I once sat down with someone, a fellow Christian, about something that I thought was troubling in some things they were doing and saying. This was while I was a student at Vanderbilt and this other person was also a student - but I’m obviously going to change some of the details of the story for confidentiality.
But he and I sat down at a table in the main dining hall for brunch on a Saturday morning. You might think “oh, how fancy, they had brunch” but I’m pretty sure they just did brunch because breakfast food is cheap and they could staff the dining hall for like 6 fewer hours on those days. In any case, we sat down for brunch and I asked him “you believe in God, right?” The answer, which I knew in advance, was yes.
“And you believe that the Bible is true and that it’s His Word, right?” He nodded and said, yeah, of course.
“And you acknowledge that God knows more and knows better than people, right?” He nodded and said yes, not quite sure where I was going with the whole conversation.
“Then why are you sleeping around with people you’re not married to?” He fumbled around for a minute and told me that he didn’t feel like God would really want him to not enjoy his college experience and that it wasn’t really hurting anyone and other justifications - but at the end of the day, his actions told the story that he didn’t really believe the Bible was right.
If we believe in God, if we believe that the Bible is His Word, if we truly believe He is good and right and all knowing - why would we ever deviate from what He has told us.
What story do your actions tell? Do the things you do and say tell the world that you really believe that the Bible is true? Sure, you’re here on Sunday mornings - if it’s not too inconvenient with everything else going on in life - and you say “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” but does the rest of your life look any different?
Say I was trying to sell you on a stock that I had inside knowledge of (which I know is off limits, but pretend with me) and that I was 100% sure was going to double or triple in value over the next month. I say all that and you ask “how much of the stock have you invested in?” What if my answer is none? Do you think I’m really 100% sure the stock is going to do great?
Let’s try a more spiritual example. There’s a saying that goes “prayer is asking for rain, faith is carrying an umbrella.” If you pray for rain and you really believe God is listening and you really believe that God can make it rain, wouldn’t you carry an umbrella with you? Sure, there’s no guarantee that His answer to your prayer for rain is “yes,” but if you thought He might and you thought He could, wouldn’t you want to be prepared?
There’s actually a term for this idea that we say and think that we believe in God, but that doesn’t really impact our lives - functional atheism. Living as though God doesn’t exist, even if you believe that He does.
Imperfect Paragons of Faith
But don’t misunderstand me, this is the absolute worst time to tune out on the sermon, because that doesn’t mean faith has to be perfect. To run with the umbrella metaphor for one more second, you might mean to bring an umbrella and you end up forgetting it in your car. Or you might love to bring an umbrella, but you live in Southern California so you don’t actually own one.
In our reading, the author of Hebrews references a long series of figures from Israel’s history - none of which were perfect. Moses was a murderer who did his best to try and talk his way out of serving God, Rahab was a prostitute, Gideon accidentally led his family into idolatry, Samson spent a lot of time with ladies he shouldn’t have, David stole a man’s wife and murdered him for her - these great examples of faith were all still also examples of the brokenness of sin. And they didn’t even really understand the promise they were trusting in! Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph - none of them knew that the promised Messiah was going to die on a cross, their knowledge was incomplete, but their faith was counted to them as righteousness.
Assurance and Conviction
For all of these people, Hebrews tells us that God is not ashamed to be called their God, that He has prepared a city for them. Despite their flaws and failings, God is still willing to call them His own and to promise them a place in a perfect new creation. They didn’t receive it in their lifetimes, but now they join with you and me in the fullness of the promise of Jesus.
Your understanding doesn’t have to be perfect - theirs wasn’t. Your actions aren’t the requirement - their actions came after their trust in God. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Faith is the assurance that Jesus loves you, the assurance that Jesus died for you, the assurance that His sacrifice makes you right with God and the conviction of our place in eternal paradise with God.
But that faith does result in action. Carry an umbrella!
Abel believed so he made sacrifices, Noah believed so he built the ark, Abraham believed so he left to unknown places, Abraham believed so he offered Isaac as a sacrifice, Joseph believed so he remained obedient even in terrible situations, Moses believed so he led the people of Israel, Rahab believed so she hid the spies, Gideon believed and conquered kingdoms, David believed and united Israel, the disciples believed and they spread the message to anyone who would listen.
We believe, so we strive to be good fathers and mothers.
We believe, so we strive to be honest and good and kind to our neighbors and our coworkers.
We believe, so we are faithful to our spouses.
We believe, so we are obedient to our parents.
We believe, so we go to church on Sundays.
We believe, so we give of our time and our skills and our finances.
We believe, so we take time out of the day to be in God’s Word.
We believe, and we pray that our belief echoes in every corner of our lives. Amen.