Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptist, Unitarian Universalist.
When you look at the church section of the phone book you will find a long list of churches. If you look into it deeper you will find that there are a lot of different kinds of churches too. Some of them are completely opposites. You may see one church claim one thing, and another church will claim something completely different.
It is true, we are living in a day where almost anything passes as “Christian.” And the branches of Christianity are so extensive that even those of us who claim to be Christians need a great deal of clarification regarding the true essence of Christianity.
When I played sports, our coaches often say that we needed to get back to the basics. From time to time we would get out there on the court and start playing, but our performance wasn’t good. It would almost seem that each of us was playing our own game. Someone watching might actually think that each of us was playing his own version of basketball. So the next practice, the coach would pull us aside and tell us that we needed to get back to the basics. They would tell us, “This is what basketball is all about…” and proceed to instruct us in the elementary truths of the game.
Sometimes we need to do that with our religion too. We have to get back to basic Christianity. If we are really going to understand what true faith is, we have to return to the elementary truths of Christianity. And really, that is what we have in these verses that are before us this morning.
In these verses the Apostle talks about himself. He gives a brief testimony regarding his faith. As a result, we have a solid witness to the exact nature of true faith.
As an apostle, Paul is an expert in what it means to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul might not be perfect, but certainly he has excelled in what it means to be a Christian. He wouldn’t hold that office if that wasn’t true. And because he has such a mastery of Christianity we may look at his faith to find out what true faith really is. Paul’s testimony in these verses shows us that true faith is marked by four distinct characteristics.
Paul begins by showing us that true faith is verbally affirmed.
I. True faith is verbally affirmed
Paul commences his testimony of faith with these words, “I thank God.” He makes sure that Timothy knows where he stands. He verbally affirms where his faith lies.
That’s a pretty impressive thing because when the Apostle Paul wrote this, he was in jail. He had been imprisoned because of his faith. The chains he was wearing were on him because he had openly professed his faith in Jesus Christ everywhere he went.
And any person who is really a Christian will do the same. If someone really is a Christian, it is going to come out in their speech.
We Presbyterians emphasize the importance of professing your faith publicly. That’s the way you become a member of Christ’s church. You stand up here and openly affirm your faith in Christ. But true faith is not limited to that one time profession. If you have true faith Christ will permeate your speech on a regular basis. As one person has said, a true Christian will never be like the rivers that flow into the Artic Ocean: They will never be frozen at the mouth.
When you are talking with a person you can tell he/she is a Christian because Christians have a distinct vocabulary. Christians talk about God and the things of Christ. They can’t help but talk about Him. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is a person who will be heard voicing praises and thanksgiving to God from time to time, like the Apostle Paul does here, because he is so overwhelmed by God’s goodness.
If you are around someone who doesn’t talk that way—if they don’t say much about God or they say nothing at all about Him—then you can very well assume that they probably are not a Christian. If spiritual things are not of any concern to them, then those subjects won’t be topics of conversation. And all of their speech will be atheistic—God will be noticeably absent from their conversation.
I’m sure you’ve been around people whose speech is filled with profanities. Some people swear so much that sometimes they don’t even know they are cussing. It is so natural to them that it just comes out.
A Christian is like that in that they naturally talk about spiritual things. Jesus Christ is so much a part of their lives that He will be on their lips a good deal of the time.
So the first question that you must ask yourself is “What is my vocabulary like? Do my words affirm my faith?” If you want to judge whether or not your faith is true, you need to look at your speech. Do people hear you talking about the Lord? Certainly there is a time to be silent, don’t get me wrong. But there is also a time to speak. And one who has true faith will frequently be heard talking about spiritual things.
But as you look at our passage, you not only see that true faith is verbally affirmed. It is also visibly demonstrated.
II. True faith is visibly demonstrated
Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve.” The word serve here is an interesting word. It’s literal meaning is “to pay homage to” or “to worship.” You could say it means “to render the service of worship.”
Paul’s saying, “I not only thank this God (I not only talk about this God), but my whole life is dedicated to the service and worship of this God.” Certainly Paul joined with the people of God on Sunday to worship God. But his worship went far beyond that. His whole life was an act of worship. His whole life was a service of worship because he sought to obey God’s law in everything he did.
A Christian isn’t a Christian in word only. His faith has feet. He demonstrates his faith in the way he lives his life Sunday through Saturday.
No one will ever believe you if you say you are a Christian, but you don’t live like it. and they have every right to believe that. Jesus himself said that you will know a tree by its fruit. And a Christian will be known by the kind of life he lives.
That’s why when you join this church you can’t just say you believe in Jesus Christ. You cannot make a simply profession of faith. You have to make what we call “a credible profession of faith.” In other words your life has to back up what you say with your mouth. If your life does not give credit to your profession—if your life does not visibly demonstrate your faith in Christ, the elders will not let you become a member here. That’s because a true Christian will seek to live in obedience to Christ.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect or near perfect. A credible profession of faith doesn’t mean that you are sinless. The Apostle Paul by his own admission wasn’t sinless. But true faith does mean that you are obeying in some degree. You certainly manifest obedience to Christ’s chief command, “repent.” A credible profession of faith does not mean that you perfect, but it does mean that you are visibly repentant. It means that you are at least trying to overcome the sin in your life and live in uprightness.
One time I took some of our young people back in IN to a youth camp. As you may well guess, there were some kids there who were not Christians and were not even from Christian families. At the end of the week these kids were in tears because they were so impressed with the Christians in the group. In their own words they said, “You guys are so weird, you say you are sorry when you do something wrong.”
Those kids visibly demonstrated their faith because they repented.
And does that sound like your faith? Can your faith stand the friend test? If I were to ask one of your friends or your family members whether or not they see you living like a Christian, would they answer yes? Would they tell me that they have heard you apologize? Could they say they have seen you overcoming sin in your life and demonstrating love and compassion? Or would they say, “Don’t listen to him. He’s a hypocrite.”
You know faith is true when it is verbally affirmed and visibly demonstrated. But forget that true faith is also historically rooted.
III. True faith is historically rooted
Look at what Paul says next. He says, “I thank God, whom I serve as did my ancestors.”
Paul’s saying here that his faith has roots. If you could somehow go back in time, you would see that everything in Paul’s life would be replicated in the lives of his forefathers. They held the same beliefs. They obeyed the same law. Nothing changed from one generation to the next. It was all the same faith.
So you have to understand, Christianity does not change. It never goes out of style. It never has to be adjusted. True faith is historically rooted.
Just before the Civil War, Charles Hodge gave a speech at Princeton Seminary. In that speech he said that the seminary had not produced one single new thought since its inception. He wasn’t saying that they were stupid. He was simply testifying to the fact that the faith of that seminary at that time had not changed one single bit since the time it was founded.
Sadly, that cannot be said anymore of Princeton Seminary. Princeton has moved far away from the historic, orthodox faith. Now it almost seems that Princeton’s Christianity now changes with every passing decade. But back in the 1930’s some men left Princeton to form Westminster Seminary. They did that in order to continue holding to and training men in the truths Christians have held throughout history.
Here in our church we regularly use the Apostle’s creed. From time to time you will here things from the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. We don’t think that these documents have the same authority as the Bible, but they do contain the faith of our fathers. And we use them so that you might possess the true faith.
It is not necessary to go out and re-discover or re-invent Christianity. This faith has been around for quite some time.
Sadly, that is what many people in the church do. We are living in a time where there is a complete disregard of history. Church history is rarely studied and the creeds and confessions are hardly ever given the time of day. And worship services like ours (often called “traditional”) are considered out-dated. But we need to be aware that this “out with the old and in with the new” mentality is dangerous. True faith is finds its roots in the past.
And your faith (if it is going to be true faith) must be built on the faith of our forefathers too. God didn’t start Christianity yesterday. And if your faith does not resemble the faith of those who lived in the 3rd century or during the time of the Reformation, then you need to be skeptical of your faith. True faith will look the same as the faith of Christians in ages past.
Notice also that true faith is inwardly undefiled. Along with being historically rooted, visibly demonstrated, verbally affirmed true faith is inwardly undefiled.
IV. True faith is inwardly undefiled.
In talking about his faith Paul says that he serves God with “a clear (or clean) conscience.”
Young people, do you know what your conscience is? It is that thing inside of you that either confirms you when you do something right or it agitates you when you do something wrong.
Paul calls it his conscience, but you might call it your heart.
If Christianity is anything, it is a religion of the heart. You can talk a good talk and you can walk a good walk, but if your heart is corrupt, your faith is dead. You can have a person who goes to church every week, who lives an outwardly moral life, and who loves to talk about theology; everything about you from the outside can seem great. To everyone else you really seem to be a true Christian. But in reality, deep down inside, your heart is not right with God.
True faith is not outward only. It penetrates to you inmost being. Really, that’s where it begins.
Commenting on this verse John Gill said, “Every man has a conscience, but the conscience of every natural man is defiled with sin; and that is only a pure one, which is sprinkled and purged with the blood of Christ; and whereby a person is only fitted to serve the living God, without the incumbrance of dead works, and slavish fear.”
The Apostle Paul did not always serve God with a pure conscience. As a Pharisee he sought to serve God zealously, but his heart was not right with God. He had not yet submitted to Jesus Christ. His sins had not yet been washed away by Christ’s blood. Being so defiled, his faith was not true. All his works were dead.
Many people today are the same way. They do not have a clear conscience. Maybe they are like the Apostle Paul: They try to serve God, but they have not submitted to Christ as their Lord and received his righteousness. Maybe they serve, not with an aim of pleasing God at all. Perhaps they serve God because their conscience is plagued with guilt. They serve God not out of cheerfulness and faith, but it is out of a sense of fear. They think that they can turn away God’s anger or earn his favor by just “doing enough.”
But true faith is had when one can honestly stand before God without any sort of intimidation. True faith is had when you hold, not to you own ability or worth, but when you hold to Jesus Christ’s blood and cross alone.
So I need to ask, does this sound like your faith? The faith that has been described here, can that be said of your faith? Is your faith expressed in your speech, seen in your life, linked to our history or pure in your heart?
If it does not meet all of these criteria, then you need to beware. If your faith fails in one of these areas, it is not like a test in school where you might get a “B-.” If you fail in one area, your faith fails to pass the test of faith. A faith that fails even in one area is not true Christianity. And a faith that is not Christianity is not of God.
But if your faith does meet all of these qualifications, then you may rest assured that your faith is true. You may have confidence that you stand with the Apostle Paul in our blessed religion. And one day you will stand with Paul and all the other saints throughout history by Christ’s side in heaven.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.