1 Now faith is being sure2 of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.3 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible.4 4 By faith Abel5 offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.6
I remember reading a book7 some years ago on the subject of Christian marriage (from a man’s point of view). There was a particular chapter on the husband’s sexual relationship with his wife. As best as I can recall, that chapter began something like this: “I suspect some of you men have turned to this chapter first.” I remember giggling to myself about that, probably because I didn’t wait for that chapter to come up in the normal sequence of chapters either.
I knew that a lackluster title for this lesson would not gain as many readers as one that had “Chapter 11” in it. In these days of economic meltdown, there are undoubtedly a number of folks who are actually considering “Chapter 11” – the other one – as the solution to their financial woes. May I be so bold as to say to you that Hebrews chapter 11 is probably the first place to turn for those who are fearful and apprehensive about their future? This chapter has often been called the “hall of faith” in Hebrews, and rightly so. Here we are reminded of faithful men and women whose trust in God prompted them to walk by faith, rather than to collapse under the external pressures of their day. So, I urge you to bear with me and to judge for yourself whether or not Hebrews chapter 11 is for you.
Hebrews chapter 11 had some great lessons for the original recipients of this epistle. These saints had a great love and respect for the Old Testament and for the Old Testament saints. What they would discover in chapter 11 is that the great heroes of the faith were saved and lived by faith, and not by the law or by the Old Testament sacrificial system. That is why you will find no reference to either in this chapter.
Hebrews 11 has much to say to us today as well. This chapter plays a very important role in the developing argument of the entire epistle. To speak in the simplest terms, chapters 1-10 portray the deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus, and the supremacy and sufficiency of our Lord as the Great High Priest. The truths set forth in chapters 1-10 are the foundation for our faith. With a Savior like this, we can place our entire trust in Him, not only for this life, but also for all eternity. Before the author concludes this epistle with specific exhortations for the reader in chapters 12-13, he pauses in chapter 11 to give numerous examples of living by faith from the Old Testament. The Old Testament heroes of the faith were saved by faith, and so they lived by faith. This is what gained God’s approval, and it was the basis on which they drew near to Him.
Hebrews 11 is vitally important for today’s reader because it spells out what living by faith really looks like in real time. As our author states in this chapter, these great men and women of faith continue to speak to us today, long after their death.8 We would do well to listen to them.
Observation 1: The theme of this chapter is faith. The English word “faith” (or a cognate) is found most often in Romans and Hebrews. It occurs 36 times in both epistles, more than in any other Old or New Testament book. Faith occurs 24 times in Hebrews chapter 11, and the expression “by faith,” which first occurs in Hebrews 11:3 is found 19 times in this chapter.
Faith is defined in chapter 11 as the author more and more precisely defines it, punctuated by numerous examples from the Old Testament. The emphasis here is not on the source of faith, but rather on its practice in real life. Faith here is not just a matter of belief, but a matter of behavior (based upon belief). The author is not urging his readers to conjure up faith somehow, but rather to live by the faith God has given.9 The faith which our author emphasizes here is not primarily saving faith, but the life of faith.
Observation 2: The examples of living by faith are presented in chronological order. We may miss this at first glance, but it eventually becomes glaringly clear. The first example of faith pertains to the creation of the universe. In other words, the author starts at Genesis 1:1. Then he moves to Abel (Genesis 4) and next to Enoch (Genesis 5), then to Noah (Genesis 6-9), and then to events in the life of Abraham (Genesis 11-22), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, all of whom are found in Genesis. Moses and Rahab are the last to be referred to in any detail. It is as though the author makes his way from Genesis to the end of the Old Testament period, citing examples of faith.
Observation 3: In chapter 11, the author purposefully calls the reader’s attention to those manifestations of faith that occurred before (or apart from) the law. It is true that the author covers the gamut of the entire Old Testament period, but most of the examples of faith that are spelled out in greater detail take place in the early history of the Old Testament (in Genesis or Exodus), while later examples are summarized and “bunched” in 11:32-38. We know that Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham lived before the law was given to Israel at Mount Sinai, so it is obvious that their righteousness is apart from law-keeping.
But even when we get to Moses (who, after Abraham, is the most prominent example in chapter 11), nothing is said of him regarding the law. One has to read carefully to see this, but then it becomes apparent. The author speaks of the faith of Moses’ parents, which was evident when they hid him for three months after his birth. Moses’ faith was evident when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, thereby identifying with God’s persecuted people.10 Moses also kept the Passover and left Egypt, passing through the Red Sea. But all of these events occurred before Israel reached Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the law.
So what is the point of all this? It is that in the Old Testament, as in the New, righteousness is by faith, not by works. Remember that some of the Hebrews to whom this epistle is written are considering turning back to Judaism, to the Old Covenant, and to the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system, as though they were superior to the priesthood of Christ and to the New Covenant, which He inaugurated by the shedding of His precious blood. Hebrews chapter 11 strikes a powerful blow to the attraction of Old Testament Judaism. How could law-keeping under the Old Covenant be superior to faith in Christ through the New Covenant if no Old Testament saint was ever declared righteous because of law keeping? These Old Testament heroes – every single one of them – were declared righteous because of their faith, not because of law-keeping. The Old Testament heroes are heroes not only of the faith, but they are heroes of faith. That is why the expression “by faith” is found 19 times in this chapter.
I am reminded of Romans 4 where in the previous chapters Paul shows that all men are lost sinners, destined for eternal judgment, and incapable of attaining righteousness by their own efforts. He then sets forth the gospel, declaring that what men could not do by law keeping, Christ has accomplished by His atoning death, so that men can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works. Now the question in the minds of Paul’s Jewish readers will be, “Wait a minute! Paul is saying that it is impossible for men to be saved by law keeping and that salvation comes only by faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. How, then, were the Old Testament saints saved?” Paul answers this question by taking the greatest Old Testament hero of all time – Abraham – and demonstrating that he was not saved by law keeping (for the law did not yet exist), but by faith (in the coming Messiah).
The writer to the Hebrews is doing precisely the same thing. While he makes much of Abraham, he broadens his argument to include all the Old Testament saints. It was not only Abraham who was saved by faith, apart from law-works; every Old Testament saint was saved “by faith” and lived heroically “by faith.” It has always been “by faith” and not of works.
Observation 4: Death is a very prominent theme in Hebrews chapter 11. A reference to death occurs more than 20 times in Hebrews 11, and this accounts for the use of terms which plainly speak of death (die, died, death, dead). There are other instances where death is also in view. The author wants to make it clear that faith removes the fear of death, and that faith looks beyond death for the fulfillment of many of God’s promises.11
Observation 5: Faith is not presented as the “silver bullet” or the “magical cure” for suffering or death. In our text for this lesson, we are told that Abel died for his faith while Enoch was spared from death because of his faith. Later on in the chapter, we will read of those who were delivered on account of their faith (10:32-35a), while some suffered greatly and others died for their faith (10:35b-38). I don’t hear many sermons on Hebrews from the “prosperity preachers” who promise healing, popularity, success (and more) for those who have sufficient faith.
Verse 1 of chapter 11 sets out a rather general, preliminary, definition of faith:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
Here the author begins by giving us a two-fold description of what faith is certain about. These two aspects of faith are very much inter-related. Faith pertains to things that we hope for, and things which we cannot see. This definition of faith is broad enough to include what we might call secular “faith,” as well as Christian faith. An unsaved co-worker might have faith in his training or work skills, confident that his or her hope of a promotion will be realized. Gamblers exercise a sort of distorted “faith.” Those who trust in false religions do so with a kind of faith, but sadly their faith is ill-founded.
Christian faith is convinced about the things for which we hope, things which God has promised that we will obtain in the future. These are things for which the Christian eagerly awaits. There is the “blessed hope”12 of our Lord’s return and all that it will accomplish. There is the hope of the resurrection of the dead.13 There is the hope of our adoption as sons and the redemption of our body.14 Here are but two of the many texts15 which speak to Christians about our hope as believers in Jesus:
22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:22-25).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Faith is our confidence regarding those things which God has promised, for which we hope, but since these things are future and are spiritual, they are things we cannot see with the human eye.
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:24-25, emphasis mine).
Faith is confident in unseen things, assured that they are, or will become, a reality. One might even say that the unseen things of which we are assured in Scripture are the ultimate reality:
17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, emphasis mine).
6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord – 7 for we live by faith, not by sight. 8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, emphasis mine).
In verse 2, our author underscores the fact that faith is a crucial part of one’s relationship to God; indeed, it is the only basis for our relationship to God.
For by it [faith] the people of old received God’s commendation (Hebrews 11:2).
Faith in God is the basis for man’s approval and commendation by God.
Verse 6 follows up with this bold statement:
Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis mine).
There is no other way to approach or to please God than to come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death in our place. This faith by which we are saved is faith alone, not faith mixed with our works (see Titus 3:3-7).16
Though it is not a part of our text for this message, I would point out that the author is going to continue to expand this definition of faith as the chapter continues to unfold. The next major expansion will come in verses 13-16.
By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3).
This first example of faith at work comes as a surprise to me. It is the first of 18 examples introduced by the words, “by faith.” All the other examples are of Old Testament saints, but this example is one that includes the readers. “By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order. . . .” In every other example, the individual(s) mentioned express their faith in a particular set of circumstances, circumstances that we will not experience in that precise form. But every single Christian is called upon to exercise their faith by being firmly convinced that all creation is the handiwork of God. We really have no other choice from Scripture:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created (John 1:1-3).
16 For all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:16-17).
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).17
We can easily see how faith in creation as God’s handiwork fits the definition of faith that has just been set forth in verse 1. Faith is confident that the creation we see is really the product of what isn’t seen. Namely, creation is the work of our unseen God. Furthermore, if our world was created out of nothing, then the things that are now seen originated from what was not seen.
Why is the creation of our universe so important? Let me suggest at least two reasons. First, the first thing we are told in the Bible is that God created this world (Genesis 1:1ff.). Faith believes God by believing His Word. So believing faith begins at Genesis 1:1 and keeps believing through the Bible to Revelation 22:21. Second, the good news of the gospel begins at creation. It was not necessary for the apostles to emphasize the fact that God created the heavens and the earth because Jews believed that God created the world. Thus, the gospel presentation usually began with God’s covenant promise to Abraham and the prophecies pertaining to the Messiah. But when the gospel was preached to Gentiles, it became necessary to begin with creation, for that is where it begins in the Bible. And so we read,
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. 26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. 30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31, emphasis mine).
While we do not have time to explore the implications of creation being a matter of faith in this lesson, I would recommend that the reader give this matter some thought. Surely this truth has implications for apologetics, as well as for evangelism. If creationism is a matter of faith, then we must recognize that we can pile up fact after fact, and without faith, it will not convince the lost. Since faith is a gift from God, we must look to Him to give men the faith to believe that creation is His work. We will no more argue someone into belief in creationism than we will argue them into the kingdom of God. But since faith is God’s work, we can pray that He will open men’s hearts to truth in Him, and thus, to believe what the Bible says of Him.
4 By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead (Hebrews 11:4).
And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does (Hebrews 12:24).
1 Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!” 2 Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock – even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” 8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (Genesis 4:1-8),
So that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar (Matthew 23:35).
It seems to me that we must begin by recognizing that Scripture does not necessarily report everything that God may have revealed to an Old Testament saint.18 When we read these words of our Lord in John 8, we recognize that God may have revealed more to Abraham than what is recorded in the Bible:
“Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
Here is what we do know from Scripture regarding Cain and Abel and their sacrifices. Cain offered a sacrifice from the “fruit of the ground”; Abel offered a blood sacrifice from the firstborn of his flock. God was pleased with Abel, and with his sacrifice, but He was not pleased with Cain and his sacrifice. In other words, the problem wasn’t just with the offering, but with the offerer. Just as God made it plain to Abel that He approved of him and his offering, so He also let Cain know His dissatisfaction with him and with his sacrifice. Cain responded to God’s displeasure in anger. God sought him out and told him that if he did “what was right” all would be fine. In other words, we may not know precisely what was wrong with Cain and his offering (though we have a pretty good idea), but Cain knew what he should do and refused to do it. Instead, he lured his brother to a place where he killed him. The point our author does not wish us to miss is that Abel was acceptable because of his faith.
It is the author’s last words about Abel that are most interesting to me: “And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead” (verse 4). Chapter 11 is emphatic in its teaching that death is not the termination of life for the people of faith. As we shall soon see in verses 13-16, the Old Testament saints died, assured that they would even yet receive the promises God had made to them. This certainty of eternal life after death is further exemplified by the actions of the patriarchs at the time of their deaths (verses 17-22).
I think the author has something more for us in his declaration that Abel still speaks to us. The fact that the story of Abel’s acceptance is recorded in Scripture, and now that his example is called to mind many years after his death, calls attention to the great impact living by faith can have on others – even those who are living long after our death. Think about it for a moment. Think about all the examples in Hebrews 11 that inspire us to live by faith. Think of all those who have lived after the close of the Old Testament canon, all those men and women in church history whose example encourages us. These people still minister to us. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 15:
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).
Much of this encouragement to persevere comes from godly men and women who persevered by faith.
5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:5-6).
18 When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch. . . . 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God for 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 The entire lifetime of Enoch was 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away (Genesis 5:18, 21-24).
14 Now Enoch, the seventh in descent beginning with Adam, even prophesied of them, saying, “Look! The Lord is coming with thousands and thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict every person of all their thoroughly ungodly deeds that they have committed, and of all the harsh words that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15).
We would do well to recall that Enoch lived during some very dark days, days that preceded the flood, days that necessitated the flood. If I am reading correctly, Noah is Enoch’s great grandson.19 The description of man’s sinfulness in the early verses of Genesis 6 explains why universal judgment is required and why only righteous Noah and his family are spared.
It is also important to notice that while Abel died because of his faith, Enoch was spared from death because of his faith. I have already made this point earlier, but I will repeat it (because it is so often denied by certain preachers): faith does not guarantee that we will not suffer. Faith does guarantee that God will declare us righteous, and thus we are assured of possessing all that God has promised those who possess eternal life. As we see in Hebrews 11:32-38, some were rescued or experienced God’s earthly blessings because of faith, while others suffered greatly on earth because of their faith. But all received God’s approval, and all will experience God’s eternal blessings (11:13-16, 39-40).
Notice this about Enoch. While the writer to the Hebrews underscores the fact that Enoch was “taken up” to heaven because of his faith, he does not identify or call attention to any particular action on Enoch’s part that resulted in God’s declaration of his righteousness. He simply declares that God took Enoch up after He bore witness to the fact that he was pleasing to God. From the account in Genesis 5, we learn that Enoch “walked with God,” and thus God “took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Enoch’s faith, then, was evident by his consistent godly lifestyle while dwelling in a wicked culture, one that was soon to be wiped out because of its depravity. And while Enoch’s being taken up is surely exceptional, it does foreshadow the heavenly future of every believer:
15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, emphasis mine).
Hebrews chapter 11 gives us an excellent definition of faith, buttressed by numerous examples. We know from our text that faith is a certainty of those things that God has promised, but which are not visible to the human eye. This may be because they are yet in the future, because they are spiritual and cannot be seen,20 or because in our humanity, they seem so impossible we cannot think of them as possibilities.21 For the Christian, the things God has promised are those things for which we deeply long,22 but they are also things for which we must wait.23 We are so confident about these unseen things that they become reality to us, a reality that becomes the basis for living in the light of the unseen, and often in spite of what is seen.
Faith is not the same thing as hope, but the two are closely related:
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:24-25).
Christian hope is a desire for, and an expectation of, what God has promised. Faith is the confidence that our hope will be fulfilled.
While some would appear to scoff at faith, I believe it is safe to say that everyone lives by some kind of faith. People who board an airplane have hope that they will arrive safely at their destination. Thus, they place their faith in the airline, in the pilots, in the aircraft, and in the maintenance crew (whom they do not see). For some, their only hope is that there will be no existence beyond the grave. How wrong they are. The question is not, “Do you have faith?” but rather, “On what is your faith based?” There is no better basis for faith than the Word of God and God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. The first ten chapters of Hebrews depict the fallibility of man and the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ as God’s provision for a Great High Priest. We can trust in Him and in the New Covenant which He inaugurated by His blood. He is the only provision whereby our sins can be forgiven so that we can draw near to Him, certain that we will be able to do so for all eternity. Have you placed your trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ at Calvary?
Our text emphasizes the powerful contribution men and women make by living a life of faith, thus setting an example for us to follow. So far in chapter 11 we have seen Abel and Enoch put forth as examples of faith, but this is just the beginning. Many more examples of faith will follow. The value of godly examples is not just true for Old Testament saints; it is also true for godly men and women today. As I think back over the history of our church, I can name a good number of men and women whose example we should follow in following Christ. Let us never underestimate the impact our lives have on others, for good or for evil:
13 I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure
and maintained a pure lifestyle.
14 I suffer all day long,
and am punished every morning.”
15 If I had publicized these thoughts,
I would have betrayed your loyal followers (Psalm 73:13-15).
No wonder our author writes,
Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).
Our text reminds us that our faith in times of crisis is the outcome of a life that has consistently been lived by faith. When I read how men like Daniel handled the crises of their lives, I realize that these men consistently walked by faith. When a crisis confronted men like Daniel, they simply persisted in doing what was right. For example, when King Darius was duped into signing a law forbidding prayer to any god, other than to the king, note Daniel’s response:
7 To all the supervisors of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, counselors, and governors it seemed like a good idea for a royal edict to be issued and an interdict to be enforced. For the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than you, O king, should be thrown into a den of lions. 8 Now let the king issue a written interdict so that it cannot be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed. 9 So King Darius issued the written interdict. 10 When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously (Daniel 6:7-10, emphasis mine).
Those who live by faith day by day are those who are most likely to continue to do so in the crises of life.
Those who live by faith will stand out and apart from those who lack biblical faith. We have been living a comfortable life. Unemployment rates were low, and salaries were high (certainly in comparison with salaries in the Third World). Many Americans had medical and life insurance – and retirement plans. Many people seemed to think that they did not need God. There was a momentary move toward religious faith after 9/11, but that quickly dissipated. Now we find ourselves in a world-wide economic downspin. Unemployment rates are quickly rising, and jobs are vaporizing. Some of those who have retired are now thinking about employment to make up for their losses in the stock market. Fear is beginning to grip many, and this is the time when people of faith will stand out. This is the time for us to explain to others why we have hope.24 This is the time for Christians to demonstrate their love for one another and for all who are in need. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, this is the time for me to practice my faith and to share its source with others. Let us seize the opportunity.
14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. 15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess (1 Peter 3:14-15).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about faith. If we have trusted in ourselves, our goodness, our good works, our feeble efforts to please God, then our faith has been misplaced. The gospel of Jesus Christ first informs us that we are lost sinners, in opposition to God, and incapable of earning His favor, whether by striving to keep the Old Testament law or by some other works:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
We must acknowledge that we are sinners worthy only of God’s eternal wrath. We must cease trusting in ourselves and in our good works and trust in the one and only sacrifice for sins that achieves permanent forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26).
3 For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
This salvation comes when we place our faith in Jesus Christ as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of our sins and for the assurance of eternal life. We are therefore saved by faith in Jesus and not by our own efforts:
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
There need be no doubt in your mind as to whether or not you have become a child of God by faith in Jesus. In our text, the author is very clear to say that God attested to the righteousness of both Abel25 and Enoch.26 God also bears witness to every true child of God that he or she has been eternally saved by His grace, through faith in Jesus:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (Romans 8:14).
16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis mine).
13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him (1 John 5:13-15, emphasis mine).
In Hebrews 11, the emphasis falls upon the manifestation of faith more than anything else. Here, we see what faith looks like and how it behaves. But let there be no doubt as to what the source of our faith is. God is the source of our faith, for it is He who writes His law upon our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). It is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is the object of our faith, for we must trust in His supreme and sufficient sacrifice at Calvary. And so it is that the author of Hebrews will say in the very next chapter:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis mine).
Man’s faith must be in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as revealed in Scripture, and thus the Word of God is the ground of faith. Faith is not some mystical entity that we conjure up from within ourselves.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), . . . 17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ (Romans 10:8, 17).
In this church, we are committed to preach God’s Word, for it is God’s Word that speaks to us of the Son, through whom men can be saved. In this church, we are committed to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Table, for if Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency are the basis for our faith (which has taken the author ten chapters to demonstrate), then we cannot put the remembrance of His priestly work off for other activities and for only occasional celebration. The early church remembered our Lord’s death daily or weekly.27 It is our conviction that we should do no less.
Is “Chapter 11” (Hebrews chapter 11) right for us? Absolutely. Here is a text that defines true faith, for that is what all men need – faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And our text also describes how faith works in the difficult times of men’s lives. May God imbed this text in our minds and enable us to live it out in our lives, to His glory and to our eternal good.
1 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 25 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 1, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Same term (hypostasis) is used in 1:3; 3:14.
3 See 2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:7.
4 See Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6, 9.
5 Genesis 4:1-8; Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; Hebrews 12:24.
6 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
7 The title and author of this book have slipped my mind. It was a number of years ago.
8 See Hebrews 11:4.
9 See Hebrews 12:2.
10 Compare 10:32-34.
11 See, for example, Hebrews 2:14-16; 11:13-16.
12 Titus 2:13.
13 See 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verse 19); 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (see especially verse 13).
14 Romans 8:18-25.
15 For more texts on “hope” in the New Testament, see Romans 4:18; 5:1-5; 8:20-25; 12:12; 15:4, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 13:7, 13; 15:19; 2 Corinthians 1:7, 10; 3:12; Galatians 5:5; Ephesians 1:12, 18; 4:4; Philippians 1:20; Colossians 1:5, 27; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:19; 4:13; 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Timothy 1:1; 4:10; 5:5; 6:17; Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7; Hebrews 3:6; 6:11, 18-19; 7:19; 10:23; 1 Peter 1:3, 13, 21; 3:15; 1 John 3:3.
16 As Paul will make clear in the next verse (Titus 3:8), faith should lead to good works, but these good works do not contribute to our salvation; they are the outworking of our salvation.
17 Among many other creation texts, see Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 40:26; 42:5-9; 45:12; Matthew 19:4; Mark 13:19; Acts 17:22-29; Revelation 4:11.
18 It is probably worth noting that certain requirements under the Old Testament law were being practiced long before the law was given to Israel. For example, we find “Levirate marriage” in Genesis 38:1-11, long before it was required in the Law of Moses. We see that there was also some understanding of Sabbath in Genesis, long before the law. So, too, with the distinction between “clean” and “unclean.” In Genesis 7:1-3, God instructed Noah to take seven pairs of the clean animals, but only one pair of the unclean. I believe that God also revealed more to Cain and Abel about sacrifices and offerings than we find in Genesis.
19 See Genesis 5:21-31.
20 See 2 Corinthians 4:18
21 See 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.
22 See Romans 8:18-25.
23 See Romans 8:18-25; Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40.
24 See 1 Peter 3:15.
25 Hebrews 11:4.
26 Hebrews 11:5.
27 See Acts 2:46; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.