************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 5, 2010
Q & A 21
"What is True Faith?"
I want to read you three quotes from a book I recently read ("The Sign" by Raymond Khoury; pages 382, 384, 541). About halfway through the book I began to suspect an ulterior motive on the part of the author. I found a note by the author at the end of the book in which he openly admits his motive.
Here is the first quote.
"We all pray to the same God. That's all that matters. Everything else all these institutions we've built in His name, all the rituals and public expressions of faith we created those. We did. Humans, people like you and me. And maybe we were wrong in creating them and giving them the power they have over us. Because God doesn't care about what you eat or what you drink. He doesn't care about how often you pray to Him or what words you use or where you go to do that. He doesn't care who you vote for. He only cares about how you behave toward one another. That's all that matters."Do you hear what the author is saying? All religions and faiths are the same.
Here is the second quote.
"The reason your preacher couldn't help you is he's lost. He's still using the same words preachers used to try and comfort people five hundred years ago. But we're a bit more sophisticated than that now. That's the problem with religion right now. It hasn't evolved. And instead of being open and looking for ways to be relevant in today's world, it's gone all defensive and protective and it's regressed into lowest-common denominator sound bites and fundamentalism."Do you hear what the author is saying? Your pastor is old fashioned and out-of-touch because he still uses the language of the Reformation language that includes sin, grace, hell, damnation, and so on.
Here is the third quote.
"Let's be honest here. All those stories, from the Garden of Eden to the Resurrection ... they're myths. Archetypal, clever, resonant but still myths. I mean, I tried. I wanted to believe. I wanted that comfort, that crutch. But the more I read, the more I researched it, the more I saw what a primitive masquerade it all was, the more I realized that the faith I saw all around me was really nothing more than a bunch of old tales cobbled together a couple of thousand years ago by some very savvy guys to try and turn a superstitious world into a better place and one they could control better."Do you hear what the author is saying? What is dear and central to our faith the creation story, the resurrection, miracles are all myth.
Do you see what this book actually does? It attacks what we call "true faith."
So, what is true faith? It has become popular in some circles to think of faith as the answer to every question and problem life can produce. Do you worry about money? Have faith! Did you lose your job? Have faith! Is your marriage in trouble? Have faith! Did a loved one die? Have faith! Are your kids into alcohol or drugs? Have faith! Are you lonely? Have faith! Are you recovering from surgery? Have faith! It is true, of course, that one ought to have faith in all such situations. But it isn't true that faith will answer every question or solve every problem.
So, what is faith? Based upon the Bible, the Catechism tells us true faith is two things: first, it is a knowledge and conviction about God's Word; second, it is a deep-rooted assurance about salvation.
I True Faith is a Knowledge and Conviction
A First of all, true faith is "a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true."
Books, magazines, TV shows, and movies today convey the idea that it is not important what you believe just so long as you believe. In our pluralistic and permissive society, we are told that all truth is relative. Our age, culture, and gender makes each of us unique, and we all have the right to our own set of values and beliefs. Each person's value system is just as valid as anyone else's. Just believe the content of that belief is not important. So, if I want to believe a fence post is God, I have the right to believe that.
Neither the Bible nor the Catechism buy this approach. True faith has content and we don't get to pick the content. Rather, the content comes from the Word of God. What we believe is to be found in the Word of God and not in the imaginations or delusions of man.
According to the Catechism, true faith involves knowledge of God's Word. It makes little sense to claim belief in Scripture and the Christ of Scripture if one does not know what Scripture teaches. Faith is meaningless if it has no content.
True faith includes knowledge. The question is, how much knowledge? In the last church I served, a mentally disabled man confessed before the congregation that he loves Jesus. That is all we needed to hear from him. However, from those who are of sound mind we expect something more than, "I love Jesus" or, "I believe Jesus died for my sins." We want to know what else you believe about Jesus and why you love Jesus.
For instance, something is wrong when someone who has been raised in a Christian home looks in the Old Testament for the book of Timothy. I once had an entire Catechism class of 16 and 17 year old students paging desperately through their Bibles looking for the book of Hezekiah. In case you don't know, Hezekiah is a king and not a book. It means very little if you claim faith in Jesus but don't know His relationship to Abraham or David. Every mature Christian should be able to say something meaningful about the covenant.
To go a step further, those with true faith should know where to find the great love chapter (1 Cor 13), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5), the Christian armor (Eph 6), the story of Pentecost (Acts 2), the story of Gideon (Judges 6ff), the Christmas story (Mt 1, Luke 2), the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus), and the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). They should know who is Belteshazzar (Daniel), Zerubbabel (at time of Ezra), and Isaiah (a prophet). Those with true faith should be able to put the following in order, starting with the oldest: Old Testament prophets, Pentecost, Abraham, Christ.
B True faith has content. That content comes from the Word of God. However, lots of people today are ignorant about the Word of God. Let me illustrate the world's ignorance of the Bible by making a comparison.
Subtopic: Ignorance of
Title: Memory Loss
June 1940: Hitler's armies are poised to destroy the cornered British Army, stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk. As the British people anxiously await word of their fate, a three-word message is transmitted from the besieged army: "And if not." [Do any of you recognize these words?]
The British public instantly recognizes the messagea reference to the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing before King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. "Our God is able to save us
and if not, we will remain faithful to him anyway." The message galvanizes the British people. Thousands cross the English Channel in boats to rescue their army.
January 2001: George Bush, America's newly elected President, delivers his inaugural address. Commenting on it, Dick Meyer of CBS News confesses, "There were a few phrases in the speech I just didn't get. One was, 'When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.'"
What a difference six decades make. For centuries, biblical references were common to the English language. As Dunkirk demonstrates, citizens were so steeped in the Scriptures that they immediately recognized a cryptic biblical allusion. But today that memory has been erased. Consider: Pollster George Barna says only a small percentage of Americans can name the Ten Commandments, and only 42 percent can identify who preached the Sermon on the Mount.
Many Christians, I am afraid, are not much better than the people of the world. A couple of years ago I attended the examination of a candidate for the ministry of the Word. I was absolutely astounded that this candidate could not say anything meaningful about the covenant something I am sure every sixth grade student in our church is able to do.
C True faith has content. That content comes from the Word of God. In Trinity United Reformed Church, we expect our children and youth to know the content of their faith. Thanks to Christian Education in the church, home, and school our children and youth know their Bibles. They can rattle off Bible verses galore. They can sing the books of the Bible in order. When Jean Rigsby took Pastor's Class with a bunch of our young people, she told me how impressed she was with our youth and their Bible knowledge.
The last couple of years our consistory has made a list of the essential things we want our children and youth to know by the time they are done with twelfth grade:
-the Lord's Prayer
-the Apostles' Creed
-the Ten Commandments
-14 Questions & Answers from the Catechism
You would have thought the world was ending when we first announced this. As I remember, it was the parents not the kids who reacted the strongest.
Some of you might be acquainted with the RCUS Reformed Church United States. The RCUS wants its members to memorize every Question & Answer of the Catechism; in fact, this is a requirement for church membership. The RCUS recognizes something about the Catechism that many of us might have forgotten. One of the reasons the Heidelberg Catechism was written is to help us know the Word. It helps provide a sold basis for our faith by systematically restating the truths of the Bible.
So, let me hold a challenge before every single family this year: try to memorize one Question and Answer of the Catechism per week. In just over two years you will have memorized the entire Catechism.
D Why do we stress knowing the content of our faith? In many churches you can get away with knowing nothing or next to nothing so why are we different? Let me mention two reasons.
First, I found a quote from Jerome, one of the early church fathers, as I was studying this past week. Jerome said, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." There you have it: to know Christ, you must know the Scriptures. For that is what Scripture is about it is about Christ. "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."
Second, there are so many lies out there. There are so many wacko preachers. There are so many false religions. You need to know your Bible and your theology because everyone claims theirs is the true religion. So, how will you know falsehood from the truth? How will you discern the difference? When you know the truth and memorize the truth and have the truth in your mind and heart! Then you can discern truth from falsehood.
For instance, did anyone catch what was wrong with the headlines in yesterday's newspaper: "Paying homage to slain church leader. More than an estimated 1,000 attend Clay Sannar's funeral." I am not disputing the numbers. I am not disputing that something horrible and sinful happened, that it was a tragedy. However, if you know your Bibles, you know that the Mormons are not a church; they are a cult a false cult that deceives millions about the Lord Jesus Christ. The media wants us to believe all religions are the same but they aren't!
E When it comes to true faith, it isn't enough to know to know the Bible. It isn't even enough to know all about Jesus. Did you catch the word the Catechism uses? It uses the word "conviction." True faith is a knowledge. And, true faith is a conviction. A conviction about what? A "conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true." In other words, you must not only know the Word; you must also believe the Word. As Hebrews put it, "faith is being ... certain of what we do not see" (Heb 11:1).
My father-in-law has been witnessing for years to a man. This man knows Bible verses. He can quote the Bible at a drop of the hat. He knows theology. But he doesn't personally believe any of this. This man does not have true faith.
Remember the quotes with which I started this message? The author does not believe Scripture. He has no use for the language of Scripture. In fact, he has turned the truth into a lie and attacks true faith.
II True Faith is an Assurance
A This brings us to our second major point: true faith is a "deep-rooted assurance."
Some Christians need to be on a constant high. They don't feel good about their faith unless they are waving their arms and yelling, "Praise Jesus!" True faith does not require a constant spiritual high. Rather, it requires a "deep-rooted assurance." Or, as Hebrews puts it, "faith is being sure of what we hope for" (Heb 11:1).
What do we hope for? People today hope for many things. Watch the Miss America or Miss Universe pageant on TV. Most of the contestants hope for things like world peace, a cure for AIDS, a clean environment, alternative energy sources, and so on. Children may hope for a special toy. Teens hope for a place on the football or volleyball team; they hope for a scholarship to college; they hope for a new car or truck. Old people hope for health and strength.
What is the Christian's hope? The Catechism says the same thing three different ways:
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
have been granted salvation.
True faith does not get distracted by the hopes and fears of this world. True faith hopes for salvation. True faith is confident about forgiveness. True faith is assured of a right relationship with God. True faith says, "I know I am with Jesus when I die." That is the essence and the heart of our hope.
B What is the reason for the Christian's hope? Why does true faith have a deep-rooted assurance? Because I am basically a good person? Because I deserve salvation? Because I have earned forgiveness? Because of the faith of my parents or my grandparents? Because I do good things? Because of the money I put in the offering plate? Because I pray and read the Bible? Because I come to church twice each Sunday?
True faith does not look to me. True faith does not look to my parents. True faith does not look at my works. True faith does not look at my money. True faith does not look at my devotional life. Instead, true faith looks to Jesus. True faith has a deep-rooted assurance because of Christ. Says the Catechism, it is "out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ." My deep-rooted assurance is all because of Jesus. And only because of Jesus. In mind here is His virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning sacrifice, His glorious resurrection, His triumphant ascension, and so on. Do you remember what Peter says about our hope as Christians?
(1 Pet 3:15) But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ...In other words, be prepared to say your hope and assurance is in Christ.
Do you want true faith? It is a gift of God. So pray for God to give it to you to give it to you by the Spirit and through the Word. Which means putting yourself under the preaching of the Word, being in church, and spending time with the Bible everyday.
Don't ever forget how important how vitally important true faith is. You need true faith in order to be saved. You need true faith to join the church. And, you need true faith in order to participate in the Lord's Supper next week.
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