What is Faith?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith speaks of faith like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But does that mean that faith is blind? Is it being sure about something that we can know nothing about?

Surely not! The chapter ends be reminding us of what is evident throughout the chapter: faith is faith in God’s promises: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40). The “things hoped for” that believers are assured of, and the “things not seen” that believers are convicted of, are the promises God has made. This is not blind faith.

True faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust (called notitia, assensus, and fiducia by the Latin-lovers in theology).

Knowledge

There is particular knowledge that we must believe to have faith: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Resurrected Saviour of sinners. To have faith in Jesus is more than believing that there was a person called Jesus who existed. We have to hear the message of salvation and understand it (John 20:30-31 & Romans 10:9-14). Tedd Tripp writes, “We must know something of the One in whom we are to believe. It is not enough to merely be sincere.” We could be sincerely wrong.

Agreement

So faith must go further; we must agree that the knowledge we received is true.

If you stopped people at random as they walked along Bridge Street and asked them to tell you the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, probably most of them could: A little girl goes for a walk in the forest, finds a house, knocks, and goes in. On the table are three bowls of porridge. The first is too hot; the second is too cold; and the third is just right. She then tries the different chairs in the house, but breaks one; then she falls asleep in the last of the beds she tries. The bears come home and she runs away.

Different people may emphasise different parts of the story, but nearly everyone knows it. And they all know that it isn’t true. That is knowledge without agreement. For faith to be faith, there must be a conviction that the good news we know about Jesus is actually true.

Trust

If we heard someone agreeing that, ‘Yes, Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead to take away sin,’ we might think we’ve discovered someone with true faith. But remember James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” R.C. Sproul wrote, “Satan knows the truth, but he hates the truth. He is utterly disinclined to worship God because he has no love for God.” Knowing that the truth is true does not save.

There are personal (and often painful) examples for each of us. We think, ‘Why don’t they believe? They knew all the answers in Sunday School,’ or ‘We raised them to know the truth’. The difference is trust.

Trust is when, because the good news about Jesus is true, I depend on Jesus alone to do what He has promised to: to save me. And because there is this personal reliance, there will also be an affection for Jesus. We may know many things about salvation which are true, but unless the Holy Spirit changes the nature of our hearts, no amount of knowledge can save us. It is only when we know that the message of Christianity changes everything for us that we have true faith.

No one will be saved by believing, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, unless we add, “of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). So let us pray and speak so that we, our friends and family, our community and our world will know the truth, believe it is true, and depend on Jesus to save us.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

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Hope for Rebels (Acts 7:1-53)

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana.

The history of Australia is a story of Christianity in decline. There have been moments of great promise, like the Billy Graham Crusades of 1959, which historian Stuart Piggin says is the closest we’ve come to nationwide revival. Is our story a story of missed opportunities?

What about your own history? There may be moments of great spiritual feeling, but there have also been times of spiritual laziness and even rebellion.

Does it encourage you to find that we are not alone? That even God’s chosen people have been unfaithful rebels time and time again?

Acts 6-7 is the account of the Jewish people are turning against the followers of Jesus. Why?

This is a court drama. The crowds have dragged a powerful advocate of the truth about Jesus, Stephen the Deacon, before the Sanhedrin (6:11-14). They charge him with speaking against the way things are: “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (v13-14). He is accused of threatening to destroy everything that makes it possible to know and please God.

The High Priest asks Stephen, “Are these things so?” (v1). How does he reply?

  1. Remember A History
  2. Accept A Defence
  3. Admit A Prosecution
  4. Embrace A Hope

As we see Christianity decline in respectability and influence, as our place seems under threat, we need to remember what Stephen says: People have always rejected His deliverers, but God is always delivering His people.

Sunday 16th September 2018

Review questions:

  • What were Stephen’s opponents trusting in (6:11-14)?
  • How long was it until Abraham’s family owned Canaan (v7)?
  • Why did God save Israel from Egypt (v17)?
  • Why didn’t the Israelites like Moses (v26-27)?
  • God made Moses ______ & _________ (v35)
  • How long was it between Joshua’s conquest & Solomon’s temple?
  • The Tabernacle is an imitation of something in ______________________ (v44)
  • The real temple is __________ (John 2:19)
  • How did Israel treat God’s servants (v35, 52)?
  • Resisting the Holy Spirit means rejecting God’s _____________________________ (v51)
  • Is the OT relevant to us? Yes/No
  • God makes _______________ & keeps them.
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I should live:
  • Something to pray about:

Prepared to Die (Acts 6:8-15)

What amazing people these Christians were! It was obvious that the Holy Spirit filled them, they were full of faith, and God’s grace and power were at work in and through them (v3, 5, 8). God’s Word is spreading. The Church is growing, not just in ones and twos, but multiplying! Even priests and religious people are coming to faith (v7). Don’t we want it to be like that?!

But what comes next challenges two myths we believe about following Jesus:

  • ‘I Won’t Have to Suffer Like Jesus Did’ and
  • ‘If I Have To Suffer, I Can’t Be A Good Witness’

Do you believe that Christians in Australia and the West generally don’t really suffer for following Jesus? Then you won’t be prepared when you do have to suffer.

Or do you believe that there is something different about these believers which made them better witnesses to Jesus? That you don’t have what it takes to stand for Jesus? No one is a better Christian because they lived closer to Jesus than we do. Any of us can live and speak for Jesus like these believers did.

You may think, ‘I won’t have to suffer like Jesus did,’ but the truth is that you may and likely will suffer like Jesus did. You might think ‘If I have to suffer, I can’t be a good witness,’ but the truth is that you can be a good witness.

And God had this account written for us so that we will believe those two truths: I may have to suffer like Jesus did and if I have to suffer like Him, I can be a good witness.

Sunday 9th September 2018

Review questions:

  • “Take up your cross” means (Mtt 16:24-25):
  • My life is: ___________________________
  • Why does the world hate Christians (John 15:21)?
  • Why couldn’t the Freedmen defeat Stephen (v10)?
  • When opponents can’t win the argument, what do they do (v11-14)?
  • What was Stephen accused of (v13-14)?
  • How can we suffer like Jesus? How are we filled with the Holy Spirit?
  • If you aren’t suffering for Jesus, you aren’t f_____________________________ Him.
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I should live:
  • Something to pray about:

Service with Strategy (Acts 6:1-7)

Does it matter what sort of church you belong to? There are churches where the bishop calls the shots or what the minister says, goes. There are churches governed by elders. Does the way the church is organized matter? Really?

Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Oh, great. A sermon on church government.’ But even though how the church runs isn’t a Gospel issue directly, bad organisation can be a huge barrier to Gospel ministry.

It’s not enough to be a church where the Gospel is preached. Ask people who don’t go to church anymore: some left because of the teaching; some leave because of conflicts with others; but some leave because they aren’t able to serve, or when they volunteer, they aren’t allowed to do what they’re meant to do because ‘that’s not the way we do things here’ or they spend more time on the committee organizing the work than they do doing the work.

A badly organised church is still a church, but the Devil can use bad organisation to frustrate the church from doing Gospel work.

The night before He was crucified, Jesus spoke to the disciples in the Upper Room.  He described Himself as ‘the vine.” Those who are attached to Him by faith, He says, “you are the branches,” (John 15:5).

The main point of what Jesus is saying is that for the branches of a vine to grow, they need to be attached to the vine: “Without Me, you can do nothing,” John 15:5b.

But we could draw out other implications from Jesus’ picture. Australian pastors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne did so in their book The Trellis and The Vine. For a vine to grow well, it needs something to grow on. The trellis gives the vine shape. Otherwise, it gets tangled and unfruitful.

So, the church needs to be organized. When it is not, the Gospel gets crowded out with administration, and problems between people get worse. We see that here in Acts 6:1-7.

There is a problem in the Church, and the Apostles organize to resolve it. And we should do the same:

  1. Acknowledge the Problem: Partisan Neglect (v1)
  2. Know Your Priorities: Prayer & the Word (v2-4)
  3. Delegate Responsibility: Ordain the Wise & Spirit-filled (v5-6)
  4. The Word & the Disciples Multiply (v7)

Our problems might not be the same, but the solution always is: prioritize prayer and the Word, delegate spiritually qualified people to do the work, then ask God to multiply the Word and the Disciples.

Sunday 2nd September 2018

Review Questions:

  • Why does it matter how the church is organised?
  • The trellis gives _____________ to the vine (John 15:1f)
  • What was the problem (v1)?
  • How do we avoid ‘drones in the church hive’ (Richard Hobson)?
  • What should pastors do (Eph 4:12)?
  • How (v4)?
  • What sort of people should do the practical work (v3)?
  • God wants ___________ sacrifices (Christopher Ash).
  • Where do qualified people come from (v5)?
  • Laying on hands means:
  • It is okay for churches want (and plan) to increase in number (v7)? Yes/No
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How should I live?
  • Something to pray about:

God’s Unstoppable Gospel (Acts 5:17-42)

Time and again, Bible-believing Christians are told that we are on the wrong side of history. The message is, ‘Society is changing. You need to keep up.’ And if we don’t, we deserve to be swept out of the way.

But the bigger issue for Christians is not whether we are on the wrong side of history, but whether we are on the wrong side of eternity. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement,” Hebrews 9:27. Our first question mustn’t be, “What will future generations think of us?” but “When that day of judgement comes, what will God think of us?”

Standing against opposition is hard. Doing what is right costs. If you are a follower of Jesus, be sure of this: You will be opposed. The world will hate you (John 15:18-19; 17:14; 1 John 3:13). But often opposition comes from where we least expect it: from the inside.

A newly elected young Tory MP, eagerly taking up a place on the benches and pointing to the benches opposite, said to Churchill, “So that’s the enemy”. Churchill supposedly replied, “No son, that’s the opposition”, and then pointed to the benches behind and said, “That is the enemy”. Sound familiar?

Here in Acts 5, the opposition comes from the religious people. R.C. Sproul reminds us of this lesson from church history teaches: the greatest opponents of the Gospel are the clergy. Secularists could care less! “That is why we cannot assume that just because someone is an ordained minister or elder his is committed to the truth of the gospel. Here in Acts we see a record of the conflict between the genuine and the counterfeit.”

The message spreading from Jerusalem into Judea, as Jesus promised (v16; cf. Acts 1:8). And the opposition comes, not from the Romans, but from the religious leaders.

The simple fact is, as Kevin De Young comments, “The Gospel hurt the leaders’ privilege, power, and pride.” So they retaliated.

So, the first thing we need to recognise is that opposition comes in many forms, but it often comes from inside. Paul warned the elders at Ephesus:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:28-32).

So, what must we do when we are opposed because of the message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus?

  1. Follow if God Intervenes (v17-24)
  2. Receive God’s Help (v25-32)
  3. Suffer for Jesus’ Name (v33-42)

Sunday 26th August 2018

Review questions:

  • What does opposition often come from (Acts 20:30)?
  • Why did the High Priest oppose the Apostles (v17)?
  • Does God always save? Yes/No
  • Why were the Captain and the officers afraid (v26)?
  • What had the leaders done to stop the message (v28)?
  • Did it work (v28)? Yes/No
  • When can Christians disobey rulers (v29)?
  • What does Jesus give (v31-32)?
  • What will always succeed (v39)?
  • Why rejoice (v41)?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I should live:
  • Something to pray about:

The God of Great Fear (Acts 5:1-16)

“God is love,” 1 John 4:8b. “Judge not, that you be not judged,” Matthew 7:1.

Those two verses capture the common understanding of Christianity. ‘If there is a God, He loves and He doesn’t care what you do. So nobody else should judge you either.’

But both of those verses are taken out of context. Jesus goes on to say: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you,” Matthew 7:6. So while we should not judge people to condemn them, we must judge them to discern whether we are wasting our holy service to God and are in danger of being attacked by unhappy and unholy swine.

And soon after writing, “God is love”, John reminds us that this love does not exist in isolation: “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world.” 1 John 4:17. So, there is a day of judgement to come, only some people are loved by God, and only they will escape the judgement.

At the end of Acts 4, it seems like everything in the early Church is rosy. Jesus’ followers are continuing His ministry by speaking boldly about His resurrection. God’s power is at work. God’s grace is upon them. And they are sharing generously to meet each other’s needs.

There have been miraculous healings. Lots of people are being converted. But. Chapter 5 begins with the word, “But”. This is the first sign of trouble in the Church.

But, the Church, as good as it gets, is still a gathering of sinners. And because there are signs of God’s love and favour everywhere, two sinners think that God doesn’t care what they do. And here God shows us how, sometimes, He judges His Church for our sin.

I’ve read lots of histories of churches, and you never find stories like this. There might be vague mentions of ‘hard times’ or ‘difficult decisions’. But we don’t want people to hear about our failures and we certainly don’t want to highlight our sins.

But Luke does; God does. God wants us to be honest to ourselves and to each other about our sin. He warns us of the danger our sin poses to the witness of the Church.

He shows us that He knows our sinful motives (v1-11). And how, in judging our sin, He honours His Church (v11-16), and He shows that He is to be feared (v3, 9, 13).

  1. God Knows Your Motives (v1-10)
  2. God Honours His Church (v11-16)
  3. God is to be Feared (v3, 9, 13)

Why Does God Judge His People? To Show that By His Holy Power, He Reveals Hidden Sin and Honours His Church; So Fear Him.

Sunday 12th August 2018

Review questions:

  • The Church is a g_______ing of _________s
  • Sin starts with my ____________ (James 1:14)
  • What was Ananias & Sapphira’s sin (v3-4, 9)?
  • Is the Holy Spirit God (v3-4)? Yes/No
  • Who will be judged (Revelation 20:12)?
  • Does God judge people today (Romans 1:18)? Yes/No
  • What should God’s judgement make me feel (v11)?
  • The benefits of belonging to God’s people make us a_________________ to God (v13).
  • God requires h____________ (1 Corinthians 11:30).
  • The wage sin pays is ________ (Romans 6:23).
  • How can I escape God’s punishment for sin (Romans 6:23)?
  • Eternal life is a _____________ (Romans 6:23).
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I/we should live:
  • Prayer:

God’s Generous Gospel (Acts 4:33-5:3)

We saw last week how the prayers we pray show the God we believe in. When we pray as if God isn’t big enough to change our lives, when we pray as if God is as scared as we are, when we pray believing that God is taken by surprise, then our God is not the God of the Christian Church. The God these early believers in Acts prayed to cared about their situation and could help them with it.

Sometimes we pray as if God is happy to save us but who does care about how we live. We just want a dollar’s worth of Christianity, a dollar’s worth of faith, a dollar’s worth of God. But if our God is big enough to plan all of history, we should want more of Him than just a taste. If our God is big enough to give us His Son, then we should want Him to have everything we have and everything we are.

That’s the attitude of the church in Acts 4:32f. They have prayed for boldness (4:29) and God has given it to them (4:31). They have received a gift from God, “great grace was upon them all” (4:33). We may talk about God’s grace in such generally ways that we don’t even know what we mean. But here, God’s grace is shown in concrete ways, and we are expected to want to live in this grace too. So, we need to:

  1. Recognise the Evidence of Grace (4:32-33)
  2. Plan for the Result of Grace (4:34-35)
  3. Follow the Example of Grace (4:36-5:2)

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how boldness is a sign that we have been with Jesus (4:13). That’s how we receive God’s grace, by being with Jesus. But what does that grace look like?

Sunday 5th August 2018

Review questions:

  • What does God’s grace make us (4:33-34)? ________________ & ________________
  • The church’s generosity came from being of one ____________ & ____________ (4:33).
  • Was this Communism (4:34, 5:4)? Yes/No
  • Is my money my money? Yes/No
  • Should I be generous to unbelievers (Galatians 6:10)? Yes/No
  • Who are 1st, 2nd, & 3rd priorities (1 Tm 5:4, 1 Jn 3:16-18)? Family/Church/Others
  • What are deacons (Acts 6:1-6)?
  • How can I plan to be generous?
  • Do good actions always come from good hearts (5:1-3)? Yes/No
  • Which example of generosity should motivate us (Romans 8:32)?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I should live:
  • Prayer: