The Faith of Noah, Abraham, and Sarah
Installation of Chuck Steddom As Minister of Worship and Music
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; 12 therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
Examples of Faith
Here are four examples of how faith lives. First, Noah trusts God and builds an ark for the salvation of his household. Second, Abraham trusts God and leaves his homeland for an unknown place of promise. Third, Abraham trusts God and lives in tents instead of building a city with permanent foundations. Fourth, Sarah trusts God and conceives when she is barren and past the age of childbearing.
These are not Add-ons to Saving Faith
Now make sure that you don't slip into a mentality here that is common among modern Christians - namely, the mentality that assumes (without even thinking about it) that the faith spoken of here has nothing to do with personal salvation - that it is a kind of add-on to basic Christianity - that we were saved by an act of faith that is somehow different from what's being talked of here. In other words, many Christians think that saving faith is only a single act ("asking Jesus into your heart") and that all else that happens in the Christian life is something added on to that and to our benefit for the sake of our maturity, but not relevant for salvation.
I say don't fall into that mentality. Saving faith is not a mere single act of receiving Jesus. Saving faith receives Jesus in order to go on trusting him. Saving faith is a life of faith. That faith is what this chapter is trying to teach us. You can see that most clearly if you look at the verse that leads into the chapter, Hebrews 10:39, "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." Do you see what is at stake: shrinking back to destruction; or pressing on in faith to preserve the soul. In other words, the evidence of authentic saving faith is its pressing on. Faith that saves from destruction is faith that lives day by day. That is what Chapter 11 is meant to illustrate. What does saving faith look like?
So the next verse, 11:1, defines the faith that presses on to preserve the soul as "The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen." Faith that saves from destruction and preserves the soul is future oriented. It doesn't just look back to what God did in the past, but mainly looks forward to what God promises to do in the future. It gains a lot of its confidence from God's past faithfulness, but what it believes is mainly promises. That is not add-on, second-stage, super-Christian faith. That is basic, ever-growing, ordinary Christian faith.
So let's take our four examples of living by faith - the life that leads away from destruction and into salvation (10:39) - and look at four things that are always true of this life of faith.
Today is the installation of Chuck Steddom as our Pastor for Worship and Music. So what I have done is look at Chuck and Carol's coming through the lens of this text. Let's see if we can do these two things: listen to what the text teaches us about the life of faith, that we are all called to live, and apply what it teaches to the coming of Chuck and Carol to minister among us.
Four Truths about the Life of Faith
I said there are at least four things that are always true about the life of faith. Let's take them one at a time as they show up in these Biblical examples.
First, there is always a promised work of God.
God speaks and promises that in the future he will do something. This is the object of our faith. We trust God, that what he says will in fact happen. He will do it. He is good enough, and smart enough, and strong enough to do what he says he will do.
Verse 7 says Noah was "warned by God about things not yet seen," namely, the flood that was coming. Verse 8 says that Abraham was "called" by God to leave his homeland. Verse 9b says that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were fellow-heirs of a "promise" - so God had made a promise about the land that they would inherit it some day, but not yet. Finally, verse 11b says that Sarah regarded him faithful "who had promised." God had promised. So in every case the life of faith is sustained by the word of God. God has spoken. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. This is the starting point: God.
In Chuck and Carol's case, God has spoken many promises to them in his word. He has said, "I will supply all your needs according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). "I will pursue you with goodness and mercy" (Psalm 23:6). "I will never leave you or forsake you so that you can say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me" (Hebrews 13:5-6). "If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit at Bethlehem" (John 15:5). "Wait on me and you will renew your strength; you will mount up with wings like eagles, you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). "I will give you words that you need to speak" (Luke 12:12). "I will give you wisdom for every new challenge" ( James 1:5). "I will be with you and strengthen you and help you" (Isaiah 41:10). "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8).
God has acted to bring Chuck and Carol to us and he has spoken to give a massive foundation to their life of faith among us.
The second thing in the life of faith is the inner response of faith.
There is an outer response, which we will see in a moment. But the inner response comes first and is the essence of faith. The outer response is the fruit of the inner response. Without the inner life of faith, the outer acts are mere performance, which Jesus calls hypocrisy and white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27).
Verse 7 says that Noah was "reverent" - "in reverence [he] prepared an ark." This is the inner life of faith bowing humbly and trembling with joy before the awesome word of God. Verse 8b describes Abraham's faith as "not knowing where he is going" when he set out. In other words, part of the inner response of faith is sometimes perplexity and uncertainty about the details of God's call on our lives. Verse 10a says that the reason Abraham lived in tents instead of building a city was that "he was looking for the city . . . whose architect and builder is God." Faith focuses not on present reward and prosperity, but on God and what he has promised to do. That is its basic reality: it fixes its gaze not on the negative circumstances or the human risks, but on the reality that God will build according to his promises. Then finally, verse 11b says that Sarah "considered him faithful who had promised." Again God is the focus. The inner life of faith is a riveting focus on God as faithful.
Here is what the life of faith means for Chuck and Carol as they come. It means a kind of trembling reverence with Noah over the greatness of God and the ministry of corporate worship in this place. This is not an ordinary thing. This ministry touches on eternity and on the throne of God every day. Anything that has to do with God so directly and so sacredly calls for the profoundest reverence.
And they come, like Abraham, with all kinds of unknowns. Only God knows the future of this church and this city and this mission. They come to a place and a ministry where almost all the people are unknowns and the expectations are varied and the possibilities are endless and the pitfalls are many and the "god of this world" is deceitful. So they come like Abraham, knowing God's call, but not the details. And so it will be with every major act of obedience you perform.
But they look not to themselves in this uncertainty but to the faithfulness of God and to the kind of thing God can build, and not man. The battle belongs to the Lord. And faith does not focus on all the unknowns and brood over how uncertain things are. Faith lifts up its eyes to the city whose builder and maker is God. It sings the phrase, "ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriend thee." It joins Sarah and considers him faithful who has promised.
Third, the life of faith involves an external response, not just an internal one.
Noah built an ark - imagine the ridicule. Abraham left a secure family and home in Ur of the Chaldees. He chose to live in tents to show he was looking for God's act and God's timing in his life. And Sarah, I presume, got the diapers and the crib ready. It doesn't say.
Saving faith changes the way you live. Your life takes on a dimension that can only be explained by "the assurance of things hoped for." Only God makes sense out of an ark in the desert, and emigration to who-knows-where, and living in tents rather than building a city and preparing for a child you are too old to bear. That's the way the life of faith is: it doesn't make sense without God. But with God, it is utterly reasonable.
So it is with Chuck and Carol. They have left the secure and very successful ministry at Prairie Bible College. They have emigrated from a foreign country (Canada). They have chosen to live in the city with its unique challenges and opportunities. And while not preparing diapers and crib (as far as I know) for any new Steddoms, they dream of spiritual offspring that only God can produce. O, that God may grant the miracle of new birth the way he granted the miraculous birth of Isaac!
Fourth, the life of faith enjoys some measure of God's reward now, but not most of it.
Noah was saved with his family, but he is only an "heir" of the righteousness that accords with faith (verse 7). In other words he was still awaiting the full blessing of righteousness when he died. Abraham found the promised land, and prospered immensely, but he still lived in tents and only saw in the future the "city whose architect and builder is God" (verse 10). Sarah had her miracle baby. But the countless seed mentioned in verse 12 were far in the future for her. Faith tastes the blessing of God's goodness now in this age, but not most of it. There is so much yet to come.
That is the point of Hebrews 11:39-40, "All these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." And even we await the full ingathering of all God's people from all the peoples of the world, so that the full inheritance of God's kingdom will come to all of us together.
And so it will be with Chuck and Carol and their children. They will be blessed in this place. You will be a blessing to them, as they will to you. They will have joy. They will see fruitful ministry. They will taste the salvation of our God. And see the glory of the Lord. But it will all be, as Paul says, "through a glass, darkly." It will all be partial. Every joy will have its limits. Every fruit its bruise. Every relationship its disappointment. Every service its critic. And every birth and wedding its nearby funeral.
Hebrews 13:14 takes up the very thought of Abraham's faith: "Here we have no lasting city." Everything breaks. Everything ages, spoils, rusts. Only God remains unchanged and glorious.
So, Chuck, that is what we are about here. Connecting with God. Knowing God. Desiring God. Prizing God. And savoring the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. We are glad you have come to join us in this great mission.