Faith: Being Certain of What You Do Not See

Click here for more messages from the book of Hebrews.
Click here for more messages from the Growing in Faith series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

Hebrews 11:1-2

INTRODUCTION: There are several chapters in the Bible that are famous or stand out because of a certain theme or topic which they address. For example, if I were to call out 1 Corinthians 13, many of you would respond: “the love chapter.” Genesis 1 speaks of: “the creation!” Exodus 20 – “the Ten Commandments!” The 23rd Psalm? “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Hebrews chapter 11 is another one of these famous chapters. It is often called “the faith chapter,” because it is an entire chapter devoted to the topic of faith. It is a favorite passage for many, not only because it explains and describes what faith is, but also because it gives many practical and concrete examples of the varied aspects of faith. We do not know exactly who wrote this chapter, because the book of Hebrews is the one book in the New Testament that is anonymous. But whoever the human author was, we know that these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit and that God is the ultimate author behind Hebrews 11.

There are many excellent reasons to study this great chapter. One reason, of course, is that it is the word of God, and it is always profitable to study God’s word.

A second reason to study Hebrews 11 is because it is all about faith, and faith is foundational to the Christian life. You cannot become a Christian without saving faith. You cannot live as a Christian without persevering faith. And you cannot grow as a Christian unless you are growing in faith. Faith is foundational to the Christian life.

And then a third reason to study this chapter is that Hebrews 11 not only teaches us many practical and important things about faith, but it also gives us a good overview of the whole Old Testament. The writer of Hebrews digs back into the Old Testament for biblical examples of the various aspects of faith. Remember, at this time the Old Testament was the only Bible that anybody had. The New Testament was still being written. So, if you wanted to find biblical examples of faith, then the Old Testament was the right place to go.

Some of us are not as familiar with the Old Testament as we are with the New Testament. I would guess most Christians spend more time in the books of the New Testament than they do in the Old Testament books of the law, the writings and the prophets.

That’s not a bad thing. I hope you are reading from the New Testament every day. But if you only read the New Testament and never get around to reading the Old Testament, then you are missing out on a large part of God’s revelation. And there are many parts of the New Testament that we can only fully understand if we know the Old Testament first.

So, if you are not as familiar with the Old Testament, or if you haven’t read it in a while, Hebrews 11 is a great little introduction or review or “Cliff’s Notes” of the Old Testament. As we study through these examples in Hebrews 11, not only will you learn more about faith, but you will also get an overview from beginning to end of the whole Old Testament and some of the most important people featured in the Old Testament.

And so today we begin a study of Hebrews chapter 11, a new message series entitled, “Growing in Faith.” The disciples once said to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) That is a good prayer.

We are all at different points in our Christian walk and maturity. Some of you have been walking with the Lord a long time. Some of you are just getting started. Some of you are growing like the weeds in my lawn. Some of you perhaps have leveled off or stopped growing altogether. Or perhaps you have been a Christian for some time now, but you have never really grown much in your faith. No matter where you are in your Christian walk, this chapter is for you. We all need to grow in our faith.

Actually, I am really excited about this series. I’ve been wanting to preach this chapter for several years now, but the Lord has kept leading me to other messages instead. But now I believe God is saying the time is right. And if God wants to speak to us about growing in our faith, then that means God must have some awesome things ahead for us, because it is faith that activates God’s power in our own personal lives and in the life of God’s church.

Just imagine if we all take the lessons of this chapter to heart, and if we all grow leaps and bounds in our faith in Christ over the next couple months. What wonderful things does God have planned for you as a believer and for us as a congregation as we grow together in our faith? My prayer is that through this study we may all come to a deeper understanding of true Biblical faith, and that individually and as a church together we may all grow in our own personal faith as followers of Jesus Christ. (Pray over message series.)

———————————

So, we begin today with verses 1-2. These two verses introduce the whole chapter, and they also provide us with what I call a working definition of faith. This morning we will spend some time looking at this definition closely. We will see what it means and, just as important, what it does not mean. It is important to understand these verses correctly because they form the basis for all the other verses that follow.

So, let us read these two verses together: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

That is our text for this morning. Verse one gives us a two-part definition of faith: 1) Faith is being sure of what you hope for; and 2) Faith is being certain of what you do not see. And then verse two tells us why this definition is so important by applying it to the lives of the Old Testament believers and by extension to us.

I. Faith is being sure of what you hope for (1a)
      – Habakkuk 2:4; Hebrews 10:38

So, let’s get started. Let’s look at the first half of this two-part definition first. “Faith is being sure of what you hope for.” Let’s talk a little about what that means.

First of all, it is important to understand that this whole topic of faith is not some brand-new topic that the writer of Hebrews just starts out of the blue in chapter 11. He has previously addressed the topic of faith back in chapters 4, 6 and 10. He will go on to say some more things about faith in chapters 12 and 13.

However, most of his teaching on faith takes place right here in chapter 11. The word “faith” appears thirty-one times in the book of Hebrews. Twenty-four of those are in chapter 11.

Now, the most recent mention of faith before our chapter is found only a few verses before in Hebrews 10:38. I want us to take a brief look at that verse together, because it helps us set the context for our present verse and chapter.

But first, a little context on the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews was originally written to Jews who had become Christians who were now undergoing severe persecution for their faith. The whole book of Hebrews looks at various aspects of the Old Testament and how they have all been fulfilled in Christ.

Chapter 10 speaks particularly of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. The writer tells us about Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin which fulfilled the law and by which we have been saved and made holy in God’s sight. It is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we have confidence to approach God by the blood of Jesus. He then urges his readers not to throw away their confidence, that is, not to let go of Christ and what Christ has done for them. They need to persevere in their faith despite persecution because Christ will return as he promised.

Now, all that brings us to Hebrews 10:38. Hebrews 10:38 quotes an important verse in the Old Testament from the prophet Habakkuk – “the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

This verse from Habakkuk is a central verse to both the Old and the New Testament. Paul quotes it in the book of Galatians and Romans as a key verse supporting the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ alone. This was the verse that Martin Luther discovered that led him to rediscover the biblical doctrine of justification by faith and which launched the entire Reformation. “The just will live by faith. The righteous will live by faith.”

Do you want to be justified or righteous in God’s sight? Then you must live by faith. As we said earlier, all that we do as Christians comes from faith. You cannot become a Christian without faith, and you cannot live as a Christian without faith. Faith not only starts you on your way, but faith undergirds all that you do as a Christian. As Christians we are heaven-bound, but we still live here on earth. We still struggle with trials and sin and pain. We do not yet see the fullness of our salvation that will be completed in heaven one day. We are caught somewhere in between. Therefore, we must continue in faith, persevering until the end.

   A. Being sure = “a sure and strong foundation”

So, what then is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us, first of all, that faith is “being sure of what you hope for.” Those words “being sure” are a single word in the Greek. It’s a word that literally means: “that which goes underneath something which causes or makes it to stand.” It is what we would call a foundation or a substructure. The stronger the foundation, the stronger the structure it supports. So, faith is the foundation in your life that keeps your hope alive, that keeps your hope from being shaken when trials come your way. The stronger your faith, the stronger your hope and your life.

Here in Florida if you live in a trailer and there is a hurricane coming, you need to get out. You need to evacuate. Why? Because you don’t have a foundation, and therefore you have no confidence that your trailer is going to make it through the storm. But if you live in a home with a strong foundation, that foundation gives you confidence when the wind begins to blow.

It’s the same way with faith. Without faith, your confidence and hope will get tossed away as easily as a trailer in one-hundred-fifty mph winds. Faith is the sure and strong foundation that gives you confidence or assurance concerning the things you hope for as a Christian.

   B. Hope = “to wait with confidence and assurance”

The word “hope” in verse one is not a word that just means wishful thinking, or hoping against hope, like when someone asks you, “Do you think things will get better?” and you answer despairingly, “I hope so.”

No, this word “hope” here is the exact opposite of despair. It is a word that means to wait for something with confidence and assurance. It is the hope of the psalmist who writes in Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Don’t you just love that? David is full of hope and confidence in God as he brings his daily requests before the Lord.

How do you keep a hope like that alive in your life? How do you keep your hope from being shaken? Hebrews 11:1 says that you need a strong foundation. You don’t just pin your hopes up in the air and hope against hope that everything will turn out all right. That is not Christianity. Faith is the sure and strong foundation that gives you the confidence and assurance you need. So, that’s the first part of our definition. Faith is being sure of what you hope for as a Christian.

II. Faith is being certain of what you do not see (1b)
      – Hebrews 6:16, 10:1

And then, secondly, faith is being certain of what you do not see. The word that is translated “certain” here is a word that means “evidence, proof or conviction.” It comes from a word that means to convict or convince someone of the truth. And so, it speaks of a deep conviction or certainty in your heart.

And then, the word translated “what” in the phrase “what you do not see” – this is a word that means “something that has been done or accomplished.” It refers to matters or things that are factual or real. We find the same word in Hebrews 6:18 which speaks of “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie.” Hebrews 6:18 speaks of two unchangeable things, that is, two unalterable facts, two realities that cannot be changed. We find the same word again in Hebrews 10:1: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves.” That word “reality” is the same word we find here in Hebrews 11:1.

So, what does this second half of our two-part definition of faith teach us? It teaches us that faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning certain facts or realities that you cannot see.

This is so important. True Biblical faith is not faith in fantasies or in things that are not true, but faith in realities which are unseen by human eyes. The New English Bible captures this thought perfectly with its translation: “Faith makes us certain of realities we do not see.”

   A. If you can see it, then it’s not faith
      – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Now, there are two things we need to grasp from this part of the definition. First of all, if you can see it, then it’s not faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Faith and sight are opposites in that verse. So, if you can see it, then it’s not faith.

Let me give you a few examples. For example, if you could see God, then it would not take any faith to believe in him, because you would actually see him. If you can see it, it’s not faith.

If I have an unexpected car repair of $500, and I have $10,000 discretionary funds in my checking account (I wish!), then it doesn’t take any faith for me to pay that car bill. Why? Because the money is already there! I can see it. And if I can see it, then it’s not faith.

Or how about if God asks you to do something that you already know how to do? That doesn’t take a whole lot of faith, right? But when God calls you to do something that is beyond your comfort level or ability? Now we’re talking faith again, because you are dealing with something you can’t see.

So, the first thing we need to grasp from this part of the definition is this: if you can see it, then it’s not faith.

   B. If it’s not real, then it’s not faith

But there is a second part to this equation that is also so important for us to grasp and that is this: if it’s not real, then it’s not faith. Or at least it is not true biblical faith. It may be blind faith or some other kind of faith, but it is certainly not what the Bible means by faith. In other words, biblical faith is not being certain about non-realities that you cannot see, but only those things which are true and actual which you cannot see.

Let me give you another example. If I walk up to the counter at the supermarket and buy a lottery ticket, and I hold that ticket in my hand and say to myself, “I believe I am going to win, I believe I am going to hit the jackpot, I can’t see it, the odds are all against me, but that’s okay, I live by faith and not by sight, I am certain I am going to win, I have faith!” Well, that’s not biblical faith. You are not basing your conviction on reality but on a fantasy.

That’s like saying, “I do believe in fairies, I do. I do. I do believe in fairies, I do, I do. I do believe in fairies.” I don’t care how many times you say it, if there are no such things as fairies, saying it over and over again is not going to make them suddenly appear.

If it is not real, then it is not true biblical faith. How about the person who believes sincerely in a false religion, or worships an idol with deep conviction of heart? Is that biblical faith? Will that save them? No, because if it is not real, then it is not true biblical faith.

So, taking the two parts of our definition together, what is faith then?

“Faith is the foundation that gives strength to your hopes, and faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning realities that you cannot see.”

Note: Faith refers to both present and future realities that you cannot see

Now, it’s interesting, both parts of this definition speak of being sure about things that you cannot see. Did you notice that? The first part speaks about hope. Well, what is hope? Hope refers to future realities that you cannot see. You can’t see them because they’re in the future. And then the second part speaks about present realities that you cannot see. You can’t see them because they are spiritual realities, and we live in a physical world. So, faith refers to both present and future realities that you cannot see. Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see.

III. Faith is what Old Testament believers were commended for (2)

So, verse one gives us this two-part definition of faith. Now, moving on to verse two, verse two tells us why this definition is so important by applying it to the lives of the Old Testament believers and by extension to us.

   A. The ancients = “the forefathers of faith in the Old Testament”
      – 1 Corinthians 10:6

Verse two says this: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” The word “ancients” here is the word for “elders.” It can simply mean those who are older than you. It can refer to elders in a position of leadership or authority in the church. Or it can also mean forefathers. Here it clearly refers to the forefathers of faith scattered across the pages of history as found in the Old Testament.

The stories in the Old Testament are not just historical accounts of things that happened back then in the past. They are that, but they are also so much more. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that “these things occurred as examples for us.” (1 Corinthians 10:6)

   B. Commended not for perfect character but for their faith

And just as the stories of the Old Testament are meant to serve as examples, so also the people of the Old Testament are meant serve as examples. And here the book of Hebrews points specifically to their faith. Hebrews 11:2 says: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” What is the “this” here? It’s their faith! It is this deep conviction in their hearts to believe in unseen realities, both present and future. It is their conviction and assurance in God that produced in them an unshakeable hope in God and his promises.

The word “commended” here is a word that means to give a good report. So, it’s report card time for the Old Testament believers. Let’s pull out their report cards and see how they did.

Well, when you look at the report cards of the people in the Old Testament, you quickly discover that they didn’t do so well in a whole lot of areas. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all failed miserably in the whole area of honesty. Moses flunked speech, and he didn’t do very well in the temper department either. King David failed when it came to sexual purity. No, when you read through the Old Testament, you don’t find too many persons who receive straight A’s when it comes to the report card of their lives. They all had so many failures and flaws.

So why are they commended here, then? What is this good report that we read about in Hebrews 11:2? This good report is awarded to them in one area and one area only – the subject area of faith. This is what the ancients were commended for, not for living perfect lives, no, they were commended for their faith, for being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see. They believed God even when they couldn’t see the answer, and their faith was credited to them as righteousness. Once again, the righteous will live by faith.

And then, the rest of Hebrews 11 is simply a running commentary on these first two verses. In the remaining verses of this chapter the writer of Hebrews will take us through the whole Old Testament, starting with creation, demonstrating how all these Old Testament believers exercised true biblical faith and how that faith benefited their lives and the kingdom of God.

And so, in the coming weeks we will look at creation, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and others. Each one of these was commended for their faith. And each one has something to teach us so that we also may grow in our faith as followers of Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION: In summary, then, what is faith?

“Faith is the foundation that gives strength to your hopes, and faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning realities that you cannot see.”

I like this definition of faith because it is immensely practical. It means that as I grow in my understanding of God and his ways, that I can train myself to trust these realities that I cannot see.

We do this all the time in the physical world, don’t we? I don’t know exactly how a TV works, but when I press the “on” button on the remote, I fully expect the TV to turn on. Why? Because I have learned over time that although I cannot see the electricity running, and I don’t know how it all works, that I can trust what is going on behind the scenes even though I don’t physically see it. As long as the TV is plugged in and working, as long as there are working batteries in the remote and the electricity is on, then I know that the TV is going to turn on. I have learned to have “TV remote” faith over time.

And it’s the same way with the spiritual world. I can’t see God. And I don’t know how he is working all the time. But I do know that he is there. And the longer I know him and the more I grow to understand him, the more I can trust the reality of things that I cannot see. I can grow in my “God” faith, and so can you.

So, as you and I grow in our faith together, let us press forward in our lives with an unshakeable hope as God accomplishes his amazing works in us. I am so excited!

© Ray Fowler

You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this message provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and that you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For any web postings, please link to the sermon directly at this website.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copies:
By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

Click here for more messages from the book of Hebrews.
Click here for more messages from the Growing in Faith series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.