What Is Essential? No. 2

Moravians since Luke of Prague have always said that the one thing essential to personal salvation is “a heart relationship with the Triune God that issues in faith, love and hope.” (Note 1:) Luke of Prague died in 1528, but his statement about the one essential is still to be found in “The Unity Book of Order.”

Three weeks ago we spoke about the first part of that statement. We talked about what it means to have “a heart relationship with the Triune God,” who reveals God’s Self on the plane of human history with three persona or faces, the face of the Father, the face of the Son, and the face of the Holy Spirit. The first part of the One Essential is thoroughly rooted in the New Testament. In Romans, for instance, Paul refers to the three faces of the One Triune God, and in Romans 10:9 he mentions the heart:

“If you confess with your lips, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This morning I want to talk about the second part of that one essential. I want to talk about how a heart-relationship with the Triune God issue in faith, love and hope. The second part of this statement is also thoroughly rooted in the New Testament and draws its energy from several texts.

And in Romans 5:1-5 Paul writes:

Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Moravians are not alone in holding a high view of faith, hope, and love. St. Augustine (354-430 C.E.), who was arguably the most influential figure in the development of Western Christianity—figuring as he did in the Catholic faith, and through Calvin in the Reformation, wrote that if we know the gospel story, and if we have faith, hope, and love, even if we are deprived of the Scripture, we can still live the kind of life that God wants his Children to live, the kind of life that will bring us safely into his Eternal Presence. (Note 1) Augustine was bold to say this because he believed faith, hope, and love to be living and active instruments or powers, that God uses in us to accomplish God’s purposes for us.

Let us take up each of these powers in turn.

1. The first is faith. In Romans 5, St. Paul says, “We are justified by faith.” It is the language of the courtroom. God declares sinners innocent in Christ. In the New Testament faith is always faith in the God and Father of Jesus Christ who created us and redeemed us; and faith in the God the Son, who loved us and gave himself for us, and then rose again to give us a future and a hope; and faith in the promised Holy Spirit who proceeds from the father, whom the Son sent to be with us, to empower us for living as God would have us to live, so that we might master through life while others merely muddle through.

Now faith has always come in for a lot of criticism. In the 19th Century, writing in “The Devil’s Dictionary,” Ambrose Bierce said that that “…faith is believing what everybody else already knows isn’t true.” In the 21st Century, Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist, says that primary advantage of faith is that people who posses it have an imaginary friend to help us through the difficulties of life.

The author of Hebrews would beg to differ. He wrote that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The apostle means that, faith is solid and true, and assures those who possess it. In speaking of this text from Hebrews, Dr. Francis Schaffer wrote that it is impossible to tell a man walking on a road in the dark that the road does not exist, because he can feel the road under his feet. We know when we are on it, and we know when we get off it.

If we step out in faith, God meets us along the road. In Romans 8, St. Paul wrote about his meeting saying, “The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Jesus Christ.” And in 1st John 5:0 we read, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has born witness to his son.”

Ultimately Christians remain Christians not because we are logically convinced beyond all doubt, but because we somehow sense the testimony of God that is at work in our lives. In the same way, if you don’t have faith, and want it, then it would behoove you to live as if you have faith until you have it, then you will certainly live as if you have faith. In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

2. The second power that is at work in us is hope. In Romans 5, St. Paul says that “we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God; more than that, we rejoice in our sufferings—-because they ultimately produce hope.” Christians have a hope for life beyond death. But we also have a hope for life in this world. We experience God’s faithfulness in one situation and that leads us to expect God’s faithfulness in others as they arise. In 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10 St. Paul writes:

2Cor. 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; 10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

I once sat next to a woman on an airplane who had survived the holocaust. He father, mother, and sisters had all died. I was deeply saddened by her story, and I asked her what she had hoped for as she labored day by day in the camps. She said, “I hoped to be alive at the end of the war.” She went on to tell me that she believed that, “… this life was all there is, there isn’t anything else.” More than anything I wanted to share with her the hope that rightly belongs to us all because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we read in 1st Peter 1:3-5:

Pet. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

This is good news! Yet, like faith, hope has come in for a lot of criticism. It was Alexander Pope who wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast, man never is, but always is to be blessed.” It was Karl Marx who said that the religion is an opiate for the masses. And countless individuals have criticized Christians and other religious people for holding on to the idea of “…pie, in the sky, bye, and bye.” Others have pointed out that lots of people have a hope, and not everyone can be right. Perhaps you have heard the story of the Cardinal who rushed into see the Pope saying, “I have some good news, and some bad news.” And the Pope said, “What is the good news?” And the Cardinal responded, “The Lord is back!” And the Pope said, “Well, what is the bad news?” And the Cardinal said, “He is in Salt Lake City.”

Of course, we do not believe that our hope is so compartmentalized. In Matt. 24:27 Jesus said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”

Moravians have never made a big deal about the details surrounding the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. We don’t hold conferences on prophecy. We don’t have any charts pointing to all those things that must happen before the End of the Age. Jesus said, “Of that day and hour no man knows, not the angels in heaven, nor the son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) We teach that Christ coming back for his church, and our being called home to Him in death, are just two sides of the same coin. That said, we continue to insist that if God be God, and Christ be the Savior of the World, then the same Christ who appeared for the first time on the plane of human history in humility and hiddenness, his true identity known to only a select few witnesses, and to faith, must of necessity, appear a 2nd time, in power and in glory, his true identity known to faith and unbelief alike. Someday Ambrose Bierce, and Richard Dawkins, and Karl Marks will join with people of faith as we kneel before Him. That is what St. Paul is getting at In Philippians 2:10-11:

10 God has given him a name which is above every name, that, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

3. That brings us to the third power that is at work in us: Love. In Romans 5, St. Paul writes, “…hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

It is hard to criticize love. Tom Jones sang, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, it is the only thing, that there is just too little love.” Tom Jones usually sang about romantic love or even erotic love, but in this instance he was singing about real love, the love that reaches out to support and help another.

Atheists have at least two things in common with Christians and other believers. The best of them recognize the powerful and destructive nature of sin. Sam Harris has even begun to teach that we can be good without God. I think he is overly optimist about that, but at least he is preaching morality as he sees it. Likewise, many atheists have started to recognize the powerful and constructive nature of love—not lust but love.

Some of you saw the recent debate on Creationism vs. Evolution. I did not watch it. I confess that I don’t know enough science to tell you in any detail how God created the world; but I know enough Bible to tell you that having the right opinion about it is necessary for salvation. It is my personal conviction that God never intended the Bible to be a scientific textbook. Real science that sits humbly at the feet of the facts, and real faith, which sits humbly at the feet of the Savior, can co-exist. So, I did not see the debate. However, I did read a brief account of it on the web, and I was really impressed by the sheer number of responses that people posted on Twitter and various web sites. There were tens of thousands of responses. Indeed, NPR.Org reported that the most popular response received more than 2,000 favorable comments. A Christian posted it. He wrote:

As a Christian I will say this about the debate: My faith does not require me to believe in the age of the earth as outlined in the Bible. (That is debatable anyway. WNG) Christ commanded me to love and that is where all Christians need to focus. Discussing how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin is a distraction.”

And one atheist who goes by the name of Rabid Chipmunk responded to that post saying:

“And this Atheist respects you for that.”

Now someone may be pleased that I noted the wisdom of the Christian, and, at the same time, a little surprised that I think it is worth noting that an Atheist respects a Christian because that Christian has decided to major in love. I respect him because he is one of those for whom Christ died. And I am delighted that he respects a Christian for his emphasis on love, and, speaking as not judgmentally as I can, I hope he is one step nearer the kingdom because of it.

There is a powerful lesson here. Dr. Robert Coleman, at one time professor of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary once wrote that it is possible for a Christian witness to win every debate and loose the person with whom we debate.

In the gospels, Jesus was known as a hard to best in debate. Yet, at the most critical point of his ministry, he did not rely on words. In Isaiah 53, and again in the book of Acts, we read about how Christ endured his suffering.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

Jesus ultimately won the world not with his words but with his actions. He loved us and gave himself for us. So, too, Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, that is, with a sacrificial love, and this love is often best conveyed in actions. St. Paul so loved the Jewish people, his kinsmen, his race, that he wrote that he was willing to be cut off from Christ and accursed, if only they would embrace Jesus the Messiah. Likewise, St. Peter said it was possible for a believing wife to win her unbelieving husband “without a word,” through her “reverent and chase behavior.” Bishop Herbert Spaugh said it was the task of the Moravian church to love the sinner out of his sins. I think this church embodies some of that reality. We have one woman who often travels a great distance to be with us. She is a friend. She tells me that she is an agnostic, but she loves this church. Likewise, when I came to this church one of our members approached me and said, “Worth, I want you to know I don’t have a very conventional faith.” I said, “Really, how so?” He said, “Well, I don’t believe in God.” I said, “But you are here whenever we open the doors?” He said, “Yes, I don’t have faith, but I love to be around people who do, and I love this church.”

George Hunter, a distinguished professor of Evangelism has written that one of the best ways to engage non-believers is to invite them to join with us in our service to people in need, a service that many of them are eager to render. He says that if they walk with us in this way of service, it may be that they will discover that they wish to walk with us on The Way, too.

Notes
Note 1:

Augustine spoke of faith, hope, and love, probably because he wanted to make the point St. Paul Makes in 1st Corinthians 13:13 when he writes, “So faith, hope, love, abide these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the greatest because it endures. Faith and hope will pass into reality and sight, but love will endure to all eternity. Luke of Prague reversed the order of Augustine and spoke of faith, love and hope. He did so to emphasize that the love that endures for Eternity is the primary thing we need right now. Our faith and hope do not disappoint us, and they will not fail us, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Note 2: “Thus a man who is resting upon Faith, Hope and Love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the scripture except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without the copies of the scriptures even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces…Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called) so great an edifice of Faith and Hope and Love has been built in them that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—I mean so far as is possible in this life; for in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. De Doc. Christ. I, 39,43.

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