spoke and preached and what he said is summarized in four gospels, and who he was and what he did is explained for us in the letters of the New Testament. The writers were largely eye-witnesses and under the help of the Holy Spirit they recorded for the world all we need to know about Jesus Christ. Theirs is the one message the whole of mankind needs to hear by which true faith is conceived and grows.
The message tells us that a real virgin conceived when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she gave birth nine moths later to Jesus in Bethlehem’s stable. The message tells us that he lived a sinless, blameless, wholly loving life. The message tells us that he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and that he made the greatest claims about himself. The message tells us that he was crucified for guilty sinners as their substitute and that he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and that he is coming again. There were many other things that Jesus did but we don’t know yet what they were, but all we do know is the message found in the Bible that is recorded in order that we might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that by faith in him we might have eternal life. The message that gives us real faith is all focused on him. Faith comes by hearing that message of Jesus Christ.
Let me use three words beginning with the letter ‘C’ that are catchwords or slogans of Christianity. The Cradle. The Cross. The Crown. Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah born of a virgin whose cradle was a manger rude and bare. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who took away our sin on the cross. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and forty days later he ascended into heaven to sit on the throne of God with all authority in heaven and earth. The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. He went to that mighty rank of power and authority one way, via the manger cradle, and the cruel cross. So I say the message that creates faith is the message about the Lord Jesus.
THE MESSAGE THAT CREATES FAITH IS ALSO AN INTERPRETATION OF THE LIFE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
The message that centres on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is also an interpretation of those facts about him, about who he was, how he existed in glory before he entered the womb of the virgin, how he was the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God. Why then did he come and suffer and die and rise and ascend? The message explains all this. We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but God loves us and sent his Son into the world to die our death, and receive our condemnation in his own body on the cross.
If we summarize the Bible then it might be helpful to compare it to a three act play. Act One is entitled, “Listen, Someone Is Coming,” and it consists of the entire Old Testament, and the whole theme is about preparing for the one promised in fallen Eden. That was announced in Eden in the words, “The Seed of the woman will one day crush the Serpent’s head.” Act Two is called “He Has Arrived!” and it consists of the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. Act Three is called, “He Has Not Gone Away for Ever”. It consists of the remainder of the New Testament, and the actors who introduce those books are the angels who speak in the opening verses of the book of Acts who announced that this same Jesus who ascended into heaven will so come in like manner as the eye-witnesses had seen him ascend. I am saying that the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the message about the Lord Jesus Christ, who he was, what he said and did, why he said and did them, and who he did them for.
So true saving faith comes by hearing this singular message, and the message always comes to us in words. It is always an appeal to our minds to think and consider this person in the history of the world. He claims to be our God. He claims to be your Judge. He offers to be your Saviour. He says that no one can come to the Father except by him. Those are his words. This message is not judged by the number of goose pimples it creates, or by the vitality of the dreams it might encourage, or the out-of-body experiences it might give, or the vision of men in white and women in blue that might come to us. Saving faith comes by a message that comes to us in which we are told of this person Jesus Christ, and the good news concerning who he is and what he has done. It tells us of the implications of believing in Christ for daily life, for our work, for our family life, for our relationship with Caesar, for the way we face death and eternity.
5. THROUGH THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST WE EXPERIENCE FAITH IN GOD.
So I am saying to you about this faith that you might not yet have, this faith that you’ve been saying to yourself that you’re not the type of person who can have religious faith. I am telling you that real faith comes from hearing the good message about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the message that is interpreted by the Bible and by the message is further experienced in our lives. It is not enough for us to know that the facts about Christ are true and that we’ve been taught correctly to understand them. The devils are orthodox believers. Saving faith trusts right into the Lord Jesus. In other words we believe in him in this particular way, that we receive him into our lives, and we set him over our lives as our Lord. It is not enough that we admire him, and that we believe that the facts about him are true. He must come into the secret place in our heart of hearts and lives, and he must reign over us as our Lord so that we implicitly obey him in everything. Saving faith is not taking facts about the Lord Jesus Christ into our minds, it is taking the Lord Jesus Christ himself into our lives.
When I marry two people in their wedding service I don’t present facts about the husband to the wife and facts about the wife to the husband and ask each one if he or she receives those facts as the truth. I ask the woman if she takes this man as her wedded husband, and I ask the husband if he takes this woman as his wedded wife. “Will you receive him or her into your life? Will you be joined to him until death separates you? You, henceforth, will not be two but one flesh.” So saving faith is personally being joined to this specific Jesus Christ who is the theme of the message God has given to us. You are joined to him by receiving him into your life. In other words faith is believing into Christ, or believing upon Christ, him alone. Not Christ plus Moses, not Christ plus Mary, not Christ plus Paul. Christ alone! If you have Jesus you have everything, because God has compressed all that you need in this world and the next into him. Your justification is in him. Your pardon is in him. Your righteousness is in him. Your redemption is in him. Your adoption is in him. Your regeneration is in him. Your union with Christ is in him. Your glorification is in him. There is this one dense heavenly atom in which all the treasures of Christ and his salvation are to be found, and to have him at the centre of your life is to have everything. There is nothing left outside Christ that you need. More than all you need is found in him.
So the Lord Jesus Christ gives you a command and an invitation; “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Coming is a movement of our hearts from being outside of Christ to being inside him. Coming is an opening of our entire lives to Christ’s sovereign influences over us. Christ is the hub. Christ is mission control. Christ is our absolute Lord. True faith in him means not living one single day longer without him, but living with him and upon him and in him and through him and for him. That is the faith that comes from hearing the message of the word of Christ
When you are driving in your car to a new destination you are delighted to see its name appear on a signpost. But you don’t stop there. You are approaching it. You go on in that direction with a new assurance that you are traveling the right way. Then a little later you see the name again on another sign post but once again you don’t stop there. You are encouraged to keep going that way, and so on and on from one signpost to the next until you see the large sign outside the town, “Welcome to Such and Such a Place.” You have arrived there by following the directions all the way. Now the great works of Christ – like turning large pots of H20 into pots full of aged wine, and walking on the surface of the sea, and commanding the winds and waves to be quiet, and to multiply loaves and fishes so that 5000 men are fed fully from this one meal – each of those is a sign that points to him as the Creator of the world who has the power to do with his creation as and what he pleases. His resurrection from the dead is a sign that tells us that his dying sacrifice has made a full atonement for our sins, that he as the Lamb of God has taken them all away, all our past sins, all our present guilt, all our future condemnation. What Jesus did in our place was accepted by God. We are ransomed and forgiven and God is reconciled to us through the Lord Jesus. We have been cleansed of our shame, though our sins were stark scarlet sins they are now through Christ whiter than snow.
A true hearing of the message of the Christ of the Bible is believing in him as God and man, two natures in one undivided person, and taking him into our lives. Taking the message of the Christ of the Bible is believing in him in his three offices as prophet and priest and king. We will never ask people to receive Christ as Saviour without telling them who the Lord Jesus Christ is. We will never urge them to have faith in the Lamb of God without telling them to submit to the King of kings. They have neither power nor the possibility of choosing what aspects of the offices of Christ they’d like. He is indivisible. When he knocks on the door of your heart and you open the door you may not say to him, “Come into my life and clean it up, but leave your crown outside the door.” The message is one message. The Person is one Person. He comes as the Lamb and also the King. What God has joined together no man can put asunder. If he comes to wash and cleanse every part of your life he also comes to reign over every part of your life. If he is not your Lord then he cannot be your Saviour. That is his message.
You cannot choose by saying, “I like the idea of forgiveness but I don’t like this insistence that it is only through Calvary’s blood atonement that I can be pardoned.” You may not say, “I love the example of the lovely Lord Jesus, but I don’t like what Jesus taught about hell.’ You have no right to make such a distinction just choosing what you appreciate. Then you are the Lord over him, not he the Lord over you. He draws you to him for forgiveness, yes, but also for submission. He makes you sing of how you treasure the old rugged cross, but he also makes you sing, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”
When the bride and groom stand before me in a wedding service and at one time I turn to the bride and I ask her is she prepared to take this man to be her lawful wedded husband, then she could pause for a moment in reflection and finally give this answer, “I will take his money, and his credit cards, and his house and his car and his lands, but I have no intention for the rest of my life of washing his clothes, and tidying up after him, and bearing his children.” If she said that then I wouldn’t be able to say, “Right. I now pronounce you man and wife.” That would be a mockery of any real marriage.
So I am saying that if you think that you can pick’n’mix what benefits of Christ you like and reject the demands he makes for your love and service then you must consider again what it means to receive the message of God the Son and his great salvation. You cannot separate the benefits of his blessings from the responsibilities of serving him. God will not give you such a faith. You may work up such a convoluted faith, but the saving faith that joins you to Christ joins you to the Lamb but also to the King. The angel told the shepherds when he was born, “Unto you is born this day a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.” He was Saviour and Lord from his birth. Peter told the crowd on the Day of Pentecost in the first new covenant sermon, “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
God has a controversy with the people of our land. It is not simply that they choose to ignore his Son, or will not believe certain things about him, but that they are refusing to bow before this Lord and serve him day by day. Imagine that fictitious bride (who said on her wedding day that she would take the man’s money and his credit cards) seeing that man later that day after the wedding reception had ended and saying to him, “Well this has been a wonderful day. I will never forget it. I think it has been the greatest day of my life, getting married to you. Well, I am going off now. Shall I call you in the next week or so? We must get together and maybe have a meal some time. That would be nice wouldn’t it? So Good Bye for now and good luck.”
You cannot imagine such a marriage would be possible. Can you hear the message of the Bible, the message of Christ and his prophets and apostles, and think that they could invite men and women to choose the variety of faith they wanted to have in the kind of Christ they had designed for themselves? Do you think that the New Testament preachers presented the message of the Lord Jesus and then left it up to their hearers to decide what things about Jesus they would pick and what things they would reject, and that then the hearers thanked the preacher and went off in different directions with their same old lifestyles arranging an occasional meeting with the preachers and their message, or perhaps they never saw them again?
I am telling you that there is no way you can become a ‘oncer’ when you have heard and responded to this message, this word of Christ, and that God will allow you to become a ‘oncer’, a person who on one day in a week gives one hour to Jesus and puts one pound coin in the collection box. That is not the faith that comes from hearing this message of this Christ. When you get married you start your life together. The relationship is one of trust and love. It is a joint life; it is a shared life in everything. The two of you become one flesh. And when you believe right into Jesus Christ you believe into every part of him, every aspect of him. You give him the key to every room. You give him the password to every site you visit on the internet.
The Bible says that when you hear the message then you must have faith in him. The message gives you an obligation to believe, and the clearer you believe it the greater the obligation. The whole of you must come to the whole of him, the one who now has all authority in heaven and earth. The word of Christ says he is so glorious that when two men saw him, Paul and John, they both fell before him utterly overwhelmed. When they described meeting him they both said that it was like the sun shining on them in all its burning heat. You know that if you set this earth alongside the sun it would be like setting a golf ball alongside a basket ball, so immensely grander and greater the sun is in comparison to the earth, let alone to us. You don’t address this Christ and tell this Christ the way you are going to believe in him, and what you are going to take from him and what you are going to refuse. You fall before him. You bow in repentance for your sins and in thanksgiving for the wonder that he is prepared to be the Shepherd and Protector and Lover and Husband and Saviour of a wretch like you.
It is not that Christ is in your hands like the turkey on the table on Christmas Day so that you can take a piece of that and a taste of this and a little bit of leg, and some breast and a piece of stuffing, and then leave what you don’t like. He is not to be dissected and chosen piecemeal by you. Rather, you are in Christ’s hands. You have lived to this moment sustained by him. Your breath is in his hands, and in the twinkling of an eye he can stop your heart beating and your lungs exhaling and inhaling. He has made an appointment to do that one day with you and with everyone. So now the message of Christ is clearer to you than ever before, and real faith is responding to that message. Believe this message, that it is God’s message to you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe right into him as he is found in the New Testament, God’s prophet to be heard and obeyed, God’s Lamb by whom your sins might be forgiven, and God’s great King with all authority in heaven and earth to be given your lifelong happy service.
14th April 2013 GEOFF THOMAS