HEBREWS: THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH, PART 2

A lot of Christians wrestle with what Biblical faith really is. Is it the old “name-it-and-claim-it” idea; calling your new car into existence before you get it? Is it the “prosperity Gospel” that was so popular in the 1980’s, where believers as King’s Kids would never dream of being poor? Or is it the Word of Faith movement, where you run around making positive confessions about your bad health and eventually you’ll be healed? There are so many ideas about faith floating around the Church, it can make your head spin. But genuine Biblical faith, though incredibly significant and profound, is not all that difficult to understand. All it takes to understand Biblical faith is…faith.

When you stop and think about it, all of society functions on faith. The employee working all week for his pay check does so because he believes he will receive that pay check. Those who are fortunate enough to board an airplane after their TSA groping do so believing they believe they will get safely from point A to point B without their airplane dropping out of the sky. Our whole monetary system functions on credit, which assumes the debtor will meet his debt obligations. Most of us have some sort of pension plan, which assumes steady growth, providing us with a retirement income when we are no longer working.

So everybody exercises faith to one degree or another in their daily lives and most of us don’t even think about it. It should be that simple for the Christian; we should be living by faith everyday just as naturally as we breathe.

In looking at faith in general, we can apply some basic principles to Biblical faith. There are three ingredients that make faith work.

  • Someone must make an engagement or a promise to another;

  • There must be good reason for believing in the integrity and ability of the person making the offer;

  • The one accepting the offer must be comfortably assured that the promise will be made good.

These three ingredients make Biblical faith functional. God has made an offer to human beings; in fact, beyond salvation, which is the greatest offer of all, God has made all kinds of promises to human beings.  His Word is full of them. Believers who have Biblical faith have entered into the contract with God—they have accepted Him at His Word and they believe that God is able to make good His promises—His will—for them. And finally, the believer has a calm reassurance that no matter what the circumstances may be, God is faithful and dedicated to fulfilling His Word to them. These three ingredients work in concert with knowledge of God’s Word and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Biblical faith sees things that cannot be seen with the natural eye. J.B. Philips catches the essence of that thought with his very simple translation of Hebrews 11:1—

It means being certain of things we cannot see.

Biblical faith is not wishful thinking or wistful thinking. It is knowing what God’s will is because you know what He has said in His Word and believing that God’s will is being accomplished or will be accomplished in a given situation. Biblical faith is as simple as that.

However, as simple as Biblical faith may be, the writer of this letter well understood that it is still hard to grasp. So the remainder of Hebrews 11 is devoted to examples of great men of faith. Without a doubt, faith makes men great. The thing that makes these men in Hebrews 11 heroic, is their faith. We might say, faith is its own reward.

1. The righteousness of faith, 11:4, 5

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. (verse 4)

The story of Abel and his offering is found in Genesis 4:3—7, but nowhere in that text or anywhere else in the Old Testament is it ever explained why Abel’s offering was more acceptable than Cain’s. It isn’t until we get to verse 4 in Hebrews that the reason is given: Abel showed faith. The very fact that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice showed that God was pleased with Abel’s whole attitude of mind. Since we can’t read God’s mind, we don’t know exactly why God was not pleased with Cain’s offering; perhaps Cain approached God with a bad attitude or perhaps Cain was holding something back. 1 John 3:12 gives us a small glimpse into Cain’s character:

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.

Cain’s actions—his works—we evil. This is not referring to his murder of Abel, by the way. Cain seemed to have definite personality problems before becoming Earth’s first murderer!

What’s significant, though, is the fact that even though Cain murdered Abel, Abel’s faith continues to speak to this very day. Even murder couldn’t muzzle the message of faith! Abel’s faith teaches us two important lessons. First, having faith in God’s goodness does not make anybody righteous. Faith justifies a person indirectly; it approaches God through a sacrifice. Abel’s offering was the demonstration to God of his faith; he did something that God approved of because it showed God he had genuine faith. There are many who claim to have faith—they “believe in God”—but they don’t demonstrate that faith because they have never approached God by way of Christ’s sacrifice. This kind of faith is full of pride and presumption. God wants faith by way of Calvary.

And second, Abel was commended for having genuine faith, yet his faith didn’t keep him from being murdered. His faith, in other words, did not materially change his life, as far as we know. He was commended for having faith; he was not blessed for having faith.

2. The walk of faith, 11:5, 6

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.

Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam (Genesis 5:1—24), is given as an example because his whole life exemplified a life of honest dedication to God. In the historical account of his life, we are told that Enoch “walked with God.” What does that phrase mean as it relates to the Christian? It means that a believer lives a spiritual life in which he tells God everything; he is in constant fellowship with God. Enoch lived a normal life, he had a family and raised them well, but his whole life was marked by his devotion to God.

In fact, Enoch’s fellowship with God was so complete that, as one author wrote, “his journey from time to eternity was not interrupted by the detour of death.” He was “taken from this life.” The Greek word translated “taken,” metetehe, means “transposed,” like the in music when a lower key is transposed to a higher key.

Now, as far as we know, this has never happened to any human being since; this was a singular act never repeated to teach us a most profound truth. This truth is so profound that if you can latch onto it, never let it go, and practice it, you will please God just as much as Enoch did. Verse 6 tells us how to please God in three beautiful points:

  • We please God by walking with Him in faith. That means trusting God completely and having an active confidence in Him. It means regularly talking to God as though He were your closest friend, which He is.

  • We please God by praying to Him. When we pray to God, we must believe that He exists. For Christians, the existence of God is an established truth, yet many of live as though we don’t believe He exists. How many believers go days without praying? How many believers go weeks without opening their Bibles? Believing that God exists necessarily means that we will fellowship and communicate with Him. It means having a relationship with Him.

  • We must pray and seek God earnestly. “Earnestly” means with full confidence and full honesty.

Taken all together, then, pleasing God as Enoch did means that Biblical faith is far more than merely an intellectual or emotional exercise. It is not a form of “theism,” which acknowledges God. Acknowledging God is NOT having communion or fellowship with Him. At some point, “theism” must give way to a relationship with the Almighty. Who is it that pleases God?  Not the one who believes in Him, but the one who humbly and faithfully walks with Him.

Do you want to please God? Then you must want God, not just for what He can give you or do for you, but you must want God—seek Him out—because of Who He is. God is seeking you out, but you must take some initiative, as well. That is evidence of your faith.

The significance of this verse is not Enoch was “beamed up,” but that his life was marked with a humble dedication to walking with God.

3. Obeying and working by faith, 11:7

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

If one person demonstrated his faith in the face of impossible odds, it was Noah. He is the classic example of Biblical faith in action and his story, which is familiar to all, is found in Genesis 6.

When we think of Noah, we think of the ark he built. But we should note that the initiative to build that ark was not his, but God’s: Noah was warned about “things not yet seen.” He was given in glimpse into the mind of God and what he saw filled the ark builder with fear. God was going to destroy all life on earth because of man’s sinfulness. Noah had absolutely no evidence of what was to come, except God’s promise. Noah’s response was simple, common sense, and obedient: he built an ark for himself and his family and a whole lot of animals.

But is fear compatible with Biblical faith? Sometimes it is! This “holy fear” that gripped Noah produced in him an implicit confidence in God’s word. He believed a great deluge was on its way and fear of that flood propelled Noah to action and obedience. If he didn’t have confidence in God’s Word to him, why did he spend 120 years building a boat on dry land? In a time when it had never rained before? Facing the ridicule and jeers of his neighbors?

The result of his belief in God’s promise of impending disaster was the salvation of his family. This is the big lesson in Noah’s example of faith: when a person believes God and then acts appropriately, salvation results, both physically and spiritually, in his life and in the lives of those around him.

Conclusion

The great men of faith who lived before the flood were true pioneers in every sense of the word. Abel, Enoch, and Noah took a standd for God in a time when there was no law or true religion on Earth. Violence, unbelief, and disobedience surrounded these men and there was no church to encourage them.  Yet they walked with God. These three men teach us a lot about Biblical faith. Consider:

  • To be faithful, Abel paid the ultimate price: his life.

  • Enoch was taken from his life, from his family, from the world he knew, by his faith.

  • By faith, Noah saved his family’s life.

(c)  2012, WitzEnd
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