Pastor David B. Curtis


"Now Faith Is"

Hebrews 11:1

Delivered 10/21/2001

Blanch Taylor Moore was a woman who was loved and trusted by many men. When her third husband became very ill and was hospitalized, the doctors couldn't find what was causing him to be so ill. Finally, a doctor ran some tests that revealed a very high arsenic level. The police were informed and they suspected his wife. He wouldn't hear of it. She had nursed him and cared for him all during his illness and he trusted her. The more the police dug into her past the more they suspected her. Finally, after exhuming the bodies of her first two husbands and her father and finding out that they all died of arsenic poisoning, they arrested her. She was tried and convicted of murder.

The story of Blanch Taylor Moore is a classical story of trust betrayed. A wife, who one loves and trusts, proves to be a murderer. A wife, who one trusts as their best friend, proves to be no friend at all, but an enemy. This happens over and over in human experiences. A story like this reminds us of a very basic and simple fact of life, and that fact is this; All of our valuable relationships in life are built on trust.

When a husband and wife stop trusting each other, they may continue to be married, but they can no longer have a happy marriage. When two friends stop trusting each other, they may continue to see each other, but they no longer have a true friendship. If that is true in our human relationships, how much more true in our relationship to God?

In one of the truly great statements of the Bible, the writer of Hebrews tells us,"Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). There is no way our relationship to God can be pleasing to Him unless we trust Him.

Do I need to remind you this morning that this is where it all begins for us? The way that we became a Christian in the first place is by an act of faith, an act of trust. When I come to the living God as a guilty sinner, who deserves hell, trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for my redemption, I am engaged in an act of faith. I've never seen God. I've never seen this place called "heaven", or this place called "hell". I've never seen Jesus Christ. But by faith, those things which I cannot see become realities to me. They take on substance for me, and by faith, I gain assurance and conviction about things that my eyes cannot behold. That is what faith is all about.

But trusting God for my eternal salvation is only the beginning. It is the start of a journey that cannot be traveled successfully in any other way but by a growing faith. We must distinguish between saving faith and the faith of obedience. Thousands of believers have trusted Christ for their salvation but are not living in faith trusting God in each and every area of their lives.

As we come to chapter 11 in the book of Hebrews, it is very evident that the subject is faith. But it is very important that we be aware of the connection between chapter 10 and 11 as we study the nature of faith in chapter 11. We must study it in context. As we examine the context, we see that he is not talking about saving faith but living faith, not faith in God for our eternal life but faith in God to carry us through our daily lives. Remember, the author of Hebrews is writing to Hebrew Christians who are suffering great persecution from the hand of their Jewish brothers. They are discouraged and on the verge of turning away from Christianity and going back to Judaism. He is exhorting them to endurance in their Christian lives:

Hebrews 10:35-36 (NKJV) Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

In the midst of trials and persecution a person's faith may waver, or they may even turn from their faith. Luke talks about this in:

Luke 8:13 (NKJV) "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.

Hence, the reason for the exhortation to endure in faith:

Hebrews 3:18-19 (NKJV) And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Hebrews 4:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

The word "gospel" is the Greek word euaggelizo, a verb which means: "to announce good news." The character of the good news must be defined by the context. "Gospel" doesn't always mean the plan of salvation. In Hebrews 4:2, it is used of good news of the promised rest as in:

Hebrews 4:6 (NKJV) Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached [euaggelizo] did not enter because of disobedience,

Verse 2 says, "...the gospel was preached to us as well as to them...." - "us" is the writer of Hebrews and its readers, and "them" refers to Israel in the wilderness. The "good news" they heard about was of no value to them, because of their lack of faith:

Hebrews 3:19 (NKJV) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

If we understand this letter as a call to go on believing in the truths of Christianity, this chapter (11) makes a lot of sense. It's not an explanation of how to be saved. It is rather a call to perseverance in faith, whatever the odds.

Hebrews 10:38 (NKJV) Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."

The word "just" is from the Greek dikaios, which means: "righteous or the sanctified." It is referring to believers. Believers are to live by faith - dependant trust upon God. That sentence really forms the text of which Hebrews 11 is the sermon.

The central design of this chapter is to demonstrate the endurance of those who, in the past, endured by faith before they received the fulfillment of God's promises:

Hebrews 11:35 (NKJV) Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.

The author concludes chapter 10 by saying, "But if anyone draws back, (from living by faith) My soul has no pleasure in him." This is because faith pleases God (Heb. 11:6).

Hebrews 10:39 (NKJV) But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the (life) soul.

The phrase "saving the soul" is probably best translated: "preserving of the life." Chapter 11 is an extended list of examples of Old Testament men and women who lived by faith and preserved their lives. This is really not a good place for a chapter break.

Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

"Now faith is" - this verse is not a definition of faith, it is a description. Before we study this chapter, we must understand what faith is. I would dare say that most believers couldn't explain what faith is if they were asked. Do you know what faith is? If someone asked you what faith is, could you explain it to them? Before we look at what faith is, let's dispel some myths.

What faith is not: Some say that we live by faith every day. You turn on your faucet, fill a glass of water and drink it - that's faith. You open a can of food and you eat it - that's faith. Or you fly in an airplane - that's faith. Those things are not faith! That is simply putting into practice what is called the law of mathematical probability. You are saying to yourself, "Well, thousands of people do this everyday and everything is all right, so I'll do the same." I've grown up seeing people drink out of the faucet - that is not faith. Faith is not superstition, it's not a sort of sixth sense, some intuition into the spiritual realm, or an open sesame sort of thing. Faith is not wishful thinking - I want a certain thing to happen, so I'm having faith that it will. Many people are like the girl who was asked to define faith. She said, "Faith is believing what you know isn't so." That is what faith is to many. They think it is some sort of gamble. That is not faith. Faith is always intelligent, it knows what it is doing.

Biblically defined, faith is understanding and assent to a proposition. If you were to ask me, "Where is my money?" And I said to you, "The check is in the mail." Now, you are either going to believe me, which is faith; you are trusting in what I said, or you are not. No matter what the subject, whether it be God or guns, the psychology or linguistics of belief is identical in all cases. How many of you know what a M61 Vulcan is? It is a 20mm cannon with a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds per minute. That's 100 rounds per second. Do you believe that? Yes or no are your only choices. If you say, "Yes", that is faith. You are trusting in what I have told you. Believing is always thinking that a proposition is true. The difference between various beliefs lies in the objects or propositions believed, not in the nature of belief. Faith must begin with knowledge, you can't believe what you don't know or understand. One can understand and lecture on the philosophy of Spinoza; but this does not mean that the lecturer assents to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood. I understand the teaching of evolution, but I do not assent to it. I understand Dispensational theology, but I do not believe it.

Soren Kierkegard, a Dutch theologian of the mid nineteenth century, has greatly influenced the churches thinking. He taught that it really makes no difference "what" we believe. The "what" is unimportant, all that counts is the "how." There are not different ways of believing, there are only different things to believe in. We often here people say, "They are so sincere in their faith." But if they are believing the wrong thing, they are sincerely wrong!

The church has taken Kierkegard's teaching of "how" and come up with "head" and "heart" belief. They ask, "Do you believe it with your head or heart?" The Bible makes no such distinction. Scripture never contrasts the head and the heart, but frequently contrasts the heart and the lips.

Faith is believing a promise:

Romans 4:20-21 (NKJV) He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

Abraham understood what God was promising him, and he believed Him. Faith must have a promise. Believing God for things He hasn't promised isn't faith, it's presumption or foolishness.

John 11:23-27 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

She understood what Jesus was saying, and she believed Him - this is faith. And it is faith that brings eternal life:

John 20:31 (NKJV) but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Let me share with you three things about faith that we must understand:

1. Saving faith is supernatural.

John 12:36-40 (NKJV) "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them."

Unregenerate man is unable to believe the gospel. He is blinded by sin.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned

Man is spiritually dead and cannot believe until God gives him spiritual life.

Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

Faith is a gift of God. Saving faith is supernatural. Man cannot believe apart from God's work of regeneration.

2. Assurance is an important part of saving faith.

Faith always has in it the element of assurance. Do you have the assurance that you will spend eternity in heaven?

John 5:24 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
John 6:47 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.

If I believe in Jesus Christ, what does he promise me? Everlasting life! So if I doubt my eternal destiny, I am not believing Jesus Christ. Assurance is necessarily a part of believing the gospel. Jesus Christ offers a guarantee to everyone who believes in Him. If I base my assurance on how I live, I'm trusting me and not Jesus Christ.

3. There are degrees of faith:

We often think in terms of you either have faith or you don't. But the Bible talks of various degrees of faith.

Romans 4:19-20 (NKJV) And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,

The New American Standard puts it this way:

Romans 4:20 (NASB) yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,

Abraham didn't have "weak" faith, his faith was "strong." This shows that there are degrees of faith. Our Lord charges the disciples in general, and Peter in particular, as having "little faith." They had faith, but unlike Abraham's, it was deficient in strength:

Matthew 6:30 (NKJV) "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Matthew 14:31 (NKJV) And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

As Peter focused on the circumstance around him instead of on Christ, his faith grew weak. I'll bet that most of you can relate to this can't you? When you are focusing on the circumstances, doesn't your faith grow weak?

Jesus said that the centurion had "great" faith:

Matthew 8:10 (NKJV) When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!

The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith:

Luke 17:5 (NKJV) And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."

In Acts 6:8, Stephen was said to be "full of faith." The Greek word for "full" is pleres, which means: "complete or mature". In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul said he wanted to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul said, "Your faith grows exceedingly." James talks about "dead" faith in 2:17 and 20, and he talks about "mature" faith in 2:22.

So the Scriptures speak of; little faith, great faith, weak faith, strong faith, lacking faith, perfect faith, dead faith, full faith, growing faith, and increasing faith. There are degrees of faith. All believers don't have the same amount of faith. Some believers are weak in faith. Some believers have dead faith.

Let me show you an example of strong faith:

John 4:46-47 (NKJV) So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

If you had a child that was dying what would you do? Would you trust Christ no matter what happened?

John 4:48 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."

Jesus was concerned that the man's faith was based only on signs and wonders.

John 4:49 (NKJV) The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"

The nobleman compelled Christ to act, but Christ simply spoke the word:

John 4:50 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.

The man believed what Christ said, "Your son lives." He understood what Christ was saying and he believed it. What would you do at this point? Would you run all the way home? That would be weak faith looking for proof.

John 4:51-52 (NKJV) And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!" 52 Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."

The man asks when his son got better and he was told, "Yesterday." Cana and Capernaum were only a short distance apart, the journey could have easily been made in four hours. It was one o'clock when Jesus pronounced the boy healed. Such strong faith had the nobleman in Christ's word, that he didn't return home until the next day. That is strong faith!

The more you walk in faith, the more you walk in victory and joy, so we need to learn to live by faith. Faith pleases God.

How can we increase our faith? There are two main factors which determine the strength of our faith. First, is our knowledge of God. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties which most Christians experience in their lives is due to a lack of knowledge about God, theology proper. We need to study the revelation that God has given of himself and of his character. That is how to develop strong faith. The more you know God, the more you will trust Him.

Martin Luther said to Erasmus, "Your thoughts of God are too human." I think that is true of most Christians.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

We need to study the Word that we may know Him. It's hard to trust someone you don't know.

The second element is the application of what we know. A knowledge that never ventures out upon what it knows will never be a strong faith.

Luke 8:22-25 (NKJV) Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side of the lake." And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, "Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!"

The disciples in the boat during the storm were failing to apply their faith and that is why our Lord put His question to them in that particular form. He said, "Where is your faith?"They had faith, but where was it? Why weren't they applying it to the situation that they were in? Their problem was they did not use the faith they had, they didn't think.

They were looking at the waves and the water coming in the boat. They were bailing it out, but still more was coming in and they cried out to Jesus, "We're going to die." He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They had seen Jesus do the miraculous, they should have trusted Him:

Luke 7:12-15 (NKJV) And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

They saw Jesus raise the dead, and they were worried about drowning? They weren't applying their faith. In addition to our knowledge of God, there is this very important element - we must apply what we know.

At times we do apply what we know, and we come through the problems and difficulties victorious. Like David when he faced Goliath. And yet at other times we become consumed with our circumstances, and we do not apply our faith; like David before Achish the king of Gath. David was scared to death, and he changed his behavior and pretended he was crazy. He began to scribble on the doors and drool all over himself (1 Sam. 21:13). What happened to the giant killer? He wasn't applying his faith. He forgot about his God. Have you ever done that? You think your faith is strong; then you have a trial, a situation that causes you to panic and drool all over yourself. At those times we need to focus on God to meditate on Him and apply what we know:

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

That is a promise from the sovereign God of the universe. He is always with us.

When we fail to trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. God views our distrust as seriously as He views our disobedience. When the children of Israel were hungry, they spoke against God:

Psalms 78:19-21 (NKJV) Yes, they spoke against God: They said, "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? 20 Behold, He struck the rock, So that the waters gushed out, And the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?" 21 Therefore the LORD heard this and was furious; So a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also came up against Israel,

Why was it that God was so angry with them?

Psalms 78:22 (NKJV) Because they did not believe in God, And did not trust in His salvation.

In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith. Faith pleases God.

Many folks have reduced Christianity to a bunch of rules; do this and don't do that. They think they are pleasing God by doing things and not doing other things. Listen, the thing that pleases God is our faith in Him. We are to live by faith, trusting Him in every situation of life.

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