And They Kept On Believing....

by John Edmiston

(Hebrews 11:1-6 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. {2} For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. {3} By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. {4} By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. {5} By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. {6} But 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 diligently seek Him.

What is Faith?

Faith is a sure trust in a good God. There are two definitions of faith in these first few verses of Hebrews 11. The first definition deals with what faith is.(Hebrews 11:1,6 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The second definition tells us what faith believes and does.{6} But 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 diligently seek Him.

Faith is "the substance of things hoped for". This peculiar phrase has caused much confusion. Some have erred by declaring that faith is a substance or a force. It is not, it is a personal disposition. It is a trusting attitude toward God. The Greek word used here is "hupostasis" which means "essence, substance, foundation, confident assurance, guarantee or attestation (as in attesting documents)". Thus faith is the essence or foundation of things hoped for.Faith is knowing that what you hope for is going to happen because God said it is going to happen.Thus long-lasting hope is based on solid faith. Faith is the humble and yet confident striding through life with your hand in the Hand of your Creator. Faith is believing what God says when He gives you a promise.

Faith is the "evidence of things not seen". Faith considers "God said it will happen.." as actual evidence. Looking at our italicised definition in the previous paragraph we see that men and women of faith know that what they hope for is going to happen. They know this on the evidence of God alone. If God has told them so then it will come to pass. Faith sees evidence where the world cannot see it. I am currently engaged to a girl I have not met except over the Internet. The confidence we feel is entirely due to the fact that we believe that God has brought us together. Unless that was so we would run a mile. The evidence for us is in God.

In verse 6 we see that the person of faith believes a) that He is and that b) He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. Faith believes that God exists and is good and is accessible and is powerful enough to deliver rewards to His people. This is not the "god of the philosophers". Rather this is the God who acts in real life. He is not silent or remote or aloof. He is good and He is accessible. Furthermore He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. Many "philosophers" scoff at the notion of God rewarding people as primitive and insufficiently elevated. However those who are of faith grab hold of the reward! God does not reward the spiritually apathetic but instead rewards those who believe in Him enough to be diligent in their pursuit of God.

What Is Not Faith?

On the other hand four things are not of faith:

Anxious Fear is when we come to the conclusion that the power of dire circumstances is greater than the power of God the Creator.
Unbelief is the rebellious act of refusing to believe what God has clearly said..
Doubt is the unstable process of oscillating between faith and unbelief.
Presumption is making something up and then "trusting it" as if God had said it.

None of these are faith!

Anxious fear(as contrasted with godly fear) may seem like "just a natural human response" yet it is not a godly response. Such fear does not factor God into life. Anxiety thinks on the natural plane and does not trust in the goodness and power of God. The goodness and power of God is seen as unreliable "when it comes to the crunch". Areas like our finances and our health are particularly prone to this. Jesus addresses such fears directly e.g in Matthew 6:19-34 and the Bible verses quoted below. Thus anxious fear is not of faith and is sin. (Luke 8:50 NKJV) But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."(Matthew 6:30 NKJV) "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Unbelief is the hard-hearted attitude of refusing to accept the Word of God as true. It can happen to Christians even the best of them!(Mark 16:14 NKJV) Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. So we see that even the 11 disciples after the resurrection suffered from a measure of unbelief. The trouble with unbelief is that it appears so rational. It seems more rational to believe that dead people stay dead. Unbelief is common today with the rise of the secular world view. That is why miracles are so uncommon in the West, we have become like Nazareth - overly familiar with Jesus and with a distinct, but wrong, idea of who He is.(Matthew 13:55-58 NKJV) "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?.....{58} Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Unbelief needs to be guarded against in the Christian community. It is not just "unbelievers" that suffer from the sin of unbelief! The "brethren" can as well .(Hebrews 3:12-13 NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; {13} but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Sin and unbelief are closely related. Sin makes us reluctant to believe because then we would see our sin more clearly. It also hardens the heart making it unresponsive to God. Faith is built in community by us encouraging and exhorting one another and being alert to any unbelief that may occur.

Doubt involves a continuing oscillation between faith and unbelief. For instance a new convert may enthusiastically embrace the faith then be assailed by doubts regarding the existence of God one day and be back believing enthusiastically the next. Doubt often leads to settled unbelief. Rarely does it lead to faith. It destabilizes the believer and the world, flesh and the Devil find the person easy prey.(James 1:5-8 NKJV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. {6} But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. {7} For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; {8} he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Presumption is trying to "believe" what God has not said. It can be accidental or deliberate. When it is deliberate it is a grave sin. After the congregation of Israel refused to cross into Canaan out of fear God was clearly angry with them. He sentenced them to 40 years in the wilderness. After this the people decided that they would now try to enter Canaan despite God saying that He would not help them. They were soundly defeated and Moses said they were defeated because of their presumption.(Deuteronomy 1:41-45 NKJV) "Then you answered and said to me, 'We have sinned against the LORD; we will go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.' And when everyone of you had girded on his weapons of war, you were ready to go up into the mountain. {42} "And the LORD said to me, 'Tell them, "Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; lest you be defeated before your enemies."' {43} "So I spoke to you; yet you would not listen, but rebelled against the command of the LORD, and presumptuously went up into the mountain. {44} "And the Amorites who dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah. {45} "Then you returned and wept before the LORD, but the LORD would not listen to your voice nor give ear to you.

Faith Always Continues To Believe

(Hebrews 11:8-12 NKJV) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. {9} By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; {10} for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. {11} By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. {12} Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude; innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

Abraham continued to believe in God despite all the "physical evidence". He had a sure word and he held on to it and treasured it and made it his hope. Eventually it produced results and his descendants populate the Middle East today (both Arabs and Jews are descendants of Abraham). Three of the world's major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) were started by his descendants and his name is honoured by most of the people in the world. This old, childless, wandering man of faith has certainly been blessed!

For Abraham there was no church or temple or Bible or law code or priest (except the mysterious Melchizedek) , and no set ritual except circumcision. He walked with God by faith alone. He heard directly from God and lived from year to year in the strength of those revelations and promises. He did not waver in faith.

The tenacity of Abraham's faith is a testimony to what true faith is like. It hangs on and keeps believing. It knows the promise of God will be fulfilled.

Faith Does Not Live For This World

(Hebrews 11:13-15 NKJV) These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. {14} For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. {15} And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.

Men and women of faith are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth". They operate differently from the surrounding world system and have their vision set on things that are "afar off". Thus faith is NOT a mechanism for getting money from God. It is not focussed on material prosperity at all. Those who are of faith may be blessed with material prosperity but that is not what their faith is focussed upon. Material prosperity is a by-product of faith that is directed towards things "afar off".

Faith Perceives God's Purposes

(Hebrews 11:17-22 NKJV) But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. 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 offered up his only begotten son, {18} of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," {19} concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. {20} By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. {21} By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. {22} By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.

Abraham's faith understood God's purposes for Isaac and was so confident that God would perform them that he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac thinking God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to complete His purposes. Isaac understood God's purposes for Jacob and Esau and was able to bless them confident that his blessing would come to pass. Jacob through faith understood the destiny of the twelve tribes and Joseph saw the Exodus occurring and gave instructions concerning his bones. Thus we see that true faith grasps God's purposes and is confident that they will come to pass.

Faith Knows Where True Treasure Lies

(Hebrews 11:23-26 NKJV) By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's command. {24} By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, {25} choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, {26} esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

Moses knew that all real and substantial treasure is in Christ. The vast treasures of the Egyptian Pharaohs were as nothing to "the reproach of Christ". It takes faith to see this in the first place. It does not seem commonsense at all to choose mistreatment with the people of God over power, prestige and wealth. However many missionaries have done just that giving up jobs as doctors, engineers, teachers or other professionals to suffer disease and hardship for the sake of the Kingdom of God. I think it was Dawson Trotman, who founded the Navigators, who was an engineer. After building a particular bridge he thought to himself - all my work is going to be burned up when Christ returns, that bridge will be just a puff of smoke! He decided he wanted to work with things that last forever. After a bit of Bible study he worked out that the two things that last forever are the word of God and people so he set out to work with those instead and a world-wide ministry was born. Men and women of faith think like that.

Faith Sees Him Who Is Invisible

(Hebrews 11:27-31 NIV) By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. {28} By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. {29} By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. {30} By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. {31} By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

All of the above incidents require a belief in One who is invisible. Moses' ability to see "Him who is invisible" gave him boldness before Pharaoh, respect for God's commands during the Passover, and protection from pursuing enemies. It gave Joshua victory over a walled city and preserved Rahab from annihilation. It was not her respectability that saved her, she was a prostitute, rather it was her respect of God. None of these things could be observed with the naked eye. The parting of the Red Sea was not something you could naturally anticipate. Those who were of faith passed through and those who were rebellious drowned.

In three of the above cases the ability to see Him who is invisible was a direct matter of life and death. Those who observed the Passover lived. Those who didn't lost their first-born sons. Those who had faith went through the Red Sea, those who persecuted God's people drowned. At Jericho the one person who had faith lived and the rest were destroyed. So it will be at the return of Jesus Christ.

Faith Is As Bold As A Lion

(Hebrews 11:32-36 NKJV) And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: {33} who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. {35} Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. {36} Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.

Faith makes people strong and bold. The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that men and women of faith are bold, strong and courageous. They are the unflinching ones. They are the overcomers, the giant-slayers, the ones who do mighty deeds. Unbelief accomplishes nothing. Unbelief preserves the insipid. Doubt drives nothing forward and presumption merely paves the way to certain defeat. Faith brings victory.

Faith is Undervalued By The World

(Hebrews 11:37-40 NKJV) They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; {38} of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Men and women of faith go unappreciated. The stock market does not value them, the honours system does not recognize them, and the established church often criticizes and rejects them. Faith has no validity for worldly people. Those who live by faith may often feel they lack a place in society and lack validation in its structures. On a sterner note they may actually be killed, imprisoned or tortured for their faith(see the article on the persecuted church).

Faith does not necessarily bring material prosperity. It can bring you affliction, torment, and a cave as a home. Many of these references actually refer to the time of the Maccabees when the Jews were treated very cruelly because they stood against defilement of the temple with an image of Zeus. When faith takes a stand it is often hated. Yet men and women of faith are treasured by God who sees them as people "of whom the world was not worthy".

Faith Is Only Made Complete In The Church Through Christ

(Hebrews 11:39-40 NKJV) And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, {40} God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

It seems unfair that those who had such a good testimony would not receive the promise but have to wait. This is actually a merciful thing. Otherwise there would be two groups of saints in heaven, those living before the cross with only a few privileges and those living after the cross with many due to God's great grace. The reward of the Old Testament righteous saints has been delayed so that they will celebrate with the Church and be part of the one body of Christ and participants in the grace that is in Jesus Christ. Faith brings us into Christ and into the Church. By this I mean not an organization but the spiritual fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ. Faith takes us on a journey and we find other travellers there with whom we must share. We have a common destiny in heaven with Jesus and a common gospel and a common Holy Spirit. Thus faith is not merely an individual thing but has a corporate dimension to it.

© Copyright Asian Internet Bible Institute 1997

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