How does a believer live by faith? It is easy to say we believe God and his Word when his providence allows to live comfortably and without any problems. But when disaster strikes or when a crisis take over our lives can we still hold on to God and his promises to us? Do we continue to live by faith and not by sight? Or we depend on the thing which seen and our faith crumbles even our experience runs contrary to the reality of faith we profess? Do we rely on God or on ourselves when troubles come and we have no recourse but to trust and believe in him?
We will examine the great chapter of faith from Hebrews 11. In this chapter, we will hear about God’s people being justified by until the end. In summary, saving faith is a living faith. It is evidenced by the fruits it produces. Faith comes with assurance and a confident faith perseveres in the end. Faith in order to be proven true must be demonstrated by a life dependent on God, His Word and promises. It believes in God and trust in his Word. As a result, faith looks forward and continues to thrive even when tested. Justifying faith is persevering faith.
Today’s preaching is divided into two sections: 1) Justifying Faith from verses 4-31 , and 2) Persevering Faith from verse 32-40 but as a prologue I will first introduce the topic of faith from verses 1-3 and explain the difference between the definition and description of faith.
Description of Faith
verses 1-3: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
Verses 1 gave a description of faith but not its definition. To define means to state its nature, scope and general meaning while to describe means to give a detailed account or specific examples. A table lamp is defined as a light source but described as a a furniture often used in the office at night. When we define saving faith for example, we follow the definition from Heidelberg Catechism and explain it in terms of knowledge, ascent and trust. However when describing faith, we account its effect in the Christian life. When faith is present, it is proven true in our lives, it assures us and helps us persevere in the end. Faith is defined by its essence but it is described by its fruits.
The preacher of Hebrews describes faith as an assurance of things hoped for (verse 1a). The term “assurance” in Greek is used as the equivalent to a title-deed. The possession of the assurance guarantees the receiving of the inheritance. By possessing true faith, we are assured to receive eternal life.
Next, the preacher of Hebrews describes faith as the conviction of things unseen. (verse 1b) Living by faith means living by its convictions and steadfastly holding firm to its belief even when experience runs contrary to it.
Verse 2 explains the kind of faith that justifies and perseveres. Faith alone saves the people of God both in the new and according to the preacher of Hebrews even “the people of old”. And these Old Testament believers demonstrated their faith and “received their commendation”. These people living by faith encourages us New Testament believers by the faith they possess and perseverance they exemplify. According to Martin Luther, ‘We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Indeed, it is faith that justifies but a justifying faith is living faith. Faith is demonstrated in this life and it perseveres in the end.
Verse 3 grounds faith to the Word of God. Faith assumes God is true to his Word. To further describe faith by example the preacher of Hebrews cites creation. He wrote: “By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Faith makes sense of the thing seen by the invisible spoken word of God. It takes God at this word. So in sense a life of faith is life holding firm to the promises of God. It believes through and through, from beginning to end. It is from faith to faith says Apostle Paul in Romans 1:17, for “the righteous shall live by faith”. But living by faith and not by sight means living in accordance to his Word.
Now that we understood how faith is described, we will now examine one by one the examples from these people in the Old Testament.
From verses 4 to 22 specifically follows the characters in the book of Genesis while verse 23 to 31 narrates the life and events covering the books of Exodus and Joshua. In Genesis, the preacher of Hebrews picks seven characters namely, Abel, Enoch, Abraham (with Sarah), Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In Exodus, he focuses on the life of Moses and in Joshua, he wrote about the Fall of Jericho and Rahab the prostitute.
In summary, these people demonstrate faith. By faith, they believed God even at times when they cannot see Him and in situations where experience runs contrary to it. They trusted his Word despite of the consequences it bring and they held on the promises of God even when they seems impossible to happen. They were justified (proven true) by faith.
Before the Flood
verses 4-7: "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."
- Abel believed God even when he does not see him. Living east of Eden, he simply need to believe God in his promise to his parents, Adam and Eve. By faith, God accepts his worship and with it, Abel is justified. His faith is proven true. And even with his death, his faith encourages us today.
- Enoch walked God. He lived in close communion with God. Despite being separated from God at the fall, he pleased God. How? According to the preacher of Hebrews, he did it by faith! He did not rely on his own righteousness but believed in God who justifies the ungodly. By faith, God received him in his death. Enoch is justified. What is this faith that justifies? It is a faith that believes in God and trust in his promises. (verse 6).
- Noah believed God even the world around him rejects God’s Word. Because of this, he receives a righteousness that comes by faith. Noah is justified. He took God in his Word at the cost of losing credibility to an unbelieving world!
The Patriarch – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
verses 8-12: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."
- Abraham obeyed God even when experience runs contrary to it. He and his wife Sarah went to foreign land only because of God promised them an inheritance from him. And in spite of being barren and unable to produce an heir they held on to God’s promise even when it seems impossible to happen. They believed God and it was credited to them as righteousness (Genesis 15:6)
verses 13:16- "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."
A justifying faith is a forward-looking faith. It is hopeful. It takes on the temporary situation of life as an encouragement to move on and look forward to eternal rewards of life. By treasuring the eternal things of God over the temporary things of this world, these people of old demonstrated their faith to God. The preacher of Hebrews proves this point in the events of the life of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the nation Israel.
verses 17-22: "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
Verse 17-19 and James 2:21-23 refers to the same event narrated in Genesis 22. Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Looking at it in a temporary sense, losing his Son means losing the inheritance promised by God. But instead of focusing on the present state of thing, he held on the future fulfillment of these promises. He even believes God, if needed, will bring back Isaac by resurrection. Abraham believed the impossible and demonstrated his faith.
Verse 20 speaks about Isaac who in spite of appearances believed God and looked forward to the future blessings from God. Isaac gave Jacob the greater blessing. Notice how Jacobs name came first before Esau. Yes, Esau was Isaac’s favorite and by God’s providence, Jacob received the blessing Isaac intended for Esau. In the end, Isaac affirmed his blessing upon Jacob (Genesis 27:33)
Verse 21 speaks of Jacob as learning his lessons by faith and waited patient for God to allow his to bless the sons of Joseph. Over time, God changed Jacob’s heart. In spite of his schemes and deceit, he eventually accepted God’s will and purpose over his life. After losing and missing Joseph for along period time, he was reunited with him and his grandsons. God is in mercy allowed him to give his blessing over them.
Verse 22 speaks of Joseph faith and how it looks forward to the inheritance of the land God promised. He gave instructions for his family to take up his bones knowing someday they will return to the land promised them to posses. Indeed, he took God’s Word seriously, relied on his promise, lived according to it. Joseph is justified by faith.
Moses and the Nation Israel
verses 23-28: "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
Next, the preacher of Hebrews cites Moses example of faith. He did it extensively with 5 verses. In sum, Moses exemplifies the faith by looking forward to the eternal rewards of faith by identifying with God’s people of earth. He refuses the temporal rewards of earthly possession. Instead, he treasured Christ, the Messiah who fulfills the promises God by faith (verses 23-26). He remains steadfast even when threatened by the world powers. Moses demonstrated his faith even during times of trials and troubles, and even death (verses 27-28).
verses 29-31: "By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies."
Israel as a nation obeyed God in the midst of life threatening situations. They looked forward to God fulfilling his promises to them. They crossed the Red Sea at his command; They conquered Jericho also by his Word. As a result, Rahab converted to faith demonstrating to all of us the saving nature of their faith. Their faith is a living faith.
A faith looking-forward perseveres until the end. It is a faith that justified, proven true time and time again in the midst of challenges, persecutions, trials, temptations, sufferings, afflictions and even physical death. The preacher of Hebrews proves this point to us by listing down in general examples of such perseverance in the life of God’s people.
verses 32-38: "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
verses 39-40: "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."
The preacher of Hebrews mentions the names of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets like Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and etc while not identified explicitly yet discernible. According to him, they were all “commended through their faith”. They were justified, looked-forward, and persevered in the end.
ZCRC(Imus), as God’s people, we are justified by faith until the end. We may often get discourage by internal and external circumstance but let us hear God’s word and believe in his promises. When we doubt ourselves and experience failures in our sanctification or when our ministry seems to hit a dead end, let us receive encouragement from the example of God’s people who took God at his Word and despite circumstances remain steadfast in their faith to Him. Or when we are hit by unforeseen events affecting our livelihood or even our well-being as family and as a church, let us learn from the example of God’s people who in spite of appearances looked forward to God and his promises. Remember, God preserves His people. By faith, we are assured of his promises and we will persevere in the end. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.