Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, Weymouth Translation)
In a recent post, I briefly explained that one purpose of Scripture is to build our faith. It is through faith that the elders, or fathers of the faith, obtained a good testimony (Hebrews 11:2). They were not perfect individuals, as the Bible also shows us where they fell short. God’s favor is not found in our perfection, but in striving to do His will out of our faith in Him.
Let us look and see what each of this fathers of faith did to obtain a good testimony.
(Hebrews 11:4) By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain…. (See Genesis 3:7, 21; 4:1-5.) After Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked, and clothed themselves with fig leaves. They thought their own efforts were sufficient to hide their sin from God. But the wages of sin is death. Therefore, God killed an animal and used its skin to make clothing for them.
Abel learned the lesson, and offered a sheep in sacrifice to God. Because he took by faith what God showed them, God approved Abel’s sacrifice. Cain did not learn the lesson, but offered fruits and vegetables in offering; God did not respect Cain’s offering.
(Hebrews 11:5) By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death… (See Genesis 5:21-24). Enoch had pleased God, so was caught up to heaven without dying. This is a type of what we call the rapture of the church (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-17, et al). When Christ comes back, He will resurrect those who have died in Christ, and rapture those who are still alive. (If you want to know more about this glorious event, check out my book The Prewrath Rapture: Answering the Critics; or my forthcoming book, The Rapture and Second Coming of Christ, part of a planned series of books entitled God’s SIMPLE Truth ™.)
Notice one thing in this passage – Enoch was caught up because he pleased God. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, you cannot please God, and that genuine faith will cause us to diligently seek Him. This throws easy-believism out the door, the idea that all you have to do is say a little sinner’s prayer to be guaranteed a place in heaven. It is explicit that if you do not show the fruit of faith, you are in danger of hell.
(Hebrews 11:7) By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen… prepared an ark…. God told Noah that He was going to pour out wrath on the wicked in the form of a worldwide flood. Only Noah and His family honored God in their lives, so God promised him a way of escape. He told Noah to build a big boat, with specific instructions how to do it. Noah obeyed and saved himself, his family, and the animals of the earth. Faith requires obedience at the level of your faith.
This is also a type for the rapture (Matthew 24:37-39). God promises that He will remove from danger those who have genuine faith on the same day that He pours out His end-time wrath. Just as Noah obeyed God, so was rescued because of his faith, we also must be striving to walk in obedience, which demonstrates our faith.
(Hebrews 11:8-10) By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out, … and dwelt in the land of his inheritance, though it was a foreign country. Are you seeing the pattern here? Each of these Old Testament saints had faith, which was proven through their obedience. They were not perfect, they made mistakes and committed sins from time to time. But they diligently sought to obey God’s directives.
The other side of faith
The other side of faith is looking for the reward, the conviction of the reality of those things we do not yet see in place. Various crowns and rewards await believers. But each is a reward for action. Some of the rewards we can taste now, but only in part. The full realization of these rewards we cannot see, but are convinced of their reality.
By faith Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice at God’s behest, though God promised that Isaac was the promised seed. Abraham obeyed because he believed God would still keep His promise (Hebrews 11:17-19). By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, and Jacob blessed Joseph and his sons. By faith, Joseph remembered the promised inheritance and gave instructions for his bones to be carried to the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:20-22) when God brought them back.
By faith Moses chose to suffer affliction at the hands of Egypt rather than enjoy the passing pleasure of sin, looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:23-29).
Hebrews goes on to extol those who obeyed, looking forward to the reward even through tribulations and persecutions. A few saw some of the fruit of their faith, while others died still waiting for the promise, knowing that God will fulfill His promise in due time.