What Does It Mean to Live by Faith in the Service of the Fatherless?

Christian Alliance for Orphans, Summit VI | Minneapolis

The following is a lightly edited transcript

When God opens your eyes to see your own sin and its ugliness, and he opens your eyes to see the holiness of God, and he opens your eyes to see the looming condemnation that hangs over you, and he opens your eyes to see Christ and his all-sufficiency in dying in your place to bear your sins and live a perfect life to provide your righteousness, and then with eyes wide open to your sin, the holiness of God, the horror of condemnation, the all-sufficiency of Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the righteousness, and the atonement, and you are drawn to him, and you receive him as Savior, Lord, friend, righteousness, sanctification, wisdom, redemption, and treasure, from that moment on everything you do, you do by faith in Jesus.

From that moment of the twinkling of an eye, when by the work of the Holy Spirit you are saved — that is, born again with your eyes and ears open — Christ is no longer foolishness or stumbling block to you, but he is power, wisdom, Savior, Lord, friend, and everything to you. And from that moment on everything you do, you do by faith. Never again do you just do something. Never again do you do anything to get God on your side. He is totally, 100 percent on your side by grace alone, through faith alone on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, to the glory of God alone. And nothing, not one minute of your activity, improves upon his being 100 percent on your side. Which means that everything you do is done out of the deep, unshakeable confidence that your God is totally for you, and nothing you do is making that happen.

That’s the life of a believer. From the moment of conversion on, you are living by faith in Jesus Christ who is your righteousness, who is your pardon, who is your friend, who is totally on your side, and who is sovereign over your life. And everything you do is controlled by him, ruled by him, and working together for your good. And you rest in his promises that are blood bought, and therefore absolutely secure. And all your deeds, all your adopting, all your orphan care ministry, all your movement mobilization — all of it is by faith. It is by faith that is rooted in Christ, rooted in the cross, rooted in righteousness, rooted in sins forgiven, rooted in mercy, rooted in utterly unmerited grace, and rooted in eternity in God’s election of you before you ever existed. It is so rooted that everything you do now is from that strength, from that freedom, from that joy, and from that security, and it shines with Christ all over it.

The Life of Faith

So the question tonight is: What does it look like to live by faith? What does it look like to adopt by faith? to build an orphanage or empty an orphanage by faith? to start a movement or an alliance by faith? What does it look like to live by faith?

If you have a Bible, I would invite you to reach for it and turn to Hebrews 11. While you’re turning, let me give you another verse. This is a verse that in 1966 I called my life verse. I don’t think it is anymore, but I still love it. Gal 2:20 says:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith …

The life that I now live is by faith. I’m crucified. That happened at a point in my life; it never happens again, and it never happened before that. I died with Jesus at a point when I was united to Christ by faith alone, and now the life that I live — this new me, with the old me having died — now lives by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. So there’s a verse to show how living by faith is rooted in the Bible.

The Cloud of Witnesses

Now, Hebrews 11 is all about telling stories of people who lived by faith. It’s the great chapter that repeatedly says, “by faith this,” and “by faith that.” I’m going to read Hebrews 11:29–38. The reason I’m reading it is because of how shocking it is, and how utterly realistic it is for the adoption and orphan care enterprise. We need realism big time at the front end, the middle, and the back end of this unbelievably difficult affair.

I am going to make it feel really hard because if we try to sell this thing with a smiley, simple, easy, it’ll-make-your-day kind of talk, that’s not going to do it. We should do it just like we should die every day. Paul said, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31). I’m not into finding the perfect life on this planet. I have a perfect life coming. I don’t need it now. If you need it now, you’re in big trouble. You’re not going to have it, and you will have one mega frustration all your life long. Just get used to it. Heaven’s coming; let it wait. One of the problems with the prosperity gospel is that it tries to bring too much heaven into this life. There’s a lot of hell here, and we are meant to war.

Let’s read. What’s shocking in this passage is the shift in the middle of verse 35. I’ll point it out when we get there. It sounds so good up to verse 35. Hebrews 11:29–35 says:

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.

Stop. Now, he doesn’t stop there, but if you don’t stop and wake up at this point, you won’t feel the force of this because there is not the slightest break in this sequence. By faith, all those miracles happened, then it continues in Hebrews 11:35–38, saying:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

All of that was by faith. So wake up, Christian. What does it mean to live by faith? That’s the question. What does it mean to adopt a child by faith, and walk through the disruption by faith — a faith that is trusting the blood-bought privileges and promises of God that are absolutely sure? Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present, nor things to come, nor disruption, nor death, nor disease, nor fetal alcohol syndrome, nor age, nor anything will break me free from my God and my faith in this moment (Romans 8:38–39).

1. By Faith, Acts of Providence

I have five observations to make about this. Through our faith, God can and does work miracles and acts of providence to bring us practical, earthly help and deliverance in our resolve to adopt and care for orphans.

That’s a long sentence, but it’s very simple. God works miracles for you when you start moving in this direction. God works miracles for you when you start adopting and caring about orphan issues around the world. Look at Hebrews 11:29–35. These are miracles:

  • Dividing the Red Sea (Hebrews 11:29)
  • Bringing down the walls of Jericho (Hebrews 11:30)
  • Shutting the mouths of lions — that’s Daniel (Hebrews 11:33)
  • Quenching the power of fire — that’s Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Hebrews 11:34)
  • Resurrecting the widow’s son — that’s a fatherless child that God raised from the dead (Hebrews 11:35)

Miracles are happening through faith, and they will. Lay hold on God for miracles in this cause. And not only miracles, but he also does works of providence. A miracle is when God breaks the laws of nature. God can do that. He made them, and he can break them. Providence is when he doesn’t break the law, but he just uses them all, is in charge of them, and makes things happen. For example, Rahab did not perish because she had heard of the power of God and did what she needed to do (Hebrews 11:31). David conquered kingdoms, and how did he do it? Well, he used his sword, that’s how he did it (Hebrews 11:33). Elijah escaped the sword of Jezebel. He ran for his life, that’s how he did it (Hebrews 11:34). Gideon was strengthened in weakness, and put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:34).

Those are not miracles. Those are acts of providence. God is totally in charge in those moments and he’s using natural means, and he’ll do that for you. He’ll do some miracles for you and he’ll do some amazing acts of providence for you. We were talking about it in the green room just a few minutes ago. You cannot be involved very long in adoption and orphan care concerns without having miracles happen in your life. And it says this is all by faith:

  • Hebrews 11:29 — By faith they passed through the sea.
  • Hebrews 11:30 — By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.
  • Hebrews 11:31 — By faith Rahab did not perish.
  • Hebrews 11:33 — By faith they conquered kingdoms.

God is moving and we’re believing. We’re trusting, and he’s using trusting people. We are living by faith in blood-bought promises and privileges. Oh, the privilege of walking with Jesus now and the privilege of the promise, “I’ll never leave you, and I’ll never forsake you, now and forever.” How do people survive the troubles of life without promises like this?

So the first observation was that God works miracles and he works acts of providence for you in the adoption and orphan care enterprise. He will and he does, but not always.

2. By Faith, Sustained in Trials

Sometimes, by faith, God sustains his people through horrific suffering and he ordains it. He could deliver them from it and he doesn’t. Let’s go back to Hebrews 11:35–38, starting in the middle of verse 35. Having faith — genuine, authentic, God-pleasing faith — is no guarantee of comfort, security, ease, or success in this life, this adoption, or this orphanage. It’s no guarantee of success. That is crystal clear from this text.

Notice he does not say, when he gets to the middle of verse 35, that it’s by unbelief that they were sawn into, as if when they lost faith things turned bad. That’s not what it says. The “by faith” that governs these verses continues right on through. By faith they conquered kingdoms, and by faith they were tortured. By faith they experienced mockings and scourgings. Your child may mock you someday. This child you’ve poured your life into may mock you to your face. Will you have made a mistake? No. Will it be all your fault? No. Will some of it be your fault? Yes. Will you be able to know which is which? No.

We live by faith in the Son of God who loves sinners, and that’s the only way we survive, isn’t it? I don’t know how you survive. The only way we survive is that we admit that we don’t know, but God knows and God forgives. Continue on to Hebrews 11:39:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

It couldn’t be clearer. These suffering people do not have a God that is saying, “If you just believe like those other people, like that widow who got her son resurrected from the dead, I’d be pleased with you, but I’m letting you suffer because I’m not pleased with you.” That’s exactly the opposite of what it says.

It says these all “gained approval through their faith.” My God is on my side, totally. And it has nothing to do with my virtue, but everything to do with Christ’s all-sufficiency and my attachment to him by faith alone. What would we do without the gospel? How would we adopt? How would we keep on? How would we sustain? How would we keep coming back to the forgiveness table without the gospel? The contrast here between the positive things God does through faith and the painful things God does through faith is most clearly seen between Hebrews 11:34–37.

Did you notice that Hebrews 11:34 said that by faith they escaped the edge of the sword? By faith, some of you are going to escape this pain. And Hebrews 11:37, near the end of the verse, says they were put to death with the sword by faith. They escaped by faith, and they died by faith. The sword misses and the sword cleaves by faith. It’s the same holiness, meekness, patience, kindness, and childlike cry, “God help me. I don’t know what I’m doing. Please help me.” One escapes and the other doesn’t, both by faith.

3. Suffering and Success

Therefore, having faith is not the ultimate determining factor in whether you suffer in the cause of the fatherless or prosper with joy in the cause of the fatherless. Rather, God is. I find that very comforting because if I had to add to the burdens of my life the teaching or the thought that my sufferings are most ultimately owing to my lack of trusting Jesus, I could not bear it. I love this passage of Scripture, as painful and horrible as it is, I love it. It is my life.

At our church, and I hope at yours, we will not relate to each other that way. We will not look into the face of the suffering, adoptive parent and say, “If you had more faith, it wouldn’t be this way.” We won’t say that. We absolutely will not say that. We will say, “Keep trusting God. Keep living by faith. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are accepted. God is 100 percent on your side, and not against you. This is not evidence of him being against you. Christ alone is the foundation of your life, not your success in parenting this child or these children. Trust him. He will get you through.” That’s the way we’re going to talk to each other because this text says that by faith the suffering people are approved by God.

God has his purposes in why one suffers and another doesn’t, and we do not know what they are. We know some general truths about why God ordains suffering in our lives. There’s five or six I could name right off the bat, but we don’t know why. Why us and not them? Or, why this long? Why is it this hard? We don’t know the details. What we know is that God is on our side because we trust Jesus. The gospel is our only hope as we walk through this.

4. God is Better

The common feature of the faith that escapes and the faith that doesn’t escape is the deep conviction, the confidence, that God himself is better than what life can and give and what death can take. God himself, in Jesus Christ, is better than any happy ending to this adoption story. He’s better. He’s better now and better forever. Hebrews 11:35 says:

By faith women received back their dead by resurrection.

Do you remember that story in the Old Testament? The little boy had died and he had no dad. His mother was a widow and now she had a dead son, her only son. The prophet came and raised him from the dead, and the writer of Hebrews says that by faith that happened. By faith women received back their dead by resurrection, and others were tortured, not accepting release in order that they might have a better resurrection.

Why is that? Well, it’s better to be raised and never die again than to be raised and die again — way better. In other words, they were in some kind of situation where they had some possibility to escape, maybe by denying Jesus, but they just didn’t take it. And why didn’t they take it? Why didn’t they escape? The answer is that they said, “I’m going to be raised from the dead anyway, and that’s way better than anything here.”

Ultimate things really matter. Ultimate things really have a practical effect on what you endure in this life. Did you know Jesus said that when you give a banquet not to invite the people that can pay you back, but to invite the people who can’t pay you back? And do you remember the reason he gave? He said you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12–15). So who you have over for Thanksgiving dinner is decided by your doctrine of the resurrection. Really. I want you to believe these things. I want you to believe in God, in heaven, in the resurrection, and in the cross. These are massive realities that shape the nitty-gritty of who you have over, who you adopt, where you give your money, and a hundred other things.

The common denominator between the faith that suffers and the faith that soars with joy and has no suffering, at least for a season, is that both of these people are totally persuaded God is better than what we lose here and gain here. God is better. There’s the common denominator. They think, “God is my treasure. Jesus is my life.” And therefore nothing changes that. A successful adoption or a painful adoption doesn’t change that. My Jesus is always with me. He’s better. He’s better than a successful adoption.

5. Gifts to the World

Those who love God more than life — more than successful adoptions, orphan ministries, or anything else — and suffer willingly in the service of the fatherless are God’s great gift to the world.

I did not make that up. I’ll point you to the text and we’ll be done, because I want you to be that. I want you to leave here tonight feeling this: “Okay, this is not going to be all roses, but I want my life to be a gift to the world.” Look at Hebrews 11:37, in the second half of the verse:

They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy …

What does that mean? There are people who, if you look at them and how much they’re suffering, you might consider them to be the scum of the world. Things aren’t going well for them, so they’re the lowlifes of the world. But that’s not the way this text says it. This text says that they are ill-treated, they are afflicted, they are destitute, they are wearing goatskins and sheepskins, and they are living in caves, but they are people of whom the world is not worthy. Here’s my paraphrase of that. This means they were a gift to the world and the world didn’t deserve it. Isn’t that what it means?

I’ll read it again. It says they were men “of whom the world was not worthy.” They were a gift to the world and the world didn’t deserve them. Many things in life are utterly the opposite of what they seem, and here is one of them. When the children of God, followers of Jesus who are justified by faith alone, are permitted to suffer in the path of love, in the path of orphan care, or in the path of adoption, God is giving them to the world as a gift, but the world is not worthy. They don’t deserve them. So here’s one way for you to be a gift to the world: Love God more than life, walk by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, and pour out your life for the fatherless no matter what.