CREED / I BELIEVE
Part 2 of our series exploring the Apostles' Creed.
Speaker: Helen Jenkinson
READING: HEBREWS 11:1
Welcome to the second week of our series looking at the Apostle’s creed.
We learnt last week that this ancient creed was originally the words that people would say as they went into the waters of baptism. It would be their declaration of faith. Their announcement to the world that their old priorities, their old allegiances had changed and they were now subject to a new belief system, a new way of living.
So why are we spending time looking at some words that originated many years ago? Because these statements about our faith are what connects us as Christians.
As a body of God’s people we might have many different opinions about a whole variety of spiritual issues but instead at looking at what divides us- and what divides Christians and denominations the world over- we’re going to look at what unites us. The bedrock of our faith. What we tie our colours to the mast about and say all other things are peripheral whereas these things are essential. These are the important things. Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at each of these statements, not just as theology, but how these things we believe make a difference every day of the week.
So this week it’s a statement that is repeated twice in the creed. I believe.
I don’t know about you, but I hear these words a lot. I believe that it’s going to rain tomorrow. Do I really know? Not until I look out of the window tomorrow. I’ve especially heard them a lot over Christmas. Usually in the context of ‘Need a Christmas miracle? Just believe.’
Or the hero in a movie is being counselled by a wise friend of parent during some difficulty they’re facing and their advice is ‘Just have faith’.
Or we hear it in songs: ‘I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows’ or if you’re in another generation: ‘I believe I can fly; I believe I can touch the sky’ Really?!
What we assume believe to mean is that we HOPE something will or won’t happen. Or in the case of the cheesy Christmas film, that there is an impersonal cosmic force that can bring the things we want to pass. Or that in order to get what we want, we dig down within ourselves because we are the authors of our own destiny. We can achieve anything if we just believe in ourselves a little bit more.
But our modern day understanding of this statement I believe is completely contrary to what the bible teaches. When we say I believe at the start of the apostle’s creed we’re declaring something a lot bigger and definitely a lot more wonderful than anything the world has to offer.
This morning we want to really grasp what the biblical definition of belief or faith actually is. And to do that we’re going to look at some verses in the Faith Hall of Fame: Hebrews 11
Before we read, we need to bear in mind that this letter was written to Jewish Christians. Previous to this chapter the writer is encouraging these believers to keep going in their faith in Christ. It seems that they might have been tempted to revert back into their Jewish reliance on the law, but the writer is saying No! Jesus is the fulfilment of the law. Jesus is the great High Priest. Why would you trust in something that is incomplete?
To prove his point, the writer then gives examples of the heroes of Jewish history. Characters that his readers would be so familiar with. Why? Because in every case they believed God that the fulfilment of the law would come in the form of a saviour- now revealed as Jesus.
READ HEBREWS 11: 1-7
What is faith? V 1
In Greek, the words believe and faith are the same. So FAITH is the ASSURANCE of things hoped for, the CONVICTION of things not seen. So this morning, we’re going to have a closer look at these 3 key words in Hebrews 11:1. FAITH, ASSURANCE and CONVICTION
In Greek, believe and faith are the same word –Pistis. To commit one’s trust to a person or thing.
Tristan said last week that all people everywhere are believers. It’s just the object of our belief that is different. So when we say we believe in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus we are saying that we are saying that we consider the facts surrounding Jesus to be true.
But a question for us this morning is what is the basis of our belief?
This is the question we’ve been trying to get our young people at SMASH to consider. If you have been brought up in a Christian home like I have, it’s so easy to just accept something as true because your mum and dad say so isn’t it? It becomes so much of who you are that it’s second nature just to mentally assent to a checklist for Christians. Virgin birth? Yep. Tick. Resurrection? Yep. Got that sorted too.
So if you are like me this morning, if Christianity is all you’ve ever known, I’d encourage you to look at the facts again. Try to consider Jesus through the eyes of someone who hasn’t known the stories of Jesus in the bible. As though you were reading them for the first time.
If you weren’t brought up in a Christian home, it’s still easy to become so immersed in Christian culture that we forget what it was like to be questioning. To be unsure. So I’d encourage those of us like that to also re-look at who Jesus claims he is.
But belief is much bigger than a set of doctrines. It means to place confidence in. To trust. We weren’t witnesses to the incarnation or the resurrection so how can we be sure that they’re true? When Jesus promises that he will return, how can we know that he’s telling us the truth and not some fairy tale? To more accurately assess whether someone is telling the truth you have to know them. To have a relationship with them. You can’t really trust someone who you don’t know. Which brings us to our next key word.
In Greek, assurance is hoop-os-tas-is. It means a foundation. The quality of confidence which leads someone to endure or undertake anything. Who are we placing our confidence in? Who or what are we using as our foundation? Some people place their confidence in the stock market. In their savings. In a relationship. In their job.
We are told by companies that we can ‘rest assured’ that our future retirement is secure if only we pay into this pension scheme. It’s all based on the ability of someone or something to make our future secure. But then we find that the money we paid into our pension is not worth as much as we thought and the age we can draw on it has suddenly increased. Or the interest rate on our savings has dramatically decreased. Or the company that we have shares in goes bust. Or the person that we thought we would share our lives with dies, or leaves. And our foundation crumbles.
In Hebrews 11:1 our verse says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for. What things? Faith is a settled confidence that something in the future- something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God- will actually come to pass because God will bring it about.
Biblical faith is not a leap in the dark in the face of contrary evidence. It is confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy. The God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation. Faith is more than a tick list of facts that we believe. It is trusting in a person who will always do what he promises.
Think of some of the promises of God to his people- I will never leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1: 5) When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you (Isaiah 43:2) For I know the plans I have for you (Jeremiah 29:11). Don’t be anxious saying what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear. Your heavenly father knows you need them all (Matthew 6: 31-32) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given (Isaiah 9: 6). I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever BELIEVES in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25) Regularly replay the story of your life. Remember the times when God has faithfully kept his promises to you in the past in order to have the assurance that what he has been in the past will not change in the future, even though we don’t know the details. God is our hoop-os-tas-is, our assurance.
Let’s look at the rest of our verse in Hebrews 11: 1. Now FAITH is the ASSURANCE of things hoped for, the CONVICTION of things not seen. The Greek word for conviction is el-eng-khos which means proof or evidence.
At a trial in a court of law, there are always two opposing ‘teams’. One is acting on behalf of the defendant (the person who has been accused) Their job is to prove that they are innocent of the crime. The opposing team is the prosecution whose job is to prove the defendant is guilty of that crime. Both sides produce proof or evidence to try and back up their case. And in order to do this, both sides call witnesses to answer questions about the case. It could be about the person’s character or what they have done.
Now think of this in relation to our verse today. If God was the defendant and trying to convince us of him being all that he says he is, what better witnesses than those people who have gone before us and can show he was all that he has declared himself to be. And that is why the writer of Hebrews runs us through a who’s who of the Old Testament. Is God powerful? Take a look at the evidence of creation. Can we draw close to God? Ask Enoch who walked with God. Is God able to save us? Ask Noah who built an ark in order to save his family from judgement or Moses who trusted God to lead the Israelites into the land He promised them. Does God keep his promises? Ask Abraham who became a father at the age of 100 because God had promised him he would have so many ancestors he wouldn’t be able to count them.
All the heroes in Hebrews 11 had two things in common. Firstly, all of them were ordinary people. None of them were fortune tellers. They didn’t know what would happen to them. And secondly, they took God at his word that what he had promised would come to pass. They are the witnesses for God’s defence.
I’m sure you may have your own hero of the faith that doesn’t appear in Hebrews 11.
William Wilberforce who campaigned tirelessly for the abolition of slavery because of his belief that all people are loved and valued in God’s sight.
George Muller who in his life time cared for thousands or orphans and prayed each day for food to feed them.
Billy Graham who led millions of people to Christ through his evangelistic crusades.
Mother Theresa who worked tirelessly with the poor of Calcutta.
Or it might be someone who the world has never heard of. Your Sunday school teacher. Your pastor. The parents who led you to Christ. Look at the evidence they give from the way God has worked in their life. This can help us with the conviction that this God who we say we believe in, is who he says he is. This God we speak about in the Apostle’s creed is the one we can trust. This God we believe in keeps his promises. This God is faithful in all of his ways.
So what do we do with all this? How do we test out that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen?
This is what Psalm 34: 8 says:
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh the joys of those who take refuge in him.
This verse is encouraging us to put God to the test. To give him opportunity to show us who he is, in order that our belief in him grows and our faith deepens.
To illustrate this, look at this bar of chocolate. There were so many chocolate treats I could have spent my money on in the supermarket yesterday it was really difficult to choose but I chose this one.
Why did I choose this one? Well I recognised the brand, I’ve seen it advertised on TV. I believe it’s quite famous and I’ve heard that they make really good chocolate. In fact, Tristan witnesses to the fact that this is the best brand (and he’s a chocolate connoisseur!). When I look at the ingredients I see that I’m not allergic to anything on the ingredients list- and it says that it contains a glass and a half of milk so that’s got to be good. Right?
I can believe all these claims about this block of chocolate. I can believe what people say about it- especially if I trust them. But the only way I can truly know is if I put my belief in action and taste it.
And it’s the same with us. We can decide that Christianity is the best religion out of many others. We can go a step further and acknowledge that Jesus was born, died and was raised from the dead. We can listen to other people’s faith stories and be impressed or encouraged by them. But to have real faith, we need to put our belief in action.
We need to taste and see that the Lord is good. We need to make Jesus the foundation of our lives. Jesus at the centre. We need to remember his promises and we need to count on those promises. Not sure what you’re going to have to face at work tomorrow? Concerned about your loved ones? Unsure what the future might bring? Worried about the diagnosis you’re waiting for? Taste and see that the Lord is good. He is faithful. He is the promise keeper. He is the one we can trust.
This is how the message translation words Hebrews 11: 1
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.