In Lesson 1, I challenged you to realize that the love of God is not what's at issue in sanctification (press). That was settled at the Cross. God will never love you any more or any less than he does now. No, what's at issue is quite different ...
Some persons have asked, "If I should fail to press forward my sanctification and am therefore denied the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ in his coming kingdom, how can you insist that his love for me isn't less? Isn't that denial, in point of fact, a sure indication that he loves me less?" No, it's not. That's what the story of the Prodigal Son is all about. But let me put it in more personal terms. I have four childen, each of whom I love more than words can describe and for whom I'd gladly give up my life. With that in mind, let's say that I'm the owner of a large business. I'd like to pass the business along to my children - to bring them on board to work alongside me. Nothing could give me more pleasure. But they would need to prepare themselves - to go to college and study business - and that requires commitment and self-discipline. Then, in adddition, they would need to be trained by me on the job - to submit themselves to being corrected and, yes, occassionally rebuked for their errors and mistakes. Now, let's say that only one adequately prepares himself; only one goes to college and earns a business degree; only one is trained on the job, submitting himself to inevitable rebukes and corrections. What that means is only one is adequately prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of the business and work along side me in running it. To turn it over to the other three would spell disaster for the business. So, of course, I wouldn't do so. But that doesn't mean I love them any less. I still love them all equally. I'd still give up my life for each of them. No, love has nothing to do with it. And any good father knows the truth of this illustration.
This second lesson takes up the issue of faith, after which I'll get back to Romans 5-8. But faith is key to sanctification, which is why I need to take it up with you now. Paul tells us in Romans 1:17 that righteousness, which is what sanctification is all about, is by faith from first to last; that the righteous will live by faith. So, then, it behooves us to begin plumbing the meaning of faith right at the "get-go." I'll be using Abraham's journey of faith to illustrate the meaning of faith.
FATIH - WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO USE IT
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
Abraham's Journey of Faith ...
Now the Lord said unto Abraham, Leave your country, and your kindred, and your father’s house, and depart unto a land that I will show you:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing...
And I will bless those who bless you, and curse anyone who curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him...
. . . is our journey of Faith
Abraham’s journey of faith began with a word from the Lord: “Leave!”
He was told to leave the land of his birth, the land he called home; to leave his family; to leave all that he was familiar with - all that he knew; and to go to foreign land - a land he knew little or nothing about - a strange land; but a land where God promised to bless him. And not only that, God promised to make Abraham a blessing to others as well. And that’s what God does for those who follow him with all their mind and heart: he not only blesses them, he also makes them a blessing to others.
And his promise to Abraham is exactly the promise he is making to you now. You are being called to leave - to leave one world and go to another - to leave all that’s familiar to you and go to a world that may at first sight seem strange and a bit frightening.
God is calling on you to put your hand in his and begin a journey of faith with him. He will guide you all the way. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will strengthen you in ways you can’t possibly imagine at the moment.
He asks only that you trust him - and lean not to your own understanding nor give in to your fears.
It’s a land of blessing that he’s taking you to; a land where his presence is known and felt; a land of provision; a land of joy and peace - a joy and peace you may think at the moment is beyond your reach - beyond even imagining
... as it is written, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them who love him.
1 Cor. 2:9
God is calling you...
You’re an immigrant - on your way to a promised land. The journey will not be easy. But you can make it - not on your own, but with others who have been there and who have come back to show you the way.
Faith is the key. Faith in God. Not blind faith, but faith in the very One who framed the heavens and the earth - the very One against whom we all rebelled and turned our backs on, but who in his love and mercy sent his Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins and to show us the way back to the Father.
And because faith is the key, I’ve prepared this little pamphlet for you. Read it carefully and prayerfully. Read it thoughtfully. It’s all about faith - and it’s taken straight from the Bible. May God bless you richly as you open your heart to this lesson on faith.
Hebrews Chapter Eleven provides one of the very best Scriptural definitions of faith. And that’s where I think an examination of faith should begin. What I propose doing is exploring the meaning of faith laid out from Hebrews 11:1 through Hebrews 11:27.
Let’s begin, though, with Hebrews 10:39. Hebrews 10:39 has just declared that we’re of faith, not of apostasy – meaning we don’t “draw back.”
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Chapter Eleven now begins to illustrate this truth - with both (1) a propositional or “dictionary” definition of faith and (2) a whole array of specific examples drawn from the Old Testament. The examples serve not only to motivate and inspire us, but, in addition, to further define the meaning of faith - but concretely and experentially.
Propositional Definition of Faith
We begin first with a propositional or “dictionary” definition of faith given in verse one.
Now faith is the substance (hypostaseos - upostaseos) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
“Hypostasis” is a very common word in koiné Greek - from Aristotle on; it's derived from "hypo," meaning "under," and "histêmi," meaning "what stands under an entity and supports it" (a footing, a contract, a promise). It means “to cause” or “make to stand;” “to place, put, or set;” “to establish truth in the presence of others, in their midst, before, on occasion, judges”); a “substructure;” a “foundation.” It conveys the sense of “being firm;” it’s the underlying essence of any phenomenon.
A philosophical use of it is found in Hebrews 1:3...
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person (hypostasis - upostaseos), and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high...
The word “person” is actually the word “hypostasis.” The meaning here is that Christ is the very image of God’s being. The same sense is given in 2 Corinthians 4:6. What underlies the image and gives it meaning is the Godhead itself.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Cor. 4:6
The word “face” in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is a metaphor for “image” – meaning Christ reveals the essence of God. In short, anyone who has seen Christ has seen God – which is exactly what Jesus tells Philip in John 14:9.
Jesus said unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; and how say you then, Show us the Father?
A slightly different and less philosophical sense of the word is found in Hebrews 3:14...
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence (hypostasis - hypostaseos) – steadfast unto the end...
The same sense is found in 2 Corinthians 9:4 – a steadiness of mind that holds a person firm in his convictions.
Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, (and, consequently) we...should be ashamed in this same confident (hypostasis - hypostaseos) boasting.
2 Cor. 9:4
It’s commonly used in business documents to denote the basis or guarantee of transactions. And because this is its essential meaning in Hebrews 11:1, we might translate it:
Faith is the title-deed, the guarantee, of things hoped for - the proving of things not seen.
In short, it’s our faith that provides us the assurance that all God’s promises will surely come to pass.
“Proving” is the Greek word “elegchos” - and is often translated “reproof,” or “evidence.” It frequently conveys the sense of a test or a conviction.
2 Timothy 3:16 translates “elegchos” as “reproof.”
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof (elegmon), for correction, for instruction in righteousness...
2 Tim. 3:16
Matthew 18:15 conveys the same sense - where “tell him his fault” is better translated “reprove him.”
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault (i.e., reprove him) between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
The whole issue of “evidence” is further explained in verse 3. There we’re told that faith provides “evidence” that, though not empirically based, is nevertheless cogent and compelling. Each step of faith furnishes sufficient “evidence” to prompt the next - and makes inexcusable any failure on our part to take it. That’s a principle that, though not specifically taught in any one particular verse, can be clearly inferred from the passage as a whole.
The Relationship between faith and hope
Verse one mentions both “faith” and “hope” - and we’ll find that much of Chapter Eleven is devoted to distinguishing between the “ground of our faith” and the “ground of our hope.” It’s a distinction that’s fundamentally important – a distinction that some Christians fail to draw. And that failure often gives rise to erroneous definitions of Biblical faith.
Faith, therefore, turns upon a personal knowledge of God. I can rely on God (i.e., repose my faith in him) only because I know God - or, to put it in terms common to the Book of Genesis, only because I have walked with God.
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.
My personal, existential knowledge of God has led me to trust him; consequently, I can act with confidence on what he tells me to do - even though…
Once again, my faith is grounded in my personal knowledge of God - my walk with him; my hope, however, is grounded in what God tells me, what he promises me, what he teaches me.
Again and again throughout the gospels Jesus grounds faith in himself. Mark 4:35-40 is a case in point.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side.”
Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.
But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”
Jesus’ rebuke in verse 40 clearly focuses faith on himself – and, just as clearly, grounds that faith in an existential knowledge of himself. In short, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You’ve walked with me long enough to know that I’m trustworthy; that you can repose faith in me, and yet you don’t. Here I am with you in the boat – and still you doubt that you’re safe – still you doubt that I care for you (verse 38). How is it that you have no faith?”
It’s exactly the same point Paul makes in 2 Timothy 1:12.
... for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.
2 Tim. 1:12
The word “believe” is the Greek word “pisteuo” – derived from the word “pistis” meaning “faith.” In short, Paul is saying “I know him in whom I’ve reposed my faith.”
And it’s because Paul knows Christ – meaning existentially knows him – and has, therefore, reposed faith in him, that he’s persuaded that God will fulfill his promise to guard what he has committed to his care. Once again, the ground of our faith is God himself; the ground of our hope is what he tells us – what he promises us.
Put in terms of Romans 5:1-2, faith puts me in a relationship with God that engulfs me in a flow of grace - and it’s that grace that brings to pass the promises he has made to me.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Hebrews 4:16 conveys the same principle - except that here I’m put before a “throne of grace.” The argument begins back in verse 1. Hebrews 4:1-2 speaks of faith - and warns that all the promises of God are brought to pass only through faith.
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
And from verse 3 through verse 15 that principle is further elaborated. Then verse 16 summarizes the teaching:
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Faith stands us before a throne of grace - and it’s grace that brings to pass the promises of God. The key, then, is faith – faith in God himself and hope in his promises – in what he tells me.
Faith Is Not Unreasonable and Its Impact Is Convincing
We continue now to Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 2
For by it the elders obtained a good report.
The antecedent of “it” is “faith.” The word “elders” is simply a general term pointing to the various heroes of faith specifically enumerated in Chapter Eleven. The phrase “obtained a good report” is better translated “had witness borne to them.” And what was that witness? That they were men and women of faith and, hence, as verse six points out, they pleased God!
Let’s move on to verse 3.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Verse 3 seems clearly to hearken back to Romans 1 - indicating that in all probability the author of Hebrews was familiar with the Pauline epistles – or even, perhaps, that the author of Hebrews is Paul himself.
...because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them.
For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse...
Verse 3 is designed to underscore the rational nature of faith; that faith is not unreasonable. Still, faith does indeed project us beyond our senses - to what underlies creation itself; specifically, God.
God lies beyond our senses; nevertheless, our senses point us to God - suggesting, without empirically proving, his existence. What carries us beyond the limit of our senses is faith. That’s the basic meaning of verse three.
Furthermore, the conviction that faith generates is clear and unambiguous. Like Romans 1:19-20, verse 3 tells us plainly that faith produces a conviction so persuasive that unbelief is inexcusable.
Faith Pleases God - and Is Linked to Righteousness
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks
Verse 4 begins a whole litany of examples - starting with Abel. It’s not the nature of Abel’s sacrifice that pleased God, it’s that it was offered in faith. The clear implication is that Cain’s sacrifice was not offered in faith. Note that verse 4 clearly links faith to righteousness - and simply restates the truth Paul states later on in Romans 4:5.
... faith is reckoned for righteousness.
It’s the same truth that we’ll encounter once again in Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.
Let’s continue now with verse five.
Faith and Its Relationship to Knowing God
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
Genesis twice tells us that Enoch walked with God - and it’s that fact that pleased God.
And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters...
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
The point here is that faith is grounded in a personal knowledge of God - in the sense of existential knowledge - not simply knowing about God – but knowing him personally. It springs to life on the basis of that knowledge and none else. Why is faith so important to God – so pleasing to God? Because it brings us into his presence. It establishes a walk with him.
Verse six simply puts in doctrinal form the meaning of verse five.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Faith and God’s Word - God’s Word Alone Is a Sufficient Basis for Obedience
Verse 7 begins to spell out the implications of what it means that faith is grounded in a personal, existential knowledge of God.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
The first point that needs to be noted about Noah is that the Bible records that he too “walked with God” - just as Enoch did.
...Noah walked with God.
In other words, Noah, like Enoch, knew God personally, existentially. It’s not that Noah knew only about God; it’s that what Noah knew about God he had found in knowing God - in walking with him and spending time in his presence. No doubt many who perished in the flood knew about God, but none knew God.
Verse 7, then, builds upon verses 5 and 6. What’s new about verse 7 is that it links faith in God to God’s word - in this case God’s warning to Noah of the impending flood. The new truth that verse 7 introduces is that God’s word establishes faith’s realm of activity. Faith is grounded in God, but its realm of activity is established by his word. It was only when God warned Noah of the impending flood that Noah’s faith was put to work. Faith must be put to work. And it’s God’s Word that puts faith to work.
A faith that’s never put to work is “dead;” it’s “barren.” That the whole point of James 2:14-20.
What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food,
and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith.
Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?
Noah listened to God - and then acted on what God told him to do. His faith was built on a personal knowledge of God; but his faith was proven in his obedience to God’s word – once again, God’s word put Noah’s faith to work.
Note carefully that Noah’s obedience was based solely upon God’s word - and required nothing else. There was no further explanation. Faith doesn’t demand an explanation. Why? Because it’s grounded not in the word spoken, but in the person speaking it – a truth that some Christians overlook. And that brings me back to 2Timothy1:12.
... I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
2 Tim. 1:12
If God provides an explanation, it’s not the basis for any subsequent obedience. That’s the difference between Zacharias and Mary. Zacharias sought to make the angel’s explanation the basis for his obedience. God’s word wasn’t sufficient.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, How shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
“How shall I know this?” Zacharias, is, in effect, seeking to ground his faith not in God alone, but in a sign. His faith isn’t up to the task. It can’t do the job it has been assigned. It cries out for help! It wants a sign! Mary, on the other hand, while she sought an explanation, never made it the basis for her obedience.
And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
Notice that it’s not “How shall I know this?” but “How shall this be?” She knew God well enough to know that he’s trustworthy; that he will sustain her in whatever task she’s given - and that his love for her will never fail.
And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Zacharias was seeking to ground his obedience in a sign. Not so Mary. She was only asking how it would come to pass - and was prepared to obey with or without the explanation.
Likewise, Noah’s obedience was grounded in his knowledge of God alone. The phrase “things not seen as yet” is tantamount to saying God’s word alone was sufficient.
Faith Always Breaks the Routine
We’re ready now for Hebrews 11:8 - and that brings us to Abraham.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
Abraham heard God; and, in hearing, he obeyed - asking nothing more - not even insisting on knowing his destination - knowing only that God had promised to bless him, to raise up from his offspring a mighty nation, and to lead him to a land his progeny would eventually possess.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
And that was good enough! Only a simple promise!
It’s important to note carefully that God called on Abraham to leave the country of his birth - to depart from the steady routine of his life. And Abraham’s faith enabled him to do so. God often requires us to break away from our day to day habits and customs - to renounce the familiar. And that’s not easy! Routine may be boring; but it provides comfort and solace. It protects us from the unknown and the uncertain; and breaking from it can arouse a profound angst. What’s around the next corner? We don’t know. What can we expect tomorrow? We don’t know. But faith in God empowers us to move forward without knowing.
What about Your own routine
What about your own habits and customs? Are you prepared to break from them - to lay them aside and move forward into the unknown? Your life has probably acquired a steady beat. It may not be victorious, but you know what to expect. And that alone generates a profound inertia. There are innumerable case studies of prisoners incarcerated for years who, upon learning of their impending release from prison, become depressed and afflicted with anxiety. They’ve spent years dreaming of release - yearning for it - talking about it with other prisoners; but when the time for their actual release finally draws near, fear closes its fingers around their minds and hearts. What’s the reason? For all the misery prison life inevitably entails, it affords at the very least a routine. Prison life is built around routine. There’s little about daily prison life that’s unexpected. Each part of the day is carefully spelled out and defined. Very little is unknown. And the inertia that produces is extreme and far-reaching. Breaking from it isn’t easy. Case studies abound of prisoners who upon release commit crimes, consciously or unconsciously, for the sole purpose of being reincarcerated.
Is that how it is for you? For all the turmoil, animosity, suspicion, and chaos that permeate your life, you, at the very least, know what to expect. Behavioral patterns have become deeply entrenched. Some of those habits have etched themselves into your personality - so much so that in many respects they help to define who you are. And you’re now being challenged to lay them aside. You’re being called, just as God called Abraham, to “go out, not knowing whither you go.” (Hebrews 11:8). Will you go? Only if your faith is up to it. Is your faith up to it? Or do you still find yourself clinging to the routine - the expected. If your faith cannot sustain the task it’s being assigned, don’t despair. The solution is not that difficult. Get into the presence of God. Let God nourish your faith - strengthen it - and it will get the job done.
God himself will accompany you on your journey. He won’t leave you to face it alone. His presence will never depart from you. Your journey may be filled with the unknown; but it’s not the journey that needs to be known, it’s God alone whom you must know. You need nothing else. Leave! Depart! Listen to the words God spoke to Abraham. They’re the same words he’s speaking to you.
Depart from your country...unto a land that I will show you...
A land of triumph! A land of rest!
Faith Sustains Us in Our Wait
By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise...
Verse 9 tells us that when Abraham finally caught sight of the Promised Land, possession didn’t instantly pass to him. He found himself a “sojourner” - a stranger in the very land God had promised him. And that will prove true for you as well. Old attitudes and habits die hard; new attitudes and habits, on the other hand - however acknowledged in principle - will seem unfamiliar and alien; and that sense of strangeness will cling to you for a long time. You won’t find that you’re able to shake free of it right away. You’ll feel wobbly and unsettled; and, inevitably, you’ll feel the tug of “old ways.” They’re so well known; so well tried; and produce such expected results - whatever misery they produce in the long run.
Here again faith is the answer. Faith alone can sustain us as strangers and sojourners. It’s not easy to stay put and hold steady - while the old gives way to the new. What’s not mentioned here in Hebrews, but what constitutes the backdrop of Abraham’s entire journey of faith, is the many altars he built during his sojourn as a stranger in the Land of Promise. Again and again Abraham built an altar – meaning again and again Abraham sought the presence of God. And God’s presence upheld and nourished Abraham’s faith - so much so that Abraham was called the “friend of God.”
And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
You won’t be able to “tell yourself to stay put and hold steady” and expect that alone to sustain you. Knowing what to do and doing it are vastly different. Yes, of course, you need to remind your soul to hold steady; but to actually do so, you’ll need to resort again and again to God’s presence - and seek refuge at the throne of his grace. Then your faith will prove sufficient to get the job done.
Verse 10 carries forward the same thought - and adds to it.
...for he looked for a city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Verse 9 tells us that Abraham “abode in tents” - which is a figure of speech; it’s meant to indicate that possession of the land was not yet Abraham’s; that he was an alien. But he looked forward to the day when full possession would be his - figuratively expressed in the phrase “a city which has foundations.” Strangers reside in tents; owners, however - actual possessors - reside in cities - cities securely established on firm foundations. Abraham was an alien - and he knew it; but he was convinced that God himself would build him a city – meaning make him possessor. After all, God himself had guaranteed him possession of the land; and because of that he knew it was a settled issue. Abraham’s faith was secured in his knowledge of God. Here we have the same constellation of principles we’ve already examined:
But there’s more! Verse 10 introduces a new truth - a new principle. Abraham’s faith also nourished his hope and energized it - to the point that it gave his life purpose. That’s the meaning of the phrase “he looked for a city...” Not only does faith “get the job done,” but, in addition, it invigorates our hope to the point that our lives are given direction and purpose. When faith touches any one of God’s promises, it transforms that promise into a living hope.
Once again note carefully the phrase “whose builder and maker is God.” It drives home a truth we’re all so prone to overlook and which, consequently, bears repeating again and again:
We now add a fourth principle to our constellation…
And that holds true for Christians – a truth that some Christians overlook…
Faith Is Based upon Knowing God - Not upon Knowing How God Works
Let’s move on now to verse 11. All too often we insist upon knowing what God’s plan consists of - and how it works. But faith is built upon judging God to be trustworthy - that alone, nothing else.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
The promise seemed so futile - so hollow; all ordinary means of securing its fulfillment were precluded. Romans 4:19 makes clear that it wasn’t simply that Sarah had reached menopause; it’s that she was long past it. In short, her womb was “dead,” meaning it could no longer produce life.
The Bible records that at one point Sarah laughed at God’s promise; it seemed so impossible.
And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
But Genesis 18:12 doesn’t tell the whole story. Clearly, after having first found belief hard to grasp, she later repented and believed - and in her belief she found grace - and that grace awakened her womb and brought it back to life - and she conceived Isaac. And what underlay the change? The last half of Hebrews 11:11 gives the answer: “she counted him faithful who had promised.”
Is your hope dead? God promises you that your life can be restored; that you can change. But is that promise lifeless? If it is, you won’t give yourself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of a changed life. The hope of genuine change should cast its glow over your whole life - and give it direction and purpose. Remember Sarah! She too found hope hard to grasp. Her womb was dead! Do as Sarah did: repent - and let your repentance turn you back to God - bathe yourself in his presence - and hear him speak...
Is any thing too hard for the Lord?
How foolish it must have appeared to Sarah to once again give herself sexually to Abraham. That’s the meaning of her question: “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” Pregnancy requires more than belief; it requires sexual intercourse. And advanced age had made that impossible. How foolish to even try! Often, it’s not just the promise itself that seems absurd; it’s what God requires of us to bring it to pass. That seems absurd as well. And, frequently, it exposes us to ridicule: Noah building an ark on dry ground - probably miles from any water! Abraham and Sara attempting sexual intercourse and expecting a pregnancy to result from it! What will my friends think? It’s ridiculous! And often not just that, but embarrassing as well!
Here too faith is the answer. Faith will see you through all the ridicule. Let everyone laugh! Because beyond the laughter, beyond the ridicule, there’s victory - a changed life - awash in God’s grace:
That’s the power of faith!
Faith Keeps Us from Returning to Our Erstwhile Bondages
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Verse 13 tells us that fulfillment is often projected far into the future. But it constitutes the ground of our hope; and that hope is sustained by faith - knowing God personally - that he is faithful to his promises; that he is trustworthy. We can believe him!
For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own.
And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
Verses 14 and 15 merely continue that thought, but build upon it - adding a new feature: if our hope isn’t daily nourished by our faith, we’ll return to the very bondages that our faith enabled us to repudiate. Whenever our faith fails, we turn back to whatever we left.
Faith Keeps Us from Shaming God
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.
This verse takes us back to verse 6 - which declares that without faith it’s impossible to please God. Faith makes us “pleasing to God” - just as the lack of faith on our part shames God.
Faith Sustains Us in Total Confusion
By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac: yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
even he to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called:
accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence he did also in a figure receive him back.
This passage is akin to verse 11 - which tells us that Sarah’s dead womb did not cast her into despair - because in knowing God she had learned to trust him - believing that having made her a promise he would surely fulfill it.
Verses 17 through 19 build upon this truth - and add to it. Again and again Hebrews warns us to ground our faith in God; to know him, and in knowing him, to find him worthy of our trust. We’re admonished to keep our gaze riveted upon God and nothing else - whatever it might be - including a dead womb. The question that Hebrews poses to us is: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”
But here in verses 17 through 19 it’s God himself - his own demand - that becomes the stumblingblock. What if God apparently reneges on his promise? The questions that must have flooded Abraham’s mind - any one of which could have sent him reeling into a desperate hopelessness! It’s these very questions that Soren Kierkegaard so carefully explores in his classic study Fear and Trembling - a book that has caught the imagination of not just generations of Christians, but secular intellectuals as well - who, notwithstanding their hesitation to embrace the gospel message, have nevertheless accorded Kierkegaard their profound respect and adminration for having so boldly layed out the meaning of what it means to walk by faith - especially when faced by demands which so frequently seem to call into question God’s very goodness.
Is God merely toying with me? Is that what I am - just an amusing distraction for God? What if there’s no moral purpose underlying God’s relationship with us? What if he’s capricious? What if God traffics only in his sovereignty - and doesn’t bind himself to his own word?
There are moments when all of us feel that God himself is pulling the rug out from under our feet; that he’s “setting us up to take a fall;” that God is “snookering us.” A dead womb is bad enough; but God himself! The very fear that plagued the children of Israel in the Wilderness: “Has he led us into the Wilderness to die?”
And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?
How can we keep our faith alive when God himself seems to be challenging it? It’s a terrible test; but one that each of us must eventually face. The thoughts that must have raced through Abraham’s mind! They’re the same thoughts that often race through our minds as well.
How well do you know God? How long have you been his friend? How convinced have you become of his goodness and justice - his love and his mercy?
The Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he.
It’s not the kind of knowledge that comes quickly; it grows slowly - over many years - one day at a time. And it’s certainly not the result of “book-learning” only. Yes, study “feeds” into it; but there’s an existential, personal component that simply can’t be overlooked. It’s the kind of knowledge that marks out God’s finest servants - and leads them to their most sublime victories.
Abraham didn’t second guess God. His faith stood firm. God was his friend! And he knew it! Does God want to take Isaac? I don’t understand it, but I know God. I know that he’s good; that he’s not capricious; that he’s altogether holy and just. Once again, we’re brought back to 2 Timothy 1:12.
... for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.
2 Tim. 1:12
Let’s now examine verse twenty through twenty two.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
Each verse depicts a hero of faith at the end of his life - Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau; Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons; Joseph looking forward to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Faith has become the hallmark of their lives. It sustained them during life - and now ennobles them at death. For each of them, their faith becomes a bridge to the next generation.
Verses 24 through 27 highlight three additional features:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter...
Moses, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter! By faith, Moses stepped away from the status and privilege it afforded him.
Stepping into Suffering
… choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season...
Not only did Moses step away from the blessings his privileged status accorded him, but, in addition, faith led him into suffering and deprivation. Even early on, before he was exiled to Median, Moses had cultivated a walk with God - and that existential, personal knowledge is what underlay his faith to do so.
...accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward.
God chose Median, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, to deepen Moses’ faith. God knew that whatever faith Moses had cultivated in Egypt while at Pharaoh’s court, it was insufficient for the mission he had chosen for him. There, on the backside of the desert, for forty years, God drew Moses ever closer to himself – deepening his faith for the severe challenges that lay ahead.
Years later, David underwent the same training – away on the backside of the desert tending his father’s sheep. And it was that training that enabled David, as it did for Moses, to cultivate the faith he needed – in David’s case the faith he needed to lead the nation of Israel to the pinnacle of her glory.
Has God apparently consigned you to a desert? Are you being kept out of “the spotlight”? If so, have you considered the possibility that it’s for the purpose of deepening the faith you’ll need for a ministry God has in mind for you. What distinguishes Saul from David is nothing more than faith. Saul’s faith failed him; David’s faith – having been nourished on the backside of the desert – was sufficiently deep to sustain him.
Stepping into Personal Danger
Finally, we have verse 27 - which shows Moses exposing himself to personal danger - led by God’s clear word to do so - and finding himself upheld by his faith to do so.
By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
Any truly effective man of God will eventually find himself exposed to personal danger. Has your faith been sufficiently strengthened to undergo that kind of trial? If so, God can use you to build his kingdom; if not, your usefulness will always be limited. May God grant you the grace to deepen your walk with him – and, in so doing, deepen your faith – so that whatever task God’s word assigns you, you’ll undertake it with a confidence rooted in your personal knowledge that God is altogether trustworthy; that his love will never depart from you; that you’re the very apple of his eye.
Hopefully, this brief study on faith will provide you with a clearer understanding of what faith means – of what it means to repose trust in Christ. I’m especially hopeful that I’ve made clear an important distinction that many Christians clearly overlook: the distinction between the ground of our faith, God himself, and the ground of our hope, what God tells us, i.e., his teaching, his promises; that, furthermore, the key to increasing our faith is not trying harder to believe what God tells us, but drawing closer to him. How’s your walk? It’s a question I’m not only posing to you, I ask it of myself every day.