Real Faith (Hebrews, Part 6)
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often quoted concerning to the whole matter of faith. The first few verses are often proffered as the definition of faith, i.e. “being sure of things hoped for and certain of things unseen” (Heb 11:1). But this sentence must be understood in context with the rest of the epistle and must not be seen as merely a generic definition of faith. There are countless kinds of ‘faith’ and a myriad of possible ‘hopes,’ but not all ‘faiths’ are equal. The writer to the Hebrews is specifically concerned with a very particular faith and a very particular hope. Essentially, the author’s idea of “unseen things” here is a reference to the inherent nature and faithfulness of God and his overarching purpose for humanity.
As somebody has put it: “It’s not so much great faith that counts, as faith in a great God.” It’s who we believe in that is far more important that the quality of our belief. Thus, the exemplary list of people of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 is not a list of the best and fairest of the land. Instead it is a motley collection of way-less-than-perfect people. It includes murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, kidnappers, liars and cowards. But the purpose of this list is not underscore the virtues of those that believe but to draw attention to the faithfulness of God. Given all that the author has already stated in the epistle this chapter develops this point in more detail. We should take courage from the fact that the so-called hall-of-fame list of the faithful were all saved, not by their virtue, but by God.
Furthermore, the author goes on to explain that faith in God is not demonstrated by getting life to go well and always getting what we want. It is simply about trusting in the faithfulness of God in all circumstances. In fact, none of the list of people of faith here “received what had been promised” (Heb 11:39), yet they believed. All these who believed under the Old Covenant believed with less advantage than do we. So, if they could believe, then we have even more reason for faith.
There is a reward for faith (Heb 11:6) and the reward is God himself. By faith we come to know him and share with Christ in his knowledge of the Father in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. This is the ultimate hope and one day we will fully see it. Its not about having a perfect life here and now. It’s all about where we will eventually find ourselves and in the meanwhile we are guarded by hope. As Peter has it in his first letter “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Salvation is about becoming what we are created for—members of the family of God forever—and Christ has already secured all this for us and “he who has promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23)—so believe!