The Faith Factor

1 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. – Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV

What exactly is faith? How do you know when you have it? When do you know that you are living by it? The author of Hebrews, like the apostle Paul, spent a great deal of time defending the doctrine of faith. They both believed it was essential to salvation and a non-negotiable part of the Christian life. The author of Hebrews even goes so far as to say that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

Both Paul and the author of Hebrews borrow a phrase from the book of Habakkuk, “but the righteous shall live by his faith,” to support their position on faith. For each man, faith and righteousness were inseparable. You couldn’t have one without the other. To attempt to achieve the kind of righteousness that God demands, apart from faith, would be impossible and illogical. He had given His Law to the people of Israel to show them the extent of the righteousness He required and to reveal the utter futility of trying to live up to His righteous standard in their own strength. They couldn’t do it.

God knew they would be unable to keep the Law, so He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would inevitably commit. As the author has already revealed, the law and the sacrificial system were “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1a ESV).

The people sinned and then offered sacrifices for those sins, year after year. But this unending cycle of sin and sacrifice could never bring about true righteousness. As the author pointed out in the last chapter, these repetitive sacrifices “were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1b NLT).

The Law was intended to reveal God’s righteous standards and expose man’s sin. Paul explained, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). God’s mandated sacrificial system demonstrated that His wrath against sin was real and required the shedding of blood to atone for those sins.

In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

The blood of bulls and goats could only provide temporary atonement for sins, so God sent His Son to provide a permanent solution to man’s sin problem and a way to escape the sentence of death hanging over his head. But this new plan of salvation would require faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

Faith is always forward-looking. It is based on the yet unseen and the as-yet unfulfilled. Peter gives us a wonderful glimpse of what faith should be like for us as believers:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT

The author of Hebrews shared a similar admonition.

…let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:22 NLT

We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). He praised his readers for their willingness to endure difficulties and trials with joy.

You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. – Hebrews 10:34 NLT

They were willing to put up with loss in this world because of their confidence in the promise of God that assured them of great gain in the world to come. They were “not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction,” but instead, they were “the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved” (Hebrews 10:39 NLT). Their faith was future-oriented because they firmly believed in the promises of God. They had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen. That is exactly what Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep doing.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

If we take our eyes off the hope of God’s future promises, we will find it hard to endure the present trials of this life. If we live as if this earthly existence is all there is, then we will grow weary, disappointed, and disillusioned. The “great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3) the author referred to earlier in his letter will begin to appear weak and ineffective. But it is essential for every believer to understand that God’s salvation includes our future glorification. There is more to our faith than simply the assurance that we have been saved and our sins are forgiven. We will one day be redeemed and given new bodies. We will be freed once and for all from our battle with indwelling sin.

Our faith must always have a future focus. The apostle John, as a loving pastor, reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

That is our hope. That is the basis of our faith, and the author of Hebrews will spend the rest of this chapter demonstrating what this kind of faith looks like in real life, using Old Testament saints as examples of a future-focused faith lived out in real life. This list of long-deceased individuals who lived long before the incarnation of Jesus is intended to provide us with hope. They illustrate that God’s redemptive work has always been based on faith. From Abel and Abraham to Noah and Moses, each of these children of God demonstrated faith in the faithfulness of God. Their lives are living examples of what it looks like to have “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

In their own way, each of them revealed their trust in God by stepping out in faith and relying on nothing more than His word. Abel offered the very best of his flock, potentially sacrificing his future livelihood but trusting that God would care for his needs. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son because he fully believed that God would keep His promise to produce a great nation from his offspring. Noah built and entered the ark, based on nothing more than the promise of salvation offered by God. And Moses took a leap of faith and delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt with little more than a sight-unseen promise from God about a land of their own.

Faith is the unifying factor in each of their stories. And, according to the apostle Paul, faith is still the sole means of accessing the salvation and future glorification that God has in store for each of His children.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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