There’s a war on. Every one of us in the middle of a spiritual battle. Whether we realise it or not, whether we are Christians or not, there’s a war on. The apostle Peter warns us all.
1 Peter 5 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith.
At every moment we should be on our guard because the devil and the powers of evil are plotting and planning to entice us away from God. We must defend ourselves using the armour God gives us. We have already thought about the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Last week we thought about our gospel shoes. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Whatever will help you to stand firm and stop you from slipping and sliding all over the place when you are talking about Jesus. This week we are thinking about how to stand up against all the attacks of the evil one.
Ephesians 6 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
We all need the shield which is our faith. Life is full of temptations – the flaming arrows the devil fires at us. Temptations to do wrong. Temptations not to do the right things we should be doing. Temptations to say bad things. Temptations not to speak out for truth and justice. Temptations to stay silent about Jesus. Temptations to doubt God. Whenever we are tempted to give in to sin or selfishness or pride, whenever we are tempted to deny our faith, or to pass by on the other side, that’s when we need the shield of faith.
But what is faith? Faith simply means relying on God. Depending on God. Hebrews chapter 11 talks about faith and it challenges us all. What do you put your trust in? What do you rely on? These questions are really important in the heat of temptation. What are you depending on? What are you relying on? What are you putting your trust in?
Many people go through life trying to cope by relying on things within themselves. Education, Skills, Experience, Talents, Training. Determination. Hard work. None of these things count for anything in the life of faith. Nor do other things around us which everybody takes for granted and and rely on in times of trouble: things like Money and Possessions and Healthcare. None of these things are any use in the life of faith. When it comes to following Jesus, things we might rely on within ourselves or in the world around us are even less use than a chocolate teapot! We need just one thing – we need faith in God. If we are serious about following Jesus in this world which rejected and crucified Him, we need to put our trust in God and learn to rely on Him for everything.
Hebrews chapter 11 tells us what real faith is and points us to countless examples of the heroes of faith from the Old Testament. Their lives are full of encouragement and inspiration and challenge. We need to learn to depend on God in every part of our lives. None of us relies enough on God and His grace!
Faith means RELYING ON GOD RATHER THAN ANYTHING ELSE
George Washington once wrote that we all need: “a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that all wise and powerful being on whom alone our success depends.”
Faith means depending on God, stepping out and trusting God to act. Luther called faith “a DARING confidence in God’s grace.” Faith means going out on a limb and relying on God to help us. It means putting ourselves in situations where if God does NOT act, we fall flat on our faces, or worse!
Hebrews 11 5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith begins by believing that God exists and deciding to live our lives to please the God we believe in. Other people may live lives based on possessions or money and things in the here and now which they can touch and feel. But we believers base our lives on the God of the Bible. We trust in His saving acts. We believe His Word the Bible as God’s word to us even today. We claim God’s promises. That is how we depend on God.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
GK Chesterton wrote, “A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr but to be a fool.” Even if nobody else hears God’s voice, if we believe then we hear, and we trust, and we obey. It may make us look foolish to everybody else. But we still rely on God!
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age- and Sarah herself was barren- was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Faith means clinging on to God’s promises, even when they seem impossible.
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!”
28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. 29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
So the Israelites were rescued out of slavery by faith and they won victory after victory through faith – relying on God to act on their behalf! What about OUR faith? Do WE rely on God more than anything else? Do we depend on God from day to day? Not just that he will bless our Christian work and witness. But relying on God from moment to moment in every part of our lives? One of the most important lessons I learned visiting Christians in Uganda is that in countries like that you simply can’t depend on money or transport or technology or healthcare in the way that we all do in this country all the time. You learn the value of praying over every meal, over every journey, every time you meet a friend. You learn to rely on God for the simple things of life. After that you can begin to depend on God for much bigger things.
It was that great theologian Cliff Richard who said, “The more we depend on God, the more dependable we find he is.”
Faith means BASING YOUR LIFE ON THINGS YOU CAN’T SEE
Our materialistic world is full of people who base their lives on possessions or money and things in the here and now which they can touch and feel. Hebrews 11 tells us
1. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
The eternal realities can often seem remote and uncertain. In fact they are MORE certain than anything we can see or touch, because this world is passing away but God and His truth will endure forever!
The truth about CREATION
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
The challenge for all of us is to live every moment recognising that we are CREATED beings in a CREATED world, and that every one of us will be accountable to our Creator on Judgement Day.
The truth about HEAVEN
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Even the Old Testament saints were looking forward to the unseen realities of the Heavenly City. Too many people in Britain today never give a thought to their own mortality – three score years and then what? In our funeral services we pray that God will help us to “live as those who truly believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, the communion of the saints and the life of the world to come”! When the going gets tough it matters much more what we really believe about eternal life and the hope of heaven!
A.W. Tozer – “What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will be swept away, and we shall have only God.”
What about OUR faith? What do we rely on? Do WE really base our lives on things we can’t see? On the truths of Scripture and the promises of God? Are we really laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth because heaven is more real than earth is! Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to base our lives on things we can’t see!
Faith means OBEYING GOD HOWEVER MUCH THAT COSTS
This is where the rubber hits the road. Faith isn’t just about what we believe in our minds. Faith is about those beliefs changing how we live from day to day.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
Abraham was 80 when God called him to leave his home and step out in faith towards the promised land. So we can be reassured that none of us are too old for a new exciting fantastic adventure in trusting him! The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will be with us leading and protecting you every step of the way. We should rust Him – rely on him – depend on him – as the Patriarchs of Israel did, however much that costs.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
God called Abraham to be prepared to give up His only son, his heir, the son who would be the channel of God’s promise. In fact, that was only the same sacrifice that God the Father was preparing to make, giving up His only Son for the salvation of the church. Trusting God will always demand sacrifices. Material sacrifices and emotional sacrifices. But this is the God who was faithful to Abraham and Isaac. This is the same God who raised His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead. So we can certainly trust Him, rely on him and depend on him, however much that costs us.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
Standing up for God and God’s people against Pharoah. Choosing to be ill-treated. Choosing disgrace over treasures. True faith will often lead to rejection and persecution. That is part of the cost of faith. But the God of Moses and the Israelites will never fail you or forsake you! Trust Him – rely on him – depend on him – however much that costs. That is the shield of faith! And then we come to the really cheery part of the chapter!
HEROES OF FAITH
35b Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated- 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Those Old Testament heroes of faith really put their money where their mouth is. Standing up and being counted for God won’t ever be a picnic, wherever in the world we do it! So what about OUR faith? What do we rely on? God calls us all to put our trust in him, to rely on Him and to depend on Him! THAT is the shield of faith which will help us resist temptation when the devil attacks us. We need that kind of Hebrews 11 faith! TS Eliot wrote, “The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyse his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief.”
One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to escape on to the roof. His father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you will imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you – and that’s all that matters.”
Faith means letting go and jumping and trusting that God will catch you. That is the shield of faith. Faith believes the incredible, sees the invisible, achieves the impossible! We need to be relying on God rather than relying on anything else! To base our lives on things we can’t see! To obey God HOWEVER much it costs! THAT is the shield of faith which will help us to resist all the attacks of the devil.