What Does the Bible Reveal about 'Faith' in Hebrews 11?
- Jessica Van Roekel Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 25 Feb
“Now faith is being sure what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” Hebrews 11:1
Faith. It’s a one-syllable, simple word, yet holds so many nuances. It’s a word that’s guided my life through hills and valleys. At times it’s felt as delicate as a gossamer thread and other times it’s felt as sturdy as a steel beam. Faith is our response to God’s self-revelation via his words and actions. God initiates the relationship, and our response is to have faith in him. The word faith finds its roots in the Latin word “fides” which denotes trust. In our language, faith and trust are interchangeable. We can equate faithfulness with trustworthiness and dependability.
At times, trust seems impossible, but God doesn’t leave us to flounder on the shores of disbelief. He nurtures and inspires trust (faith) in him through his words and actions by taking us from the beginnings of faith to a deep-rooted faith that carries us through trials. God doesn’t force faith upon unwilling people. He presents his expectations and promised benefits and then gives us the freedom to choose. Faith happens after we hear and understand The Good News of Jesus. We hear and respond within our hearts. Then faith completes a full circle through the outward evidence of faith. Faith is one little word that changes the trajectory of our life.
How Does Hebrews 11 Define Faith?
We cannot know for sure who wrote Hebrews. We know that a monumental decision faced the audience, but we’re not told the specifics. The book of Hebrews weaves explanation with exhortation. The author of Hebrews stresses that sound decisions need sound theological foundations. Hebrew’s content is Paul-like, but the vocabulary and style are different than Paul's. Biblical scholars agree that someone else, not Paul, wrote it.
Whoever wrote Hebrews had great knowledge about the Old Testament. There are 31-35 direct quotations and many Old Testament references. The author was well-educated, skilled in language and methods of argumentation. Scholars consider the Greek in Hebrews to be one of the best in the New Testament due to the author’s finesse with words. We know that the author held a passion for people as the author repeatedly urged the recipients of the letter to stand firm in their faith. The intended hearers of this letter were likely second-generation believers living in and around Rome. They were well-versed in the Old Testament, Jewish history, and the sacrifice system. It is likely that they had endured hard times and faced the possibility for more.
There are twelve chapters in Hebrews. The first four focus on the surpassing greatness of Jesus’s position and deity. Chapters 5-10 address Jesus’s intercessory mission as High Priest. And finally, Chapters 11 and 12 detail our response to Jesus as God’s Son and our Priest. Hebrews 11 explains how faith underlies the experiences of the heroes of the Old Testament. Verses one through three define faith. Faith is being sure, and it is a way of seeing things. We also learn there is honor associated with having faith. Verses four through sixteen reveals how faith wins acceptance and reward from God. To demonstrate this truth, the author of Hebrews, gives several examples like Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. Included at the end of the chapter is a mosaic of lives marked by faithfulness too numerous to mention.
What Are the Characteristics of Faith?
We can look to these Faith Heroes to discover the characteristics of faith. Abel reveals that faith looks like righteousness. Abel brought his best sacrifice to the Lord. As a herdsman, one plans on keeping the best of the best as breeding stock so that his herd can grow strong. But under God’s plan for redemption, he needed to offer his best as a sacrifice. Cain knew this too, but instead of purchasing (at a cost to himself) a lamb without defect, Cain picked out the prettiest fruit and grain and thought that could substitute. Abel did what was right through faith and his faith made him righteous.
Enoch sought God. So often I run ahead because I suppose I know the exact route God wants to take. Of course, this usually gets me off course. On the flip side, I can lag behind because I’m scared to trust God to take me around that bend in the road leading into a dark night. But when we seek God with our whole heart, we tend to walk with him. Enoch pleased God because he sought God in earnestness.
In holy fear Noah built the ark before he ever saw rain. Noah lived by faith when he built an ark in a landlocked region that had never seen rain. I wonder if in the months it took to build it, he questioned his actions. Noah shows us that God rewards those who seek him. Noah’s holy fear led to his title as heir of righteousness.
Abraham linked himself to God’s promise. He became convinced of God’s reliability, and he went when God said to go. He looked forward to what was to come rather than the vision of his present reality. Sarah considered “him faithful who had promised” and in her faith received the long-awaited, promised son. They linked themselves to God’s promises.
Faith hopes in God. As we move through Chapter 11, we meet Abraham once again, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. These show us how faith helps us look beyond our life’s current realities to hope in the Lord. They show us that we prove our trust that God keeps his promises by maintaining our hope right to the end, persevering in the future God promises. Faith leads us to victory. At the end of the chapter are the unnamed ones. The ones too many to list that died without receiving the promise. These ones? They teach us about persistent pilgrimage. Faith begins with an internal response of belief to God’s self-revelation. And it changes how we behave toward others and our circumstances.
Hebrews 11 Explained
Believing God’s covenant promises is one way to live faithful lives. God is faithful to keep his promises. He has a plan for the future, and he makes himself accessible to us because he is a covenant keeping God. We can live faith-filled lives when we believe his promise to redeem, to guide, and that he works all things for the good of those who love God and whom he calls.
Our lives reflect faith when we observe sound biblical doctrine through our obedience. Sound doctrine tells us about God’s character so we can love him more. These Biblical heroes in Hebrews 11 had obedience underlying their faith. Noah built an ark. Rahab hung the scarlet cord. Abraham obeyed God as he took his promised son to an altar of sacrifice, believing in faith that God would not rescind his promise. Without having a sound biblical understanding of God’s promise-keeping nature, we will struggle to have faith in the times when God calls us out of comfortability and into the unknown. Practicing obedience is one way to live a faithful life.
Righteousness reveals active faith in our lives. Faith follows an objective, subjective, objective pattern. God reveals himself to us as we hear or read about him and he becomes the object of our faith. We turn inward and our faith is a personal, internal response enabled by God. Then our faith moves outward as the Holy Spirit activates and empowers our faith to live in righteousness before God.
A faithful life perseveres under trials. Jesus said that we would have many troubles in this world. As always, his words are true. We don’t even have to read the headlines to know this, we can look in our own lives to see that trials come with living. Life holds sorrow and joy. Grief and death. Defeat and despair. Failure and success. When we choose to persevere through trials, our faith grows stronger. Each trial provides us with the chance to lean on God’s faithfulness and when we do, our faith grows strong.
Faith looks forward to victory. Hebrews 11 holds specific examples of those who lived by faith. It also assures us that we may not see the fulfillment of God’s promises while on earth. But it does reassure us that victory is in store for those who remain faithful. Faith helps us look forward to victory because it tells us that our suffering on this earth doesn’t compare to the future glory that awaits us. We’ve won the final battle. Faith keeps that truth at the forefront of our minds. Looking forward to victory means that we persist in our growth and maturity with God just as these others persisted in their pilgrimage.
Transforming Faith and the Gospel
The New Testament contains the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. First, we hear the gospel. Second, as we move through the evidence of God’s redeeming promise, we call on Jesus to save. To ask Jesus to save us is to put our faith in what God says about the death and resurrection of Christ. Through Jesus, by faith, we receive forgiveness and freedom from sin’s power. The New Testament amplifies the Old Testament’s message about faith. God is faithful, constant, and reliable. As he reveals himself and enables faith in us, a firm, trustful response to God occurs.
God allows the testing of our faith to sanctify us and grow the quality of our faith. Faith yields confidence as we trust him through his promises. “Now faith is being sure what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” Hebrews 11:1. As we learn to trust God, we discover freedom from sin and have the power to glorify him with our lives. Faith in God allows God to produce Christ’s virtue of faithfulness within us.
We can learn the importance of faith in our lives as we read the book of Hebrews. Faith is our response in our minds, will, emotions, and behavior to the revelation of God to us. It doesn’t mean that we will receive what we promised when we think we should receive it. It does mean that faith underscores our ability to live through the trials and joys of this life. Faith is the foundation for our hope and our future glory. Hebrews 11 paints a beautiful picture of this.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Anastasiia Stiahailo
Jessica Van Roekel is a worship leader, speaker, and writer who writes at www.welcomegrace.com sharing hope-filled inspiration addressing internal hurts in the light of God’s transforming grace. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future. Jessica lives in rural Iowa with her husband and family. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.