Believe God and Walk by Faith
Gen. 15:6; Psalm 78:1-8
And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
1 A Contemplation of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; 6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; 8 And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Psalm 78:1-8)
God’s Covenant Enjoyed by Faith
Faith pleases God and Emphasizes HIM (Heb. 11:6)
God our Father has made many precious promises to us, and the way we obtain them is by faith in him. Faith believes that he is the faithful God. Faith is God-centered, for it trusts in his faithfulness to his promises – not our ability to do what he commands, our works, feelings, or anything in us. It is what we see in our father Abraham: He believed in the Lord. He did not understand how the promises would be fulfilled. Had he depended upon his experience or what he saw before him, he would have concluded that it was impossible for God’s promises to be fulfilled. But faith does not follow its eyes. It hears God’s word and believes him. Faith takes him at his word. It concludes that what God has promised is truer and more certain than anything we have seen with our eyes or experienced in our lives. This is what the apostle means when he says that “without faith it is impossible to please him.” God relates to us by his word, his pledged promises in his Son. He sent his Son, the living Word, and said, “This is my beloved Son; HEAR HIM!” Faith pleases God because it takes him at his word and receives meekly the restoration of the true order of things – God speaks. We delight in his word and submit to it. We believe him and walk accordingly, in thankfulness, love, and trust.
But without faith, it is impossible to please him. The covenant of grace we have in Christ is not first or even last about our obedience but about God’s faithfulness. Nor has God made a covenant with us and said, “Now, it is up to you to obtain the promises.” There is not a believer or a believing parent who has ever obtained a promise based upon his own ability or loyalty, for we are so corrupt that our best works are stained and unworthy of God’s majesty. Thus, when we come to God, we must “believe that he is:” the gracious, merciful, covenant keeping God (Ex. 34:5-6). It is not our love or loyalty to him, but his to us. In the believing heart, his magnificent grace never makes us presumptuous or careless but fuels gratitude and faithfulness. Why would the Lord take me into his care? Why would he make such promises to me? Why would he treat me so tenderly and kindly when I am so sinful? Praise be to his name! Faith in God brings out the most important thing about life and about our relationship with God – Him. He is our life and strength, our portion, our faithful and loving God and Father in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever, therefore, we think about our children, our parenting is important, as we shall see, but more important is that we walk by faith in God’s promises and depend upon his strength.
Faith obtains the promises (Heb. 11:33).
The Lord has so connected his covenant and faith that he declares plainly, “Who through faith, obtained promises” (Heb. 11:33). He is speaking here of the men and women we call “great:” Gideon, Barak, Samson, Rahab, and the entire constellation of old covenant believers. How did they vanquish enemies, fight courageously, endure trouble, and finally obtain the specific promises God made to them? How did they obtain a share of that greatest promise, life and salvation through Jesus Christ? Through faith. They believed God and trusted him to keep his word. The same is true of us with respect to God’s promises to our children. He has said, “I will be a God to you and to your children.” He has made many other specific promises to us and to them. We long for their salvation, and many of you pour your lives into their discipline, provision, and education. Be sure that as you use the means God has ordained, you do the most important thing – trust God. For there will be many obstacles and trials and delays, and you will be tempted to doubt God. Or, there will be seasons of great blessing, and you will be tempted to think that the battle is over. Remember that it is through faith – an active, constant, vigilant, worshipful trust of the Lord that he gives the fulfillment of his promises. He alone can bless your efforts. He alone can give you strength to persevere in them. He alone can crown your labors with ultimate success. Those that honor him by believing his word, he will honor – in his own time and way. If we think that our faithfulness puts him under obligation to us, we have yet to learn what faith means – looking away from self, from every effort of ours, and to his faithfulness alone so that we fall into his merciful arms, cry to him, and depend upon his strength.
Faith sees Jesus and trusts his power (Matt. 13:58).
For unlike the parenting manuals and formulas of our day, even God’s explicit promises do not operate automatically. Baptize your children and let them go their own way without impressing the claims of Jesus Christ upon them, and not only are we violating our baptism vows but we also virtually guarantee they will have serious problems. The same is true if you train them to curb their impulses with mindless distraction, which pacifies their souls and almost inoculates them against God’s word and the serious wrestling of soul that is required to enter God’s kingdom. What? Can faith and repentance be learned on a screen? Turned into a cartoon or game? Can we hear God’s still small voice if from the time of our infancy lights and sounds were our constant diet? We shall be tested as parents. Will we trust God and try to worship him with our families when the little ones are running around? Will we patiently endeavor to teach them by our steady example, loving discipline, and persistent, winsome attitude? Is the glory of God that important to us, their salvation in Christ? These obstacles teach us something very important about faith and God’s promises. We must look to Jesus Christ for our strength. Whatever our present season of life, we are surrounded by so many dangers and temptations that we doubt whether God is keeping his word to us. Can he help us? Look to Jesus. We do not yet see all things put under our feet, but we do see Jesus, who has suffered for us. He is the covenant and its guarantee, so that when he was made very low to redeem us, it was so that he might taste death for us and seal all of God’s promises with his blood. It is by faith in him that we overcome unbelief and then see God’s powerful hand at work for us.
Faith overcomes our doubts and fears (1 John 5:4).
And this is an essential trait of faith – that it overcomes the world. Faith helps us not simply endure or cope with trouble, but by faith in God’s promises, we are able to overcome every obstacle and keep loving and obeying God, despite our weakness and tears. How is faith able to do this? Faith lays hold of God’s promises, pleads his help to believe him, and depends upon his strength to walk in the paths of righteousness. When we do not feel like another round of patient discipline, or when days of honest, Christ-centered talking with our children do not seem to be bearing much fruit, faith says, “But trust God.” It is not our faith specifically that overcomes the world, as if we have the power in us. It is because faith lays hold upon Jesus Christ, sees him, and keeps looking to him when we want to give up, that it overcomes the world. Said another way, it is the God in whom we trust that overcomes our doubts and fears. It is the Spirit within us who is working to sanctify and increase our fruitfulness and faith who guarantees our victory. So, will you have victory? Do you believe God’s promises? Will you hold fast to them no matter how tired you are? Will you, like Abraham, hope against hope, that he might be the father of many nations. And how did he father Isaac? By faith. How did Sarah receive strength to conceive seed and bring forth the child of promise? By faith. Faith overcomes every weakness, not because we are strong, but because God our Father is.
Faith empowers patience, prayer, and obedience (Heb. 10:36).
Because faith believes God’s promise, it obeys his word. When the Lord directs us to train up our children in his ways, with the promise that they will not depart from them (Prov. 22:6), we can see how God’s promise works through faith to prompt our obedience. He has made a promise, and since we believe it, we use the means he has shown us to the fulfillment of the promise. This is the same thing he said about Abraham in Genesis 18:19: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him.” Abraham believed God, and Abraham therefore obeyed God. And the Lord graciously rewarded Abraham’s obedience as a mean he used to bring about the fulfillment of what he had spoken or promised to him. And the same is true of us: “And you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36). It is through the normal means of believing prayer, faithful, personal obedience to the Lord, repentance, and careful teaching our children his word and modeling faith that they are gained to Jesus Christ by the power and sovereign grace of God. So, while we trust God completely for the fulfillment of his promise, faith is not passive but then actively follows the path he has revealed in his word to bring about the fulfillment of those promises.
God’s Covenant Gives Vision and Hope (Ps. 78:1-8)
Show the Lord’s Praises, Works, and Strength (v. 4)
We shall end this evening by considering Psalm 78 as a practical example of the way God’s covenant motivates our parental and congregational faithfulness to raise our children to be followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is rightly called a lament of Asaph, for he is mourning the captivity of God’s people. He is also, however, laying hold upon God’s covenant promises and showing us how God’s covenant inspires hope and obedience. He begins by reminding us that God has given his word to us and to our children, which is his covenant (Gen. 17:7-9; Acts 2:39; 16:31). And therefore, we must give careful attention to the salvation and wellbeing of the next generation. The main response of faith to God’s promise is to show to our children who God is and what he has done for us. Are we showing our children God’s praises – the way he has preserved his church and word, worked in our lives for his glory, and answered our prayers? Do we speak to them of his strength, which implies that we tell them honestly of our weakness? If there is anything good in us, he has done it. And his wonderful works of grace and salvation, building his church, those recorded in Scripture and that we have witnessed since. You see, already in the old covenant, if we would win the next generation for Christ, God our Savior must be more to us than an idea or a Sunday morning activity. His praises must be in our mouth, or we shall never speak of them. His works must be important enough for us to study, or how can we pass them on to our children, so that God’s great story becomes their story?
Teach God’s Law and Covenant to Your Children (vv. 5-6)
Teaching our children God’s covenant and his word is a vital means to securing them for Christ. Why is this? God’s word is his power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16); it is living and powerful (Heb. 4:12); it is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). It is not our words but his that makes the difference in their lives, quickens their dead hearts, and thus brings them to new life and mature faith in Christ. Parents, be much more intentional about your instruction and your correction to your children. It is God’s word that you teach them, so be careful not to mix it up with your own opinions or worldly philosophies or earthly frustrations at them. Because teaching our children is part of God’s command to us, we cannot give them over into the hand of secularists to be taught. This is worth our life – to make sure that we teach our children God’s word – winsomely, in all seasons of life, applied to their specific needs and capacities, and with a heart held captive to God’s word so that they see you loving and obeying and living it. For how else can the next generation, our grandchildren and beyond, be secured for Christ, unless we teach our own children? They must rise up and teach their children (v. 6), but they will not unless we prepare them to teach their children by careful catechizing in God’s word, winsome, daily instruction in Christian living, and careful teaching in the totality of God’s revelation and the whole range of human responsibility and opportunity.
Encourage Hope in God and Personal Obedience (v. 7)
Notice the very personal tone of parenting in God’s covenant promises – that they might set their hope in God. Hope is not, “I have done all my duty and can be left alone now.” Hope is, “God you are my rock and fortress, my righteousness and salvation, my portion and delight.” Hope is related to faith. Faith says, “God is faithful to keep his promises, and I will trust him.” Hope says, “I am confident that God will do me good and work all things together for his glory and my good.” To see hope and obedience in our children requires that we engage with their soul – where does your hope lie, child? Are you confident in God’s favor upon your life? Do you want his favor? Do you love his word? Have you forgotten your lessons, or do you keep his commandments? How can we work together to honor him in this way? Parenting in God’s covenant is not crushing – do your duty for duty’s sake. As long as you are not annoying me, I will assume all is well. No, I want to see my children hoping in God, confident in his love, and steadfast in obeying him.
Live Reverently, Humbly, Consistently (v. 8)
I do not want to see them stubborn, as I have been, or my parents, and certainly not rebellious against God, which we have seen in our land for many generations. Those before us have not set their heart upon God and obeying him. O, they may have wanted the blessings of liberty and kept up a little church attendance occasionally. But like many today, they want the blessings of obedience without having to obey. They want to be blessed while they are sinning. They want their children to turn out well without having to engage with their souls deeply in the things of the Lord. But this simply will not take place. The Lord is faithful, and we must trust him, but he normally uses faithful parents who live reverently and endeavor to be steadfast in obedience to God. It is not a straight line connection, and in those heartbreaking or uncertain situations that the final end is uncertain, we must keep trusting him and appealing to the consciences of our children. But if we invert the horrors of verse 8, we have a paradigm that will serve us well as parents and members of this congregation: a meek and quiet spirit before the Lord that does not rebel against his word but is quiet and tamed before him. Then, we must diligently examine our hearts to work out our own salvation, so that we are steadfast with God, not giddy like children and tossed around by every wind and wave of doctrine.
Already, I hope you see, that it is disciples that make disciples, at least usually. God’s covenant promises do not operate in a vacuum. Even using Psalm 78, we should see that if there is pride and stubbornness in us so that we will not bend our wills to obey God, we set our children’s teeth on edge. We might give the best catechism lesson imaginable, but if we are not yielded and obedient to the Lord, if our attitudes are overly harsh or we never show affection for them, this will make our lessons ring very hollow, even be repulsive to them. The way, husband, you treat your wife, and you, wife, your husband, is connected with this, for if you are demeaning to your wife or disrespectful to your husband, your children are watching. You may say, “Do this,” but they see hypocrisy and are not likely to be led to walk humbly with the Lord when they see you proud and stubborn in your ways. Thus, God’s covenant inspires faithfulness on our part, not because we trust our faithfulness, but loving God, we want to obey him. He blesses our obedience to be the means of reaching our children but remember that last line – whose heart was not steadfast. You, parents, while you focus upon your children, must have a steadfast heart with the Lord. Your breath or spirit, the very substance of your life, must be steadfast, firm and believing, constant and loving, toward him.
We shall see repeatedly that reaching and training our children to be disciples of Jesus Christ grows out of our own seeking of Jesus and following him wherever he goes. I cannot stress this sufficiently. The Lord has made promises to you. Believe them. Live them. Internalize them, for when God gives you the word of his promise, he gives you himself. Then, live them, live God’s word. As we do, we shall learn that pleasing the Lord and walking with him engages us with our children, and it is really “Christ in us” that is engaging with them. We have nothing and can do nothing; he is our life and can do all things. We have God’s covenant. Let us believe that he is faithful and rewards those who diligently seek him. Let us use his word and ask him every moment to bless it, for it is his, and “not one word of his promises will ever fail” (1 Kings 8:56). He is the covenant keeping God.