Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Sermon: Faith Makes Sense - 1 Peter 3:15

You can listen to the audio version of this sermon here.

Hebrews 11:1  says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This passage is often times taken out of context and misapplied to teach that faith is blind trust. I see this all the time, particularly out on the internet. In fact if you just Google the word faith, one of the definitions is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”  Here’s a quote from an author who seems to be piggy backing on this Hebrew’s passage:  "Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.” The picture that is painted here is that faith is completely blind and yet that’s not at all what Hebrews chapter 11 is teaching. Hebrews 11 is actually teaching that we can have faith and trust in God’s promises on the basis of evidence, on the basis of his past behavior and ability to keep His word. Hebrews chapter 11 is all about how we can trust God because he’s been incredibly consistent in keeping his promises. The whole chapter, which is often referred to as the Hall of Faith or the Heroes of Faith, describes people in the Old Testament who had faith in the promises of God and were vindicated. Their faith was a strong trust in a person, in this case their trust, their faith was in God. So they trusted this person, God, for the things which they had not yet experienced, the things they had not yet seen, they trusted that when God made promises, he would fulfill them. One example, God tells Abraham that he will have a child despite he and his wife’s old age, Abraham has faith in God, he trusts God’s promise even though he cannot see or hold the child until the promise is delivered. Faith is trusting in God for that which he has promised us, those things we don’t see, but our faith is not a blind faith.

Think about it this way. If I promise my wife, after I come home from Men's Fraternity on Saturday mornings, I will take care of the kids and you can sleep in. She can have faith in this promise, in the unseen, she hasn’t yet seen me taking care of the kids, yet she can trust in me and this trust, this faith that she has in me, is not a blind faith. She knows who I am, she’s experienced a relationship with me, and she has plenty of evidence to expect that I will keep my promises.

Having faith doesn’t mean that we have to blindly accept things, we can have a reasonable faith. Now to be certain there will always be a bit of mystery in our relationship with God. He’s God. In fact, I can tell you there’s always a bit of mystery in my relationship with my wife, and yet I have complete faith and trust in her. Each day that I wake up, I don’t cross my fingers and hope that she’ll do the things she says. So also with God, we’re not called to run “face-first and full-speed into the dark.” God wants us to love him not just with our guts and our emotions but with our minds.

In fact Jesus says in Matthew 22:37 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your MIND!Our passage for today is 1 Peter 3:15, which you can see on your notes page. It says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Today we’ll look at three different types or categories of reasons, or evidence, that we have for our faith, our trust in God, but before we do, let me encourage you to really take this passage to heart. We need to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. If you’re not at a place where you are prepared to explain any of the reasons for why you have faith, why you trust in God, then be authentic and open about that, but don’t shut down the conversation with someone who is searching by saying “I believe this because I believe this, end of conversation.” When we turn faith and trust in God into blind faith and refuse to be prepared to give an answer, to give the reason for the hope and faith that we have, we misrepresent our faith and contribute to the misperception that faith in God is for the ignorant and those who are unable to think. Our God is the author of creation, the author of humanity, and the author of our minds. Let us love him with all of our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. And let us be prepared to give the reasons for the hope and faith that we have. To that end, let’s look at three different types or categories of evidence or reason for why believing makes sense.
We are, by the way, beginning a new series this morning called Credible…Why Believing makes sense. In this series we’ll be looking at common objections to the Christian faith. As you can see on the front of your bulletin, next week Pastor Michael will examine the reliability of Scripture, then we’ll discuss why Jesus claims that He is the only way, then some reflection on the issue of pain and suffering in a world created by a benevolent God, and finally how to talk to the millennial generation about the truth and grace of God. So, back to our sermon today, on a faith that makes sense…

The first category are philosophical reasons that we might give for the hope that we have. What I mean by philosophical reasons is that our minds are capable of using reason and logic to come to valid conclusions without actually having to physically experience them. Here’s a simple example, we know that lions are carnivores, and you tell me you have a pet named Fred and that Fred is a lion. The logical conclusion is that Fred is a carnivore. I don’t need to go test this out physically to come to this conclusion. I’m able to use logic rather than putting myself in danger! A little more complicated, but similar is Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein, amazingly, determined that space and time are not absolutes, but rather they are relative to the position of the observer. In other words, Einstein, working as a clerk in a patent office, was able to, through his mind, come to the conclusion that time can actually move faster or slower depending on different conditions. Einstein didn’t have the ability to control time and space in the patent office, but he was able to come to these conclusions through his mind and through thought experiments. Later these unseen conclusions were proved trustworthy as experimental data came in, but originally this was armchair science. There’s a whole branch of physics called theoretical physics that is based on mathematical models and abstractions rather than experimental data.

This same type of evidence and reasoning can be used when we think about the existence of God. The apostle Paul, himself, used these types of arguments. In Acts 17 we read that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.” There are a number of thought experiments or philosophical arguments that provide compelling philosophical reasons for faith and trust in God. We can’t possibly go into all those arguments this morning, but I’ll give you one. This one is called the Transcendental argument. More simply put, a transcendental argument is any argument that states there is no foundation without God. In other words, when you stop and really think about it, if there is no God what is the foundation for morality, reason, purpose, and so on. A transcendental argument focusing on morality would say without God, what basis do we have to say some actions are morally right and some actions are morally wrong. As Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov says “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Without God there is no basis for morality and yet it is very apparent, that across the globe there exists within every human culture an expression that some things are morally right and some things are morally wrong, there’s disagreement on what those things are, but this human impulse logically implies that there must be a moral foundation, and that since morality is an expression of personal relationships, there must be a personal foundation from which they proceed, namely a personal God. If you remove God from your philosophical framework you remove the foundation for morality. This is just one version of a transcendental argument. You could say the same thing about our ability to reason and think. If there is no God, what is our foundation for saying that we can actually trust our minds that have been shaped by impersonal and random forces? A science professor at Cornell featured in Ben Stein’s movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed , states the obvious conclusion and consequence when you remove God from your philosophical framework. Dr. Provine said that if you remove your belief in God, which he did, then this is life: We live, we die, and we’re gone. There’s no hope, there’s no real purpose in life. There’s no point in anything. Philosophically, if you remove God from your worldview and you are logically consistent, the result is nihilism, despair, and hopelessness which no reasonable human can practically live out or accept.

Obviously we can’t go into depth with all the philosophical reasons and arguments for God here this morning, I welcome your emails or free lunches to continue this conversation, but what we can say is that there are real, cogent, and reasonable philosophical reasons to believe in God. These arguments have been made for centuries and no one has been able to simply dismiss them as blind faith, as “walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.”

The second type of  reasons we might give for the hope that we have, perhaps a little more tangible and accessible, are experiential reasons. Christianity is not a blind faith but is actually based on what was seen. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 to the church of Corinth about the death and resurrection of Christ and what does he say? Does he say: “Hey just trust me, Jesus is God!” Does he say: “Just close your eyes and believe!” No, Paul writes and argues that he has seen Christ, and not only him but 500 others saw him. Paul wasn’t writing hundreds of years later, just fabricating an event, he was writing within the lifetime of the original witnesses an saying go and check what I’m saying, there’s 500 other people who saw this happened. If you marched 500 witnesses into a court that testified that an event occurred, willing to lose their possessions, willing to be thrown into prison, willing to lose their lives on the word of their testimony, most courts of law would rule that this event actually happened. This source checking happens in multiple places in the New Testament. Mark 15 is talking about Jesus going to be crucified and verse 21 says “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” This verse would be incoherent and useless unless Alexander and Rufus were alive and you could go talk to them. It’s like having footnotes today. When you read inclusions of details like this, the bible is saying this person is still around and you can go check my sources.

Acts 2:32 says God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” The Christian faith, our trust in who Jesus says he is and the promises he makes, is not based on blind faith, but on experiential data that has been reliably transmitted and recorded.

Now, when people read these testimonies, and the evidence presented, they come to different conclusions because ultimately we’re all biased. Tim Keller puts it like this “If you were reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars, an ancient historical document, and evaluating whether or not it happened, you would be objective because it wouldn’t matter to your life whether it was true or not, however when you read the bible and ask did Jesus really say and do these things, that of course, if it’s true has a huge impact. No one is really objective, you can’t read something like that, knowing its impact and be objective. We may want it to be true, we may want it to not be true, but we should be skeptical of our skepticism.

The final type of reasons we might give for the hope that we have are heart reasons. 1 John 5:10 says: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” Sometimes we have convictions based on logic or philosophy. Sometimes we have convictions based on the data that exists in the world. Sometimes we have convictions based on our own personal emotional and spiritual experience. The apostle Paul was a devout Jew. When he first heard of the Christian faith and found out that followers of Christ were discarding almost half of the Old Testament scriptures, those laws and teachings on sacrifices and ceremonies, he thought Christianity can’t be true. What happened to his questions that he was able to become a devout Christ follower? Certainly there are ways to reason from the Old Testament scriptures to those of the Jewish Faith, Paul himself reasons with those in the synagogues, but Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ. Paul had an existential moment and experience where he was changed by God. It’s not unreasonable to explain to people that you’ve had a personal experience with God, you can’t categorize it or fully dissect it, but you have a new heart and a new life because of it.

Honestly, this is the place that most people connect. Most people are open to hearing about your own personal experience, if you’ve had one, with God. Most people, not all, but most aren’t argued into believing and trusting God and it’s been my experience that many have internal, heart reasons for why they have trouble accepting God or putting their trust in Him. Perhaps you’ve heard of Francis Collins, the scientist who was the leader of the Human Genome Project and currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health. In this video he share’s how he came to believe, partially through philosophical arguments like the transcendental argument but primarily through being affected in his heart existentially.

As we conclude, let me offer this final point on how we are to be prepared to give a reason for our hope. Sometimes we are discussing issues that we don’t know a lot about. It’s impossible to be completely prepared to be able to argue with an atheistic science professor with multiple Ph.Ds one day and then the next day to argue with another professor who has spent his life studying philosophy, the next an expert in sociology, and so forth. We should be informed, but we may not have a personal calling into those particular fields. We are a body of believers, each with our own gifts and our own callings. There are those, and you may be one of them, with a specific calling as a Christian scientist to speak into that field. There are many books and experts that you might find helpful in this area. Just to give you two quick recommendations: I recommend The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller, there’s a study that goes with that if you wanted to do it with a life group. I also recommend The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel who was an atheist journalist for the Chicago Tribune that came to believe after examining the evidence, the case for Christ.

You might not be called to be the leading expert in any of these areas, but no matter what your calling, we can all share our own encounters with the living God and have reasons for the hope that we have.

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