Friday, June 1, 2018
What is Faith? (Hebrews 11:1-12,17-19) by Grant Kay
Faith is a word that we use a lot as Christians. We are part of the Christian faith. We are told that we are saved by faith in Jesus. The bible tells us that God is faithful to us. And the author of Hebrews in chapter 11 tells us that all the great heroes of the Old Testament lived and worked “by faith.” Clearly, faith is an incredibly important part of our lives. Which makes it all the more surprising, then, that we often have a very murky idea of what faith actually means!
It seems to me, based on conversations I’ve had with many people, that most Christians today assume that faith is essentially the same concept as belief. Having faith in God means believing that he exists and that what the Bible says about him his true. This is not wrong, but it is incomplete. If faith and belief are the same thing, then why not just use the word belief? James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Clearly faith means more than simply believing certain things. Since we believe that it is faith alone that saves us, we had better be sure we know what faith is! Fortunately, the author of Hebrews gives us some clues as to the full meaning of faith. Faith includes three major elements: belief, trust, and loyalty.
Let’s start with the basics: First, faith does in fact include belief, which is what we most often think of when we think about faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Assurance and conviction are powerful words. They speak of a belief that seems close to knowing rather than believing. Yet we are also told that this is assurance of things that are hoped for, conviction of things we have not seen. Faith isn’t knowing something without any doubts. Doubt is inherently part of faith, because we are dealing with things that we have never seen and cannot see. Rather than pure conviction or knowledge, faith is believing despite the doubts, not without any doubts.
Verses 5-6 tell us, “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. And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” These verses tell us what living with true, faithful belief looks like. When we believe, we have hope, and we live with that hope in mind. Hope protects us from despair and defeat. When we live with believing hope, we live as if Jesus really matters, that what he said and did was true and right, and that means that the promise of eternal life is true and available to us.
So the first aspect of faith is belief, which leads to a life of hopeful living. This leads nicely to the second part of faith, which is trust. Trust is closely connected to belief. In essence, trusting someone means believing that they will do what they say. But it also includes a sense of safety. If someone is entrusted with something, it means that they are tasked with keeping it safe. So when I have faith in God, it not only means I believe in God, but that I offer God my life for safekeeping. I trust God to protect me, to care for me, and to do what he said he would do.
Let’s look again to Hebrews 11 to see what this means. The first example of faith the author gives us is Abel, in verse 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.” What was it that made Abel’s offering more acceptable than Cain’s? In order to understand this, we have to go back to Genesis 4 and see that Abel offered to God the best, fattest sheep from his flock; while Cain offered fruit he’d picked up off the ground after it had fallen off the trees.
Cain offered something he could do without. Those fruits probably meant very little to him. Abel, on the other hand, offered the very best he had. Not only was this a sign of respect to God, but it would be very costly to Abel. He could have sold that sheep for a great price, or used it to breed a better, stronger flock, or otherwise. But Abel trusted God to provide, even as he sacrificed the most valuable thing he had. When Hebrews tells us that Abel had faith, it is not only belief but also a deep trust in God.
Noah is another example of trust. Verse 7 tell us, “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.” Noah trusted that God would protect him and his family. He trusted that God would do what he said he would do. Noah endured ridicule from the people around him, and he endured the harrowing 40 days of the flood, because he entrusted his life to God.
What does a life with this trusting faith look like? It is a life without fear, a life of peace. To trust in God means that there is nothing to feat, because you are in God’s hands. We can do things that other people cannot or will not do, because if we are seeking after God then whatever happens to us is God’s will. Now, this trust is not an invitation to stop caring about our lives, or taking care of ourselves, but it is an invitation to stop worrying about the things we cannot control. And when we let go of that worry and fear, we will be able to truly love one another. It is hard to love other people when you are afraid of them. But faithful trust allows us to see every person as someone that God loves, rather than someone who might do us harm.
So far we have covered two aspects of faith. Faith is belief, which leads to a life of hope. Faith is trust, which leads to a life without fear. Finally, faith includes loyalty. When we say that someone is faithful to their husband or wife, we do not mean that they believe in their spouse, or that they trust their spouse, though those things are part of it. Instead we mean that they are loyal, that they have not cheated on them. A faithful person sticks by you, even when things are bad.
This is what the Bible means when it says that God is faithful. God sticks by his people, no matter what. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” God never abandoned the people of
, even though they were
unfaithful to God and abandoned him over and over again. God promises to be
loyal to His people, and asks us to be loyal in return. Israel
Thus the final part of our faith is loyalty to God. The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac demonstrates loyalty to the utmost. Hebrews 11:17-19 says, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. HE who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.’ He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham was willing to sacrifice the child of promise, the one that God had told him would make a great nation, in order to remain faithful to God.
This demonstrates what it means for us to have this loyal faith. Loyal faith is shown by a life of obedience to God. If we are truly loyal to God, if we are a ride-or-die part of God’s team, then we will obey what God has told us to do. This is an important part of the life of faith that I think many people misinterpret. Why do we do what God says in the Bible? Whey don’t we just live any way we want to? The answer is not because we are scared of going to hell if we disobey, or at least that should not be the answer. The Apostle Paul tells us over and over again in his letters that those who of us who have faith no longer need to worry about punishment from God! So why don’t we just live however we please?
The answer is that we do live the way we want to, because what we want is to be close to God! When we are honest even when it would be easy to lie, or when we wait until marriage for sex, or we forgive someone even though we would rather hate them, we do these things because we believe they are pleasing to God, they are what he wants for us. This is one of the biggest ways we demonstrate loyalty to God. We are called to obey God’s will, even when it contradicts the world around us, or our natural impulses. And as we grow in faith, we will grow in joy as we obey God’s commands, because what God wants will become what we want.
So many Christians silently ask themselves: how do I know I’m really saved? It seems to be one of the most common doubts we face today. Scripture tells us that we are saved by the grace of God, through faith. Now we know that faith is not simply belief: it is belief, trust, and loyalty. So if you are one of those people, silently wondering how to know if you are saved, I offer you the following suggestion. Does your life look like the life of faith I’ve just described? Do you live as though what Jesus Christ said and did were true, or do you feel unsure about the future? Do you trust God to take care of you, or do you live with a lot of fear and worry? Do you obey God with joy, or do you ignore God’s commands, or obey only out of fear of hell?
Truthfully, none of us lives this life of faith perfectly. Doubts overwhelm all of us at times. We all give in to fear and worry on occasion. Sadly, we all turn away from obedience to God sometimes in order to chase after other things. Yet a true faith is one that is growing. You might not be perfectly hopeful, peaceful, or obedient, but if you are seeking God then God will grow those qualities in you over time. Remember that even when we are unfaithful, God is faithful to us. He will not leave you or forsake you through the long journey of faith, even when you take a detour. The journey of faith may be long, but the best place to start is knowing that God’s grace allows us to believe in him, trust in him, and be loyal to him.