“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
That’s William Faulkner. He makes the point here which is fundamental to an understanding of Hebrews 11.
In v6 comes the powerful principle that “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
So what is the faith that pleases God? What does that lifestyle look like? That’s the background to the whole chapter and its parade of people who did just that, living the kind of life that won God’s approval.
But before the writer commends the people of long ago for their faith-lifestyles, he commends the people of his own day. Look back to the end of the previous chapter (10:32-35) and you’ll see what I mean:
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”
The writer is encouraging his people to stand tough, to persevere under pressure and not give in. He makes the comparison between what they presently experience and what they will later receive. But you cannot swim for those new horizons of reward until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.
And that’s faith. Faith to risk the present trouble that you can see because of the future glory that you can’t. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
So where does this premise come from that “without faith it is impossible to please God“? What’s the basis for that claim?
He gives his answer in the last part of verse 6. First he makes the claim: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God].” Then he gives the underlying reason: You can’t please God without faith, “For (= because) he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Because of this, only by faith can we please God.
There are two parts to faith in this verse which show why it pleases God. First, he says that faith believes that God exists. Second, he says that faith believes that God is the rewarder of those who seek him. Because faith is these two things: it pleases God.
He is Real and He is a Rewarder
Behind these two assertions about God are two great facts:
The first is found in the very first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning, God…” He just is. He is not becoming or growing or changing. He said, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Therefore, he is pleased when this absolute existence is known and embraced. He is pleased when he is known as the God of the now.
Second, behind the assertion that God is rewarding is the fact that God is so full and so completely self-sufficient that he overflows. He is a good, good Father who loves to give good gifts. Therefore it pleases God when we come to him in a way that affirms this and delights in it – when we come to him as a Rewarder.
Now the writer of Hebrews simply asserts that this is what faith does: faith comes to God with the confidence that he is, and faith comes with the confidence that God will be a generous Giver.
Faith Depends on What God is Like, not on What we are Like
Which brings us back to verse 1. Notice how the two parts of verse 6 correspond to the two parts of verse 1. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That’s verse 1. The “conviction of things not seen” corresponds to faith’s belief that God exists (verse 6a). And the “assurance of things hoped for” corresponds to faith’s belief that God is the rewarder of those who seek him (verse 6b). Faith has at least these two components: one is the conviction that there is a great unseen God who exists absolutely and does not depend on us in the least. And the other is the assurance that this great unseen God is a God of love and bounty and free and sovereign grace for all who seek him in truth.
I began by saying that faith is risky. If you want to go for those unseen horizons you have to swim past your comfort zone. And there’s no going back. And where you presently are, it’s easy to become fearful and anxious. But that’s just our side of things.
What we have seen in Hebrews now is that the nature of faith and the vitality of faith is rooted in what God is like, not what we are like. You don’t find out what Christian faith is by consulting your own emotions and needs. You find out by consulting the nature of God. As Bill Johnson said: “Intimacy with God is your source of strength.”
The more you know what God is like, the more conformed to his greatness will be your faith. You will be more and more assured of things hoped for and more and more convinced of things unseen.
And on that faith God moves.