Study #1 “Living by Faith” Hebrews 11:1-3,6
by Bob Burridge ©2020
Hebrews chapter 11 is often called, “the Faith Chapter”. It’s important that we know what the Bible means when it talks about putting our faith in God.
People commonly talk about faith, but they don’t always mean what it means in God’s word.
– Some think of faith as just a blind leap into the dark. It’s where someone just trusts something without any evidence. But most times what they leap for in that darkness just isn’t there.
As creatures of God we’re made with an inward awareness that there’s more than what we can see. But without that God-given true saving faith our fallen nature wants to trust in wrong things. To the modern religionist faith is just some irrational choice we’re encouraged to make. Some believe it’s better to trust in something even if it’s not really there.
– Some say that faith is like trusting a chair to hold us up when we sit down. But I’ve seen some chairs I wouldn’t trust to sit in. Some may look trustworthy even when they’re not. Decisions based on our experience are good for most things we can see and test, but with things unseeable and untestable, experience is useless.
– The test of what to trust in is not that it makes us feel good. Feelings can be a deceptive thing too. Getting high on drugs and Immoral behavior can feel good at the moment. Emotions stirred by false religion can feel good too, but feelings can be deceptive and destructive.
Our faith in God or in the Bible shouldn’t be based on a blind leap, or emotional feelings. Those kinds of faith are always unsure. They aren’t real faith at all! They’re not what makes the true Christian trust God, and all he tells us in his word.
The confidence we should have comes from a work of God’s grace in us. It’s based on God implanted evidence. In Ephesians 2:8 the Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
The faith we learn about in Hebrews 11 is a certainty we can have in what’s really there. It’s a firm conviction and assurance we receive when the Holy Spirit transforms us through the work of Christ. It moves us to believe that God has spoken clearly with promises we can count on and live by.
The first few verses of Hebrews 11 introduce us to a chapter of adventures in a living faith.
Verse 1 teaches us about this confidence.
1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The “Now” connects back to chapter 10. Hebrews 10:38 refers back to Habakkuk 2:4 which says, “… the righteous shall live by his faith.” Here in chapter 11 we see how this faith helps us to live in ways that please God.
This first verse of Hebrews 11 is often spoken of as a “definition” of faith. But that’s not exactly what it’s doing. It doesn’t tell us what faith “is”. It’s telling us what faith “accomplishes”, what it “produces” in us.
In the Old Testament the word “faith” usually translates the Hebrew noun “emunah” (אמונה). It means, “a firmness, steadfastness, fidelity” or “a faithfulness”. When it’s used as a verb it translates the Hebrew word “aman” (אׇמַן). It means, “to confirm”, “to support”. Another form of that word means “to put your trust or confidence in something”. In another form of the same word we get the familiar word, “amaen” (אׇמֵן), which means, “truly”. We say “Amen” at the end of prayers, or to show agreement. We mean, “it’s true”, “I support that”.
The New Testament uses the Greek noun “pistis” (πιστις) for “faith”. It means, “trust, reliability, faithfulness, or confidence”. The verb “to have faith” translates the Greek word, “pisteuo” (πιστευϖ). It means, “I believe or I trust something or someone”.
These were common words people used whenever they trusted in something. It wasn’t just used for trusting in God.
When the Bible talks about the faith by which God moves us to become his children, it’s used in a special sense. We often call it “saving faith“. Particularly that’s having a full personal trust that the death of Jesus Christ has fully paid for your sins.
A true biblical faith is that confidence the Holy Spirit implants in us supernaturally. It produces in us, “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It’s confidence in what God has said and has done.
This faith is both the ability to trust in what God’s done and made known, and it’s the ability to exercise that trust to actually obey and to rest confidently in God’s promises. By that faith we know that God has spoken and he doesn’t lie.
John Calvin summarized it in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” 3:II:7. He said, “(Faith is) … a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
Dr. A. A. Hodge explains that faith involves two things. It includes assent – That’s when we accept as “true” what the Bible says. And it involves consent (trust) – That’s personally relying upon all that God has revealed in his word. It begins with trusting Christ’s atonement alone for all that’s involved in a complete salvation.
This saving faith is an act of the whole person. It involves his intellect, affections, and desires.
A true saving faith changes the person. This genuine kind of faith makes us live for God’s glory. That’s what James had in mind in his Epistle. In James 1:22 it warns us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Then in the next chapter, James 2:17-19 says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! ”
He’s not saying that we’re saved by faith and by our works. His point is that just believing what God is and has done is not enough. Even the demons do that.
A true saving faith is a personal trust in Christ’s death alone to make us right with God, but it will prove itself in how we live. Good works will follow as evidence.
But we need to remember that our salvation is not based upon anything we do, or in what a church can do for us. It’s based only upon the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Galatians 2:16 God’s word says, “… that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
When we really trust in what God says, we’ll want to live according to what he says is right. Those truly redeemed will show it by the works they do for God’s glory. No one in this life lives perfectly, but there must be evidences of that transformation of the soul. One of the most assuring evidences is a sincere sorrow for our sins, a humble repentance for them, and the hope we have in what our Savior did for us, not in what we do for him.
There are three levels of understanding the examples in Hebrews 11.
1st – The people listed all had this true saving faith. God put a confident trust into them by is redeeming grace.
2nd – Their faith rested in the direct promises of God. They were given confidence in the truth of what God had made known. It wasn’t a “blind leap in the dark”.
3rd – Their faith produced obedience to God’s word. Hebrews 11 isn’t about a philosophical faith. It shows a living faith in action. When God puts faith in a heart, true humble living and obedience happens.
Verse 2 of Hebrews 11 continues
to describe this true biblical faith.
2, “For by it the people of old received their commendation.”
These men and women of Hebrews 11 are our spiritual ancestors. It was by faith that they received a commendation. They were commended for their changed lives which confirmed God’s grace at work in them. They also leave us a lasting testimony which God affirms in the written record of their lives.
Verse 3 tells us that it’s by faith that
we understand God’s creation of all we see.
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.”
God made everything in the universe, and he didn’t make it out of things that already existed. What he made is testimony to the power and glory of the God behind it all. He made it all to work as it does.
Our confidence in this fact assures us that there’s a purpose behind everything and all that happens. God made all the forces that stir up and control the storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Through them all we should appreciate with confidence the incomprehensible power of the Creator.
By this God-given faith we know that this isn’t just a planet evolving without purpose. We should see it all as an expression of the Living God. He made it all to proceed toward eternal purposes.
When the wind blows hard, when the thunder and lightning strikes around us, and when the earth quakes, our confidence in God’s promises assure us that it all fits together in a plan that ends up in glory for God’s people.
When children see the storms, it’s often when they find the comforting love of their parent’s hugs and assurances. These things not only frighten children, they also give them some of their warmest memories of parental care. It’s often after learning God’s comfort in hard times, that we grow the most in understanding God’s grace and love.
We may not be able to understand why things happen as they do, but we can know by this faith that God is the Creator and is sovereign over it all, and we can know what we ought to do as God’s children in every situation that comes along. Again we’re reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
[We’ll look at verses 4 and 5 in the next study of faith in the lives of Able and Enoch.]
In verse 6 we see that a biblical faith
is necessary if we’re to please 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.”
Without this true saving faith we can’t please God or expect him to bless us with what really counts. The promise of God’s pleasure and reward are only possible when we have this true saving faith.
Beginning with verse 4 we see examples of this true biblical faith in the lives of these spiritual heroes. Each story in this chapter is a life showing faith in action.
Before we can really benefit from these biblical accounts we need to be sure our own faith is legitimate. It’s not just believing the facts about God and the work of Jesus. It’s confidently trusting in it all humbly and repentantly, resting in God’s promise as our only hope. Faith can’t grow if it’s not really there.
As verse 6 tells us, “… whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
God has spoken clearly with written promises we can count on and live by. This chapter takes us to scenes of murder, floods, exploration, captivity, slavery, war, and espionage. It presents us with heroes, many of whom were just simple folk: a shepherd, a housewife, a slave, a politician even a prostitute! But when God put this living faith in them they learned to trust God’s promises and to find joy and peace.
It presents us with fallible people like ourselves. Being a hero of faith does not require sinlessness. It requires trust that God has provided a way to deal with sin.
It gives us heroes to keep before us as examples. They show us how we can enjoy our walk with God, by living by a living faith.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Hebrews 11 index: “Faith and What Flows From It“