Bold Faith in a Broken World
We all love true stories of bold faith.
The man who, by faith, calmly quit his job because his boss put him in a position to either quit or compromise his beliefs.
The woman who, by faith, shared the gospel overseas at the potential cost of her life.
The college student who, by faith, took a stand for Christ among classmates and a professor eager to ridicule her.
We often marvel at these examples and respond with phrases like, “I wish I had faith like that”, “that takes some kind of faith”, or other similar reactions. It’s almost like we’re saying that kind of faith is an exception to what we expect to see in ourselves and fellow believers. But what if it’s not supposed to be the exception? What if those examples are not meant to be only inspirational, but instructive – a reminder that faith is not a call to comfortability?
The Bible makes it clear that faith in Christ is a continual calling out of our comfort zone. James tells us to expect trials and rejoice in them (James 1:2), Paul tells us all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12), and Jesus Himself said that if the world persecuted Him, it will also persecute us (John 15:20). Compare these (and many more passages like them) with the one verse that tells us bear up with those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1), and we can see that bold faith is the expectation not the exception. So, how do we go about making that a reality in our lives?
I can think of no better place to go than Hebrews 11.
The book of Hebrews only has 13 chapters, so the author is deep into his letter at this point. He has covered an incredible amount of ground, but in the last sentence prior to chapter 11, he introduces the kind of faith we are to have: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39). It has the feeling of a rally cry, and it’s natural that his next step would be to explain what this kind of faith looks like. And that’s exactly what he does.
What Faith Is
Hebrews 11 is often called the “faith hall of fame”, and for good reason. Many names recognizable to all Christians are listed one after another as the author highlights examples of their faith. But before he gets to them, he makes sure his readers/listeners understand what faith is: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This is not intended as a theological definition; this is the author trying to get his message across. Faith, he is stating, is living with a hope that is so real, so guaranteed, it gives absolute assurance. And it’s more than that. Faith is also a conviction, and conviction requires a response. When we are convinced something is true – in this case, the guarantee of our unseen reward – our lives fall in line with that conviction. So faith is both inward assurance of our unseen reward and an outward expression that shows we’re convinced it’s true.
How to Live by Faith
The author then moves through several examples of men and women who lived “by faith.” And this brings us back to the opening of this article. Like those examples, these are not meant to be viewed as only inspirational. That wouldn’t make sense with what author has written thus far in his letter. No, these are meant to be instructive. These are meant to spur us on toward the same kind of faith. Let’s look at three examples.
Abraham’s forward-looking faith
“By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise” (11:9).
Think about that for a second. Abraham was an alien in the land of promise. It wasn’t his land, and he would never see the day when it would be given to his descendants – but he faithfully followed God. Why? The author tells us in the next verse. “…for he was looking for the city … whose architect and builder is God.” Abraham exemplified faith in an unseen guarantee by fixing his eyes on the eternal City to come. A land that Ezekiel simply and beautifully calls “the Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Abraham endured and followed God because he knew, by faith, the Kingdom he would inherit, and he knew, by faith, that God would keep all of His promises. This is why we see him willingly take Isaac up that fateful mountain. He was certain God would keep His promise, which meant somehow, someway, Isaac would be brought through this or resurrected (Hebrews 11:19).
This confident, forward-looking faith is an example we are to follow, as we too are aliens in this world (John 17:14), and we too are called to follow God above all other things – even the things we hold dearest. Do you have a forward-looking faith that emboldens you to faithfully live for and share Christ in a fallen world that He has overcome (John 16:33)? Be spurred on by the example of Abraham.
Moses’ at-all-costs faith
“By faith” Moses when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of pharaoh’s daughter. Choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25).
Just think of what it would mean to be the “son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Immeasurable riches, total comfort, unstoppable power, immediate access to every desire, and much more. Moses abandoned it all – by faith. His focus on God allowed him to see right through the “passing pleasures of sin.” The next verse brings this point out even clearer. “Considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking forward to the reward” (v26). Moses weighed what Egypt had to offer with what God had to offer, and there was no comparison. Following God was worth any and all cost. (You’ll also notice that he, like Abraham, was “forward looking” as well).
Imagine replacing “the passing pleasures of sin” or “the treasures of Egypt” with “the American Dream.” A dream that boils down to boldly pursing comfortability and a certain level of status. What if instead we lived with open hands before God and said, “take and give what you please, Lord. I only want to follow where you lead.” Now, that can be very powerful prayer. Do you have a faith that puts everything as secondary to following God’s direction? In 80 years or less, everyone reading this who has trusted in Christ will be in the presence of God for all eternity. That’s the guarantee of our hope. We have to ask ourselves constantly, what are we clasping onto here that has no significance to us in eternity? As we struggle through this question, we can be emboldened by the example of Moses.
Israel’s only-God-can-do-this faith
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).
We need to have an appropriate understanding of Jericho’s walls. These were massive and especially designed to prevent enemy attack. Many walls at this time were wide enough for two chariots to fit on side-by-side. Massive.
If you recall, Israel did not enter the promised land (Canaan) at first because they chose fear of the inhabitants over faith in God. As a result, they had to wander the desert for 40 years. However, when they did enter the promised land, they had to face Jericho. And they had to face Jericho by faith. God wanted to make it absolutely clear that their real obstacle was never Canaan, but unbelief. So instead of assembling a massive army, God called Israel to march around the walls of Jericho with instruments. What’s amazing is that when we look at Joshua 6 where this event is recorded, there is no record of doubt or complaint among the people. Against all wisdom from the world, they chose, by faith, to believe God in the face of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. And God revealed His might and power not only to them (again), but to the people of Canaan as well. He showed that the only thing needed for victory is Him.
What a lesson and a message for us today. Whether it’s a fear of sharing the gospel, fear of talking about God in general, or fear of any consequence for faithfully following God, the walls of Jericho are a powerful reminder that the Lord is all we need. And faithfully following Him is all we need to do. While the world says tighten your belt and fight on! God tells us to place our faith in His perfect wisdom as He fights on our behalf. Have you been convinced that you’re facing an obstacle too big for God? Be encouraged by the true story of Israel and Jericho. God is still very much in the habit of knocking down seemingly impenetrable walls.
The Witnesses that Don’t Watch
As if to put an exclamation point on these examples of faith throughout the history, the author begins the next section by calling attention to this “great crowd of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1a). However, we must be careful not to think of this as the heroes of faith standing above and watching us. These are witnesses for God not witnesses of us. They have provided a witness for the Lord that we are to follow. That is why the very next phrase is, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1b). We are not running a race to perform for them or to live faithfully under their watching eyes; instead, we are to be witnesses for God in the same way they were – to run the race like they did. Let us do that.
While we’ve covered three of the people/groups mentioned in Hebrews 11, much more could be said about Abel, Enoch, Noah, and others listed in this amazing chapter of the Bible, and how we are called to model the faith they displayed. In fact, it’s well worth your time to read Hebrews 11 again – perhaps with a fresh perspective. The perspective that these are not just faith-heroes to marvel at – these are examples to follow so that we may demonstrate bold faith in a broken and fallen world.
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