Big Idea: Christians must live by Faith in God’s Word, not Fear
Intro: Well morning friends. My name is Matt Johnson and we are now starting a sermon series called CHOOSE FAITH. After several years of coronavirus chaos, I think we need to stop and think a little bit about whether we really are choosing faith and living by faith 1) in the home, 2) in the workplace and 3) in our interactions with the world.
PRAYER: Well friends – I chose THIS IMAGE of one white line cutting through a whole lot of squiggly lines (going nowhere) – because I think it represents the world we now live in. There are now so many competing voices telling Christians 1) what to believe, 2) what we should do and 3)why we are wrong – I think it is getting harder and harder to navigate the life of authentic Christian faith. THE MINUTE you feel like you’re getting your head around one issue – another issue starts to present itself…
Some examples include modern IVF procedure. In a few weeks-time I will share with you a podcast from Moore Theological College questioning the ethics of this procedure. What about climate change? I mean Christians are meant to be good stewards of God’s world, so maybe we should all join Greenpeace? What about the Voice referendum? Of course, as Christians we want Aboriginal people to be treated with dignity and respect. But what ideological agenda is driving this referendum? What about all the LGBTQIA and gender-fluid issues coming up in the workplace and schools. Should Christians accept a footer on their workplace emails that says “I am a proud supporter of the LGBTQIA community?” And now we have transhumanism. People are going for implants and genetic modifications to enhance their humanity. Is this ethical?
But its even more difficult than simply knowing our own thoughts on these subjects. Christians are told to speak the truth in love (Eph.4:15). But holding truth and love together on COMPLEX ISSUES is not always easy.
We are also told to be WISE in the way we interact with non-Christians, making sure 1) our speech is gracious, 2) seasoned with salt, 3) so that we know how to answer everybody (Col.4:6). Friends I find myself wondering more and more – what does it mean to be as WISE as a serpent and as INNOCENT as a dove in this rapidly changing world? What’s more important wisdom or remaining innocent?
I’d like to say I have the answers. But I don’t. All I can say is that “I know the one who does have all the answers”. That’s Jesus. But in order to know Jesus’ mind on some of these matters and be guided by his Spirit (sometimes not even consciously) we will need to walk closely with Jesus – and that means FAITH. Relationship with Jesus means faith in Jesus and faithful to Jesus. Faith in Jesus (and faithfulness to Jesus) is far more important than knowledge of Jesus.
So in this sermon series I’m encouraging us to choose faith in Jesus (and choose faithfulness to Jesus) 1) in our homes, 2) our workplaces and 3) interactions with the world – because then other things should take care of themselves.
Point 1: Christian’s Must Choose Faith in the midst of Rising Hostility
Show: Heb.10:32-35 & 39 (READ)
Explain: Well the book of Hebrews is called Hebrews because it was written to Jewish Christians. Now as you can see in verse 33 (and following) when these Jews first became Christians some of them were publicly exposed to insult and persecution. Not just privately ridiculed, but publicly ridiculed. They have also (verse 34) had some experience with prison and the confiscation of their property simply for following Jesus.
Now we know all this took place in the early Christian church. At first the Jewish government – simply passed laws forbidding the preaching of Jesus. But the apostles responded who should we obey – you or God (Acts 4:19). So, they disobeyed the government and kept preaching Jesus. But in the end hostility between A) Orthodox Judaism and B) Christian Judaism exploded into full blown persecution – when Stephen was martyred in in Acts 7-8.
Now at this point Christian Jews were no longer welcome in the temple. Saul was locking up Christians in prison. And all the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were losing their property and their employment. The footer on the bottom of all Orthodox Jewish emails said; “Proudly rejecting Jesus as Messiah since 30AD.” Now I know there were no emails (and no email footers) in the first century. But that was the anti-Christian sentiment of orthodox Jewish businesses. So if you said, “no I don’t want that footer on my workplace email”, your FREEDOM, EMPLOYMENT and ASSETS were suddenly at risk. Now incredibly all these Jewish Christians accepted this persecution – AT FIRST. But as weeks, became months and months became years – some of the Christians started to waver and fall.
It soon became obvious that if you simply A) KEPT QUIET about Jesus and B) observed some of the Jewish sacrificial system – the whole Jewish Orthodox community would love you again. But this is apostasy
And its very easy to see this is exactly what is happening in the book of Hebrews. The Christian Jews are starting to deny Jesus as Saviour and Lord – in both word and deed.
So the book of Hebrews kind of comes to A CLIMAX in chapter 11 – giving these Christians – a whole lot of examples of exceptional faith – even in difficult circumstances. Then these Christians are told to FIX THEIR EYES on Jesus – the author and perfecter of faith – and finish the race. The Christian life is all about faith A) in Jesus as Saviour and B) being faithful to Jesus as Lord – until he returns.
So the book of Hebrews has some PARALLELS to the increasing hostility (and temptations) we face as Christians in the west. 1) Our Christian faith is no longer respected. 2) Our Church institutions are mocked and 3) the laws of the land are beginning to work against us. Now this is simply stating a reality. It is not cause for panic. It is not reason to run for the hills. But it is time for some sober-minded reflection – on whether we are still choosing faith in Jesus in our homes, workplaces and world. The problem is most of us have never really experienced persecution. Sure, maybe some TROLLS online. Or maybe a RUDE REBUKE. because we had the audacity to suggest an unborn baby has a right to life. But most of us have not experienced real discrimination in employment or the law. So this is new – and it brings new pressures and temptations (and probably new opportunities).
Illustrate: When Bishop Michael wrote to me this week asking me to inform you all about the Australian Law Reforms recommendation – he titled the email “Grave Threat to Religious Education.” He is signalling real change is happening and he does not use the words “grave threat” lightly. I’ve been throwing words like GRAVE THREAT around since 2015 – and perhaps some of you have thought Matt’s just being melodramatic. But I think its time for Christians to accept things are rapidly changing for the Church and religious freedom.
The Australian Law Reforms recommendation means we will no longer be able to employ Christian teachers in Christian schools. What’s more, if a non-Christian teacher in a Christian school starts doing something grossly immoral by Christian standards (but not criminal by the States standards) – you will not be able to sack them. The ALRC recommendation also suggests that this standard should gradually be extended to all religious institutions. Now as I understand it (and I admit I am NOT a lawyer) this could mean a pastor who ends up being grossly sexually immoral with lots of consensual partners, could not be sacked by the church because that would constitute sexual discrimination. This is huge.
Now hopefully if Christians PRAY and LOBBY our government – we may be able to delay this stupidity. But whether we now WIN or LOSE – I think its time for Christians to consider whether they are spiriutually ready to live in a more hostile world. I am concerned that lazy, lukewarm and undisciplined Christian faith may not cut the mustard. This concerns me because after several years of coronavirus and broken routines I think lots of Christians are not in a good place. The report coming in from the National Church Life Survey (and anecdotally) – is that 1) church attendance is still down; 2) Bible study participation is down and 3) people’s willingness to serve in their church community – is down. After a couple of years of UNPLUGGING from Church life, UNPLUGGING from normal Christian activity and UNPLUGGING from normal Christian service I think we are actually quite VULNERABLE, at a point where we really need to be STRONG.
Now perhaps the NCLS survey is wrong. Perhaps my read of the political and legal situation is wrong. But against this backdrop – I am asking us – as a church – to do a little evaluation of our spiritual lives. As Christians we need to A) choose faith in Jesus and B) faithfulness to Jesus – despite the rising hostility
Point 2: Christians must Choose Faith instead of Fear
Show: Heb.10:36-39 (READ)
Explain: Well the words SHRINKING BACK (in verse 38 & 39) – basically mean to cower, become small and timid. It is a word related to FEAR. In the face of rising hostility – it’s natural for Christians to become more fearful. And sorry, despite some of the big masculine egos in the room, we all carry certain fears – whether we are conscious of the fears or not. Fear is one of Satan’s main weapons against us. He uses fear to control us.
Perhaps it’s fear of REJECTION; or fear of LOSING OUR JOBS OR fear of being physically attacked or locked up in jail. Now fear itself is not a problem. But fear becomes a problem when it causes us to SHRINK BACK from things Jesus is telling us to do in faith. Now the natural psychological responses to fear include: fight, flight or freeze. All three are self-serving behaviours.
Now it may be worth considering which is your most natural response to fear. 1) Is it to come out all GUNS blazing? Perhaps – you are a fighter. But punching someone in the head is far from Jesus’ command to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute. The fight response is not always a faithful response. But perhaps you are more of an athletic runner. You know the minute a situation becomes hostile you metaphorically run for the hills. You just ruin away from lots of things Jesus is calling you do because your scared. Perhaps, you’re the sort of person who just FREEZES – hoping no one notices you. I heard a Christian professor recently say many Christians are “chameleon Christians”. Like chameleon lizards in South America, some Christians simply 1) stand very still and 2) change their colours to blend in with their secular surroundings. Sometimes these Christians who freeze – also stick their heads in the sand like Ostriches – hoping the danger will just go away. Friends, these responses of fight, flight and freeze are natural, psychological responses to fear and hostility.
Apply: But as Christians our lives are not meant to be shaped by fight, flight or freeze. No! As Christians our lives are meant to be shaped by faith. As Paul says to Timothy (Slide 7); God did not give us a spirit of timidity (shrinking back), but a Spirit of power, love and a sound mind (or of self-discipline) (2Tim.1:8). THIS IS SUPERNATURAL. Christians actually have power through the Holy Spirit to choose faith instead of fear. FAITH that expresses itself in love, instead of self-serving fight, flight or freeze. FAITH that maintains self-discipline under duress rather than self-indulgence (with drugs, alcohol, or materialism) – that tries to numb the fears. OR if you prefer the other translation; FAITH that expresses itself in clear biblical thinking rather than irrational panic and stupidity.
To a certain measure faith needs to be a conscious choice, because our natural responses are fight, flight or freeze. So as fear starts to build (in any context in your life) you actually need to recognize the fear and then choose to rise above the fear. That’s what Hebrews 10 is telling us. YOU NEED TO CHOOSE FAITH and you should choose faith – for four reasons – given in verses 38-39 (Slide 8).
- First, the righteous live by faith.
- God is not pleased with those who shrink back in fear
- Those who shrink back in fear are destroyed.*
- Those who live by faith are saved.
Now I know that when so many of us already struggle with ANXIETY this is a tough word. But fear and anxiety is not just a psychological problem. It is a spiritual problem that arises and becomes more prevalent – when we stop trusting God. Failing to recognize that our fear and anxiety is actually a spiritual problem is a serious problem. The whole Jewish community (apart from Joshua and Caleb) – died in the wilderness, rather than enter the Promised Land – simply because of FEAR AND ANXIETY. That’s all it was. FEAR AND ANXIETY. AND GOD TOLD Joshua – the remedy was faith and courage. Now I’m not diminishing the real problem some people have with anxiety.
But I am saying – fear and anxiety is a spiritual problem, not just a psychological or pharmaceutical problem. The Israelites focussed on all the giants in Canaan and became afraid. If only they looked up they would have seen a giant fiery pillar of cloud standing above them – saying MOVE FORWARD. NO NEED FOR FEAR HERE. And if they overcame their fear with faith – they would have then become one of the giants of faith in Hebrews 11 – like Abraham, Moses or Caleb. How many of us fail to move forward – in VICTORIES God has prepared for us – because we give in to fear.
Point 3: Christians must Choose Faith that is Commensurate* with their Hope
Show: Heb.11:1-2 (READ)
Explain: Well Hebrews 11 now encourages us to have the same sort of faith as the Old Testament giants of faith. Abraham travelled 1200 miles to a land he’d never seen – because he trusted God. Noah spent about 100 years building a massive ark – even when there were no clouds on the horizon. Hebrews 11 is saying “Don’t just call yourself a person of faith. Be a person of real, courageous faith.
Now this passage tells us in verse1 faith is – is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see. Faith is being sure (100% confident) in what we hope for… Now what we hope for as Christians is everything God has promised. Hebrews 10:23 – (previous chapter) says our unwavering, certain, 100% sure hope is based on God’s promises and God’s Word because He is faithful. So faith (real faith) is being absolutely sure that if you act obediently to God’s Word and based on His promises – God will never, ever let you down.
Now the good thing is that all the promises of God in the entire Bible find their yes and amen in Jesus. The Christian gospel says that Jesus died on the cross for all our sins. Yes, there was a penalty for sin. We deserve to die and go to hell. That should terrify you.. But as Jesus died on the cross and descended into hell – he was taking the punishment for everything you and I have done wrong.
Jesus did this because he loves you (Jn.3:16) AND Jesus did this to drive out all fear from your life (1Jn.4:18). Now if Jesus died for you – you should thank him. If you have done some sinful things – you should ask Jesus for forgiveness. Now irrespective of what God then chooses to do – this is what you should do. But incredibly God is so good that if you thank Jesus for dying for you and you ask him to forgive you – every promise in the Bible is yours. The Bible says – every promise of God finds it yes and amen in Jesus.
So 1) the promise of heaven is yours. 2) The promise of eternal life is yours. 3) The promise that you can do all things through him who gives you strength is yours. Are you certain of this. 100% sure – you can do all things through him who gives you strength. 4) The promise that seeking first the Kingdom of God (you’ll receive everything you need) is yours. 5) The promise that God will never leave you – is yours. 6) The promise that God will be with you in the valley of the shadow of death is yours. 7) The promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him – is yours. 8) The promise that God will make your paths straight is yours. 9) The promise of peace; provision; refuge and strength and joy are all yours. So what have you got to fear? Perfect love drives out fear. By faith in Jesus and remaining faithful to Jesus – all the promises of God are yours.
Apply: The problem is – too many Christians are living by sight in what they can see in the physical world, rather than living by faith in Gods Word and Gods promises. You live by sight – you will only see the dangers. You live by sight – you will only ever do what is humanly and mathematically possible. But if you begin to live by faith in the promises of God – you may just discover that like David you are more than a conqueror through him who loved us. You may just discover with Joshua that if God is for us – who can be against us – no one. We need to learn to be people who do not shrink back in fear, but step up confidently in faith.
We need to know that if God asks us to step out in faith and do something crazy – he will put solid rocks under our feet – even where we only see sinking sand. In faith we trust God will give us the resources necessary for everything he asks from us- even where we only see an empty wallet and empty hand.
We worry that if we give generously to God’s kingdom – we’ll be broke in old age. No you will store up treasure in heaven. And if I go as a missionary to slums in Kenya (to share the gospel) of course there is a fear I might end up a hostage in Somalia. Perhaps. But maybe I’ll also have one of the greatest gospel privileges in my life. If you talk about Jesus at work – yes, you might lose your job But you’re words may also lead to the next Billy Graham being converted. Or better yet, (if your workplace is that intolerant) getting sacked may actually save your soul from apostasy and give you more opportunity to serve God in the last days.
But again – this sort of faith is not just NATURAL. Its supernatural. It’s a choice to not give into fear, but set your hope fully upon the promises of God. It comes from prayer and walking closely with Jesus – knowing his word and experiencing God being faithful to His promises. The more you step out in faith and discover that God is faithful with His promises, the more courageous you become to step out in faith. And this is how you gradually become a GIANT OF FAITH worthy of Hebrews 11, instead of an anxious, timid nobody who shrinks back at their own shadow.
Faith, real authentic Christian faith is being sure, 100% sure, of what we HOPE FOR and absolutely certain that God will always keep His promises when we act in faith. And this is the sort of faith I think we are going to need more and more – as what we see with our eyes – becomes more and more disturbing. Thankfully we live by faith, not by sight We are not people who shrink back.