Does It Call You to Trust God?
Hebrews 11:1–6, 13–16
Many believers skip over the Epistle to the Hebrews, a biblical book better classified as a sermon, because of the author’s reflection on the Old Testament sacrifices. The dominant themes of Hebrews involve Christ and the nature of faith. Hebrews 11 is often described as the great faith chapter of the New Testament. Within this chapter, faith is not a mere intellectual assent to the person of Christ. The dominant characteristic of faith in Hebrews is looking back to the sacrifice of Jesus and looking forward to God’s fulfillment of His promises.
Faith leads us to believe and rely on God. (1–3)
This passage sets forth a definition of faith, the result of faith and an example of faith. Faith is forward looking. Faith hopes. The biblical concept of hope is more than a wish — in the Bible, hope has the connotation of certainty. Faith is a reality that cannot be verified by empirical data such as sight. Forward-looking faith characterized the heroes of the Old Testament receiving the approval or witness (a literal translation of the Greek) of God.
Faith responds with obedience that pleases God. (4–6)
The author of Hebrews selected people from the Old Testament to describe the nature of faith rather than describing the faith of his contemporaries. Here the author highlighted three aspects of faith: Faith offers (or worships), faith pleases God and faith affirms that God exists and rewards His worshippers. Hebrew interpreters understood Enoch as one God rewarded by taking him to heaven without Enoch dying.
The author describes two characteristics of faith. First, faith worships. The phrase “draw near” described the action of the priest drawing near to God in service. Second, faith affirms that God rewards believers who continually and persistently seek Him.
Faith stays focused on God’s Word and promises. (13–16)
The believers of the Old Testament mentioned by the author died in faith without experiencing all the promises of God. We may sing “Standing on the Promises,” but the author of Hebrews emphasized the manner in which believers must live based on the promises of God. First, we must understand most biblical promises are conditional. Hebrews 11 describes the proper attitude regarding God’s promises. We see them from a distance in the sense that the promises are future. Second, we are to greet or welcome them. Third, we are to live as if this world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, we are temporary residents here.
Like the believers described in Hebrews 11, we must live in such a way that we do not shame God. The Pilgrims, in a sense, adopted Hebrews 11:13 as their motto. The Bible of the Pilgrims, the Geneva Bible, translated the latter part of Hebrews 11:13 as follows: “All these died in faith, and received not the promises, but saw them afar off, and believed them, and received them thankfully, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Focusing on the promises means living in a manner that demonstrates this world is not our home.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida