The Nature of Faith
Text: Hebrews 11:1-2
Theme: Faith takes God at His word and lives life in light of His promises.
1. The issue of Hebrews: the Supremacy of Jesus Christ over the Old Testament.
2. Issues of Hebrews:
a. Ritualism versus Christ; showy religiosity versus genuine faith
b. The popular versus the unpopular
c. The easy versus the hard
d. The old versus the new
e. The good versus the best
3. Yet, the inspired author returns to the issue of faith. Life without faith is impossible. We have each from our cultural background made many stances based not on what we can see or measure but based on our faith. We need to be reminded of the importance of faith and informed of its essence.
4. These verses are challenging to understand. Simple to grasp but difficult to exhaust. John Wesley wrote: “Many times have I thought, many times have I spoke, many times have I wrote upon these words; and yet there appears to be a depth in them which I am in no wise able to fathom.” That is perhaps what you feel; it is certainly what I feel as we look at these verses.
5. I do know this and am convinced of it: to be a great Christian you must possess great faith. To become a great church we must have people of great faith. So it is a worthy goal to examine this subject and see what God says to us about faith.
6. The importance of faith. F.F. Bruce wrote, “In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised, In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye.” [Commentary on Hebrews, p 277]
Faith is being sure of what we hope for – the Principle of Faith
1. Faith accepts what God declares. The nature of hope – not all has happened that God has promised. What lies still in the future?
a. Our resurrection from the dead
b. Our glorification with God in heaven
c. The Return of the Lord
d. Subjectively – there are other things that today we realize in part but in the future we will realize completely. For example, the complete inner realization that we are indeed forgiven and cleansed and reconciled to God completely through Christ.
2. Is this a definition or a description? A definition is “trusting God”. This is a description of what faith does, the results of trusting God. This statement introduces the rest of the chapter and everything that follows is found in this first principle.
3. The Greek words, estin de pistis elpizomenon hupostasis,
a. Elpizomenon, is the present passive participle (gen pl neut) of elpizo, “to hope” literally, “the things hoped for”
b. Hupostasis, is “a standing under”, “an assured impression, a mental realizing”, and in 1:3, “subsistence or essence”. The literal English equivalent would be “substance” or “to be a foundation”. Clarke says “subsistence” is the right idea, something upon which something else may be built. Illustration: Psalm 69:1-3, the image of sinking in th emiry depths where there is no foothold.
c. Like many words, hupostasis carried two similar but slightly different meanings. Twice already it was used in Hebrews, 1:3 for the essence of God and 3:14 for our confidence. 1:3 has an objective meaning, what is, and 3:14 a subjective meaning, what I feel. Which is meant in 11:1? F.F. Bruce opts for a combination. Mostly, according to Bruce, it means “assurance” but some element of the objective meaning, “essence or substance” remains. Elsewhere in the New Testament it is used for “assurance or confidence” (2 Cor 9:4; 11:17).
d. The idea is that which stands beneath anything, a foundation, a promise, a contract. Moulton and Mulligan say that the correct translation is “Now faith is the title-deed of things hoped for.”
4. Illustration: It is the idea that once faith is established then much can be built upon it, but until it is established, nothing further in terms of Christian truth can be built.
5. Hebrews 10:19-25 urges the readers to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and in full assurance of faith” to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,” to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” continuing to meet together and “encourage one another.”
6. Illustration Like men carrying a heavy load, getting underneath it, a load so heavy that it would crush just one man, but they rush underneath it because of their confidence in one another. You’ve seen people wrestle crocodiles on television documentaries, the shows where someone is an expert on these large reptiles. Someone has to leap on it first, but he knows that he is unable to hold it down himself. He is assuming that these others are also going to join him. He is demonstrating faith, “standing under the things hoped for” and in this case his faith is in his friends. Hebrews 10 ends with these words, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” Then it continued the theme of “not shrinking back” in Hebrews 11. But our confidence is not in ourselves alone, but in the Lord Jesus Himself.
7. This means that faith is not a leap in the dark – we stand upon the promises of God. Faith is a response to God’s message from His Word and His Spirit’s confirming voice in our hearts.
Faith is being certain of what we do not see – the Persuasion of Faith
1. Faith accepts what God declares. Faith’s domain is those things we long to see but cannot see. Just like eyes enable us to see material things, so faith is the organ that enables us to see those things that are invisible. “Eternal life is promised to us, but it is when we are dead: we are told of a blessed resurrection, but meanwhile we moulder in the dust; we are declared to be justified, and sin dwells in us; we hear that we are blessed, meantime we are overwhelmed in endless miseries: we are promised abundance of all goods, but we still endure hunger and thirst; God declares He will immediately come to our help, but He seems deaf to our cries. What should we do if we had not faith and hope to lean on, and if our mind did not emerge amidst the darkness above the world by the shining of the Word and Spirit of God?” [CALVIN].
2. The Greek words, pragmaton elegxos ou blepomenon,
a. Pragmaton, from pragma, “a thing done, fact, deed, work, transaction”, Clarke says, “Demonstration”.
b. Elegxos, “a trial in order to prove, a proof”
c. Blepomenon, present passive participle (gen pl neut) of blepo, “to see” literally “things being seen” and with ou “things not seen [in the present]”.
d. Literal translation, “faith is proof of a thing being done or transaction being accomplished that we cannot see in the present.”
3. The use of the word pragma, from which we get the English word “pragmatic”, points back in Hebrews to what the writer said about the accomplishment of Christ as our High Priest, Hebrews 10:1-18. Especially verses 11-12. John Gill seems to agree with this.
a. We cannot see Calvary today. We cannot see the sufferings of Christ on Calvary today, but we trust that it happened.
b. But even those who were there could not see the transaction that was made between God the Son and God the Father. Christ passed through the holy place into the holy of holies as our intercessor.
4. Application: How can I receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers? Through faith. If you are beating yourself up constantly because of things you have done in the past, you need to come again to Calvary and see that it is all paid for there. Don’t ask for another sign! The only sign that God will give you on the matter of atonement is the sign of the cross! But that is sufficient. Now you must believe!
5. But the word pragma also refers today to spiritual realities around us and points forward to all the promises of God that lay in the future.
6. Possible illustrations: Joshua, Joshua 5:13-15; Gehazi, 2 Kings 6:15-17;
7. Application: We may feel all alone in many instances, but this is not so – God is with His people and God is with you if you are a believer in Christ!
Faith is what the ancients were commended for – The Potential of Faith
1. Faith accepts what God declares. In every generation people had to act out their faith. Then proceeds a list of faithful heroes who span thousands of years, different cultures, different nations, different circumstances, but one Lord. A common theme runs through the lives of these men and women, they believed God when it had not been easy. They trusted in God in spite of the pressure from those around them to do the opposite. They trusted in God, when all the world did not. They walked by faith when sight was not possible.
2. Faith allows us to become what we could not become otherwise.
3. These people were measured, not by what they did not do, but by what they did do! Their outward expression of their faith took different forms – Noah built an ark, Abraham left a nation, Moses led a nation – but they were men and women of action.
4. Too often we believers identify the marks of a “good Christian” by what we do not do. Certainly there are things that a Christian should not be a part of and in some degree our faith will lead us to say, “No,” to certain acts or even associations. But for a believer, our life in Christ will become a life of positive force and our faith will be expressed in what good we do, not merely in what evil we do not. Faith creates positive direction of one’s life for God! Amen.
5. However, the main point is that these ancients were commended not for what they did but for their faith! Because they took God at His Word!
6. There remains then the issue of knowledge of God’s revelation of Himself in order for us to exercise true biblical faith. Romans 10:17 expressly states that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Faith is not independent thinking that results in self- confidence. That may be presumption but it is not faith. Faith is not wishful thinking, nor a positive attitude about life. Faith is taking God at His Word, trusting Him with what He has chosen to reveal to us about Himself. This is the very thing the ancients were commended for.
7. Some common denominators of faith span the centuries – this is what we learn from the past
a. Faith is the individual’s response to God’s revelation of Himself. God is always the Initiator and people are always the responders.
b. Faith is required for every person on this earth – it always has and it always will be. None of us has the privilege of walking by sight; each of us has the responsibility of walking by faith.
c. Faith will keep in line with the One True God’s progressive revelation of Himself through the centuries and in no way will contradict the revelation of Jesus Christ.
d. Faith will, in every generation, take on certain dynamics. God is active in each generation in a unique way and the expression of faith in every generation will always be, in some manner, unique to that generation. Although Faith is fundamentally a response to God, when God moves in a certain way in our day we must also respond to this new movement of God.
e. In every generation, the new expression of faith that honors God and will require certain associations with God’s people. In every generation God is doing something special and unique, a standard [flag] has been raised around which God’s people must rally, some new stigma has been set by which God’s people should be branded.
f. Faith will take into consideration not merely outward expressions of our faith, be they broad directions and associations or private acts, but that the ways of God should also be our ways. Not only are we to follow Christ, but we are also to take up our cross daily and follow Christ! Faith governs not merely what we do but how we do what we do.
g. The person of faith will always find that what he hopes for lies in the future, that what he longs to see with his eyes he cannot, that faith will always be required of us.
h. In our response to God and His movement we will also note that the person of faith, as opposed to the person of convenience, will find that no man can serve in the place of God, that all men, even faithful ones, have weaknesses, and in that sense the person of faith will always have a sense of loneliness in terms of human associations but will know of the fellowship of God. Like Christ who said even to one of His closest disciples, “Get behind me, Satan,” the person of faith will find that sometimes he will go it alone in terms of human companionship. But in those moments of faith is when God is especially pleased with us and close to us.
8. All down the line, people believed God and we also must believe God. Belief is the fundamental response of the heart toward God and belief precedes meaningful action.
9. For example, if I wish my child would come home for the holidays I may act a certain way. I may, simply out of this desire, do a lot of things – buy his favorite foods, think about how we would spend our time. But these actions will not bring about his homecoming, in fact, it may suggest that I’m losing my grip on reality. If on the other hand I receive word that he is coming and trust that He is coming, then that faith in the news of his coming will produce a certain response in my actions. You could tell whether or not I believe he is coming by how I prepare for his coming, but make no mistake about it, faith precedes action and determines action. The greater the faith the greater the action.
- You can obtain a good report right now, you can be commended by God right now if you will but trust Him.
- You can have a foundation for life right now if you will but believe.
- You can have a You can settle forever so many issues if you will simply accept that Christ indeed satisfied the requirement of God for your salvation.