The Nature of Faith
“The Nature of Faith”
Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
- Please open your Bibles to Hebrews Chapter 11.
We are preaching our way verse-by-verse through the Book of Hebrews and are in a section of the letter where the writer calls for endurance. We read where he said that Christians need to endure or perverse. Verse 36 of chapter 10: “For you have need of endurance (10:36), so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise,” the promises of God to believers, culminating in our glorious inheritance in heaven.
True believers, true Christians, are those who go on believing in Jesus not just having made a single decision for Christ in the past, but believing every day, going on in faith through difficulties, persecutions and hardships, believing “to the saving of the soul” as the writer puts it in the last phrase of the last verse of chapter 10.
So we talked last week about thinking forward, enduring, persevering, by looking forward to the promises of God, knowing that we have a better and an enduring possession for ourselves in heaven. It is thinking forward that gets us through persecution, gives us the right perspective, and grants us what God has promised.
The writer’s encouragement to us to endure reaches a pinnacle in the key verses of the book, Hebrews 12:1-2: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” In fact, if you look at the last verses of chapter 10 and the first couple verses there in chapter 12 you see the continuity of this teaching about endurance, about thinking forward in the midst of persecution, hardships, and difficulties.
And right in the middle of that exhortation is what many refer to as the great roll call of faith, or the hall of faith, a number of examples in chapter 11 of believers in the Old Testament who endured, those who were blessed to “think forward,” living by faith as they looked ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises. They lived by faith. What is faith? What is the nature of faith? We’re going to talk about that this morning.
- Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 Now faith is the substance (or realization) of things hoped for, the evidence (or confidence) of things not seen.
2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds (or ages) were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
- Pray: “Help us understand the nature of faith that we may endure.”
These opening verses of Chapter 11 describe for us the nature of faith, what it is, what it does, what it knows. This is helpful to us because of so many incorrect notions of faith. Ask someone to define faith and you’re likely to get a definition that does not accord with what the Bible teaches.
The secular literary world and pop culture define faith in ways that are incongruous with Scripture. For example:
Samuel Clemens, writing under the pseudonym Mark Twain wrote, “Faith is believing something that you know ain’t so.”
Another says, “Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove.”
In the Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” the lawyer defending Kris Kringle builds his defense on faith, arguing that “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”
So many think of faith as something you have in spite of the evidence. Or faith is a view you hold in spite of evidence to the contrary. And the idea is that if you just somehow “really believe,” hoping against hope, that everything will work out—a kind of finger-crossing, nail-biting, leap in the dark jumping “positive thinking” when the evidence is against us. “Just be positive! Have faith!”
I read about a father who was talking to his son, his son was doing poorly in school. The boy said to his father, he said: “Dad, I think I’m going to fail this math test.” His dad said, “Now son, that’s not thinking positively. You need to think positively.” His son said, “Okay, I’m positive I’m going to fail!”
Faith is not merely positive thinking, nor is faith merely a subjective experience, an inward direction. Faith is primarily objective, upward and outward. One of the best little books on faith is Francis Schaeffer’s book, The God Who is There.
In the book Schaeffer addresses this wrong notion of faith, its being merely subjective, where people simply “have faith in faith.” Listen to this. He writes:
Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern [thinking] is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there. Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward.
In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.—Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (Downers Grove: IVP, 1968. pp. 84-85).
Like Francis Schaeffer, I believe that not only the Christian faith is objective, but that it provides the only rational worldview.
So we don’t want to rush right into this chapter on faith without slowing down and thinking about these opening verses on the nature of faith. We cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding faith in the Christian life. The Bible talks about faith over 240 times in the New Testament. 240 times! That fact alone should give us pause as we consider the nature of faith.
The writer will say in verse 6 that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).” Now that’s pretty important, isn’t it? Without faith it is impossible to please God. So lest we think that defining faith is merely an academic exercise with no practical benefit, let’s think again. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
You may please others by being what you think is a good person, morally upright, fair, honest, just in all your dealings. Like the scout motto: “…I will do my best to do my duty to God an my country…to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” That’s all well and good, but if you don’t please God you’re in a heap of trouble, aren’t you? Without faith it is impossible to please God. And if you displease God it really doesn’t matter who else you please, right?
So we better understand what faith is, the nature of faith, how it works, what it does. Three things in these three verses. First:
- Faith Defined (1)
1 Now faith is the substance (or realization) of things hoped for, the evidence (or confidence) of things not seen.
The first part of this definition explains that faith is substantive. Faith is the substance of something. It is concrete. It is the “stuff” of “things hoped for” or things, we believe will happen because God has said so.
So put another way—second part of the definition—faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” There is something substantive and real, evidently really, about the things we believe. There is an object about them. They are there. They are simply not seen with the physical eye.
They are seen, however, by what we may call “the spiritual eye.” Faith is the spiritual eye. Faith is what allows believers to see that which is unseen. We’ll read about Moses, for example, later in verse 27 who, last part of verse 27, “who endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” Faith is the inward eye, the spiritual eye that God gives to us as a gift that we may see. That’s why we often describe salvation as a state in which: “I was blind, but now I see.”
But what we see is not the product of our own imaginary wishful thinking. What we see by faith is that which God has said will be. We don’t see it yet with our physical eyes, but one day we will. It will transpire. It will come to pass. God will bring it about.
Faith is apprehending or taking hold of that which is unseen.
A helpful parallel to Hebrews 11 is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Don’t turn, but listen to this:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
And the writer in verse 2, mentions the Old Testament believers, using them as an illustration of those who lived by faith, looking at the things with are not seen. His purpose in doing this is to teach believers today that we are to live this same way, to believe the same way, by faith. So we move from faith defined, number one to, secondly:
- Faith Demonstrated (2)
Verse 2 is a summary verse of most of the chapter:
2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
The elders are understood here not as an office in the church, but in regard to age, the older believers. We know that because of context, because verses 4 through 38 describe those elders in detail, Old Testament believers like Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and so on. The record of their faith is found in verses 4-38, verses we’ll be studying in the weeks to come.
The writer says in verse 2: “For by it (by faith) the elders (the old time believers in the Old Testament) obtained a good testimony. In other words, we look at their faith and say, “That’s really good.” A good testimony. They are commended for their faith.
Mercifully, the writer does not remind us of all of their failings! Let’s remember that anytime we’re tempted to think of these men and women as spiritual super heroes. Even the best of men is a man at best. And every man is a sinner.
So the writer doesn’t say, “Look to Noah as the perfect example,” Noah—who shortly after exiting the ark gets drunk, passes out and is found naked by his sons (Genesis 9:20-27). Not the best example, right?!
The writer doesn’t say, “Look to Abraham as the paragon of holiness,” Abraham—who told lies more than once, lied outright about the identity of his wife and made her lie, as well (Genesis 12:1-20).
Speaking of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, she’s also mentioned favorably in Chapter 11. But just the good stuff. The writer doesn’t lift up Sarah as the superior, virtuous woman. Not only was she a liar with her husband, but like her husband she too initially laughed when told she would bear a son in her old age. When the Lord called her out on it, she lied to Him and said she didn’t laugh! (Genesis 17:17-21; Genesis 18:11–15).
Let’s remember not to place these so-called “heroes of the faith” up high upon an exalted platform and bow before them as the perfect exemplars of godly living. They are common sinners; common sinners just like you and me.
At the same time, however, they did some things well. And when they did things well, that’s when we follow their example. So it’s not the writer’s point to lift up these men and women as perfect examples, nor even as ideal men and women of God. Rather, he wants us to learn from the times they exercised true, God-honoring, biblical faith.
Look to them as an example of what faith looks like when it is exercised rightly. Look to them when they’re doing it right. Because when you look to them when they’re doing it right, exercising biblical faith, you’ll find there’s a whole host of them, a great cloud of them, and they surround us like a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), their examples are an encouragement to us as we endeavor to “think forward” with our eyes on Jesus, captivated by Christ.
Faith defined (an explanation), faith demonstrated (an illustration). Thirdly:
- Faith Displayed (3)
In verse 3 we have an application of faith. The writer shows us how faith is displayed, how faith works in our everyday world. And he does so by telling us what we know about the world by faith. Verse 3:
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
“The worlds” refers to all the physical stuff in space and time. By faith we understand that God spoke and called everything into existence. “So that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”
Nothing that you see was made by equally visible stuff. The material world that you see, none of the material things you see was made from equally visible material things.
Rather, everything was made by God’s Word. God spoke and things appeared.
Psalm 33:6, By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”
Psalm 33:9, For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast.”
Genesis 1:3, Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
And God brought into being stuff from nothing. This is the teaching of the familiar Latin phrase: creatio ex nihilo (Cree AH tee oh, ex NEE heh loh) or creation out of nothing. God created all things, everything you see, He created out of nothing.
I like the way the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 4 where he refers to God as the one who “calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Romans 4:17).”
This is the doctrine of creation. Now let me just briefly address the theory of evolution, Darwinian evolution. The Bible does not support modern notions of evolutionary theory, namely the evolving of one life form into another form in terms of taxonomy and the changing of species, like a bird becoming a dinosaur. The Bible nowhere teaches such things and it is not our concern to address that theory right now.
I do, however, want to point out something at a greater level. And that is that the doctrine of creation and secular scientific theory are not at odds on the matter of the origin of creation. I’m talking about the origin of the universe. No one was there to witness the origin of the universe. No human being was there to observe how everything came into being.
Science is based on empirical evidence, things that can be observed and tested. No human being was present to observe the creation of things out of nothing. Yet both science and the Bible aver that it happened. Obviously we’re all here!
Christians are wrong to reject science out of hand. Science is our friend. It was Kepler who said his scientific study was merely a way of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” The point I’m making is that science alone cannot provide the answer for the origin of the universe. No scientist was there when the world came into existence.
Was anyone there? Well, the Bible says that God was there. God says He did it. Believers accept His word by faith. Secular, scientific theory, namely evolutionary theory, also says something happened, things came into being, but it is left to explain how something came into being, how something came out of nothing. And the honest evolutionist will acknowledge that, that there is no provable explanation for the origin of things as even Dr. Richard Dawkins acknowledged when pressed on the issue by Ben Stein in that wonderful documentary many of us watched in the theology group.
The Bible provides the answer for the origin of the universe. Now it can’t be tested in human laboratory either, but it is an answer we accept by faith. God spoke all things into existence. As Creator He is the witness of creation. He is the One who was there. We may well expect God to address the modern skeptic as he addressed Job of antiquity: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations (Job 38:4)?” God was there. God is there and He is not silent. God spoke all things into existence.
Believers accept this teaching by faith. You are free to reject it. You can reject it and say, “I’m not placing my faith in that teaching,” but the teaching remains. It is still there.
So while a popular skeptic may demand proof that there is a God, if he’s honest he will also acknowledge that he cannot equally disprove there is a God. Man is a finite creature wholly incapable of plotting infinity on a map.
A reflective person will struggle to call himself an atheist because of the term itself. In using the term atheist (a-non and theist-god) the term supposes some notion of deity that one maintains does not exist. But who is he to say? Exactly what notion of god does he have in mind in his wholesale denial and rejection of deity? How does one unequivocally reject something he also maintains does not exist? And from where does he get his information about such deity? Why should he be trusted regarding his information about the god he denies and on what basis can he prove absolutely that no such being is really there?
The refusal to believe in God is not for lack of reason, but for lack of will. It’s a moral problem, not an intellectual problem. The Bible says in Psalm 14:1: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…” The word “fool” means one who is morally lacking, not intellectually lacking. Literally, the Psalm says, “The fool has said in his heart NO, God!” It’s a moral problem.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in the hearts of men. That’s why children are more inclined to believe in God. Not because belief is childish, but because it is part of our human fabric as those who bear God’s image. The reality of God is a truth we suppress by nature; by our sin nature. We suppress the truth within us and without us.
A child was raised in an atheistic family, taught from childhood there is no God. All he heard was, “There is no God, there is no God.” Finally one day the little boy looked up into the face of his father and asked, “Daddy, do you think God knows that we don’t believe in Him?!”
Faith defined (an explanation), faith demonstrated (an illustration), and faith displayed (an application)—God spoke all things into existence. There is power in His Word. And when God speaks, we believe Him. We trust Him.
Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Now jot that down big and plain! “Faith is acting like God is telling the truth.” God says “Noah, you’ll need to build an ark because I’m going to send some serious rain.” Noah goes gets a hammer and starts building. Not a cloud in the sky. Hasn’t rained in weeks. But Noah has faith. He acts like God is telling the truth. He can see it. He can see the rain coming by the inner eye of faith.
2 Corinthians 4:18…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Learning to live about “see” level, s-e-e. Living above “see” level.
How Christians Live Above “See” Level
**With Your Eyes on Jesus…
- Know the Promises (Read)
- Believe the Promises (Receive)
- Remember the Promises (Recall)
If you’re not a believer, remember: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Our relationship with God begins by faith in Jesus Christ, the objective real person who really came to us in space and time, to live and die for us, and to rise from the dead, conquering sin and death. Sinners are saved by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ.
If you are a believer, do you act like God is telling the truth? Do you believe Him? Do you trust Him? Trust Him to take care of your children, trust Him with your money, trust Him with your worries, trust Him with your future?
Can you really say: All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
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