What do you do when you have a problem?

"I ask someone who has the right kind of knowledge to help me. If it is a money problem, I ask someone who is good with finances. If it is a car problem, I ask someone who knows about cars. If it is a electrical problem, I ask someone who knows about electricity."

Well, I have a problem. In some form or fashion I have been confronting this problem for about 50 years. So I want to put the problem before you. I do not know if any of us will have the answer, but the problem is much more likely to be addressed in our individual lives if we are aware that it exists.

"So, what is this problem we need to be aware of?"

It is a faith problem. The problem is very old. It is so old that it predates the existence of Christianity by over a thousand years. It is a problem that existed in Israel in both the Old and New Testaments. But this problem definitely exists in Christianity today."

"What is this faith problem that has existed for such a long time?"

The problem: how do you encourage Christians to place faith in God instead of placing their faith in something they substitute for God and calling it faith in God?

Perhaps the problem is best understood by using illustrations.

Illustrations #1: let's begin by asking a Christian we have never met a simple question: "Religiously, what are you?" The person answers, "I am Church of Christ. My family has been Church of Christ for at least three generations. My father was an elder in the Church of Christ of my teen years. My grandfather was a preacher in the Church of Christ. We are just a Church of Christ family."

Question: is your faith in a religious organization called "The Church of Christ," or is your faith in the living God who always has been active in His creation?

Perhaps you ask, "What is the difference?" You see the difference far too often. When a congregation of the Church of Christ behaves poorly, it is amazing to note how many people just quit. They do not worship. They make no effort to serve God. They are very ambivalent about what they believe. Often they become religiously bitter and religiously negative. They did not belong to God.

They belonged to the Church of Christ. Their confidence was in the Church of Christ, not in God. They substituted faith in the Church of Christ as a physical religious organization for faith in God.

Illustration #2: we ask a Christian we do not know a series of questions. "Do you go to church here?" Yes I do. I have been coming here for a couple of years. In fact I rarely miss.

"What do you think of worship?" Oh, I rarely miss, but I hardly ever am in the auditorium. I am always here, but I am rarely part of the worship assembly.

"What do you think of classes?" Oh, I am always here, even on Wednesday nights, but I do not go to a class. There is always someone else to talk to or somewhere to go.

"If you do not worship and you do not go to class, why are you here?" I believe it is essential to come. I would not dream of not coming. Being here is very important to salvation. I just do not think it is necessary to worship or go to class.

This person's confidence is in being at a geographical place at the right time, not in God to be praised and trusted to direct our lifestyle.

  1. As I said, misplaced confidence is a very old yet very real problem.
    1. It was a frequent problem in Old Testament Israel.
      1. Listen to the words of Amos in Amos 5:21-24.
        "I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
        1. God, did You not command the festival assemblies? Yes!
        2. God, did You not command the sacrifices? Yes!
        3. God, did You not command the songs and the instruments? Yes!
        4. If You commanded all these things, why do You hate them?
        5. "Because you go through the motions of technically doing what I command, but you do not act and live like people who place their faith in Me!"
        6. "You are not a just people; you are not a righteous people!"
      2. An Israelite could not substitute going through the motions for being a person who trusted God.
    2. It was a problem among the Christians in the first century.
      1. The Christians at Corinth had a bad case of determining their faith by the preacher they championed. Consider 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
        Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
        1. The first thing I call to your attention is the problem Paul addressed is internal in the congregation, not external among those outside the congregation.
        2. The second thing I call to your attention is the fact they based their faith on the preacher they championed.
        3. The third thing I call to your attention is this: to make a preacher the focus of your faith is to nullify what God did in Jesus Christ.
      2. Our faith must be founded on God's accomplishments in Jesus Christ, not on a human being we exalt.
    3. It continues to be a problem among us.
      1. There are too many who place their faith in the church instead of the God and Christ who allow us to be the church.
      2. There are too many who base their faith on people they agree with rather than the God of mercy who gave us Jesus.
      3. There are too many who base their faith on procedures rather than the God of compassion who resurrected Jesus from the dead.
      4. We urgently need to understand the concern of Paul when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
        And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

  2. The author of Hebrews wrote these words in Hebrews 11:1-6:
    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
    1. Hebrews 11 is called by many the roll call of faith.
      1. Because of its stress on faith, it is easy to take it out of the context of Hebrews.
      2. The Jewish Christians to whom the book was written (or sermon given) had sacrificed a lot for their faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:32-39).
      3. Their years of placing faith in Jesus Christ had finally taken their toll.
      4. These Christians were seriously thinking of renouncing Jesus Christ (not God) and returning to Israel.
      5. The writer said that was impossible: if they renounced Jesus as the Christ, they renounced God because Jesus was the work and purpose of God.
      6. Jesus, by God's design, was superior to everything that declared faith in the nation of Israel.
    2. Faith in what? What kind of faith are we talking about?
      1. Faith in a nation? No!
      2. Faith in an animal sacrificial system? No!
      3. Faith in a structure that featured a temple, a high priest, and a system of worship? No!
      4. Faith in God who permanently solved our problems through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
      5. Faith in God who made the dead Jesus the resurrected Christ.
    3. I am afraid we can say, "Amen!" to those things and miss the point.
      1. It is not faith in what we have done or do, but faith in what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection and continues to do in Jesus.
      2. As essential as obedience is, it is not faith in our obedience, but faith in our God.

  3. The basic point of Hebrews 11 is this: people who place their faith in God and His achievements in Jesus Christ typically pay a price for having faith in God.
    1. Hebrews 11 is a long list of faithful people who paid heavy prices for being a people of faith.
    2. The point: you should understand that nothing unusual is happening when your faith in what God did in Jesus Christ costs you.
    3. May I say this to us: without what God did and does in the crucified, resurrected Jesus,
      1. There is no redemption, no buying back from sin, no freedom from sin.
      2. There is no atonement--we still owe for every evil thing we did.
      3. There is no sanctification--God looks at us and sees evil instead of seeing people who have been clothed in Jesus Christ.
      4. There is no righteousness--we exist as unredeemed, filthy people.
      5. There is no forgiveness--we are still accountable for our sins; we are indebted to God for every mistake we have made.

Perhaps the greatest insult we can give God is to place our faith in anything other than the accomplishments of God. May the most obvious thing in our lives be our faith in God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 12 June 2005

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