Veli-Matti Heikkinen | The Voice of Zion November 2019 --
You who are sitting and listening here in the sanctuary or out in the yard. Or perhaps you are sitting at a computer in some other place listening to this. Have you pondered the meaning of life and what faith will mean the moment you close your eyes for the last time?
Faith Is an Assurance that Promises Eternal Life in Heaven
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews explains faith as follows: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (verse 1). Through faith it is possible to see much more clearly than with our temporal eyes. Through faith we understand that one day we can go to heaven. This hope has carried God’s children in all times. Those who have died before us have reached the shore of heaven. They are waiting for the resurrection.
A little later in the same Bible chapter we find the sentence, “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). The words remind us that one day we must stand before the righteous Judge. When Jesus came here 2000 years ago, He came to atone for the sins of the world. The next time He comes, He will judge the living and the dead. It is a day which we children of God do not need to fear. Jesus will tell us, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Then eternal life in heaven will begin.
It is surely safe to know that there is a life beyond this and that everything has a meaning. The only thing that is required is that we believe. Jesus has promised that no one can pluck us out of His hand.
Faith Is a Gift of God
In recent years I have thought quite a lot about what faith means to me. We have had a lot of trials in our family. And I have learned that when faith is tried, God draws us closer. During trials, faith has felt extra important.
Just over three years ago, I was able to accompany my mother and father to Heidelberg in Germany, where my mother underwent a surgery to treat her cancer. She was unable to receive treatment in Sweden. On the morning of her operation, I escorted her to the door of the operating room. She had a long, risky operation ahead of her, but she seemed calm. After translating the nurse’s final instructions into Finnish, my mother took my hands, looked into my eyes and whispered, “God’s peace, Veli-Matti.” Amidst all that was happening, there was security and an indescribable sense of peace. Jesus’ words came alive: My peace I give unto you, be not afraid! Before this my mother had assured us that she had only two good options before her: “I hope the surgery is successful and I will get well, but if I don’t survive it, I will get to go to heaven.” After seven very long hours, my mobile phone rang and the surgeon told us that all had gone well. We cried and I hugged a young doctor out of sheer happiness!
When a person is young and healthy and life rolls onward of its own accord, it’s easy to forget what the most important thing in life is. The disciples once asked Jesus what they would get in exchange for having forsaken their former lives to follow Him. Jesus answered their question, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matt. 19:29). The disciples were people just like you and me and they needed to be reminded that faith is more important than everything else. Faith is the foundation of everything; it gives security and the hope of eternal life in heaven. It’s the greatest gift a person can receive!
The Bible and the preached Word are like road signs, showing the way to heaven. God’s children are escorts that can support us and show us the way. But no one other than yourself is responsible for choosing the right path. Jesus says that there are two paths, one narrow one that leads to heaven and one wide one that many walk on which leads to perdition. Jesus encourages us to choose the narrow path, which only a few follow. It’s easier for people to follow the larger mass of people, but the flock of God’s children has always been small. Jesus says, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47,48).
Jesus does not judge anyone. Instead He places the responsibility on you and me. He reminds us of the importance of listening to God’s Word and taking advantage of the faith we have received as a gift. It is as if He wishes to tell us, “The choice is yours, but please take the narrow path! Not the broad one that most people choose.”
Faith Gives True Happiness and a Meaning to Life
When I was confirmed, I received a confirmation Bible from my mom and dad. They wrote a song verse in it. The words have become etched in my mind: “You, Jesus, show a meaning for life, You give a clear destination, You use me in Your duties. Jesus, bless my hopes, my studies, my work. Enclose my days and nights in Your peace” (translated from SL 178:5, Finnish version of SHZ 471). My parents wished to remind me of the importance of building my life on the firm foundation of faith and to trust in God’s promises in all things. That I don’t have to worry. That God knows better than me what I need. Faith gives life a meaning.
Many people lack meaning in their life and seek in vain for happiness. Some people deny God. Others say that they believe in God, but not that there is only one faith that is the true faith. Some people, in their quest for happiness, want to live a life of complete freedom, completely without limits. I have barely ever longed for a life with parties, worldly music and alcohol. Nonetheless I have fallen into sin. Afterwards I have felt complete emptiness and regret. When I have then been able to hear the forgiveness of my sins, I have felt a tremendous relief. I want to be a believer, but why do I fall? I want to go to heaven. Today I am glad that I am yet a believer.
Humans have always sought freedom, the freedom to do as they please. Humans have sought knowledge, success and power. But in the pursuit of happiness, many have been enslaved by sex, alcohol and drugs. In the pursuit of knowledge, people have always been faced with new questions. In the pursuit of a carefree life, people have discovered that their life is empty and meaningless. In the pursuit of power, money and success, people are never satisfied and the pursuit just continues. I can assure you that this is true. I only need to look at myself. Everything the world has to offer can bring happiness for a moment, but in the long run it is emptiness, just emptiness.
The Old Testament believer Asaph was jealous of unbelievers who were fortunate and became successful. But in the end, when he realized that the world cannot give him what his soul actually longed for, he exclaimed, “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Ps. 73:28). The only thing that can give a person true joy is living faith. God’s peace is a peace that the world cannot give. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Life in God’s Kingdom
Remember Moses? He who became the adoptive son of Pharaoh’s daughter, one of the richest and most powerful persons of his time? When Moses became an adult, he was given the opportunity to choose between staying in Pharaoh’s court or moving away and living a simple life with believers. Imagine being extremely rich, having your own servants and always being able to have fun. Moses was offered all of this, but he still decided to leave Pharaoh’s palace with all its riches and pleasures.
I think that it was not a sin to live in the house of Pharaoh, but Moses felt that sin was too close in that house, and if he were to stay there, he’d lose his faith. “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 11:24–26). It was surely not easy to leave everything behind, but Moses wanted to go to heaven.
One characteristic of the congregation of God is that the gospel of the resurrected Christ is preached here in accordance with the Bible. And here the sacraments are shared in accordance to Scripture. It is the Holy Ghost that opens the Word and upbuilds the congregation. We base life and faith on the Bible. We cannot and must not choose pieces of it and think that this piece suits me, but I don’t care so much for that piece. That would be like seeing a road sign that shows the way to the place you are going, but still choosing a completely different road that leads to a completely different destination. Whoever wants to go to heaven must believe according to the Bible and the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
A believer’s teacher is not the law, and we are not forced to live a certain way. Our teacher is grace. It teaches us to renounce all wickedness and to live as children of God, according to God’s Word. As children of God we want to live as the Holy Spirit teaches and we thrive with other believers.
Unity of the congregation means that we must never look down on the preaching of God’s Word, but rather that we hold it sacred and listen to it and learn from it. It is not enough to call yourself a believer and be part of the community, though that in itself can be nice. I have heard people that live and teach like unbelievers say that no one can take away my faith. But such a belief is not worth much at the last judgment. Jesus says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Of course everyone is welcome into our community, even those who are not able to believe. We gladly take them to services of God’s children and to youth evenings. And when we are given the opportunity, we gladly discuss faith with them.
I recently read a blog written by one of the bishops of the Church of Sweden. On the question of who will go to heaven he answered, “Maybe it is so that the very point of being a Christian is not to have a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Who can go to heaven – to that great and indescribable union with God – is up to God. Perhaps the very point of being a Christian is to live as a human in this world for the time we have been given.” Can you imagine a bishop writing like this, even though the Bible is so clear on this point? The Bible says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19).
Human wisdom cannot show the way to heaven nor can it ever give assurance of life after death. All religions and congregations outside God’s kingdom are dead and the people in them are spiritually blind. If you are unsure of something related to faith, always speak to other believers. Do it with humility with the intention of remaining in faith. Ask, but don’t question. If you want wise advice, seek out an elderly believing woman or man. They know more than all the world’s bishops combined and they can tell how the children of God have believed in all times. Faith is not a science and the secrets of faith are not revealed by human wisdom.
Taking Care of Faith
The Bible encourages us to keep faith and a good conscience. Otherwise we risk becoming shipwrecked in faith. If we do not take care of faith, we risk losing it. Faith thrives and is nurtured in a clean conscience. When a person denies faith, he or she confesses with the mouth that which probably happened in the heart a long time before. The thought that I can deny faith and go out into the world and come back later is dangerous. No one can know if the grace to return will be given. Some day it may be too late.
God hates sin but loves the sin-fallen human. To fall into sin or to live in sin are two different things. Whoever consciously lives in sin is on a dangerous path. But as believers we often feel as Paul did: “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19). The goal of the enemy of souls is that no one would make it to heaven. He says, try a little, it probably won’t hurt you. Take one glass, you won’t get drunk. Click the link, it doesn’t matter. Watch this movie, it’s not dangerous. Stick around and watch hockey, everyone else is doing it too. He thinks up things and does all he can to lure you into places where sin is at your fingertips.
The enemy of souls wants to make you fall because he knows that unless you put sin away, it will eventually become too much to bear. He wants your conscience to harden so that it no longer warns of dangers. All too often we hear of friends who have denied their faith. The explanations for their giving up faith vary but underlying all of them is sin that led them away from faith. For that reason, always put away sin when it attaches. Never deny your faith.
We have received the gift of confession to take care of our faith. In confession we can approach a believing friend, a sister or brother whom we trust. We can then, in confidence, tell them about the things that really weigh on our conscience and have them forgiven. When we unburden our conscience, it becomes easier to walk in faith. In my youth, I fell into such serious sins that I didn’t even know if I would go to heaven if I died. Thankfully I never dared to deny faith. I prayed to God, and He helped me! I was first able to believe my sins forgiven in the general gospel preached at Bible class. Then I told my sister what sins I had fallen into. She blessed me with the gospel. You can be sure I slept well the next night. A good conscience is the best pillow.
The Bible encourages us to take care of one another, to come to the gatherings of God’s children and to talk about faith. This has always been important! “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24,25). Come to services, Bible class and youth evenings. Speak to one another about faith, which is the most important thing. When you see someone at risk of being on the outside, make them part of the group. Go get the one who does not have strength to go to services by himself or herself. Encourage others to repentance. These are the reasons we have each other.
It is safe to be a believer. Jesus promises us, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Jesus promises to hold you in His hand all the way to heaven! All you need to do is believe. Dear child of God, you can believe all your sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood, unto peace, freedom and joy. Is there anyone listening who is not a believer yet? Even you have permission to believe your unbelief and all other sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood. In this way you also can make it to heaven. The gospel is a wonderful gift, it allows you to forget the sin that made the journey difficult, and it gives new strength. When we believe this way, we can one day make it to heaven. We can be absolutely sure of that!