Hebrews 11:1–16 (ESV) (The people of God living by faith)
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone 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 for them a city.
There seem to be two common approaches to faith in the world today. The first asserts faith is to believe in something you do not know or understand. The second is that faith is an individual and deeply personal matter.
In our secular world, where science has become the popular religion, there is this assumption that facts validate truth, and only science has the means by which to achieve this. But too often we confuse fact with truth and assume that truth is only as real as the facts used to sustain it. But science assumes truth even when it doesn’t have all the facts, that’s why they work in theories, which are ideas being tested for truth yet discovered.
In this same world we are told faith is deeply personal and should have no interaction or influence on another. The irony here is that the same people who assert this, also assert that you can only believe what they do, lest you offend their beliefs. This crass narcissistic individualism is historically unique within human history. The aggressive individualism allows no room for others to think or act differently. Before we got so smart, we knew that my actions and beliefs impacted everyone around me. We still know this, which is why we have the aggressive efforts of individualised conformity, but somehow, we live the lie that it’s not true.
Hebrews 11 deals with both issues but affirming that faith is not believing in something you don’t know or understand, but belief in what you know and understand to be true. This truth is not relative, or individually based. It exists beyond our limited imagination and resides in the work of God alone. We have faith as an assurance that what we hope for is going to be realised. We have faith because we know that which we may not see is real. It doesn’t deal in the unknown, or the mythical, or the fanciful. It is based on that which we know to be true and is seen in the lives of those who have lived in the light of this revealed truth.
That’s why Hebrews starts to dissect the historical character of Israel. It exposes Cain’s individualism. His the need for self-importance is seen in his jealous response of not being blessed leading to the to murder of his brother Abel (Gen 4). Within the genealogy of Adam, Enoch, several generations on, walks with God, fathers Methuselah, and because of his relationship with God does not die but is taken up by God (Gen5:18-24). Noah, whose faith encompassed his entire family, built an ark amidst the mocking crowd who all thought he was mad (Gen 6:9ff). Abraham, whose faith uprooted his family, and all those who served him, to travel to an unknown land and father the nation of Israel (Gen 12ff). And Sarah, whose was too old to have children, gives birth based on the promises of God (Gen 17:15ff). The faith of these individuals impacts God’s community not just then, but for generations to come.
All these individuals collectively looked to that which was to come. While they received some blessings and fulfilment of what God promised, they didn’t receive the ultimate prize. They looked forward to the homeland promised of a new heaven and earth only realised in Christ. They saw their lives as having a larger consequence, something beyond their imagination, something which they were certain was theirs. They lived as if the certainty of the homeland was already theirs, even though they had not yet received it. Faith empowered them to look beyond themselves and to glimpse at the wonder of what God was doing, not just with them, but within all of creation.
Faith is something that occurs out of a certainty that what is not yet seen will soon be realised. It is an assurance that all which we hope for is not in vain. It sees the bigger picture, and marvels at our place in it. It draws us beyond the now into the future with the certain knowledge that God is there calling, enlightening, empowering his people with the assurances of his grace and love. Even amidst the tough realities of life, faith empowers us to see the presence of Christ in our lives, paving the way for a future beyond our imagination, not just now but for eternity.
Imagine what your life would look like if you had a faith that drew you into something bigger than you. Imagine what faith would look like if you clung to the certainty that in Christ you have the fullness of all which God unconditionally offers to you. How would your life be different if you lived a life of faith that was assured of that which is hoped for, and certain about that which is not yet seen? That’s the challenge of Hebrews 11.