Building a Life of Faith (Hebrews 11:8-18)
We’re in week three of a series on built for life - on how to build a great life. All of us want to build great lives, and the Bible tells us how we can do that. Today we’re going to talk about building a life of faith.
How do you get God’s approval? By being religious and going to church? No. By keeping the Ten Commandments? No. By being more good than bad? No. By promising to be perfect? No. The Bible says that there is only one way to get God’s approval. There’s only one way to get God’s smile on your life. In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, it says, "It is impossible to please God without faith" (Hebrews 11:6).
The only way you can get God’s approval is through faith. You may be a great person, but without faith, it’s impossible to please God. You may do all sorts of great things in your life, but without faith it’s impossible to please God. God isn’t interested in rules and rituals. He’s only interested in one thing: that you develop a relationship of faith with him. If you want to build a great life, it’s essential that you know how to build a life of faith. Somebody has called faith the greatest power in the world.
What is faith? A lot of people have the wrong idea about what faith is. I’ve heard people say that faith is an irrational commitment to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. I’ve heard others say that faith is like a blind leap into darkness. That’s not faith; that’s stupidity. Faith is actually the opposite. You could describe faith as a leap out of darkness back into the light. Faith is not irrational. It’s based upon coherent and consistent reasoning. Faith isn’t simplistic, but it is simple. Faith provides future hope for your soul.
What is faith? Probably the best definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11. It’s a book of the Bible that contains a list of people in the Bible who lived lives of faith. You could call it God’s Hall of Faith. And Hebrews 11:1 gives us a definition of faith that I want to use today. Hebrews 11:1 says, "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." Here’s a definition of faith. Faith is the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to me because he has a purpose for me. Faith is building your life on the fact that God is in control, and that God will fulfill his promises even when you don’t see those promises materializing.
Faith isn’t making a good guess based on the best human estimate of what will happen. Faith isn’t taking a leap of faith. Faith is believing the promises of God, even when there is nothing to show for it. We’re going to look today at how we can develop lives of faith.
There is one man in the Bible who stands out as a paragon of faith. His name is Abraham. Now, the great thing about Abraham is that he has been viewed throughout the centuries as a model of faith - not just by Christians but by two other religions. Muslims, Jews, and Christians all look to Abraham as a model of faith. In fact, Genesis 15:6 tells us, "And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith." Now, I like to look at Abraham's life because Abraham was as human as you and I are. Under pressure he told lies. Twice he gave away his wife to save his own life. But James 2:23 tells us that Abraham was called a friend of God. Despite all of his failures and all of his faults, Abraham was called a friend of God. Why? Because of his faith. You don’t have to be perfect to build a great life. But you do have to build a life of faith.
In Hebrews 11, no one person gets more attention than Abraham. In fact, Hebrews 11 mentions three episodes in Abraham's life that point to him as a man of faith. I want to look at these three episodes in Abraham's life and draw out three secrets on building a life of faith. And here's the first secret right here:
1. FAITH IS OBEYING EVEN WHEN I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT
That’s the first secret of developing a life of faith. You’ve got to obey even before you understand it. Now, there are two types of people in this room. The first type is the spontaneous type. It never occurs to you to plan for the future, because the future isn’t here yet. You’re not worried about five minutes from now because you’re simply in the moment. What I’m going to say really doesn’t apply to you.
But there’s another group of people here who like to have a little bit of security. That’s me. I kind of like to know what I’ve got planned for the next week. I like to know that when I leave this place I’ve got a place to go home. Most of us, even if we’re spontaneous, want to have a basic outline of the information involved before we make a big decision. We need to know how it’s going to affect our lives.
I want you to meet Abraham. Let’s read Hebrews 11:8-10 together:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
When we encounter Abraham in Hebrews 11:8, he’s living in the area we would call Iraq today. He’s 75 years old, and he’s just getting ready for his old age pension. And then God comes along and tells him to move. God told him in Genesis 12:1, "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you." Abraham says, "God, where am I going?" God says, "You’ve never heard of this place." Abraham says, "How long will it take to get there?" God says, "Don’t worry about that." Abraham says, "How will I know when I’m there?" God says, "I’ll tell you." God was asking Abraham to make a major move with very little information to go on.
Would you do it? But because Abraham obeyed when he didn't understand it, he became the father of a nation called Israel. Many people were blessed because he obeyed even when it didn't make sense.
The problem with us isn’t that we don’t know what God’s will is for us. The problem for us is that we lack the courage to go. We want all the information first. The first time God split a sea for his people, he caused the Red Sea to split before the people entered it. The second time that God split water for his people, he told them to enter the river and then he would split it. Sometimes God asks us to make the move before we have all the information.
Even when Abraham reached the land God promised him, he wasn’t home free. Acts 7:5 tells us that when Abraham got to the land, "God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land." Abraham had to wait. Not only did he have to wait, but his children and grandchildren had to wait. Abraham risked all that he had for a promise. He risked all that he had and left it for the unknown, even though he didn’t understand. Why? Because he had the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to me because he has a purpose for me.
Faith always involves risking. Some people want a guarantee of success before they obey God. They read something in the Bible and God tells them to do something and they say, "OK, God, once you guarantee it's going to work, then I'll do it." God says, "That doesn't require any faith. I want you to believe when you don't see it and I want you to obey when you don't understand it."
The New Testament contains 1,050 commands for us to obey. That’s a lot of commands! I need to be really honest and tell you that sometimes I don’t like all those commands. Do you? Some of them seem unreasonable. Some of them seem unusual. Some of them are just plain inconvenient. It’s tempting to not obey because I don’t understand what’s in it for me, or how God is going to provide if I keep that command.
Do you remember when your parents would ask you to do something that made no sense to you as a kid? You would say, "What do my parents know!" You thought that they were old fogies who didn’t have a clue about life. Looking back, you can see the wisdom in what they told you. You were called to obey your parents even when you didn’t understand. Now, as you look back, you can understand that your parents had a purpose in their requests. They did it out of love and concern for you.
God is far wiser and far more concerned about you than your parents. When you ignore what he says for you to do, you’re a fool. It's foolish. He is the creator. The Bible is the owner's manual for life. If I ignore it, who am I going to hurt? Not God. I'm just going to hurt me.
Here's the point: If you learn to do whatever God tells you to do even when it seems absurd, then God can bless your life. You're going to build a life of faith and that's the foundation of building a great life.
On the other hand, if you ignore what God says to do – if you say, "I don't believe that stuff. I'm going to do what I think is best. I'm my own god," then you will miss out on all the great things and blessings that God has planned for your life and put you on this earth to enjoy. You'll miss them all.
In 1988, I was getting ready to go to seminary. About a month before I was about to ship off, I had a little crisis. I looked at the seminary fees. Then I looked at my bank account. Then I looked at the seminary fees again. There was no way that I was going to be able to make it.
So I did what any smart person would do: I told my friends that I wasn’t going to go to seminary. Was the issue that I didn’t know God’s will for my life? Absolutely not! I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was calling me into ministry. Did I doubt that God could provide? No! I knew enough about the Bible to know that God never calls us to do anything without also providing the resources. So what was the problem? The problem was that this time it was me. I was sticking my neck out. The question wasn’t whether or not God provides for his people. The question was whether or not God would provide for me. I had a friend that pulled me aside and said, "If God has called you to go, God will provide a way. He’s calling you to obey even when you don’t understand it." I went, and God provided.
I’m so glad now that I obeyed God at that point. If I had turned by back on what I knew God would have wanted me to do, I would have missed out on so many blessings. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have my children. I wouldn’t have the joy of being your pastor. But it was simply an act of obedience. When you obey, even when you don’t understand, God always honors that obedience.
What has God called you to do that you don’t understand, but you’re not doing it yet? Maybe you need to go home today and say, "God, I’m through with waiting. Faith always involves risk. Today, I’m finally taking that step of obeying you even though I don’t understand. Today I’m going to follow Abraham and make a move of obedience even when I don’t understand." If you take this step, you won’t miss all the blessings that God has planned for your life.
There’s a second secret that we need to understand if we’re going to build a life of faith:
2. FAITH IS BELIEVING EVEN WHEN I CAN’T SEE IT
I want you to turn to your neighbor and tell them one thing that you think it’s impossible for you to do. It could be anything – running a marathon or becoming a CEO or flying like a bird, but tell your neighbor one thing that you really believe that it’s impossible for you to do.
If you had stopped Abraham and Sarah thousands of years ago and asked them that question, you would have received one answer. They would have told you that it was impossible for them to have children. Now, it wasn’t for lack of trying. They had tried and tried to have kids, and in fact they had given up so much hope that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, gave him her servant to bear him a child when he was 86 years old. I think that Abraham and Sarah would have said, "There is no way on earth that we are ever going to have a child!"
The main problem with not having a son is that God had made a special promise – a covenant – with Abraham that involved Abraham having a son. This is a serious promise that assured that Abraham would become the father of many nations. His descendents would be countless and His descendents would have a Promised Land. He was given all these wonderful incredible promises and this honor and blessing would come through his son. This is interesting because Abraham did not have a son. There’s a time in the Bible when Abraham does one of these time-outs: "God, I appreciate all this but I don’t have a son!" Abraham couldn’t see a way that this could ever come true.
We need to realize that Abraham and Sarah both struggled with this dilemma. Do you ever feel that God has put your life on hold? That’s how Abraham and Sarah felt. In fact, it got to the point where they didn’t think that God had them on hold. They thought that God had hung up. It got to the point that when God told them they would have a child, Sarah laughed. I would have too. They were at the age to be buying Depends, not Pampers. It was ludicrous to think that Abraham and Sarah would have a baby. But faith is believing even when I can’t see it.
Abraham and Sarah weren’t perfect in this struggle, but at age 100 Abraham have birth to a son that God had promised him many years before. In spite of everyone’s laughter, God’s promise was born. Isaac was the dream child.
Read Hebrews 11:11-12 with me:
It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children—a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
The key words in these verses are, "Abraham believed that God would keep his promise." Once again, faith is the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to me because he has a purpose for me. God has a purpose for your life. God is absolutely committed to keeping his promises to you, even when you can’t see it. You may be in a rush, but God isn’t.
There are two principles that you need to understand to help you believe when it seems like God has put you on permanent hold. The first principle is this: WAITING TIME IS NEVER WASTED TIME. When God tells me what he wants to do, I can’t wait to do it. But God is seldom in a rush. Abraham had to wait until he was 100 years old. You may be waiting for God to do something. You may have given up. But God hasn’t given up. God will keep his promises to you. Your waiting time is never wasted time.
What is God doing while we wait? A lot of things. God is maturing us in preparation for receiving the promise. God is testing us so that we can see how committed we are to him. God is working behind the scenes preparing the way. God is using circumstances to position and prepare you to accomplish his vision for your life. You may have to wait, but God’s timing always has a purpose. God will fulfill his promises to you.
The other principle you need to understand, that will help you believe when you can’t see God’s promises being fulfilled, is this: GOD IS NOT JUST THE GOD OF THE WHAT. GOD IS THE GOD OF THE HOW. What do I mean by that? God specializes in the impossible. Somebody has said, "What God originates, he orchestrates." I’ve found in my life that God always gives the what before he gives the how. He says, "Abraham, you’re going to have a baby." Abraham’s question was, "How?" God says, "Don’t worry about the how, Abraham. I’ll take care of the how. All you have to do is believe."
The problem with Abraham is that he couldn’t see how it would take place, so he began working on his own plans just to help God out. I think Abraham figured, "God has given me the what. Now it’s up to me to figure out how to do it." Every time Abraham took on the how part of the job, Abraham messed up. There’s a reason: when God gives the what, he always gives the how. God specializes in doing the possible. He wants to do something in your life that can only be explained by divine intervention.
God has a purpose in every experience that you’ve ever had. You may feel that right now, your life is on hold. You may be waiting for God to fulfill a promise that he gave you many years ago. You may be tempted not to believe, because you’re tired of waiting. You need to know that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to me because he has a purpose for me. God has a purpose in your waiting. He will take care of how it’s going to happen – you don’t have to. All you’re called to do is to believe, even when you can’t see it.
What is faith? It’s obeying when I don’t understand it. It’s believing when I don’t see it. There’s one more secret to developing a life of faith:
3. FAITH IS GIVING EVEN WHEN I CAN’T AFFORD IT
Giving and faith go together. And giving doesn’t just involve money – it involves everything. Faith is all about giving God whatever we value most – whatever we possess and don’t want to give up. Faith is about giving God our most valued possession – whether that’s your money, your family, your reputation, or whatever. And the irony is that it’s never really ours until we’ve given it to God.
One of the secrets of building a life of faith is found in Hebrews 11:17-20:
It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, though God had promised him, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted." Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.
You may remember this story from when you were a child. This is probably one of the most confusing and troubling passages in the entire Bible. It doesn’t make much sense until you begin to understand that God wasn’t interested in a human sacrifice. God was interested in Abraham’s heart. God gave Abraham this as a test. God wanted to test what was in Abraham’s heart. He wanted to see if Abraham was willing to give when he couldn’t afford to give. God was asking Abraham for the one thing that he couldn’t afford to give, and Abraham had the faith to give it.
God isn’t a mean or capricious God. God never asks us to sacrifice something for him for no reason. But I will tell you this: if you want to build a life of faith, at some point you and God will do business on this issue of sacrifice. God isn’t interested in being second in your life. He’s only interested in first, and he won’t settle for anything less. And God is asking some of you to sacrifice this morning. The only question is, how are you going to respond?
Some of us say, "God, you provide, and then I’ll sacrifice." That would be like Abraham saying that he would give up his son only when he knew he wouldn’t have to. But that’s not faith. But that's not faith. It's like, "God, you bring in this big windfall and when it arrives then I'll give some of it back to you." God says that may be gratitude but that certainly isn't faith.
Others of us say, "God, only take what’s not important to me." But that’s not faith either. I see this with my kids all the time. They have no problem sacrificing the things they didn’t want in the first place. We say to God all the time, "God, take this and that. But leave my career alone. Don’t ask me to sacrifice my money. Don’t ask me to give up what matters most to me." And God says in return, "You don’t understand. I’m not interested in those things. What I’m really interested in is your heart. And until you give me what matters most – whatever that is – you’ll never really be sure that you’ve given me all."
The ironic part is that when we give God what matters most, God gives it right back. And when he doesn’t give it back, it’s only so that he can give us something much better. The minute Abraham gave Isaac to God, God said, "I didn’t want him in the first place. You can have him back." Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, "If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life."
Corrie Ten Boom once commented that she learned to hold everything loosely in her hand, because she knew she would grasp them tightly and the Lord would have to pry her fingers away, and it would hurt. When we live with open hands, God doesn’t have to pry our grip. God wants us to hold everything – whatever matters most – loosely, and to be prepared to give him the very thing we think we can’t afford to sacrifice. Why? Because faith is the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to me because he has a purpose for me
If you’re afraid to trust God with your possessions, your dreams, or a person, then you need to pay attention to Abraham’s example. Because Abraham was willing to give up everything for God, he received back far more than he could have imagined. You will never give up anything for God that God will not repay many times over. Jesus once said to his disciples:
I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return, a hundred times over…And in the world to come they will have eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Do you want to live a life of faith? Then you need to begin living today with the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that he will keep his promises to us because he has a purpose for you. And that’s going to involve obeying him when you don’t understand it, believing when you can’t see it, and giving when you can’t afford it. And it all begins today.
Somebody once said, "He is no fool who gives what he can not keep in order to gain what he cannot lose." What is it that God is calling you to sacrifice for him? What step of faith – of obedience - is he asking you to take today?
Would you pray this prayer as we close? "Dear God, help me to be like Abraham and obey you even when I don't understand it. Help me to believe when I can’t see it – when I think it’s impossible and hopeless. Help me to give when I can’t afford it. Teach me to trust in you."
If you've never invited Christ in your life, you can take that step today. Pray these words in your heart: "Dear God, help me to trust you. Today I want to give up what matters most – I want to give up my soul to you. Today I turn away from my sins, and ask for the forgiveness that Jesus Christ provided for me. I want to get to know you. And I want you to become the manager of my life and teach me how to live by faith in you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen."