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Hebrews 11:12, 57, 3238; 12:12comment (0)

November 30, 2006

By Dennis Sansom

Related Scripture: Hebrews 11:12, 57, 3238; 12:12

Bible Studies for Life
Chair of Philosophy, Samford University, Southwestern Seminary graduate

Faith That Works
Hebrews 11:1–2, 5–7, 32–38; 12:1–2

These verses have been among the most important verses for Christians to understand the nature of faith. They clearly point to the object of faith — Christ’s redemptive work on the cross; they stress the importance of personal commitment; and they give powerful illustrations of great acts of faith.

The Form of Faith (11:1–2)
Not just any belief counts as faith. It is possible that we can believe in the wrong way. For the author of Hebrews, true faith has two characteristics. First, it “is the assurance of things hoped for.” Notice he does not say that faith is the assurance of what we possess, own and manage for our own purposes. Faith directs us away from our goals and ourselves. It directs toward God’s goals, which exceed in scope and importance our personal, political, financial and selfish goals. This turning to God is hope. Faith assures us that our hope in God’s purpose will indeed fulfill not only our lives but the world as well.

Second, faith is “the conviction of things not seen.” Again the emphasis is not on what we can control. Usually we can manipulate what we can see, but faith looks toward something that we cannot control and manipulate and that is God. Faith convinces us that we should not try to be masters over others or our own goals, that the way to live is as a servant and humbly before God and others.

The Content of Faith (12:1–2)
Not just any belief counts as faith. We do not have genuine faith just because we have assurance and conviction. Faith must be aimed toward the right reality, toward “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” The content of faith is the salvation wrought by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross thus defines what we should believe, showing us that we are not the master of our lives, of others, of nations and of creation. Christ is the “perfecter” of God’s world, and we live most authentically when our way of living reflects the “pioneer” of our faith in love of God and our neighbor.

The author stresses the centrality of Jesus and His work for our faith. Our hope is not in what we can do for ourselves or what a particular nation can gain or what others can do for us. Our hope is in the mighty acts of God to overcome the ruinous effects of sin, death and the devil. As verse 1 admonishes, we should “lay aside every weight and the sin” so that we can see clearly the sole rule of Christ as the Lord of our lives and of all people and nations. Our greed, pride and selfishness try to change Jesus into our pet deity who will do what we want, but true faith starts by laying aside these tendencies and transforming our desires toward the love of God and neighbor.

The Examples of Faith (11:5–7, 32–38)
Chapter 11 has rightly been called the “roll call of faith.” We have the unforgettable stories of Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Gideon, Samson, etc. Common in the accounts is the courage and endurance they exhibited in remaining loyal to their conviction about God. They were willing to suffer and for some, even to die to remain faithful to their calling and relationship with the God who spoke to them, emancipated them and empowered them to do unimaginable things. All of them are commended for their faith.

But the author says we have something greater than they had. In the person and work of Christ, we have in a real history what was promised to them. For that reason, our faith should be even more resolute, brave and testifying as theirs. The church does not have the excuse of not knowing about God and what God commands. God in Christ has revealed what should be the content of our faith. We may not be asked to do grand, heroic deeds, but we are always asked by God to show faith — that is, the defining of our assurances and convictions by the reality of the cross.

Abel, Abraham, Moses, etc., were inspired by a promise. We should be inspired by the fulfillment of their promise. A good question to ask is “Would our lives demonstrate a greater faith than those in the roll call?”

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