Fear of Flying

With this sermon it'll be the third time out of four that I have chosen a subject that is too broad to cover in a 30 minute sermon…so I am going to ask Warren to lock the door and we'll spend the rest of the day together. ☺

Okay, okay…perhaps instead we'll reduce it to 20-30 minutes by narrowing the scope. By the time I finish, if I've done my job right, I will have answered the following questions:

  • What is faith?
  • What is saving faith?
  • What should we do with doubt?

Ready to dig in?

What is faith?

Long ago someone share an analogy about faith with me. One can believe that planes are able to fly—but clearly they do not have faith that they can fly until they are willing to climb on one and let it take off. If your fear of flying keeps you on the ground, do you really have faith in an airplane?

Not much of a definition…but something simple that has stayed with me. However, let's try to get a bit more formal…

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Thomas Aquinas:

"Faith is the act of the intellect when it assents to divine truth under the influence of the will moved by God through grace." [ (Summa Theologica II.II.q2.a.9). Freedman, D. N. (1996). The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday. ]

Does that help? ☺ Not a whole bunch for me! ☺

Thomas Watson:

"Faith is seated in the understanding, as well as the will. It has an eye to see Christ, as well as a wing to fly to Christ." [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

C. S. Lewis:

"The art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." [ Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (283). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ]

Augustine:

"Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." [ Ibid. ]

Clement of Alexandria:

"Faith is voluntary anticipation." [ Ibid. ]

Any of those a bit better?

Biblical definition of faith

Of course, the most important definition of faith would be one directly from the Bible. Let's turn to the one many of you are probably thinking about:

Hebrews 11:1-2:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation."

The assurance of things hoped for—the conviction of things not seen. Almost seems like "blind faith"…doesn't it? Is that really how it works?

A few cautions…

First, is Hebrews 11:1 really a definition? A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old And New Testaments says:

"Not a full definition of faith in its whole nature, but a description of its great characteristics in relation to the subject of Paul's exhortation here, namely, to perseverance." [Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Heb 11:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. ]

The Pulpit Commentary asks:

"Is this meant as a definition of faith, or only a description of its effect and operation, with especial regard to the subject in hand? Virtually a definition, though not in the strict logical form of one." [ The Pulpit Commentary: Hebrews. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (296). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. ]

Second, this "definition" may not be for "New Testament faith":

"The mention of a faith that is answered by salvation (10:39), leads the writer to speak about it now in detail. The word "faith" occurs without the article here, indicating that it is treated in its abstract conception, not particularly as New Testament faith." [ Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader (Heb 11:1). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. ]

Finally, there is no final consensus on the meaning of the word "assurance" in verse 1…so we could argue like mathematicians about what faith is based on this one verse without actually being sure what one of the key words means. Is it "assurance"? "Substance"? "Title-Deed"?

My point? Perhaps the second verse is even more important:

"For by it the people of old received their commendation."

The reason that verse may be more important is because to understand what faith is it directs us to the "people" who showed faith as examples…and…being the "faith chapter," Hebrews 11 then give us myriad: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses mother, Moses himself, Israelites during the Exodus, Israelites at Jericho, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets…along with alluding to even more…ultimately pointing us to the "founder and perfecter of our faith" in chapter 12.

When you reflect back on their experiences—did they have "blind faith"? Or, did they have reason for their faith? For their trust?

Strangely enough, I think…based on the overwhelming biblical evidence of those who showed faith, Thomas Aquinas' definition may be best:

"Faith is the act of the intellect when it assents to divine truth under the influence of the will moved by God through grace."

My translation:

Faith is your brain trusting the truth God has given you through grace.

You are trusting the evidence you have seen—personally and through history. "Blind faith" does not involve intellect…and I can assure you that Abraham would not have been willing to sacrifice Isaac if he hadn't already had ample evidence that God could "raise him from the dead" (Hebrews 11:19) or that God would provide the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8).

Saving Faith

My guess is at this point we still don't have a perfect definition of faith…but let's move on. Whatever faith is…what is saving faith?

For that answers…let's go straight to Scripture:

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)

Faith in who? [ Jesus ]

The object of our faith is of utmost importance…but lest we base a doctrine on just one verse:

And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31).

Now…if any of you are mathematicians, you'll say, "Alan, you have shown that faith in Jesus saves, but you haven't proven that He is the only object of faith that leads to salvation."

Well, who can forget Jesus' own words, recorded in John 14:6?:

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"

Let's also not ignore these words from the man who said we are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9)…the same man who advised Timothy to "remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8):

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

No…there is only one gospel…and only one object of our faith which can lead to eternal life.

Faith in Jesus Christ…or, as Puritan Daniel Cawdray puts it:

As the act of healing through the eyes of the Israelites and the brazen serpent went together; so, in the act of justifying, these two, faith and Christ, have a mutual relation, and must always concur—faith as the action which apprehendeth. Christ as the object which is apprehended; so that neither the passion of Christ saveth without faith, nor doth faith help unless it be in Christ, its object. [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

A bit less verbose fellow Puritan Thomas Watson combines both the definition of faith and the object together succinctly:

"Faith is seated in the understanding, as well as the will. It has an eye to see Christ, as well as a wing to fly to Christ." [ Ibid. ]

Works

[ If the sermon is running long… ]

At this point I wanted to point out one more thing about a saving faith…that it does not exist without "works." However…seeing that I am running long and still want to talk about doubt, instead I'll leave you with the suggestion at looking at James 2:14-26…only specifically quoting the 26th verse, which says, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." A saving faith is not dead…so a saving faith results in works.

[ If we have time. ]

We don't really have time to go into all the characteristics of a saving faith…but let's make sure we don't miss one important one that we can find in James 2:14-26:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

A saving faith is not dead…so a saving faith results in works.

Doubt

So, what about doubt? We understand we need faith—and we understand more importantly we need faith in Jesus…but what does it mean if we have some doubts?

Anyone here have doubts?

Let me first ask this…is it better to have some doubts about the truth or no doubts about falsehoods? Would it be better to be an Doubting Thomas in God's family or Confident Carl in the Devil's?

Obviously the former…but, if you are like me, then you doubts may also make you doubt your salvation.

Does the Bible give my fellow doubters and me hope?

First, what does Jesus say about how much faith you need?

Luke 17:5-6:

5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

How much faith do you need? [ Like the grain of a mustard seed. ]

How big is a mustard seed? [ Not very…about 3 millimeters in diameter if Wikipedia is right. ]

And…if you think being able to move a mulberry tree is pretty awesome, Matthew 17:20 Jesus say you can do even more with faith the size of a mustard see…you can move a mountain!

How to deal with a lack of faith

Great…so the Lord will work with a small amount of faith…but we don't always want to be "children" in the faith. What should we do when we don't have enough faith?

Mark 9:14-24:

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able." 19 And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me." 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." 23 And Jesus said to him, " 'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

We should cry out like father…to Jesus…asking for help with our unbelief…and just as He healed his son, Jesus will heal our doubts.

Thomas Watson also has some good advice in this area:

"Faith, though it hath sometimes a trembling hand, it must not have a withered hand, but must stretch." [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

Would Peter have ever walked on water if he hadn't stepped out of the boat?

Missionary to China J. O. Fraser has similar thoughts:

"Faith is like muscle which grows stronger and stronger with use, rather than rubber, which weakens when it is stretched" [ Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (283). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ]

Are you exercising your faith, or are you letting it atrophy?

Finally on more quote from a Puritan, this time John Flavel:

"There be two signal and remarkable acts of faith, both exceedingly difficult, viz. its first act, and its last. The first is a great venture that it makes of itself upon Christ; and the last is a great venture too, to cast itself into the ocean of eternity upon the credit of a promise." [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

If you haven't taken the first "remarkable act of faith," isn't it time? Is there really anyone other than Jesus you want to sail out with into that "ocean of eternity"?


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