Joke: Q: Which servant of God was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A: Moses. He broke all 10 commandments at once
- Who are some of your heroes in life?
- Why do you look up to them?
As a society, we like our heroes… we like to hero-worship. We’ve moved on from cowboys and Indians today. We’ve turned it up a notch and now our heroes are super – Super heroes! Batman, Superman, Ironman… and recently Hollywood has been pushing that giant of a superhero, Antman! What’s next? Slugman? Snailman? Slothman? We also hero worship actual real people… when Obama won his first Presidency the journalists wrote of him like he was literally the long awaited Messiah. Years later in 2013 Barbara Walters, the respected American journalist and broadcaster said of Obama: ‘He made so many promises…We (the media) thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmas time, but – the next Messiah.’
Today people are oohing and aahing over the Pope. Late last year the Guardian newspaper had an article entitled: ‘Why atheists love Pope Francis – The pope ignites unprecedented secular excitement’. So here we go again. Movie and sports stars get the same treatment because everyone knows that if you can catch and throw a ball or if you are handy at pretending that you’re someone that you’re not, then you are pretty special indeed!
Now when you come to the Bible, it’s not without its own list of heroes. It has its hall of faith. But it’s fair to say these were a different breed of character to those popular today. Lets talk a look at God’s hall of faith – His heroes if you like. It is a study of Hebrews chapter 11. It is the ‘faith’ chapter.
Brief chapter overview
Hebrews chapter 11 contains a list of people that God says are noteworthy. See if you can name who these people are from these small clues:
Guess the people
- There is the lowly shepherd boy who became a king.
- There is a would-be king who gave it all away and became a shepherd.
- There is the despised brother, hated and sold into slavery… or the one who was, quite literally, left for dead at the hand of his own jealous brother.
- Then there is the reluctant hero, the one who was least in his family and whose family was least in their tribe that God used to save the nation of Israel;
- Or the preacher of righteousness who saved no one outside of his own family.
- And let’s not forget the harlot who put her life on the line to help God’s people and defy her own nation.
They are a list of stars whom God places His stamp of approval upon saying ‘The world was not worthy of them.’
The American author and poet Henry David Thoreau wrote the following and I want you to think about this quote… He wrote: ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away.’ That sums up the characters we will read about in Hebrews 11. They listened, and marched, to a different drum beat. But hopefully, that should be said of all of us.
- Do you feel out of step with this world that you live in?
- Do you see a lot of things differently than many others do?
The faith that we hold and the life that we live should reflect something of the heavenly music that we listen to, and God’s people should be marching to the beat of a different drummer! If that means we are out of step with the rest then good. So be it. This study is just a starter as we will examine
Hebrews 11:1-3. It touches on an initial definition of faith and introduces the first aspect of our faith that hopefully, we can all put our name next to. Let’s read:
Hebrews 11:1-4 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (2) For by it the men of old gained approval. (3) By faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
In Hebrews 11, the faith described is more practical than theoretical. It is not so much trying to define what faith is through a verbose theological discussion but is more focused on how that faith is outworked in the life of God’s people. It lists what people did by faith… how faith affected their lives. But it does start, in the very first verse, with what is the only place in the Bible (that I know of anyway) where a definition of faith is given.
Faith – A definition
Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
I’m not sure how you would define faith. You may have heard, or possibly even feel, like the little girl who was asked to define faith and said “Well, faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” That may raise a smile but actually, faith isn’t believing what ‘you know ain’t so.’ But that is how the world often sees it. Faith isn’t positive thinking (‘everything is going to be alright, things are getting brighter, I’m feeling better’) or just a vague wishful hope that things will work out somehow. Here is what the Bible says about faith:
‘The assurance of things hoped for’: Now that sounds pretty certain! We see first of all that faith is linked to hope. Now, this is not a wishy-washy hope. Biblical hope is based on certainty. Faith is not just hoping that things will be ok and work out alright in the way we would say ‘I hope it doesn’t rain today’. It is based on the certainties of the promises of God – which are based on the very character of God. That’s why it says that faith ‘is the assurance’. It means that the promises of God, the very things that we place our hope to become so real that they impact how we live today. Hebrews 11 doesn’t try to define this further but instead gives various examples, such as Abraham who was able to leave his home and live as a stranger and an exile in this world because he was looking for a heavenly city. His assurance of what is still to come changed how he lived today. And faith can bring light to the darkest of times. It gives great optimism!
Faith is an essential part of our relationship with God. It is a prerequisite to beginning the conversion process, which is a necessary step on the road to salvation and eternal life.
Without faith we can’t please God (Hebrews 11:6), essentially because if we don’t believe in Him and believe Him, we won’t really be trying to please Him! In the New Testament, both faith and belief are generally translations of the Greek word pistis. People who live by faith as followers of Jesus Christ are called “believers” (Acts 5:14).
“The main sense of the word ‘faith’ in the NT is that of trust or reliance… [Pistis] bears the sense not of faithfulness alone, but of the reliance and trust that is the basis of man’s faithfulness, i.e., the faithfulness that expresses confidence in the faithfulness of God” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 1982, article, “Faith”).
An illustration from a great missionary
I read a story recently about Adoniram Judson, the American who served as missionary to Burma for nearly 40 years. In the early years of his work in Burma he was respected and even held favour with the king of Burma. However, in 1824, with the impending war between Burma and the English based in India, all the white foreigners were viewed with great suspicion and Judson was arrested and thrown into infamous, vermin-ridden death prison of Ava. His feet were shackled with chains and all the prisoners in this death prison had their feet bound to a long bamboo. Along with this they had no ventilation in the prison and were in extreme heat. At night the guards would raise the bamboo so that their feet were in the air (with the chains handling off them and weighing them down!) while their shoulders could rest upon the ground. That was how they would spend the whole night till the guard came in the morning. Judson was in this prison for 12 months. At one point a fellow prisoner said, with a sneer on his face, “Dr. Judson, what now about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?” Judson’s instant reply was, “The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God… .” Goodness! What faith!
‘Conviction of things not seen’ : Hebrews also tells us that faith is the conviction of things not seen. The believer is one who is aware that there is more to this world and life that what can be seen with the natural eyes. We walk by faith and not by sight. There is an inner knowledge and conviction that is hard to explain to an unbeliever but it is one that can lay hold of the things that are invisible and possess them today. A staunch atheist wrote in to the website asking me to give him the best evidence for the existence of God. He saw the Bible on the same level as myths and fairly tales. I discussed my testimony, my experience of God as a Christian and also spoke of the amazing fulfilment of Bible prophecy. I tried. No luck. He just responded with ridicule. It is difficult for someone that only goes by their natural senses to see past that. Actually, as a related side issue, I read of an atheist who said to a Quaker, “Have you ever seen your God? Have you ever touched your God? Have you ever smelt your God? And you say you have a God!” The Quaker thought for quite a while and after a long pause, replied, “Hast thou ever seen thy brains? Hast thou ever touched thy brains? Hast thou ever smelt thy brains? And thou sayest thou hast brains!”
But we understand what the atheist is getting at. If you said to an unbeliever that you have received forgiveness and had been given a gift of righteousness by God, they may well say ‘ok well, where is it? Where is this forgiveness, where is this gift of righteousness?’ What would you say? You don’t receive a certificate from God that you can pin up on your wall when you become a Christian. The fact is, the spiritual blessings of God cannot be seen. They cannot be touched, smelt, licked or sniffed. And yet the eyes of faith apprehends them, the hand of faith receives them and the heart of faith appropriates them and receives the peace and joy that accompany such great gifts of God. And God commends us for it! But without faith, it is impossible to see these things and please God.
Conclusion – Faith: More precious than gold
To conclude, let’s look briefly at another great passage about faith.
1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, (5) who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (6)
In this, you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, (7) so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (8) and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (9) obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
This is a great passage and we can’t do it justice here but I just want to end with three points from this passage:
- You faith will need to be proved . It will be tested. Faith is not theoretical. Yes, it based on truth but it has to be proved. I remember my first big test when I got really sick back in 1997. Boy did I flunk. It was like it was the end and I didn’t want to go on. I was like Peter sinking fast while he looked at the waves! I’m not sure what would have happened had Jesus not extended His hand and lifted me up. Do not think it a strange thing when your faith is tested.
- Your faith is precious. It is precious to you and it is precious to God. Do not let anyone steal it. And listen up – everything, everything, that is precious to God will come under attack from the enemy who hates God and hates those that love Him.
- Your faith will end in sight. Someone once said ‘Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.’ That’s true of today but even more so, how great shall it be at the end of our days or at the end of this age (whichever comes first!) when our faith is rewarded by seeing Him whom we believe? ‘Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.’ Our faith will be rewarded. At the moment we walk by faith and not by sight but our faith will end with sight. We will see, with our eyes, Him who currently cannot be seen.
If you have been struggling, hold on and set your eyes on Him who is unseen once again. If you have been getting complacent in your walk, think again as to what is important and precious in this life. God says it is your faith. If you have been running well, don’t get proud but keep living in a constant relationship with your creator and finish well!
In Hebrew 11:13, after speaking about some of the ‘heroes’ of the faith it says this:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. (Heb 11:13)
That is why they are heroes!
Faith in God isn’t just how we start the Christian life. It is how we walk in this life and how we want to finish it.