Lesson 17: Now Faith Is…

When speaking of the new and better covenant, the author of Hebrews stated “if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second” (Hebrews 8.7). But what was the fault of the first covenant? Granted, the promises of the first covenant were not as great as the promises of the new one (Hebrews 8.6) and the Law, tabernacle and sacrifices were a mere shadow or copy of the heavenly (cf. Hebrews 10.1), but those were not what doomed the first covenant. Rather, the “fault” of the first covenant was that the people “did not continue in my covenant, and I did not care for them” (Hebrews 8.9). And why did the people not continue in the covenant? They lacked faith! “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Hebrews 4.2). 

Faith is the key to keeping covenant; faith is what keeps us from “shrink(ing) back to destruction” and is what “preserves the soul” (Hebrews 10.39). Faith is what we must possess if we desire to “come to God” (Hebrews 11.6). Note that the word translated as “come to” is the same translated as “draw near” in Hebrews 4.16; 7.25; 10.1,22. God has established the new covenant; Jesus has made the only offering we need and now sits at God’s right hand… but we must come to Him in faith! So, we must ask the question: what is faith? The author answers in Hebrews 11; “Now faith is…”

Faith Is Convinced

“Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” 

(Hebrews 11.1, NASB2020)

Hebrews 11.1 is probably the best known verse in the entire letter and often given as THE definition of faith. I don’t think the author intended to say that this is the definition of faith, rather he was revealing an important truth about faith: faith is why we can be convinced of what God has promised. The author had established that our hope rests on the priestly ministry of Jesus (Hebrews 6.19-20). However, we are not there to witness His intercessory work on our behalf, so how can we know His work is taking place? Faith.

But understand that while faith is the “proof of things not seen”, the author is not saying that faith is blind (i.e. lacking evidence). The author has endeavored to give evidence throughout the letter, mainly using OT prophecy, and that evidence should convince us that Jesus is ministering on our behalf; we have reason to believe. Take vs. 3 as another example: we did not see the creation of the world, but we accept this on faith. But God has provided evidence which gives us reason to believe that “the worlds were prepared by the word of God” (see Psalm 19.1; Romans 1.20). 

But the greatest reason for faith is the nature of God Himself: “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10.23). The faithfulness of God is why we can be certain of all that He has promised; His faithfulness gives us every reason to have faith!

Faith Is Grounded In The Trustworthiness Of God

“he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” 

(Hebrews 11.6, NASB1995)

Most of us, if asked to define faith would probably say something like “faith is trusting in God”. While not the complete picture of faith, trust is certainly the main component. The Scriptures record God’s dealings with man and show over and over again that God keeps His word. Thus, we can know that “He is faithful” (Hebrews 10.23) and reading the Bible should produce faith (trust in God) in us (Romans 10.17). 

In chapter 11 the author records how by faith “men of old gained approval” (vs. 2). He spans Biblical history, furnishing examples from before the flood (vss. 4-5), the flood (vs. 7), the patriarchs (vss. 8-22), the exodus (vss. 23-29), the conquest (vss. 30-31) and the rest of Biblical history (vss. 32-38) showing how all of these “gained promises” (vss. 17,33) and “gained approval” (vs. 39).

We can have faith that God will reward us if we seek Him because He has always done so! He has proven Himself to be faithful and trustworthy, so we can “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10.22). 

Faith Obeys With The Assurance That He Rewards

“For by it the men of old gained approval.”

(Hebrews 11.2, NASB1995)

It is tragic that many seek to separate faith from obedience, when in reality the two are inseparably linked. Remember, the reason why Israel failed to keep their covenant was because they lacked faith in God (Hebrews 4.2). In chapter 11 the author shows that faithful men and women throughout history obeyed God BECAUSE they believed that He is a “rewarder of those who seek Him”. They acted in faith and thus gained approval.

Perhaps no example better illustrates this principle than Abraham offering up Isaac (vss. 17-19). Abraham was commanded to do something that not only would have been at odds with his fatherly feelings of love, but also made no logical sense: how would God keep His word if the son of promise was killed? But Abraham had faith! He believed that God could raise Isaac, even though there were no recorded accounts of resurrection at that time. Abraham’s trust in God was complete and absolute, thus He was able to obey even the most difficult of commands.

Throughout the New Testament, God tells us that real faith is faith that will submit to His will. Thus salvation is for those who “believe and are baptized” (Mark 16.16) and why Paul sought to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles” (Romans 1.5). And as James emphatically stated, “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2.17). The Hebrew author is exhorting us to have the same kind of obedient faith, faith that trusts God enough to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12.1). 

Faith Continues

“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 a city for them.”

(Hebrews 11.16, NASB1995)

God had been faithful to His promises to the faithful throughout time, but the Hebrew author repeatedly makes the point that God’s ultimate promise was not fulfilled during their lifetimes. Abraham lived in the promised land, but he dwelt in tents and never possessed the land. Yet, he was looking for something greater than an earthly dwelling place: “he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11.10). 

The author makes the same point again in vss. 13-16: they had not received the promises (the better ones of the new covenant), but they could see them from afar (i.e. they had a glimpse of how God would redeem man). Thus, their hope wasn’t for any earthly blessing, but for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11.16).

The author was endeavoring to show that the faithful ones of the Bible were those who maintained their faith throughout their lives, not just until they received some earthly blessing. They always trusted that God would fulfill the eternal promises and that they would be part of a heavenly dwelling, not an earthly one. And so the author concludes in vss. 39-40 that they could not be made perfect apart from us, but his point is that now they can be made perfect because the new covenant based on better promises has been established. “now that Christ has accomplished his high priestly ministry, they too will share in its blessings” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary)

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