Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Skeptics tell us, “You can’t prove God exists.” That’s what they say to Christians. They might also add – if they wanted to be honest – “anymore than we can prove He doesn’t.” Paul continues:
V-3 – By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Actually, 2,000 years after this was written, most scientists could say that the things that exist came from something that was not visible – energy. But that’s not really what Paul meant. Energy is physical too. So, even is we can’t see it, what Paul meant was that God created out of spirit something that was physical. So from non-physical to physical. And we can’t see things that aren’t physical. So that’s what he was talking about. So we believe it because God tells us He did that in the Bible. The only way we can know about God is what He’s revealed to us in His word and in His working with us in our lives. So we take it on faith that the Bible is God’s communication to us. Then we take it on faith that God exists and that He has done the things that He’s said He’s done, and that He’s going to do the things that He said He’s going to do in the Bible.
Let’s read in verse 6:
V-6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. So faith is a pretty important topic if you’re a Christian, because, if you don’t have it, you can’t please God. So that’s why we’re discussing this series. It’s important to all Christians. How can we have a relationship with someone and please Him if we don’t even believe He exists? What motivation is there?
Beyond believing He exists, we also must believe that God desires a connection with us, and that the relationship is going to be beneficial, because God responds with good will when we reach out to Him. Why do we believe that? Because that’s what He tells us in His Word. That’s part of His self-revelation to us about what He’s like and what we can expect, if we attempt to interact with Him – when we pray, when we seek Him, when we follow Him.
Now, in verse 7 of chapter of 11 – he’s giving some examples now:
V-7 – By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen – hadn’t happened yet – in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. So God told him there was going to be a flood. He told him to build and ark, and he did it. He did what God said, because he believed God was going to do what He said. That’s faith. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
So we’re told here that Noah had faith. And what did his faith in God help him do? Well, it helped him build an ark that saved his family. Why did he do that? Because God told him to. He told him what He was going to do, and He told him how to save his family, and he believed that was going to happen, so he did it.
So, generalizing that example then, faith leads the faithful to obey God – to do what God says. Right? Verse 8:
V-8 – By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Didn’t know where God was going to send him. God just said, “Pack up your stuff and I’ll tell you what to do.” But he did as he was told because he trusted that God had his best interest at heart. It says in verse 9:
V-9 – By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. So this man, Abraham, left his home, took his family and his possessions, and became a wanderer – a nomad – and wound up settling in a foreign land far away from where he had lived before.
If you had to leave the US and go to another nation, think of the effort that would take – and the anxiety that would produce. Would you be accepted there? Could you find work? Would you be safe? How would your children deal with it? Would you ever see your relatives and friends again? Well, in verse 10, Paul tells us that:
V-10 – …he was looking forward to the city that had foundations whose designer and builder was God. So, he wasn’t looking for something in this world. He was looking for something beyond that. And Abraham believed because God told him that he was going to receive something greater than anything in this world. He was seeking eternal life in an eternal city with an eternal God, because that is what God promised him.
Now, this is a lofty goal, but it get down to everyday things as well. Verse 11:
V-11 – By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Now, you know, Paul kind of glosses over the meat of that story. If you remember the story from Genesis – we did a presentation on it – it’s in the series called Bible Stories for Adults and you can find that on our Website too – liferesource.org – under the Series button. Now, when God first told Abraham that Sarah was going to have a baby in her old age, she was listening from behind a curtain, and she laughed at the idea. And God called her on it. She said, “She didn’t laugh,” and He said, “Yes, you did.” But we learn from Paul that after that initial shock, Sarah came around and believed it would happen because she had faith. She believed God because she trusted God and knew that He always did what He said.
Notice the extrapolation of that trust – how this works. Verse 12:
V-12 – Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead – you know, he was too old to father children – were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Wow! Jesus said, “By faith, all things are possible.” We’re going to look at that later on in the series in more detail.
So God knows it’s hard for us physical beings to believe in spiritual things. Consequently, He has great respect for us when we believe.
Okay, there’s motivation for the relationship from both sides. We believe God because He’s faithful and He has respect for us if we’re faithful, too – when we believe. So notice this in Hebrews 11:4.
V-4 – By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…. What does that mean? Well, it probably means that Abel did it the way God told him to and Cain didn’t. …through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. So God has a way of honoring people who have faith. He tells us that our faithful example will speak through the millennia to people who are not yet born. If you want more about that, go back to the book of Revelation and see what God says about His people, the saints. Pretty impressive! God has respect for people who have faith. That’s the others side of the relationship.
Let’s go back to verse 1 again. What are the benefits of faith? What good does it do? Is there anything to be gained from it. Well, I think we all know the answer’s yes, but let’s take a look at that. Hebrews 11:1 and 2:
V-1-2 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. Commendation? What’s he talking about?
We, in modern times, have been taught that we can’t obtain salvation by obeying the law of God. That’s true – in a loose kind of way. And, since we have all broken the law, the only way to be saved is to have faith in God that the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, will cover our sins and we will be saved. What we haven’t been taught is, it’s always been that way – even in the Old Testament. The commendation Paul speaks of is faith. God has always accepted faith in exchange for perfect obedience. And that’s what this chapter is all about really. That’s the singular driving point of it. He’s talking to a bunch of Jews – the Hebrews – that’s the name of the book. He’s talking to the church that was first started, and he’s explaining the importance of Jesus to them. So he’s explaining, “This isn’t a new thing. It’s been there all along.” And that’s his way of convicting them that this has to be the way to go. Verse 7 – we’re going to read this again too. There’s something in it that I didn’t emphasize that I want to emphasize now.
V-7 – By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
“An heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” This statement has a double meaning. Can you put your finger on both of them right now? Well, here’s the obvious one. In Genesis 15:6, we read about Abraham:
Genesis 15:6 – And he believed the LORD, and he – that is, God – counted it to him as righteousness.
So Abraham was not a perfectly obedient man. If he had been judged by the law, he would have been guilty of death, because he broke the law, which carries the death penalty. But because he believed God, and trusted that God had his back – because he had faith – God looked past his sins to the time when Christ’s blood would cover them, and he was accounted a righteous person. Let’s look at that again in Romans 4:13 – another view of it.
Romans 4:13 – For the promise to Abraham and his offspring – that he would be heir of the world – did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
So Abraham was not saved by what he did – and he didn’t die because of what he didn’t do – but by his trust in God – faith. And that’s the very same thing that works with us today, isn’t it? That’s how God is working.
Now, I said there were two meanings. This first one was the most obvious. Actually, the second one is even more obvious, because the verse just said it right out there in plain language. If you have faith, what are you heir to? Righteousness. Right? Can it be more clear?
Notice what Noah and Abraham were doing, as a result of their faith. Their faith motivated them to obey God – to do what He said, to follow His instructions. So that, in the Bible, is what righteousness is. Righteousness is obeying God. And that was motivated by faith. So, it kind of works both ways, doesn’t it? Faith causes you to be righteous. And yet righteousness is a part of the picture. We’re going to talk more about that later. So faith leads us to obey God. And the more we do what He tells us, the more we see that He only tells us to do things that lead to our eternal life, and so that gives us more faith. So it’s a circle.
Now James, in his plain language way of explaining things, explains it this way. Let’s go to James 2:15:
James 2:15-17 – If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. So there’s a dead faith – and that’s all the people that profess to obey God, but don’t – that’s all of us, at one point or another, right? – and there’s living faith – and that’s the kind of faith that Abraham and Noah had, where they backed up their faith by doing what God told them to do. And then verse 18, James says:
V-18 – But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” And that’s what a lot of the people were saying there, because it was all about the works of the law to some of those Jewish people – because that’s the way they’d been brought up in the religion of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. To answer that question, James says: Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. That’s really good, if God told Noah to build an ark and Noah said to God, “I love you God and I’m going to follow You to the end of the earth,” and then he just sat there and didn’t do anything. He backed up what he said he believed by what he did. The fact is, that just believing has never cut it. It didn’t cut it back then, and it doesn’t cut it now. In verse 19, James says:
V-19 – You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God. So there’s another way of saying it all has to be there. It all works together. One complements the other. One is incomplete without the other. You know people that are just striving to obey God so they can earn salvation? They’re not trusting God. They’re trying to trust in themselves. And that doesn’t work. And, if you say that you have faith and believe in God, but you never do what God says, that doesn’t work either. Both of them…they have to be there together.
So that gets back to the beginning of this point, which was: What are the benefits of faith? Well, as we’ve already seen, one of them is eternal life. And on the way to that, faith drives us to follow God – or, in other words, obey Him. And that, in turn, leads to eternal life, because God never tells us to do things that draw us away from eternal life, but draws us closer to it. It’s pretty interesting how it works and how seldom we hear that explained.
When I was in college taking theology courses, one of my professors told of a way to think about this that has been helpful to me through the years. He called it the triangle of spirituality. At one point in the triangle is living faith – that’s the kind of faith where you actually do something – which leads to active obedience. So there’s active obedience. And that leads to spiritual love. So it all starts with faith. Faith causes obedience. We can see that from what we read in James. But then, in 1 John 2, and verse 5, he said:
1 John 2:5 – But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. What does it mean to keep God’s word? Well, it means to do it! By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. We talk about talking the talk, but not walking the walk. That’s what this is talking about.
What was the most noteworthy thing about Jesus’ life? Well, most of us would just say, “He never sinned.” What does that mean? Let’s go to 1 John 3:4:
1 John 3:4 – Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. So that means Jesus never broke the law of God. That’s what that means. And we’re not supposed to break it either. Abraham wasn’t supposed to break it, but he did – quite often – but because he trusted God and did what God told him to do, as best he could, God counted it to him as perfect righteousness.
Jesus perfectly kept the law, which would have us tell the truth, take care of the poor, forgive others, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love God with all our hearts. The human being that knew Him best – after His mother – was John. And he tells us that Jesus’ life was a living example of grace and truth – or true spirituality. That’s what comes from living faith, which leads to active obedience, which leads to godly love. Love is the observance of the law.
So let’s go back to Hebrews 11 and look at the observation made by Paul. He said:
Hebrews 11:13-16 – These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. See, we’re all supposed to be pilgrims and nomads, if we’re with God. That’s the course He’s going to put us on. For people who speak thus – like these people spoke – make it clear that they are seeking a homeland – a different homeland than the one they left. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country – that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. So this goes way beyond physical things. It goes toward the spiritual.
Faith means there is no turning back – only going forward, driven by trust in God and a burning desire for God and the awesome things that He has promised us. And that ties us back to the previous presentation in this series, called Faith for the Long Haul. If you haven’t listened to that, you might want to think about doing that.
Okay, that’s sorting of scratching the surface of what faith looks like in a lived Christian life, and how it benefits us to work at it. Next time, we’re going to look at some of the things that we can do to increase our faith and also the faith of those around us.
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