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13. The Meaning of Faith

The Meaning of Faith

A Synopsis of an Easter Sermon Delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on April 7, 1985 in Christian Gospel Church, Montreal, Canada

“Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom.10:9)

The story of “Faust”

In Germany there is a very old and well-known story which has become the subject of operas. It is the story of “Faust” and is about a certain Doctor Faust, a philosopher whom Satan ensnared by offering him youth and certain supernatural powers by which he could obtain the things in this world which he wanted.

What do people want?

Well, what do you want? What do most people want? What they want are riches, position and love. They want a happy marriage or love-life, and these desires are unattainable unless one has youth. If you are too old, you are no longer able to enjoy love, riches and position. So, youth and good health are both very desirable to the heart.

Faust, like everyone else, longed for these things which his learning could not acquire for him. The story of Faust sums up what man wants and how Satan is able to capitalize on these longings of the heart, dangling them as bait in front of you. Satan says, “Come this way. Come to me and I will give you the kingdoms of this world”, even as he promised the Lord Jesus in the Temptation. He said to Jesus, “You just bow down before me. Give me some honor. Acknowledge my name and authority, and the kingdoms of this world are mine to give you” (cf. Mt. 4:8,9).

The story of Faust encapsulates this idea because the temptation offered to Faust was the same kind of temptation that was offered to Jesus and it is offered to each one of us. If we would but bow down to Satan, give him honor and praise, and be willing to give our souls over to him, he is willing to give us many things in return. Satan will tell you that eternal things are but airy-fairy intangibles.

Why bother with those things when you can have concrete and tangible things such as wealth and position? These are the transient things which turn our minds away from God and spiritual things. To the carnal mind they seem so concrete, whereas the things which endure forever seem so remote. A degree in your hand seems so solid, so tangible. The problem is that when you reach the end of the road, the paper has a way of crumbling in your hand.

Satan has a way of making these things look extraordinarily attractive, and he offers them to you. Moreover, he has the power to do so. Those who will choose the world can receive much from Satan.

Faust’s choice

So, Faust made a deal with Satan. He looked at these temporal things and they fascinated him. He wanted them. Satan said, “Fine. I gave an offer to Jesus long before you. He was much greater, more powerful and apparently more intelligent than you. Nevertheless, He was, after all, not as clever as you, Doctor

Faust, because He turned down my offer! But I am sure you are much smarter, and you will see the excellence of my offer, and accept it, will you not?”

Faust, his ego getting bigger as he was being praised by no less an intelligence than Satan, said, “I will make a deal with you, but Satan, I have read somewhere in the Bible that you are quite tricky, and don’t forget I am a Doctor of Philosophy! You have just acknowledged my intelligence. So before I sign the deal with you, I need some assurance that I can enjoy the things you promise me. Otherwise just as I swallow the bait, the hook is already in my throat and I have no time even to enjoy the bait! If you want to fry me in your pan, give me at least some time to enjoy the bait first!” Satan, who appears as a man called Mephistopheles in the story, says, “The deal is this: I will indeed give you all these things, but when you die, your soul belongs to me.”

Faust thinks, “Well, who cares? When I die, I die. As long as in this world I have what I want! When I die, who cares what happens after that?” So Faust signs with Mephistopheles.

What will your choice be?

Does that sound familiar to you? This is how the worldly man thinks: who cares what happens after we die? Who worries about whether or not there is resurrection? I live for today. I am a practical man and am concerned with what happens at the present time, now, while I am still alive. What happens after I die? Well, if Satan wants my soul he can have it.

Does this sound like the thinking which goes on in your mind? Do you see in Faust a reflection of yourself? Faust, with all his philosophy, had precisely this kind of mentality: my life is going to end anyway. When it ends, who cares what happens after death? If I go to hell, I go to hell. If I fry in Satan’s pan and he devours me, it is fine with me. But, now in this life, I am going to enjoy myself...

The point is, Faust wanted to enjoy all the good things of this world, like what we Chinese have written on our chop-sticks: happiness, wealth, longevity, friendship, health. He wanted all of these things and who could give them to him? Satan, he is the one.

What will you give in exchange for your soul?

Understand this: our life on this earth can be likened to playing a chess game with Satan; and he is a good player. He has had thousands of years of practice and you and I only a few. No chess player in this world can beat Satan at this game!

In the Louvre, a well-known museum in Paris, there is a very beautiful and famous painting of Faust playing chess with Mephistopheles. It portrays Mephistopheles making the final move: checkmate on Faust. Faust is not just playing a game, he is playing for his life. The message? With that checkmate Faust loses everything, including his own soul.

Faust was willing to exchange his soul for these transient pleasures. The Lord Jesus asks you, “What will you give in exchange for your soul?” (cf. Mt.16:26). We are playing for our life! And just as Faust is checkmate, so also, the whole world is checkmate. None of us can win this game if left to ourselves. Not one of us is going to be able to come through victoriously against Satan.

Is there hope?

One day a great chess player visited the Louvre and was looking at and admiring the painting. As he was studying the chess board, he suddenly shouted out, “Wait, Satan wait! Faust has yet one more move!” Well, that one move might turn the game around and save Faust. Interesting, is it not? He saw a move which apparently neither the painter nor Faust had seen. This fact is very significant. This is what brings us to Easter. You and I are checkmate by Satan. In this game of enjoying the pleasures of sin, Satan has us trapped and completely ensnared. He has us checkmate. We can never win that game. We are playing for our lives and everyone is losing. You are losing the battle for your life. One by one, the pieces are taken off the chess board. One by one, everyone is going, but there is one more move.

What is that move?

Then the Man, the Son of God appeared: Jesus came. He looked at that chess board, this battle in which we are playing for our lives against Satan. He saw that we were checkmate and said, “There is one more move.” He made that move for us. You know that move. It is the death and resurrection of Christ. That is the move which turns the whole desperate situation around. You and I will never be able to win this battle, this game for our lives. You do not need to have a Ph.D. to understand that you are not going to win. If you think you can win, you obviously have not grasped what it is you are playing for and what are the stakes involved, nor do you understand the skill and power of the enemy. Most of us have long realized that man simply cannot save himself. Unless you put your trust in Jesus, you are without hope.

What does the resurrection have to do with you?

Only this one move, the resurrection, turns everything around. But what does the resurrection have to do with your life and my life? I do not want to speak about it here in terms of “historical facts” or the research that has gone into the details of the resurrection. Such research is valuable. On the popular level, books like “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morison are helpful in showing that the resurrection can be demonstrated in a rational, meaningful and convincing way if you are willing to examine the facts.

I want to speak about how we can know in our lives that Jesus is risen. Can we somehow experience His power? Intellectual persuasion is not what salvation is all about. Salvation has to do with power (1Cor.1:18; 2:4,5 etc). Why is this question so important? Let us read what the apostle Paul says in Rom.10:9:

“Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Paul says that the means by which you will be saved, is that you believe. That is, you must have faith. But believe what? Believe that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.

Believe, a matter of tradition?

Let me ask you right away, do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? “Weel”, you say, “I have been brought up in a Christian country and I have had it drummed into my head that Jesus rose from the dead. I am also told that the historical evidence for this is quite convincing, so of course I believe it. You want me to believe it? I believe it.”

In that sense we all believe because that is our tradition. Is salvation then a matter of tradition? Are we saved because it is so easy for us to accept that Jesus rose form the dead because our resistance has been broken down by constant repetition? Are we saved simply because everybody around us believes in some sense or other? If that is what Paul means, then we are fortunate just to be brought up in a Christian tradition! Are we saved by our traditions? Is saving faith simply a faith in tradition or is it faith in the living God? Remember, when Paul wrote these words in Rom.10:9, it was an unheard of thing that anyone rose from the dead. There was no long tradition such as we now have by which we have had our minds brainwashed into believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

I say that this is a form of brainwashing. It is well-known to political propagandists that by repeating a thing long enough, you can brainwash people into believing it. Is this what you call faith? Saving faith is when you accept something for quite different reasons than that. We will study the meaning of faith because nothing is so important as understanding what faith means in Scripture.

Salvation and the Lordship of Christ

Paul made it very clear that salvation depends on two interrelated things. Firstly, to acknowledge and publicly confess Jesus as Lord. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. But of course if He is dead, He cannot be “Lord” except as an honorary title! He must be truly Lord in your life, which means He must be Lord right now in some meaningful sense, namely, that He governs your daily life. Secondly, in order for this to be a reality, He has to be alive. In view of the fact that He was crucified, it is clear that He had to rise from the dead in order to be able to exercise His kingship in your life and in mine. Lordship is a very real and concrete matter and is not merely a matter of traditions. Most people who live in traditional Christianity never live under the Lordship of Christ. To live under His Lordship is a concrete step of faith.

The three aspects of faith

We live in a generation that has very little understanding of what it means to have faith in the Lord Jesus, and in His resurrection. If you are not a Christian, I would like you to be very clear about what faith means in the Bible. Do not simply say to yourself, “He convinced me that the tomb is empty, and for this and that reason, it must be that Jesus rose from the dead, therefore I believe.” If you believe the resurrection in that sense, you are not better off than Satan because he believes it too! He knows it is true, having been an eyewitness to the whole event. He was there when it happened. You and I were not. Satan believes that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead but that does not save him. James says in Jas.2:19:

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder.”

Every time Satan thinks about the resurrection, he shivers. It terrifies him! It does not terrify you because for you all this might not be real. There are three main points concerning the meaning of faith.

1. Faith: Taking hold of God’s promise

First, understand that the resurrection is a promise of God, and that it is a promise we must take hold of by faith. Otherwise, the resurrection will have no spiritual meaning to you. It may be a historical curiosity, something that you like to think about, interesting and fascinating, but it is not going to help you.

When Paul says that if you believe that Jesus rose from the dead you will be saved (Rom.10:9), he means believing in the sense in which Abraham believed the promise of God. Paul was expounding “faith” in Romans 4 (v. 13 ff) before he got to Romans 10. It is very important if you claim to be a Christian that you understand what faith is. Do not think that you are saved simply because you believe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a historical fact. Believing it only as a historical fact saves no one because if that is saving faith, then Satan would be the first one to be saved! It is only when you recognize that the resurrection is a promise to you from God, and that you must take hold of this promise by faith - it is only then that you will be saved.

What kind of faith?

In Romans 4, Paul points to Abraham as evidence that we are justified by means of faith. The question is, by what kind of faith? The word “faith” is used very loosely these days. We have “faith” in the bus driver or “faith” in the airplane pilot and so on. But the Bible speaks of a saving faith which has three main elements. The first of these is that it takes hold of the Word of God or the act of God (for He often speaks in action rather than words) as a promise.

What meaning has the resurrection got for you and for me unless we see that God is making a promise to us and for us? That Jesus rose again was good for Him; but what does it have to do with us unless He died and rose, as the Bible says, for you and for me (cf. 2 Cor.5:15)?! He did not die for Himself; He did not need to. He did not rise again for Himself. The whole event was for us. This is the first point. Can you grasp it? It is a precious promise. It gives us hope.

Faust was without hope. He looked at the chess board, studying it back and forth, but he was checkmate and with all the chess skill he had ever acquired he could not save himself. There was no hope.

Promise and hope

Hope comes from promise. Have you ever seen two persons who are about to be married? They are very hopeful! Their eyes are very bright! Why? Because soon they will be married and they live in hope - the hope of the marriage is what makes everyday so bright and meaningful. Hope is what brings sunshine into your soul. Do you live with or without hope? Hope comes from promise. No promise, no hope. But before you get to promise and hope, there has to be faith - you trust that the other person is going to show up on that day! When that hope collapses, the promise is gone. That is called dis­illusionment. But where there is promise, there is hope and where there is hope, there is strength, there is joy - the joy of hope.

From Romans 4 to Romans 8, the word “hope” (elpis) occurs 7X (13X in Romans; 36X in Paul’s writings). Let me tell you the story of Abraham again.

“In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (Rom.4:18).

Abraham had no child, and the Lord gave him a promise, that he was to become the father of many nations and his descendants were to be as numerous as the stars of the heaven (cf. Gen.15:5)! God spoke the word and Abraham had to take hold of it by faith. It seemed impossible to fulfill, but he took hold of God’s promise. He hoped against hope. What does that mean? It means there was no human ground for hope. Everything stood against the possibility of hope. Why? Because he was one hundred years old and his wife, ninety years old. Out of these two people, “as good as dead” (Heb.11:12) in terms of reproduction, God would bring forth life. So Abraham, one hundred years old, hoped against hope because he trusted God’s promise. The promise spoke to him and he took hold of it.

The resurrection speaks to you. Do you take hold of it? If you aim to be saved, this Easter day cannot be just another holiday. The message of Easter has to be a promise to you, which indeed it is. If you do not see it as a promise, then of course, it says nothing to you. Do you see it as a promise?

Faith takes hold of the promise and says, “Jesus rose from the dead for me, because that is what God says, as it is written, “He was raised because of our justification”(Rm. 4:25). By faith I take hold of this promise and claim it for myself. This is what Paul means in Rom.10:9, that if you believe that Jesus rose from the dead for you, that His resurrection is a promise to you, you will be saved. Are you able to take hold of this promise? Hope comes from the resurrection, and Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ 10X in Rom.4-8. If you and I are going to have any hope in this chess game against Satan, it will come only from the fact that Jesus broke the chains of death and rose up, and I take hold of this promise to me.

2. Faith: Experiencing the transforming power of God

Secondly, what will happen if you truly take hold of a promise? It means you will apply it into your life, does it not? It is going to have a very definite effect in your life. If it has no effect, then it remains a promise outside of you. It has nothing much to do with you. if you say that you accept the promise, something is going to happen to you.

Take the case of Abraham. He was one hundred years old and Sarah, ninety. God said, “I am giving you a promise. This time next year, you will have a son” (cf.Gen.17:21). Once Abraham accepted the promise, something was going to happen to him in order for it to be fulfilled. For Abraham and Sarah, the moment they took hold of the promise, something began to happen. Up to that point in time, they could not produce children. There was, a natural deficiency. They were barren. For the promise to be realized in them, God had to do something to them. God had to do a transforming work in their bodies so that the bodies that could not even in their youth produce a child would, in the face of the now even greater impossibility due to their old age, produce a child. He had to bring about an inner transformation whereby the impossible happens: life comes out of the dead.

Signs of life

If you claim God’s promise that Jesus rose for you, immediately God will do something in your life. Something is going to change and you are going to feel it. Have you ever slept on your arm and awakened to find your arm had gone to sleep? You could not lift or feel it. But when the blood flows back into the arm you feel the “pins and needles”. It is coming alive! I wonder what Abraham and Sarah felt when God’s power came into their lives! Suddenly they each felt something within: “Hey, something is happening to me! The promise of God is beginning to be experienced as power in my life.” They could feel it. And you can feel it too. This is the beauty and the dynamics of the Christian life. Biblical Christianity is not a matter of lifeless theories. The day you take hold of God’s promise, the power of His resurrection, you are going to feel His power doing something in your life. You will feel the change. I have felt the power of God coming into my life. This dead corpse began to feel something.

It begins with the stinging prick of conscience. Have you felt it? You used to think to yourself: “I committed this and that sin, but so what? Everyone does it.” Then suddenly the power of God entered your life, your conscience was pricked and you felt uncomfortable. There is a powerful conviction inside and you kneel down saying, “Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sinner. Lord, forgive me. I am a hypocrite. I have lived hypocritically to this day...” Suddenly, you have a sense of sin! There is the evidence of God’s power, the resurrection power to bring you back to life; you experience the pins and needles of repentance, and thanks be to God you are coming alive! The Spirit of God is coming into your life and He is working. When you hear the testimony of people sharing and confessing their sins, I ask you, what moves them to do this in public? It is the pins and needles that come when their conscience is being bothered. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is moving in their soul, and life is coming back into the deadness of their soul. That’s wonderful!

Experiencing the resurrection: the joy of life in Jesus

Is your Christianity merely a cold intellectual confession that Jesus rose from the dead? Do not kid yourself. This kind of intellectual faith saves nobody. Only when you come to Jesus in repentance, confessing Him as Lord, will the power of the resurrection become a living experience in your life. You are going to know its effect. Things are different now - Jesus has come into your life. You will see in the person who has experienced the life-giving power of Jesus that there is a gleam of hope in his eyes, a confidence in his step, a sense of purpose and meaning in his life. Every day is so good, bright and beautiful.

Take the picture of Abraham and Sarah. Can you imagine Sarah - ninety years old and she is becoming great with child? It is something to behold! God’s promise is going to be fulfilled. That is fantastic! Out of two dead bodies, there is coming forth a life, and that life will become a channel of blessing to all the nations. Imagine as Abraham looks at Sarah and day by day she is moving towards the fulfillment of the promise, how he walks with a spring in his step! “My God is real! He said it could be done.”

Genesis records that Abraham laughed to himself (Gen.17:17-18). It was not because he doubted God. He believed God. He laughed because he thought to himself: “My God is very humorous. He has a very interesting way of doing things. He waits till I am a hundred years old and then He gives me a child.”

The Christian life is meant to be very joyful. So Paul says in Rom.12:12: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Do you have that Abrahamic quality in your life? God has done a mighty work in us. We have experienced His resurrection power spiritually, and we are going to experience His resurrection power physically on that Day. What a glorious message! What a glorious hope! Paul calls it “the hope of the Gospel” (Col. 1:23).

But look at the average Christian today. Do you see that gleam in his eye and spring in his step, or do you see him stumbling along? Will anyone become a Christian through his witness? Think of the impact Abraham and Sarah had upon their world, their community. Everyone in the country would be talking about this couple, “Did you hear about that ninety year old woman? She is going to have a child next year!” All the newspapers would be writing their story!

A sign to the world

What does that mean? It means that Abraham and Sarah themselves become a sign to the world, the sign of the resurrection, whereby God brings forth life out of death; they are the sign, the living message of what God can do in the lives of people. Not only is Satan’s stranglehold on us broken but also it is checkmate in the other direction when Jesus takes the next move for us!

Every Christian is meant to be a living sign of the resurrection, just as Abraham and Sarah were in their generation and still are to this day. Are you that kind of message? You will not be until you have experienced the resurrection power in your life. Then those around you will see and ask, “What is the reason for the hope that is within you?” (cf. 1Pet.3:15). “Why are you so joyful in hope? Why is there such a confidence and richness of meaning in your life? What is it about your life that makes you different?”

What kind of sign are you?

Is it not sad to see Christians walking with their heads bowed? You say you believe in the resurrection? When did you ever believe in it? When did God’s power ever touch your life and make you different? When will people look at you and say, “There is something amazing about this person. There is power in his life.” You know who gets the glory? God does. The people did not praise Abraham and Sarah. They knew that it was humanly impossible. It had to be God’s power. If people at your place of work or school do not see the difference in your life and ask you, “Why are you different? Where is this confidence and joy coming from?”, then you must ask yourself: “Has God done anything in my life? Have I experienced the power of the resurrection?” If you do not experience the power of the resurrection now, what gives you the confidence that one day God will raise you from the dead? How do you know it is true?

Why am I confident?

I know God will raise me up physically. Why do I have this confidence? Because I have experienced this resurrection power here and now. This is the glory of the Gospel message. Paul speaks about the resurrection in the past tense, e.g. Eph.2:5,6; Col.2:12; 3:1. “If then you have been raised with Christ,...” (Col.3:1). You were raised up, it is a past fact in your life. You have experienced it. He says in Eph.2:5 that when we were dead in trespasses and sins, God’s resurrection power raised us up with Christ.

I can speak about the resurrection of Christ because I took hold of the promise and I experienced it in my life. Have you? If Christians do not experience the reality of Christ’s resurrection power, then what kind of Christianity are we talking about? Are we not then left with simply a nice-sounding theory, perhaps a fairy tale? You do not know it is not a fairy-tale or a piece of ancient tradition passed down from generation to generation until you have experienced God’s resurrection power in your life.

3. Faith: Making us channels of blessing

Finally, it is not just for our own sake that we are to experience the resurrection power of Christ in us. We are meant to channel that power to others. Firstly, it is a promise; secondly, it is experienced in us; thirdly, it is to go through us to others. If we stop at step two then we have not yet understood the meaning of faith. The promise of God is not given to satisfy you and me for our own sake. God is not like that. We are not to think of ourselves as an end in ourselves, but rather as a means for the salvation of others. Did God give Abraham the promise only for his own sake? No, but that he may become a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:8). God wants everyone of us to cease to be selfish; to cease seeking for good experiences simply for ourselves.

Freedom from self

Paul says, we do not live for ourselves and we do not die for ourselves (cf. Rom.14:7). If you are a Christian who lives and dies for yourself, then you are only a Christian in name. You have not yet understood freedom from self. This is another reason why we have hope and purpose in our lives. Just as the promise given to Abraham was meant to result in blessing for all nations, so we have been given this promise of the resurrection in order that we may pass on the resurrection life, through the Holy Spirit in us, to others. When Paul says none of us lives for himself, none dies for himself, he does not mean just the apostles. “Us” refers to every Christian. How are you living today? If it does not interest or fascinate you to be a channel of blessing to others, then you fail to know what it means to be a Christian in the Biblical sense.

This is the glorious transformation that takes place. When God’s life comes into our lives and changes us, it also changes the direction of our lives. How? Before it is all inward: me and myself. Now you are thinking, “How can I live in such a way that I can bring blessing to others?”

On the day when we give an account of our lives before God, will there be anyone around to say, “I bless the day I met you. You were the channel of God’s blessing to me. The water of life came to me through you, and I bless God for the day that I saw you....”? Or will you just pass from the face of the earth with nobody aware that you are gone? Does your existence make any difference? Do you only live for yourself?

Channels of living water

The Lord Jesus says in Jn.7:38 (NASB): “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being (koilia) shall flow rivers of living water.”’ God will turn us into channels of blessing. From the exegetical point of view the Greek word “koilia” is very interesting because it finds its equivalent in Gen.15:4 where God said to Abraham, “one who shall come forth from your own inward parts (meim), he shall be your heir” (NASB). Here the Hebrew word is “meim.” “Meim” is a word that corresponds almost exactly to “koilia,” and can mean “belly” or “womb”, or the “heart” or the “bowels.” There is no other Hebrew word that covers all these three meanings of “koilia.” In fact, from the linguistic point of view, few words correspond exactly to each other. Usually, there is an overlap in meaning, but seldom is there a word in one language that completely covers all the shades of meaning of a word in another language.

The point is, it seems that the Lord Jesus is thinking of Gen.15:4 and of Abraham when He says these words in Jn.7:38. That is remarkable. It means God has done a mighty work in us, so mighty that through us the nations of the world will be blessed. How will they be blessed? They will be blessed through salvation, of course. What greater blessing is there than salvation? We are here to channel salvation to the world. In other words, the message of the resurrection is also a commission to us. It is a promise, it is an experience, and it is a commission. These are the three things that faith accomplishes by the power of God in us.

May you today not just hear or think about the resurrection, but experience its reality in your life.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church