Series on Hebrews, V Superior Privileges, C Superior Participation, Text:11:1-3, Title: Faith Is The Key


The Saints’ Hall of Fame,” “The Heroes of Faith,” “The Honor Roll of the Old Testament Saints,” “The Westminster Abbey of Scripture,” and “The Faith Chapter.” These are some of the names that have been given to this chapter. It is a chapter we often refer too because it so rich in illustrative material. This very fact often leads us to miss the context which comes from the end of Chapter 10. Perseverance is the most significant characteristic of true faith. 10: 37-39 says, For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 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. Faith does not exist without risk and danger, and peril. It is not an intellectual exercise. It is not the recitation of the correct formula. We shall be looking at this chapter in several parts for it covers periods of Israel’s history. We have an introduction in verses 1-3, The Faith of the Old World  in verses 4-7, the Faith of the Originators in verses 8-22, the Faith of the Overthrow and Occupation verses 23-31, and the Conclusion in verses 32-39 . The great chapter on faith in the Bible is an action chapter. You do not experience faith in peace, but in war. The war does not have to be fought on some remote primitive mission. The war is within and it is experienced at the level of every day’s most quite need. But always the cries of the battlefield ring in our ears. Thus the author introduces us to faith by defining it in verses 1-3, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 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. Against a background in which faith had been obscured by works and the heroic and adventurous pilgrimage had become a humdrum observance of rules and regulations the banner of faith is lifted high. This is no less necessary today when the religion of the average man consists of a useless and futile effort to please God in his own strength. Faith then is defined as the key. It is the Key to revelation, the Key to reality and the Key to righteousness.

I The Key to Revelation

The first characteristic of true faith is understanding according to verse 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 author does not mention this first, but verse 3 explains verse 1 and all that follows in the chapter. Faith is a response to revelation. It is believing certain definite things. The first principle is that God made the world out of nothing and He is the absolute Lord over all.  Much of Christianity can be historically validated, but this foundational principle comes only by revelation. The greatest attack on faith comes in the form of the assertion that such faith is not knowledge. J. Gresham Machen wrote a book “What Is Faith,” in 1925 which he said was designed to combat the anti-intellectualism of modernism with its false separation of faith and knowledge. The situation has not changed, so let us be clear on this point. The most reliable information in the world is God’s revelation to us. Faith is believing it regardless of the false scientific claim that knowledge can only be found in a laboratory. Unbelief does not arise from a lack of evidence for God. The heavens declare his glory and the skies proclaim the work of his hands, and the statutes of the Lord are trustworthy making wise the simple. The only cause of unbelief is a sin-darkened mind closed to the evidence and the only cause of faith is the grace of God changing the disposition.

II The Key to Reality

So far we have seen that faith in God is based on real knowledge. However it is more than that according to verse 1, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. It is translating our knowledge into experience. The word faith is often used as a synonym for luck meaning hope for the best, or hope against hope, or wish for a good outcome. I was in a public place where a man was expressing his concern over a gravely ill friend. After a long list of unrepeatable expletives including God and Christ and Jesus he said he hoped his friend would get better.  Of course he was not going to employ faith or prayer at all, he was just looking for a good break. In contrast the author of Hebrews says faith is the key to reality. Being sure of what we hope for means literally making it real as opposed to a shadow or a phantom.  Faith acts as if God and his word are real. Being certain of what we do not see means literally testing and proving it. Faith is the proof that the revelation of God is real. Far from being hoping against hope, faith is acting as if God’s promises are true. It is depending on His Word. It is obeying his precepts. It is commitment. Do you see how faith cannot be merely intellectual assent? It is being sure that the evidence is there.

III The Key to Righteousness

This chapter is all about the ancients and their faith. They were commended as it says in verse 2, This is what the ancients were commended for. That means they pleased God. They had his approval. Look at verse 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. But what does this approval mean? What constitutes pleasing God? If you look back to Chapter 10 you see the declaration that “the righteous will live by faith.” This is a quote from Habbakuk who is urging us to believe God’s promise. In times of trouble we look to the promises of God’s revelation. But this passage is also quoted by Paul in Romans 1: 16,17, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Paul is saying that the teaching of the gospel is that when we believe, we are made totally righteous in God’s sight. It was this that led Martin Luther to reject salvation by works and affirm salvation by grace through faith alone. The righteousness revealed in the Gospel is the righteousness of Christ and it is a free gift. Thus a genuine faith though it sometimes fails, sometimes stumbles, sometimes doubts still makes you perfect because of Jesus. This is true of all the Old Testament saints in this chapter. The point is that they believed God’s word and translated it into action and though they did it poorly and weakly, though they often failed still it made them perfect in God’s sight through Jesus’ person. So the real test of whether God approves you or not is found in whether you really act upon His word. If you do, then you have true faith and all of your sinful failings are covered by the righteousness of Christ because you really believe.