Graduating from the School of Faith

Last time we looked at one of the scariest passages in Scripture, reminding us of the seriousness of matters of the soul in a world which tends to regard them as being of little significance – “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” But then the writer again encourages the readers that they had shown marks of true saving faith – now their need is to persevere in that to the end and not to shrink back.

On Sunday we will look at a long list of characters from the Old Testament who had this same faith, did remarkable things in their lives here but were always looking forward to the prize of the upward call in Christ – and these all did indeed press on to the end to receive their reward.

LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 10:26-39)

The big idea that we were pointed to in this passage is this:

True Christians will endure in the face of suffering and opposition by trusting in the goodness of God. This is the way. And there’s no other way.

We considered the following main points:

  1. Let the severity of God’s judgment shock your senses. There is a life we can live in which we trample Jesus Christ, the only Savior, underfoot. That is what we are doing if we only look like Christians but in reality turn away from Jesus and continue quite purposefully in our sin, with no concern for the consequences. If this is us, there is no longer a sacrifice we can appeal to to take away God’s wrath. Those who set aside the Old Testament law were justly killed for their sins. Clearly, those who set aside the Son of God (who is so much better than anything the Old Testament had to offer) will face a much worse punishment. They are like those who spat on Him, mocked and scorned Him even as He hung on the cross, and felt good about it. Understanding that this can happen, the letter is a loving warning to us, so that we may never trample Jesus underfoot ourselves.
  2. Let your past preach to your future. We who know Christ each have a story of His gracious dealings with us and how our lives were changed through meeting Him. The original readers had such a story and the writer urges them to remember it. They were exposed to reproach and affliction for their faith. They gladly identified with and ministered to brothers and sisters who were themselves afflicted – put in prison for their faith. They behaved like those who didn’t belong in this world but joyfully accepted the loss of their property since they had better and lasting possessions in heaven. When we are struggling to follow Jesus, remembering such things from our own past is a great way to stir ourselves up to persevere in the present and to stay the distance in our journey home to Jesus.

In the light of these things:

  • Unbelievers are urged to come to Jesus if we don’t know Him already – we should want to fall into God’s hands as our loving Father and not as our fearful and wrathful Judge.
  • Struggling believers are encouraged to remember our former days – why we came to Christ and what happened in our lives back then – and to use this reflection to stir us up again to persevere in our faith to the end.

The book of Hebrews was written to save our lives. Let’s be sure that today is not the day we stop following Jesus but the day we trust in Him again and press on to finish the race.

LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 11:1-16)

The original readers were commended at the end of chapter 10 for the evidence of true faith in their lives (in joyfully accepting the loss of their earthly possessions because they knew they had better and incorruptible things in store for them). They were also reminded that the righteous will live by faith and not be destroyed by shrinking back from Christ. The writer almost seems to have anticipated a question on the part of the readers at this point – “what is faith?” It’s a good question for us, too, because many in this day and age have adopted curious ideas on the subject. Here is the author’s answer:

Faith is being certain that the things God has promised to give us are truly our possession. Even though we cannot see them here and now with our physical eyes, we have an absolute conviction that they are real.

People who have this kind of faith live very differently. Concerning the past, they have a settled and unapologetic belief about how this universe came into being – that it was summoned out of nothing by the powerful Word of God. Concerning the future, they will have their hearts and minds set not on this world but on the next; not on material things here but on spiritual (more valuable) things there; not on seeking to preserve their lives here at all costs but in seeking to be as ready as possible for their lives there. 

Such faith, of course, is a gift that is imparted to us by God and not something that we can work up within ourselves. Nevertheless, in one of those marvelous illustrations of the gracious generosity of God, people who have this faith are commended by Him! Indeed, the writer tells us in verse 6 that if we do not have this kind of faith, we cannot possibly please God and receive His commendation. 

Having defined what faith is all about, we are now treated to a catalog of those in the Old Testament who possessed this faith, and of the extraordinary things that happened to them, and the remarkable things they did as a result. It is really important to note that the faith produced the events that are recorded here – none of the people mentioned simply did their works and were commended by God in consequence. The genuineness of their faith was proven by the works that it produced in them. So they were saved by faith alone, but the only faith that will save is that which produces the fruit of good works.

And like a graduation ceremony, one character after another comes up onto the stage to be commended for their faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. All of them, the writer says, lived their lives looking to glory and not counting themselves to be at home in any part of this world. Strangers and exiles here, having their true citizenship in heaven. They did things that would be regarded as insane by those whose permanent residency is here: 

  • Building a boat inland when it is not even clear that there had ever been rainfall!
  • Suddenly leaving their current home to move around in tents with no idea exactly where they were going, only that God had called them to come out after Him!
  • Bearing children at close to one hundred years of age as one of God’s amazing promises began to be fulfilled!

They all knew there was something better coming (but not in this world) and they lived here in the light of that conviction and therefore God owns them as His people, who would indeed inherit the city He has prepared for them.

Remember that the writer has just encouraged the original readers of this letter by pointing out that they had shown some evidence that they also had this same faith. The examples he gives in this passage are of those who didn’t shrink back from Christ, but kept this faith to the end of their lives, not receiving the things promised here, but certain of them in the future. The readers needed to take the same approach, and so do we.

Do you have the kind of faith that pleases God? He will give it to you, and commend you for having it, if you will turn away from sin and turn to Jesus alone to save you!