Hebrews 11:1-6 – What Is Faith?
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 9, 2012 AM
What is faith? Is it a feeling, an emotional response, or the intellectual exercise of one’s will to decide to believe in something based on the evidence no matter what others say? Webster’s Dictionary states that it is defined as, “allegiance to duty or a person, loyalty, fidelity to one’s promises, sincerity of intentions, firm belief in something for which there is no proof, complete trust, something that is believed especially with strong conviction, or belief and trust in and loyalty to God.”
The author of Hebrews gives us a definition of what faith is and then he spends the rest of this chapter in giving us examples of what faith meant for specific people. As we look at what he wrote and why, it should make us think about what our faith means to us.
What in life are you certain of, that you know without a doubt you can depend upon? We can absolutely depend in life upon very few people let alone things. Human nature predisposes that at some point we will let one another down in some way. And material things in life are not made to last. In fact, many things are made with built in obsolescence. The Book of Hebrews gives us a wonderful promise then when he writes that…
I. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see! (Vv. 1-3)
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
1. The author had just concluded the previous section by reminding us that God states, “But my righteous one will live by faith.” So, this section is a call for those “righteous ones” to live by faith and he defines this faith. If we are to live by faith, what is this faith he desires we live by? He shares three fundamental ideals concerning faith: It is “being sure of what we hope for,” it is being “certain of what we do not see,” and it is “what the ancients were commended for”! Faith is not some societal definition of moral virtue, it is not something you can necessarily see, nor can it always be grasped intellectually or physically. It is not defined by a person’s acts of will, but a person will definitely act on their faith! We cannot see God’s grace but we can experience it for ourselves. The sacrificial act of trusting our lives to God’s promise through his Son, Jesus Christ, assures us peace with him and eternal life. (John 1:12-13, 3:16) When we trust God, whom we cannot see, he promises us eternity! Jesus gave us his life as atonement for our sin, and we give back to him our lives by faith in his sacrifice! The ancients could not see the outcome of their faith, just as often we cannot either, but we like them can live by our trust in what God has promised! In fact, we see the outcome of God’s plan in the creation all around us, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” This is why the apostle Paul would dramatically write, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) We may not be sure of nor perhaps understand how all things were made, but we can certainly be certain that they were indeed made by the hand of God, if we do not we are without excuse! Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see!
EXAMPLE: We cannot actually see the love someone has for us, but we can experience it. We experience their love for us as they demonstrate it to us through their lives. This is why Paul would write, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) I will never forget how one Christmas I wanted a Lionel train set. It was way more than my father could afford and I did not really expect one. Imagine my surprise when I went out to the tree that year on Christmas Day and there set up around the tree was the Lionel train chugging around the tree! However, more than the train set, I will always remember the look on my father’s face when he saw how excited and incredulous I was that the train was really mine. All I can say is, he radiated his love for me that day, I knew without a doubt he loved me. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see!
I grew up in a faith where we were taught that we never knew if were good enough to please God with our lives. It was a constant striving for personal perfection and attempting to do just one more thing in order for God to be pleased with our lives. Can you imagine what it meant then when I discovered that God already loved me so much he sent his own son to die for me and that all I needed to do is respond by faith? Hebrews reinforces the fact that…
II. Without faith, it is impossible to please God! (Vv. 4-6)
“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
1. How do we know when a person has faith? Can we look them in the eye? Can we see it in the color of their skin, the set of their jib, or in the new way they walk? Sometimes, bringing up the past helps us to see the present better. Now I am not suggesting that we nag one another about things we did in the past, but rather here, the author does so for a purpose. The author proceeds with examples of faith, and begins with Abel. The superiority of Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s lay both in the substance and in the style of it; one was offered willingly and the other only for show; one was offered in faith and the other in pride. This is why, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” Cain plotted, schemed, and planned his “sacrifice” and the ultimate murder of his brother Abel! Planning to do “good things” for God in order to be given kudos or be recognized for it is the outcome of personal pride and not an example of faith. Hebrews then moves on to Enoch, who offers us even a better example of faith: “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.” One verse, Genesis 5:24, relates the story of a godly man named Enoch. It is said that, “Enoch walked with God” and then because God loved Enoch’s faith, “he was no more, because God took him away.” It was because of his trust and confidence in God that Enoch walked with God, even before there was the Mosaic Law! “For, before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.” God cannot be pleased in someone who has no confidence in him! “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” You see, without faith, it is impossible to please God!
EXAMPLE: The believer’s motto should be the same as Paul’s when he wrote, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV) Paul knew without a doubt that God loved him and was pleased with his life. In a day and age where so many walk around with insecurity problems and have to focus their entire existence on themselves in order to feel good enough about themselves, it is wonderful to realize that God focuses on our faith and not on ourselves! Hebrews related that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them!” (Hebrews 7:25 NIV) Today, remember the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, that God so loved us that he sent us his son, that if we simply believed in him we would be saved. God is pleased with our faith and without faith, it is impossible to please God!
We discovered for ourselves two important truths concerning faith: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, and without faith, it is impossible to please God!
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.