Week of March 26, 2017
The Point: My faith in God makes me victorious.
What Is Faith?: Hebrews 11:1-6
 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.  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.  By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  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. [ESV]
“What is Faith [1-3]. The Christian life is the life of faith. Faith is the issue on which the matter of salvation depends; it is the key that turns the lock on the door to eternal life. Faith is the channel by which we receive the benefits of Christ’s saving work; it is the cup into which God pours His saving grace. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews most clearly deals with the matter of faith, most carefully defines its nature, and most exhaustively describes its working. Verse 1 is an oft-quoted and oft-memorized definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. This is not a comprehensive definition of faith – there are important truths about faith that are not mentioned here – but it serves as a well-crafted introduction to all that the writer of Hebrews wants us to consider in this chapter. Verse 1 describes the environment in which faith exists and works. Faith takes place when things are hoped for but not yet possessed or manifested. In this respect, faith deals with the future. Faith concerns unseen spiritual realities, things as they are in God’s sight. Faith, therefore, relates to the things we do not yet have, to the things we hope for and do not see, to things that are promised by God but are so far unfulfilled in our actual experience. By faith we possess things that are hoped for; faith is the manner in which we hold them, and by faith they are real in our experience. Faith is our attitude toward our circumstances, particularly toward uncertainty and want. By faith we live as if things were other than they appear, because of what God has said. Faith is our guarantee that provides a foretaste of the spiritual blessings that ultimately we will know in full. When it comes to understanding and defining faith, there are two basic approaches we may safely take, or two basic questions for which we may find an answer. The first of these has to do with what faith does and the second addresses what faith is. If the question concerns what faith does, the answer is that it makes real to us things that are otherwise unreal to our experience; it presents to our hearts things that cannot be seen with our eyes. If that is what faith does, the answer to what faith is must be closely related: faith is confidence in those things that are not present to us but are promised in the Word of God. If we believe, we are acting upon things that are not yet manifest but which we accept as true. Noah believed there would be a flood with no other evidence than the word of God. That was faith. Those who put their faith in God and in His Word, and not in this world and the evidence it presents, are those whom God receives. This is the point stressed in verse 2, which indicates where the author of Hebrews is taking us in this chapter: For by it the people of old received their commendation. What will follow in this chapter is the record of those men and women God commends in Scripture. What we are to note in each and every case is that the one thing that brought people God’s commendation was their faith. The obvious point for us is that if we want God’s favor, God’s approval, God’s commendation during these brief years of our own lives, then it will come only by the possession and exercise of faith. The method our writer takes in this chapter is to follow the record of the Old Testament as it presents different men and women of faith. To that end, he begins with the opening chapter of Genesis, finding proof of his doctrine even in the creation of the world. 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 . The nature of the universe, the creation or beginning of all things, cannot be explained by evidence that is available to our eyes. Without faith we cannot even explain the world in which we exist. Here the writer of Hebrews appeals to the Word of God as the object of our faith. If God’s Word was capable of creating everything out of nothing, then surely that Word is a sufficient ground for our hope. Our faith grows strong from the Word, rests secure in the Word, and bears fruit from the Word, which is living and active [4:12]. Ours is not a blind faith, but a faith that sees by the light of God’s sure revelation. What are the practical implications of what this passage says about faith and its centrality to the Christian life. First, faith is how we receive the blessings of salvation. What are the unseen things that our faith grasps? There are our justification, the forgiveness of our sins, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. There is only one way to receive and to know and then to grow into full assurance of our acceptance with God, and that is through faith in His Word. Second, faith sustains us in the midst of trial and difficulty. Only through faith do the people of God ever find strength and courage to stand up against the world and the trials of this life. Third, faith makes us pleasing to God and useful to others in this life. This is what we are going to find all through our studies of the biblical examples set before us in Hebrews 11. One’s life will always be proportioned to one’s faith. Faith is the root of a real Christian’s character. Nothing is more valuable to us, or more beneficial to others, than the faith that saves us through union with Christ, the faith that sustains us in the wilderness of this world, the faith that alone will make us pleasing to God and useful to His kingdom. If we believe in the supreme value of faith, then we will give our time, our effort, and our favor to those things that build up our faith, scorning all those things that stand opposed to it. Of one thing we may be sure, God will not deny faith to those who seek it of Him.
Faith Justifying . The first example of faith that the writer presents is that of Abel: By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. This refers to the episode recorded in Genesis 4:1-5. There are two ways to understand this statement. The first is that because Abel was a man of faith and Cain was not, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting Cain’s. The issue was not the sacrifices but the men themselves. God receives the man of faith and therefore his offering, rejecting the man who lacks faith. We want to affirm this way of thinking, but it does not seem to be a sufficient explanation for what we find in Genesis 4. The Old Testament text seems to emphasize the difference between the two offerings, and not merely between the two men. It was not that the two brothers brought the same offering, one that was received because of faith while the other was rejected for unbelief. No, the offerings were different, and in that difference we see the faith of one and the unbelief of the other. Cain’s offering did not involve the shedding of blood while Abel’s did. Abel brought a sacrifice that pointed forward to the atoning death of a spotless substitute. By faith Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s, not just because Abel’s faith made it better, but because by faith he offered the sacrifice God had established as the means by which He would accept sinful mankind. We learn several important lessons from this episode. First, we see that sinful man is justified, or accepted by God, only by faith in the blood of the sacrifice that God has provided. This is a doctrine the Book of Hebrews has repeatedly stressed [7:27; 9:22,28]. This means that you cannot come to God any way you choose. You do not just say you believe in God and then decide for yourself how you will draw near to Him. That was Cain’s problem. He would decide the terms of his coming to God; he would offer a sacrifice according to his own devising. How bitter he was when God rejected him and his self-righteous worship. Second, we learn that it was by faith that Abel was declared to be righteous, or justified, by God. By believing on Jesus Christ, by resting on His saving work for the forgiveness of our sins, by accepting God’s Word and coming to Him the one way He has provided, we are forgiven and are declared righteous by faith. Third, we see that Abel still speaks through his faith even though he died. Abel bears testimony about faith – about its value, its worth, and its power to justify those who trust in Christ. Faith in God is never silenced, because God Himself keeps alive the testimony of His faithful servants.
Faith Pleasing God [5-6]. In verse 4 we saw that Abel was declared righteous by faith, since he came to God through the blood of Christ. Now we turn to the walk of faith with the life of Enoch. The Bible says very little about this man. All that we have comes from the genealogy in Genesis 5:21-24. What we know about Enoch, therefore, is that he was the seventh patriarch in the line of Adam through Seth. When he was 65 he had a son named Methuselah. He lived a total of 365 years, after which he mysteriously departed from the earth without dying. But the Bible tells us one vital fact that speaks volumes. Twice in these verses we are told: Enoch walked with God. This wouldn’t make a bad inscription on a gravestone. It tells us much about his character and the pattern of this man’s life. Far more important than the job titles he held or his attainments in life was his walk with God. What does it mean to walk with God? First, this speaks of a living relationship, a companionship between a man or woman and God. It implies personal knowledge, an ever-increasing understanding of the one with whom we walk. It implies agreement of mind and heart. There are an intimacy, a fellowship, and a joy of company between two who walk together. When it is God with whom we walk, there is a hierarchy, just as when the disciples walked with our Lord Jesus Christ. One is Lord; the other is disciple. One is teacher; the other is student. One is Father; the other is child. There can hardly be a more beautiful description of the Christian life than the idea of walking with God. This is what the Christian life is intended to be: a walk of faith, abiding fellowship with our loving God. His presence transforms even the worst circumstances into beds of roses, simply because He is there with us. What glory this is, that when God calls us to faith in Him, He invites us to walk by His side! So every day – ordinary days, difficult days, joyful days – are days with God, a foretaste of heaven: to be with Him, to know His love, to see His light and feel the warmth of His pleasure. Walking with God is its own destination, yet at the same time we are indeed going somewhere! We are growing in our knowledge of the infinite and divine; we are growing more like Him in character as He guides us; we are realizing progress in spiritual things. This is the Christian life! It is not a bare knowledge of facts, or a grim recitation of doctrines. To be a Christian is to walk with God, to know Him and to live in the light of His presence. Interestingly, Hebrews 11:5-6 does not focus on the idea of “walking with God” but rather on “pleasing God.” This idea of pleasing God is a working definition of what it means to walk with Him. If we want to enjoy God’s fellowship and to feel God’s pleasure, it is going to result from obedience to His Word. While walking with God involves more than simple obedience to His commands, obedience is necessary and integral to any life lived in fellowship with God. The main point of our passage is yet another proof of the necessity of faith. The writer goes on to point out two vital components of genuine faith: whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him . The first of these statements points out that faith must have an object. This first element of faith has to do with its content and doctrine. Faith must identify the God of the Bible as the one true God. Faith must be in Him if it is to be saving faith. Over and over God says, I am God, and there is no other [Isa. 46:9]. Faith must first agree with God’s affirmation and turn to Him as the only true God. Whoever draws near to God, our passage says, must believe that the God of the Bible is the One and the true God, putting no others in His place. First, then, we have the content or object of faith. Second comes the motivation of faith: that he rewards those who seek him. We must believe not only that this is the true God, but also that we have to deal with Him, that He is the Judge and Arbiter of our destiny and fortune. As soon as we speak of God giving out rewards, some people get upset; they perceive a threat to the clear biblical teaching of salvation by grace alone. “If salvation is a matter of getting your reward, then we must be talking about works-salvation,” they reason. However, that is very far from the case. This particular statement simply asserts the reality that God is the One who determines blessing versus condemnation. To have faith, we must realize and accept that we have to deal with this God, that His judgment about us is the vital one, and that we had better seek Him; that is, that we had better gain His favor. By calling this second element the motivation of faith, I mean that faith must turn to God as the One who saves; it must come to Him seeking reward, seeking favor, seeking His grace. The alternative is to ignore Him, to think that it doesn’t matter what God thinks of us, what He intends for our future. This is what unbelief is all about. Few people deny the existence of God, but many deny the relevance of God, the need to seek Him for salvation. This is demonstrably true in our own day. The vast majority of people agree that God must exist, yet they are not seeking Him. Instead, they are serving other worldly gods as the source of the rewards they so highly covet. There is a life after this one, with a God to be known and enjoyed with awe. There is a life after death, where God Himself awaits all mankind; either to judge and condemn one’s unbelief, or to reward one’s faith with eternal life. Thus, our reward is the one Enoch received, namely, everlasting life with God – His free gift to all who turn to Him in faith. God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. What, then, does it mean to seek God? Seeking God means seeking His favor, seeking a relationship with Him. For sinners it means seeking forgiveness. But seeking God means more than seeking His favor and forgiveness, which He freely gives in Jesus Christ. It also involves a relationship with Him. It means making Him the God of your life: your King, your teacher, and your Lord. It means, as Enoch shows us, to walk with God and to offer your life for His pleasure. It means seeking that which is the chief end for our lives, the purpose for which we were made, namely the glory of God and the enjoyment of Him. Seeking God is just another expression for living by faith, which is what this great chapter in Hebrews is all about. Those who seek God He rewards with Himself, and those who walk with Him in this life He brings to Himself in the next, conquering the grave, for a fellowship of joy that will last forever. [Phillips, pp. 390-434].
Questions for Discussion:
- Verse 1 lists two key elements of faith. What do these elements tell us about faith? How can the unseen provide assurance and conviction? What does the close identification of faith with hope indicate? How does faith also have a past and a present element? How does faith define reality? Who is the focus or object of faith?
- How is belief that the universe was created by God  a good example of the kind of faith defined in verse 1? What is the basis for our faith that God created the universe?
- Twice in Genesis 5:21-24, Enoch is described as one who walked with God. What does it mean to walk with God? Hebrews 11:5 changes the description of Enoch to one who pleased God. How does the idea of pleasing God define what it means to walk with God? Do you walk with God? Do you please God?
- According to verse 6, what two requirements must be satisfied by those who come to God? Why are these necessary? What does it mean to believe God exists? Why is believing that God is a rewarder important for faith? Why must we diligently seek Him in order to receive the reward? What does it mean to seek God [see Deut. 4:29; Ps. 63:1-2; Jer. 29:13; Matt. 6:33]? How can a person seek God? What is the reward God gives to those who seek him?
A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.
The Letter to the Hebrews, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.
Hebrews, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.
Commentary on Hebrews, Thomas Schreiner, Holman Reference.