Building Up Your Faith
Building Up Your Faith
The Book of Hebrews is about Christians persevering in faith. It’s about understanding all that Jesus accomplished and walking by faith and not by sight. It’s about living with a faith that sees the beauty, sufficiency, and supremacy of Jesus. The writer is addressing these first-century Jewish Christians who were tempted to drift from Jesus and even depart from Jesus because it was unpopular to follow the real Jesus. Sound familiar? And so he’s writing to build up their faith in Jesus. He’s writing to strengthen their faith. And with that theme in mind, I don’t think our study of this book could have come at a better time because instead of building up their faith, a lot of professing Christians today will tell you that they’re going through a season of deconstructing their faith. Whether you realize it or not, this is a big thing—there’s a whole deconstructing faith movement that’s going on within Christian circles. There’s podcasts, books, conferences websites, and even some churches that are all devoted to deconstructing your faith. And so how do we make sense of this and how do we grow our faith, not tear it down? Here’s the question: How do we build a faith that is rationally satisfying, biblically grounded, joyfully attractive, and practically beneficial to the people in our lives? Let’s take a look:
[Read Hebrews 2:1–4]
I want to do two things in this message this morning. I want to address some of the dangerous trends and thinking that’s out there that’s causing so much confusion, but at the same time, I want to give you some practical tools and principles that will help you to build a faith that’s attractive and lasting. I want to speak from the heart. I want to do it as faithfully and as tenderly as I can.
We’re going to take verses 3–4 today and what I want to do is almost step back and use these verses as a jumping off point to see some key steps in growing our faith. And I’ve got five principles to follow in building up your faith. You want to grow in your faith? I know I sure do. Well, no matter what we do, we’ve got to at least follow these five steps. And the first one is this …
Remember How Your Faith Works to Begin With
Remember how faith works. And it’s so important that we start here because in order to really grow our faith and build our faith, we need to understand a little bit of how faith works. So think of faith like your muscles: The more you understand some of the mechanics and basics of how muscles work and how they grow, the easier it is for you to begin to build them in a healthy way. And it’s the same with faith. The more you understand the nature and basis of faith and how your faith works, the more equipped you’ll be at growing it.
What does it mean to be a person of faith? Well, simply put, it means that you’re alive. It means that you’re human. And I put it that way because everyone, no matter what your spiritual and religious convictions are, they have faith in something. You see, faith is a natural faculty that all of us use at one level or another. Do you realize that our English word faith comes from the Latin word fides, which means to trust or to rely upon something or someone? And every single person is doing that every single day, whether it’s trusting your own feelings or taking your friend’s word for it or relying on your car to get you from point A to point B—in a hundred different ways, we’re all using this natural faculty of faith. All of us are trusting some ultimate authority. All of us are taking someone’s word for it. And then we make invested commitments and take different levels of risks into the future based on those beliefs. And what happens when a person becomes a Christian is that this natural faculty suddenly becomes supercharged by the Holy Spirit where it’s now functioning at every level. Where now you’re not just taking “Joe’s” word for it; you’re taking God’s word for it. You’re no longer limited to the natural principles and physical realm, but this faculty of faith is now in tune with God’s principles and the spiritual realm. Now this faculty is functioning at every level. And so the question is not so much “Do you have faith” but “What is your faith in?” What’s the object of your faith? And how strong is your faith in that object? And so the way you grow your faith is not focusing on your faith but focusing on the trustworthiness of what your faith is in.
And you notice that this is exactly what the writer of Hebrews is helping us to do. At the end of verse 3, he’s taking us right back the authority of the Christian message, and he’s saying, look at who this message is from. It’s from the Lord himself. It was first declared by the Lord. And then it was passed down to us by the original hearers. And who were they? The apostles who, outside of John, all went to their deaths holding on to this message. They wouldn’t give it up even unto death. Think about that. No one goes to their death for something they know to be a lie but almost every single one of them did … and then he says in verse 4 that their message was confirmed by the supernatural works and wonders that God did through them.
What is he doing? He’s shoring up our faith! He’s trying to grow our faith by showing us the reliability and trustworthiness of what our faith is in. And I want you to see something else that is incredibly important when it comes to how faith works … because genuine faith always starts with knowledge. In order to believe in something, you first need to know something about it. But one of the things I’m constantly running into with people who are deconstructing their faith is that they’re not even clear on how we can know things to begin with. One of the things you’ll hear them saying is “Well, who really knows? How do we know anything to begin with?” And so we’ve got to be clear on that question. What are the main sources of true knowledge? Well, the three main ones are revelation, reason, and experience. And look at what he does—“It was declared by the Lord”—revelation. And so Jesus revealed truth to us. And then he says it was confirmed and passed on by the credible ear-witness and eye-witness testimonies of the apostles, and so it’s rational. And then their word was backed up by the sensory experience of supernatural miracles and works of God.
You see what he’s doing here: He’s reminding these people that their faith is based on the three main credible sources of knowledge. And so the first thing we’ve got to do is go back to the basics and remember what faith is and how faith works. Faith is a faculty that all of us have and it grows or strengthens not by focusing on itself but focusing on the reliability of what our faith is in. And we come to know more and more about the object of our faith through revelation, reason, and experience. But notice the order. Instead of our reason and sensory experience being the ultimate ground of knowledge, it’s divine revelation instead. He doesn’t start out with our reason and experience, although that has its place, but he starts out with the divine revelation that God has given to us in Jesus. That’s where we’ve got to turn to. And that’s the second key …
Examine Everything According to the Scriptures
This is precisely what the writer of Hebrews is helping us to do. Do you realize that there’s approximately 88 clear Old Testament quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in this book? That’s an average of close to seven verses per chapter. Now, why is the writer doing that? Because he’s wanting them to examine everything they are hearing from him according to the rest of Scripture.
This is what we’ve got to do. Here’s what the podcasts are saying, here’s what this conference is saying, here’s this book or this pastor or my friends, or professor so and so … and what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to take what we hear and not turn to our own feelings or reason or experience but to turn to the Scriptures and see if it’s in there. And that’s exactly what we see in Acts 17 with the Bereans. The Bereans were like the original fact checkers. They didn’t just believe everything they heard or everything that sounded good. It says they were daily examining what they heard according to the Scriptures. And I want to say it as clearly as I can, if that’s not happening in our lives, we’re in a dangerous place. I was listening to a big voice and advocate for this movement and this is what they said, “No one gets to define what Christianity is for me.” Christianity means what I want it to mean. And you see if this is what’s happening, if we’re turning to our own reason and feelings as the ultimate ground for truth, we are no different than the atheist and have become just like Pontius Pilate.
Do you remember Pilate’s question? Here’s Pilate questioning Jesus in John 18 and Jesus tells him that he has come to bear witness to the truth. And Pilate asks one of the most important questions anyone of us can ask. He says to Jesus, “What is truth?” In other words, how do we know what’s really real? And what does Jesus tell him? Unfortunately, we will never know what Jesus would have told him because Pilot never stuck around for the answer. He asks the question “What is truth?” And it says and with that, he turned and left. You see what he did? He turned his back on the divine revelation and literally he walked away from the Word of God and turned to his own limited reason instead.
And my friends, this is exactly what’s happening today. So many people are asking the question “What is truth? What is real?” But they’re going about it just like Pilate. They’re not sticking around for God’s answer that’s right here in the Scriptures, but they’re turning to their own understanding instead. But what does Proverbs tell us? Where is the source of real wisdom in this world? It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” God doesn’t bypass our understanding when it comes to truth, but neither is it the ground for all truth.
And you see this tension running all the way through Scripture. There was Adam and Eve receiving direct revelation from God about themselves and the world, but they decided to turn to the tree of their own reason and experience instead. Here’s Abraham and he’s given divine revelation that his wife, Sarah, even in her old age is going to bear a son, but he can’t rationally think of how this can work and so he turns to Haggar instead. And then you come to the New Testament and you remember Saul. He thought he had it all figured out. He thought that he had Jesus reasoned away and then he comes face-to-face with what? Divine revelation. He comes face-to-face with Jesus as the Lord himself, and it changed everything for him. And this is our challenge every day, my friends. Are we going to check everything according to God’s revelation or according to our own reason and intuition instead? And this is such a challenge in our culture because over and over we are bombarded with the message—believe in yourself, trust yourself, follow your own heart. But then what do you do when what God says runs totally contradictory to what you think is fair and you feel is right? You see what gets tie-breaking authority?
So I’d like to propose a name change. For anyone of you here who would say you’re going through this deconstructing season of your faith, instead of calling it deconstructing your faith, why don’t you call it re-examining your faith? I like that word re-examining because it assumes that you’re examining what you believe according to something else besides yourself. And as long as this is happening, it is okay to deconstruct or discard some of the things you thought you had to believe in or participate in to be a Christian, as long as you’re arriving at those conclusions based on all the Scriptures. But that’s what’s so dangerous. If you listen to the advocates of this movement, what you’ll find is that they’re being highly selective when it comes to the Scriptures. They’re taking the things that they like about Jesus and they’re discarding the things they don’t. They’re quoting the easy, comfortable texts that the liberal mainstream culture isn’t going to have a problem with. They’re not including the hard and offensive sayings of Jesus. So if we want to grow in our faith, we’ve got to submit our thinking and our lives to divine revelation and examine everything we hear according to all the Scriptures, but here’s the thing, that doesn’t mean we can’t have doubts. But we’ve got to handle our doubts in a healthy way, which is the third key or step …
Turn All Doubts Into Specific Questions
Remember doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is uncertainty, but in order to make progress, you’ve got to be clear about what it is you’re uncertain of and then turn that uncertainty into a specific question. For example, how can I know that the Bible is trustworthy? That question will lead you back to the city of faith because you’ll begin to look for answers for that question and your faith will be going to grow. Remember, doubt loves to stay in the vague and ambiguous, but you can’t let it stay there.
But that’s exactly what’s happening with this deconstructing faith movement. Nine times out of ten, all their arguments are vague and abstract, and their language is filled with a thousand different nuances, euphemisms, and ambiguity. And when you listen to them being interviewed, it’s like almost impossible to get them to answer a straightforward question. Is the Bible God‘s Word or not? Is Jesus God or not? Did he die for our sins or not? And so when you find yourself thinking, What are they actually saying? What do they actually believe?, you know that this person is not going to get you out of your doubting castle, because in order to get out, you’ve got to get specific and tackle the particular uncertainty head-on. I mean, in this generation that is all about being authentic and honest, well, let’s be authentic and honest about what we’re actually doubting and stop skirting around the specific questions that need to be answered.
So let’s be specific. Are you doubting that God can forgive you? Look at the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Jesus says that God is like that father waiting for you to return home to shower you with his grace. Are you doubting that salvation is all of grace? Look at the thief on the cross in Luke 23—he can literally do nothing to save himself except to look in faith to Jesus, and because Jesus is there dying for his sins, he says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Are you doubting that Jesus is who he says he is and that he’s the Lord that we all must give an account to? Look at him alive in Luke 24. There he is, back from the dead, and he says, “See my hands and my feet. Spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones like I have. I am truly physically alive. And here give me some fish to eat and watch me digest it right in front of you.” Get specific. Don’t stay in the vague. Turn your doubts into specific questions.
Embrace Both Clarity and Mystery
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is in Deuteronomy 29:29 where it says the secret things belong to the Lord but the things he’s chosen to reveal to us belong to us and to our children forever. And so we see two things there: There are revealed things and concealed things. If we want to grow in our faith, we’ve got to learn to embrace both of those. But what’s celebrated and focused on in this deconstructing faith movement is only the mystery, not the clarity. This is what John Williamson wrote in the Christian Post—“We must stop worshipping the golden calf of certainty, and learn to embrace the God of Divine mystery.” I’d love to ask him, is he certain about that statement? You see it’s self-refuting, and the assumption if you’re certain about anything, you’re wrong, you’re being arrogant, but that’s not what we find in the Bible. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set us free.” And in the end of Luke, it says, “And he opened up their mind to understand the Scriptures.” It means real knowledge and understanding is possible.
Why is the writer of Hebrews putting these verses in here? So that we would have certainty about what we believe. Luke says, “I’m writing this to you, Theophilus, so that you would have certainty concerning the things that you have heard.” Of course, there are things that will never fully comprehend and divine mysteries in our walk with God, but we cannot embrace mystery at the expense of the clarity that God has given to us in the Scriptures. There are concealed things and revealed things, and to grow in our faith we have to be humble enough to embrace both.
Put God’s Word Into Practice
How does an athlete grow in their confidence and faith in their coach? By taking their system, principles, and instructions, and putting them into practice. It’s the same thing in the Christian life. It’s not enough to apply the truth from afar. We’ve got to apply the truth in our lives. Or think of it like a chair. How does your certainty grow in the strength of some chair? Not by looking at it from afar but by sitting in it, by jumping on it. By testing it out!
Where do you need to test the wisdom of God’s Word by putting it into practice? What area of your life is being ruled by your own understanding instead of God’s revelation? O my friends, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is how to grow your faith. You remember Peter. Here’s an expert fisherman and he had toiled all night and caught nothing, but then Jesus gets in the boat and what does he say? Throw your net in the water. And what does Peter say? Lord this doesn’t make sense, but at your word, I’ll throw out the net! And he caught so many fish that the net was breaking. That’s it! O my friend, it’s not enough to have the Lord in our boat. The majority of us have the Lord in our lives, but are we taking him at his Word? Where do you need to throw out the net? Where do you need to trust him even when it doesn’t make sense? As Jesus said in John 13, do you know these things? Blessed are you if you do them. That’s where the joy will be found, when we put God’s Word into practice.
Let me close by summing up what we’ve heard . If we want to really grow our faith, we need to first remember how our faith works to begin with. Second, examine everything that we’re hearing according to the Scriptures. Third, turn all our doubts into specific questions. Fourth, learn to embrace both clarity and mystery. Fifth, we must put God’s Word into practice. No, there’s more than these, but if we do these five things, we will see our faith in Jesus growing and strengthening, which is why this Book of Hebrews was written.
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA.