Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
On verses 1, 6: In the previous verse (Hebrews 10:39), the writer of Hebrews channeled his inner football coach and encouraged his readers to keep on fighting the fight of faith. He told them “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39). Now the writer of Hebrews goes on to explain what faith is. His definition, as translated by the NIV: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (v1). I believe this verse shows us there are two parts to faith.
First, faith is being “certain of what we do not see”. In other words,faith is using your imperfect sight to draw a conclusion based on the evidence available to you. Say you’re sitting on a jury trying to decide whether or not to convict someone of a crime. There will be an element of faith involved in your decision. That’s because you were not there when it happened and you did not see what happened. Your sight is imperfect and the evidence in front of you is limited. All you can do is hear the evidence and make the best judgment you can. And if you convict the person being charged, you’re doing so because, based on the evidence, you are certain beyond a reasonable doubt of something you did not see. That’s the objective part of faith: you’re using your imperfect sight to reach a conclusion based on limited evidence.
But there’s a second part to faith which is more subjective and personal. Faith is “being sure of what we hope for”. There is an element of desire involved in faith. You want something that you don’t have yet. You’re hoping something will happen, and you’re sure you’re going to get it. In other words, faith is believing that something you hope for in your heart has happened or is going to happen.
It is this kind of faith – one that involves both your head and your heart, one that is ultimately not neutral but puts something personal at stake – that pleases God. That’s why verse 6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Hebrews 11:2 (NIV) 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
On verses 2-7: To illustrate what it looks like to have faith that pleases God, the writer of Hebrews begins to list the first examples of faith we see in Genesis, the first book of the Bible:
He starts by saying that by faith we believe that God made the universe out of nothing, as described in Genesis 1;
Because he believed in the Lord, Abel by faith brought the best he had to sacrifice to the Lord in Genesis 4. His example of believing God and giving his best to God “still speaks” (v4) an important lesson for us today;
Unlike many of his ancestors before him, Enoch “walked with God” in Genesis 5:21-24. In other words, by faith Enoch believed in God and maintained a close relationship with God. In so doing he “pleased God” (v5) and was taken away by God instead of dying;
Unlike his neighbors around him, Noah (v7) believed God and by faith obeyed God’s instructions to build an ark in Genesis 6.
Notice that in the case of each of these three men — Abel, Enoch and Noah – the faith they exercised on earth had eternal implications. Abel was “commended as a righteous man” (i.e. worthy to be with God) (v4). Enoch lived on with God into eternity (v5). Noah became “heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (v7).
Likewise, when you and I place our faith in Jesus, like Abel God commends us as righteous, like Enoch we get to live on with God in eternity, and like Noah we become heirs of God’s righteousness, and as Paul says, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Heavenly Father, thank You for showing us through Your Word what faith looks like. May I live each day with faith that pleases You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!