Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 2, 2012
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
-- Romans 1:17, ESV
Two pairs of synonyms are of great importance for our worship and study of God’s word this season. The first two are “testament” and “covenant;” the second, “coming” and “advent.”
When we hear the word “testament” in church, we immediately think of our Bibles, neatly divided into the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.” But a testament is tantamount to a covenant, a sacred contract between two parties. So, the old covenant (and Old Testament) records the relationship between God and Israel, a covenant made by grace through faith in God as God revealed Himself in the law and the prophets. At the perfect time in history, it was fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant, and the New Testament describes God’s dealings with His true people within the church, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him by grace through faith in God as God has revealed Himself in His Son, His Spirit, and His holy word.
When we think of a great “coming” in the Christian context, we think of the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Advent” is synonymous, with the emphasis on a long expected arrival of someone very important. The first advent of Christ occurred two thousand years ago, bringing the old covenant to its conclusion and inaugurating the new. The second coming will cap the new covenant at some soon, unknown hour. Therefore, the Christian church has for many years observed the season of “Advent,” four Sundays which celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, call attention to His saving and everlasting gospel, so we may prepare people for the great day of His second coming.
Advent takes on various forms and symbols in the East and West, in Catholicism and Protestantism, and from church to church. For our worship and instruction we shall employ most of the usual traditions incorporating five candles. The “Christ” Candle will be centered as Christ is central to all our worship and works. The three purple and one pink candle surrounding the Christ candle will represent for us the three greatest gifts of “faith,” “hope,” and “love,” with the culminating candle of “peace.” Today we shall speak of faith, using Romans 1:17, in which the word occurs three times.
“From faith” speaks of faith as a sacred religion.
Religion is the attempt to explain God to man and make some connection between God and man. There are a multitude of religions in the world just as there are claims to many gods. At least three great religions claim a connection to the monotheistic God of the Old Testament: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, only one religion is sacred, pure, holy, true, and able to span the infinite gap between the true and living God and sinful human creatures.
Which one is the true and effectual religion depends on which person you ask. Today we have asked the Apostle Paul, via Romans 1:17. The historical and biblical context of his answer reveals Christianity to be, in concurrence with the words of Christ Himself, exclusively the manner in which a person can find “the way, the truth, and the life” (ref. John 14:6).
But how do we know that Christianity is the true religion and the only way to God? We have our Bibles, if we choose to believe them. We have some corroborating historical records, even from pagans such as Josephus, which seem to bear witness to the gospel story. We have the many landmarks and holy sites in Israel, which could hardly have been raised to someone who is merely the figment of a billion souls’ imagination.
We know the Christmas story and the gospel story are true “from faith.” It was our parents or pastors or churches of our youth who first told us the greatest story ever told. This would be a wonderful season of the year to give thanks to God for the person or persons who came “from faith” to bring this faith to you. Give thanks to God for them, for their predecessors, for the great saints of the Christian centuries, even the great men and women of faith who plowed in old covenant fields to prepare the way for the Lord.
If we are Christian today it is because we come “from faith,” from historic and biblical Christianity, from following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. But you cannot be saved by following another’s footsteps, save for those of Jesus Christ. And you cannot be saved “from faith” of someone else, you must have your own; therefore, this passage and sermon are also offered “for faith.”
“For faith” speaks of faith as a saving relationship.
“From faith” speaks of Christianity as real and true. “For faith” means it must be real and true to you. Is the Christian faith you own personal possession?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? The vast majority of Americans, and a good percentage of the world’s population, would answer a resounding yes. But belief can be nominal, hypocritical, superficial, useless. If belief in Christ is merely intellectual and even emotional, but not volitional, it cannot save. Faith without genuine repentance and belief without corresponding behavior is not really faith at all, at least not in the way it is preached by Jesus and Paul.
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? This is a common question of the present and past century. It is not entirely a wrong question, but one that has tended to turn the gospel into a sort of business transaction. It usually implies that one has joined in some ritual of acceptance, like baptism and confirmation, walking an aisle and praying a prayer, or some other public acceptance that makes one a church member but not necessarily a Christian.
Let me ask life’s most important probing question another way. What do you live for? Is it truly “for faith,” for the Christian faith, for the sake and name and love of the Lord Jesus Christ?
I have always feared that most people, even the people who populate modern churches, live for almost anything except faith. Some live for money, and would do anything to get it. Some live for sexual or other pleasures, and would do anything to experience them. Most people, I think, live for personal happiness and, like money-mongers and fornicators and drug addicts, will do anything or say anything or give up anything or sell out anything or anyone, if they have faith it will make them happy. Human beings live for happiness.
But redeemed human beings, or Christians, live for holiness. They long to be right with God and they long for others to be right with God as well. They stand on truth, pour forth love, and are even willing “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (ref. Jude 1:3). They live “for faith,” for it is the central and most important thing in their lives. It is not a sentimental story to be told at Christmas. It is not a ritual to undergo at Easter. It is not a classification to put on a paper or passport. Faith is life, and a Christian life is to be lived “for faith;” and, “by faith.”
“By Faith” speaks of faith as a spiritual resource.
“From faith” that belonged to an influential Christian, the gospel comes to us. We know we have it when we are truly transformed by it and want to live “for faith” in Christ, imputed in us and imparted to others. And we live this way, not in our own strength or by our own devices, but “by faith,” by the supernatural presence and power of God’s Spirit and God’s word.
On the surface, the disciplines that accompany the life of a disciple of Christ must seem foolish to an unbelieving world. We rise up early or stay up late to read a book written by a collection of authors thousands of years ago, a book with doctrines and principles that are mostly out of touch with a modern society, and we conform out lives to its precepts. We pray to a God we cannot see and virtually never hear, at least not in an audible voice. We gather on the one good day of the week in which most people are enjoying leisure, sleep, or other devises on a free day meant to make them, well, happy. We give money, hard earned money, in platefuls that go to work and workers beyond ourselves. We take reasonable care of our bodies and save a little of our money but we don’t worry about the end of life, for the end of life is just a beginning of an infinitely better life. We cry at the funerals of our fellow Christians but the tears are a wondrous mixture of sadness and joy. We do all of this and more, not because it makes sense or it will make us rich or make us more popular, but we do this “by faith.”
“By faith” we enjoy our lives and seek to make our world a better place. “By faith” we know that a better a life and better place is coming. “By faith” this sacred religion becomes a saving relationship with God, who gives us the spiritual resources we need to live “by faith.”
Make sure your faith is in a particular plan and person. The plan is the gospel and the person is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Christmas is the celebration of His birth. Without a doubt, He is the greatest gift. Praise God and thank Him for “the faith” that only He can give.