Sometimes I get into conversations with Christians where I can only assume that they have the idea that Faith is the bit at the beginning of a Christian’s spiritual journey (when the seeker “asks Jesus into his life” in “a moment of faith”) and that the stuff that is talked about in Hebrews 11 is something extra.
In fact, in some Bibles, that chapter is even subtitled “The Honor-Roll of Faith” or “God’s heroes of Faith” as if these guys are super-special and that their faith was extraordinary.
Well, perhaps it was! But it is important to also acknowledge that faith is a life-principle. It’s on-going. The whole point, as I understand it, of Hebrews 11, is to give examples of what that life of faith looks like.
Here’s a few examples of how faith is lived out: Noah trusts God and builds an ark for the salvation of his household. Second, Abraham trusts God and leaves his homeland for an unknown place of promise. Third, Abraham trusts God and lives in tents instead of building a city with permanent foundations. Fourth, Sarah trusts God and conceives when she is barren and past the age of childbearing.
If faith is a life-principle, then it is always looking forward. Sure, it starts from what God has done and said in the past, but it is the active orientation of life towards the fulfilment of his promises in the future. It draws strength from the past: “Great is your faithfulness…All I have needed your hand has provided.”
But faith is predominantly a life-principle, pushing forward into what God WILL do in our future. Hebrews 11 is for us, ordinary followers of Jesus.
God’s promises form the object of our faith. We trust God, that what he says will in fact happen. He will do it.
- Verse 7 says Noah was “warned by God about things not yet seen,” namely, the flood that was coming.
- Verse 8 says that Abraham was “called” by God to leave home.
- Verse 9b says that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were fellow-heirs of a “promise” – so God had made a promise about the land.
- Finally, verse 11b says that Sarah regarded him faithful “who had promised.”
God had promised. So in every case the life of faith is sustained by what God had spoken. And he is always faithful to his word.
The Bible is just filled with those promises.
He has said, “I will supply all your needs according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
”I will pursue you with goodness and mercy” (Psalm 23:6).
”I will never leave you or forsake you so that you can say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
”If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit ” (John 15:5).
”Wait on me and you will renew your strength; you will mount up with wings like eagles, you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
“I will give you words that you need to speak” (Luke 12:12).
”I will give you wisdom for every new challenge” ( James 1:5).
“I will be with you and strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).
”I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
So how do we respond? According to Hebrews 11, there’s an inner and an outer response.
- Verse 7 says that Noah was “reverent” in his preparation of the Ark. There’s an interesting choice of word, isn’t it?
- Verse 8b describes Abraham’s faith as “not knowing where he is going” when he set out. We have a destination and an internal Sat-Nav… but many times the details of the journey are unclear! Part of the inner response in a life of faith is trusting through that uncertainty, that God has it in hand.
- Verse 10a says that the reason Abraham lived in tents instead of building a city was that “he was looking for the city . . . whose architect and builder is God.” Faith focuses not on present reward and prosperity, but on God and what he has promised to do.
- Then finally, verse 11b says that Sarah “considered him faithful who had promised.” Again God is the focus. The inner life of faith is a focus on God as faithful.
So my ongoing life of faith means a sort of reverence as I work with the plans of God; a journey whose future direction is only nourished by a sense of calling. I don’t know the details, only the direction. It means I lift my eyes to a city whose builder and maker is God. In the words of the old hymn: “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriend thee.“ And finally, with Sarah, I simply cannot worry about the opresent conditions, but consider him faithful who has promised.
It’s all about God and his call on my life.
But faith translates into action, right? “Faith without works is dead“!
And so Noah built his Ark.( Imagine the ridicule).
And so Abraham left home and security, and lived the life of a wanderer, because he believed in God’s action and God’s timing in his life.
And, presumably, Sarah bought some Pampers?
Faith changes the way you live: it doesn’t make sense without God. But with God, this way of living is utterly reasonable.
And yet, all this was future-based. They never saw the final explanation of what they were doing! It’s like living in an Agatha Christie novel and never arriving at the last chapter!
Now their lives of faith did experience present blessing: Noah and his family were saved; Abraham became very rich in the land and Sarah had her baby. But Noah was only called an “heir” of righteousness (v7); Abraham could only dream of the “city whose architect and builder is God” (v10); and “the countless seed” of Sarah lay well ahead in an unknown future.
There is always much to come.
But faith is a life-principle. It is simply the way we live and trust and look to God. “Give us today our daily bread” is truly a statement of trust in the ongoing provision of a loving God. God has brought me safe thus far AND God will guide me home.
He is good.