Hebrews 11 is one of the outstanding chapters of the Bible. It places before us the cloud of witnesses, all of whom were characterized by faith. Faith is the one grand characteristic of the people of God’s covenant saved in Christ. The witnesses listed in this chapter stood under adverse conditions, refusing to relinquish their faith. Many of them were called upon by God to sacrifice of themselves, performing deeds that we would today label as heroic. Yet, they were just men and women of the church as we are today. They did not view themselves as the mighty and noble of the earth. They were simple believers who did what they did because they trusted God and believed that He would fulfill what He promised.
They were, in fact, no different than believers are today. I know that may be difficult to grasp, considering that the last several generations of the church in our land today are spoiled by prosperity, living a life of ease. But they were believers. Many of us listening today also profess to be believers. That means we live out of the same grand characteristic that motivated them: faith. As such, these believers set for us an example that we must follow. We pray a consideration of these Old Testament saints in weeks to come will encourage us to run the race set before us. To accomplish this we will need to tell the story that surrounded their acts of faith to see what they were called to perform and endure.
In today’s broadcast we will examine the great work of Christ in our salvation that motivates every child of God—the gift of faith. This blessing of salvation instills in the hearts of God’s elect people confidence and conviction in the promises of God. We consider today Hebrews 11:1, 2, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.” The writer to the Hebrews defines for us that powerful work of Christ in God’s children by which they are inseparably connected to the life that is in Him.
Faith: A Confident Conviction
I. Faith Defined
The host of witnesses presented in this chapter reveal plainly that they looked for the fulfillment of things that they hoped for but that had not yet come to pass. This is why faith is defined for us in the way we find it here in verse 1. Yet, the terminology of this verse may be a bit confusing. The first statement reads that faith is the substance of things hoped for. What this statement means to say is that faith is the firm confidence that what is hoped for in the future will without a doubt come to pass. The second statement reads that faith is the evidence of things not seen. This statement confirms and reinforces the first. It means that faith is the conviction that what cannot be observed with the eye (it is invisible) yet is a reality. For example, parents may tell their small child that they are going to take a vacation in a few months to the Niagara Falls—a waterfall so large that hundreds of tons of water pour over it every minute. That child is convinced that these falls exist, even though he has never seen them, because his parents told him they did. He also trusts what they tell him, that he will go there with them in a few months, even though right now he only hopes to go there.
The same is true of faith, but now as it regards God and the promises He makes to His church. You see, in His covenant, that is, in His relationship of fellowship, God gives to His children certain promises. He gave them to His people in the Old Testament in connection with the types and shadows of that period of time. But He gives the same promises to the church of today too, though not in types and shadows. The one central promise of the covenant is that of Christ Himself. God promised the church of the Old Testament that He would send a Messiah who would save His people from the sin into which they had fallen with the entire human race through the fall.
Though the church of today has seen that coming of the Savior, nevertheless the one central promise of the gospel is given us too. That the same Christ who was crucified and is now ascended will come again and usher in the final and complete salvation of the church. But there are two more promises God gives His church that are based on this one central promise of salvation in Christ. The first is this: God promises His people that He will take each one of them for the sake of Christ to an inheritance eternal in the heavens. Heaven awaits us. In the Old Testament this promise was given in pictures to God’s people. God promised Abraham that he and his seed would possess the land of Canaan—a picture of the heavenly land of Canaan. The second promise stands related to the first and is also rooted in the central promise of the covenant, that is, salvation in Christ. God would save unto Himself in Christ a throng or multitude of people without number—as the sand by the seashore and the stars in the sky. These He would gather together in all their fullness as a body of saints in heaven. Again, in the Old Testament this was typically fulfilled in the generations of Abraham when God saved unto Himself a people out of the natural seed of Abraham.
The writer to the Hebrews points out to us in the verses we consider the faith that characterized God’s saints in the Old Testament regarding these promises. First, these promises were that which God’s saints hoped for. The nature of a promise is that it will come to pass in the future. The saints we will be studying hoped for these promises to be fulfilled: that the Messiah would come; that they would receive the inheritance of heaven; that God’s people would be a multitude innumerable. God promised these and they waited for them, longed for them, looked for them to be fulfilled. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is also the evidence of those things not seen.
Consider the promises of God to His people then and today. Did God’s people in the Old Testament ever see the birth of their Messiah? Did Abraham ever see with his eyes, the land of heaven, did he ever see the entire land of Canaan as his possession? Did Abraham ever live to see his children as many as the stars in the sky in multitude? I ask you dear listener, have you or I ever seen the second coming of Jesus Christ? Have we ever seen the company of saints in heaven? Have we seen with our eyes heaven itself? We look for these promise to be fulfilled. We long for them. We wait for them in hope. But they are in the future and we have never seen them. Faith in God’s saints then, as well as now, was the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. The substance. Faith is the absolute confidence that what we hope for will indeed take place. A child trusts his parents that they are going to take him to see Niagara Falls because they are his parents, after all. We as the children of God believe, we are persuaded, completely confident that what God has promised us will take place. When asked why we are confident what God has promised will come true, we answer without hesitation, because God promised it! The most high God, who is our Father, is always faithful—always, unwaveringly so. He will fulfill what He promises. That is why we hope for the fulfillment of everything He promises. That is the faith the saints of old lived by. We will see that in every account the writer to the Hebrews relates to us. The confidence, the unwavering trust they had in God. That was the very thing that motivated them. They actively did what they did because they trusted that God would fulfill everything He promised. Such confidence is what characterizes God’s saints today too, even when God may send trials and suffering into our lives. He may send us hardships and adversity in life, some of them that hurt us terribly. Faith, fellow saints, is that which lays hold of the cross of Christ, that firmly grips the promises of God when the winds of adversity blow. It is like the sapling that bends beneath the strong winds, digging its roots deeper into the ground. Such is the confidence of faith—a confidence rooted in our knowledge of who God is and in what Jesus Christ has done for us. When the strong winds of adversity blow upon us, then faith digs its roots deeply into Jesus Christ.
This is why faith is also described here in our text as the evidence of things not seen. Evidence. That term refers to the conviction of faith. The believer is convicted of things he does not see. He is convinced, persuaded that they are true though he does not see them with his eyes. Conviction is the counterpart of confidence. I am convicted of something when I am thoroughly convinced, persuaded that something is true even if it is not tangible. Mind you, conviction is not preference. I may do something because I prefer doing it. Conviction is doing something because I am convinced that it is right.
A believer is convicted of things he does not see because his heavenly Father has told him that they exist. They are real. Such is faith. The world may mock. The world may call us fools, as they did the saints of old. They may disparage the cause we represent because they do not see it with their earthly eyes. But the eyes given us are the eyes of faith. We are given to see things that others do not see—invisible things, spiritual things. And we are persuaded in heart and soul that they are real. No one will convince us differently! These unseen things, these things we hope for, are more precious to us than the things that are seen!
Is that not true, fellow believer? We believe that Christ is coming again to usher in our final salvation from sin. We believe that at the end of time this present world will be destroyed and a resurrection of our bodies from the dead will take place. We believe that we have an inheritance eternal in the heavens that awaits us. We may not see all this with our earthly eyes. We hope for it. But we are confident that it awaits us. In fact, we are convicted, completely convinced that there awaits us a new heavens and earth.
Why are we so convinced? Because our Father in heaven has promised it to us. We believe that we will one day stand in heaven with an innumerable host of saints, the church, the bride of Christ. Because God has promised it to us! That is the faith that characterized the saints of old, as we will learn. That is our faith too.
II. The Power Unto Faith
But something is a part of all this that is not immediately evident from what we have yet considered. It is an unspoken truth that lies behind this faith of God’s saints. What is it that makes us believe all that God has promised us in His Word? What gives the believer such a firm conviction and unwavering confidence that all the promises of God are true? How have God’s people come to know God and trust Him? Those lost in unbelief are convinced that the God whom we serve is a figment of our imagination since we cannot see him either. This is true because the carnal mind is lost in sin and is unable to comprehend the things of God’s kingdom. Sin holds the wicked of this world in unbelief so that they cannot see, much less desire to know God and His promises. Still others who say they believe in God place no confidence in Him. They do not even know God’s Word, much less His promises. Their God is truly a figment of their imagination. There has to be something that gives God’s elect people such confidence that this God in whom they believe is real and exists in all His sovereign power.
The answer is found in a miracle! We are not confident and convicted in our hearts of God’s promises, or in the existence of God Himself for that matter, because we have some special ability in us. The child of God does not possess faith by his own power. Faith is not some special insight that we have discovered for ourselves. Faith is a gift of God that comes only through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. You see, only when the ascended Christ by His grace sends forth His Spirit to dwell in the hearts of His people does that Spirit perform the miraculous work of regeneration. At that moment we are brought from death into life. This is true because at that moment we are also grafted into Jesus Christ. We are dead branches grafted into the living tree which is Christ. Being grafted in, the life of Jesus Christ flows forth from Christ into us the branches. We who were dead in sins and trespasses become alive in Christ. With this life comes the ability to see the things of the kingdom of heaven. Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, Jesus teaches us.
Without that work of regeneration we cannot believe in God, in Jesus Christ, or in the promises given to us in Scriptures. Without this grafting into Christ, a person is able to see only the things of this present world and not beyond. The here and now is all that matters to such a person. When God promises His people that Christ comes again at the end of time in order to complete the salvation He earned at the cross, the wicked scoff. When God promises His people that there is a place reserved for them in the heavens, the unbeliever likes that idea but thinks that everyone is going there. When God speaks of a church chosen unto eternal life that is without number, the unbeliever has no concept of this. He cannot conceive of this. Natural man is blinded to all these things because God has not given him the eyes to see the things that we hope for by faith. Only when he is grafted into Jesus Christ will a person receive the confidence, the conviction, that these promises are true. Faith is the evidence of things not seen with the natural eye.
Faith becomes for believers the motivating force of their lives. We begin to live and walk out of that faith. Faith leads us to do the acts of which we read throughout this chapter. To build an ark takes faith—a conviction of heart that there was going to be a flood even though a flood was unheard of. To travel to a distant country not knowing where you are even going takes faith that God will bless you in that country. To offer up a son on the altar? That takes faith that God will raise that son from the dead.
All these things a natural man who is not grafted into Jesus Christ would refuse to do. He would think them utter nonsense! But faith is that which flows out of the life of Jesus Christ in us. This grafting into Jesus Christ therefore becomes the very power unto faith. It is the power that gives us confidence and conviction to do the things a believer does. For that reason, we insist that faith is not an innate power found in man, that man is able to muster up out of himself. Faith is a gift of God—from beginning to end. Even the knowledge and confidence the believer possesses is a work of God’s grace in the heart of a person. Yes, the activity of faith that we exhibit in our lives is a fruit of the work of the Spirit of Jesus Christ applying to us the work of salvation. The power unto believing is Christ and His life that is in us. Such life produces faith. There is no faith apart from this work of God in Christ.
But such a work in us produces in us the confidence and conviction of heart that the promises God gives us are true. And we out of that faith go forth in holy service unto God because we believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Faith drives a person to perform the works that flow out of that faith. The power unto faith, then, is the work of God through the Spirit of Christ grafting us into the life that is found in our Savior alone. This produces in the believer the confidence of faith. That, in turn, motivates the believer to walk in all good works.
III. A Good Report Obtained
This is why we learn in verse 2, “for by it the elders obtained a good report.” The term “elders” here simply means “the men and women of old,” those who lived in the Old Testament, or “the ancients.” By faith these Old Testament saints did what they did—what we might consider some fantastic feats. They did them. God did not do them for them. They did them out of a true and living faith. No doubt such faith bound them to Christ so that the life of Christ was in them. No doubt the Spirit of Christ in their hearts was the power unto their faith. But it was this faith that motivated them to perform the works they did. Yes, God always receives the glory, even in the works we perform. The redeeming work of Christ in us is the spiritual impetus behind our faith. But the confidence and conviction of faith is what led the saints of old to perform deeds before which we marvel. Such confidence and conviction was theirs. By such deeds they obtained a good report.
Literally, in the original, we read that such deeds received approval, were affirmed. By whom? By God. These men and women of faith were approved of God for the deeds of faith they performed.
The witness and testimony they left were a tribute to their faith. By faith they did valiantly. That is the faith out of which you and I must also live. Such confidence and conviction must be ours! We must do what we do because we believe. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. May we also, by our faith, obtain from God a good report.