As we enter 2021 we are going to need faith, faith to believe that God will do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!
There have been many discussions regarding faith but before we get to faith itself let’s just bust a few myths. Faith is not trusting in something for which there are no facts or as some have said ‘a leap in the dark.’
Faith does not laugh at knowledge or reason, it is not putting your trust in someone you don’t know anything about. It is not superstition or mental power or wishful thinking. It’s not manipulation where faith gets you to persuade God to do certain things.
Faith gives us good grounds and confidence on which we can wholly trust. It is a justified trusting in something or someone. That is to say that there are solid facts that make our faith both wise and reasonable.
When we look at Hebrews 11 and 12 we see that those mentioned are not super human Christians, but people like you and I who were actually under great pressure for their faith. The writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers on several occasions, (and therefore us too ), that they are going to need to endure and persevere. He urges them not to be sluggish or lazy. Hardly the dynamic language for exploits of faith.
The men and women to whom the book of Hebrews is written were looking back at the the ways of people like; Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David (the very people of whom Hebrews 11 speaks). So what does our author do? He describes these Old Testament people as those who, lived in daily confidence and faith in the promise of God that something better was coming. They lived in confident faith and expectation of the coming of a Saviour, the very same Saviour of whom these first-century believers were being tempted to walk away from!
The writer knows that these early first century believers had suffered greatly. He realises that looking back to the safe haven of Old Testament Judaism felt appealing but then he reminds them that the very people whom they admired the most, those greats of the Old Covenant, were themselves living every day in a faithful expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promises and the coming of the Messiah, the very one they are thinking of abandoning! So rather, his exhortation to these early believers is to look to the example set by these Old Testament characters and to hold fast to their confidence in Christ no matter what happens.
That is the sort, or kind, of people that we too must become. People in whose hearts Jesus is known and experienced as being so much better. The point is that we also must be willing to suffer whatever may come and to do so with endurance and perseverance by faith in all that God has promised to be for us in Him. That’s what chapter 11 is designed to accomplish in our lives. It is meant to solidify and intensify our confidence in God’s word and His ability.
Hebrews 11 has two parts. Firstly, in verses 1-3 we find a description or definition of faith. Secondly, in the remaining verses of the chapter, verses 4-40, we read about a variety of men and women who displayed faith and confidence in the promises of God.
What is faith? (verses 1-3)
There are so many translations of these verses. The King James Version says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The NIV says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for.” According to the Phillips translation it says, “Faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for.” The ESV uses the words “assurance” and “conviction.”
What does it mean then when it says that faith is the “substance” and “evidence” of the things for which we hope for, the things we have not yet seen? I think it means that genuine faith is more than merely a subjective confidence about what will happen in the future. It is that, but faith is also the internal assurance we experience that what is hoped for will, in fact, come to pass. Faith is our reliance on God to do what he has said he will do even when present circumstances suggest otherwise.
Let’s repeat that. Faith is our reliance on God to do what he has said he will do even when present circumstances suggest otherwise. Faith gives to our future inheritance a present reality and power, as if it is already possessed. What God has said He will do. Now live accordingly.
Faith doesn’t create what we hope for, that would be mind games. Faith is an apprehending of what God promises. Faith does not just feel confident that this is coming some day at sometime. Faith has laid hold of, and perceived, that it is real, tangible. This means that faith has the substance or the nature of what is hoped for in it. Faith rests in the fact that the promise is a kind of substantial down payment of the reality that is coming.
So, for example, no one was present when the only thing that existed was God. We didn’t bear witness to and hear Him speak the universe into being, but the very nature of creation itself testifies to the existence of its Creator. We see the fingerprints of God all over the material world.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20
The point the apostle Paul is making is that, the “evidence” that God created the World out of nothing by the Word of His power is in the things made. The stuff of our material world points to a Sovereign Creator. So faith is the spiritual seeing or perceiving of God’s powerful creative presence in the things he made. It’s seeing and believing what God has said and can do.
The author of the book of Hebrews then gives us a few examples of this sort of “faith” in the particular experience of three men who lived before the flood Abel, Enoch and Noah.
One word of caution: don’t ever think of these people as extraordinary or perhaps spiritual super heroes of some sort whose lives are so beyond ours in terms of obedience, love and faith that all we can do is admire them from a distance. Maybe we just think we are incapable of such exploits. No these were also flawed followers of God.
What we are reading in Hebrews 11 is what God expects from us all. Let’s get this into our heads and hearts, this is ordinary Christian living. You and I, regardless of how much we may struggle, can live in the power of this sort of faith no less so than they did. God has made sufficient provision of His power that whatever is required to walk “with him” by faith is available for the taking.
Let’s remember that it says in verse 6 that faith pleases God. Why is this so? Part of the answer has to be because faith looks away from self to God. Faith is an act of moving away from self reliance and a declaration that our hope and confidence is in God. Faith puts no trust in ourselves or any other man but in God alone. It declares that; He is enough, He is sufficient, He is able. And it pleases God when he sees his children living this way. So don’t ever think that just obeying the commands of Scripture pleases God. External conformity without faith, does not please him. Only obedience that is fuelled and energised and sustained by loving confidence and trust in God brings pleasure to our heavenly Father. Having said that “without faith it is impossible to please God” in none of the first three stories noted above is faith ever mentioned. What! explain that?
It says Abel, Enoch, and Noah pleased God. That is how we know they had great faith. There are two things in particular that please God when we have faith in him. Firstly our belief that he exists and secondly that he rewards those who “earnestly” seek him (vs 6). In other words, God is pleased when we believe that he is real and that he is a rewarder. God is real and God exists. He exists absolutely and independently of anything or anyone else. The source of His life is within himself, and He exists eternally. He loves it, He likes it, that is to say, He is pleased when you and I demonstrate and reflect in the way that we live that we have a robust confidence that He is. But He also loves it when we live in such a way that it draws attention to the fact that God rewards those who seek him (vs 6). To please God you must believe that no one seeks Him in vain! He is merciful, gracious and giving to all who come to Him. Thus, God not only exists, He exists as the only being who is self-sufficient and abundant and overflowing with good things. He doesn’t need us, as if, without us, he would be deficient or in some way lacking if we withdrew our obedience and praise. God exists to bless us and to give to us all we need. God is pleased when our seeking of him and our serving him reflects the truth that He is the Giver and we are the getters.
Do you see how this should affect your attitude toward worship on a Sunday morning, as well as the way you listen when God’s Word is preached and applied? You must come to God hungry for him, seeking the reward that he offers to those who trust him, and that reward is himself! God is the all-satisfying treasure we seek.
Back to those three men of faith
(1) Abel was the second son of Adam and Eve. Their first-born son was Cain. It was because of his “faith” that the sacrifice Abel offered to God was deemed “more acceptable” than the one offered by Cain. Abel wasn’t approved of because of the nature of his offering but rather, his offering was approved and deemed acceptable to God because of the manner by which it was made. Abel offered it in faith and not in some vain attempt to earn God’s favour. But how does Abel “still speak” to us today? I think the writer means that, Abel’s example of, faith in the God who exists and rewards those who seek him, continues to speak to us of how one pleases God; by believing him, by trusting his promises, by investing all one’s confidence in God alone.
(2) Enoch was the seventh generation after Adam. He had numerous brothers and sisters (Genesis 5) but none of them experienced the blessing of being taken into the presence of God without having first to die physically. By the way, Enoch was the father of Methuselah, the guy who lived to the huge old age of 969. Of Enoch it says, “he walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
It’s fascinating to read Genesis 5 where Moses lists for us what he calls “the book of the generations of Adam.” After each person named, the verse closes with the cold statement, “and he died.” In the six generations preceding Enoch we read the same statement, “and he died.” Then we come to Enoch and read this: “When Enoch had lived 65 years he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:21-24).
But there is nothing about Enoch that says anything about his faith. So his faith was because he “walked with God.” That’s what faith is; sharing our lives with God, speaking with God, loving God, God being present to encourage and love and enjoy, living each moment and making each decision as if God were immediately and tangibly present. That’s faith! And that is why Enoch pleased God. Faith is never explicitly mentioned in the OT passages that describe them. Rather, he sees faith in their lives not because the word itself is mentioned but because these men pleased God, and there is no other way to please God than through faith!
(3) Noah, It was in his building of the Ark that Noah’s faith was seen. We know this not because the word “faith” is mentioned in the story of Noah. We know it because Noah’s obedience pleased God and the text verses tell us that you can’t please God without faith.
What Noah undertook must have appeared utterly stupid and senseless to his neighbours. They all lived inland. It’s entirely possible that none of them had ever seen anything resembling a flood or a ship! But that didn’t matter to Noah. God had spoken and he believed His promise.
We stand on the edge of a new year and like last year we do not know what it will bring. Some of you are battling a crisis in your faith right now. You don’t know what to believe. You don’t know whom to believe. You don’t know how to believe. Your faith is weak and faltering and on the verge of failing. What are you to do?
Remember Paul’s words, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Listen to the words of Christ. If you need more faith, the solution is to see more of Christ, to hear more of Christ. Get to know Him.
This is what God wants you to believe and trust:
That Jesus Christ really is better (not just better than the OT hero’s but better than everything in our society with all its promises of pleasure, wealth, power and fame).
That everything God is for us in Jesus is enough. You don’t need to supplement your faith with worldly pleasures and props.
That God will never leave you or forsake you, no matter how painful and confusing your present circumstances may be.
That no trial or trouble or setback can thwart God’s determination to conform you into the image of His Son.
That every promise about your eternal future is more rock solid than Gibraltar.
That no matter what 2021 may hold for you, God has your life safely in His hands and you can trust Him to do with it what is best for you and for His glory.
So, how do you and I “walk with God” like Abel, Enoch and Noah and please Him “by faith”?
May 2021 be the beginning of your determination: to live “by faith” that no one is beyond hope, not even your spouse.
It may be that you’re stuck in a job you dislike; one that is unfulfilling and demanding, one that pays you less than you are worth and in which your boss is horrible. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” and that you will come to appreciate the value of your efforts no matter how critical or negative your boss may be. To live “by faith” that at least for the moment God has you right where He wants you.
It may be that money is really tight right now, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of immediate or even long term relief. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” that God will honour His word to you as stated by Jesus, that, if you will seek first God and His kingdom all these basics of life will be added to you.
It may be that your health is bad and getting worse or more painful and more unmanageable each day. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” that God is the one who “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). That also “by faith” you come to understand that His “power is made perfect in your weakness.”
It may be that you are more lonely now than you’ve ever been and sometimes it feels like more than you can endure. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” that your dearest and closest friend is Christ and to know that He will never leave you or forsake you.
It may be that you are enslaved to some sinful addiction from which you can’t seem to break free. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” that if you will cry out to God for strength and humbly submit to his Lordship and make yourself accountable to people who also love you, He will set you free.
It may be that the church is looking shabby around the edges, diminished, wounded and on its last legs. May 2021 be the beginning of your determination to live “by faith” believing that God will build this church and that this church will display the manifest wisdom of God.
Let 2021 be our year of faith and the rewards that come with faith.