FAITH IS THE MEANS:
– TO FOCUS ON THE FUTURE,
– TO REALIZE UNSEEN REALITIES,
– TO GAIN GOD’S GRACE AND
– TO COMPREHEND CREATION
I don’t want to confuse you here. I am not talking about “the fundamentals of the faith” – that would be all of the great doctrines of Christianity. Instead as we begin this famous chapter on God’s Hall of Fame for those who have excelled in faith, we are going to start with what the author describes as “The Fundamentals of Faith.” The previous paragraph set the stage for Chapter 11. The author had talked about the need for perseverance in faith in light of the persecution and suffering that would potentially cause people to fall away and revert back to Judaism.
These first few verses don’t give a formal, comprehensive definition of faith. But these verses do lay the groundwork for the essence of faith – leading to an examination in the rest of the chapter of biblical historical examples of how faith works itself out in practical ways. “The righteous shall live by faith” – and here is how that looks.
Kent: Having just discussed the importance of maintaining faith and not turning back, the author proceeds to a demonstration that it was this principle of faith even in Old Testament times that God was most interested in. Steadfast endurance in the face of obstacles is the evidence of true faith, and it was this very feature which the Old Testament heroes here mentioned exemplified in their lives. For the readers to give up their present faith in order to escape censure or suffering would be contrary to the stalwart examples of these Old Testament greats whose memories were justly honored. One would not be showing respect for Old Testament religion, even if he reverted to Judaism, by abandoning the very essence of his ancestors’ worship. Hence the burden of this section is to set forth the vital importance of Biblical faith.
Mohler: We must remember the “hard struggle” that the audience is called to endure in the midst of persecutions and trials (10:32). . . Perseverance is the demonstration of faith. Faith is grounded in what God has done for us in Christ. The author expresses confidence that his audience’s endurance of persecution for the sake of Christ is a demonstration of their faith.
F. F. Bruce: Our author might we have proceeded from Ch. 10:39 to the exhortation, “Therefore . . . let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Ch. 12:1); but first he encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. . . who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfil what He had promised.
Phil Newton: The idea of perseverance in the exercise of faith dominates the emphasis of this chapter, coming as an explanation of what the writer states in 10:39, that we are “of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” Keep in mind the struggles the first century audience faced, as they were in the throes of opposition and imminent persecution. How would they be able to make it through without abandoning their faith for that which had no power to eternally save them? They might escape immediate danger but their souls would suffer the fate of those who reject the gospel. So our writer calls for the kind of faith that preserves the soul through the most demanding circumstances. Such faith enables the believer in the midst of trials to “run with endurance the race that is set before” him (12:1). We know very well the opening words of chapter 12 and the crescendo that sets our attention upon our exalted Lord. Exercising faith fixes the eyes on Jesus and endures even hostility in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Faith aims for soul preservation-that’s perseverance in concept; and it runs with endurance-that’s perseverance in process. Exercising faith in Christ stands at the heart of persevering as Christians.
I. (:1) THE VALUE OF FAITH –
THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PROMISES AND APPREHENSION OF UNSEEN REALITIES DERIVE FROM FAITH
A. (:1a) Assurance of God’s Promises — FOCUS ON THE FUTURE / LIVE FOR ETERNITY
1. Essence of Faith = Assurance or Confidence
“Now faith is the assurance”
Constable: Essentially faith is confidence that things yet future and unseen will happen as God has revealed they will. This is the basic nature of faith. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith rather than defining it.
C. F. Pfeiffer: The guiding principle of the Christian life is faith. This is not simply a psychological factor, however. To some people faith means believing that you can do a job better than you have done it in the past, or believing that a loved one will rise from his bed of sickness. There may be real value in such “positive thinking,” but this is not the meaning of faith. True Biblical faith has God as its object. We believe God and trust His Word. That Word does not tell us that we have any reason to expect to be the richest merchant on Main Street. It tells us, on the contrary, that we will have tribulations and that as Jesus’ disciples we will have crosses to bear. It assures us, however, of grace to bear them. Faith has a backward look. It declares that God has done mighty acts in days gone by. Faith also has a forward look. It declares that He can be trusted for the future… Faith is the firm assurance, the conviction, that God will do what He has promised to do. It would, of course, be presumption to insist that He must do what we want done. Many Christians grow disillusioned in their Christian lives because God does not conform to their wills. Faith takes God at His word; faith does not insist that He conform to our ideas.
Maclaren: Faith is the hand that grasps. It is the means of communication, it is the channel through which the grace which is the life, or, rather, I should say, the life which is the grace, comes to us. It is the open door by which the angel of God comes in with his gifts. It is like the petals of the flowers, opening when the sunshine kisses them, and, by opening, laying bare the depths of their calyxes to be illuminated and coloured, and made to grow by the sunshine which itself has opened them, and without the presence of which, within the cup, there would have been neither life nor beauty. So faith is the basis of everything; the first shoot from which all the others ascend… Faith works.
F. B. Meyer: There seem to be three necessary preliminaries in order to faith.
– First, some one must make an engagement or promise.
– Second, there must be good reason for believing in the integrity and sufficiency of the person by whom the engagement has been made.
– Third, there follows a comfortable assurance that it will be even so; in fact, the believer is able to count on the object promised as being not less sure than if it had already come into actual possession.
And this latter frame of mind is precisely the one indicated by the writer of this Epistle, when, guided by the Holy Spirit, he affirms that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the persuasion or conviction of things not seen. In other words, faith is the faculty of realizing the unseen. These three conditions are fulfilled in Christian faith.
2. Perspective of Faith = Oriented towards the Future / towards God’s Promises
“of things hoped for,”
Leon Morris: Faith is a present and continuing reality. It is not simply a virtue sometimes practiced in antiquity. It is a living thing.
Bruce Hurt: Faith in simple terms is believing that God will keep His promises, despite circumstances that seem to be to the contrary! In short, “looks can be deceiving!” We have not seen the end of the story. More specifically and more personally, we have not see the end of God’s story in our life (cp Php 1:6). Faith takes God at His Word, even when the odds seemed to be stacked against His Word. However, keep in mind that faith is NOT faith in faith, but is faith in God and in His Word. Faith is resting one’s heart and mind on God’s immutable, faithful (trustworthy) character. Faith is seeing the eternal in the now and choosing to live accordingly, doing so in dependence on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
B. (:1b) Apprehension of Unseen Realities — REALIZE UNSEEN REALITIES
1. Essence of Faith = Apprehension or Conviction or Evidence
F. F. Bruce: Physical eyesight produces conviction or evidence of visible things; faith is the organ which enables people (like Moses in verse 27) to see the invisible order. Philo similarly links “faith towards God” with “apprehension of the unseen”.
Kent: Faith is the confident assurance which the believer has because God has provided conviction about unseen realities. . . This description does not discuss how faith is arrived at, but merely states its essential nature. A fuller definition of Biblical faith would need to include the fact of divine revelation on which true faith is based. Faith in the Biblical sense is the assurance and conviction that what God has said is true, and is to be acted upon by the believer.
2. Perspective of Faith = Oriented towards Unseen Realities
“of things not seen.”
Andrew Murray: Faith is the spiritual faculty of the soul which deals with the spiritual realities of the future and the unseen. Just as we have our senses, through which we hold communication with the physical universe, so faith is the spiritual sense or organ through which the soul comes into contact with and is affected by the spiritual world. Just as the sense of seeing or hearing is a dormant power till the objective reality, the light or the sound, strikes it, so faith in itself is a sense with no power beyond the possibility or capacity of receiving the impressions of the eternal. It is as an empty vessel which wants to be filled with its unseen contents.
John Phillips: Verse 1 describes the environment in which faith exists and works. Faith takes place when things are hoped for but not yet possessed or manifested. In this respect, faith deals with the future. (Rom. 8:24-25) Faith concerns unseen spiritual realities, things as they are in God’s sight. Faith, therefore, relates to the things we do not yet have, to the things we hope for and do not see, to things that are promised by God but are so far unfulfilled in our actual experience. . . .
Faith gives substance to the unseen realities. The believer hopes in these things and proves their reality in his personal experience by faith. Faith is a kind of spiritual “sixth sense” that enables the believer to take a firm hold upon the unseen world and bring it into the realm of experience. All our senses do this. The eye takes hold upon the light waves that pulsate through space and make real to a person the things he sees. The ear picks up the sound waves and translates them into hearing. But there is a whole spectrum of waves beyond the range of the senses. We cannot see them or hear them or taste them or smell them or feel them. But they are real, nevertheless, and, with the aid of modern instruments, we can pick them up and translate them into phenomena that our senses can handle. Faith reaches out into the spiritual dimension and gives form and substance to heavenly and spiritual realities in such a way that the soul can appreciate them and grasp them and live in the enjoyment of them.
II. (:2) THE VICTORY OF FAITH –
THE WAY TO GOD’S APPROVAL DERIVES FROM FAITH
GAIN GOD’S GRACE
“For by it the men of old gained approval.”
Mohler: On the day of judgment, we will either be approved in Christ or we will be condemned without him. How did the people of old win God’s approval? In other words, why were the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel commended? . . . The author plainly answers that these men and women received their approval because they exercised faith.
Richard Phillips: Those who put their faith in God and in his Word, and not in this world and the evidence it presents are those whom God receives. . . What will follow in this chapter is the record of those men and women God commends in Scripture, starting in the Book of Genesis. What we are to note in each and every case is that the one thing that brought people God’s commendation was their faith. Not their gifts, not their attainments, not their beauty, strength, or popularity – these are the things that bring people the commendation of the world. . . What the world admires is power, wealth, worldly glory, fame. . . Their faith in God, though scorned by men, made them great in the eyes of the Lord and brought them his commendation and approval.
III. (:3) THE VIEWPOINT OF FAITH —
THE WORLDVIEW OF CHRISTIANS (BEGINNING WITH OUR PERSPECTIVE ON CREATION) DERIVES FROM FAITH
A. (:3a) Faith is Rooted in the Objective Word of God
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God,”
The bottom line is that everybody operates from some type of faith perspective. We just need to be honest about our presuppositions and about the object of our faith.
Richard Phillips: The nature of the universe, the creation or beginning of all things cannot be explained by evidence that is available to our eyes. Without faith we cannot even explain the world in which we exist. . . For the materialist, the Big Bang has taken on divine qualities that rule out questions regarding its origin. But the Christian finds the answer not in this kind of scientific mysticism, but in the Word of God. . .
This is how we distinguish biblical faith from the popular notion of faith as a leap in the dark. Faith is not blind trust, wishful thinking, a mere manifestation of our positive attitude. We believe the Word of God because it is the Word of the God who made all things, and who, as Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “sustain[s them] by his powerful word” (NIV).
Deffinbaugh: All the other examples are of Old Testament saints, but this example is one that includes the readers. “By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order. . . .” In every other example, the individual(s) mentioned express their faith in a particular set of circumstances, circumstances that we will not experience in that precise form. But every single Christian is called upon to exercise their faith by being firmly convinced that all creation is the handiwork of God.
B. (:3b) Faith is Manifested in the Perception of God’s Workings in the Invisible Realm
“so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
Hewitt: Even in the world-history of revelation, beginning with the creation, faith is manifested in its perception of the existence and operation of God, as the unseen creator and Sustainer of the visible universe and in its perception of the overruling providence of god in world affairs.
Mohler: just as we begin our Christian lives by faith, we also embrace the Christian worldview through faith in the Word of God. We were not eyewitnesses to creation. Simply put, we were not there to experience it. We affirm the divine creation of the cosmos because by faith we receive it from Scripture and affirm with Scripture that everything exists to display God’s glory.