17 July 2021 Hymns 3, 152 Speaker: Dn. Gabriel
As we explore the topic of faith, let us start with the definition of faith according to the Scripture.
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
There are two descriptions about things mentioned. First, things hoped for, which means we have not obtained it. We hope to possess it sometime in the future. Second, things that are not seen. Even when we cannot see this, we believe that this thing exists. To the things we hope for, to the things we cannot see, we then do a bunch of actions to demonstrate that we are indeed hoping to receive it. The actions we do also manifest that we believe the things we see are real. This bunch of actions is the substance, the evidence. These actions are observed by others and would then show that we indeed have faith.
Abraham is also called a friend of God, and the father of faith. So what is his faith all about? And in relation to what we have defined about faith earlier, what is this evidence and substance in his belief? What are the works of his faith that truly demonstrated he hoped for the things that were invisible?
This afternoon, we’ll share three points to examine the substance and evidence of faith through three aspects.
His action of departing
His action of remaining
His action of surrendering
His action of Departing
1 Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
The Lord said to Abraham, “depart from your country, your family, and your father’s house to a land which I will show you.” And along with departing came the promises of God - becoming a great nation, to have a great name, to receive God’s blessings and all the families of the earth would be blessed.
So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
This passage describes the same incident we read earlier in Genesis. The author of Hebrews says that Abraham’s action of departing was an act of faith. It says that “by faith, Abraham obeyed...” This land that the Lord would show him would be his inheritance. Not his country, nor his land or his father’s house. By faith, Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going. Yes, indeed God had promised him a land that would be his inheritance, but at that point in time, he did not know where he was going. His action of believing and departing from the place, stepping into what was unknown with full trust and obedience to the Lord, all these are the evidence that Abram had faith in God.
How do we view inheritance?
We see many rich families taking their own siblings to court. The hymn leader today also mentioned, people who are rich may not have peace. It’s indeed true, because the rich want to be richer. People take their own siblings to court to fight for inheritance. We see court actions played out in public. We read about bitter fighting within siblings just to own a share of their father’s estate. And we compare this to what Abraham has done. Abraham was so different. Instead of remaining in his father’s house and land, he departed and left these things behind. He left in pursuit of an inheritance which God, who is unseeing, had promised him.
Today, perhaps we’re not fighting for inheritance. But I invite all of us to think about this question: Are we striving in a similar way to have our fair share in life, to the extent that this is the only thing that matters? And we strive for this fair share in our lives that we start to be aggressive in the things we do toward others? We don’t sleep because we don’t get it. We fight for it as if it is the only thing that matters.
What did Jesus say?
6 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
This was in the prayer of Jesus for his disciples. “They” refers to the followers of the Lord Jesus. They are not of the world. We are also followers of Jesus today. And because of that, we are not of the world. Since we are not of the world, then shouldn’t it be an indication that we shouldn’t be overly concerned with the things in the world? Jesus says, “I am not of the world”. Do we belong to where Jesus belongs, where he is not of the world? The inheritance we have is in Him, not the possessions in this world, but the riches in Christ, that are out of this world. We know that in the world, Jesus was the son of a poor carpenter. He owned no palaces, no luxuries, yet we know Him as the richest. He owned not palaces but the entire universe. He’s not just someone who can give us good health, He’s far greater because He’s the Lord of life Himself. And the life He wants to give us is eternal for us to be with Him.
Abraham’s work of faith is in departing from his father’s house to inherit the land that God promises, and to lay hold of the inheritance which God has promised. For us to learn from Abraham, we should also depart from this world of constantly striving, as if that is the only thing that matters in life. Belong where Jesus belongs, to inherit true life which is eternal life.
For our friends today who are ready to take this step to belong to Jesus, to have this hope of eternal life and would like to follow the footsteps of Abraham by departing, what is this evidence and substance of faith that shows you truly believe?
16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Today we say we believe in Jesus. But this belief must have evidence, have content. Just like when Abraham believed in the inheritance, he actually departed.
Hence, the action we want to take today is to be baptised. We have to go through water baptism because this is what the Lord Jesus says. “He who believes and is baptised will be saved”. Baptism is to show that we have this faith believing in God. Abraham believed in the promises and inheritance of God. But he also had actions of faith - he departed and left behind his father’s house. Today if we want to believe in Jesus, our action should be to come to be baptised.
His Action of Remaining
9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Abraham arrived at the land and dwelt in the land of promise. Here it says that it is by faith that Abraham dwelt in the land. Following him, his children and children’s children also continued to dwell in the land. They lived in tents, as nomads, not having a permanent home. And the fact is that Abraham did not own the land while dwelling in the land.
1 Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4 “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, died at the age of 127 years old. And when she died, Abraham needed a place to bury her. Look at what Abraham said to the sons of Heth in v4: “I am a foreigner, and a visitor among you...”
Despite dwelling in the land, he considered himself still a foreigner without a property. Continued in 23:9,
9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”
The people wanted to give the land to Abraham, but Abraham insisted on paying for it. V16 tells us that Abraham actually paid 400 shekels for the cave to bury Sarah. Some might say, “Wah he really had a sad life. Who is this God who promised you this? Shouldn’t you just stay in your father’s house to wait for the inheritance promised to you? Why did you have to believe in this God who you can’t see? And you dwell in this land, which you don’t own, and which you can’t even bury your wife?” He seemed to really be quite a big failure. Why did he insist on believing in God? Why not return and go back? Why did Abraham continue to dwell in the land?
The answer is found in Heb 11:10,
10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
This explains why he was so insistent. The reality is that there were several cities in the land where Abraham was. But Abraham chose to live in tents. To him, these cities were not built by God. The foundations of these cities were not laid by God. He continued to dwell in the land because he hoped to receive a very different city, whose foundations are laid by God. The substance of his faith in continuing to dwell in the land despite setbacks - that is his faith.
‘You’ve called me to this promised land. But it seems that I’m not living a good life. In the eyes of people, I’m a failure.’
Abraham indeed also had several setbacks while in the land. But despite all these things, he continued to dwell in the land because he had faith. He continued to put his trust in God, looking forward to dwelling in the city with God, built by God. This is such a beautiful testimony of faith written for us to be inspired today.
There was a young boy who just came to church. In class, he did some arts and crafts. He drew a beautiful piece of artwork. On it, he wrote, “I have faith in God.” As he was on his way home on the bus, he continued to admire his artwork. Suddenly there was a gust of wind that blew the artwork out of his hands. And it drifted out of the window. The boy immediately stood up, and said, “Uncle, uncle, please stop the bus! I’ve lost my faith in God!”
Have we lost our faith in God? From the pressures we face in life? Especially in these times where we are trying hard to keep our jobs? Have we lost our faith in God? If we know our faith has dwindled, are we like this child, anxious to pick up our faith again? The child wasn’t bothered by how others would look at him, standing up and shouting for the bus to stop, because the artwork was so important to him.
33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
While we are not of the world, we are still in the world. Jesus says that when we are in the world, he prepares us and tells us that we have tribulations. He wants us to expect trials and tribulations to hit us. It comes as a package in life. But an important point is that as we go through these trials, let’s remember what the Lord says here. “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” There is nothing in this world that I cannot overcome because Jesus has overcome. And Jesus will lead us to overcome. And because we can overcome them, we can have this assurance and peace. This peace is not the consequence that everything is plain sailing. But it’s the peace the Lord gives us in our hearts when we navigate the challenges in life.
The speaker tells of how the last three weeks have been a roller coaster ride for him. He went for his annual health screening, and received a positive treadmill test. What this means is that he could have a blockage in the arteries in his heart. He has a high risk because his relatives have this issue. So he was advised to see a cardiologist. The speaker wasn’t prepared to see this kind of news. Many thoughts raced through his mind. He kept wondering what would happen. And during that time, his wife was also going through some health related issues. It added to his worries. There was a possibility that both would end up in hospital at the same time. He made an appointment to see the cardiologist.
The speaker had much anxiety in receiving the results. It jolted his memory about student life - waiting for exam results. Did he ask God, why did this happen to him? Yes, he did. He didn’t get a direct answer to that. But during the wait, he managed to take these anxieties to God in prayer. Thank God, the Holy Spirit comforted him greatly. And there was this assurance that God would take care of them. This allowed him to have peace. The results were normal, and in fact were good, which showed that he had the least chance of getting a heart attack.
Through this episode, he also learnt where he stood in terms of trusting in God. While his heart physically was healthy, it gave him the opportunity to examine his heart, his faith in God. It gave him the opportunity to experience the grace and peace of God during this period of time. When we navigate through these challenges and trials, remember that we are in the world and we must expect these trials to hit us. But the question is, do we continue to stay on with God? Do we continue to keep God’s commandments? Do we continue holding on to our faith?
Abraham did. He stayed on with God. By faith, he remained in the land, looking forward to a better city.
As we go through trials, do we stay on in our belief and faith in the Lord? Trusting that Jesus would see us through the end? Do we stay on, hoping for the better heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God?
We all should.
His Action of Surrendering
1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham was childless, although God had promised he would become a great nation. He wondered how it would be possible. He even thought the heir of his house would be Eleazar, his servant. That’s when God appeared to him and asked him to look toward heaven and count the stars. Abraham believed. And it was accounted to him for righteousness. He indeed bore a son when he was 100 years old. His wife was about 90 years old. This was well beyond child bearing age. Now with an heir, he could picture God’s plan. It seemed that things would start to unfold in a positive way. But it was not meant to be so.
1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” 6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
God tested Abraham after these things. He was asked to offer his own son Isaac. Just when Isaac was given to him, now God tells Abraham, “offer your only son Isaac”. And this was God’s test for him.
V3 tells us that he did not delay. He rose early and set off to the place to sacrifice Isaac. It was a three days journey.
We wonder what Abraham would have thought about in these three days. When they arrived at Moriah, both father and son went together. Each step they went, Isaac was one step further from being sacrificed. Can you imagine the weight he was experiencing in his heart? In v25, the angel stopped him from sacrificing his son. God provided for him a ram and that ram was sacrificed in place of Isaac. Abraham went through the toughest time in his faith.
What was Abraham’s faith when he went through this?
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
The author describes the actions of Abraham as faith. By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. What was this faith? Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead. And because of this, he was able to surrender what was supposedly the dearest to him, which was Isaac, his only son. Such was the faith of Abraham. It was the faith that surrendered to God what was dearest to him.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
The faith of Abraham was justified by his work of sacrificing Isaac, his only son. The action of sacrificing his son, surrendering to God, was the work of faith he had demonstrated. It shows he had complete trust in the God that was unseen. In holding on to the hope that God would make him a great nation. He believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead.
Many people believe that faith is a necessity as a Christian. The story of Abraham reaffirms this - that believing in God is part of faith. But the Abraham story also goes one step further. It’s not just about believing in God. Not only do we believe that God exists, not only do we believe that the Lord Jesus can save us. But beyond this is, how do we act in surrendering ourselves and doing the things He asks us to do because we believe in Him?
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Elder James tells us that faith without works is dead. How do we show our faith? Through the works of faith we do. We believe that Jesus saves us from our sins. Then the work of faith is to receive baptism to have sins washed away. If you believe that Jesus saves you, but you don’t have the action of faith to receive water baptism, then faith without works is dead. The work of faith that we need to carry out today is to hold on to the teachings that he has taught us. Not just to believe He exists, but to carry out what He has instructed us to do.
This action is the substance, the evidence we have in God. This is the type of faith that will save us.
Abraham’s works of faith were demonstrated in three things - firstly, he departed for a heavenly inheritance; secondly, he remained in the land hoping for a city built by God. Lastly, he surrendered himself to carry out what God had asked him to do. Abraham didn't just believe in God, he had three actions to prove that he truly believed.
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
Is your faith the same as Abraham’s faith? I pray that this is the same for you.