For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
What is it to have faith in God? For me, it’s solely believing in His holiness, His word, and that He is in full control of my life because my life is His to do as He wills. I know that whatever obstacles that I am currently facing are in the hands of my Lord Jesus Christ.
I will never waiver in my faith regardless of what I may encounter because I know whatever chaos that comes my way it is only orchestrated by that of the Antichrist and his minions trying to trip me up on my walk with God in hopes that I will doubt His goodness and turn my back and fall back into the arms of darkness and sin.
It won’t happen.
This morning I began listening to John MacArthur’s sermon on Faith which I will share a piece of with it with you right now.
Dr. John MacArthur on Faith: An Addendum on Faith
What is faith? Faith is simply believing what God said because He said it. Faith is not some personal power that causes things to happen. It’s not a power that brings a healing; it’s not a power that solves your personal problems; it’s not some energy that you can sort of pull up and will things into existence or will circumstances to change. It is not a mystical power; it is not a force that causes anything to happen apart from the purposes and will of God. The simple reality of faith is it is believing what God has said. That is what biblical faith is.
The Oxford English Dictionary has more than a full page of meanings on the word faith, and I looked them up just to kind of see where they would go with the word “faith,” and they pretty much defined faith by synonyms: confidence, reliance, trust, allegiance, fidelity, loyalty. But the best thing I found in the Oxford Dictionary was a theological definition of faith; it had that, and this is what the Oxford English Dictionary says about the theological definition of faith, “A conviction practically operative on the character and will.” Boy, what a great definition. It is a conviction trusting in what has been said that operates on the character and will. It has implications in how we behave, how we conduct ourselves. And the Oxford Dictionary goes on to say, “It is opposed to mere intellectual assent.” It is not just believing something and stopping there, it is acting on that belief.
So, we say, then, faith is essentially believing God, believing that what He said is true just because He said it and – as I’ve been telling you – literally acting on it, banking your whole life on it both in time and eternity. It is believing what God has said so that that belief is the dominating reality in your life. That’s pretty simple, but it’s also very profound.
When you sin, that is an act of unbelief because even your sense of self-preservation should cause you not to sin. You know that if you sin as a believer, God is going to chasten. If you live righteously, He’s going to bless. And yet, you sin, and I sin, and in a sense, that’s an act of unbelief that says, “I think I can find greater fulfillment in my sin than from God’s blessing.” Well, that’s ridiculous. The whole of life comes down to faith; that’s why, in the armor of the Christian, the shield that shields you from temptation is the shield of – what? – of faith. It’s absolutely critical; it’s at the heart of everything we do as Christians.
I believe the Bible; I believe every word that has come out of the mouth of God. I believe that. Everything written in Scripture I believe. I desire to conduct my life as an expression of those convictions. I want to behave in my home toward my wife and my children in the way that the Word of God instructs me to behave for their benefit and my blessing. I want to conduct myself in the world toward unbelieving people the way the Bible tells me to. I want to interpret the world around me and all that goes on in that world. I want to view that world and see that world through the grid of biblical revelation so that I trust God’s interpretation of everything.
My whole life is based upon what God has said in Scripture. I have faith in that, and that controls my life. That’s what living by faith means: simply trusting completely in what God has said no matter what. No matter what. It takes the bare word of God at face value and acts simply on it because it is the Word of God and for no other reason. If you tell me God said it, that’s enough.
I’m not looking for signs; I’m not looking for wonders; I’m not looking for miracles; I’m not looking for voices from heaven. I heard a guy on TBN – by the way, TBN does more to twist and pervert Christianity than secular channels, and I saw a guy on there saying, “I don’t want the God of the past; I’m not interested in what God has done in the past. I want a fresh experience of God.” There’s a good way to get the demons activated in your life – if they aren’t already. I don’t want a sign; I don’t want a wonder; I don’t need a revelation; I don’t want a vision – I married one, that’s enough for me. I don’t want any of those things; I’m not looking for God to come down somehow and verify things through some supernatural affirmation. I don’t need any of that; it is enough for me to believe what God has said. And those people looking for signs and wonders and saying, “I don’t want the God of history; I don’t want the God of the past; I want a fresh…” – that’s not faith; that’s doubt looking for proof. We just looked at the chapter. I’m not going to take you through the whole thing, just kind of overview it.
Abel didn’t question God; he heard God’s word regarding sacrifice, and he did what God said, and He died because of it. His – in some ways, his reward for obedience to God, bringing an acceptable sacrifice, was to be murdered by his brother. Everything that you might expect because you act in faith may not happen that way. You could be killed for doing what’s right.
Enoch didn’t question God. Enoch believed what God had said. He separated himself from the world. He walked with God because God wanted him to do that.
Noah didn’t question God. Noah was told to do the most ridiculous thing anybody up to that point had ever been told to do, to build a huge, massive boat, and to spend 120 years doing it, and then collect all the assortment of animals into it because it was going to rain, and there never had been any rain. But he did what God told him to do because God told him to do it. And God didn’t say to him, “Hey, I’ll give you a little shower over here just to show you what it’s like when rain does come.” And while he was spending 120 years building that thing, he was a preacher of righteousness. And while everybody was mocking the stupidity of this boat – all his contemporaries were laughing at him – he believed it would rain. And he did have his faith rewarded. Did he see clouds? No. Did he have signs and wonders? No. God said it would rain; he believed it would rain; it rained.
By faith Abraham, it says in verse 9, believed God, left Ur, his home, spent his life as a nomad. Patricia and I have been reading through the book of Genesis together. It’s really something to try to follow Abraham. He left a settled life to just wander all over the place – a nomad, a wanderer – simply because God told him to go. With no detail, no real picture of the future, yet he never questioned; he believed God.
Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – mentioned in verses 20, 21, and 22 – against the natural course of human events – their stories are really compelling and fascinating – against the natural course of human events, they accepted God’s word without question, and they all died in faith without the realization of what they had been promised. They never saw the Abrahamic promise fulfilled. Abraham didn’t see it; Isaac didn’t see it; Jacob didn’t see it; and certainly Joseph didn’t see it. They died believing, however, that God would make His promise good.
And then there was Moses who made the right choices, who made the choices of a man who believed in God simply because God told him what to do. It cost him the world. It cost him a position of power in Egypt, but he did it because God commanded him to do it.
So, that’s why those people are all here; they’re all here because they represent what it is to live by faith when you can’t see the outcomes. If Abel had seen the outcome – his own death – it might have been too much for him to bear. If Enoch had seen the outcome of his faithfulness – his exaltation to heaven – it might have made him proud. If Noah had had a preview of what was to come, it might have panicked him. And s it goes. They just took what God said, nothing more, and obeyed God. And that’s why they’re in the hall of fame here, heroes of faith. They lived by believing God’s word. That’s what it’s about. That’s what faith is. It may be difficult; it may seem strange; it may be against human reason; it may bring suffering, persecution, hostility, separation from the world, separation from the family; it might cost you your ambition; it might cost you your goal; it could cost you even your life, but you obey.
So, faith, then, is based upon your attitude toward God. That’s why an unbelieving and perverse generation was so distressing. The reason they were unbelieving was they had a perverted view of God. If you have a twisted view of God, if you don’t think God is able to do what He’s able to do, or God won’t fulfill the pledges and promises He’s made, then you will have doubt engendered.
All of these heroes of faith, as they’re called, had such a lofty, exalted knowledge of God. They knew Him to be the sovereign, loving, almighty, all-wise, covenant-keeping, faithful God. And no matter what He said, and no matter how against the grain of conventional wisdom and human intuition it might have been, they did what He said all obstacles aside.
Now, having looked at that, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter and get a more explicit definition of faith, a more explicit definition of faith.
Verse 1, “Now faith” – and here’s the definition – “is the assurance” – or as some translations say – “the substance of things hoped for, the conviction” – or the evidence – “of things not seen.” Those are two very important features. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.
What faith does is it transports God’s promises from the future into the present tense. Again, it takes God at His word. Saving faith, for example, is an act by which a sinner totally commits his life to Jesus Christ because he believes in something that hasn’t happened, that he hasn’t seen, and that is his own exaltation to eternal heaven. I’ve never seen Christ. I’ve never seen heaven. I don’t know what’s beyond the grave. So, faith is the assurance of something hoped for. Why would I hope for that? Why would I go out on that limb? I mean I could live in this world any way I wanted; I could live like everybody else in this world lived, just following all my human desires to the maximum level of fulfillment possible. I could live that way and suck everything out of this fallen world that my humanness would want to get. I could live that way, but I don’t.
In fact, I go through my life, as you as a Christian do, saying no most of the time to those things which reflect natural longings. And you go through your life trying to restrain your fallenness on all fronts. Why do you do that? Why is that important? What are you living that way. Why do you live under such restraint? Why do you want to make life so narrow and so tight? Why are you doing that? Because I believe that it is up to me to be faithful, to persevere in the truth, to live a life of righteousness in order to honor God so that one day I will enter into eternal life and receive from Him a heavenly reward which I’ll enjoy forever and ever. And I’ve never been there, and I’ve never seen it, but I hope for it.
You say, “Well, you better have a pretty good reason to hope for it.”
Oh, I have a great reason to hope for it; God said it. It’s all a matter of believing Him, isn’t it? Folks, you know, when it comes down to the very bottom line, this is why – and you know me well enough to know this, everything is predicated on your view of Scripture. Everything. Absolutely everything. That’s why we battle through the years to maintain the integrity of the Word of God.
Faith, then, is reliance on God’s promises. Now, I want to take you a little step further. This is not natural. This is not natural.
You say, “What do you mean it’s not natural?” You say, “Everybody’s got faith. Everybody has faith; everybody believes in things.”
Well, that’s true. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Every time you turn on a faucet and drink the water, that’s an act of faith. That is. You have no idea what’s going on in your pipes; you have no clue. You don’t even know where that water comes from. You go to a restaurant; you eat whatever they stick in front of you. You don’t know what it is; you don’t know what’s in it. I look a little bit, occasionally, just to be sure.
The other day, Tom and I were having lunch, and I found a big, huge piece of glass in the middle of the salad. So, I’m a little bit careful. That’s the second time for me. The first time I crunched it in my teeth. So – but generally speaking, I eat whatever they give me. I get on an airplane, and I don’t know if anybody’s up there behind that door. I assume somebody’s up there, they’re sober, and they’ve done this before. There’s a certain – this is natural faith. I mean sure.
And we’ve all – most of us have gone under some surgical procedure where they put us to sleep. And some guy cuts us open and fools around in there, and we don’t know the guy or what he’s doing. If you go to the pharmacy, they give you a bottle; you don’t know what’s in that. You pop it as if you did, because somebody put on the label that this is good for you, do this twice a day.
That kind of faith is intrinsic to human nature. And, you know, that is simply based on experience. Your experience is you drink the water and it’s okay. Your experience is you go to the restaurant and it’s okay, particularly if it has an A on it. Right? Somebody’s checking it. But you’ve been there before; you’ve eaten out before. Your experience is that it’s okay.
You get in a rental car, and you don’t expect to get in a rental car, be going 65 miles an hour down a highway somewhere with no brakes. You assume somebody’s in charge of that because you’ve experienced that before. You get on an airplane and your experience is very good. You know, this whole year – I read the other day in the year 2002 nobody died in a commercial air accident. So, there’s a lot of experience that tells you that this is a good thing to do.
You can get in the plane; you can trust the people up there. Somebody’s checking on them. They’re going through flight training, etcetera, etcetera, and it’s a safe place to be. You know that there are certain things that control the medical profession. So, experience tells you what you can trust.
We’re not talking about that when we talk about spiritual faith. We’re talking about trusting without experience. Right? You haven’t been to heaven. You haven’t seen Jesus. You haven’t been to the other side. This is very different; this is believing what you cannot experience simply because God said it. How critical is our faith in God’s revelation?
Now, notice the word “assurance” – hupostasis, substance, essence, content. This is not a contentless faith. This is not wishing. We now have a substantial – I like to use that word – a “substantial” confidence. In fact, this confidence is so substantial that it is a conviction. And a conviction takes it a little bit beyond just the idea of faith.
“Well, I believe.” You could say, you know, “I believe that’s going to happen. I believe that’s going to happen.” We would use belief that way.
But that’s very different than saying, “I am convinced that that’s going to happen.”
Well, faith – the faith that saves, the faith that sanctifies – is a substantial confidence that has become an absolute conviction. Spiritual faith, then, is a God-wrought conviction that the promises and truths of Scripture are true.
The word hupostasis can even mean a foundation or the ground on which something is built. So, the kind of faith we’re talking about here is not wishful thinking. It’s a strong, substantial faith in things we can only hope for. It’s a firm conviction in things we can’t see.
Spiritual faith says the bible is enough evidence. The word “conviction” there is – in the margin – also “evidence.” All the evidence I need is the Word of God. And the more I study the Bible all these many, many years, the more I teach the Bible, the more I know it’s a supernatural book written by God. That’s what faith is. And that’s what’s required of us, to be saved and to live a Christian life that progresses in sanctification.
Now, this faith – and this has been, traditionally, the theological sort of explanation of it – falls into three categories. This kind of faith has three elements. There is an element of knowledge. If I’m going to trust God, I have to know what He said. That’s the intellectual element.
The second one is the assent. They talked about assensus in the Latin. I know it; I assent to it; I affirm it. So, it goes from the intellectual knowledge, to the emotion, and then finally to the will, which is the volitional. I know it to be true, I assent that it is true, and therefore I act on it. That’s essentially what we’re talking about.
Verse 3, “By faith we understand” – that’s the knowledge; first we understand. Then back to verse 1, then we assent to it. We are assured that it is true, and then we totally trust and act on it. It is a conviction. Faith, then, is believing what God has said.
Go down to verse 6 for a minute. “Without faith it’s impossible to please Him.” You cannot please God if you don’t believe Him. If you don’t believe God, you’re calling Him – a what? – a liar. If you have doubts, you’re double-minded and you’re not going to receive anything from Him because He’s not going to reward the person who doubts.
So, he says in verse 6, “He who comes to God must believe that He is.” That’s wonderful. You must believe that God is the God He really is. He’s not the Man upstairs. He’s not the Ground of Being as Paul Tillich called Him. He’s not the Holy Other. He’s not Allah.
He is the God who is God. He is the great I Am. He is the God who is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of Scripture and no other God. It’s not enough to believe that God is the God of some pagan imagination.
We’ve been talking about the people today, in this wider Mercy Movement, who are saying that as long as pagans believe in some God, even though they don’t have the right name, God will accept them. That is not true. If you’re going to come to God, you must believe that He is who He is. You must believe that He is who He is, and He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the covenant; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And then you must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. This sets Him apart from every other deity. If you look at the pantheon of gods in the world, they are not rewarders.
Erwin Lutzer was speaking on the uniqueness of Christ this week at the college, and I thought it was interesting. He said that he attended the World Congress on Religions, a bizarre event in Chicago, with 5,000 people from all the religions of the world – all but the true religion. And he said he decided to go through the exhibit area where all these religions had their little booth, to see if he could find a savior, a god who was a rewarder of those who seek him, a god whose desire was to give not take, a god who was a savior.
So, he said he went to the Bahá’í. And he said – “You know,” he said, “I’m a sinner, and I really need a savior. Does your religion have a savior?”
“No, we don’t have a savior.”
Then he said he went to Buddhism and asked, “I’m a terrible sinner. I’m looking for a Savior. Do you have a savior?”
“Well, no; we contemplate things.”
Then he went to Islam. “I’m a terrible sinner. Do you have a savior?”
“No, we don’t have a savior.”
He said there was only one Savior. None of them had a Savior. None of them had a god who’s a rewarder of the one who seeks him. So, if you’re going to come to God, you have to come to the God who is God and the God who is by nature a Savior. A God who is a Reconciler, 2 Corinthians. A God who’s a Savior of all men, especially those who believe. Our God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, when you talk about faith, essentially you’re talking about believing the Bible completely in its revelation of God, the true and living God, and the only God, and that He is a rewarder or, if you will, a Savior, a rescuer. Because the reward is salvation, isn’t it? Eternal life. And this is an act of faith.
Faith, then, is taking God at His word. It is not wishful. If is confident. It is a conviction. It is based on understanding, assurance, and leads to conduct. And we believe the God of the Bible to be the only true God.
There’s a second question that could be posed in this chapter, and I would briefly pose it to you. We’ve seen what faith is. Let’s ask the question what does faith do? How does it act? And we’ll go right back through it again.
First of all, in verse 4, faith worships God the way God said he wanted to be worshiped. Verse 5, in the case of Enoch, faith walks with God. In verse 7 – Noah – faith works with God. Abraham – faith obeys God. With Sarah, faith overcomes barrenness and overpowers the fear of death. Faith enables people to persevere unto death.
Verse 13, “All these died in faith.” All the people that he’s just named – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah – they all died with their faith unrealized. I mean they never saw what they believed in.
Faith trusts God – verse 17 and following – with the dearest possessions. And what was the dearest possession that Abraham ever had? What was it – or who was it? Isaac. But he was willing to pick up a knife and stab him if God told him to because he believed that God would raise him from the dead. Faith trusts God with the dearest possession. Faith believes God for the future as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph did. Faith turns from earthly things to heavenly things as Moses did, “choosing rather” – verse 25 – “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.” Boy, that’s an important element of faith.
Faith reaches out for what is heavenly. It sets its affections on things above and not on the things on the Earth. And the reason is – verse 27, so important – “By faith he left Egypt” – Moses did – “not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” That’s so great. He could see the One who is invisible. That’s really faith. Literally, in his heart, he was so confident that God as God, that he saw with the eye of faith the one who could not be seen.
Faith activates the power of God so that His work comes through the servant, verse 28. He kept the Passover, the sprinkling of blood, and then was there, leading the people through the Red Sea and seeing the drowning of the Egyptians. And later on, the people of God, of course, saw the walls of Jericho fall down. Faith, then, receives the power of God.
Faith possesses immense courage. Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah – verse 32 – David, Samuel, the prophets conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions – pretty amazing – quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put armies to flight. Possesses immense courage.
Saving faith overcomes death. Saving faith endures torture, outlasts chains and prisons, withstands temptation, suffers martyrdom, survives hardship. We see that in verses 35 and following. “Women received their dead back by resurrection; others were tortured. Some were receiving mockings and scourgings, and chains and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn in half” – that’s what happened to Isaiah – “they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, goatskins, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”
Why did they do that? Why did they do that? Because they were obedient to God. They were doing what God told them to do in faith. Faith is sacrificial. Faith limits itself to whatever God has promised and said.
And verse 39 is so wonderful, “All these, having gained approval through their faith, didn’t receive what was promised.” So, they all died, in a sense, without the realization. This is how wonderful their faith is, how great it was. And that faith, of course, was matched by the faithfulness of God. Verse 39 is the key: they gained approval through their faith. They gained approval through their faith. They’re the heroes. They didn’t know what we know.
Verse 40, then says, “But God had provided something better for us” – something better for us. “Everything they hoped for we’ve seen. What was in the future for them is in the past for us. We know about the Messiah coming, being virgin born, living a sinless life, dying a substitutionary death, rising from the dead. We know that. We have the whole New Testament to build our lives on. But they were not made perfect apart from those great New Testament realities concerning Christ.
So, here are the heroes of the faith. They believed God; they died – all of them – never seeing the fulfillment of the hope of their hearts. But it was a conviction strong enough, substantial enough, grounded enough that they literally gave their lives rather than recant or turn from these assurances and convictions.
How strongly do you believe? Enough to give your life? Give your possessions? How strongly do you believe in the Word of God? Enough to obey faithfully? To trust that what God has said is really true?
That takes us into the twelfth chapter, a good place to just close. Verse 1, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses…” We have a great cloud of witnesses of what? The benefits, the blessings of living a life by faith. And all those witnesses are just given to us in chapter 11. That’s the great cloud of witnesses. They surround us. What do they testify to? The benefits of the life of faith. Because God was faithful to every one of them in every circumstance.
“Let us, then, lay aside every encumbrance, the sin which so easily entangles us. Let us run with endurance the race” – and what is the race? It’s the faith race. Stay in the faith race. And at the time we’re running – “we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Jesus lived by faith, complete trust in the Father. He is the model. He trusted the purposes of God to bring Him joy. “And so for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
You have all of the heroes of chapter 11, and you have the greatest of all, Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself the form of a man, came into the world, lived humbly, lived in total submission to the Father all the way to death, even the death on the cross, because He believed the promise of God the Father that at the other side of the cross there would be for Him eternal joy. And so, He also lived and died in perfect faith. He is therefore the author and perfecter of faith.
The word “author” is archēgos. It literally means the pioneer, the front runner, the greatest example, the leader of faith. He is the greatest example of faith, and He is the perfecter of faith who lived in complete submission to God through the most horrific experience – sin bearing and death – because He believed that on the other side God had joy for Him. That was His act of faith. And it came to pass that God did, and it’s indicated when He sat Him down on the right hand of His throne.
No wonder it grieves the Lord Jesus to say to people, “You perverted and unbelieving generation.” How sad. How sad. If there were a hero of faith chapter being written today, would your name be in it somewhere?
“Truly, truly I say to you” – Jesus said in John 5:24 – “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.”
If you hear the word of scripture and believe it, you’ll be saved. You’ll enter into life, and once you enter by faith, you live by faith. Let us not be like those disciples to whom the Lord had to say, “You’re very little different than those who don’t believe because they have a warped view of My promises, My Word.”
Father, we thank You this morning for the lives of these people. If there were no other reason to read the Old Testament, this would be enough to see the sustained stories of these people who never saw what they hoped for, who never saw what they were assured of, who never saw what they were convinced of, but who gave their lives for what they hoped for, what they hadn’t seen, because You told them it was true.
You have told us that heaven is a reality, and that Jesus is the only Savior, and the way of sanctification is by obedience and obedience alone to the truth of Your Word. Help us to believe that savingly and sanctifyingly, for the honor of Christ, amen.