Image from / Markus Spiske

Know Where Your Wheels Are

Read Mark 7:1-9 to start.

There’s a TV show I watch sometimes called Canada’s Worst Driver. If you are not familiar with it, the premise is that a small group of really terrible motorists are nominated for the ignominious title of Canada’s Worst Driver, and they are put through a series of challenges to see which of them really is the worst. There is a strong education aspect to the show where the bad motorists are taught how to be better drivers, how to be safer on the roads, and most of them learn a lot and they leave in much better shape then when they arrived. There are two phrases that are used again and again on this show. One of these I actually referenced in a sermon back in 2016, and that is look where you want to go. Those six words are an excellent description of how you should live the Christian life, because if we wish to follow Christ, to be like Him, then we’d best to looking at Him, and the example that He gave, or we’re going to fall far short of the mark. If we are not looking to the author and finisher of our faith then we are going to have a hard time emulating Him.

Today, however, it’s the other phrase used repeatedly on Canada’s Worst Driver that I would like to call your attention to. That one is know where your wheels are.

I know, I know, what do wheels and driving have to do with the Christian life, or with the passage that we read to start? Bear with me a moment, though, and it will all become apparent.

I’ve driven any number of different vehicles over the two and a half decades that I’ve had a driver’s licence. Cars, trucks, SUVs, and now a minivan. There are only a handful of things all those automobiles have in common, and one of them is that they all had wheels. Four wheels, to be exact, but the number isn’t important. If you ride a bicycle or a motorcycle, it only has two wheels of course, and if you happen to have a BRP Spyder or a Robin Reliant, or for that matter, a Big Wheel or a Trike, you’re rolling on three. In all cases, it’s the wheels that are responsible for delivering forward momentum from the powertrain to the road, for maintaining or changing your direction, and for stopping. Yes, I know there are particular systems in your car for controlling and operating all of those functions, such as the steering and the brakes, but they all work through the wheels. It doesn’t matter how powerful your engine might be, without wheels you aren’t going anywhere.

Obviously, knowing where your wheels are is going to be important in the safe operation of a motor vehicle. If you have to navigate around an obstacle, or at this time of year especially, a pot hole, knowing where those wheels are located is essential. If you are trying to park or make a tight turn, or drive up a ramp such as when you are boarding the ferry or taking your car in for an oil change, you want to get the wheels in the right place.

On Canada’s Worst Driver, one of the tests they have the bad drivers perform is a simple drive forward in a straight line along two rails, then reverse straight back along the same. This should be easy, and it is, assuming you know where your wheels are, and that you can keep a straight line. The number of times, though, that someone drops off the rails, or misses entirely, is ample evidence that a lot of people don’t know, and that they don’t really understand what that means or why it’s important. Simply knowing that the wheels are somewhere under the car might be true, but it’s not good enough.

We all believe something. Every person on this planet believes something, no matter how much they admit it or not. In the life of faith, of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. If you publically say that you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, you should know why you believe this. What’s more, if you trust that you have received eternal life, you should know what that is based upon. If you pray, then why do you do that? If you meet together with other believers on the first day of the week, as we have done today, what is the reason for that? If we break the bread and pass the cup, why do we do that, and why do we do so on a weekly basis? There are likely a dozen more questions that we could ask, a dozen more things that we believe and practice, and for each of them there should be a reason why. And if you believe it, you should know it. You should know why you believe what you believe, what it is based upon, or when someone questions you on that, and sooner or later, someone will, then what will you be able to answer?

This may apply most strongly to the younger people here this evening, because in a lot of cases you are only here because your parents brought you. You may have little basis for what you believe apart from “That’s what my parents told me,” or “That’s what I learned at church.” And you know what? Your parents might well be spot-on in what they have taught you, your Sunday school teachers as well. Likewise the speakers you have heard from the pulpit. Hopefully they all are. But what if they are not? Wouldn’t you like to know if there are holes or flaws in what you have learned, or to know with certainty that you have heard and trusted in the truth? If not, you are operating without knowing where your wheels are on a spiritual level. You might know the right direction to go, but you don’t know why or exactly how to get there. And even if everything you have learned is true and sound, if you haven’t looked at it carefully yourself, if you haven’t read it, studied it, made some effort to understand it, then it’s not really your belief, it’s someone else’s, and you only have it second hand.

Sometimes what we believe isn’t even based in truth. We have been told something or other, and we believe it, but there is no little or no evidence to support it, or no scriptural basis behind it. We hold to traditions and human authority without actually examining them to see if they hold water, without proving and testing to confirm.

This is the big problem that we saw in the verses that we read to start. The Pharisees got upset because Christ’s disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating, and that was contrary to their interpretation of law of Moses. I say their interpretation because the law does not actually provide instruction that you should wash your hands immediately prior to eating. There are lots of other times when the law indicates that washing is required, but at mealtime is not one of them. However, in their traditions and application of the law the Pharisees had added in a requirement to wash hands prior to eating. Even today, in fact, if you look at how Orthodox Jews do things today, if you are eating bread or a food that is dipped in a liquid, handwashing is required.

The Pharisees were troubled that the disciples had not washed their hands, likely they expected better of them. They considered Christ to be a dynamic and important teacher, and the thought that His followers were not learning the things their way, the Pharisees way, upset them. They put their own traditions and beliefs ahead of what scripture actually said.

How often do we do the same thing though, we hold to the traditions and things that we have been instructed without ever validating them for ourselves. We think that these things are important, and maybe they are important, maybe they are useful. But if you don’t look for yourself, how will you know for sure?

When Paul preached in the city of Berea, as we can read in Acts chapter 17, the people there searched the scriptures to find out whether the things he preached were so. They verified his words, and found them to be correct. Had they been deceived in the past, and therefore cautious? Or were they simply more sensible than many others, and sceptical enough to look at the evidence instead of blindly saying “Well, that sounds good, it must be correct.”

We see this in the church, and we see this in society. People read things on the internet and believe that they must be true, when it’s easily checked to find out that something is false. People take the arguments of their friends and neighbours instead of the opinion of trained professionals when making all manner of choices. People choose to believe a single medical study, long since discredited and disproven, because they are more concerned about an imagined risk of autism than a real risk of measles. When you look at the actual evidence, it’s not hard to find the truth. But you need to put in a bit of effort on your own part to actually do that. You need to do your own homework, instead of relying on what someone else has claimed. You need to prove it for yourself.

This is every bit as important, in fact I would say it is even more important, when it comes to matters of faith as opposed to fake news or vaccine rejection. You need to know what you believe and why you believe it. If you do not do this, then you will be easily led astray. You will be open to being convinced that you are mistaken, because you will not be grounded in your faith.

That’s why I say that you need to know where your wheels are. It’s not only the question of what is your faith resting on, it’s about knowing the answer and what it entails. Sometimes we trot out simple little phrases like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it,” but really, does it? Declaring that something is settled and that’s that, that only works until a seed of doubt manages to take root.

In 1 Peter 3, verse 15, we read 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Be ready to give an answer. Because sooner or later someone is going to ask a question. It might be a genuine query, if you have any outward sign of possessing some form of hope beyond this life then it’s likely that it’s going to attract attention eventually. People want to have hope for the future, they want answers to the questions that they don’t want to be troubled by, and if you look like you have any sort of answer at all, then someone will ask you for it. If you don’t understand your faith, if you have no sure answer to give, then you will not be much help to them, and you will be ripe for doubt and hesitation.

Doubts will come. If our own minds don’t dredge them up, then the devil surely will. The first thing he said to Eve in the garden of Eden was to call into question what God had said. That doubt, that suggestion that maybe God didn’t actually mean what He said, or that He didn’t really have the best intentions for Adam and Eve, it did not take long to grow from a tiny seed to a full bloom, reaching maximum effectiveness and condemning the human race to a future replete with sin and despair. Eve did not have the confidence to be sure in what she had been told, she was unsteady and unsure, and she entertained evil instead of shunning it. Her faith was not truly her own, and when push came to shove, it was found lacking. What’s more, Adam’s was no better. Our earliest ancestors did not own their faith.

It is crucial to have a solid understanding of what you believe, of what you have learned, and of how it applies to your life. You need to take possession of it, to own it and trust it, or it will not be truly effective for you.

In 1 Samuel chapter 17, I won’t have you turn there, but I’m going to read a few verses from that chapter. This is from the account of David facing Goliath, which is no doubt something that you’ve heard before, probably more than once. Here’s a recap just in case. David had come to bring some supplies to his brothers who were part of Israel’s army, and he arrived in time to see the giant Goliath challenge the Israelites to send out a challenger to face him. David took affront to this, as no doubt did everyone else, but he decided to do something about it. He volunteered to go out and fight the giant. Prior to stepping out unto the battlefield, David explained himself to King Saul, who agreed to send him out to face the Philistine champion. Saul also wanted to get David equipped for battle, which is a reasonable thing to do. Reading at verse 38 And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. 39 And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. 40 And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.

Saul provided David with the best equipment available before sending him out into harms way. He gave David his own armour, which was a generous and prudent choice, but it was not effective. David had never worn that armour, of course he hadn’t, it was the king’s own chainmail, and helmet, and even his sword. David had likely never worn much armour at all to this point in his life, he was a shepherd boy, not a soldier. The passage says that he had not proved it. He had not tested it, the armour was unfamiliar. I’m sure it was perfectly good armour that offered a lot more protection than whatever David had been wearing. But it was no good to him. It was not his.

He instead chose to wear his own clothing, and to use his own weapons, being his staff and the stones and sling that he had used while protecting his sheep from hungry predators. Those were familiar to him, he had used and studied them, no doubt this was all second nature to him. Obviously he had not faced off against a battle-hardened giant using it, but he knew his equipment, and he knew it well. It served him well, as we would find out if we kept reading. We probably know what happened next, that’s the part of the story that gets the most attention. David and Goliath both walked out onto that battlefield prepared to do battle, and only one of them walked off. Both men were prepared, but not in the same way. Goliath of course had excellent armaments; the chapter tells us that, it describes the size and weight of his gear. But David went in the confidence of knowing what he was doing, knowing what he brought with him, and knowing who was on his side. He did not depend for a moment on something unfamiliar, something that he had borrowed minutes before.

Faith and understanding are just like that armour, if they are not actually yours, if you have not proved them, then they are not going to serve you all that well. David could not depend on Saul’s gear, even if it was categorically better than what he himself had. He could not use it, though, because he did not know it. He could not trust it, not when his life depended on it. Is it rational to depend on borrowed faith when your life, your future, your eternal soul depends on it?

God would not have His children wandering about in the dark, uncertain and unsteady. That is not what He has called us to do, how He has called us to live. I’ll read a few verses from Ephesians chapter 4 that illustrate this.

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

This passage speaks of some of the spiritual gifts and several specific roles that God has given to believers in the church, not that we all will fit into one of those particular categories, mind you, but that’s another topic for another day. But God would like to see His people grow and improve, look at verse 12, it speaks of the perfecting of the saints and the edifying of the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ, that’s what we are called to be a part of. If you know Christ, if you have accepted Him to be your Lord and Saviour, then this specifically applies to you. Hence at verse 13 it says till we all come in the unity of the faith. It speaks of knowledge, and perfection, and fullness. There is a clear sense of improvement here, that is the objective. And not simply for the sake of being better, but that we are no longer, as it says in verse 14, tossed around and carried about with every wind of doctrine.

I’ve seen various winds of doctrine in my time. I’ve seen preachers come and go, I’ve seen trends in the church come and go, I’ve seen movements come and go. Some have been better than others, some have been questionable at best, and some have been outright foolishness. But I’ve seen people, and yes, some of them are folks that I would describe as flighty or flaky, but not all. In many cases I’m speaking of sensible and reasonable people who have been swept up, or who have gone willingly and eager along, and not often to their benefit.

Being carried about is not good, is not solid, and is not safe. Look at the rest of verse 14, it warns of trickery, cunning craftiness, and lying in wait to deceive. Not that every trendy preacher is a charlatan with a hidden agenda, but too many are, and some are fully deceived themselves. God would not have us fall victim to any foolish doctrines or false teachers. He would have us, as it says in Colossians 2, verse 7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught.

It is important to be taught what we believe. If you have no idea as to why we teach that salvation is by Christ alone, through His blood and the cross, or why we meet every week on Sunday morning to break bread, or why we regularly preach the gospel, why we baptize by immersion instead of sprinkling, or any number of other things we do. If you have questions, you should ask. Some of these things are directly scriptural, and some are based on interpretation, but there is a basis for it all.

If we do not understand why we believe what we believe, if we do not have an answer for the hope that is in us we are likely to be dragged under by the next wave of new teaching that comes along. This is a personal matter, I cannot establish your faith for you. Nor can your parents or the person sitting next to you. We can teach you what we know, we can explain why we believe what we do, how and we came to a knowledge of the truth, but we can only bring you so far. You have to go the rest of the way.

You might look at the people around you and think that their faith is better than yours. And you know what, it might be. If someone has been a Christian for many years, if they have followed Christ for longer than you’ve been alive, if you are young maybe a lot longer, then they have had much more time to learn, to grow in faith and to exercise it. That’s only sensible.

To return to the automotive metaphor, as I mentioned earlier I’ve been driving for something like two and a half decades. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty good driver. Not going to say that I’m perfect, but I know how to handle most road conditions, I know how to navigate where I’m going, I know how to get around with a minimum of difficulty and I haven’t gotten stuck anywhere in a very long time. I’m a far better driver than I was in the first few years after I got my licence. In those first few years I got into several minor fender benders, I slid off the road into the ditch a few times in the winter, and I probably was not as good a driver as I thought I was. But with time and experience I have improved considerably.

Following Christ is not so different. Time and experience make a big difference. Not that being older is in any way a guarantee of having great faith. I’ve known young people with a tremendous understanding of the scriptures and whose faith in God is vast, and I’ve known older people who have gone to church for decades but don’t seem to have much knowledge at all. In general though, experience and time yield growth, faith, and wisdom.

This applies to us all, but right now I’m looking at the children here this evening. Kids, the odds are really good that your parents’ faith is better than your own. In fact, it would probably be a bit sad if it was any different. But the fact that they have great faith, or good faith, or maybe only pretty decent faith, that is all well and good, but that is not your faith. Your Sunday school teacher’s faith is not your faith. Your elders’ faith is not your faith. The last person you heard preach a sermon prior to this one, his faith is not your faith, and neither is mine. Your faith is your own, and while I can exhort you, your teachers can instruct you, your elders can lead you, we can all help you in whatever ways we can, but your faith is your own.

This goes for us all, young and old alike. Because it’s not like any of us reaches a point when we can just coast on what we have learned. Coasting only works when you’re going down hill. It’s up to you to care about it, to put in some effort in order to learn and to grow. Or you will not, and you will not be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you. You are liable to be tossed to and fro, carried about by the winds of change and false doctrine, or you will blindly follow the traditions of men. If you are not grounded in the truth, you will not know where your wheels are.