As I prepare to teach our Connect Group (formerly Sunday School) at Southern Calvert Baptist Church, I am amazed to see, once again, the beauty and simplicity of the Word of God. We have been studying the epistles of the New Testament this quarter. In the previous quarter, we drilled down into the book of the Acts of the apostles. It was a great study. Here is a list of some of the lesson which we have covered:
- Our enduring identity in Christ (I Peter 2)
- Grow to maturity in your faith (I Corinthians)
- Justified by faith to be Sanctified by faith (Galatians 1)
- The daily impact of the resurrection (video: Romans 6)
- Agape love in Action (I John 3)
- A pastor’s calling (I Timothy and II Timothy)
- The Blueprint for Biblical Unity (Romans 12)
- Living a Fruitful Life for Christ (Galatians 5)
- God and Money
This week, we are going to take a look at Hebrews 11. This chapter is typically known as the “Hall of Faith”. I am playing on that title but, adding what I discovered while studying. It seems to me that this is the “Hall of Faith and Obedience”. The author of Hebrews ties faith and obedience together. Take a look at these Observation Worksheets that I used to study the passage. The orange circles represent faith/believe and the aqua rectangles represents the obedience that faith produces.
In the text, there is a clear outline and I want to use that outline in this article. The first thing that we are going to see is a definition of faith. Then we will see faith in action (obedience). Finally, the first two verses of chapter 12 give us the practical advice.
I. Definition of faith
The author wants the reader to understand what he means when he uses the word “faith”. This word is very vague in our modern world just like it was used vaguely in antiquity. When things are vague, there is less pressure to apply them and one can come up with multiple “interpretations”. When things are explained specifically, now there is more pressure to apply what is being taught and less wiggle room for various “interpretations”. The author wants to avoid all quibbles over “interpretation”.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Let’s break this down to see the original intent of the author in the original language (Koine Greek). Assurance is composed of two Greek words that paint the word picture of a person standing on a firm foundation, especially when everything else around is shaking. Assurance could also be, and is in other passages in the New Testament, translated as “confidence”. Confidence comes from Latin and it means “with trust” or “trustworthy”. The idea in this text is that there is a foundation on which my “faith” rests (or is built upon) and that foundation is unshakable. What is that foundation, according to the context of Hebrews 11? As you read through the examples of faith listed by the author, you quickly see that their “faith” rested on the promise of God. In other words, the foundation on which our faith rests is the eternal Word of God. Hope, especially to Jewish people, carries the idea of something completed/guaranteed in the future. It is as good as done, in the future, time just has to pass. In other words, God’s promises in His Word are as good as done. Time simply has to pass for them to come about. This is what faith is. I know the promises of God in His Word. I know that the promises of God are as good as done (if they are still future for me) and all I have to do is wait for time to pass for those promises to come about. I build my entire life on these promises. I am convinced that I will see them come to pass. Do you have this kind of faith/trust in the promises of God? The key component is not the strength of your faith. The key component is the assurance of the promises of God. How is faith manifested in my daily life? Let’s find out in the next section.
II. Actions produced by faith
In verse 4 through the end of the chapter, the author uses 20 examples of faith that produces obedience to the Word of God. Have you ever asked yourself, “how do I know if my faith is real, it it’s the genuine thing?” Many people have asked. I have asked. In Hebrews 11, God answers that question for us. For the sake of time and space, we are just going to cover a few of these examples.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4)
Abel’s sacrifice was better because it was the proper sacrifice required by God. Cain knew that God required a blood sacrifice to cover his sins. Abel knew this as well. Both of them has been taught by their parents, Adam and Eve. God made a sacrifice and used the animal skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. It was a symbol of covering their sin. Cain and Abel knew the Word of God, a Word that had been passed along to them by their parents, the same way that Adam had told Eve about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Abel obeyed God and brought the proper sacrifice. Abel’s faith in the Word of God led him to obey the Word of God. Genuine faith produces obedience to the Word of God. Obedience to the Word of God is a living testimony of your faith. Does your “faith” produce obedience to the Word of God?
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. (Hebrews 11:5)
If you notice in the above text, the portion that is all caps is a direct quote from the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews quotes from Genesis 5. What obedience did Enoch’s faith produce? Let’s take a look.
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah.
22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters.
23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.
24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5)
Enoch’s obedience is manifested in the fact that he had a personal relationship with God. Enoch walked with God. Enoch had fellowship with God. Has your “faith” produced a personal relationship with God? Genuine faith produces a genuine, personal relationship with God.
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
Noah’s faith produced action, the action of obedience. Noah received the Lord’s message and he believed that message. How do we know that he believed the message from the Lord? He acted in obedience based on that message. Noah shared the Lord’s message with his entire family. Noah shared the Lord’s message with the people within his sphere of influence by building an ark. He trusted that God’s Word would come true. Does your faith prompt you to share God’s message with your family? Does your faith prompt you to share God’s message with all of the people within your sphere of influence? Do you live like you know that God’s message will come true? Noah did.
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.”
19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11)
Since the Jews trace their lineage back to father Abraham, the author of this epistle devotes the lion’s share of the text to Abraham. Based on the above text, here is what we learn about Abraham’s faith producing actions.
- He received God’s promise (Word).
- He believed God’s promise.
- We know that he believed because his belief led him to action. He was called and he obeyed.
- He trusted in the promise of God, even though he did not see the promise come about during his lifetime.
- He lived his life based on that promise.
The apostle Paul teaches us in Galatians that the promise on which Abraham built his life was the promise of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Although Abraham did not live long enough to see Christ come, he trusted in Christ’s work, knowing that it was as good as done, in the future. Abraham’s story even foreshadows the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah. Abraham passed this faith on to his wife, his children, his grandchildren etc. Each new generation grew up hearing the promise of God and being taught to trust the promise of God. Isaac trusted and acted in obedience. Jacob trusted and acted in obedience. Joseph trusted and acted in obedience. Do you trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Have you shared that message with your spouse and children? Have you shared the message with your grandchildren. Do you trust that the promise of God is as good as done? Do you live according to that trust daily? Can you say with confidence that your faith is genuine? Has it produced obedience to the Word of God?
Based on all that we have seen so far, what do you need to do?
III. Practical Advice
Hebrews 12 gets into the practical aspect of the above teaching. Remember, the original text was not divided up into chapters and verses so what we call chapter 12 is just a continuation of the previous thought.
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12)
The 20 witnesses mentioned in chapter 11 are an example for us to admire and imitate. Based on their examples, we need to run the race that is set before us with endurance. That is the main verb used in these two verses. The rest of the verbs are in the participle form which means that they explain how to run the race. How do we run the race with endurance? First of all, we need to look to the examples of faith and obedience in chapter 11. Next, we need to lay aside every thing that would tangle us up, especially sin. Sin is the opposite of obedience. Sin keeps us from running the race with endurance. The third thing that we need to do is to fix our eyes on Jesus. The examples of faith and obedience in chapter 11 had their eyes fixed on the Messiah. They were looking forward to what He was going to do. We look back to what He has already done. Both of us look to the Word of God to see the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Are you a diligent student of the Word of God? How much time do you spend studying and meditating on God’s Word? How much time do you spend talking with other about God’s Word? The sin that so easily entangles us is so much easier to spot when we abide in the Word of God. This causes us to fix our eyes on Jesus and sin no longer looks so pleasing. Are you in a small group Bible study where others encourage you to study and apply God’s Word?
As you can see, faith is not some mystical, magical force. Faith is assurance in the promise of God (the Word of God). Genuine faith produces actions and those actions are specific. They are the actions of obedience to the Word of God. We do a very bad thing when we separate faith from obedience to the Word of God, as many attempt to do. The Word of God produces faith and faith produces obedience. These are not stand alone. What changes do you need to make in your thinking based on this passage of Scripture? Is your confidence in the power of your faith or the assurance of the Word of God? The two sound similar but, they are actually worlds apart. May the Lord help us take part in the “Hall of faith and obedience” the way that so many others have throughout the centuries!!!