Only Believe

Mark 5:35-36 – 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

How do you respond when faced with the impossible? Jairus, a synagogue ruler, was in an impossible spot in Mark 5. His young daughter was sick. He tried to get Jesus to his home to heal her. But he was too late. While Jesus was on the way, Jairus received word that his daughter had died.

But what the Savior says to the religious leader is fascinating. Jesus commanded, “Do not fear, only believe.” In the face of all opposition, of heartbreaking loss, Jesus tells the man not to be afraid. Only believe.

What happens next? Jesus goes to the house, speaks to the girl, and brings her back from the grave. Jairus had his daughter back, well. The crisis was past.

When we read this, we know that we are reading a glorious story of the supernatural power of Jesus. WE are reading of the loving kindness of the Savior. And we are seeing the fact that Jesus has the power, the God-sized power, to push back the curse of original sin and to defeat death itself.

But we also should see here a call to our own faith. What do you face that you feel is impossible? Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.”

When we grab hold of that sentence, let us not try to take it and apply it to some sort of name it and claim it charismatic folly. Let us not assume that this applies to us if we fear our football team may not make a comeback when down in the 4th quarter. But let it apply as you think of ultimate and eternal things.

When you look at a broken world, do not fear, believe. When you feel like our government is beyond repair, do not fear, believe. When you think your own life is beyond hope, do not fear, believe. Believe in Jesus. Believe in his power to raise the dead. Believe in his ability to turn back the impact of the fall of mankind. Believe that Jesus rules right now. Believe that Jesus will return and rule forever. Believe that Jesus will never be defeated. Believe that the pains we face in the here-and-now will look tiny in the light of eternity. Yes, believe as well that Jesus can and will provide you with what you need, what he wants for you, every step of the way.

If you know Jesus, do not fear. If you have entrusted your soul to him for salvation, do not fear. If you have yielded yourself to his lordship, believe. Let your trust in the Savior calm your heart. Even in the face of the impossible, do not fear, only believe.

Two Directions in Faith

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We know that living as a Christian is living by faith. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that we cannot please God without faith. But what is it? Even the definition given at the beginning of the “Hall of Faith” as some call it is something that requires a little thought.

Faith is having a sure trust in something. What makes faith work is not the amount of one’s faith but the object of one’s faith. If I trust in thin ice with all my heart, I still fall through when I step on it. If I am afraid when I step on thick ice, even without faith, I am held because the object is strong.

What I considered when reading this recently, however, which is something I had not thought much about, is the two directions of faith given to us in the definition at the beginning of chapter 1. Faith is about what we hope for. Faith is about what we have not seen. One is the future. One is the past. Both are necessary.

Faith in the past, in things that have happened but which we have not seen, is required for life. In order to have saving faith, you must believe in the person and work of Jesus. You must believe that the Son of God came, lived a perfect life, died to pay for your sins, and rose from the grave. You must believe that Jesus is both willing and able to rescue you from your sins. Without such faith, you have no salvation.

Similarly, those who trust in Jesus have a faith that is future focused. WE believe that Jesus will return. We believe that he will raise us from the dead even if our bodies die in this life. WE believe that he will reign eternally. We believe that all who have trusted in him will live forever, forgiven, and joyful in the presence of God.

Here are two quick quotes from Michael Kruger’s new book on Hebrews that I think help us see what I’m talking about in the two directions of faith:

“Faith is not just a feeling. It is not just saying, “I hope it’s true.” It means being certain about something. Notice the two key words in this first verse: “assurance” and “conviction.” Faith is rock-solid trust that when God makes a promise, it is true and right. It is absolute assurance and confidence that God’s word can be relied upon.”

“Verse 1 highlights the two types of things that we know by faith. “Things hoped for” are things in the future that have not yet happened. “Things not seen” are things in the past—events that we were not there to see. Or, put simply, our faith is in what God has done and in what God will do.”

Michael J. Kruger, Hebrews for You (Charlotte, NC: The Good Book Company, 2021), Chapter 10.

Faith Alone

H – Highlight

Genesis 15:6 – And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

E – Explain

Abram was uncertain as to how God would fulfill his promise to him early in chapter 15. God had said Abram would have a family that would grow into a nation, but Abram and his wife had no children. When Abram asked God how this would work, God told Abram again that he would have as many descendants as he can see stars in the sky.

Abram believed God. And when Abram believed God, the Lord credited Abram with righteousness. Instead of Abram living a righteous life, fully sinless and perfect, God took Abram’s faith and credited Abram with a record of righteousness.

A – Apply

This verse got my attention because it is one of the most significant verses in all of Scripture. It lays a foundation for us to see that we do not please God by being good. Instead, God sees our faith, a faith that is a gift from him (Eph. 2:8), and he grants to us a record of righteousness.

R – Respond

Prayer: Lord, I’m so grateful that salvation is by your grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. I’m grateful that you give us our faith as a gift. Thus, I see that my salvation is completely of your doing, by your grace, and for your glory. I praise you for this gift. I acknowledge here and now that I have never been good enough to earn anything but your judgment. I thank you for Jesus.

Blessed Belief

H – Highlight

Luke 1:45 – “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

E – Explain

Elizabeth is rejoicing at Mary’s arrival and the news that the Christ has come. Contextually, there is something interesting. In 1-25, Elizabeth’s husband had not believed the message from the angel, and he had suffered the inability to speak because of it. Now, Elizabeth knows that Mary is carrying the Savior in her womb, and Mary believed the Lord.

A – Apply

The biblical principle I draw here is that belief leads to blessing. I know that the Lord must bring us to faith, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). At the same time, all through Scripture, the Lord has rewarded faith. God counted Abram’s faith to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).

What must I believe? What have I struggled to believe with my heart even when my head knows what to acknowledge?

R – Response

Prayer: Lord, I believe you and your word. I know this is a gift from you, and so I give you all the glory for any faith I have. I also know that, even as a believer, I have times when my own life would show that I only am believing with my head and not my heart. I pray that you would strengthen the faith you have given me. Help me to believe that you will fulfill all you have promised. And help me to find your blessing in faith.

Unbelief is Offensive

H – Highlight

Luke 1:18-20 – 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

E – Explain

In this passage, Zechariah asks for the angel to prove that his prediction will come true. Gabriel has promised Zechariah a son, and Zechariah cannot believe it. So the angel pronounces a small curse on the old priest. Zechariah will be unable to speak until the child is born.

A – Apply

What I learn here is a principle. Unbelief is offensive. Gabriel makes that clear. When Zechariah asks his question, asking for proof, the angel identifies himself and seems taken aback that this foolish man would not take his words as they have been delivered.

Of course there will be times when we struggle with doubt and confusion. And we should not pretend otherwise. But we also must not forget that for us to fail to believe the words of God is a big deal. Unbelief matters. The devil, in the garden, used a denial of the truth of God’s words to tempt the woman. A refusal to believe in Christ is a sin that leads to death. And for us to see God’s clear words, have no doubt that they come from God, and then for us not to believe them is a major problem.

R – Response

First I know that I am called to respond to this in humble confession. While I may believe the Lord with my mind, I know that, at times, my heart forgets to believe what the Lord has said. I must own this as a sin, confess it, and repent. Second, I should remember that all that the Lord has said is true and trustworthy, and it should impact how I live and how I think.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for your faithful word. Your Scripture, your holy word, is totally true and trustworthy. I pray that you will forgive me for any time in which I have failed to believe that you are who you claim to be or that you will do what you claim to do. Help me to believe you deep down and to see that unbelief is deadly.

You of Little Faith

I think many believers are familiar with the account of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water with him. It is found in Matthew 14. Jesus had walked on the sea to cross the lake and catch up with his disciples whom he had sent on ahead. The disciples were at first terrified when they saw Jesus, but then Jesus assured them all was fine.

Peter, when he heard Jesus’ words, calls out to Jesus, and Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water to join him. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then is frightened and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:30-31 — 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter walked. Peter doubted, Peter began to sink. Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus saved Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt. That is the story.

The funny thing is, if you listen to people teach this passage, so much weight is placed on Peter’s faith or lack thereof that an important key is missed. Some of our more charismatic friends will make this passage out to say that the solidity of one’s faith is directly connected to whether or not God can perform a particular kind of miracle in your life. So, they will use this text to say to you that Peter’s doubt led to his sinking, and your doubt will lead to your inability to experience the miraculous.

But, look more closely at the story. Yes, Peter’s doubt led to his sinking. That is true. But, Peter’s desperate cry to Jesus led to his being saved. Jesus was plenty powerful to reach out, catch Peter, and pull him back to the surface of the lake. Peter’s doubt did not limit Jesus.

Friends, in our Christian lives, we may have seasons of stronger faith and seasons of greater doubt. Without question, doubting God and his goodness and power is sinful. But such doubt is also a normal part of the human condition. It is a thing for us to confess to God and ask him to help us overcome. It is a thing for us to battle with time in the word, with worship, with fellowship, and with prayer.

What I want us to recognize from this story is that Peter’s doubt did not prevent Jesus from accomplishing his will. Jesus showed himself to be glorious. Jesus was easily able to rescue Peter and put him back on the surface of the lake. And Jesus was able to walk Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I wish I could help you, but your doubt prevents me.” Jesus just told Peter that his doubt showed how much more is faith needed to grow.

Is doubt natural? You bet. Is doubt a problem. Yes. Is doubt a thing that will keep God from accomplishing his will. No. Your imperfect faith is not tying the hands of God. Doubt is a thing for us to battle, to confess and repent of. And, God may choose to let us experience some sinking as Peter did because of our doubt. But God is God, and I do not add to his abilities with my faith or take from his abilities in my doubt.

Thinking about Being Saved Through Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When we say that a person is saved by grace through faith, we are attesting to what makes Christianity vastly different than any other religion in the world. We are saying that a person receives salvation, not because they do a thing, performing a ceremony, making an offering, but simply because God has changed them and allowed them to fully entrust themselves and their soul to him.

Just consider the difference. Other religions out there, man-made religions, tell people that they get into the favor of their deity by doing things. A person may believe that they will be in their god’s favor because they climb a particular mountain and drink from a sacred stream. Another might think that chanting a particular phrase is what makes them OK with the divine. Yet another says that if they do good deeds and do not do really bad things, they will be fine.

Only biblical Christianity tells us that we do nothing, we take no physical action at all, to gain the favor of our God. Instead, God does all the work. God takes all the action. God gives life to our dead and sinful hearts. And we respond to God by believing in Jesus. And God counts that faith as righteousness for us. God counts our belief as if we had lived perfectly before him. God grants us Jesus’ perfect record of righteousness when we entrust ourselves fully to him, believing him, having true faith.

Let me take this moment to say to you that, if you have never come to Jesus in faith, you need to do so in order to have the forgiveness of God. You are a sinner, just like me. Your only hope for salvation is to believe in Jesus. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sin and rose from the grave, when you believe that Jesus is willing to forgive you if you come to him, when you believe in Jesus in such a way that you fully rely on him and him alone for salvation, you are forgiven by God. If you are forgiven by God, he will change you and help you live to his glory. I urge you to turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

Victory — Another Important Question of Faith

The Christian life is a life of faith. WE must believe the word of God. We must trust that what he has told us about himself, about what he has done, and about what he will do is true. The presence or lack of such belief is definitive for the follower of Jesus.

Often, when we talk about questions of faith, we talk about Jesus. WE talk about his life, death, and resurrection. Are you willing to believe in Jesus in such a way as to entrust your soul to him and his finished work? Are you willing to believe that he can and will save you? These are important questions of faith.

But there is another question of faith we ask less often. It has to do with the promises of God for the future we are still awaiting.

Revelation 15:2-5 – 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In this section of the book of Revelation, John looks and sees victorious saints of God. They have conquered the beast and his number. They have refused to be marked out as followers of the world’s system. They have refused to bow to the evils of the age for temporal success. And they stand as victors.

The victorious saints will sing the praise of the Lord. And look at that song. God is great and amazing. God’s ways are perfect and just. And, catch the promise, all peoples will fear the Lord. All nations will come and worship the Lord. God will have this world for his very own.

This question of faith is significant. Do you believe the song? Do you believe that the Lord will be victorious? Do you believe that the Lord will have people worshipping him from every corner of the globe? Do you believe that all people will fear the Lord? Do you take any time to rejoice in the certain victory of Jesus Christ?

Friends, we serve the conquering King. Jesus has been through death. He has come out the other side. He will not go through defeat again. Jesus will be victorious. HE will build his church. His gospel will spread over the globe. He will return in power and glory. He will be acknowledged globally as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Stop and think how important this is. How important is it to remember that our savior is not defeated and will not be defeated? How important is it to remember that all who love the Lord Jesus will reign with him eternally? How important is it to remember that, no matter how polarized the world appears, there is only one winning side? How important is it to remember that the God who made this world will have it as his own?

This is a question of faith. Christian, do you believe in the victory of Jesus?

Saving Faith or Non-Saving Faith

We know we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone. We also know that there is a kind of faith, or a thing often called faith, which is clearly not a saving faith. If one looks at John 2:23-25, the concept is quite clear.

John 2:23–25 – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this passage, we see people believing in Jesus, but not in a saving type of faith. Many people, the text tells us, believed in his name. The word there for believed is the same word for faith as in saving faith, so there is no language study that makes this passage say something we do not see clearly. They believed in Jesus. Jesus would not entrust himself to them. They had a type of belief, but not one that saved.

Take a peek at a few things that I’ve grabbed from John Murray on this topic, and perhaps it will help you to see the things that must be present in saving faith. Murray offers us 3 characteristics of saving faith, and I think they are quite helpful.

***

There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust.

1. Knowledge… We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. There must be apprehension of the truth respecting Christ…

2. Conviction. Faith is assent. We must not only know the truth respecting Christ but we must also believe it to be true…

3. Trust. Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence. Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him. [John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, 2015), Part II, Chapter IV.]

***

In the passage in John 2, people had knowledge of Jesus, to a certain degree. They even believed what they saw, to a certain degree. But there was no wholesale entrusting of themselves to Christ. The people believed in facts and power, but they failed to trust the person of Jesus. Saving faith is a resting of one’s entire self, one’s entire soul, one’s entire eternity on the person and work of Jesus. You must know the facts presented about Jesus, you must believe those facts, and you must entrust yourself to Jesus. Miss those things, and you miss saving faith.

Yet I Will

Scripture speaks in a beautiful way to those who are hurting. A student of the Bible does not have to read far to recognize that there are men, faithful people of God who have gone through hardships that are difficult to fathom. And if the people of God were believers in the prosperity gospel, their faith would have crumbled.

Repeatedly in the psalms, we see David cry out to the Lord. He asks questions like, “How long O Lord,” and then lists calamity after calamity. AT the end of those psalms, however, we quite often hear David say something like, “Yet I will trust in the Lord.” David tells us how hard things are, how hopeless his situation looks, and yet he cries out to God in faith knowing that, in the end, God will do all things rightly.

WE see a similar prayer at the end of the book of Habakkuk. For some of you, these beautiful lines are familiar. To others, these need to be lines you memorize. The prophet has cried out to God. He knows that God is going to judge a wicked nation of Judah by bringing in another wicked nation, Babylon. Habakkuk is aware of calamity after calamity with still more to come. But Habakkuk expresses, at the end of his book, genuine hope in the Lord. Just take a peek at his closing proclamation.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk, in classic Hebrew poetry, comes up with six lines that express the potential misery that the nation faces. They may have no wine, no crops, no livestock, no real reason for hope that they can see. All has fallen down around Habakkuk, and God has let him know that it will continue that way for a while.

But look at the turn of faith. Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” No matter the circumstances, Habakkuk makes a decision of faith. Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. HE will find hope and joy in the true character of God. Habakkuk acknowledges that the Lord is his strength. And no matter how painful is his life, no matter how bare the cupboard, Habakkuk will choose, in the face of pain, to rejoice in the Lord.

Christians, we may face pain like Habakkuk. WE may face worse. The nation may turn on us. Our friends or our families may betray us. Famous church leaders will fall short. Denominations will split. Once reliable church members will depart. We will hurt. If you think you will live without pain, you have not believed the words of the Savior who promised us that this world would be a hard one to live in.

What do you do when you hurt? Learn from Habakkuk. Make rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in his goodness your choice. You can weep and still declare God to be good. You can cry out in sorrow and find a sustaining joy in the true, revealed character of the God who made you. You can face a life of seeming emptiness and ruin knowing full well that the Savior who promises you forgiveness has also promised you that he will return, he will judge, he will do justice, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will make all things new. Our hope is not in the ease of this life. Our hope is in eternity. While Jesus can, and often will, make this life happy for his followers, he promises us something better. Jesus promises us to sustain us through the hardships of this life and to grant us everlasting life in his presence forever.

So, when your life hurts, Christian, what should you say? Perhaps try, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”