Summary: Sermon 22 in a study in HEBREWS
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. NASB
“For by it the men of old gained approval”
We will be wise, going into this great chapter about faith, to look behind us and be reminded of the solemn warning that ends chapter 10.
“But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if He shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
There is no alternative offered. There is the walk of faith, or there is shrinking back. According to chapter 10 verse 39, [and remember that chapter and verse divisions came much later, so this is linked to chapter 11 verse 1 by a simple punctuation mark], those who shrink back do so to their destruction and those who persevere in faith do so to the preserving of their soul.
Then we have this very familiar definition of faith, given so that the reader who desires the preserving of his soul may know what sort of faith is required.
Faith is assurance. Faith itself is evidence of the unseen. By faith, men of old gained approval.
Now here is where a newcomer, hearing these words for the first time, would be inclined to ask, “Faith in what? Faith in whom?” And those are very important questions to ask since the word ‘faith’ is so carelessly tossed about these days.
Any form of religion is referred to as a faith. What people are talking about when they say it that way is a particular set of beliefs that mark that particular religion. “That man is of the Islamic faith” would be an example of how they would say it.
A religious person is commonly called a man of faith or a woman of faith. The word is used to encourage someone in a time of trouble, prompting them to ‘hang in there’ and have faith and everything will eventually be alright.
Now as I say, these are just general and careless uses of the word, because faith, by definition, must have a foundation – an object of focus. This should go without saying and I don’t want to get bogged down in it and bore you, but faith means ‘belief’; it means believing in something or someone, it means trusting in something or someone. You passively put your faith in a chair every time you sit on one. You actively put your faith in a person when you trust them to keep a promise or stay true to a vow. If there is no object or person of focus, telling someone to ‘have faith’, is like telling them to stand on air.
This is why immediately after warning his readers/hearers that the righteous man shall live by faith and that shrinking back from it displeases God, the writer defines faith, then lists example after example of those who exercised faith and gained God’s approval. The NIV says “This is what the ancients were commended for” (vs 2).
The Holy Spirit of God, through the writer, wants us to understand clearly what true God-pleasing faith is, so we’ll know what he is talking about when in chapter 12 he says, ‘Therefore…’ and encourages us to live in the faith that gained a good testimony for those who have trod this path we now tread.