If you were asked to explain what it means to have faith in God, how would you explain it? Some, I think, would describe it as a simple decision they thought was wise to make at the end of a church service. While I will agree that faith is the means by which we come to Christ for salvation, I also find in the Scripture, that faith is more than a simple choice. Faith, according to Hebrews 11:1, is an empowering of the heart to see a spiritual reality that the natural mind does not see.
At least that seems to be the argument being made to the original Hebrew readers of this letter. Some of you will remember from my earlier sermons why this letter was originally written. It was penned to a group of first century Jewish converts who were apparently considering abandoning their newfound faith in Christ, in favor of returning to the old covenant, it’s temple, it’s sacrificial system, and all of the visible religious aspects. They were considering this transition because they were gripped with some type of persecution. And, that persecution, the fiery trial was none other than the risk of bloodshed, the risk of a beating, the risk of bequeathing their earthly life and possessions for their faith in Jesus. Yet, the preacher here in Hebrews gives no concession, and in fact claims that their faith will not permit their considered apostasy.
But my righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.
(Hebrews 10:38-39, CSB)
If you’re curious as to the importance of faith, then this passage should give full clarity. It is the difference maker between eternal salvation or eternal destruction. It is the means that God uses to hold your heart to the fire in order to purify it. And, if your supposed faith is not genuine then it will burn away, but true faith when held to the fire refuses to melt away from Christ.
I don’t know about you—but I want to know what that faith is. What is the ‘faith’ that the preacher of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 10:39 whose possessor gives salvation instead of destruction. And, perhaps more importantly, what does faith do to keep me from melting away in the face of hard times, trials, and even dangerous persecution?
Well, let’s look at what the Hebrews preacher has to say.
‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’
–Hebrews 11:1, ESV
Sometimes, I think, we are too short in our defining of what faith is. Especially when we think of faith as the empowering to climb the mountain in front of us. That’s not to say that that statement isn’t true, it is. Faith does empower the person to climb the mountain before them. But, how does faith do that? Certainly, we would not dare answer that faith is some hopeful wish, or blind guess. Faith, the preacher says to these struggling group of first century believers and to the rest of us who have ears to hear, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Here’s what I think the preacher is getting at. Faith empowers you to move the mountain, because it enables you to see past it. It empowers you on this side of the mountain, because it enables you to know what’s on the other side. It enables you to walk through suffering and not melt away, because it enables you to see the incomparable glory just beyond the present momentary light afflictions. Faith is not a mere wishful thinking, or a finnicky belief that haphazardly holds on to a promise. Faith is a conviction that enables you to see spiritually what is naturally unseen. Faith is an unshakable assurance that what is promised now, is a sure thing for the future.
But, how does this faith come about and how does it empower perseverance? The preacher doesn’t leave us hanging.
Faith sees more than the natural mind does.
Let’s look at verse three,
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.
(Hebrews 11:3, ESV)
I can scarcely think of a more controversial topic in the culture today than what the opening verses of the Bible declares about the universe. Moses, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, proclaims in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (ESV) I don’t think I need to say much, but that is a tremendous claim. So tremendous that to believe it is to pattern your life around its central claim—that is that there is a God whose existence is beyond, superior to, and above this visible creation. Moses makes no speculation, only a declaration: There is one God and He has created the heavens and the earth.And, for the next 30 verses Moses reveals the manner in which this visible creation came into existence—by the Word of God. Literally, God spoke an invisible Word which made a visible creation.
I’ll say it again. That’s a tremendous claim.
You greatly sense how tremendous it is when you open any biology textbook, in a public-school system in America, and are confronted with a mountain of theories and ‘proposed evidence’ that appears to contradict this opening claim of the Word of God. Those textbooks will argue for a Big Bangmode of creation that is little more than the random explosion of hotly condensed matter that set this whole thing in motion. It will claim validation by methods such as carbon 14 dating that measures the half-life of radioactive isotopes, and it will all seem persuasive evidence to the natural mind. Furthermore, it will step beyond the realm of biology and appeal to geological formations and archeological discoveries that makes Darwinian evolution and the Big Bang undeniable—or so they say. Well, God does not need Carbon 14 dating to evidence His existence and all glorious reality, because faith is the evidence He gives.
Now, my goal here tonight is not to discuss a defense for the Bible’s claim against the various secular theories for creation. That will be for another night. Tonight, I have but one question to ask you. Why do you believe what Genesis 1:1 claims?
Did you sit down one day and conclude that God must have created the universe out of nothing through His Word? Of course not. If you believe it, it is because you have read it—and not in a Ken Ham book! You have heard it from God Himself from His Book inspired and empowered by His Holy Spirit. And, that mysterious conviction that swayed the pendulum of your heart to stand against popular cultural and academic thought declaring that there is One God and that He created the Universe by His Word—and that you believe it because you read it in His book that He wrote to humanity—that is faith. And, when the world laughs you to scorn for that belief, you do not cower or fall away, but you endure that suffering.
You endure because faith has assured you of the reality that is hoped for, it has provided undeniable proof for what is not seen. You endure because by faith you have seen more than the natural mind does. And, that doesn’t happen by human reason—that only happens by God’s grace and power opening the eyes of your heart to see the truth of His glorious Word.
Faith seeks God, God’s way.
And, faith is more than being made aware of the existence of the One True God. Yes, faith opens our eyes to God’s existence but it also opens our eyes to the reward of seeking Him. But, how do we seek God? Not surprisingly, Scripture says by faith—but what does that really mean?
I feel good about saying this. I think we see this in the two examples that we will look at from the Old Testament. Seeking God through faith is seeking God on His terms as He has revealed in the Scripture. I can say it more succinctly: Faith seeks God by God’s way.
So, how does the story of Abel and Enoch make that point? Let’s look at their respective stories as the preacher points us there, and see what we can glean from their testimony of faith.
The first Old Testament example we have is Abel, whose story is found in Genesis chapter 4 immediately following the fall in the garden of Eden, the subsequent curses because of it, and the blood bought redemption which closes the third chapter. It is a well-known narrative. Cain, the first-born, was a worker of the ground, and his brother, Abel, was a shepherd of the flocks. In the course of timeCain made an offering to The Lord with some of the land’s produce. Abel also made an offering, some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering, yet had no regard for Cain’s offering.Cain was furious, apparently with Abel, and The Lord rebuked him for his unjustified anger. Yet, Cain did not listen to the word of warning from God to avoid sin, and so murdered his brother, Abel, in the field.
The point of focus for Hebrews 11:4 seems to be on the fact that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted while Cain’s offering was shown no regard. We are wise here if we ask, why? Thankfully the preacher makes no scruples with it, he explicitly says that Abel’s sacrifice was superior because it was offered by faith. Clearly, more than the substance material of the sacrifices is in view here. Surely, Cain is not reprimanded because he is a farmer instead of a shepherd. And, yet when we read the narrative in the Genesis context it seems that the different substances that were offered does seem to be an issue. What is the Hebrews preacher getting at? Let’s think it through.
Cain offered produce from the ground. He worked hard for it, no doubt. He can thank his Dad, Adam, for that. Cain sweated, strived, and stuck at this hard labor, day after day, and finally out of the ground came this beautiful produce. I’m sure it smelled sweet to Cain, and it was certainly a sight for sore eyes! This was the hard-earned fruit of his long labor. This is what he will offer to God.
Abel took a different route. Abel took one of the living animals from his flock, and prepared it. I can tell you that Abel’s sacrifice would not have been as aesthetically pleasing to the human eye as Cain’s offering of fruit. It was messy, it was stinky, and it was bloody. I can just hear the scornful mocking of prideful Cain—Really, Abel? That’s what your bringing to God? And yet, that is exactly what God had done to heal the divide between Himself and their parents. This was the way that God had revealed to humanity as an appropriate way to seek Him, through the blood.
The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and He clothed them.
(Genesis 3:21, CSB)
I’m certain Cain and Abel had heard this story as young boys sitting starry-eyed at the feet of Adam. Apparently, the Word had stuck firmly to the heart of Abel, because that is how Abel sought to approach God, by an offering of blood. Cain, who must have never listened to Adam’s preaching, sought to impress God with Cain’s hard works, and was rejected. Abel sought the reward of God, by seeking God by faith in God’s revealed way. A way of seeking Him that clearly points forward to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Richard Phillips has said it well I think,
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.
(Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary, 404)
The second example provided in this text is that of a more elusive character, literally. That is the story of the Old Testament saint, Enoch, who escaped death because God ‘took him.’ His story comes to us in the next chapter of the Genesis account, Genesis 5:21-24. It’s very short.
Enoch was 65 years old when fathered Methuselah. And after he fathered Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and fathered other sons and daughters. So, Enoch’s life lasted 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was not there because God took him.
(Genesis 5:21-24, CSB)
It’s the last phrase of the Genesis account that our preacher from Hebrews seems particularly interested, By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death. He was not to be found because God took him away. For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5, CSB)
What is it that Enoch did that pleased God? And, pleased God enough that He conferred on Enoch the gift of eternal life, even graciously permitting him to escape death. Well, since we only have a limited amount of information about Enoch, it ought to be easy to narrow it down! Here’s what we know.
- Enoch fathered Methuselah when he was 65 years old.
- Following Methuselah’s birth Enoch walked with God for 300 years.
I think it is abundantly clear what pleased God. Enoch walked with God. The NIV translation adds the wording, walked faithfully with God. That is to say that Enoch’s life, at least the last 300 years, was spent side by side with God. Enoch’s life, and his glorious resurrection from death, is a testimony that God rewards those who seek Him in a relationship.
Now, I feel inclined to point out something that appears to be popular preaching today. It seems popular to teach sinners that they can omit a relationship with The Lord, and yet still obtain the reward of heaven. Friend, if that were the case then there would be no reward of heaven! Please take note, any of you who hold to a cheap grace, wimpy theology, of what good preaching sounds like—for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. God is the reward. Eternal life with God is the hope of heaven. And, hear this warning, if you wish to omit a relationship with Him here, I highly doubt you will want one in the age to come.
The reward is for those who seek God by faith, that is how you please God. And, seeking God by faith is seeking God, God’s way—that is by the atoning blood of Jesus which was shed for sin, and through a relationship made available by that blood! The faith of Abel and Enoch, though neither are here today, really does still speak doesn’t it?
Faith saves us from destruction.
I think this could also be argued for from Enoch’s narrative, yet it seems that the preacher makes explicit use of another character in the Old Testament narrative to illuminate this working of faith. He chooses none other than Noah, the man who built an ark and survived a world-wide forty-day rain event of biblical proportions, literally.
Now, let’s see what the preacher of Hebrews says.
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 righteousness that comes by faith.
(Hebrews 11:7, ESV)
We really have just two options that I think reason allows us to propose. We have the option that Noah was just a ‘good guesser’. That is that Noah was the greatest meteorologist of all time, a master of probability statistics, and to be honest, just a tad bit lucky. I hate that option. That is ridiculous to me. There is no such thing as luck, and probability statistics is a façade. Do you really think an ancient man, who had possibly never even observed rain, suddenly conclude that the greatest rain event in human history was on the verge of occurring and that such reason led him to build a massive ark, house animals, and seal the door?
Of course not, and the Hebrews preacher would think that idea ridiculous too, which is why he adds—By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen.
Here’s the second option, and it has the authority of Scripture. It means that the Word of God graciously came to Noah. And, that Word opened the eyes of Noah to see what is naturally not seen. It means that faith, which accompanied the divine Word of warning, was of such power, such grace, such sovereignty that it took hold of his human heart and shook it until the eyes of Noah’s heart were opened. That is what faith does, it proves and convinces you of events as yet unseen. Noah didn’t hear some voice and take a blind leap into the unknown. Noah didn’t hear God and yet cross his fingers, hoping that it really would rain. No, the man Noah heardthe Word of God (Romans 10:17). And, upon hearing the Word of God in its sovereign power, the Word awakened the heart of Noah to see by faith with assurance an unseen future reality. And then Noah, by faith built an ark of gopher wood the size of three football lengths and was saved from the judgement that God had warned him about.
And, don’t think it was just a temporary salvation. Oh no, far from it! You see the Hebrews preacher takes it one step further—By this he condemned the world and became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith.I could preach another sermon on that phrase alone. But it is sufficient for now to say this, Noah, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), was declared a righteous child of God (Romans 5:1). And, is the same not said for the other men we have explored tonight as well?
Abel was commended as righteous because of his faith in seeking God, God’s way. Enoch was approved by God because of his faith in pursuing a relationship with God. And Noah, with the threat of destruction on the horizon, was saved by a gracious Word that awakened faith which prompted obedience to the revealed Word. God’s way of approving people is no different today. We are approved by God when we seek Him through the blood, yet not by the blood of sheep but by the blood of Jesus which was shed at Calvary. We are approved by God when we seek a relationship with Him, and just as He raised Christ from the dead, so we will be raised as well—not to judgement though, but to eternal salvation. Just as Noah was saved by grace through faith in the revealed Word given to him, so we are saved by grace through faith in the message about Christ.
What faith does.
So, some ask, what is faith? I think it is better to ask what faith does. It assures us of our future hope we have in Jesus, and grants to us an unshakable conviction of the reality of this future promise. That’s why the Hebrews preacher can say that, ‘But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.’ (Hebrews 10:39, CSB). If we have faith we will persevere in this world, even in the face of trials, temptations, and tribulation because we have seen what is naturally not seen, and assured of the sure hope we have in Jesus. I pray the eyes of your heart would be opened to such realities.