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"Without Faith it is Impossible . . . "

Hebrews 11

Jim Davis

This is one of the most popular chapters in the Bible. Here we find the "Faith Hall of Fame." Verse six of this chapter is probably the most quoted verse in all of Hebrews: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6 NIV) In my early years of ministry I often quoted this verse to non-believers as I sought to stress the importance of believing. Of course, it is still applicable to unbelievers, but it was originally written to believers who were in the process of losing their faith.

The artificial chapter divisions of the Bible often blind us to the context of a passage. This is the case as we come to Hebrews 11. To understand the primary message of this chapter, you must connect it to the last verses of the preceding chapter.

Hebrews 10:38-39
But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (NIV)

It is obvious that believers were shrinking back in fear as persecution came upon them. They are reminded that it is impossible to overcome without faith.

Faith Impossible without Assurance

Faith anticipates certainty for the future. There is no way you can invest in anything without certainty that what you are investing in is trustworthy. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) Faith is the ability to look beyond the visible into the invisible. It is the ability to look beyond the momentary temporal scene as we fix our focus on what we know to be true. As we focus on what we know to be true, we are enabled to live in harmony with that truth. The truth we speak of is the eternal truth of God.

Faith is impossible without a proper perspective, and eternal truth is designed to give us a proper perspective. It is no accident that Genesis begins with, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." It is no coincidence that this fact the Hebrew writer begins his discussion of faith by saying, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command . . ."

Hebrews 11:3
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

The writers of the Old and New Testament recognized God's creative powers as the basis of their faith in his Word. Their faith was based upon the fact that God spoke and the visible world was created out of invisible things.

Psalms 19:1-8
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (NIV)

The psalmist faith is developed as he looks beyond what is seen. The psalmist's assurance in God's commands came from his observation of the heavens. The reliability of God's perfect natural laws gives the psalmist the assurance needed to trust God's spiritual laws. God has pitched a tent for the sun; it makes its circuit; it is like a champion rejoicing as it runs it course; nothing is hidden from its heat. God's trustworthy natural law is spoken in every language; therefore his spiritual laws are trustworthy in giving wisdom and reviving the soul. Just as the sun rejoices to run his course as it gives light to all, the law of the Lord gives light to the eyes and brings joy to the heart.

The psalmist’s understanding of God's reliability gives him assurance to sustain his faith in a temporary world. Faith in God gives us the advantage to view our lives from the certainty of God's eternal perspective. Faith allows us to live in view of eternity, and it also allows us to live from the perspective of eternity. Faith allows us to see our lives from God's vantage point. The Hebrew writer is telling us that only a faith in God will give us a proper perspective from which we can view the present.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (NIV)

Faith evaluates the present in light of eternity giving us courage to trust. Faith doesn't free us from living in our contemporary world; neither does it lift above the troubles of our world, but it does bring a realization that there is more to life than the temporal concerns. Having a firm conviction about things unseen would help us develop a perspective that would allow us to begin enjoying eternal life with God right now. If we could look beyond and discern God’s activity in our world, we could start enjoying the eternal perspective of our lives.

Try to imagine Moses enduring the hardships with the children of God because he was able to see him who is invisible. He was able to look beyond the riches of Egypt.

Hebrews 11:27
By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. (NIV)

Faith sharpens our vision. Abraham was able to look beyond his tents to a city whose builder and maker was God.

As I sit here trying to develop this sermon it is Election 2000, November 7, 2000. I have already voted, but I realize, whether my vote is a wining or losing vote, that ultimately my life is in the hands of God. God will work his will in my life regardless of who is elected. Daniel believed this when he was taken to Nebuchadnezzar palace to be brainwashed. It is this element of faith that enables me to endure the present with confidence. However, without this basic element of faith I will defeat God's intentional will for my life.

Faith Necessitates Diligence

The Hebrews lacked diligence. A lack of diligence led to ignorance and unbelief resulting in lack of perseverance. The writer reminds them that God only rewards earnest seekers.

Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (NIV)

It boggles my mind to think how often theology endeavors to separate faith in God from life's experiences, i.e. we may think that what we believe should have little or no need to effect on how we live. However, the subject of faith in the book of Hebrews demands that our faith in God dictate how we live in the present. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that it is impossible for God to initiate his plan of grace in our life until we seek him through responsive faith.

Ephesians 2:6-9
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

More importantly it is impossible to receive God's grace without a trusting faith. The only way for God to know that you trust him is for you to obey what he says.

Hebrews 11:4-5
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (NIV)

Abel's faith resulted in offerings--his offerings spoke well of him
Enoch's faith caused his living to please God
Noah's faith moved him to build an ark when warned of God
Abraham's faith moved him to wait on the promised seed--son
Abraham's faith moved him to offer the promised son as a sacrifice
By faith Jacob blessed his sons before he died
By faith Moses' parents hid Moses because the trusted God
By faith the Israelites passed through the Red Sea
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites marched around them for seven days.
By faith Rahab hid the spies.

There is not one instance in this entire chapter that suggest that God's graceful plan for their lives didn't require a faith that moved them to obey God. More importantly, without their obedience to God's plan there would be no salvation for us today. The grace, which came through Jesus Christ, was predicated upon their assurance and that assurance manifested in their obedience. Their assurance allowed God to work out his plan through their confident obedience. God had a plan for each of their lives, which had to be acted upon through faith.

After observing God's work as he led the Hebrews through the wilderness for forty years, a woman, who was a prostitute, said, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below." (Joshua 2:9-11 NIV) These are three of my favorite scriptures in the Old Testament. God has spoken and his works demonstrate the power and reliability of his Word.

Faith Must Conquer Our Fears

Hebrews 11:31-40
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (NIV)

These are my favorite verses in this chapter, because they mention great men and women of faith that courageously struggled to maintain their personal faith in God when all the odds were against them.

Rahab the prostitute's faith is amazing
We all know how God routed 10,000 Philistines with Gideon's 300 men.
Look at Barak in (Judges 4-5)
We all know the story of Samson
Jephthah made his foolish vow to God (Judges 11:1-40)
We all know about David's adultery and repentance
Samuel had faith to appoint a king to take his place

We realize that God removed the impossibilities from their lives. However, it is evident that he could not have done this without their courageous personal faith. It was God who shut the mouths of lions for Daniel, but it was Daniel's personal faith that made it possible.

All these individuals conquered their fears as they anticipated God's work on their behalf. Faith in God helped them to conquer their worst fears and enabled them to determine their options. Can you imagine Moses' parents considering their options as they sought to believe God and save their son to deliver the Hebrews?

Conclusion:

As I observe the faith of these faithful men and women, I realize the essential qualities of faith.

They had a responsive faith
They had a persistent faith
They had a sacrificial faith
They had a courageous faith
They had a dependent faith

 

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