“Walk by faith, not by sight.” “Let your faith be bigger than your fears.” “Worry ends where faith begins.” “Your faith can move mountains, and your fear can create them.” This is just a handful of the plethora of sayings about faith that permeate our world today, particularly on social media. In my humble opinion, faith is one of the most talked-about, most misunderstood aspects of Christianity. On one end of the spectrum we have well-meaning people making comments such as, “I guess you just didn’t have enough faith,” when someone’s prayer isn’t answered the way they wanted. At the other end of the spectrum we have individuals who have “faith” because they are willing to say out loud that they believe in Jesus, even though they live however they choose. So what is biblical faith? What does it look like in our lives?
Where better to find this answer than in what is typically referred to as the “faith hall of fame” found in Hebrews 11. Right away in verse 1 the Hebrew writer states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While God has given us numerous evidences that He exists and His word is truth, we cannot look him in the face as we do our friends and family. We were not there to watch Him create the world, and we were not blessed to see the miracles of Jesus in person. Yet by faith we can be “assured.” This word in the Greek literally means “reality.” So faith is the reality of things hoped for, the conviction (or evidence) of things not seen. This verse is so powerful! Basically, the reality of our faith, as seen in our lives, is evidence to the world around us of God Almighty!
If you continue on in Hebrews 11, you will notice the phrase “by faith” 17 times in just verses 4-31 (I recommend circling or underlining this phrase). What we often miss, however, is that every single time this phrase is immediately followed by an action: by faith Abel offered, by faith Enoch was taken, by faith Noah constructed, by faith Abraham obeyed, by faith Abraham went, by faith Sarah conceived, by faith Abraham offered, by faith Isaac invoked, by faith Jacob blessed, by faith Joseph made mention, by faith Moses was hidden, by faith Moses refused, by faith Moses left, by faith Moses kept, by faith the people crossed, by faith the walls fell, by faith Rahab did not perish.
Continuing on in the text in verses 32-37, while we no longer find this specific phrase, we find 16 more action verbs directly tied to individual’s faith (I recommend underlining these as well): conquered, enforced, obtained, stopped, quenched, escaped, made strong, became, put, received, tortured, stoned, sawn, killed, and went. Throughout this entire chapter, time after time we find the idea of faith being directly tied to an action, 33 times to be exact! My husband is fond of saying, “I can say that I have faith in a chair to hold me up, but it’s not really faith until I’m willing to sit down.” Sisters, we can claim day after day that we have faith, but it’s not really faith until we are willing to live like it.
At least for me, if I’m being honest, so often my concept of “faith” is trusting God to let me remain in control. I have faith in God’s providence in my life as long as my husband has a stable job that provides for our needs. I have faith in the Great Physician as long as my family is healthy. I have faith that God will bless my endeavors, as long as my endeavors are perfectly within my ability to accomplish on my own. Once again, as my husband says, I’m not willing to actually leave room for God to work.
One of the greatest examples I have ever heard of leaving room for God to work comes from my dad. In 1984 the city of New Orleans was host to the great World’s Fair. A group of our brethren from a congregation of about 100 people approached those in charge of the fair to rent a booth. When asked for their “company name” they stated, “the churches of Christ.” The committee responded, “You’re the ones who always pay! You get first choice!” This small congregation then proceeded to “sign the dotted line” and commit to the booth fee of $1,000,000.00. Yes, that’s a lot of zeroes. There is no possible way that one small congregation would have been able to come up with one million dollars on their own, but they had faith in their God and in their brethren. As a result brethren were able to come from all over the country (including my dad) and spend the entire world’s fair sharing the Gospel.
I know of another situation where a young couple decided to enter the ministry. Within a matter of months they had a child, sold their house, and prepared to move halfway across the country. Just two weeks before their move date, the husband met with the president of the school they were to attend. He was seeking counsel because they were still $800 shy of the bare minimum monthly support they needed to survive. The president asked him, “What will you do if you don’t get the support?” The husband simply stated, “Well, we have already sold our house. See if someone can clear out a basement because we are coming!” Three days later a congregation of about 120 called and committed to exactly $800 a month in support for the entire two years.
Going back to our text, focus on Hebrews 11:33-37: our brethren, that beautiful, faithful cloud of witnesses: were made strong in weakness, put armies to flight, received back their dead, were tortured refusing release (meaning all they had to do was renounce Christ and the torture would have stopped), they were mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword, destitute and mistreated, all for the sake of the Gospel.
Sisters, that is faith. Being willing to step out above and beyond our own capabilities, with nothing and no one to catch us but God Almighty. Being willing to endure whatever the world throws at us because our Savior is seated at the right hand of the throne of God! (Hebrews 12:2) The Hebrews writer concludes these tremendous examples of faith with this exhortation in Hebrews 12:1, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” If we want to claim to have faith, we must be running! We cannot merely sit in a pew on Sunday mornings! We must run past the snares of the devil! We must run to the lost! We must run to the hurting! And we must, we absolutely must, run to Christ Jesus every day, in every aspect of our lives. Sisters I urge you: by faith, let us run!