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Apr 24, 2016

Why do we believe it?

Passage: Romans 8:1-30

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Big Questions We Ask About Faith in God

Keywords: apologetics, evidence, faith, heather pierson, james ka smith, maren morris, moralistic therapeutic deism, psalm 73, testimony of the holy spirit, why believe


There are two parts to the second big spiritual question millennials are asking today: Why do we believe this? First, they are asking 'why believe?' Why believe in anything? Yet there is within virtually every person a need or desire for something beyond themselves, and the vacuum left by a life of unbelief creates its own pressures. The second part of this question then is, 'why believe this - the Christian teaching - about God? We'll find the answer to that in relationship with the Holy Spirit, not by reason or rational argument alone.


Sandra and I were at a folk concert this week

and one of the songs sung by Heather Pierson

had this chorus:

Isn’t it a miracle to be alive?

To feel that spark of passion along your spine?

So whether it’s evolved this way

    or been some grand design

I’m gonna take this life and make it mine


To me these words highlight

the culture of belief today in America.

There’s something miraculous,

full of wonder,

special about life,

yet whether that moves me

to responses of faith or belief

or something that recognizes divine reality

beyond myself,

is really up to me

and I’d rather just enjoy the moment for now.


Does great happiness move you to thankfulness?

Does deep sorrow move you to patient prayer?

Does poverty move you to generosity?

Does guilt or shame move you to righteous acts?

Or, do we just understand what happens to us according to the flesh:

that is, it’s all about my happiness,

my success, my well-being, my restoration, my life?


Last week we asked one big question being asked

by our teens and young adults today,

what do we believe?

We answered that question

in terms of the revelation of who God is

and our relationship to the Lord.

We discovered God is not just up there or out there or somewhere removed from creation,

but lovingly involved:

For God so loved the world

he gave his One and Only Son, Jesus . . .

Life is determined by this kind of godly love:

a self-giving, self-sacrificial love

that redeems life now and for eternity.


Today we ask a follow up question:

why do we believe this?

I found out there are two parts

to this question today:

I was ready to jump into reasons and proofs and such that show the truth and reliability of

and reason for the Christian faith.

But what I found out is that today

there is a prior struggle in the ‘why’ question:

not just tell me how you got here,

to believe this,

why you believe this about God,

that he loves the world

and that Jesus is God come in the flesh

who died on the cross in response to sin

and by his resurrection he graciously justifies sinners.

Before that why question, today, many

are simply asking why believe at all, in anything?


James KA Smith of Calvin College observes:

As a Christian you decided to witness

to your friends or neighbors about Jesus.

You came with what you thought were

all the answers to the unanswered questions

these ‘secular’ people had.

But it didn’t take long for you to realize that

the questions weren’t just unanswered;

they were unasked . . .

Your ‘secular’ neighbors and friends

aren’t looking for answers.

You’ve realized that

instead of nagging questions about God

or the afterlife,

your neighbors have their own

longings for meaning and significance

that have nothing to do with spiritual things.

There doesn’t seem to be anything missing

from their lives –

so you can’t come just proclaiming

the good news of a Jesus

who fills their ‘God-shaped hole.’

It’s a Psalm 73 age today:

. . . I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

5 They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills . . .

12 This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.


Why believe? is the question we have to face first.

In our secular age

the accepted posture or relation

toward the Triune God

is simply not to believe at all.

Why believe in anything but yourself

is the default today.

This even seeps into a person of faith

who finds herself more readily

questioning God or the church,

or even leaving,

walking away from faith.

For some, ask ‘why?’ long enough,

and you wind up asking, ‘why bother?’


Yet, our moments and days

have a ‘fullness’ about them

that yearns for meaning beyond ourselves.


So in France they now have what is translated as a republican baptism –

not an initiation into a political party,

but a secular, civil baptismal rite given to children

by the mayor of the town to replace church baptisms. People don’t believe, yet want something

to mark the wonder and promise of life.


In our country, people tune in to

financial speakers or Apple presentations

or self-help psychologists

and their presentations look like

a preacher at a church service.

It’s religion without God and church without Christ.


And there are consultants now

and resources to guide people

in having a secular funeral,

so no mention of the afterlife or eternity

or the hope of heaven is mentioned,

and yet people can feel good

about a loved one’s passing:

one example –

You may wish to point out the skeptical views of the person being remembered. For example: _________ did not believe in life after death; __________ believed in life before death. But _______ does live on in a natural sense, in the memories of those who remain, ________'s children and grandchildren [if applicable], and in __________'s accomplishments. (This leads to the memorial portrait or tribute).


And you can sing along with Maren Morris

about ‘My Church’:

I've cussed on a Sunday

I've cheated and I've lied

I've fallen down from grace

A few too many times

But I find holy redemption

When I put this car in drive

Roll the windows down and turn up the dial

Can I get a hallelujah

Can I get an amen

Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya

When I play the highway FM

I find my soul revival

Singing every single verse

Yeah I guess that's my church


Notice this:

there is still that yearning for something more, something other;

it can’t be helped.

The need for rituals,

for guidance,

for a hope and a sense of well-being

even for justice and a righting of wrongs

reminds me of Ec 3:11 –

God has set eternity in the hearts of humans . . .


And this is a doorway into confronting the question, why believe?

These examples and more show us

that most who live without faith

act as if something is missing,

despite our fevered attempts

to say and live otherwise.


A few years ago a book came out with the title,

‘The World Is Flat.’

And our secular age has made life flat.

If for some living with God seems hard,

living without God is harder still.

If it takes work to have faith,

it takes more work to deny it.

The feeling of the loss of something more

or other than myself

creates its own kind of pressure.

The world is round after all.

And without God in it your soul can be lost.


This experience and feeling

doesn’t automatically lead one to look for God.

In our day we still seek first to be our own saviours. But can we see some of the folly and limits

of solving the mess we made ourselves?

What are the first two steps that addicts must take

to master their lives over their addiction?

In a 12-step program,

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless

over our addiction –

that our lives had become unmanageable.

In other words – those broken by their own making can’t heal their brokenness on their own.

Step 2 – We came to believe that a Power

greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. There’s that belief word after all.

If anything, our experience in life has taught us

we’re all addicts of one kind or another,

and mostly addicted to ourselves.

We can’t free ourselves,

only God can.


Just look at our country today,

We elected a black president,

but that didn’t solve our racial issues.

We enacted gun laws,

but that didn’t end the violence.

We expanded our welfare support,

but that didn’t end poverty.

We celebrate national hot dog day

and national donut day

and commemorate 9/11, Earth Day and the like,

and have forgotten about Ascension Day

and Reformation Day and Prayer Day –

our commemorations and celebrations

haven’t healed our souls.

We have more today:

Americans in general live longer,

have more health care,

have more technology,

have more leisure opportunities,

more in their homes to ease everyday life

than Americans ever had before.

But we are not happier or more content.

In fact, studies show that for this generation

most parents and children believe

they will have a lower standard of living

than the generation before,

for the first time ever in American history.


Add all this up and you get

one powerful answer to why believe:

because we need saving and a Savior.

Another answer to this sense of loss and need

is found in the character of Christ who said:

come to me, you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

It is God who can handle our burdens.

And a third is,

if you think you have abandoned the faith

because you say you have grown up

and now live in reality instead of fairy tale,

perhaps what you abandoned was not faith

but a childish version of it.

So how about we tell our stories

and in so doing we may learn

the God we dismissed was not the true God at all.


Which gets at our probing and study of

moralistic therapeutic deism:

a description of cultural American faith

for many today,

that puts one’s self above God.


One statement in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism asserts, ‘God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.’


Now this is a belief to question.

Knowing what we know about our Heavenly Father,

and the Son of God, Jesus, our Savior,

who promised I am with you always,

and God the Holy Spirit,

given as another advocate to be with us always,

to think that God isn’t involved

or present in life or the world

or that we don’t need such divine presence

is human pride.

And look where it gets us:

In Romans 8 Paul describes our current world

with the image of ‘groaning’:

present sufferings


bondage to decay
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.


It’s a groaning that creation can’t do much about:

Romans 8 describes our condition in this

as having to wait,

subjected, needing liberation.

It sounds like God needs to be involved in creation and our lives after all.

And this is precisely the loving character of God:

The Spirit helps us, Paul puts it simply.

Where no one and nothing else can.


This brings us to the question of belief again,

this time asking, why do we believe this,

this God, revealed in the Bible,

the Triune God, one God, in three persons,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit?


The trend in recent years has been

to answer this question apologetically.

Apologetics is not about apologizing,

but is a discipline that presents

reasonable arguments and defenses for believing.

You may have read books or attended lectures

or taken courses where defenses

for the Christian faith are given:

CS Lewis’ argument about Christ is one example

that can be summed up briefly:

either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.

The things he said about himself

leave only these three options.

Since he proved by his actions that he wasn’t a liar

or lunatic

he is therefore exactly who he said he was:

Lord, God come in the flesh.


There are arguments from manuscript evidence

and archeology that show the reliability of the Bible.

There are historical arguments

for the resurrection of Jesus.

There are philosophical arguments today

and going back to Aquinas and Augustine

for the existence of God as creator and provider.

Without going into detail,

all these give evidence that the Bible

is a reliable document

and that the person and work of Jesus

is factual

and there is room for both science and

the reasonability of faith.


But I want to tell you,

so that you can answer this question for yourself,

and so that you can witness to others,

as compelling as any of these arguments might be,

no Christian believes in Jesus

because of these arguments.


These are not the foundation of our faith.


Sure, these arguments are good.

We can agree that there is reasonable

and sufficient evidence

for the infallibility of Scriptures,

the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact,

even some indication of intelligent design in creation.

But even John Calvin said that

relying on such arguments is a mistake.

Those ‘who strive to build up firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards.’

The chief reason for this is that

no human argument can produce

the kind of certitude true faith demands;

even the best arguments

always lead to another objection.


Romans 8 testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit

that leads people to believe.

Verse 14: “Those led by the Spirit of God

are the children of God.”

 ‘We believe because the Holy Spirit

transforms our beliefs.’

The testimony of the Holy Spirit

is what changes hearts and grants us faith.

That’s why we believe.


Our faith is not rooted in human judgment

but the grace of God transforming mind,

heart and will.

By grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .


This is so because the truth of God

reveals the truth about ourselves

and our human, mortal condition:

human beings are broken, limited in reason and experience, fallen in sin, addicted to the flesh,

that is, making life our own way,

having run up a spiritual debt

that can never be fully paid.

If we think about this we would say in response

that this truth is something

we would want to find reasons to reject and avoid.

Reasons that have little or nothing to do

with evidence or reality.

It is painful to recognize our own sin and failing,

to feel guilt and face shame.

More, it is offensive to people

who wish to be their own lord

to recognize Jesus as Lord.

No wonder we find reasons NOT to believe!

No wonder it takes the leading of the Spirit

to have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord!

As Paul said,

the broken, sinful mind is hostile to God,

and not only doesn’t submit to God,

it can’t!


God does not leave you alone.

The witness of baptism says that

already at birth God knows us by name.

That I am knit together fearfully and wonderfully

in the will of God in my mother’s womb.

That before the foundation of the world

God was at work for you and for me

and for the redemption of his creation.


And what that says to us today is,

If we have a hunger or thirst for righteousness,

if we experience in some real sense

the presence of Christ

and respond in gratitude, trust or praise,

If we obey tho it costs us,

love even when we do not like,

include the excluded or risk ourselves to love the lost, this is by the Spirit in us:

counseling, granting wisdom,

gifting us with discernment,

empowering us to follow Christ,

producing fruit to nourish living.

None of it is on our own.


Why does a Bible verse that you read 1,000 times before, suddenly make you pause and take notice?

Why are you crying over this?

Pay attention to your laughter and see in it

the joy of the Lord, the fruit of the Spirit,

or at least your craving such joy!


This is the Holy Spirit of God

present with us always:

Romans 8 reveals the Spirit

setting us free from ourselves -

controlling us in grace

rather than fears and worries

having their final say in us -

giving life –

testifying to us –

helping us in our weakness –

groaning for us interceding –

working for good



This blesses us who face doubts

and know the struggle to believe.

As Flannery O’Connor said,

If you want your faith, you have to work at it.

‘It is a gift, but for very few

is it a gift given without any demand

for equal time devoted to its cultivation.’


So if you struggle,

or are walking with someone who does not believe

in Christ Jesus

or doubts the love of our Father in Heaven,

first of all take comfort in the truth

that the Lord is with us in all the fullness

of comfort and counsel perfectly in the Holy Spirit.

I don’t have to be desperate in my search

to answer every doubt or wonder

in a way that settles every intellectual question.

My energy can first go toward

the relational aspects of faith,

practicing a reliance on the counsel and comfort of the Holy Spirit, like this:


How about when you see the beauty of nature

your first response isn’t to answer

the creation-evolution debate,

but simply to find the words or actions of praise?


And how about in the face of sorrow or suffering 

you don’t first go get a book on

arguments for the existence of God,

or the problem of evil,

but read a psalm and give room for the Holy Spirit

to receive your groaning and frustration

in prayer for patient trust?


And how about when it comes to

understanding scripture

you first of all take time to read it,

think about what it says,

and then attempt to do justice and love mercy, before looking up a youtube video

on whether the Bible is historically reliable?

For in the end we know God by two means.

This is why we believe –

the Belgic Confession summarizes

the work of the Spirit in gifting you with faith:

through the witness of creation:

its wonder, beauty, majesty and mystery

point to the providential reality of God

‘like a beautiful book in which all creatures,

great and small,

are as letters

to make us ponder

the invisible things of God:

God’s eternal power and divinity,

as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.


Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly

by his holy and divine Word . . .

The wisdom and transforming power of the living word of God in Christ and in the Bible

are like glasses

correcting our vision

until we recognize God in Christ

as our Savior and Lord.


Get what I’m saying?

If belief is founded and grounded

in the work of the Holy Spirit,

the way to recognize the presence and work

of the Spirit is in spiritual terms:

following Christ

exercising grace

taking God at his Word

growing and tasting the fruit of the Spirit.


You will find you are not alone

nor left on your own,

but graciously being led by the Spirit

into an identity in Christ.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.


There is much more we can say,

so on the back of your worship handout

are some homework questions.

I encourage you to these exercises,

and not by yourself, but seek out someone

whether friend or family or small group.

As together we answer the big question of today: why do we believe?