We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)
In the New Testament, we find compelling descriptions of joy, freedom and confidence in Jesus Christ: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8). Is this true of you?
These verses describe the gift of assurance. Assurance is the joy and freedom of a confident faith in Jesus Christ. It is faith fully grown. That is what this series has been about. How you can grow in your faith.
Today, I want to offer seven insights for increasing your faith.
- Christians Have Different Degrees of Faith
The Scriptures are clear on this: “Abraham was strengthened in His faith and gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20). So, it is possible for faith to be strengthened.
Our Lord says to Peter, “You of little faith – why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Christ does not say that Peter has no faith. Jesus said that Peter’s faith was small; it was little.
Jesus says to a Roman centurion, “I tell you the truth. I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10). So, there were many in Israel that had faith, but this man had more.
Jesus says to the disciples, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25), making it clear that it is possible to have faith and then not to use it.
A man came to Jesus and said, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). True faith can be mixed with doubts and many uncertainties.
I want you to see that faith can come to God with great boldness and confidence: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22).
If you drift through the Christian life saying, “Well, I have faith and that’s all that matters,” you will never grow. But once you see that Christians have different degrees of faith, you will have a reason to cultivate growth.
- Christ Deals with Weak Faith Gently…
…and We Should Do the Same
“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Matthew 6:30-32
Do you hear the gentleness? That’s how Jesus speaks to all of us who have little faith. He deals with weak faith gently: “A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). You can come to Christ as you are. We do not come to Christ to offer what we have to Him, but to receive what He has for us.
Since Christ deals gently with those whose faith is weak, we should too: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1), “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Those at the early stages of following Christ may not see what you see.
There is not one of us who has perfect faith. However much we grow in the Christian life, the struggle with doubt and unbelief remains. Calvin says it well:
“The godly heart feels in itself a division because it is partly imbued with sweetness from the recognition of the divine goodness, partly grieves in bitterness from its calamity; partly rests upon the promise of the gospel, partly trembles at the evidence of its own iniquity; partly rejoices at the expectation of life, partly shudders at death.
This variation arises from the imperfection of faith, since in the course of this present life it never goes so well with us that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith.” 
When faith is turned to sight, we shall know, even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). But until that day, we still see by faith, not by sight.
- Christians are Saved, Not by the Strength of Our Faith…
…but by the Strength of Our Savior
My friend Charles Price tells a great story about three people on a plane:
In the seat by the aisle is a businessman who flies all the time. In the seat in the middle is a student flying on her own for the first time. In the seat by the window is an old lady who has never flown before, and is already vowing that she will never fly again.
As the plain taxies to the runway, the business man takes out his paper, the student in the middle is slightly on edge, and the old lady is holding onto the seat white-knuckled with fear.
When the lunch is served, the businessman eats the lot, the student eats about half, and the old lady can’t watch. She has her nose in the barf bag. Here’s the amazing thing: All three of them arrive in exactly the same place at precisely the same time!
Why? It’s not your degree of confidence, but the trustworthiness of the plane that will get you there. That story reminds me that Christians are saved, not by the strength of our faith but by the strength of our Savior.
Your arriving in heaven depends, not on the degree of confidence you have in Christ, but on the Christ in whom you have placed your stammering trust.
If you are in Christ, your destination is secure. Weak faith gets you there as much as strong faith, because it is Christ who saves you, not your faith.
Bishop Ryle says:
“Simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance.” 
B.B. Warfield says it like this:
“The saving power of faith resides, not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests.” 
You may have weak faith but thank God you have a great Savior.
- Assurance of Faith is to be Desired and Pursued
Going back to our analogy of the three folks in a plane: The strength of your faith does not affect your arrival—they all arrived in the same place at the same time—but there was a huge difference in their experience on the journey.
Growing in faith will not make your arrival in heaven more certain, but it will change the experience of your journey through life. You will have greater peace, greater hope, greater love, and greater joy. It is one thing to believe and hope that you may be accepted by God. It is another to rejoice in God because of the peace, hope, and love that you have found in Him.
Paul prays for Christian believers that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18). He is praying for the strengthening of faith. Why? So that it will make heaven more secure? No. So that it will change your experience now.
Assurance: Is it presumption or exaltation?
Some of us may be thinking, “Is assurance not presumptuous?” How is it possible for a sinner to be confident before God? When Wesley wrote, for example, “Bold, I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own,”  is it appropriate for a person like you or me to sing that or to say that?
If salvation rested on your work, assurance would be nothing but pride and presumption. If salvation rested on your work, on what you do for God— your praying, your serving, etc., then assurance would be the same thing as saying, “I’m confident that I have what it takes.”
Salvation does not rest on our work but on Christ’s, not on our righteousness, but His righteousness made ours through His finished work on the cross. Far from exalting ourselves, Christian assurance exalts Christ because it is confidence, not in what we have done for Him, but in what He has done for us.
Bishop Ryle again says helpfully:
“It cannot be wrong to feel confidently in a matter where God speaks unconditionally – to believe decidedly when God promises decidedly –to have a sure persuasion of pardon and peace when we rest on the word and oath of Him that never changes.” 
If you come from a background where you’ve been taught that it’s inappropriate to have a joyful confidence in God, I want to commend to you the basis of this confidence.
The Scriptures are full of this joyful assurance. Note the tone of it. Don’t you want to have more of this in your life?
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” Job 19:25-26
Wouldn’t you want to have that kind of assurance in your death?
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
“I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8
“We are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
That is the assurance of faith. It is beautiful—a full-grown confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be desired, and it is to be pursued.
- Assurance of Faith Will Make You…
…More Fruitful in Serving Christ
Bishop Ryle has a helpful analogy here. I’ve adapted it:
Two men are each given a farm. The farms are exactly the same size, and have exactly the same quality of soil. They are given identical gifts. The gift of the land is registered with the county, and all of the legal process for the transfer of ownership is complete.
The first man receives this gift with joy, and sets to work cultivating the farm. He ploughs, sows, weeds, waters and harvests. Ryle says:
“Suppose in the meanwhile that the other shall be continually leaving his work, and going repeatedly to the public registry to ask whether the land really is his own, whether there is not some mistake, whether after all there is not some flaw in the legal instruments which conveyed it to him…” 
Which of these two men will have the greater harvest? The answer is obvious: The man who works the field will produce more than the man who spends half his time enquiring about whether the field is really his.
That’s why for some of us, if we could settle this matter of assurance, it would make us more fruitful in our service to Christ.
- You Cultivate Assurance by Drawing Near to Christ
Weak faith can grow and become strong. This series has been about how that can happen. We draw near by hearing the Word of Christ, by serving with the love of Christ, by feeding on the bread of Christ, by declaring the praise of Christ, by praying in the name of Christ, and by walking in obedience to Christ.
These are the habits of a growing Christian life. This is how it happens. This is why some are moving forward and some are not. You may be saying, “Colin, you don’t know how difficult my circumstances are right now.” I want to say that the more difficult the circumstances the more important it is for you to draw near to Christ.
Hudson Taylor was a great missionary who pioneered evangelism in China in the late 19th century. He was a man of extraordinary faith, who endured great trials in his life, including the death of his wife and two of his sons in the same year (1870).
I read from his biography:
“Days of sorrow and nights of heaviness did come through a physical breakdown in 1871. Mr. Taylor found that a badly deranged liver made him sleepless and led to a painful depression of spirit. This was increased by chest trouble which caused not only pain but serious difficulty in breathing. And time did not lessen his sense of loss.
It was under these circumstances that he discovered fresh power and beauty in the promise already vital in his experience. ‘Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ (John 4:14). The suggestion of a continuous habit, indicated by the tense of the Greek verb, flooded the passage with new meaning and met his long-continued need.
‘Do not let us change the Savior’s words [he often said in later years] it is not ‘whoever has drunk,’ but ‘whoever drinks.’ It is not of one isolated draught He speaks, or even many, but of the continuous habit of the soul.
It seems to me that where many of us err is in leaving our drinking in the past, while our thirst continues in the present. What we need is to be drinking – yes, thankful for each occasion which drives us to drink ever more deeply of the living water.”
You cultivate assurance by drawing near to Christ, not as a feature of your routine, but as the cultivated habit of your life.
- The Answer to Doubting Your Faith is Trusting Your Savior
Some folks face extreme difficulties in this whole matter of assurance. You struggle with many doubts. There is an instinct in you to doubt. Satan is constantly causing you to question your faith, and in large measure he is often successful.
The answer to the weakness of your faith is the strength of your Savior. Faith is a hand held up to Christ, but it is Christ’s hand that holds yours, not your hand that holds His. That’s why the hymn writer says,
“When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.” 
When you doubt your faith, what are you looking at? You are looking at your faith. Faith does not trust in its own hearing, serving, feeding, praising, praying and obeying. Faith rests in Christ, who we hear and serve and praise and obey, on whom we feed, and to whom we pray.
Christian faith is never focused on itself. Faith looks to Christ, and
in looking to Him, it looks away from itself. Paul does not say, “We rejoice in our faith.” None of us are going to be able to do that. Our faith isn’t good enough. Paul says, “We rejoice in God through whom we have received the reconciliation.”
I found some wisdom in reading Professor Donald Macleod who has a special sensitivity to this issue, because he comes from a part of Scotland where many Christian people struggle with this question of assurance. He makes this simple point:
“The worst thing Satan can do is convince you that you are a sinner, that all your attempts at the Christianity are completely useless, that you are an utter failure and that you have no basis whatever for hope before God. But then you are precisely the person for whom Jesus Christ came into the world!
In the last analysis this is the only answer for those who lack assurance of their own salvation. When doubt and temptation and depression have done their worst, proving that we have never been converted and never saved, what does that make us? Sinners!
…‘What though Satan and your own conscience accuse you of pride, infidelity, covetousness, lust, anger, envy and hypocrisy? Yes, do what they can, they can make no worse a man of you than a sinner… and so consequently such a one as Christ came to justify and save.’” 
(Pastor Colin shared the following at The Orchard on the weekend of May 29-30 regarding his upcoming sabbatical in June-August 2010)
As most of you will already be aware, the church board has given me three months of study leave this summer. The work of the preacher is to prepare food for God’s people. This summer will be for me like restocking the larder. It’s been almost 20 years since I last had a sustained period like this for study, and so I am very grateful for the opportunity.
I want to remind you of the plans for ministry over these months and to commend those who will be speaking to your prayers. Normally, as you know, the same sermon is shared in all our services by the use of video.
But for the next three months we are doing something different.
Beginning next week, in the sanctuary, Tim Baylor and then Greg Norwine will take us through the book of Galatians in a series called “Set Free.” Over the summer we have Dennis Magary, James Ford and Knute Larsen.
Beginning next week in the gym, we have a series in the book of Philippians, called “Joy in the Journey.” The series runs through the summer. It is led off by Tom Olson and Ryan Beardsley, continues with Bing Nieh, Tim Baylor, Josh Newton and Jared Hendricks.
At the Barrington campus beginning June 13th, Scott Lothery has a series called “The Gospel Nourished Life.” Small groups will be forming for this series in June and July. If you would like to be part of that over these next weeks please call or email the church office.
Then in August at Barrington, Kevin Meek and Tom Hutchison have a series on Nehemiah called “God’s Hand, God’s People.”
We’re in for a feast of good things from God’s Word. It is a great blessing for us to have younger men with a desire to preach the Word of God. Pray for those who are preaching. Encourage them. Come expecting to meet with God and He will meet with you.
 John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” book 3, chapter 2, paragraph 18
 J.C. Ryle, “Holiness,” p. 109
 B.B. Warfield, “Biblical and Theological Studies,” p. 424
 From the hymn by Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” 1738
 J.C. Ryle, “Holiness,” p. 106
 Ibid, p. 113
 Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret,” p. 182-3
 From the hymn by Ada R. Haberschon, “He Will Hold Me Fast,” 1906
 Donald Macleod, “Faith as Assurance,” The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, May 1988, p. 101, quoting from “The Marrow of Modern Divinity”