is one of the richest passages in all of Scripture. It is done in the “string
of pearls” method, in which Paul gives us little, tantalizing reminders, with
the assumption that the student will fill in the details. Perhaps he had better
students; perhaps he was a better teacher.
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do
not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.
3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at
God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.
By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his
offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
5By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not
experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For
before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone
who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who
earnestly seek him.
7By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in
holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world
and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would
later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know
where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised
land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and
Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was
looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is
11By faith Abraham, even though he was past
age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he£ considered him faithful who had made the
promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good
as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless
as the sand on the seashore.
13All these people were still living by
faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw
them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens
and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they
are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking
of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city
17By faith Abraham, when God tested him,
offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to
sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is
through Isaac that your offspring£
will be reckoned.”£ 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the
dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in
regard to their future.
21By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed
each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22By faith Joseph, when his end was near,
spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about
23By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three
months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they
were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24By faith Moses, when he had grown up,
refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than
to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value
than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he
persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that
the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29By faith the people passed through the Red
Sea£ as on dry land; but when the Egyptians
tried to do so, they were drowned.
30By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after
the people had marched around them for seven days.
31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she
welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.£
32And what more shall I say? I do not have
time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the
prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms,
administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of
lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and
escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who
became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were
tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better
resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still
others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned£; they were sawed in two; they were put to
death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,
persecuted and mistreated—38the world was not worthy of them. They
wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with
us would they be made perfect.
this passage Paul gives us many examples of faith. But he also includes some
thoughts on just what constitutes faith. We shall examine these first, to lay
the groundwork for things to come.
Verse 1: Faith is …
almost a dictionary definition of faith. This is extremely useful, as we often
think of faith as an intellectual endeavor – only. It is not. The intellect
must be committed, but the entire human being must participate.
- Sure of hope. This is not an exercise in wishful thinking.
Indeed, when exaggerated, this becomes a form of “name it and claim it”
teaching. But in proportion we see it this way – that the Christian is
given hope by the power of the Resurrection and the promise of the return
of our Lord. The question is, do we act like we believe this? For
example, do we keep ourselves set apart, knowing that the Day of Judgment
- Certain of things unseen. ’”Where is this God you keep
talking about? I don’t see him.” I’ve never seen a geometry teacher’s
point, either. You know, the one that has neither width, depth or
breadth? But I believe in the concept; I’m certain it exists. Am I as
certain of the righteousness of God?
Verse 6: Without faith…
Wisdom is often gained in the negative. If you burn your
fingers, you learn. So Paul tells us here the consequence of a lack of faith.
It is simply this: whatever you do, you cannot please God. Why?
that Paul often uses the metaphor of a marriage relationship for the
relationship of Christ and his church. What happens to that relationship when
the wife stops trusting her husband? Soon there is quarreling and anger. But
see what happens next: at some point the wife will decide to “smooth things
over.” She puts on an attractive dress, does her hair nicely – in short, all
those things that please the male eye. But what reaction does she get? “What
did you do that for?” No trust, no relationship. It’s a characteristic of all
personal relationships – and the relationship with God (faith) is indeed
sounds obvious, therefore, that we must believe that God exists. Remember that
in the Scripture “believe” must also mean “committed.” Does our belief that
God exists make any difference in our daily lives? Or is God just a convenient
fiction which makes you happy? “I’m glad that works for you” is the denial of
the ultimate reality.
there is more. Not only does he exist, we find here one of his basic character
attributes: He rewards those who seek him. It could not be otherwise, for God
is love. Consider it from a lower level: God is not the recluse who does not
care for his people; he cares deeply. But like a parent who has a wayward
adult child, he waits for us to seek him.
Verses 14-16: Looking for…
of the things you must decide as a Christian is this: are you seeking a
destination on earth, or are you on a pilgrimage through this life? The church
has had many who have taught that we are looking for things in this life.
These preach “name it and claim it” or “possibility thinking.” It is not new.
But the clear teaching of the Scriptures is that this is the wrong objective.
are, as this passage declares, “aliens and strangers” in this world. Did you
ever feel that you just didn’t fit in with the “in” group? We’re just passing
through – at least I am. How strange, then, that so much of our effort is
spent in making the church look like just another social club. There’s a key
thought there: this world will always present us with opportunities to go over
to that view.
see what that means: it says that we are ashamed to name God as our god – if
it means not using my ski boat on the river during the summer weekends (see you
in October, preacher). But if we are ashamed of him, what does he think of
us? And if we are not?
Verses 39-40: Commended – but not received
may pursue the things of God during this life – and often not see them come to
fruition. It can be frustrating.
story is told of D. L. Moody. He had a friend who was not a Christian. For
thirty-five years, I’m told, Moody spoke to him about Christ. The man
eventually accepted Christ – at Moody’s funeral. Sometimes our successes are
like that. But despite the result, God still shows his approval of our
Day is coming. Many of us will meet our reward there, for the first time. My
father’s father knew me only as a little child. I have only one souvenir of
his existence, an old and battered mug he gave me. But he was a devout
Christian (and an excellent Sunday School teacher, I’m told) and I know he
prayed for me. I hope I have provided a satisfactory answer to those prayers.
Faith in What?
sometimes encounter those who have faith – but in who knows what. Often, it’s
faith in having faith. This is not our Lord’s intention.
In what God has done
note that Paul has included the understanding that we have faith that God
created. It is an important point. Our faith should not be an abstract hope
with no basis in fact. It’s like a marriage: I can’t prove my wife is
faithful – but I trust her. I trust her because she’s proven to be
trustworthy. There is evidence behind the faith.
this faith, one of the great evidences is the awesome grandeur of the
universe. The first thing revealed to us in Scripture is that God created the
heavens and the earth. Such power is his; it is still his today – and we can
count on Him.
is an example of such: he was going to sacrifice Isaac because he reasoned
that God could raise him from the dead. That’s faith in what God has done –
and can do.
Faith in his righteousness
me something: do you think Adolf Hitler got everything he deserved in this
life? Or, for that matter, Mother Teresa? No? Then those of us with faith in
God know that there will be a day of reckoning and reward. It’s just that his
books aren’t closed yet.
had that faith. He built the ark when all around him said God wasn’t paying
attention to mankind. Moses had the same faith too, in rejecting the pleasures
of Pharoah’s court. Do we believe in his righteousness?
Faith in his promises
was told of the promised land; Joseph told that his body would wind up there.
Both believed and obeyed, even though they would not see the results in this
mortal life. They had faith in the promises of God, finding him to be
are two ways in which we might view this. First, there is the trustworthiness
of God for those things he has placed in Scripture. We read; we should
believe (and act on it). For some, there may come a time when God will promise
you something personally. He has done that for me; I have been waiting for it
for over ten years, now. But he is faithful in his promises; even if I die
first, he will deliver.
Faith in his command
in Scripture we see a man given a direct command – and then finding what he
thinks is a better way. But Israel put the blood on the doorposts, and was
saved. The walls of Jericho came down right on God’s schedule.
such examples, why is it that we persist in “adjusting” the Scriptures? You
think we don’t?
Scriptures actually do teach a wife’s submission to her husband – but we
Scriptures teach that divorce is reprehensible to God –but we don’t.
Scriptures teach that envy (in the poor) and greed (in the rich) are sins
– but have you heard anything of this lately?
do you think our Lord would say to our excuses for not following his commands?
The Impact of Faith on Others
We often think of faith as “something you do in your
solitude.” (Do you really have that much solitude?) We need to recognize that
our faith is visible, and influences others in many ways.
Conviction of sin
cites Noah here – he acted on God’s revelation against sin; others did not.
We must do the same. Whether or not our actions embarrass someone or not, we
must do what is right. If that convicts someone of sin, praise God.
however, we find that our actions seem to influence no one. One very good
reason for this is that the conviction of sin may take some time, and we may be
just one link in the chain. Things may not happen immediately.
all the more reason to remain faithful – even the smallest and least of
Christians can do this, and the example observed may be the pivot point of
another person’s life.
Encouragement for others
set a great example of encouragement; we often think it’s just for church
leaders. But consider:
you ever been in a hospital corridor with someone who was losing a loved
one? Sometimes we need to borrow faith from those around us when the
storm arrives. We should be there for the storm.
way is in good deeds; we should encourage each other to do such things
(example is a good method).
in a while, however, we are in the “high visibility” situation – every one
is watching us, wondering what we will do. Then comes the test of faith.
Spreading the faith to others
didn’t take Rahab too long to get the point. We can do this in a number of
can pass the faith along to our children and grandchildren – by living it
we see those who are righteous at cost to themselves, we can commend and
in all occasions, we can put God first. “Love God – and do as you
The Test for Us
suggest three tests of faith for you this day:
Longing for that country
you don’t have the feeling that you don’t quite fit in this world, I would
challenge you to ask, “why not?” We are aliens, strangers in this world. We
should have a sense of community with the church – especially the church over
all times – and a sense of sojourning in this world.
Do you see at a distance?
you take the long view, the eternal view of life? Here’s a little help in
answering that question:
your energies focused on the things of this world? Possessions?
Promotion? Earlier retirement?
your attitude towards death? Yours? Your loved ones?
you patient with God’s justice, or do you feel the need to take vengeance
Do you sacrifice for the Living God?
What could I give up for God?
you sacrifice the pleasant things of life for God? Or do your possessions
you sacrifice your time to God? In particular, how do you feel when someone
takes your time from you because they know you will treat them with love?
More than that, do you give your time willingly to those in need?
you sacrifice your own self for God? For example, can you share with
others the depths of your sin which embarrass you so much?
say you have faith. Don’t show me; show God.