Intro – A fellow being interviewed for church membership was asked, “What do you believe?” He replied, “Well, I believe the same as the church believes.” They pressed a bit harder, “Well, what does the church believe.” “Well, the church believes the same as me.” By now the elders were pretty exercised so they asked, “Well, what exactly do you and the church believe?” The guy replied, “The church and me – we believe the same thing.” Beloved, if you cannot articulate your faith any better than that, it is likely you lack saving faith – the kind that turns a life from darkness to light. For many, faith means, “Just believe!” All will be well if we just have faith!
But, did you know that there is a faith which is not a saving faith? There is – and the Bible talks about it. In Greek the word believe is the verb form of faith. Faith is pistis. Believe is pisteuo. Same word. Now, turn to John 2:23-25, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. (They loved the miracles, and they believed -- pisteuo. So, isn’t that all that’s required to be saved – believe? Watch.) 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” See that word “entrust”? Guess what it is in Greek? Pisteuo. They believed in Him, but He did not believe in them. They had faith, but not saving faith. They loved miracles, but lacked commitment! They were fairweather believers. They thought Jesus was cool. But there was no relationship there – no commitment. And it matters eternally whether we just see Jesus as a good guy or know Him.
Last week we saw God bypass all the splendor of earth to go straight to the hearts of faith that He found in those humble shepherds for the first gospel presentation. Their response showed them to be men to true faith. So our question today is what characterized their saving faith?
I. Compelled by the Word
True faith is always a response to the Word of God. Lu 2:15, “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” You know, for a lot of people, the departure of the angels would have been the end of faith. The show is over. The circus has left town. Close it down. But not for these guys. They were headed to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened. Notice they were not headed to Bethlehem to see if it had happened. They fully expected to find it had happened. They weren’t going to test God; they were going to affirm God. They weren’t going to create faith; they were going to confirm faith. They didn’t go with doubt; they went with dead certainty.
But why? Why were they so certain? Because the Lord told them. True, the message came from angels. But they recognized them as messengers from God. The angels brought the Word of God, and their hearts responded – “YES!” This is why we love the Word. Not because it’s magic. But because we see it for what it is – the living Word of God. The Bible is God speaking! It sparks faith in responsive hearts. Saving faith respects men’s opinions, but understands the answers to life’s most perplexing questions cannot be found in any human philosophy, religion or system of psychology. They can only be revealed by an infinitely wise and loving Creator. In His Word!
God says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” How could God be more clear? Only the Word can stimulate a cold, dead heart and shock it into life. Saving faith bypasses human wisdom to find its source of wisdom in the fear of the Lord revealed in the Bible. When it comes to questions of eternal destiny, no fallen, limited human is capable of helping another. We need God’s revelation.
Bertrand Russell was perhaps the foremost philosopher of the 20th century. He was also an atheist. But when asked whether he would be prepared to die for his beliefs, he replied, “Of course not. After all I may be wrong.” The sad fact is, of course, that he did die for his beliefs. We all do. What we believe is what we take with us into eternity. There is no escaping that fact. We all die for our beliefs We can’t afford to be wrong. Since we haven’t been there, our only hope is revelation from someone who has. It’s all in the Word. Saving faith is a positive response to the pull of God’s Word. Has your heart said Yes to the pull of truth from God?
II. Corroborated by Facts
Faith is often depicted as a leap in the dark. Just believe. Most religions are like that. Just believe. Everything will work out. Just have faith. Faith in what? Well, faith in faith. But saving faith is not faith in faith. It is faith in a God who given evidence of Himself – through Creation, the written Word, and the living Word, Jesus. Christianity is verifiable. Lu 2:15-16, “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” These men already had responsive hearts. But their faith rested on verifiable facts. Saving faith is not a blind leap in the dark; it’s based on verifiable historical events.
The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, elevated human reason over revelation as ultimate authority. The credibility of Scripture was drastically undermined where it did not align with scientific theory. Interestingly, about that same time, the science of archaeology came into prominence. Many assumed it would sound the death knell of the Bible – the final nail in the coffin. Instead, the absolute opposite happened. Men who set out to disprove the Bible ended up demonstrating its precision over and over again. For example, the Bible was mocked for referencing an unknown people called Hittites. Archaeology soon uncovered a thriving civilization of Hittites. Skeptics questioned the Bible’s reference to a Babylonian king named Belshazzar. Archeology uncovered multiple references to Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, and co-ruler with his father, Nabonidus, shedding light on his offering 1/3 rather than ½ his kingdom to Daniel in exchange for the interpretation of the writing on the wall – Daniel 5. Let me summarize by saying that while archaeology has never once disproved the Bible in the last 150 years, it has confirmed and further enlightened the biblical text thousands and thousands of times. Saving faith is rooted in historical fact.
Fulfilled prophecy also demonstrates the credibility of Scripture. God sets this bar high! In Moses’ farewell address to Israel, Deuteronomy, he warned against false prophets – quick buck shysters. People using religion to get into your pocketbook. These were to be put to death. God anticipates the logical question in Deut 18:21: “And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” The prophetic bar is set at 100% accuracy. God doesn’t make mistakes. And literally hundreds of OT prophecies have been fulfilled to the letter.
In Isaiah 39, around 690 BC a small, insignificant country named Babylon sent envoys to Judah. In his pride, Hezekiah showed them every treasure in the kingdom, including the fantastic temple vessels. God prompted Isaiah to prophesy that the Babylonians would return one day, take Judah captive and remove all the treasures. A ludicrous idea at the time, but 90 years later, that is exactly what happened, and 150 years later, those were the vessels that Belshazzar used in his great feast, mocking God on the very night he saw the handwriting on the wall and his kingdom was lost to the Persians fulfilling other 100 year-old prophecies. Jeremiah prophesied a 70-year captivity in Babylon years in advance of it happening. Isaiah prophesied (44:28; 45:1) 150 years in advance that a king named Cyrus will release the people from captivity – fulfilled to the letter when Cyrus the Great issued the edict allowing captive Israelites to return and rebuild Jerusalem.
Hundreds of OT prophecies relate to Christ hundreds of years before his birth. His birth in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2); betrayal for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:12-13), refusal to answer his accusers (Isa 53:7), death by crucifixion, an unknown means of execution when David prophesied it 1,000 years in advance (Psa 22:16), gambling for his clothing (Psa 22:18), no broken bones, though that was the established policy for crucifixions (Psa 34:20), the resurrection (Psa 16:8-11; Isa 53:10). The list goes on. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 practically read like eyewitness accounts to the crucifixion though written hundreds of years ahead of time. What is the point? Saving faith is rooted in history, corroborated by facts. Credible, reasonable, eyewitness accounts of the life, death and the resurrection of Christ support our faith.
These shepherds did not see the full outworking of redemption in the life of Christ. But they saw enough. That’s like us. The credibility of Scripture screams that we must trust its gospel message. Thomas would not believe until he saw for himself the prints in Jesus’s hands? Jesus called his bluff. He said, “See my hands and touch my side, Thomas. You need corroboration? Here it is.” John 20:28-29 then tells us: “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us, Beloved. We don’t see all the apostles saw, but ours is not a blind faith. It is rooted in the verifiable facts of archaeology and prophecy.
III. Centered in Christ
It is not affirming a creed or performing a ritual. Saving faith is a heart reaching out in surrender to Jesus Christ. It’s a relationship. Lu 2:16 says, “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” Saving faith brought these men to the feet of Jesus. That is what saving faith always does. It results in keeping God’s law and doing good things and appreciating the creeds and following the rituals that Christ has laid out like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But those are not what save us. We are saved by our relationship with Him. Jesus prayed the night before He died in John 17:3) “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” To know Him is to submit our life to Him lock, stock and barrel. Saving faith centers in one thing – Jesus.
It grieves me that salvation is so often presented as the gifts rather than person of Christ. People are told, “Come to Christ and He will heal your marriage, or solve your financial problems, or give you business success or straighten out the mess you have made of your life.” And He may do any or all of those things. But that is not saving faith. Saving faith says, “I want Christ alone!” To come to Him for His gifts is an insult. That would be like the man who confronted his wife after weeks of getting the cold shoulder by saying, “Admit it, Linda. The only reason you married me is because my grandfather left me $10 million.” She replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t care who left it to you.” Beloved, saving faith receives Christ for His person, not His gifts! We promise a lot in Christ’s name, but what He promises is in John 15:20, “’A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Saving faith wants Jesus alone, and takes whatever else comes with Him. The only faith that saves bows humbly at His feet, for forgiveness and refuses to leave without Him. That is saving faith. It throws out every human advantage and clings to Jesus as Lord. Paul said in Phil 3:7-8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He got that eternal life was to know Jesus and Paul desperately gave up everything to have Him. Do you have Jesus?
IV. Co-Mingled With Nothing
These shepherds had nothing outward to commend them. They were outcasts who came to Christ just as they were. That is the way we must all come. Any effort to offer Christ anything kills the deal. Paul said in Philippians 3:6 that he was as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” If anyone could have been saved by works it was Paul. He was circumcised, educated, a radical Pharisee, keeping the law in every detail. But he says, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” To gain Christ, he threw self overboard, realizing that to offer anything would be the ultimate insult to Christ – would suggest that He need not have died for the sins of the world. Saving faith is in the words of the Reformers sola fide – faith alone. All our good intentions, the money we give, our church membership, confirmation, baptism – great as expressions of faith – meaningless as the content of faith. It is critical we get this. Faith must be co-mingled with nothing. So many teach it is faith plus something – usually baptism. The Bible teaches differently in Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith (period!). And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Saving faith is by grace through faith alone. Nothing added. Good works are critical after coming to Christ. But they are worse than useless before we accept Christ because they mistakenly imply we have something to contribute. We have nothing but our sin.
A young lady was joining the church. As part of the process, she was asked to give her testimony. “Well,” she said, “I can make it pretty short and simple. I did my part and God did his.” The pastor pressed her regarding what exactly she meant that she did her part. She answered, “Well, I sinned and he saved me.” She had it exactly right, Beloved. It is all by grace through faith. So I ask this morning, are you counting on anything you have done to save you? Anything at all? Then you are discounting the death of Christ itself. Saving faith must be co-mingled with nothing. If you are offering anything to Him, you must renounce it and throw yourself on His mercy. Salvation consists of faith – plus nothing. The old hymn says:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to the thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace.
V. Confirmed by Commitment
Lu 2:18-19 present a suggestive contrast, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Those who heard the report of the shepherds were intrigued. What a story! But for them it was mere intellectual curiosity; for Mary and the shepherds it was a life-changing event. The book of Luke will show us many who are amazed at Christ throughout His lifetime. But few of those ever come to saving faith. They find Him an interesting diversion and a curious specimen. Some were even willing to acknowledge Him as the Messiah. But saving faith is about accepting Him not as the Lord but as my Lord. There is an eternal difference in those positions. God says in Rom 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” He must be more than the Lord. He must be your Lord. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said concerning Christ, “I surrendered myself to my Saviour, I gave him my body, my soul, my spirit . . . for eternity! I gave him my talents, my powers, my eyes, my ears . . . my whole manhood! So far from regretting what I then did, I would gladly renew my vows and make them over again!” That is saving faith. Is that your faith? You say, “That’s kind of radical.” Listen to Jesus: in Luke 9:23) “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Are you on the fence, or all the way in?
VI. Characterized by praise
We do not have time to develop this point this morning, but suffice to say saving faith longs to share and it longs to glorify God. End of Lu 2:17, “they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” They could not wait to share their faith. Is that the desire of our heart as well? It is a telling test of faith. Then look at Lu 2:20: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” True faith longs to praise and glorify God as well. And why not since He has accomplished our salvation from start to finish through the work of Christ on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Ultimately, even our individual salvation is not so much about getting us to heaven as it is to glorify the great God who made it all happen.
So, I ask this morning – are you saved? Do you know Him personally? Have you committed your very being to Him for eternity? If you’ve missed Christ and His cross, you’ve missed saving faith. If you are trusting in any works you have done or any ritual you have been through, your faith is worthless. Jesus does not believe in you just like he did not believe in those followers in Judah who only wanted His gifts. George Bernard Shaw, the famous writer, once went to church service where the gospel message that Jesus died for our sins was made very clear. But Shaw stormed out of the meeting saying, “Thank you very much. I’ll pay my own debts.” He went on to write a scathing attack on what he called “crosstianity.” But Shaw was wrong, Beloved. Our debt is far too much for us to pay. The price is too high, and so we must throw ourselves on the mercy of God which never fails. Remember – we all die for our beliefs. Have you made the commitment? Is He your Lord? Why not this morning? Let’s pray.