A Profile of Enduring Faith|
What is Faith? (Hebrews 11)
Don't answer too quickly! As you consider the answer to what "faith" is, let me share a tragic story about what one couple thought true faith was:
"Word-of-Faith" Belief Kills Diabetic Son
The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraff, wrote, "In 1980 Harvest House published a book by Larry Parker entitled, 'We Let Our Son Die.' The book tells the tragic story of how Larry and his wife, after being influenced by one of America's numerous 'word of faith' (or word-faith) teachers - withheld insulin from their diabetic son, Wesley. Predictably, Wesley went into a diabetic coma. The couple - the Parkers -warned about the impropriety of making a 'negative confession,' continued to 'positively confess' their son's healing until the time of his death."
(They viewed faith as a desire in their lives to see a "positive confession" come true).
"Even after his death, the Parkers - undaunted in their so-called 'faith' conducted a resurrection service instead of a funeral. For more than one year following their son's death, they refused to abandon the supposed revelation God had given them through the 'word-faith' movement. Eventually, they were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse."
Is that what true faith is? Or, is faith more like "blind optimism?" Still others view faith sort of like a "hunch" or intuition based on good feelings.
What True Faith Looks Like - Hebrews 11:1-6
I want us to look at what true faith is and how it operates. Turn to Hebrews 11 - the Bible's profile of faith. Although the Word of God never completely defines faith, nonetheless, we can see a profile or description of faith and what it does.
Let's read verses 1-6:
The description of faith 11:1-2
11:1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
11:2 "For by it the men of old gained approval."
The Examples of Faith
11:3 "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible."
11:4 "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."
11:5 "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."
11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."
Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995).
What Faith Does
Now, remember that this is not a definition of true Biblical faith but a description of what faith does and how it works. True Bible faith is not blind optimism or even a contrived "hope so" kind of feeling. Neither is true faith - saving faith - just some intellectual agreement to a set of doctrinal truths.
Please listen carefully:
True Biblical faith confidently obeys God's Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. Carefully, read that again to yourself!
This kind of Biblical faith operates simply:
God speaks through His Word and…
We respond by trusting in God's truthful character and His Word.
We do this by acting on God's Word no matter what the circumstances are, or what the consequences might be. The circumstances may seem impossible and the consequences, frightening and unknown, but…
We obey God's Word just the same. We believe Him to do what is right and what is best in His perfect timing.
Object of Faith is God
I believe that the unsaved world doesn't understand true Biblical faith, probably because it sees so little of it in the life of the Church today. This is tragic.
One popular unbeliever has defined faith as "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible" (H.L. Mencker). That's pretty cynical. But, it is a clue as to how the world thinks. The world fails to realize that faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith must be God.
Therefore, true biblical faith isn't some "feeling" that we manufacture. Faith is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word.
As we look at true Biblical faith some more, I want us to consider several elements of faith:
A. Elements of Faith
There are several elements of faith that this passage brings out that I want to highlight because they're vital to our understanding of Biblical faith. Let me make seven quick observations:
1. Faith Involves Assurance
The word translated as "assurance," also "confident assurance," "substance" and "being sure of" comes from the Greek word "hupo-stasis." This means, "exact representation," "to stand under," and "to support."
This word is used two other times in Hebrews. In 1:3 it is translated as "exact representation," speaking of Christ's likeness to God.
"And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3, NASB).
In Hebrews 3:14, it is also translated "assurance," like it is here in 11:1.
"For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end," (Heb 3:14).
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).
Standing on Firm Ground
When you put all those together, the term refers to the essence, the real content, the reality, as opposed to a mere appearance.
Present Essence of Future Reality
True Biblical faith, then, provides the firm ground on which we stand, waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises. Far from being vague and uncertain, faith is the most solid possible conviction. Faith is the present essence of a future reality.
Faith is to a Christian what a foundation is to a house. It gives us confidence and assurance in God's promises that we're going to be able to stand up and make it through something because God is always true. When a believer has true Biblical faith, it is God's way of giving him an inward confidence and assurance that what God has promised will come to pass.
2. Faith Involves Conviction
Faith also involves conviction. The Bible says it's the "assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen." Those are similar thoughts. But, the second one builds on the first.
Where assurance has to do with an inward confidence, conviction has to do with an outward manifestation or demonstration of that inward assurance. It is an outward response to an inward belief. What that says is that the life of a believer is committed to what his or her mind and spirit is convinced is true about God.
For example, Noah is a great picture of true Biblical faith. Thank about it! Without true faith, Noah couldn't have undertaken the incredible, demanding, and humanly ridiculous job God gave him without having the absolute conviction he had.
You're Kidding - Rain? A Boat?
Consider this: When God told Noah it was going to rain, Noah had no concept of what rain was, because rain did not happen before the flood. (Ed. note The ground was watered by a mist - Gen 2:6). It's also possible that Noah did not know how to build a boat, much less this gigantic ark that God asked him to construct.
God's Faithful Preacher
Yet, Noah believed God and acted on his instructions. He had confident assurance along with conviction - true faith. His outward building of the ark showed his inward belief that the rain was coming and that God's plan was correct for building a boat that would float. His faith was based on God's Word, not on what he could see or on what he had experienced. For 120 years, Noah preached in faith, hoped in faith, and built in faith.
So, true Biblical faith involves assurance and conviction. We can also observe that…
3. Faith Gains God's Approval
What the writer of Hebrews is telling us here is that the Old Testament believers gained God's approval by faith, not because of anything else.
Faith is not simply one way to please God. It is the only way!
The writer said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (11:6).
No matter what else you may think, say, or do in the Name of God, it is meaningless and worthless to God apart from faith.
God will not approve of your life or your ministry apart from saving faith in His Son and daily, active faith in His Word.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain that faith is a very practical thing in spite of what the unbelieving world around us might say.
4. Faith Enables Us To Understand What God Has Done
5. Faith Enables Us To See What Others Cannot See (11:7, 13, 27).
6. Faith Enables Us To Do What Others Cannot Do!
People laughed at these great men and women in Hebrews 11 when they walked by faith and stepped out on the promises of God in faith. But, the bottom line is that they were able to do what others couldn't do.
7. Faith Enables You To Succeed For His Glory.
When these men and women believed God and stepped out in faith, God enabled them to accomplish great things - God's sort of things - and ultimately to succeed for His glory. That's why God created us and why God saves us from Christ-less eternity.
Dr. J. Oswald Sanders put it this way:
"Faith enables the believing soul to treat the future as the present and the invisible as seen."
Kurt Krowel is the former pastor of Applegate Community Church in the beautiful area of Applegate, Oregon. He attended Multnomah Bible College and is a gifted speaker and theology teacher.