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Volume 8, Issue 2: Exegetica

Of Those Who Believe

Jim Nance

The Hebrew Christians are standing before the door of the Great Hall of Faith. They have been told that before they can obtain the promised victory they must, like the victors of old, suffer through times of difficult, painful, sometimes discouraging discipline and training. "Therefore do not cast away your confidence," the author has said, "which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise" (Heb. 10:35-36). The victors in this battle, he reminds them, "are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39). He has brought them to this Hall to learn from those victors.

As they enter, a large plaque before them describes that trait which distinguishes the heroes who have gone before, who have endured great trials and have won great victories: namely, faith in God. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). These men were victorious, not because of their strength or wisdom, but because of their faith: "For by it the elders obtained a good testimony" (Heb. 11:2). Such faith believes that what God has promised, He is able to perform.
We see from this that faith is not blind; it does not close its eyes, stop its ears, and act according to its own wisdom or desires. But in order to be faith, what it looks for, it cannot yet have seen. In this way faith is like hope, for "hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). For example, you do not need faith to know that you live in your home, for that is something present, something seen. But it is by faith that you believe you will live in your eternal home, according to the promises of God. Dimmer promises do not require greater faith; the promises God gives are clear. Rather, greater promises require greater faith, for the greater the promises the more that is yet to be seen.
We have an instructive picture of this in creation: "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:3). Nothing was more unseen than the creation of all that exists. The only eyewitness was God, and thus the only way we may know of His creation is by believing His word. Now if my son shows me his latest "creation," I do not need great faith to believe that he made it. I see the tinker toys that he used are the same ones that were previously in the box. It was made out of "things which are visible." But we see here that the universe was made ex nihilo , out of nothing. 1 I cannot go back and see the material from which He made the heavens and the earth. We can do nothing to verify God's word but believe God's word. And when we do believe, then we begin to understand, for He said, "By faith we understand." Those who refuse to believe until they understand forfeit the understanding that God gives by faith.
Just as we believe in the original creation by God's word, so we have faith in the new creation by His word. When we trust in God with true saving faith, though He gives us the testimony of His Spirit, He does not immediately translate us to be with Him. We do not yet see the redemption of our body, but we believe it by faith in the promise of God, "for He who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23). The faith of these great men before us was saving faith, as the author is careful to point out.
"By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts" (Heb. 11:4). Much has been said of the sacrifice of Abel being "more excellent" than that of Cain because it was an animal sacrifice rather than a grain offering (Gen. 4:2-5). But our author, along with other New Testament writers, is more concerned to show that Abel's offering was accepted by God because of his righteousness by faith (cf. Mat. 23:35; 1 Jn. 3:12). God's acceptance of Abel's offering gave "witness that he was righteous," more than it gave witness of the superiority of animal sacrifices. Abel's righteousness by faith is also proclaimed by his own innocent blood, which cries out from the ground (Gen. 4:10; cf. Heb. 12:24) as the blood of the first martyr of the church of Jesus Christ. And so through faith "he being dead still speaks" (Heb. 11:4).
"By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not see death, 'and was not found because God had taken him' " (Heb. 11:5). Abel's faith brought him a bloody death; Enoch's faith brought him an escape from death. But in both cases they received an early promotion. This is an encouragement to believers throughout the ages who, like these Hebrews, face the possibility of trial by death for the name of Christ.
Though the faith of Enoch is not explicitly reported in Genesis, the author proves his faith in this way: "for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:5-6). Enoch walked with the unseen God as a man of faith and received what he hoped for. And blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

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