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Series: Faith in God

I want to begin a series today on Faith in God. Faith is absolutely central to our lives as followers of Jesus and I want to encourage you in your faith as we go through this. And this especially so, since we as a congregation are all seeking to have God work through us during this year of discernment; that God might use us to bring people to know him.

Now, when you talk about faith certainly Abraham comes to mind. In fact, in Galatians 3:9 Paul calls him simply “the man of faith.” So I want us to look at his story, and specifically at –

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a child

Now this story covers ten whole chapters in Genesis, but don’t worry, I’m gonna squeeze it down for you and go through it quickly.

First of all, in Genesis 12: He receives the promise. Abraham was seventy-five years old and living in Haran. And God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. . .” (12:1-2)

Of course, to be a great nation means that he will have a child. And this was a big deal because Sarah couldn’t have children (11:30). Nevertheless, in faith, he packed his bags and all that he owned and went to Canaan. And once he got to there, God reaffirmed the promise in 12:7,  “to your offspring I will give this land.”

 Well, time passes. He goes to Egypt and fears for his life and then comes back. He splits the land for grazing with Lot, his nephew. And he has to rescue Lot after he is taken captive. But there is no child yet.

This brings us to Chapter 15: Where God confirms the promise. (See too the encouragement in chapter 13:14-17). And here we see Abraham’s humanity come out.

God spoke to him again about blessing him. But Abraham said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless . . . you have given me no offspring.” (15:2-3)

Then God said, “. . . your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (15:4-5)

And after this amazing promise it says, Abraham “believed the Lord . . ..” (15:6). He had faith in God.

And then Abraham said, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8). This is an honest question. He was already old. How would he know that this will happen after he is gone? And so God let him see into the future, and God made a covenant with him – a guarantee (according to the culture of that day) and then reiterated, “to your offspring I give this land . . ..” (15:18)

Next, Abraham tries to fulfill the promise on his own, through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who bore him a son named Ishmael. And this caused a great deal of conflict in his household.

This brings us to Genesis 17-18: Where God confirms the promise again. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. God said, “for I have made you the father of many nations.” He speaks of it as if it is already done. And now Abraham has as his name “father of many nations.” How ironic that everyone calls him this, “father of many nations,” even though he has no child from Sarah.

God said to him – “I will give you a son by her” (v. 16), that is Sarah, his wife. And Abraham laughed (v. 17) because they were so old! Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Abraham asked, “Why not Ishmael?” You know, this would be a lot easier. But God said no. The son will come from Sarah and the name will be Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed. And then God said that it would happen within a year (v. 21).

Then we have another story where Sarah laughs about having a child. Then Lot is rescued from the destruction of Sodom. And we have another story of Abraham’s weakness, where he was afraid he would die.

And then, sure enough, a year later, in Genesis 21: Isaac is born!

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” (21:1-2)

Abraham got off track at times, he was afraid, he questioned, he laughed about the promise, but he believed. And because he believed, he received the promise. He was 100 years old. And he had waited for 25 years.

Let’s look briefly at some –

Lessons on faith from this story

1. Be prepared for the unusual. God often works in unusual ways. He does it his way, not necessarily what we want. We want things to be quick, smooth and easy. But as we see with Abraham there were lots of difficulties and obstacles. And so it will be with us. Walking in faith is an adventure with God.

2. Faith can involve a lot of patience. As we saw, Abraham waited 25 years. And there were years at a time where there was nothing from God about the promise. Just silence and waiting, for two, five or maybe seven years at a time. And we will need patience too as we look to God in faith.

3. God often acts when we are at our weakest. God acted when they were both too old to have children, so no one would doubt that this was a miracle; that it was God working – and not just the natural course of things. And often with us as well, God waits until we know we can’t do it in our own strength, and then he answers.

These are some good things to remember. But most basically, this story teaches us that –

You need faith to receive God’s promises

And this is my point today. Abraham received the promise because he believed God and he acted on his belief.

Paul gives us an amazing description of his faith.

Romans 4:18-21 – “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He did not look at the outward things, his circumstances;  how they were both too old to have a child. He looked to God and knew that God was able. And that’s all that really matters.

And just as Abraham received God’s promise by faith, so this is true of all God’s people. As Hebrews 11:33-34 says, They, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness . . ..” This was all through faith in God.

And just as Abraham and all these other examples received what God had for them by faith, so we receive all that God has for us by faith.

  • What do you need to receive new life from God? Faith! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • What do you need to receive God’s provision for your needs? Faith! In Matthew 6:30 Jesus tells us not to be anxious or to have little faith, but to trust that God will provide for our needs.
  • What do you need to overcome the evil one? Faith! Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • What do you need to overcome the world? Faith! 1 John 5:4-5 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
  • What do you need to have your prayers answered? Faith! Scripture says that God gives generously to all, “But let (each one) ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – James 1:6

And what do we need to be used by God to work at bringing people to know the Lord? Faith!!!

We can be like the people of Nazareth who received very little of what Jesus could do because of their “unbelief” – Mark 6:6. Or we can be like the disciples who, though stumbling, had faith and received what Jesus had for them. Think of them at Pentecost and in the book of Acts.

We can choose doubt, but then as James says, we will not “receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Or We can choose faith, for as Jesus said, “all things are possible for the one who believes” – Mark 9:23.

Do you believe that God can work through you to touch other people’s lives that they might come to Christ, and grow and be encouraged and helped? Do you believe? It’s your choice. I choose faith. And I encourage you to do the same.

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Series on faith in God

We are moving right along in our series on faith in God. I have wanted to focus on faith because it’s the path to God’s blessings, for us as individuals and for us as a congregation. And I want all of us to receive what God has for us.

But faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight, that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith, that is, trusting in God when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

But you might say – “I don’t have this kind of faith!” And, “Where does it come from? How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me? Especially when there are so many obstacles and difficult circumstances in my way.”

This is what we’re talking about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt. Not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness. Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21).

The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God able to come through for me?” Or, “If he is able, is he willing to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, I could be embarrassed, or end up in worse shape than I am now.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two.

The end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through for you. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who does not know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, that Jesus couldn’t help him.

And when we think that God can’t or won’t come through for us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear:

  • Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear and walk the path of faith in the power of the Spirit. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing” that is, to help us and strengthen us – Mark 14:38.
  • When Satan tries to reinforce your fear, saying, “you should be afraid!” or “God won’t come through for you!” – rebuke him in the name of Jesus. As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? Scripture says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

  • God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.
  • And God can speak to us by his Spirit within us, in the same way.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us that is powerful and life changing.

Dwell on God’s truth to you from the Word and the Spirit. This will build up your faith.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that it is God’s character to be faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 this writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful! And the Psalm ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall –

  • Scriptural stories of faith, perhaps of Abraham or David.
  • Stories of God’s faithfulness in history or today. People’s testimonies that you know.
  • How God has been faithful to you. How God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past.

4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the obstacles in your way. It is these that feed our fear and doubt. So what you choose to focus on makes a difference.

Remember Peter on the water? He started out well. He walked on the water to Jesus! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the wind – and he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30.

Remember Abraham? He was promised a child. But he and his wife were way old! But he stayed focused on God, not the difficulties of how in the world the promise would be fulfilled. And he received the promise. Romans 4:19 says, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So stay focused on what you can control. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail) make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually.

Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about the apparent reality of your circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are weak in your faith and starting to waver. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you and praying for you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24.

Let me end with a word of –

Encouragement

These six ways can help you overcome your fear and doubt. I encourage you to put this into practice in your lives. I want us all, as individuals and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And faith is the path to this.

William Higgins

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Series on faith in God

We are getting back to our series on faith in God. Our topic today is “Faith or Doubt?” Which will it be in our lives as we face situations that call for us to have faith in God and God’s promises to us? Will we act boldly in faith or will we fall into doubt?

Let’s begin with a bit of –

Review

True, biblical faith has three parts. And you need all three of these to receive from God:

1. A word from God to stand on.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you.

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you.

This is how it works: God’s truth comes into our mind’s comprehension and then goes down into our heart where we say yes – that it true and we choose to trust it. And then our heart faith goes out of us into our words and actions, which express what is in our mind and heart (Matthew 12:33).

And as we express this faith, then God acts to fulfill his word and promise.

But when it comes to faith, there many obstacles that we trip over. One is presumption, which has to do with the first part of faith. We presume upon God to do something that he never said he would do. We have looked at this. Today we focus on another obstacle to our faith – doubt.

Now doubt can mean many different things, but here I speak of it in the way the Scriptures speak of it. And in this sense, it has especially to do with the second part of faith – firm trust.

What is doubt?

If faith means, in the words of Paul, that you are “fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised” – as he said of Abraham in Romans 4:21 – then we can say that doubt means you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.

It means, in the words of Hebrews 11:1, that you do not have an assurance of things hoped for, that is, what is promised. And you do not have a conviction of things not seen, that is, that the promise will be fulfilled even though you can’t see it yet.

You are unsure of God; uncertain of God’s word to you.

The effect of doubt is that it causes you to waver. Paul says of Abraham’s faith, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” – Romans 4:20. Well, when you doubt, your distrust does make you waver. Since you aren’t certain, you go back and forth. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I trust God? Should I act on this trust? Or not?

As James says, “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. . . . he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:6; 8. The image of the “wave” pictures one who has no firmness. Always shifting. Being pushed around by other forces. Ruled by circumstances – which ever way the wind is blowing. The phrase “double-minded” means that you are of two minds. You don’t know what to do. “I should trust God.” “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are indecisive.

This is a portrait of one wavering between faith and unbelief.

Now, take notice of what I am saying here. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. It’s a place between firm faith and unbelief. It has to do with going back and forth between these. It’s not the opposite of faith – unbelief is. It is what is between them, so that you have some of both.

The result of doubt is that you don’t act on God’s promises. To use the words of Hebrews 10:39, you “shrink back” from acting because of your doubt.

So not only does doubt affect the second part of faith, it precludes the last part of faith as well, appropriate action based on God’s promises.

Now let’s look at –

The source of doubt

Simply stated, doubt is rooted in our fears. Here are some examples from Scripture:

  • Mark 4:40 – When the disciples thought that their boat was going to sink in the storm, Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They were afraid that instead of showing them the way of the kingdom, Jesus would let them die.
  • Mark 5:36 – When Jairus heard that he should stop asking Jesus for help, since his daughter was dead, not just sick, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” He was afraid Jesus couldn’t help him anymore.
  • Luke 12:32 – When Jesus taught us to trust God to provide for our needs, he said, “Fear not . . ..” He knew we would be afraid and worry that God would not provide for us.

What is it that we fear? It can all be boiled down to this – we fear that God will fail us. We too, like in the Gospel stories, wonder if God will be faithful.

  • Will God come through for me? Is God reliable?
  • Will God come through for me? Maybe he will come through for others, like in the Bible, but what about for me?

We start looking at the circumstances and the obstacles, and don’t know for sure if God can really overcome them. And if he can’t, if you can’t really trust God, you know you better not step out in faith because it won’t go well for you.

Let me give you –

An example of how doubt works

This has to do with sharing your faith: You have a good friend who doesn’t know the Lord. And you want him to hear the gospel. But you aren’t really good at that kind of thing – talking off the top of your head – and you feel like you wouldn’t know what to say.

Well, one day while reading the Scriptures you come across Matthew 10:19. It talks about giving witness to Jesus, and says, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” And God impresses on your heart that he will give you the right words to share for your friend. That this is a word for you.

So you keep your eyes open for an opportunity. And sure enough, a week later your friend asks you why you go to church. An amazing open door to share.

But you start thinking – I have never been able to say things well, and my friend’s really smart; and what would happen if he asked a question that I can’t answer. That would be worse off than if I just gave a non-answer. And you remember the time when you had to stand up in class and give a speech and how badly it went when people asked you questions about your presentation. And so you just say to your friend, “Well, lots of my friends go to church, so it’s a place to hang out.”

In this example we see that there is

1) You fear that God won’t come through for you. You see the obstacle – how hard it is for you to say the right things.

2) This makes you waver. You are uncertain now of God’s promise to give you the right words. Maybe God will. But maybe not!

3) And so you don’t act. Better to be safe than sorry, right? It’s way too risky to step out and act boldly if you aren’t sure God will come through on his word to you. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

This process of doubting God can creep into all kinds of areas of our lives. And the bottom line is that –

We have to choose

Will we doubt or exercise faith in God? Doubt is a sad thing. It will keep you from experiencing the blessings that God has for you. It will hold you back in your life with God.

For instance the example of sharing your faith with a friend. Think what it would have been like if, in this example, the person didn’t focus on the obstacles and problems and instead focused on God? And so God would have given just the right words to say. It’s a powerful thing to see God work! And it is even more powerful to see God work through you. It propels you forward in your Christian life and is a great encouragement. But we have to choose faith to see all this.

James tells us, without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Doubt is the path of discouragement, a stunted Christian life and a lack of God’s blessing. But with faith, Jesus tells us “all things are possible” – Mark 9:23. We can receive all that God has for us. We can be encouraged, we can grow in our Christian lives. And God can work through us to touch the lives of others.

Next time the plan is to share about how to overcome our doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith.

William Higgins

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