Last time, we looked together at the themes of guilt, guidance and gladdening the heart of God. What can we do to please God? We don't have to do anything: we please God through who we are. He made us, and He takes great delight in His creation. More than that, He is our Father, and like all fathers, He delights in His children, He enjoys making us happy, and he is proud of the way we grow and develop and learn to be like Him.
Two great problems we admit to are guilt and guidance: I'm not good enough, and I'm not really clear what God wants me to do. We looked at both of these last time and recognised afresh that there is nothing standing between us and our Father, nothing which prevents us from bringing joy to His heart with everything we do.
One problem we rarely admit to, but many of us feel we suffer from far too often is this. I can't please God because I don't have enough faith. We look at the great Christians in the past: what common thread runs through all of them? We see they were all men and women of faith. We read in Hebrews 11 of the heroes of faith who did great things for God. Faith, it seems, is the thing which distinguishes the great Christians from the also-rans.
We know that faith is important, but really don't understand what it is. I suspect that almost every sermon I have ever heard on the subject has ended up misleading the congregation, even when most of the content has been straight from the Bible.
Firstly, the subject of faith has to be put into its context. God loves us however well - or however badly - we perform. He is more interested in who we are than in what we do. If it doesn't sound too contradictory, we cannot really do anything for God - not the way He wants - until we are able to do nothing for Him. But that is the subject of another sermon.
Before we look at what faith is, we need to be clear about what it is not. Two things we often confuse with faith are unreality and money.
We read in Hebrews that faith is 'the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Now, this is a good description of the effect of faith, but a dreadful definition. This is what faith does - it gives substance to things which do not exist as yet. But this does not define faith - otherwise every nut-case who thinks he is Napoleon has more faith than Martin Luther.
Faith is not about letting go of reality, but about taking hold of a higher reality - reality as God describes it.
We also have to remind ourselves that faith is not money. This may sound daft, but most teaching about faith makes it sound like the currency you need to buy things from God. I have noted down seven effects of treating faith in this way.
At this point, someone probably wants to say: hang on! If faith is not like money in some sense, why does it matter how much we have? Now, this may be shocking to some of you, but I really do not believe that God is interested in how much faith we have.
But what about the Parable of the mustard seed? Doesn't that teach us about the need to have enough faith? No. In fact, that is the precise opposite of what Jesus is saying.
A mustard seed was the smallest thing the people of Jesus' day knew about. When Jesus said that if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to move mountains, He was not saying that if you only have faith the size of half a mustard seed, the mountains will remain unmoved. No: He was saying that size doesn't matter. If you have any faith at all - the very smallest amount possible - then that will be sufficient for you.
Enough of these mistaken substitutes: what is faith - Biblical faith? Quite simply, faith in the Bible is an action. It can be defined as "Acting in obedience to God's word".
Biblical faith is about what we do, not what we feel. We may feel full of doubt, or we may feel full of faith. It doesn't matter either way. What matters is how we act.
But simply doing the right thing is not enough. We must do the right thing for the right reason: as our response of obedience to God. The other side of this coin is that it doean't matter all that much if we make mistakes - do the wrong things - as long as we are genuinely seeking to be obedient to God's will as He has revealed it to us.
This goes back to the theme of guidance. We can confidently act in obedience to God's word because He is committed to guiding us. If we have made a mistake, misunderstood something, and are wanting to be guided, He will show us where we are going wrong.
Having faith is believing in God's word so that you do it. It doesn't matter too much what you believe about the inspiration of the Bible. Many people who call themselves 'evangelical' will look for any excuse to avoid living in the way God describes in the Bible. And many who call themselves 'liberal' live in simple obedience to God's word. I am not saying that these things are unimportant - our beliefs affect the way we live. But what really matters is the way we live, not the theories we talk about.
We read in Romans chapter 8 that without faith, it is impossible to please God. The converse is also true: with faith, it is impossible not to please Him. When we act in loving obedience to His word as we understand it, He is always delighted.
Faith is not something you possess, it is something you do. But is all faith an action, something you do? What about saving faith? Surely you do not do anything to save yourself?
Let us take the classic illustration of salvation. Imagine you are sailing and fall overboard. You are drowning, about to go down for the third time. Then someone comes along and throws a lifebelt to you. It is clear that you have not saved yourself: on your own you were drowning and without hope. But it is also clear that the lifebelt would do you no good unless you take hold of it. Saving faith is when we take hold of Jesus.
When the Children of Israel were led out of Egypt, they were saved by the power of God operating through Moses in miraculous ways, opening the Red Sea and so on. But they had to walk: God did not pick them up or teleport them to the Promised Land. They were saved by God, but they had to take hold of that salvation by acting in obedience to God's word. They had to get up and walk when He told them to.
In conclusion, please don't condemn yourself for your lack of faith. You can please God through simple acts of loving obedience. This is the only kind of faith He looks for. And, in the end, it is the only kind of faith that counts.