Bible Passage: Hebrews 11:1-7, 39-40; 12:1-2
Big Idea of Message:
The only way to please God is with active & enduring faith.
Sermon Date: 09.04.2022
11 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 2 For by this our ancestors were approved.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.
5 By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death. He was not to be found because God took him away. For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
7 By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Heb 11:1–7.
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.,*
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death, and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
New Revised Standard Version: Updated Edition (Friendship Press, 2021), Heb 11:1–7.
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 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.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased 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. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 11:1–7.
11 1 Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.
2 ἐν ταύτῃ γὰρ ἐμαρτυρήθησαν οἱ πρεσβύτεροι.
3 Πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ρήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι.
4 Πίστει πλείονα θυσίαν Ἅβελ παρὰ Κάϊν προσήνεγκεν τῷ θεῷ, δι᾿ ἧς ἐμαρτυρήθη εἶναι δίκαιος, μαρτυροῦντος ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ δι᾿ αὐτῆς ἀποθανὼν ἔτι λαλεῖ.
5 Πίστει Ἑνὼχ μετετέθη τοῦ μὴ ἰδεῖν θάνατον, καὶ οὐχ ἡυρίσκετο διότι μετέθηκεν αὐτὸν ὁ θεός. πρὸ γὰρ τῆς μεταθέσεως μεμαρτύρηται εὐαρεστηκέναι τῷ θεῷ·
6 χωρὶς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι· πιστεῦσαι γὰρ δεῖ τὸν προσερχόμενον |τῷ| θεῷ ὅτι ἔστιν καὶ τοῖς ἐκζητοῦσιν αὐτὸν μισθαποδότης γίνεται.
7 Πίστει χρηματισθεὶς Νῶε περὶ τῶν μηδέπω βλεπομένων, εὐλαβηθεὶς κατεσκεύασεν κιβωτὸν εἰς σωτηρίαν τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ δι᾿ ἧς κατέκρινεν τὸν κόσμον, καὶ τῆς κατὰ πίστιν δικαιοσύνης ἐγένετο κληρονόμος.
The NET Bible: Greek Text (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2017), Heb 11:1–11:7.
Faith: A constant outlook of trust and dependence toward God. Reliance upon and trust in God.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (NETv2)
Faith is a response to the Revelation. It takes God at His word and believes that He is as He reveals Himself to be. (JD Greear)
The invitation to faith for first-century Jews was thus a call to allegiance—to accept the immanence of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Introduction – Indiana Jones Video Clip
“A leap of faith”
This clip has a lot of suspense built into it. It shows the emotion that Indiana Jones had as he processed his situation. One of the things we draw from it is that it is not “merely stepping off a cliff & being surprised that he didn’t fall to his death.” There are some components to what was going on behind the scenes.
Put yourself in this clip – or, if you’re one of those guys who doesn’t like Indiana Jones, imagine you are on the top of a cliff and your buddy has taken you to go repelling. There are a few things that happen in your head and heart.
First, you need to know that a bridge would provide the safety you need to cross the chasm. OR, if you’re repelling, you need to know about the rope and hardware, that it is tested for a certain weight and designed for this particular moment.
Second, you need to agree in your mind and heart that not only could the bridge support you, but that it is actually there. You need to not just know the facts about the rope, not just agree that the rope will support you, and so you tie it onto your harness.
The third step is leaning in and putting your weight on the bridge. It is leaning back off the cliff and putting your weight on the rope.
Indiana Jones calls it a leap of faith – but I propose to you that putting trust and committing to something like a rope or a bridge is not blind, nor hoping for the best, but is actively being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see – after all, this is what the author of Hebrews calls faith.
How DO I STRUGGLE WITH THIS?
I have struggled with my faith – a lot, over my journey with God. For a long time, I was convinced that my faith – or lack of – was a disqualification as a Christian, and that there was something fundamentally flawed with me, making me “unsavable” by God.
You see, being the guy I am, I don’t really have the “faith emotion.” I don’t have the programming to feel more faithy, more trusting, more assured. And it seemed to me that other people had the “faith emotion” and when they had times of struggle, they could just have more faith. Something was wrong with me.
Then, when I compare what I read in scripture and believe theologically with real-world experience, I come head to head with the reality that in light of my struggling faith, I keep on sinning. Despite what I know and believe, I sin, and so I conclude that the faith I have – it must really suck.
Then, being the guy I am, I take this conclusion that the faith I have sucks, and that I have spent my life devoted to learning, teaching, and leading as a Pastor, I spin into shame. And then, in my shame, I sit in the pit and I wonder to myself, and to God – how might I have the boldness to think that I might somehow be able to please God, my Creator, and someday hear from him “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
This is the journey I have gone on. One of struggling with faith. Now don’t get me wrong – there have been a number of theological fallacies in my thinking, but I wasn’t just thinking with my head, nor just with my heart, nor just with my soul, but with a combination, and as such, although I had people in my life to help me correct the fallacies and to return to the love of God and the gospel – there was something I still stumbled with. By faith, we are saved. But how do I have faith?
HOW DO WE ALL STRUGGLE WITH THIS?
I know that I am not the only person in this sanctuary that struggles with the fear of the possibility that their faith is not legit. But where does this fear come from? In the parable of the Talents, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven – as he frequently did. Matthew Chapter 25 is where this is found – although it’s not our main text for the day. But in the parable, there is a man who was going on a journey, and so he calls his servants and gives them authority over his property, and while he is away, he gives them some cash. Each of the servants does different things with the money. A couple went off and traded and doubled their money. Another took the money and chose to store it, and not use it out of fear of losing it. After a long time, the master came back, and he asked for an account of the money – and you know the story. To those who took the resources and used it, he told them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To truly digest this parable – well, that’s another sermon. But in it, the master is God, and we are the servants – and as Christians – we deeply desire to be told one day “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We deeply desire to be in such tight-knit relationship with God – communion with God – that we can be squarely face to face with him, and God’s face shine upon us and give us peace. This is what we were designed for. To be known and loved by God, and to know and love God in return.
But sin. But shame. But lies. We desire to please God – as in, we desire that relationship with God. How is that done? Hebrews tells us by Faith.
When Seth was younger, I taught him to fist bump – but when I taught it to him, I gave it meaning. I told him that when we fist bump, it means that I love him, and he loves me, that I’m proud of him and there is nothing he can do to cause me to love him any less. That we are on the same team. That’s a lot to tell a kid, so I repeated it to him until he could repeat it back to me. And so, we fist bump. When he is behaving maturely and in a way that makes me proud, I give in a fist bump. And many times, when he messes up, and he sins, we talk about it, but I will always come back to giving him a fist bump, even after it’s after discipline. I want him to know that my love for him is not contingent on what he does or does not do, and that we can look at each other face to face.
Is that not what we all want with God? To be able to be in a place where we can give a fist bump to God and receive one in return? It sounds weird – but it’s true.
How can we please God? It sounds like a dirty question – one that assumes that there is some way we can earn God’s favor – if only we are good enough, if only we do enough right things, as long as the good things out weigh the bad things – and that is works-based theology and is wrong, but it’s the assumption that is wrong. Can we please God? The author of Hebrews tells us how.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THIS?
Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “hall of faith” – a recount of the “People of Old” and the faith they had and demonstrated. In your Bibles, I will be reading from Hebrews chapter 11, starting at verse 1. Today, I have chosen the NET Bible – as I like the word choice a little bit more, but with the ESV, you are used to, you will still be able to follow along.
Contextually, we do not know who the author of Hebrews is. The letter was written to Jewish believers who had a firm foundation in their heritage and with the work that God has done that was recorded throughout the OT. Timeline wise, it’s generally concluded that it was written sometime between AD 50 – 70, with 70 being the destruction of the temple that would have been mentioned.
The people – his audience – were being persecuted for their faith – and that includes many of their friends and some of them have fallen away – people are telling them they are crazy. They’ve got plenty of unanswered questions – like “Why isn’t God doing this? Or Where is God when this happened? Many of the people the writer is addressing are starting to lag in their faith, and so the writer tells them that there is no way they are going to make it if they don’t honestly and truly believe that God exists and that following him is worth it. And in Chapter 11 – the author faces “faith” head on.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 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. By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith, he still speaks, though he is dead. 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. 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.
The key to pleasing God – the only way to please God – is by faith. BI: The only way to please God is with active & enduring faith. And faith, according to the author of Hebrews – is relatively simple. Faith believes that God exists and that obeying him is worth it, and actually doing it. That’s it. But having faith is sometimes easier said than done.
Pastor JD Greear points out in one of his sermons that some people look at that phrase – “that he exists” and they say, “Well, there’s the problem. How do you know that He exists?” The author is basically saying that you just make some blind leap into the dark where you say, “Well, I’ll just believe God exists, with no evidence… I’ll just believe because I believe.”
And honestly – it’s that attitude of needing to believe because I believe – that I struggled with for so many years. I want to please God, and you please God with faith, so press the faith button and have faith. Have more faith. Just make yourself believe.
But that’s not what Hebrews is saying. To believe that He exists means that you believe God is as God has revealed himself.
So, how has God revealed himself? It’d be cool if there was a chapter in the Bible that outlined the five arguments for God – but there isn’t. Instead, Scripture points out to the places where God is speaking and begs the question – do you recognize these as the voice of God?
We hear God’s voice in creation. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and that the earth proclaims his handiwork… their voice goes through the earth and their words are heard to the end of the world.
There is no place on earth where this voice is not heard. The argument that creation is the result of nothing x nobody is just not compelling.
But it’s more than just creation. There are longings in your heart. Longings for eternity. There are moments where you experience feelings of romantic love.
Francis Crick was an atheist that died in 2004 – and he wrote a book called “The Astonishing Hypothesis.”
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will (the love you feel for another human) are, in fact, no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. You are nothing but a pack of neurons.”
Really? Intuitively, there’s something more to human experiences than chemicals and firing neurons.
As a Dad, there are moments that happen and I cannot help but to just feel grateful. And atheists – they have these moments too. But as C.S. Lewis said, atheists have the problem of feeling profoundly grateful in their happiest moments, and not knowing whom to thank!
You also hear His voice in the Bible. If you are over the age of 40 – or if you are like me and live in a really old house – you are familiar with keyholes that you can spy through. I can imagine situations of kids spying on their siblings through the keyhole of their doors. They look through and they can get an idea, a glimpse, of the reality on the other side of the door, but maybe not the whole picture. And in some ways, that is how the Bible is. When we read it and spend time in it, it’s like getting a glimpse through a keyhole of God. It is God’s revelation to us – God saying, this is who I am – but yet, leaves so many questions to be answered. But when we read the Bible, we see Jesus and in the person of Jesus, you pause and recognize that “That’s him! That’s my Creator!”
Through simply existing you hear the voice of God in the many ways he has revealed himself and you just recognize that these are the voices of God. There’s a word for this – John Calvin calls it “sensus divinatus” and it works like your other senses, if you pay attention. This is why we teach kids at VBS to pay attention for God sightings.
Alvin Plantinga accounts for the sensus divinatus that is inherent in us as people, – the ability to sense God – but yet, some people do not believe, nor do they sense God. If it was really a basic belief, everyone would have it, right? Plantinga suggests, that for many people, the sense does not work because of the effect of sin in their lives. The Apostle Paul affirms this in Romans, where he says that the inability to perceive God is a kind of spiritual sickness. It’s part of being spiritually fallen, spiritually blind. This is why we pray – we can’t heal someone’s heart through logical argumentation, but the Bible says we need regeneration. God can use those arguments, but only his Spirit restores our sanity.
Think of it like how you know certain things are wrong. Like murder or genocide. Imagine that there was a person who tried to convince you that kicking a baby is good parenting – they say that it controls the crying, teaches authority, and prevents future crying… but you’re not even going to listen to him, right? You know he’s wrong before he even gets into the reasoning. You don’t reject his conclusion on the basis of his reasoning; you reject it because of instinct. Our moral conclusions can be backed up by logic – but their basis is usually instinct.
I’ve got a buddy who focused his schooling on apologetics – philosophical reasons to believe in God – and there are lots of them. There are good, evidential reasons to believe in Jesus – prophecies, resurrection, those kinds of things. But I am convinced that it is not logic and apologetics that convinces someone of God’s existence – instead, those things back up our sensus divinatus – our sense of the divine.
God has revealed himself to us – and faith is the response to the revelation. It takes God at his word and believes that He is as He reveals himself to be, or as the author of Hebrews wrote, faith is being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see.
You might be thinking – I have such a hard time believing. I want to believe – but it’s hard. The questions are unending. Why is this happening? If God loves me, why won’t this stop? Why did God allow the things he’s allowed in the Bible? What about hell? Isn’t God’s love enough? And I feel you. Questions are part of faith – and that is where these people in Hebrews are. In chapter 2 of Hebrews, it says that we don’t have all the answers, but we have Jesus! We recognize his voice and where we can’t understand everything about him or His plan, we trust him because we know that He is God.
Pastor Charles Spurgeon teaches about faith, gleaning from the Puritans. He said that faith is made up of three things (1) Knowledge, (2) Assent, & (3) Affiance – or the laying hold of the knowledge and making it our own by trusting it.
Knowledge – You cannot believe what you do not know. If you never knew that NASA has sent people to the moon and they walked on it, if someone never told you about the moon landing, you cannot believe that there have been people on the moon. Yet, some people will say they have faith that says “I believe what the Church believes.” Or… I believe what the Bible says – without knowing what the Bible says. If he says, “I believe” but does not know what he believes – it cannot be true faith. Paul said in Romans 10, “How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? (v14).” According to Paul, and Spurgeon – to have true faith – you should know something of the Bible.
Assent – Spurgeon says that assent is the second component of true faith. A man may know a thing and yet not have faith. Assent goes with faith – that is to say, what we know we must also agree. There are many Bible scholars and professors who know the Bible far greater than I could ever hope to, but even though they know it, they don’t receive the scripture, God’s revelation, in their souls as being the very truth of the living God. They might take it as historically significant, and even true, but true faith gives full assent to scripture. It is taking a page and saying, no matter what is in this page, I believe it. Then they turn the page and say, here are some really hard things to understand, and they may not even like it, but they believe it. This is how it is with the trinity, and the atoning sacrifice. Something is difficult to understand, but still having a belief of it since it is all the Word of God – it is all true.
Affiance – Someone may have all of this, and yet not possess true faith; for the most vital part of faith is the affiance to the truth – well, that’s the way Spurgeon puts it. Others say it as “recumbency on truth.” It’s more than just believing the truth, but taking hold of it as ours, and resting on it for salvation. True faith leans on Christ. It will not save me to know that Christ is a Savior, but it will save me to trust him to be My Savior. See the difference? I will not be delivered from the wrath to come by believing that Jesus’ atonement and dying on the cross is sufficient – but I will be by making that atonement my trust, my refuge, my all. The essence of faith is this – to cast oneself on the promise. It’s not the lifebuoy on board a ship that saves the man when he is drowning, nor is it in his belief that it is an excellent and successful invention. No! He must wear it or hold on to it, or else he will sink. It’s like if there were a fire in the upper room of a house and people gather on the street. A child is in the upper story of the house, and he can’t leap down. How is he to escape? A strong man comes beneath and yells to him “Drop into my arms!” It is a part of faith to know that the man is there; it is another part of faith to believe that the man is strong; but the essence of faith is in the dropping into the man’s arms.
Guys, you need to know that Christ died for sin. You need to understand that Christ is able to save. You are to believe that, but you are not saved, unless in addition to that, you put your trust in Him to be your Savior and to be his forever. BI: The only way to please God is with active & enduring faith. No, faith is not an emotion, no, there is no “faith button” to push to have more faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see. I struggled for a long time thinking that I did not have faith, and then the uncertainty of knowing whether I had faith, or just wanted it. You do not need to be unsure of your faith. Either you know, believe, and lean into it, or you do not, and without it, it is impossible to please God. (Heb 11:6).
I chose this passage today, partly because of how my journey with faith has developed, and partly because of coming out of this series on Genesis. The author of Hebrews, writing to a Jewish audience, uses many of the “people of old,” the people we have looked at in Genesis, and will look at in 2023, and uses them as examples for understanding faith. Return with me to the text, if you will.
11 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 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 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. 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. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible, Second Edition (Denmark: Thomas Nelson, 2019), Heb 11:1–7.
And then, the Author continues. I want you to notice what is said: The people in this chapter are famous for their faith, right? Well, did you notice that when the writer describes them, they are all presented in terms of some action?
Noah built. Abraham left. Jacob blessed. Joseph instructed. Moses chose. Joshua fought.
Faith is synonymous with action. Apart from action, there is no faith. We just spent three months in the youth Sunday School class going through the book of James, where the message is clear: faith without works is dead. An illustration I came by as we were studying James to better understand this is of a seed. This spring, Seth and Jenni bought this kit from Lowes to grow Strawberries. I told her it wasn’t going to work, but it was cheap and potentially a fun character building opportunity for the boys, so we tried it. It came with the pale, and the soil, and the seeds, and Jenni and Seth planted the seeds and Seth watered it. And then the next day, he watered it, and the next day, he watered it, and guess what, it didn’t grow. The pale is still on my deck, and Seth is waiting for the plant to sprout. The seed is faith, the plant would be the works or action that comes from the seed. Without there being a plant growing from the seed, I conclude that we drowned the seed and it is dead. I could probably get Seth super excited by going over the Glenda and Russel’s and taking a cutting from their strawberries and stick it on top in the soil of our dead seed. There! We have a strawberry plant! We planted the seed, we have faith, and then we added the plant to it, we added works. Does that mean we are successful, and our seed has grown and produced fruit? Absolutely not. The seed is still dead, even though we added works to it. Only if the seed produces the fruit is it alive. Apart from action, there is no faith.
Your belief doesn’t become faith until you act upon it. Faith is not “believing the rope will hold you” or trusting that the bridge is in the chasm, but it’s leaning back on that rope, it’s taking that step onto the bridge. God does not determine what kind of faith you have based on what you say, but by what your life says.
JD Greear said in a sermon that how you respond to disappointment, or tragedy, reveals whether or how much you actually believe in God. Or said in the positive – your ability to be joyful in all things is the measure of your faith.
So much of our Christian experience, is spent in waiting. Read the Psalms, and when you do, underline each time it says “wait.”
Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”
Psalm 62:1, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”
Do you have that kind of faith? That response to his revelation? Do you take God at his Word and believe that He is as He reveals himself to be? Do you trust God will provide for you in impossible situations when you are pursuing his will, like Israel did at the Red Sea or Jericho?
The author, in Hebrews 11, gives example after example of these people who were commended for their faith, and then chapter 12: verses 1&2 make it about us. It says:
Hebrews 12:1-2 - 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, 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.
Our writer encourages those who read his exhortation to “lay aside every weight.” The Greek word for “weight” can mean body bulk, excess weight. For spiritual athletes that can be a case of too many irons in the fire, too many dissipating interests, too many branches of good things that suck the vital energy from the very best. Jesus said that God, the Vinedresser, prunes the best branches of any suckers that they may bear all the more quality fruit.
The word may also mean a spirit of overconfidence and arrogance. Hockey season is near – and the Colorado Avalanche – my favorite team – won the Stanley Cup last season. I am anticipating that they will come into this new season with a spirit of overconfidence and arrogance. The idea that a certain contest is a “pushover, a breather, an easy day” will cripple a team into complacency, and this is how upsets are made! When we let down our concentration on the basics of the Christian life and become distracted, we are in for a sudden and shocking surprise.
For the Christian disciple, there is only one way to run this race successfully, and that is to look to Jesus, whom our author describes first as “author” and then as “finisher” of our faith. The founder, leader, pioneer, prince, ruler – the designer of this race. As a leader or pioneer, Jesus is meant to be followed. He is also the first one to finish the race, the perfecter in terms of having completed it.
So, the writer says, “lay aside” such weights. They have no place for the Christian disciple who wants to compete in the race that Jesus has laid out for him. Christ has designed, and demands, everything we have in ourselves. There cannot be any extra weight. To win, every ounce of human and divine energy has to be directed towards the race. In a day like today, when the world teeters on a fine edge of tragedy, we must be all we can be for the purpose of salvation and ministry. Anything less will be a burial of our talents in the soil of indulgence. One day, our master will return and we will all give an accounting – may that be a day when we are all told, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” And the only way to do that, is with active & enduring faith.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
Last week, I sort of cheated on this sermon. Well, I used my resources. I “crowdsourced” this text. I had already picked out the passage I wanted to preach on, and so I brought it to the middle schoolers and high schoolers, and I asked them to help me help you. What that looked like was explaining a little bit about sermon writing and the behind-the-scenes, but then we digested the text. We read it, and asked questions.The big takeaway was this: it is obvious that faith is the way to please God, chapter eleven, verse six tells us this. The writer makes it clear through the examples from the heroes of the Old Testament that faith is demonstrated through action. What was not so clear was truly wrapping our heads around faith. One of my favorite questions to ask when I do this kind of exercise with teenagers is, “at what point did you stop listening or reading because you got bored or distracted or confused?” One of the students said verse one. What does that even mean? Faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. Then, one of my other students looked in the back of their bible at the concordance and looked up faith and was like, “dang, there is a lot in the Bible about faith.” My response – Guess what – so much of theology, and our very salvation – is based on faith as well, but in some ways, it’s one of those “Christian” words that we say and refer to, but don’t actually fully digest.
In seeking to understand – there are a number of ways it has been articulated.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith is a constant outlook of trust and dependence toward God.
Faith is a reliance and trust in God.
Faith is the combination of knowledge, assent, and affiance.
Faith is a firm and certain knowledge.
Faith is solid certainty of that which we hope, based on reality and solid existence.
Faith, or as the Complete Jewish Bible puts it, Trusting, is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about the things we do not see.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.
Do you have faith? Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart? If so, you may hope to be saved. Do you have faith? Shall I help you with that question? Three questions. 1) Do you trust in yourself? Your righteousness? If you put just one atom of trust in yourself, once particle of reliance upon anything else but what Christ did – you have no faith. Christ will have all or nothing; he must be a whole savior, or none at all. 2) Do you love Christ? Charles Spurgeon asked – could you die for him? Do you seek to serve him? Do you love his people? If you do not love Christ, you do not believe in him, for to believe in Christ brings forth love. 3) With true faith, do you have true obedience? If a man says he has faith, and has no works, he lies. Anyone who declares that he believes on Christ, yet does not lead a holy life, makes a mistake. For although do not trust in our good works, we know that true faith brings true action.
HOW CAN WE ALL LIVE THIS OUT TOGETHER?
So, let me ask again. Do you have faith? The answer is either yes, or no. Saying “I do not know,” or “I do not care” are not options – as you will care one day. When the earth is reeling, when the world is being tossed, you will care when God shall summon you to judgement, and when he will condemn the faithless and unbelieving. If you are wise, you will care now, and if you feel the need of Christ, let me beg you, seek faith in him who is exalted on high to give you repentance and forgiveness, and who, if he has given you repentance, will give you forgiveness too. The only way to please God is with active and enduring faith.
With all this on understanding faith, and with Christ being the object of that faith – we must remember why he is the focus of our faith. Why is Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith? It all points back to the cross. For on the cross, he demonstrated his love for us, and restored the way for his people to be reunited in communion with him. While we were sinners, adulterers chasing our own desires and indulgences, he hung on the cross for us, bearing the weight of our sin, our rebellion, and receiving our punishment. This is what we root our faith in.
1 Corinthians 11:23 reads this:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Cast yourself on his love and blood, his doing and dying, his suffering and his kingship, and if you do, you will be saved now and saved in that great day when not to be saved will be horrible. If your faith is in Jesus Christ alone, let us enter this celebration of communion – this remembrance of Christ’s body and blood, and proclaim his death until he returns, and may it be soon. Amen.
Notes from Studying
JD Greear – “Impossible without Faith” (2017)
Here’s a confession you won’t hear often from a pastor: in many ways, it takes very little faith for me to follow Jesus.
● Denying God would be more costly for my family than following Him. Imagine if I came home and told Veronica, “I don’t think I believe in God anymore!”
● Plus, my job requires me to be a Christian … that’s like the first box on my job performance: “Is a Christian: check.”
● Plus, I have enough cash flow that I’m not usually worried about where the next meal is coming from … I’m not like: “Oh, God if you don’t come through for me my kids are not able to eat tonight.”
● So it’s really easy for me to walk with God and do Christian things without any real faith.
● But that can only take you so far.
○ If you’re a thinking person, eventually you get confronted by something in the Bible that is really hard to believe. Sometimes I’ll be in a discussion with someone who is not a Christian who will be challenging me on what I believe and they’ll be like, “Surely you’re not saying this?” and I think, “Am I saying that? Do I really believe that just because the Bible teaches it?”
○ Or I’ll sense God asking me to do something that really puts things on the line: a financial sacrifice He wants me to make; or a right or privilege I should give up; or to put myself or my family in some kind of danger to obey and I’ll ask again, “Do I really believe these things?”
● I am convinced that many of us squeak out a Christian life without ever really being confronted with the hard questions of faith.
○ Taking your kids to church or participating in the Christian subculture you grew up in and are most comfortable with is not a bold faith risk. For many of you, it’s just the path of least resistance—and I’m sorry if that sounds rude, it’s just the truth.
But the writer makes it clear in Hebrews: 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.
● You can only go so far without faith.
Remember what’s going on in Hebrews. The writer is admonishing a group of people for whom following Jesus has gotten really difficult.
● People are being persecuted for their faith and that included many of their friends and some of them have fallen away … people are telling them they’re crazy.
● They’ve got a lot of unanswered questions, “Why isn’t God doing this?” Or “where is God when this happens?”
● Many of the people the writer is addressing are starting to lag behind in their faith
● The writer tells them there is no way they are going go make it if they don’t honestly and truly believe that God exists and that following Him is worth it.
Faith is a response to God’s revelation
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.
Faith is relatively simple. It believes that God exists and that obeying Him is worth it.
Now, people look at that phrase “that He exists,” and they say, “Well, that’s the problem. How do you know that He exists?” It almost seems like Hebrews is saying you just make some blind leap into the dark where you say, “Well, I’ll just believe God exists, with no evidence … I’ll believe just because.”
● But that’s not what it is saying. “Believing that He exists” means that you believe that God is as God has revealed Himself. ● The Bible never sets out to prove God philosophically (there’s no book in the Bible called “the 5 arguments for God”). It just points to the places that God is speaking and says, “Do you recognize these as the voice of God?” ○ You hear it in creation. Psalm 19 says the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth proclaims His handiwork … their voice goes through all the earth and their words are heard to the end of the world. There is no place on earth this voice is not heard.” For most people the explanation that nothing × nobody = everything is just not compelling.
○ In the longing for eternity in your heart or in the transcendence you feel in moments of romantic love. ■ Francis Crick, an atheist who died recently (2004) wrote in a book called “The Astonishing Hypothesis: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will (the love for you feel for another human) are, in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. You are nothing but a pack of neurons.” Everything is chemistry
■ Really? How would you girls like to get this on a card: “The love I feel for you, baby, is just a random assortment of chemicals that I inherited, and my desire to be with you is really just the desire of those chemicals to propagate their own genetic distinctives in the species. Will you be my Valentine?” Is that romantically satisfying to you? I’m guessing that is not going to make it on a Hallmark card anytime soon. ■ You just know there’s something more to human experiences than chemicals and firing neurons.
○ You sense it in the gratitude you feel in your happiest moments. C.S. Lewis said that atheists have the problem of feeling profoundly grateful in their happiest moments and not knowing whom to thank!
○ You hear His voice in the Bible. ■ Keyhole ○ In the person of Jesus and you say, “That’s Him. That’s my Creator.” ● You hear those voices and you just recognize that these are the voice of God. Theologians call it the “sensus divinatus” and it works like your other senses. ● You say, “Well, don’t I need to be able to prove, logically, that there is a God”? Well, think about your other senses. ○ If I asked you to prove with water-tight logic that I was actually standing here and you were actually listening to me and that your senses were not playing tricks on you and this was not all an illusion or a dream, you probably couldn’t do it. ○ Philosophers concluded a long time ago that we can’t prove the existence of things outside of our own minds—you’ve seen “Matrix,” right? How can you prove you’re not plugged up in a pod somewhere having a dream? Or if I said, “Prove to me what you think is your consciousness is not actually the result of being a character in the complex dream of a demon,” you probably couldn’t do it. ○ But very few of you live plagued with the idea that that’s really the case. For someone to actually think that way is not normal. It makes for a good movie but if you think the Matrix is actually true than you probably need counseling. You’re actually here and I’m actually here and Keanu Reeves is not our savior. ○ You don’t assume that the world around you exists because you can prove it by logical inference. Your senses sensed me and you believed they were telling you the truth. ○ Philosophers call that a “basic belief.”
○ Or think of it like how you know certain things are wrong. Like murder or genocide. Imagine you met a Nazi who starts laying out a logical case why Hitler’s action in WW2 were not wrong … he starts laying out arguments from evolution and history and the greater good … you are not even going to listen to him, right? You know he’s wrong before you even get into the reasoning. You don’t reject his conclusion on the basis of reasoning; you reject it on the basis of instinct. Our moral conclusions can be backed up by logic, but their basis is usually instinct.
● This is not to say that there are not good, philosophical reasons to believe in God. There are. And there are good, evidential reasons to believe in Jesus—prophecies, and the resurrection, and those kinds of things. But those things just back up our sensus divinatus—our sense of the divine. ● You say, “A-ha! What about those people who don’t believe? If it really was a basic belief everyone would have it!” That’s not true. According to the book of Romans, one of the results of our sinfulness was that our hearts were darkened, and our ability to perceive God got all messed up. ○ The book of Romans says that the inability to perceive God is a kind of spiritual sickness. It’s part of being spiritually fallen, spiritually blind. ○ Just like the kind of person who really struggles with the fact that the Matrix is true has some issues, or the person who can’t really sense that abusing children is evil has a morally dysfunctional heart. ● BTW, church, this is why we spend so much time in prayer for people. Because you can’t heal someone’s heart through logical argumentation. The Bible says we need “regeneration.” God can use our arguments in the process, but only His Spirit restores our sanity. So, faith is a response to the revelation. It takes God at His word and believes that He is as He reveals Himself to be. ● You say, “But I have such a hard time believing. There are so many hard questions … why is this happening? If God loves me, what about this? And, I don’t understand the morality of the Bible. And why is there a hell?” ○ I feel you. I really do. I have all kinds of questions. One day I’m going to write a book called “The pastor with more questions than his parishioners.” ○ That’s right where these people in Hebrews are. And the author has said to them, chapter 2, we don’t have all the answers … but what we do have is Jesus! We recognize the voice of God in Jesus and where we can’t understand everything about Him or His plan we trust Him because we recognize that He is God. ● If Jesus is who He says He is, we can trust what He says about thing we don’t quite understand. ○ A famous church father, Anselm, said the Christian experience is “faith seeking understanding.” I want to understand, and every once I get a flash of insight and I do understand … but in the meantime, when I can’t understand, I hold onto what God has revealed about Himself. God is all loving, kind, good, and powerful, even if I can’t understand it all now. ○ The source of my faith is not explanation, but revelation. Faith is a response to revelation. ● The people in this chapter are famous for their faith, right? ● Well, did you notice that when the writer describes them, they are all presented in terms of some action? ○ Noah built ○ Abraham left ○ Jacob blessed ○ Joseph instructed ○ Moses chose ○ Joshua fought ● Faith is synonymous with action. Apart from action there is no faith. ● Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: there is no noun for “faith” in Hebrew. Faith only a verb. ○ So, in other words, all these people in Hebrews 11 became famous for something they didn’t even have a name for. ● … Because faith does not exist apart from action. Faith is a conviction expressed in a choice. ○ Obedience is not something you do later down the road after you have faith. ○ Your belief doesn’t become faith until you act upon it. ○ Faith is not “believing the rope will hold you”; it is leaning back on that rope. ● There is no faith apart from obedience. Faith is belief in action. ● God does not determine faith by what your mouth says, but by what your life says. ○ How you respond to disappointment, or tragedy, reveals whether, or how much, you actually believe God ○ Or here’s another way I’ve said it: Your ability to be joyful in all things is the measure of you faith. ○ So much of our Christian experience is spent waiting. Read the Psalms—ever do your devotions in the Psalms for month? On particular days of that month you are depressed or excited depending on what Psalm you read! The word “wait” appears over and over: ■ Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” ■ Psalm 62:1, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” ■ Psalm 63, My flesh faints as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. ○ Waiting patiently with hope is faith. Your ability to be joyful in all things is the measure of you faith. ● Do you trust that God will provide for you in impossible situations when you are pursuing His will, like Israel did at the Red Sea or Jericho? ○ As a church, getting ready to take the next step. ○ I feel it as a parent … God, how can I raise my children in this kind of world? ○ C. S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed that the depth of our faith is revealed only when it is a matter of life and death. ○ Maybe how scared and panicky you get that God won’t provide you reveals how little you actually believe God.
1 Exposition: What is faith?
The Puritans teach us that faith is made up of three things: (1) Knowledge, (2) Assent, (3) affiance (laying hold of the knowledge to which we give assent, and making it our own by trusting in it).
A man cannot believe what he does not know. If I have never heard of a thing in all my life, and do not know it, I cannot believe it. Yet, some people say that they have a faith that says “I believe what the Church believes.” I hold no man’s faith to be faith unless he knows what he believes. If he says “I believe,” and does not know what he believes, how can it be true faith? The apostles said, “How can they believe on whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach except they be sent? To true faith, a man should know something of the Bible.
A man may know a thing, and yet not have faith. I may know a thing, and yet not believe it. Assent must go with faith: that is to say, what we know we must also agree unto, as being most certainly the verity of God. In order to faith, it is necessary that I should not only read the Scriptures and understand them, but that I should receive them in my soul as being the very truth of the living God, and should devoutly with my whole heart receive the whole of scripture as being inspired of the Most High, and the whole of the doctrine which he requires me to believe to my salvation. True faith gives full assent to the Scriptures; it takes a page and says, “No matter what is in this page, I believe it;” it turns over the next chapter and says, “Herein are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable to wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their destruction; but hard though it be, I believe it.” It sees the Trinity; it cannot understand the Trinity in Unity, but believes it. It sees an atoning sacrifice; there is something difficult in the thought, but it believes it; and whatever it be which it sees in revelation, it devoutly puts its lips to the book, and says, “I love it all; I give my full, free, and hearty assent to every word of it, whether it be the threatening or the promise, the proverb, the precept, or the blessing. I believe that since it is all the Word of God it is all most assuredly true.” Whosoever would be saved must know the scriptures and must give full assent unto them.
A man may have all this, and yet not possess true faith; for the chief part of faith lies in the last head, namely in an affiance to the truth; not the believing it merely, but the taking hold of it as being ours, and in the resting on it for salvation. Old preachers used the word “Recumbency on truth” “This is truth, I trust my salvation on it.” True faith, in its very essence rests in this – a leaning upon Christ. It will not save me to know that Christ is a Savior, but but it will save me to trust him to be MY Savior. I will not be delivered from wrath to come by believing that his atonement is sufficient, but I shall be saved by making that atonement my trust, my refuge, and my all. The pith, the essence of faith lies in this – a casting one-self on the promise. It is not the lifebuoy on board the ship that saves the man when he is drowning, nor is it in his belief that it is an excellent and successful invention. No! He must have it around his loins, or his hand upon it, or else he will sink. Suppose a fire in the upper room of a house, and the people gathered on the street. A child is in the upper story: how is he to escape? He cannot leap down – that were to be dashed to pieces. A strong man comes beneath, and cries, “Drop into my arms.” It is a part of faith to know that the man is there; it is another part of faith to believe that the man is strong; but the essence of faith lies in the dropping into the man’s arms. That is the proof of faith, and the real pith and essence to it.
It is not the lifebuoy on board the ship that saves the man when he is drowning, nor is it in his belief that it is an excellent and successful invention. No! He must have it around his loins, or his hand upon it, or else he will sink.
It is not the lifebuoy on board the ship that saves the man when he is drowning, nor is it in his belief that it is an excellent and successful invention. No! He must have it around his loins, or his hand upon it, or else he will sink.
Spurgeon (No. 107)
Suppose a fire in the upper room of a house, and the people gathered on the street. A child is in the upper story: how is he to escape? He cannot leap down – that were to be dashed to pieces. A strong man comes beneath, and cries, “Drop into my arms.” It is a part of faith to know that the man is there; it is another part of faith to believe that the man is strong; but the essence of faith lies in the dropping into the man’s arms. That is the proof of faith, and the real pith and essence to it.
Suppose a fire in the upper room of a house, and the people gathered on the street. A child is in the upper story: how is he to escape? He cannot leap down – that were to be dashed to pieces. A strong man comes beneath, and cries, “Drop into my arms.” It is a part of faith to know that the man is there; it is another part of faith to believe that the man is strong; but the essence of faith lies in the dropping into the man’s arms. That is the proof of faith, and the real pith and essence to it.
Spurgeon (No. 107)
So, sinner, you are to know that Christ died for sin. You are to understand that Christ is able to save. You are to believe that, but you are not saved unless in addition to that, you put your trust in Him to be your Savior, and to be his forever.
[SEGUE] This is the faith that saves, and however unholy may have been your lives up to this hour, this faith, if given to you at this moment, will blot out all your sins, will change your nature, make you a new man in Christ Jesus, lead you to live a holy life, and make your eternal salvation as secure as if an angel should take you on his bright wings this morning, and carry you immediately to heaven. Have you that faith? That is the one all-important question; for while with faith men are saved, without it men are damned. Brooks said, “He that believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, shall be saved, be his sins never so many; but he that believes not in the Lord Jesus must be damned, be his sins never so few. Do you have faith? For the text declares, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
He that believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, shall be saved, be his sins never so many; but he that believes not in the Lord Jesus must be damned, be his sins never so few. Do you have faith? For the text declares, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Brooks, Spurgeon (No. 107),
2 Argument: Without faith, it is impossible to be saved.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) I gather from this text that there never has been the case of a man recorded in Scripture who did please God without faith. This chapter of Hebrews is the chapter of the people who pleased God. Listen to their names: By faith Abel offered God a more excellent sacrifice. By faith Enoch was translated. By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham went out into a place that he should afterwards receive. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise. By faith Sarah bare Isaac. By faith Abraham offered up Issac. By faith Moses gave up the wealth of Egypt. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob. By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel. By faith the Red Sea was dried up. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down. By faith the prostitute Rahab was saved. Others mentioned in Scripture, have done something; but God did not accept them. Men have humbled themselves, but God has not saved them. Ahab did, and yet his sins were never forgiven. Men have repented, and yet have not been saved, because theirs was the wrong repentance. Judas repented, and went and hung himself and was not saved. Men have confessed their sins, and have not been saved. Saul did it. He said to David, ‘I have sinned against thee, my son David;” yet he went on as he did before. Multitudes have confessed the name of Christ and have done marvelous things, and yet they have never been pleasing to God, for the simple reason, they had not faith. And if there had not one mentioned in scripture, which is the history of some thousand years, it is not likely that in the other two thousand years of the world’s history there would have been one, when there was not one during the first four thousand.
Faith is the stooping grace, and nothing can make a man stoop without faith. Unless a man does stoop, his sacrifice cannot be accepted. Angels know this – when they praise God, they do it veiling their faces with their wings. The redeemed know it. When they praise God, they cast their crowns before his feet. Now a man who has not faith proves that he cannot stoop; for he has not faith for this reason, because he is too proud to believe. He declares he will not yield his intellect, he will not become a child and believe meekly what God tells him to believe. He is too proud, and he cannot enter heaven, because the door of heaven is so low that no one can enter in by it unless they will bow their heads. There never was a man who could walk into salvation standing up. We must go to Christ with bent knees, for though he is a door big enough for the greatest sinner to come in, he is a door so low that men must stoop if they would be saved. Faith is necessary, because a lack of faith is certain evidence of absence of humility.
Faith is necessary for salvation, because we are told in Scripture that works cannot save. Without faith there is no union to Christ. Now, union to Christ is indispensable to our salvation. If I come before God’s throne with my prayers, I shall nver get them answered, unless I bring Christ with me.
The stupendous falls of Niagara have been spoken of in every part of the world; but while they are marvellous to hear of, and wonderful as a spectacle, they have been very destructive to human life, where by accident any have been carried down the cataract. Some years ago, two men, a bargeman and a collier, were in a boat, and found themselves unable to manage it, it being carried so swiftly down the current that they must both inevitably be borne down and dashed to pieces. Persons on teh shore saw them, but were unable to do much for their rescue. At last, however, one man was saved by floating a rope to him, which he grasped. The same instant that the rope came into his hand a log floated by the other man. The thoughtless and confused bargeman instead of seizing the rope laid hold on the log. It was a fatal mistake; they were both in imminent peril, but the one was drawn to shore because he had a connection with the people on the land, whilst the other, clinging to the log, was borne irresistibly along, and never heard of afterwards. Faith is a connection with Christ. Christ is on the shore, so to speak, holding the rope of faith, and if we lay hold of it with the hand of our confidence, he pulls us to shore; but our good works having no connection with Christ, are drifted along down the gulf of fell despair.
The stupendous falls of Niagara have been spoken of in every part of the world; but while they are marvellous to hear of, and wonderful as a spectacle, they have been very destructive to human life, where by accident any have been carried down the cataract. Some years ago, two men, a bargeman and a collier, were in a boat, and found themselves unable to manage it, it being carried so swiftly down the current that they must both inevitably be borne down and dashed to pieces. Persons on teh shore saw them, but were unable to do much for their rescue. At last, however, one man was saved by floating a rope to him, which he grasped. The same instant that the rope came into his hand a log floated by the other man. The thoughtless and confused bargeman instead of seizing the rope laid hold on the log. It was a fatal mistake; they were both in imminent peril, but the one was drawn to shore because he had a connection with the people on the land, whilst the other, clinging to the log, was borne irresistibly along, and never heard of afterwards.
Faith is a connection with Christ. Christ is on the shore, so to speak, holding the rope of faith, and if we lay hold of it with the hand of our confidence, he pulls us to shore; but our good works having no connection with Christ, are drifted along down the gulf of fell despair.
Spurgeon (No. 7)
Faith then, is a union with Christ. Take care you have it, for if not, cling to your works, and there you go floating down the stream. Cling to your works and you go dashing down the gulf, lost because your works have no hold on Christ and no connection with the blessed Redeemer.
Without faith it is impossible to please God because it is impossible to persevere in holiness without faith. What a multitude of fair-weather Christians we have today. Many Christian resemble the nautilus, which in fine smooth weather swims on the surface of the sea, in a splendid little squadron, like the mighty ships; but the moment the first breath of wind ruffles the waves, they take in their sales and sink into the depths. Many Christians are the same. In good company, in churches, in community groups, in their circles, they are tremendously religious; but if they are exposed to a little ridicule, if some should smile at them and call them a Methodist, or Presbyterian, or some name of reproach, it is all over with their religion until the next fine day. Then when it is fine weather, and religion will answer their purpose, up go to the sails again, and they are as pious as before. Believe me, that kind of religion is worse than irreligion. I do like a man to be-thoroughly what he is – a downright man; and if a man does not love God, do not let him say he does; but if he be a true Christian, a follower of Jesus, let him say it and stand up for it, there is nothing to be ashamed up, the only thing to be ashamed of is to be hypocritical. What will you do with your faith in times of persecution?
3 Question: Have you that faith which pleases God?
Do you have faith? Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart? If so, you may hope to be saved. Do you have faith? Shall I help you answer that question? I will give you three tests, as briefly as ever I can, not to weary you and then farewell this morning. He that has faith has renounced his own righteousness. If you put one atom of trust in yourself, you have no faith. If you place a particle of reliance upon anything else but what Christ did, you have no faith. If you have trust in your works, then your works are antichrist, and Christ and antichrist can never go together. Christ will have all or nothing; he must be a whole savior , or none at all. If then, you have faith, you can say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Then true faith may be known by this – that it begets a great esteem, for the person of Christ. Do you love Christ? Could you die for him? Do you seek to serve him? Do you love his people? Can you say, “Jesus, I love your charming name, tis music to my ear?”
If you do not love Christ, you do not believe in him, for to believe in Christ begets love. And more yet, he that has true faith will have true obedience. If a man says he has faith, and has no works, he lies; if any man declares that he believes on Christ, yet does not lead a holy life, he makes a mistake; for while we do not trust in good works, we know that faith always begets good works. Faith is the father of holiness, and he has not the parent who loves not the child. God’s blessings are blessings with both his hands In the one h and he gives you pardon; but in the other hand he always gives holiness; and no man can have one unless he has the other.
Preaching on Hebrews – PreachingToday
Historical Background & Author
Not Paul – vocabulary and style is “remarkably different” than the thirteen Epistles that bear Paul’s name. Others – Apollos, Clement, Barnabas, Luke? Highly literate Greek prose, extensive knowledge of Hebrew Bible, and Paul’s theological stamp.
Date – Written before the destruction of the temple in 70, so probably between 50 and 70.
Audience – congregation of Jewish believers who were tempted to retreat from trusting Christ alone and return to the works of the law as though they needed to supplement their faith with works.
They wrapped their lives around the observance of feasts and sacrifices, of sacred rituals and religious routines, so it must have been difficult to accept that, when they trusted Jesus as Lord, those observances no longer had a place in their lives. They received the good news of the gospel, found the free air of grace difficult to breathe and equally challenged to shed themselves of the crutches of performance and deeds.
By using the OT & logic, the author lays out the case that following Christ is an “all or nothing” proposition and that the only way to demonstrate saving faith is to persevere, trusting Jesus – to whom all the OT points alone.
If faith preserves our souls, we must know what it is, what is its object, what it looks like, what it accomplishes, and when it is rewarded. Abel is commended by God and he is murdered. Enoch is commended by God and he is translated. The commendation of God and the reward of faith, therefore, are not evidenced by what happens to us in this life.
Building Faith: Noah (11:7)
Noah illustrates how faith hears the inaudible, sees the invisible, believes the implausible, obeys the unreasonable, prevents the inevitable, faces the hostile, and accepts God’s approval.
Seeking Faith: They died not having received the things promised! (11:13-16)
Faith is both conviction, which accepts the voice of God above all other evidence, and assurance, which finds comfort in God’s promise above all other consolation.
Transcendent Faith (11:32-40)
Faith is our only hope of winning life victories that really matter. Faith is not ultimately about an outcome or a reward in this life, but about resting in Jesus who won the victory for us.
How to Keep Moving Forward (12:1-2)
With so many examples of faith to encourage us, especially Jesus, we must lay aside anything that hinders us and run the race with endurance.
Sometimes it means a body of belief – “the Christian faith holds that…” or “the Reformed faith,” or “the Catholic faith” Most often, it refers to the attitude on the part of the believer – as in the phrases “if you have faith,” and “my faith is firm.” A scholastic distinction. Faith, fides, as both the act of believing – fides qua creditur – and its contents, what is believed – fides quae creditur. In the act of believing, what is is most important is trust – turning oneself over to the one in whom one believes. In the second sense, faith involves the acceptance of what is to be believed. The two go together, for trust requires an object to be determines the nature of one’s trust. Yet, at some points and in some theological circles, the emphasis has fallen on one or the other of these two dimensions of faith.
In patristic theology, faith was usually considered within the context of the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and love, with the highest being love, as the apostle Paul had declared. Faith is only one element of Christian life, and must lead to both hope and love. Stress tends to fall on faith as assent to or acceptance of certain doctrines or beliefs – which is not to say that faith is mere intellectual assent, for the will plays a roll in it, and it is not complete without hope and love.
Luther’s experience, and his defense of justification by faith, led him to emphasize faith as trust (fiducia), and to insist that the only proper object of faith is God. Faith is not assent to a doctrine or to a system of doctrine. It is not assent to the teachings of the church or of any other authority – not even too the teachings of the Bible. Faith is trust in God and in God alone. Calvin agreed on this point and saw faith as “a firm and certain knowledge” of God’s love; but the very use of the word “knowledge” in this context shows that faith is not only a matter of the heart or of the will. Faith involves the whole person, and therefore includes the cognitive – knowing in whom one believes – and the affections, where faith is manifested in piety.
The Preacher’s Commentary
The Character of Faith—Basic Teaching for Perseverance
This chapter cannot be separated from the section just preceding. Our faith is based upon the perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is that sacrifice, completed once for all time and for all people, which opens for us a way into the very presence of God in whose presence we can come with holy boldness, free of all fear of holy retribution, utterly confident of forgiveness in the face of God. Hebrews 11:1
What was this faith?
Our author opens this faith drama with a definition that will be heralded by Christians forever. It will be mused on by those in the depths of discouragement; it will consume those with a voracious hunger for courage. Listen to the definition that will satisfy multitudes yet unborn. Hebrews 11:1
Faith is the (hupostasis ὑπόστασις,) [substance, assurance, reality]
The Greek word here gives the sense of something foundational, basic, a concrete reality upon which other things are built. Hebrews 11:1
Stasis, the root of the word, means the place, setting, a standing pillar, that upon which other stones are placed. Hebrews 11:1
The prefix hupo means “under” or “below.” Together the result signifies something solidly foundational, concrete in reality, something assured. Hebrews 11:1
Thus faith as defined by our exhorter is not an imaginary product of the mind fabricated out of its own philosophical needs or rationalistic dreams, but that which is firm, solid, of real existence. Faith is the solid certainty of that for which we hope, based upon reality and solid existence. Hebrews 11:1
He continues: “[Faith is] the evidence of things not seen.” The Greek phrase pragmatos elegchos is translated as the single word “evidence.”
Pragmato – the idea of concrete reality, something critical, of consequence, and of great importance, foundational. Elegchos – a thought or belief that has been cross-examined, questioned so as to be tested for validity or reality, brought to proof, or placed under scrutiny for possible confutation.
Faith then, is based upon that which is tested and crucial. And what is it that is unseen but is yet tested and important; is it not the power of God working through His government of all events in history, which from time to time experiences His mighty acts? This power may be unseen for awhile, perhaps, but we come to know it as ultimate and crucial, dependable, solid, foundational. Our faith does not create reality, but is based on the reality of God’s government and power. It is by this faith, turned loose in history by the faithful action of prophets and believers that God has brought the miracles to bear upon nations and their history.
All physical matter is made up of that which “does not appear.” The basic particles of matter as we perceive them today are the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up atomic nuclei. Put these into certain atomic relationships and build up enough of them in molecular structure and you have “that which is seen.” Yet separated and unassociated, these building blocks are but energy—and unseen. Our author’s statement is amazingly sophisticated in the light of contemporary understanding of physical matter. Hebrews 11:3
Our faith tells us that there is a Father and Creator Who cares after He has thrown the magnificence of the universe into its balanced structure. I would rather live in that faith than die in unbelief. Hebrews 11:3
Examples in Faith—Abel and Enoch Hebrews
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.
Abel offered to God a sacrifice more acceptable than his brother Cain. Perhaps because of blood? But the author of Hebrews seems to suggest otherwise – that it was because of faith. The factor of difference was that of heart, not sacrifice. Abel surpassed his brother in that his attitude toward God was of confidence in God’s graciousness. Cain’s attitude was of competitiveness that thought the grace had to be bought by human effort or sacrifice of a minimal offering after calculating God’s “price.”
Enoch pleased God and did not see death – as he was taken straight to God without the experience of physical death. His “walk with God’ must have been one of sensitivity to the mind of God and obedience to the mind and will of God. According to the author of Hebrews, as expressed in chapters 3 & 4, no one is going to obey God unless that person believes God knows what He is talking about – that is faith.
God has a plan for every person and His world, and anyone who is not sensitive to His will and who does not obey in faith is going to leave the will of God unfulfilled. Without faith in a God who created the world with order, without faith in a God who provides for the children of His love, without faith in a God who loves justice and hates lawlessness, without faith in a God who makes a way, the only way, into the sanctuary of his presence – without such faith it is impossible to please a God who desires and demands that we believe these things about Him. To believe anything else or to think we can do these things without His aid is to deny the very character of God and try to play His role ourselves. That is the height of arrogance! Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
8 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.
Noah, Abraham, and Sarah all exhibited obedience as a result of their faith. Moreover, all were characterized by an obedience that went beyond, or even contradicted, common sense.
This combination of faith and obedience is a reminder of the theme of chapters 3 and 4 of the epistle: “Do not harden your hearts as your fathers disobeyed by lack of belief.” Obedience rises out of the soil of faith to bear its fruit of obedience.
13 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. 16 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.
12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
Not that all of us thrill at the idea of discipline! Yet deep down, like teenagers chafing under it, we know it is absolutely necessary, and we even long for it. Hebrews 12:1
Our writer encourages those who read his exhortation to “lay aside every weight.” The Greek word for “weight” can mean body bulk, excess weight. For spiritual athletes that can be a case of too many irons in the fire, too many dissipating interests, too many branches of good things that suck the vital energy from the very best. Jesus said that God, the Vinedresser, prunes the best branches of any suckers that they may bear all the more quality fruit. The word can also mean weight in the sense of an encumbrance. Those warm-up togs now must be discarded. Protective warmth is fine for preparatory periods of spiritual growth, but there comes a time when these pleasant weights must be laid aside and we expose our bodies to whatever conditions prevail as we run the race. Hebrews 12:1
The word may also mean a spirit of overconfidence and arrogance. Many a great team with championship potential has taken the field in an attitude of haughtiness only to receive a drubbing at lesser hands. The idea that a certain contest is a “pushover, a breather, an easy day” anesthetizes a team into complacency. That is the making of an upset! When we let down our concentration on the basics of the Christian life and become distracted, we are in for a sudden and shocking surprise. Many a great saint has been caught off guard by a sloppy attitude toward relationships, disciplines of preparation, or commitment to excellence, only to find the situation lost and the opportunity gone. Hebrews 12:1
The writer to the Hebrews says “lay aside” (apothemenoi) such weights; they have no place for the Christian disciple who wants to compete in the race that Jesus has laid out for him. Christ’s demand and design will require everything we have in ourselves and much more. There cannot be any extra weight. In order to “win,” every ounce of human and divine energy must be directed to the race. Anything less will cause us to fall behind the intentions and designs of our God. In a day like this, where the world teeters on a fine edge of tragedy, we must be all we can be for the purpose of salvation and ministry. Anything less will be a burial of our talents in the soil of dissipation and indulgence. One day when our Master returns, we will all give an accounting. May that be a glorious day for all involved! “Well done, good and faithful athlete!” Hebrews 12:1
We are also told to lay aside the “sin which so easily ensnares us.” Runners are careful to wear no clothing that fits too tightly or binds the movement. Just so, we spiritual athletes are to have no habits that hamper movement, no dissipations that ensnare us so easily. The Greek word here (euperistatos) is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Neither is it found in the LXX nor in the classical writers. Perhaps our author is coining a word for his own intentions. Its meaning is somewhat questionable. (1) It may mean “easy to be put off” (Chrysostom). This does not fit with the passage, however. (2) It may stand for “well-befriended” or “popularly supported.” This could well be the meaning. Many friends encourage us to keep on with things that really hamper our effectiveness as Christians. The encouragement to keep certain things that are actually weights detrimental to spiritual athletics is their acceptability in the culture which we as God’s people too often accept. Affluent life styles in the midst of a world of hunger and poverty often leave us falling short of the witness we should be making, losing the race to other ideologies that are willing, at least in promises, to pay the price. We fail to show the world the redeeming and caring life modeled by our Master because we carry the weight of honestly believing that we deserve our affluence, or that it is quite all right for Christians to live this way. After all, don’t most of our friends? In comparison to an affluence-oriented society, we don’t come off so badly. Hebrews 12:1
(3) The third meaning, “easily besetting,” comes clear when we break euperistaton into its components: eu, “easily”; peri, “around, about”; staton, “standing position.” “Easily surrounded”—how quickly some actions or habits become addictive. They come so easily, establish themselves so tenaciously but effortlessly. Oh, the power needed to divest ourselves of their clinging tendency! This too could well be the meaning of the author. Hebrews 12:1
2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. Hebrews 12:2
For the Christian disciple there is only one way to run this race successfully and that is to look to Jesus, whom our author describes first as “author” (arche¯gon) and then as “finisher” (teleio¯te¯n) of our faith. Arche¯gos can mean founder, leader, or pioneer, a prince or ruler. The meaning here is that of founder, the first, even the designer of this race. As a leader or pioneer, Jesus is meant to be followed. He is not the one and only, but the first of many. He has set the course and we are to follow hard after Him. Hebrews 12:2
He is also the first one to finish the race, the perfecter in terms of having completed it. The word teleio¯te¯s is used nowhere else in the New Testament, the LXX, or the classical writers. Again, is our author coining a usage? If so, it is one more indication of this creative and facile mind, which we made mention of in the Introduction. Jesus not only designed the race, but He was the first to complete it and break the tape. Hebrews 12:2
Second, He claimed that His own life was the essential base for life itself. The Father had given Him life, and now He had the authority to give it to whomever He willed (John 4:13–14; 5:26–27). He described Himself as the Vine and the believer as the branch. There was no way the branch could live or bear fruit except by abiding in the Vine (John 15:1–8). The only way we as disciples can hope to run and complete that race is to abide in the Vine even as Christ abided in His Father. Hebrews 12:2
Why did Jesus run this race of servanthood and suffering? His motivation for this great effort was the joy that was set before Him, out in the future. Jesus too was a futurist. He could see beyond the immediate suffering and cost to a future of redemptive blessing for all humanity. In His inmost soul He knew He was the fulfillment of the ancient covenants of God. Hebrews 12:2
As we stand against the same sort of laws and idols, we too can expect hostility from idolators. The author hopes that this realization will ward off the weariness of the struggle, that they the readers, and we also, will be able to ward off not only the growing weariness but the progressive discouragement. The Greek word used here for “discouragement” also means to unstring a bow, relax, or let down. We might paraphrase that in modern idiom and say that we should not unstring our bows, call it quits, or give up the battle. Hebrews 12:2
2 Corinthians 5:7 (CSB) 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.
In popular culture this verse serves as comfort in response to inexplicable circumstances, such as a disaster or the sudden death of a loved one. The verse must be read in context to gain a true sense of what Paul intended with this statement.