Summary: A look at Hebrews definition of faith
We’re looking at Hebrews 11. How can we be God’s incredibles? Those who received this letter were finding things tough and were tempted to give up. Hebrews 11 is meant to encourage them to go forward in faith. To keep on believing and make a difference for God. To realise as verse 2 says – that faith is the way to please God. If we want to get God’s approval, his commendation then the one thing we need is faith? Like the man that fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued: "Is anyone up there?" "I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe me?" "Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer." "That’s all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch." A moment of pause, then: "Is anyone else up there?" Hebrews 11:1 defines faith…
1. Faith is being sure and certain of what we do not yet see or have -
“ But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:24). We do not yet see God but believe in him. We believe Jesus rose again – though it cannot be proved scientifically. We believe in Heaven – no one can go and check it out before booking a place! But we believe it exists and that we will go there one day. Faith means having convictions, being assured that something is true even if you cannot see it. The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see frees us from the flimsy enclosures of life that only fear allows to entrap us. This does not mean we will not have doubts. Faith is not the absence of doubt; it is maintaining trust & belief in spite of doubts. It doesn’t mean that there is no evidence to support faith; it is not a leap in the dark. Say more about that next week.
2. Faith is our response to God’s revelation
But there is more to biblical faith than that. We must add this too or we’ll get into all kinds of trouble. (Romans 10:17) Faith is ultimately based in God’s revelation. As we go through Hebrews 11 you will see that real faith is based upon revelation. Noah heard God, Abraham heard God, Moses etc. The point is God has revealed himself - in nature, in the Bible but as I said last week most of all in His Son. God has spoken – there has been revelation. Christianity is a revealed faith. God has revealed himself. Faith is having convictions and certainties in response to God’s revelation, even when there are appearances to the contrary. E.g. Faith, great faith is often seen as the ability to cause the miraculous to happen – but Jesus said (Luke 17:5-6) this actually takes little faith. I didn’t understand this until now. With Elizabeth as we pray for her healing we believe God is able. That takes a measure of faith but not a great deal as it is what we want to happen. To be certain that God will heal requires God to reveal that he will. Then faith responds to that. What takes even more faith is to carry on trusting God even if he does not heal. Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego faith I call it. Standing before the fiery furnace faced with agonising death they said God can deliver us but even if he doesn’t we are not going to worship the image (Dan 3:16-18). That is what the writer to Hebrews is talking about – they were facing persecution. He was calling them to keep trusting despite their circumstances. That’s faith.
3. Faith is not the ability to manipulate God
This means we can exclude certain things that sometimes people get confused with faith. Some faith teaching implies that we can to manipulate God – health & wealth people often make out that if you obey certain rules you can get God to do whatever you want. On the contrary if faith is our response to what God has said it is not us taking the initiative, deciding what is needed & pushing buttons as if God is some kind of dispensing machine.
It is more than just wishful thinking/being positive – having an attitude that is positive, a can-do attitude, is not faith in a Christian sense. Christian faith is a response to God’s revelation. Let me give an extreme example that illustrates both of these points about manipulating God and positive thinking. What if I in “faith” declare that I am going to have an Aston Martin DB9? I am naming it and claiming it – I will speak of things that are not as though they were! When you see me driving you may think that I ma driving a Honda Accord. But if you look with the eyes of faith you’ll see it is the Aston! God is going to give this to me so that I can do the Lord’s work – only faster! And with more style, with excellence (which can sometimes be used as an excuse for extravagance) and it will be glorifying to God because people will think if the minister drives an Aston that must be a church going places! That is not faith – it might be an attempt to manipulate God or just a case of extreme wishful thinking, hyper-positive attitude. But if God very clearly tells me that he wants me to have an Aston & I am not making it up then to declare it is faith because it is on the basis of revelation not my whim, greed etc. It will happen. Faith is a response to God’s revelation not my wishful thinking or positive attitude. I wish he would, please pray!