Faith: Strength To Endure (2)
January 18, 2015 / No. 3759
Dear radio friends,
In our last broadcast we examined the endurance of the cloud of witnesses given us in Hebrews 11:32-39. Let me read those verses again today.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephtha; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.”
The examples of these verses endured great afflictions because they believed in God and they in hope looked for the fulfillment of the promise of God’s covenant, that is, the birth of a Savior who would deliver them from sin. These people were not great heroes with a naturally brave demeanor. They were not extraordinary people far greater in faith than you or I could ever be. These men, women, and children were common, ordinary people like you and me. No different. We pointed that out in our last broadcast.
For that reason, the example they leave for us to follow both admonishes us and encourages us. We are admonished because so often our own sights are so set on the earthly that we forget about seeking the heavenly. We forget that we fight a battle of faith. The faith that characterized the saints of old admonishes us to exhibit that same faith today in the dark days in which we live. It is that faith we wish to consider in detail today.
But we are encouraged by these believers too. The faith that characterized them also characterizes us. This passage is a testimony to us of faith. In the last broadcast we examined the actions of faith. But we said that these actions flowed out of faith because of what faith is. That is where we left it. We did not fully define faith and look at its character in order to see what motivated these saints. That we do today.
FAITH: STRENGTH TO ENDURE
I. The Character of Faith
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That is how the writer to the Hebrews defines faith for us in verse 1 of Hebrews 11. And such truly is faith. But this describes faith only from a particular point of view, and we need to have the whole picture before us to understand the actions of the saints in these verses we consider. You see, Hebrews defines faith from a certain perspective: faith is an action of man. And it is! Faith is the substance of things hoped for, or literally it is the firm confidence in those things we hope for. Faith is evidence, or better, the conviction regarding things not seen. Faith is confidence and conviction. These are the activities of a man’s heart and soul. Faith therefore is an action of man.
But the question needs to be asked: Where does this faith come from? Where does the confidence and conviction that motivates a man in his life find its source? The answer is clear enough from Scripture: Faith is a gift of God that He imparts upon His elect people through the Spirit of Christ. We read in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Faith is a gift. In Philippians 1:29 the apostle teaches: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe on him.” We are given to believe in Christ. In John’s gospel account, chapter 12:37, John does not mince any words when explaining why after having performed so many miracles people still not believe in Jesus. He explains in verse 39, “They could not believe!” They could not! It is impossible for a man to believe unless God works in him faith. Then John quotes Isaiah, “God hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts.”
Faith, therefore, must be a gift of God! And it is bestowed by God only on certain individuals. Not everyone is given this gift by God. Only those whom God has ordained to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48). Only those whom God chooses are given faith. So, where does faith find its source? God implants it into a man’s heart. Christ has earned this gift for us through His death and resurrection. And the Spirit of Christ gives it to those for whom Christ died. Faith, then, is a work of God’s grace in the heart of an elect sinner. And by means of that work of God’s grace, the elect sinner is grafted into Jesus Christ, that is, he is bound by faith to Christ and becomes one in Christ. He becomes a member of Christ’s body, and as a result the life of Christ flows forth into him. That life of Christ is indispensable, absolutely necessary, for the activity of faith that is found in the heart of a believer. No Christ? No faith. Faith is not an innate ability of man. Faith cannot be exhibited in the life of a person until Christ performs His work in us by His Spirit.
But when God works faith in us it activates, empowers, our hearts and minds. It works in me a certain knowledge by which I hold as true everything contained in God’s Word. And it works in me a confidence and conviction that God is my God and I am one of His children, whom He loves and saves from sin. The activity of faith is knowledge and confidence. Faith is the confidence in things hoped for. Faith is not an emotion. It is not a feeling. Faith is not that emotional high that people are pushed to in revival meetings. Faith is not this warm, fuzzy feeling that I can experience at times in my life when I hear a heartwarming song or a sad story of a saint that has overcome some horrible malady. I am not saying, of course, that faith cannot affect our feelings or emotions. But faith is not a feeling. It is much more stable than feelings.
Faith is knowledge. Paul writes to Timothy in II Timothy 1:12: “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able.” Faith in this verse speaks of knowledge and persuasion. God explains to His people in Jeremiah 9:24: “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands and knows me.” So faith is objective knowledge—knowledge that is rooted in the Word of God. But faith is not only objective knowledge. It is not merely a cold, intellectual acceptance of the truths of the Bible. There is many a person that has died with a head full of knowledge but with no conviction. There are those who think that a mere knowledge of the Bible will save them. They need not worry about how they live so long as they have a head full of doctrine with which they express agreement.
Faith, however, is a conviction that those truths we know are, in fact, the gospel of salvation! They are truths that have turned my life around. Truths that motivate me in my life in the way that I live. They are truths that give me the confidence that I belong to God and to Jesus Christ.
And I will give my all to serve them! My love for them is rooted in what I have been taught in God’s Word. And I love them with my heart, mind, soul, and strength! No matter what may befall me I know they will never leave me. And I, for that reason, will not forsake them either, to walk in the sins of this world! What I believe is not just a preference. It is a conviction that makes me do what I do in this life. I will not share in the sins of the wicked. I will not seek out the friendships of ungodly men who despise God’s commandments. And I will resist unto death those who will attempt to lure me from or force me to turn away from God and His kingdom! That is faith! That is what motivated these witnesses of Hebrews 11.
This means that faith has an object. We cannot simply believe without believing in someone. The wicked world does that in their ads, movies, and slogans. “Just believe,” it is said. Believe in what or whom? Faith always has an object, whether unbelieving man wants to verbalize it or not. And the object of fallen man’s faith is man himself! Believe in yourself, in your own innate ability, and you will be able to accomplish whatever you want. I bow the knee to society and whatever it thinks. In contrast to this, the believer knows and places all his confidence in God and in His Son Jesus Christ. God and His Son were the objects of the faith of this cloud of witnesses given us here in Hebrews. Hebrews 11:6: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” These saints had received the promise of the coming Messiah and they clung to that promise. They hoped for His coming. So the object of the faith of the true believer is God and His Son.
And we are convicted. “Faith is the conviction of things not seen!” We are convinced in our hearts that God is God and that He stands above all things in His majesty and He rules the nations by His might. Though we cannot see it with the eye, we are convicted in heart and soul that there is better country than this world, that is, a heavenly one. We in hope look for that city whose builder and maker is God. In that conviction we live as pilgrims and strangers in this world of darkness and sin. We are thoroughly convicted that this world is fallen into sin and that the only way to reach that city is by means of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the citizens of God’s kingdom in this world. We represent His cause. And we know and are persuaded in our hearts that one day Christ will come again and we will receive our place in heaven.
Faith has content, you see! The content of faith is the Word of God. The more we know and understand the Scriptures the stronger will be our faith. The less we know, the weaker is our faith. And we ought never to assume that we have attained unto that knowledge and need not study God’s Word much anymore. Faith is the persuasion that everything contained in the Old and New Testaments is true and will be fulfilled. Faith is the conviction that I will believe that, no matter who tries to make me deny it. I will maintain it in the face of those who mock me, torment me, hurt me, and even kill me. What God’s Word has taught me has become my life! The God in whom I believe is the God who has entered into covenant with me. He has told me together with His church, “I am your God, and you are my son or daughter!” God has bound me together with Him in love. He shares with me His blessings. He smiles upon me in His favor.
And since I know and am persuaded that God is the almighty, sovereign God who holds all things in His hand and directs them to accomplish His will, then I am convicted that if He is for me, nothing can be against me. Faith has content! If that great God is for us, nothing can be against us. He works all things together for our good. We are convicted of that.
When united to Christ by a true and living faith, we will walk in thankfulness and obedience to God. We will fear Him and keep His commandments. Faith is not the fruit itself, of course; the fruit flows out of the fact that we are grafted into Christ. It is not the grafting itself. Fruit is produced only out of the life of Christ that flows forth into us. The fruit is a work of God’s grace and Spirit in us, sanctifying us. But those who have faith do bring forth good works in their lives. That is the point of the passage before us here in Hebrews. These saints brought forth good works that became evident for all to see. Their faith was not hidden in their hearts. They confessed it before men and lived it before men. This is exactly why they were persecuted the way they were. This is exactly why God gave them boldness where there would have been weakness. Faith will always show itself in the life of the child of God. Does your faith show? Do others see it? Can you talk about it? Are the places to which you go and the deeds you perform evidence of faith? Faith is not something that can be hidden. Neither may it be. Jesus says: He that confesses Me before men I will confess before My Father in heaven. Likewise, he that denies Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven.
What this passage before us does not teach, however, is that God expects us to go out and do great heroic deeds for Christ. God expects us to live out of faith in our everyday lives. When a believing mother lives her, at times, hum-drum life in the home caring for her children and husband, she is living in faith. When she is home instructing her children while father is eking out a living for his family, she is living out of faith. When a believing father goes out and labors hard and honestly in his job in order to provide for his children, he is living in faith. When he comes home after his hard day of work because there is no place where he would rather be, and there he continues the instruction of his children and support of his wife, then he lives out of faith.
Why can we say this? Because he is fulfilling what God has taught him to do in the Bible—the objective content of faith. When he takes his family to church, frequenting the house of God, even though at times it may be difficult or even inconvenient, he is living out his faith. Why? Because Scripture instructs him in this calling. The objective content of faith is the Word of God, and it teaches us what we are to believe and how we are to live it out in our lives—in the home, church, labor, school, in this world. The works of faith are found in the little things we do each day of our lives—the deeds that flow out of our conviction that these are the things I must do for the sake of the kingdom. This faith is not showy, it is not an exhibition or a performance that we put on for others to see.
And this faith will result in endurance. To endure means the ability to bear up under something. I am reminded of a small sapling that finds root in an open field. As it grows, its roots dig deeply into the soil. When the winds blow across that open field, at times fiercely, that little sapling bends beneath the force of the wind. But it is not uprooted! So also the believer. When the winds of life blow on us, when hardships confront us, we do not give in and say, I cannot do it, I cannot live out my faith. No, his roots of faith dig the deeper into Jesus Christ and he bends and endures the storms of life. The saints in the passage we consider endured the fiercest of circumstances in life and they persevered. So also are we called unto quiet, brave endurance in the various circumstances of life. We can endure because our roots are dug into Jesus Christ. Christ preserves His people, and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
II. The Comfort of Faith
And there is where we also find our comfort—the comfort of faith. In all these things we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who so preserves us that not a hair can fall from our heads, and so that all things are subservient to our salvation. We belong to Christ both as to body and soul. We belong to Him in life and in death. We are His. No one will pluck us out of His hand. We believe that! We know that, and we are convinced that this is true. For that reason we find in Him our only comfort in life and in death, even when horrible atrocities may befall us by the hands of wicked men. Christ has won for us the victory over our enemies.
But what is even better is that, belonging to Jesus, we also belong to the living God of heaven and earth. He holds all things in His hands and directs them exactly as He will. He will take care of us, being almighty God and a faithful Father. “Who will separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No one and nothing will separate us from that love of God. This is the confession we make with God’s saints in Hebrews 11. I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. May we go forth in that faith!