Well, good morning. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about truth. That is what we do at Grace to You: unleashing God’s truth one verse at a time. And this morning I want to look at what Scripture says about certainty, settled knowledge—how do we know what we know, and how can we be confident that what we believe is true?
One of the most disastrous developments in Western society since the end of World War II has been the loss of certainty. It’s not politically correct these days to hold strong opinions, to be convicted—to hold convictions about especially biblical truth; and that’s ironic because one of the founding documents of the American way of life, the Declaration of Independence, opens with a short preamble that’s followed by these famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” But in postmodern America, no truth is self-evident. We’re not even supposed to be sure what a person’s gender is until that person tells you his, her, or their pronouns, or until the kindergarten teacher figures it out.
And so we ask, “How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing?” That was a hit song by the Young Rascals when I was a teenager in 1967, and the lyrics of their refrain included this line: “I really, really, really want to know.” That was 55 years ago. And one of the major differences between then and now is that people born, let’s say, in the 1980s or later, don’t really want to know anything. The majority of people today like to react to things with great passion. They love slogans and hashtags and all the symbols of deep convictions, but they don’t really believe anything in the classic sense, with firm conviction and bold confidence.
You see this in the news cycle almost every day. There are emotionally distraught people who don’t even know the facts about whatever police shooting or court decision has them so agitated; but they swarm, and they demonstrate, and they chant slogans, and they protest and sometimes commit acts of violence, and facts are irrelevant to them. What matters is the socially constructed narrative, not the truth, not the facts of the case. And in fact, even if the facts come to light and they contract the original narrative, those facts won’t change anyone’s opinion.
You know, Ben Shapiro always says, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” But the truth is, the credo behind these flash mobs, the thing they live by, is exactly the opposite. They’re saying, “My feelings don’t care about the facts.” People nowadays just don’t believe that it’s possible to know with any kind of certainty what’s really true, and so they just have one bedrock belief. This is their key presupposition: that anyone who is certain about anything is just arrogant, because if you don’t believe it’s possible to know anything for sure, how can you take seriously any truth claims, especially truth claims coming from someone so unenlightened as to believe that God has revealed truth in Scripture.
And that’s where we are today. People reject the idea that God has revealed truth in Scripture. Just in the span of my lifetime there has been a massive loss of interest in truth and the question, “What is truth?” People in today’s culture don’t really believe that truth is fixed and objective. They have their videogames to play, where they can live in a virtual world where anything might be true, and they have mindless entertainments and fleshly pleasures that are easily available from multiple sources; and they frankly don’t care what’s true because at the end of the day, they don’t believe truth is knowable anyway.
But uncertainty about everything, that is the very antithesis of biblical faith. Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And so these are some of the questions that I want to consider with you in this hour, and let’s think about these things from a biblical perspective: Can we really know anything with settled assurance? And what can we know for sure? And how do we answer this popular notion that it is arrogant or improper to say we believe something with settled conviction, especially things that can’t be tested or proved in some kind of laboratory test? How can we be sure about these things?
And by the way, there are still people today—including, I think, far too many people who call themselves Christians—who would say that scientific testing is a perfectly reasonable standard by which to judge what’s true and what’s false. If there’s no scientific proof that something is true, then at best that’s just an opinion, not a fact, they will say. That is the modernist belief about knowledge and truth.
You know, modernists believed that science is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s certain, and modernism was en vogue and was a topic of fierce debate in the church about 150 years ago. The modernists said if you want to distinguish between what’s true and what’s merely a hypothesis, you have to put your idea to the test and prove it by the scientific method. And the modernists firmly believed that there is a scientific explanation for everything that truly matters. That was sort of their basic presupposition. Anything that can’t be established and confirmed scientifically, you just can’t know for certain, they said. And therefore, whatever science can’t possibly verify doesn’t ultimately matter.
And Darwinism was a classic modernist effort to do away with the necessity of believing in a Creator. And although Darwinism itself is a hypothesis that can’t be observed or tested by the scientific method, multitudes to this day insist on treating Darwinism as a scientifically established fact because, even though by their own standard, if it can’t be proven, it can’t be true, they desperately need this to be true. You see, if you can’t explain creation without a Creator, then you have to make room for spiritual truth. And modern science is supposed to be completely naturalistic, devoid of any hint that there might be spiritual or supernatural realities. That’s the fundamental notion on which post-Enlightenment modernism is based.
And that view does away with moral values—right versus wrong, good versus evil—because you can’t really prove any moral standard or spiritual truth by the scientific method; you just can’t. And therefore, modernism breeds hostility to all moral and spiritual values, especially fixed values, standards that are immutable. And even if that’s not what the original modernists were aiming at, that is what their basic presuppositions demanded; and it’s pretty easy to trace the progression from these modernists’ presuppositions to the rejection of all morality, which is where we are today.
Darwin and his doctrine of the survival of the fittest set the tone. And Darwinism, as we said—I think in the Q&A or the panel discussion yesterday—Darwinism replaces religion for modernist minds. And if you apply this principle of the survival of the fittest to human society, it immediately eliminates all historically Christian values because if only the strong survive, human oppression can’t really be considered immoral, inherently and absolutely immoral. If people and people groups are subject to the Darwinian laws of natural selection, then you can actually justify pretty much every human evil, from abortion to genocide. And the survival of the fittest has been used to justify everything on that spectrum.
Of course, that’s exactly what happened with the modernist way of thinking. It was called “social Darwinism,” and that’s why the 20th century actually was the bloodiest century in all of human history—with holocausts and ethnic cleansing and two world wars and some of the nastiest totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen, slaughtering masses of people numbering in the multiple millions. And nothing like that had ever occurred in the history of the world—similar things, but always on a smaller scale. And social Darwinism spawned these large-scale social experiments, and virtually all of them require centralized governments with a totalitarian control over people so that it was the job of dictators and party bosses to tell people what is true and certain; and if you believed anything different, you could be killed for it because the rule was, “Survival of the fittest.” And that’s why Marxism and communism and fascism all were predictable fruits of the modernist idea that truth is established by science.
And all those systems failed, of course. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked actually a major turning point in the way people think because when that happened, when the Berlin Wall was torn down, it was witnessed live on TV everywhere in the world; and it became clear to most people that modernist ideals don’t actually work in the real world. And furthermore, after more than two centuries of Enlightenment, people finally realized that scientific opinions are constantly in flux; they change all the time. So science can’t possibly offer any kind of settled certainty after all, and therefore a new way of thinking began to dominate postmodernism.
You’ve heard us use that term several times this week: postmodernism. The word was first used in the early part of the 20th century to describe some new styles of art and architecture that rejected the ugliness of modern art. And by the 1980s that term, postmodernism, was being applied to revolutionary ideas about literary criticism and textual deconstruction, and postmodernists said, for example, that the reader rather than the author gets to determine the true meaning of any text. And if you, in fact, went to college anytime after 1985 you probably learned about deconstructionism. It’s an approach to interpreting things like movies and music and literature in a subversive way, a purposely subversive way. You can use deconstructionism to find symbolism or meanings that the author never intended; and in the academic realm, this is deemed a profoundly enlightening exercise, just to deconstruct a work of art or a piece of writing. And so over the past twenty years or so, as students who’ve been indoctrinated with these ideas have graduated and moved out into the larger world, postmodern ideas about truth and meaning have infiltrated pretty much everything we hear or read or see.
And basically, postmodernism is a rejection of the modernists’ truth test. Postmodernists believe that if truth can’t be established even by science, then there’s really no way to be certain about anything. And I would say that is the central canon of postmodern dogma: the idea that we’re not supposed to believe anything with settled conviction. “Don’t be too sure about anything.” Basically everything is supposed to be regarded as a theory or a hypothesis, and everything other than my personal opinion is just someone else’s personal opinion. And so literally everything is treated as if it’s just a question of personal perspective. And so you have your truth, and I have my truth, and everything you believe is subject to change when your perspective changes—the same with me—and raw emotion, rather than the rational mind, but raw emotion becomes what determines how strongly we feel about anything.
I’m sure you’ve heard some of the discussion over the past few years, where people are even debating whether two plus two equals four. That’s actually been a controversial topic on Twitter—another reason to get off Twitter, maybe. And in fact, even people with advanced degrees in mathematics education say they aren’t really sure that two plus two equals four. So nothing, literally nothing is considered to be settled or certain anymore.
Postmodern wisdom therefore suggests that simple humility should keep us from ever claiming that we know anything for sure. That is the fundamental idea that’s actually driving human society right now: It’s the belief that no one, no one anywhere, has the authority to declare that anything is absolutely true. You can express your personal opinion as much as you like, but only if you acknowledge that it’s merely your opinion. You cannot make any universal truth claims, and if you do, you’ll be challenged. In fact, if you do, you might be forced off Twitter.
Now think this through. If a culture is going to function under that belief system, where truth is constantly changing, we’re going to need an oligarchy of enlightened minds to keep telling us whatever the current true way of thinking is. And in Europe, the European Parliament does that; it tells people what they’re supposed to believe at any given moment. President Biden just tried to create the Disinformation Governance Board. I understand that was dissolved yesterday. But don’t worry, it’ll be back. Yeah. I felt the same way. I think Ken Ham showed me that news item yesterday, and I felt like applauding too. But then I realized that’s temporary; it’s going to be back, and it’s already functioning like that on social media. There are people who call themselves “fact checkers,” who decide what gets to be considered true, tell us what we’re supposed to believe. And in fact, Biden’s attempt to do that was nicknamed “the ministry of truth” because it is precisely what George Orwell foresaw in his novel 1984. And that’s what it was called there, “the ministry of truth.”
And meanwhile, as far as the average postmodernist is concerned, the one remaining cardinal virtue is the humility of confessing that you don’t really know anything for sure; and that’s why diversity is also a virtue, because you know, diversity is better than unanimity of opinion or the belief that anything is true for all of us. And according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is inherently arrogant, diversity is always honorable, and propositional truth claims are never to be taken seriously.
Now as Christians, you ought to recognize instantly, that is not humility, that’s unbelief. And by the way, this underlying uncertainty about everything is precisely why gender is now considered fluid. You can literally, literally be the Olympic gold medalist in the men’s decathlon, and if you feel like a girl, today’s constantly shifting notion of social propriety says people are obligated to say that’s what you are; you’re a girl now. If a guy thinks he’s a dog trapped in a human body, society—and soon, I suppose, even the courts and legislature—will insist that all of us should play right along with him and pretend that he’s a dog.
The line between mental illness and sanity is steadily and systematically being erased, and all of this is a direct result of the notion that nothing can be known for sure. It’s bad enough that this trend is changing the world around us, but pagans will be pagans. And frankly, I think those who reject the truth, and even spurn common sense because they’re so desperate to have a worldview without God, those people need to live with the consequences of their unbelief. Although it grieves me to see the world become so hostile to everything that’s heavenly, one of the things I am absolutely certain about is that God’s truth will eventually triumph, and all of those who hate the truth and spread lies—they will ultimately be put to shame. And so I am content to live in a sinful world and proclaim the truth, even if it’s costly.
But what’s discouraging to me is watching the world’s skepticism and postmodernism’s glorification of doubt, watching that seep into the church. Even in mainstream evangelical circles today, we’re seeing a troubling tendency to coddle and excuse doubts while denouncing certainty because postmodern audiences are uncomfortable with certainty. They seem to fear—people in the church who lead the church seem to fear that they’ll lose their influence in the secular world and in the academic world if they don’t tone down their own certainty about the Bible’s truth claims. So that’s why believing in the Genesis account, for example, is deemed naïve. And it’s hard nowadays to find seminaries or other Christian institutions of higher learning that still stand firm on the biblical account of creation. Everything has to be nuanced or purposely made ambiguous, we’re being told. And some Christians are simply confused about all of this, and they don’t seem to know how to talk about truth and certainty anymore.
I recently came across an article that was posted online by an evangelical ministry that is generally sound; they’re not just rabid apostates. We wouldn’t agree with every jot and tittle of what they teach, but again, they aren’t rabidly charismatic or suspiciously liberal or anything like that. In fact, it’s a ministry that was founded by a guy who teaches in mainstream evangelical churches. And the title of his article, just the title, is “Why I Lack Certainty About Christianity.” And my first thought was when I read that title, “He must be using irony, or he’s just being provocative to get people to read the article, and surely he’s going to defend a biblical idea of certainty and settled conviction”—but nope.
He waffles quite a bit on his definition of certainty. He gives a scale between absolute disbelief and total certainty—disbelief being zero and total certainty being a ten—and he explains that he’s pretty certain about some things he says. And I’m quoting, “There are very few beliefs, if any at all, that I am a ten on,” implying that, you know, there are a few matters that he considers himself close to a hundred percent sure about. “For example,” he says, and again, I’m quoting, “I believe that one plus one equals two.” That’s good. “But,” he says, “on matters of theology or philosophical questions,” he says, “I don’t think I’m a ten about anything.” And so he asks himself, again quoting, “What about the existence of God? Aren’t you a ten there?” And then he answers, again quoting, “No, but neither are you,” he says. “If you think you are, then you’ve missed the point.”
Now in my judgment, he’s the one who’s missed the point; and actually, he’s missed several biblical points that are vital to this whole issue. And now I hasten to say, I think this guy’s actual beliefs are probably better than his analysis of certainty. But the main point he seems to want to make is that doubt and faith sometimes coexist in our minds, and that’s a point I’d made in a couple of sermons that I preached recently. When Peter walked on water, for example, his faith was assaulted with doubt. And there’s that man in Mark chapter 9, verse 24, who says to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” So we know that doubts do occasionally assault our faith, and we’ll come back to that.
But here’s where I think this article is way off base. First of all, I am more certain about the existence of God than anything I ever learned from a science book, and that guy should be too, because think about it—we had to learn math. Because knowledge that God exists is innate in our human consciousness, we didn’t have to learn that; we know God exists. Romans 1, verses 19 and 20—and Paul is speaking here about all of humanity, and specifically those who claim they don’t believe in God—Paul says, yes, they do believe in God, Romans 1:19, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, [both] His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” That’s a definitive statement; and Paul is saying there, even the rabid atheist who claims he doesn’t believe in God—yes, he does; and his conscience constantly assaults him with that knowledge.
There is an innate knowledge of God in every human heart because God Himself put it there; and that knowledge is then further confirmed by external evidence, namely the glory that is manifested in all creation. And Paul goes on to say that the problem with atheists and agnostics is not that they don’t have sufficient knowledge to be certain about God’s existence, but rather that “even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks, so they became futile in their [thoughts], and their foolish heart was darkened. And professing [themselves] to be wise, they became fools.”
So that’s one way this guy goes off track. He is essentially contradicting what the Bible says, when he claims he has more certainty about a math equation than he has about the existence of God. But second, he’s got the idea of certainty backward. Biblically, the certainty of a truth is not determined by how I feel or what I think about it; a certainty of any truth is determined by the reliability and the weight of whatever witness attests to that truth.
In a capital case, for example, the Bible says there have to be multiple witnesses. Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; at the mouth of two or three witnesses a matter shall be established.” And that’s dealing with human testimony there, which is fallible in any case. So even when two witnesses agreed, they could be mistaken, or they could be lying, so human testimony is always only relatively certain.
So is there anything that is one hundred percent certain? And the answer is of course: That is exactly the claim the Word of God makes for itself. Scripture is true, and it is infallibly and absolutely so. It’s the Word of God, who cannot lie. Jesus, praying for His disciples’ sanctification in John 17:17, said, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” If Jesus said that, I can be a hundred percent certain about it, can’t I? Isaiah 40, verse 8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word our God stands forever.” Jesus again, Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” John 10:35, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Luke 16:17, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke or letter of the Law to fail.”
That’s Jesus’ own testimony about the absolute certainty of God’s Word, and the test of anything’s certainty is not how I feel about it; it’s about the reliability of the thing itself. Some guy might feel absolutely certain that the moon is made of green cheese; that doesn’t make the truth claim certain. And if you want to talk about certainty from a biblical perspective, that is the standard. The only certainty that matters is the reliability of the truth itself, it’s not about the depth of my own personal conviction; and this is essential to the credo of authentic Christianity.
Our bedrock conviction is that what the Bible says is true, and it’s certain; and indeed, the truth of Scripture is the ultimate certainty because this is the very Word of God. That’s the confession we make as Christians. Our confidence is rooted in the Word of God, not in external evidences, not in our personal point of view, not in whatever level of intellectual comfort we can derive from comparing the Bible’s truth claims with whatever current philosophy or latest scientific opinion might rule. But when it comes to my own personal assurance, the weakness or strength of it has no bearing on the actual certainty of the Bible’s truth claims, so that whatever doubts I might struggle with from time to time don’t make the truth itself any less certain.
Doubts and fears are part of everyone’s experience, but those are sins to be mortified. Our doubts are not badges of authenticity that we should celebrate and share. You hear that a lot in these postmodern times. People want to be authentic, and so they incessantly share their doubts more than they ever declare their faith. Listen, when Christians equivocate or hesitate on matters where the Bible speaks clearly, the world is not impressed with our humility; they are, however, getting the impression from Christians that even we don’t really believe the Bible should be taken seriously. And let me say this clearly: If you don’t really believe the Bible is the Word of God, then you’re not a Christian at all; don’t pretend to be. And if you do believe the Bible is the Word of God, then what you are confessing is that the Bible is, by definition, true and reliable and certain.
Psalm 19:7, “The law of Yahweh is perfect . . . the testimony of Yahweh is sure.” Psalm 93, verse 5, “Your testimonies are very faithful.” Hebrews 6:18, “It is impossible for God to lie.” That’s really all the certainty you need.
So turn with me to Hebrews 11, and we’re going to spend a little time in this chapter. Hebrews chapter 11; this is a famous chapter about faith. And the very first verse in this chapter is all about faith and assurance and convictions. Those are the nouns, those three nouns all used in this verse: faith, assurance, conviction. That’s how the ESV and the NASB and the Legacy Standard Bible all translate it.
And here’s my point in bringing you to this text: If you lack assurance or if you have weak convictions, you need to immerse yourself in the Word of God and trust what it says, and thereby let your faith thrive and increase, because Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Those are strong words. The King James Version says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And one of the modern translations, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, says it like this: “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, and the proof of what is not seen.” I like that translation. All of those, by the way, are legitimate translations of what the Greek text is saying.
So this is purposely, this is a very strong statement about faith and assurance and conviction. True, saving faith is not just a vague notion that something is true; faith is a supernatural, God-given, life-transforming reality. Faith lays hold of Christ, and that is what confirms the truth and what gives us the unshakable conviction that God’s Word is true and conclusive.
Verse 3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Faith, in other words, open our spiritual eyes to see, and it renews the soul, and it opens our hearts to understand. And of course, all of Hebrews 11 is about faith; this is a theme that runs from start to finish in this chapter. And alongside it is another theme: It’s the idea of seeing what is invisible. Faith is the conviction of things not seen.
Verse 10, Abraham “was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” In other words, he never saw that city with his eyes during his earthly life. And in fact, think about it: Abraham lived in tents as a vagabond his entire life. But he had a promise from God, and he counted it as sure and certain, and he never let go of that hope. And we know Abraham struggled with doubts from time to time because he undertook a fleshly scheme to fulfill the promise that he would be the father of many nations. So he had moments of doubts, like we all do. But he never let go of the promise. His faith survived those attacks because God Himself is the source of true faith, as we were just saying. He will hold me fast. God keeps us in the faith. He’s the One who keeps us in the faith; don’t take credit for that yourself. And Moses likewise, verse 27, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the rage of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.” That’s the theme, again, of seeing into the realm of the invisible.
And I’m sure you’re familiar with this chapter. This is a long honor roll of Old Testament characters who lived by faith. But look at verse 13: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance.” And then look at the middle of verse 35: “Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; others experienced mockings and floggings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in desolate places and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” This is not prosperity gospel stuff, is it? “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”
In other words, they all died without seeing the fulfillment of the promises that they were trusting, because all of those promises are ultimately fulfilled in Christ; and not one of those people lived to see His incarnation. And so we have a great advantage over them because we have more of God’s Word. We’ve seen the fulfillment of more of God’s promises, we have more reason to know that God is faithful to His covenants and absolutely certain is His Word.
Much of the unseen truth in the Old Testament—the stuff that those Old Testament saints trusted God for—much of it is fully known to us. So there’s no reason our faith should be as paltry as it is. And if you think you need to see some other evidence or proof that the truth is trustworthy, then you haven’t really laid hold of Christ by faith because faith itself provides all of the assurance and conviction we need. That’s the point of this; he states it in verse 1.
Back to verse 1. And now let’s consider the question, What is the faith that this chapter speaks of? It is not some blind, credulous, ignorant hope; it isn’t a wishful guess. It is the conviction of things not seen. It’s not the superstitious fancy that many people think faith is. You know, a lot of people think that if you wish for something hard enough, and if you can convince yourself that something is true, that will make it true. And some people actually teach—and some people who call themselves Christians actually teach that you can create your own reality simply by saying the words out loud; you know, “Declare your own miracle. Speak the word of truth—word of faith. Make a positive confession. And so that if the doctor tells you you’re sick, you need to tell yourself, no, you’re healthy. So your words can create the reality you want to see in your life. What you say determines your destiny.” These charismatic preachers say stuff like that all the time. That’s exactly, in fact, how the Word Faith charismatics describe faith.
Listen, that is not faith; that’s just a blind gullibility. It’s based on a twisted interpretation of Matthew 17:20, where Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you [can] say to this mountain, ‘Move from [there to here],’ and it’ll move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Or Luke 17:6, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.”
Now understand this. Jesus was working with a biblical view of faith. To begin with, God is the source of true faith. We see this again and again in Scripture. For example, Romans 12:3, Paul says, “For through the grace given to me I say to each one of you not to think highly of himself more than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound thinking, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
Notice, a measure of faith is allotted to us by God. We don’t concoct our own faith out of sheer willpower. And if God wants you to move a mountain or a mulberry tree, He will give you the measure of faith that’s necessary to do that miracle—and it might be a very small measure, like a mustard seed. Jesus says a miracle like that wouldn’t require any greater faith than a mustard seed; that’s His point. And that is because the power for the miracle, just like the faith itself, comes from God.
Jesus is not saying that our faith, what we convince ourselves to believe in, is the source of the power that performs the miracle; that’s not what He’s saying. And besides that, faith is not merely a superstitious belief that I can work my own miracles. Extreme charismatics completely misconstrue what faith is all about. Faith is not a belief in the magic of my own words; that’s not faith. Faith is not a gullible trust that I can program my own mind to be a tool for fulfilling my wishes. Faith is simply trust in what the Lord says; that’s faith. So unless God Himself has told you to command a mountain or move a mulberry tree, your belief that you can work a miracle to uproot that tree or throw a mountain into the sea, that’s not genuine faith at all, that’s sheer superstition, unless God has spoken and told you to do that. And when in Hebrews 1 it talks about assurance and conviction, this is not the brash, televangelist-style impulsiveness that makes all kinds of ridiculous claims about things that God never promised. None of these people listed here were trusting in things that God hadn’t promised them.
But the faith spoken of here, it’s not an implicit faith, it’s not—by that, I mean faith is never devoid of knowledge or understanding. Faith is not a blind assent to something that you don’t have any clue about. You know, the Roman Catholic Church actively encourages people to have that kind of ignorant—what they call “implicit”—faith, and saying you don’t to need to really understand what the church teaches. You may not even be aware that Jesus is God incarnate or that the Holy Spirit is a divine person. And even if you never gave a single thought to the question of why Christ died on the cross, if you trust the authority of the Pope or the infallibility of the church, then that’s faith enough, they say; that’s implicit faith in what the church teaches—even though you don’t have a clue what that is.
But that is not faith either; that’s ignorance. And in a similar vein, what this verse has in view—it’s not a mere profession of faith. You know, you might sign a doctrinal statement, or you might give lip service to a church covenant; but if you don’t have real love for Christ or a hatred for the things that dishonor Him, if you lack interest or enthusiasm for the truth that you profess to believe in, then your public assent to some facts that are listed on a sheet of paper, that’s not faith either; it literally doesn’t mean anything. It probably won’t last either, because God purposely drives away from the church people whose faith is a sham.
You see Christ actively doing that very thing in John chapter 6. And 1 John 2:19 says this about people who abandon the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it [might] be manifested that they were not all of us.” It’s talking about people like Judas there, who profess fidelity to Christ but they’re actually just tares among the wheat. And Scripture’s saying God deliberately drives people like that out of the church. He’s the one who orchestrates the departure of those people. The implication is that even if they just get bored or angry and leave because they lose interest, God is actually the one who sovereignly ushers them out of the fellowship, because He purges the church of people whose faith is merely nominal because they’re like Judas: They poison the fellow, and they undermine the faith of weak believers.
So all those things are faith. What is faith? The faith that is spoken of here is the same faith that is mentioned at the end of chapter 10. Just look at the context. You’d probably see this more clearly if the chapter division wasn’t there. But look at the end of Hebrews 10, verse 35. This whole epistle, you know, is an extended plea to half-hearted and vacillating believers. These are people from a Jewish background; that’s why it’s called “the epistle to the Hebrews.” And some of them were considering leaving Christianity in order to go back to what was a more comfortable and familiar religion that they grew up in, because Judaism was more ornate and more ceremonial, and above all, more socially acceptable than Christianity. And the strain of persecution—and in many cases, the loss of family relationships—were wearing down the faith and the stamina of lots of people who had professed faith in Christ; and the entire epistle is a plea for those people who were wavering to go on to maturity in Christ. And the flow of the argument of this epistle is interrupted several times with a series of warnings that are increasingly severe.
The warning passages in Hebrews, especially Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10, are some of the hardest and most severe passages in the entire New Testament. And the final warning comes here in chapter 10, verses 26 through 31. And I’ll forewarn you: This is a very strong condemnation of lukewarm, half-hearted faith. It’s an indictment of the bare, meaningless verbal assent to the faith. And in fact, you won’t find a more pointed warning about the evils of apostacy anywhere in the New Testament.
So listen to it, Hebrews 10, verses 26 through 31: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy by the mouth of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as defiled the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
And then the writer reminds his readers of their early days in the church, verse 32, “The former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and afflictions, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you also showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted with joy the seizure of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession.” In other words, he’s saying, “All of the hardships associated with taking up your cross and following Christ do, after all, bear some wonderful fruit.” He tells them, “You have for yourselves a better and lasting possession. It’s better and more enduring than any earthly treasure.”
“Therefore,” he says, “do not throw away that confidence of yours, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”
And now here, he puts together words from three Old Testament texts to form what he says in the next verse; he’s quoting snippets from two places Isaiah and one verse from Habakkuk, so he’s actually quoting snippets of Old Testament familiar verses. Verse 37, “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.” And then the next verse continues quoting from that same place in Habakkuk. This is Habakkuk 2, verse 4, and this verse, by the way, is quoted three times in the New Testament. This is one of the apostle Paul’s favorite Old Testament texts. It is the verse that was instrumental in Martin Luther’s conversion. And notice, this is a verse about faith. Hebrews 10:38, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”
So the context here is about faith; specifically, it’s about holding firm to the confidence that goes hand in hand with true faith. And he goes from that directly into Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Because faith is a supernatural reality—it’s a gift of divine grace—faith carries a dose of certainty with it. In fact you can’t have assurance of your salvation at all if you are uncertain whether the facts of the gospel are true.
Now there are some people who teach that full assurance of salvation is the essential defining feature of genuine, saving faith. What they’re saying is, “You haven’t truly believed in Christ until you have full assurance that you’re saved.” That is not what this verse means; and I think there are some pretty grave dangers that are inherit in that idea of faith. I don’t believe that. Faith and assurance are not exactly the same thing; and that’s not the point of this verse. If you want a sufficiently thorough study of why that’s bad teaching, read chapter 10 in John MacArthur’s book The Gospel According to the Apostles.
So when what he’s saying there is, saving faith is not a belief that I personally am saved. That’s not the essence of saving faith. Saving faith is a wholehearted belief in Christ as Lord and Savior. Assurance of your personal salvation will grow, or sometimes diminish, with time and circumstances. But a degree of assurance is certainly inherent in faith. Some degree of assurance is there, because really trusting Christ as Savior and actually believing the truth of His Word entails some level of self-awareness that I am a believer, and therefore He has saved me. But settled assurance comes with maturity. Doubt can coexist with faith—as we said at the start. You detect that truth in the plea of that man in Mark 9 who said, “Lord, I believe; [but] help my unbelief.”
But still, this text does mean, I think, that faith contains the seed of our confidence in Christ. You don’t have faith at all without a conviction that the Word of God is true, that Christ is trustworthy. And so our faith contains the seed of our confidence, and the root of that confidence is God’s Word.
If you take nothing else away this morning, be sure you get this: The only certainty we can cling to is the Word of God itself. That’s where all of our certainty derives from. In other words, absolute certainty of biblical truth lies not in the fact that I believe it, but in the fact that God said it.
Now belief in the truth of Scripture is so basic that you can’t reject it at all and make any credible claim to be a believer. The entire Christian religion rests on the conviction that God has revealed truth that He wants us to know and affirm. Our certainty about the truth of Scripture is derived from the fact that every word of God is God-breathed truth—it’s sure, it's certain, it’s settled, and it’s fixed, and it’s unchanging, and all of those things. Scripture makes it absolutely clear that God Himself expects us to know and be certain of the truth that He has revealed.
In Galatians 5, verses 7 and 8, Paul writes to those drifting Galatians, and he says to them, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion,” he says, “is not from Him who calls you.” Again, the clear implication is that God has given us authoritative truth, and He tells us to obey it; and we’re guilty if we do not. And doubt does not come from God; all of Scripture underscores this. Unbelief is the mother of all sin. And of course, some things in Scripture are more clear than others. Some things are indeed hard to understand. Second Peter 3:16, Peter writes, “[In Paul’s epistles there] are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” But at the end of the day, this is one of the fundamental tenets of true, biblical, historic Christianity. We believe God has revealed vital truth in His Word; and because God says it, we can have complete faith that it is absolutely and necessarily true, because God cannot lie.
And above that, God Himself holds us responsible for believing what He has revealed. It is our bounden duty to receive God’s Word as fully reliable, objectively true, factually accurate, historically trustworthy, inerrant, unchanging, eternal, divinely revealed truth. And ultimately, Scripture then is the touchstone of all truth, and it is the standard by which every other truth claim must be tested. That’s what we mean by the principle of sola scriptura—not that Scripture is the only thing we can learn from; it’s the only truth, but it is the ultimate standard by which all truth claims must be tested. You can work out the epistemological kinks however you like, but if you want to call yourself a Christian, you must affirm that much.
Before postmodernism became the spirit of the age and ushered in the demise of all certainty, academic types generally did believe that certainty is derived from knowledge that’s gained in the classroom and in the library. Scientific types believe that certainty is a product of experimentation. Intellectual types thought that certainty was gained by rational exactitude exercised by people with a high intelligence quotient—the philosophers. And lots of people thought, and some still do, that they could look to majority opinion to tell them what they can be certain about.
But Christians, Christians have always regarded the Word of God as the only reliable standard by which to judge all other truth claims. Let’s hold fast to that. And in fact, we have a generous canon of sure and certain truth that is built right into the Christian faith and canonized for us in the Scriptures. As believers, we know that; but people who lack faith in Christ can never know that. First Corinthians 2:14, “A natural man does not accept the depths of the Spirit of God, for they’re foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually examined.”
And Paul goes on two verses later to say, “We have the mind of Christ.” It doesn’t mean, of course, that we possess exhaustive omniscience when he says we have the mind of Christ. What he means is we have access to the truth of Christ through the Word of God. We possess knowledge of truth that is certain and infallible; and that sets us apart from the rest of the world. It’s really as simple as that.
Don’t succumb to the argument that says, “We should never try to sound too definite or too sure of ourselves or too dogmatic just because the unbelieving world rejects the possibility of settled truth.” Just because they don’t know whether anything is really true and certain or not, we don’t need to tone down the fact that God’s Word is true and reliable. “We have the mind of Christ.”
Listen to what John MacArthur says about that text—quoting from him, he says, “The argument seems to be that if we cannot know everything perfectly, we cannot really know anything with any degree of certainty.” He says, “That’s an appealing argument to the postmodern mind. But it is entirely at odds with what Scripture teaches when it says, ‘We have the mind of Christ,’ 1 Corinthians 2:16.” Then he says, “That’s not to suggest, of course, that we have exhaustive knowledge. But we do have infallible knowledge of what Scripture reveals. As the Spirit of God teaches us through the Word of God, we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may knows the depths graciously given to us by God”—that’s 1 Corinthians 2:12.
And John MacArthur goes on to say, “The fact that our knowledge grows fuller and deeper and we therefore change our minds about some things as we gain more and more light, that doesn’t mean that everything we know is uncertain or outdated or in need of an overhaul every few years.” But he says, “The words of 1 John 2:20 and 21 apply to us as believers in their true sense, where it says, ‘You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I’ve not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, because no lie is of the truth.’”
We have the truth. God has given it to us in His Word. Let’s unleash it. Let’s pray.
Lord, Your Word is truth. You do not lie; You do not deny Yourself. Your Word is therefore perfect and infallible and inerrant and incorruptible. And in it You have given us truth that will never change and never fail, so that we know all of Your promises are yea and amen.
Give us courage and conviction to stand for truth in a generation where truth is so bitterly despised and often held up to scorn. May we know the truth and obey the truth, and thus live our lives as a light shining in a dark world, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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