Thursday, January 17, 2008

Faith comes by hearing

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. [Romans 10:17]

Biblically speaking, “faith comes from hearing.” There is something special about hearing the Word of God and hearing the message of salvation through/in Jesus Christ.

Yet somehow odd and interesting ideas have developed around the basic dynamics of how faith comes to an individual. Some actually have merit, but fall short.

For instance, how many times have you said or heard, “seeing is believing?” As Americans we tend to believe a picture or video. What we see is “evidence” in our mind to the truth. But faith is beyond what can be seen. The Bible says: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” [Hebrews 11:1]

What can confuse us is the roll seeing plays in our faith experience. For instance, seeing is “proof” but it is not faith. In other words, it supplements and confirms but, seeing is not what we can depend on for faith.

An example of this can be found in the resurrection of Lazarus. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He asked Mary and Martha for some level of belief. He then proceeded to His friend’s tomb and asked that the stone be removed.

Then Jesus prays, John 11:41 – 42, “So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." The people who witnessed this event needed to hear the connection between Jesus and the Father. If they had not, there would have been a “disconnect” between Jesus and the event.

The result of Lazarus’ resurrection is seen in John 11:45. “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” What they saw lead them to put their faith in Jesus in context to what Jesus was preaching.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?” [2 Corinthians 13:5] This examination was a test and the answer key was what they could see. What they could see should line up with what they knew to be true by faith. James saw the same dynamics when he noted, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” [James 2:22]

Paul also said something similar to the Colossian church, “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. [Colossians 2:5] What we are learning here is that what we see can confirm what we know through faith.

Unfortunately, “seeing is believing” can be deceptive. This is how illusionists work. They will set up a situation where the audience will believe what they think is happening because they don’t see what is actually happening. So called faith healers have been caught planting confederates in the audience to make it look like a healing has occurred. Thus, people see what appears to be a miracle and are drawn into the illusion.

Unfortunately, some will not believe unless they see. Peter declared, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. [Acts 3:16] The problem was that people were surprised. Surprised people do not think strait. They thought it was Peter and John who had healed the man in question. Peter asks them to see the man who was healed and confirm that it was through the name of Jesus.

Worse yet, the necessity of seeing, is a mark of the skeptical unbeliever.

When Jesus was taunted on the cross, the chief priests and teachers of the law said, “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” [Mark 15:32] Truth is, they would not have believed anyway. Jesus put it this way, in one of His parables, "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " [Luke 16:31] The person who has chosen to not believe, will not be helped by what they see.

When Jesus was in Cana in Galilee, He was dealing with a potentially hostile crowd. In a sense, they dared Him to do something miraculous. Jesus’ response to this was, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." [John 4:48] Jesus described this situation with probably a heavy heart, “Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." [5] He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. [6] And he was amazed at their lack of faith. [Mark 6:4 – 6a]

After feeding a crowd of 5,000 plus, the Bible says the people started to think that Jesus was a prophet. Before they could idolize Him, He left. The next day, the people found him and started questioning Him, “So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” [John 6:30] The reason they were following had nothing to do with love or loyalty for Jesus. The crowd’s focus was on what Jesus could do for them. The discussion ended badly, in John 6:66, we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Sometimes, skepticism is not so cynical and comes from honest doubt. Remember the disciple named Thomas? After the resurrection, he had a difficult time believing. The Bible tells the story this way, “So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." [John 20:25] Thomas’ was not being mean, or refusing to believe, he was just filled with honest questions. The end result was one of absolute humiliation, because his name is now associated with “doubting.”

Despite the disciple’s disturbing lack of faith, Jesus appeared to him any way. “Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." ... Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [John 20:27, 29] Jesus used what Thomas could see as proof and gave a blessing to those who believe the resurrection without having seen.

Seeing is important to witnessing. The idea of seeing is not all bad. The question is what the other sees, and the direction it takes them. Jesus preached, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16] The good deeds of those who follow Jesus are to be a reason God the Father is praised.

Notice it causes praise, not belief. This is going to sound impossible, but you can praise/worship without faith. As humans, we are created to praise/worship God as naturally as we breath. Praise/worship is not just behavior from a Christian. In fact the Bible talks about angels worshiping and in one instance, even the demons and Satan himself will worship. The Bible describes it this way, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [Philippians 2:10 – 11]

However, what others see is an important component in our witness. The Bibles says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” [1 Peter 2:11 – 12]

Faith is more than seeing. We have already seen the Biblical definition of faith as “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” [Hebrews 11:1] The Bible announces great joy to those who are able to walk faithfully without seeing. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, [9] for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” [1 Peter 1:8 – 9]

On top of that we are actually warned to be careful about our natural dependency on sight. Paul urged, “We live by faith, not by sight.” [2 Corinthians 5:7] Think about it this way, some of our most cherished values are not seen. Can you see love or peace? You can see the out come, but you cannot actually see love or peace.

God reveals Himself through His word. And words are spoken. They give power to ideas, images, and experience because in conversation they take on meaning and shape well beyond any picture.

When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus did not say, “see.” "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' [31] The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." [Mark 12:29 – 31] It was understood, that unless one did not hear, then one could not understand and obey. The reason for this is that we think in words, not pictures. We evaluate what we see and attach meaning to what we see with words.

Jesus is revealed as “the Word.” The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” [John 1:1] John deliberately tied Jesus to Creation and how Genesis 1 says, “God said,” eleven times during the act of creating. The power of God’s spoken work is unmistakable in the creation and salvation stories in the Bible. This is not a past power but a present, ongoing, and living power. John reinforced this by naming Jesus in the book of Revelation this way, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” [Revelation 19:13]

Speaking to the Colossians, Paul claimed his call was, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” [Colossians 1:25] Notice, the call was not to plant or grow a church. Nor was the call to some other high profile, valued, and idolized ministry. The fact these things happened can take away from the suffering Paul went through to present the word of God to people. His call was first and foremost to present the word. Or as he told Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: [2] Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. [3] For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. [4] They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. [5] But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” [2Timothy 4:1 – 5]

Notice Timothy’s charge is to “preach the Word.” This preaching would take on the form of correction, rebuking, encouraging, instructing, and evangelizing. One of the reasons this is necessary is because people will not always put up with sound doctrine and eventually they would turn their ears away from the truth. Again we discover the importance of hearing to the decision process. While we may “drive with our eyes” we believe with our ears.

Never underestimate the power of the word of God. The Bible makes this startling statement, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” [Hebrews 4:12] We are not talking about something mystical or magical. We are talking about real life and eternal destination changing power. What’s more powerful than God speaking? Absolutely nothing. When God speaks to you, everything changes. You can never go back to the way you were before God spoke. He speaks today through His word, through what we call the Bible.

The bottom line is that salivation comes through hearing.

Jesus once told the story of the seed that fell on four types of soil. Listen as Jesus explains what happened in each type of soil. “Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? [14] The farmer sows the word. [15] Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. [16] Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. [17] But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. [18] Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; [19] but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. [20] Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown." [Mark 4:13 – 20]

Do you see the active interference that happens when the word is sown? There is direct Satanic intervention [v 15], trouble and persecution [v 17], worries of this life, deceitfulness of wealth, and desires for other things [v 19] that work to make sure the word that is sown does not bear fruit. If the devil knows the power of hearing the word, why are we so slow to acknowledge that power and use it? Maybe we shy away from any use of power. Maybe we are ignorant of the resources available to us.

Jesus was very concerned about the issue of how we hear.Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Mark 4:9] It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “Can you hear me now?” It’s like Jesus is saying, “Be careful how you hear!” Jesus didn’t say it once. The expression is found 14 times in the New Testament. [Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:23, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35, Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22, 13:9]

Jesus insisted that hearing was essential to acquiring eternal life. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” [John 5:24] Observe, out of Jesus own mouth the connection between “hears my word AND believes.” On top of that, they are connected to “has eternal life.” Jesus could not have been much clearer. There is not one Biblical connection between seeing, feeling, or thinking causing believing.

What does this have to do with you?

We stated in Romans 10, lets look back and see what it says. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” [Romans 10:14] Now before we get uptight about the idea of “preaching” remember we have transformed it into something very specialized and technical. Before we “churchized” the word it simply meant “to herald.” Another way to say that is to tell someone.

Ever see someone with a problem and offer advice? Ever find a great restaurant or store that you had to recommend to someone else? Guess what, you were preaching in the Biblical sense. Every time you open your mouth and tell someone about something good that you have experienced or share an idea that might help them... you are preaching.

Think it is not your responsibility? Think again. “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” [Revelation 22:17] The only way it is not your responsibility is if you are NOT part of the bride (Jesus’ church) or you have never come to the water of life. That’s another way of saying, the only way it is NOT your responsibility is if you are not saved, born again, have eternal life (or whatever you want to call it).

If you have found the greatest of anything, I’m sure you would let someone know. If you’ve found something that would help someone else, I’m sure you would help them. Why not let them in on the best kept secret of any generation? Don’t keep the good news of Jesus to yourself.

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