As a child, I was always someone who was unsure of myself. It is not that I could not do anything, I just lacked the confidence to try. The people I envied were not the people who could do everything but those confident enough to try things without anxiety of possible failure. There is a fine line to walk here. You do not want to be a person who is overconfident, who has no fear and takes unnecessary risks. But you also do not want to be the person who refuses to try and is paralyzed with fear. A humble confidence is the middle path. We know our limitations but we are confident enough to step out of our comfort zones. This is true on a personal level but it is also true of our Christian life. There is a need for confidence in the church. I do not mean a cockiness that forgets our limitations and makes us rather annoying. Yet, I see very little evidence of people being overconfident in their Christian faith. Instead, I see people who go to church because that is what they have always done or because on some level, it just feels right. The moment someone starts challenging us on what we believe, we back down. I think Christianity is true, sort of. There probably is a God out there, somewhere, maybe. Jesus is real, at least he works for me, most of the time anyway. We believe as a default position, but it may not be a confident belief. The level of confidence we have in our faith shapes the other things we do. How strong are our prayers when we are wondering if there really is a God out there? What kind of peace can we have when our loved ones die or we are facing death, if we are not sure if there is an afterlife? James, speaking of prayer says this: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:6–8 NIV) Now a certain amount of doubt in terms of questions is normal. James is speaking of the one controlled by doubt, who has no confidence in prayer. We need to be confident Christians. How do we do this? The author of Hebrews gives us two very important steps. Let us take a look.
The first thing we are told is that we have to believe that God exists. Do you believe God exists? It is not as easy as either yes or no. There are people who are sure God does exist and those who are sure God does not exist. In between there are those who are pretty sure he does/does not exist and those who are on the fence and don’t take a stand. But the author of Hebrews is actually speaking to Christians. He is telling Christians that they should believe God exists. Well, of course. That is like telling hockey players that they should play hockey. If it is so obvious, why does he mention it and why does he stress this belief? It is interesting that the only other mention of God’s existence is: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”” (Psalms 14:1 NIV) We might think of modern atheists but when this was written, almost everyone believed in a god. What the Psalmist is condemning are those who live as if there were no God. They chose their words, actions, values and morals as if God did not exist. That is foolish. The author of Hebrews is dealing with something similar. What does this look like? Most people if asked to take a stand one way or another would say that there is a God. They believe in God but what they really mean is that it is at least slightly more likely that God exists than he does not. After all, he is invisible and mostly silent. How sure can you really be? The Bible assumes that you can be very sure. Without going into all the evidence for the existence of God, I will share one verse. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) Paul is teaching here that whether you come from a Jewish or a non-Jewish background, God’s reality is very obvious through his creation. We are not looking here at philosophical debates on the existence of God. What we are looking at are normal people with jobs and homes and families who experience both joy and pain throughout life. Is it enough to just know that our parents and grandparents believed in God and that we are carrying on the tradition? We need to experience God for ourselves. Not long before my mom died, she heard me preach and speak of becoming a Christian while in my twenties. This bothered her as she raised me as a child attending church. I value those years attending St. James Anglican Church and all that I learned there. I do not discount that chapter of my life at all. But it was not until my university years, after recovering from atheism, that I became confident in my belief in God. I remember being at the church the first Sunday after God had become real to me. The liturgy that I had read for years had suddenly come alive because I knew that God was real. My prayers were no longer religious obligations but were communication with the living God. How confident are you in the existence of God? Is it tradition for you? Or is God real? Is God as real as your parents or children or neighbors? If we are going to be confident Christians, we cannot just suppose God might exist, but rather know that he exists.
So God exists. He is out there. He started the universe. He got life going on planet earth. So what? By far, most people believe that there is some sort of god out there. The author of Hebrews tells us that believing God exists is very important but it is not enough. We also have to believe God rewards those who seek him. For me, coming to believe that God exists and that he was the kind of God who interacts with creation were two different events. Perhaps, the idea of God as loving and caring requires more faith than just his existence. But let us think about this idea of reward. What is being claimed here? Does it mean that if you did something good that God would deposit some money in the bank? Not likely. God does bless us in this life but there is another way to look at God’s reward. The key verse is familiar. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV) There are some important things here that fit very well with the Hebrews passage. We see here that exists and his nature is to love. There are impersonal ideas of God that portray him as just some force. We are told here that God is a God who is both capable and willing to love us. This is a God that rewards. There are two rewards mentioned here, one that leads from the other. The first gift is that of Jesus Christ. Here we are as humans, trying to figure out who God is and what he is like. How can our finite minds comprehend an infinite God? What if God appeared as a human being? God with flesh on, an opportunity to walk and talk with God incarnate. As we come to know God, we understand how separated we are from God because of our sin. How can we bridge the gap? Only through the sacrifice of the one who is both God and man. This brings us to our second related gift, that is eternal life. We have a relatively short amount of time in this world, some longer than others but none for a very long time. God’s love for us is such that it does not cease at death. There will be a time when our bodies will fail but we cannot really perish when we are connected to God in Christ. Our spirits will continue and will eventually be united to resurrection bodies like that of Jesus’. God’s love will continue to be poured out for us for all eternity. It as the hymn writer says: “When we’ve been here ten thousand years…bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise… then when we’ve first begun.” But there is something else to see here. We are told that all of this is for those who believe. We have to access the gift that God has for us. This fits with what the author of Hebrews says that God rewards those who seek him. The hope that we have as Christians is that God exists and that he is so real that when we seek him in faith, he has something incredible for us, he has a relationship with Jesus and eternal life.
Do you want to grow spiritually? There are two things that have to happen. You have to believe that God exists. I do not mean that you can check off a question of whether there might be a God. I mean that you have come to the point where you know God exists. I am not referring to just any god but a very specific God. This is the God who is personal and loving and who rewards those who seek him. He rewards by sending us Jesus Christ to show us the way to God, to die for our sins and to offer us eternal life. Again, this is not just understanding this as a part of Christian doctrine but to have this as the source of your hope, something very real to you. I would like to conclude with the words of John Calvin. “For it is not to be laid down as an abstract principle, that God is a rewarder to those who seek him; but every one of us ought individually to apply this doctrine to himself, so that we may know that we are regarded by God, that he has such care for our salvation as never to be wanting to us, that our prayers are heard by him, that he will be to us a perpetual deliverer. But as none of these things come to us except through Christ, our faith must ever regard him and cleave to him alone.”