What does Hebrews 11:1-3 have to say about faith and its centrality to the Christian life? First, if we what we read here is true, then faith is how we receive the blessings of salvation. What are the unseen things that our faith grasps? There are our justification, the forgiveness of our sins, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. There is only one way to receive and to know and then to grow into full assurance of our acceptance with God, and that is through faith in His Word. Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God’s acceptance, promised through His Word, overrules even the condemnation we feel for our sin. We receive this assurance by faith alone, trusting in God’s Word that says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The apostle Paul begins Ephesians in Ephesians 1:3 by praising “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” He goes on to outline some of those blessings, namely our election in Christ, our adoption as sons of God in Christ, our holiness in God’s sight, our redemption through Christ’s blood and the forgiveness of our sins, all because of God’s grace in Ephesians 1:4-7. Now how do all these become real to us, how do they make a difference in our lives, how do they give us joy ad hope and strength and love? The answer is by faith, which is receiving and being sure of them because of God’s Word. All these things become ours through the channel of faith. What God asks us to do is believe the gospel of His Son and thereby be saved; only through faith can we know the benefits of what Christ has achieved for us.
Second, faith sustains us in the midst of trial and difficulty. We find an excellent example of this in the life of the apostle Paul. At the end of his life he told Timothy what happened to him at his trial before Caesar in 2 Timothy 4:16-18, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The strength that sustained Paul came through faith in Christ and in God’s Word. At the beginning of his long imprisonment for preaching the gospel, John Bunyan begged that if he might be more useful to God at liberty, the Lord would allow him to go free, but that if he would be more useful in prison then God’s will be done. Clearly, God thought him more useful in prison, because by faith that is where Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress which has so blessed the church for hundreds of years. Only through faith do the people of God ever find strength and courage to stand up against the world and the trials of this life. This is the kind of Christianity our own world needs, the kind this world always needs, a Christianity made bold by the reality of faith.
Third, faith makes us pleasing to God and useful to others in this life. This is what we find all through Hebrews 11. As verse 2 tells us it is for faith that the ancients were commended by God. Faith is what got these men Noah, Abraham, Moses into the Bible. None of them was perfect or sinless, but all of them served the Lord by faith.
Writing about Moses, J.C. Ryle said:
“In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportioned to his faith. His peace, his patience, his course, his zeal, his works all will be according to his faith. Ryle then catalogs a number of great Christians such as John Wesley and George Whitfield and Robert Murray M’Cheyne, pointing out that it was faith that made them great. Some might say that it was prayer that strengthened them, to which Ryle replies, “Why did they pray so much?” Simply because they had much faith. What is prayer but faith speaking to God? Others might account their account their success to diligence and labor to which he responds, “What is Christian diligence, but faith at work?” Perhaps it was boldness, but “What is Christian boldness, but faith honestly doing its duty?” If, then we desire to be pleasing to God and useful to those around us, Ryle commends to us faith: “Faith is the root of real Christian character. Let your root be right, and your fruit will soon abound. Your spiritual prosperity will always be according to your faith. He that believeth shall not only be saved, but shall never thirst, shall overcome, shall be established, shall walk firmly on the waters of this world and shall do great works.”[i]
Therefore, let us pray with the disciples in Luke 17:5, “Lord increase our faith!” Nothing is more valuable to us, of more beneficial to others, than the faith that saves us through union with Christ, the faith that sustains us in the wilderness of this world, the faith that alone will make us pleasing to God and useful for His kingdom. If we believe in the supreme value of faith, then we will give our time, our effort, and our favor to those things that build up our faith, doing away with all those things that stand opposed to it. Of one thing we may be sure, God will not deny faith to those who seek it of Him. Matthew 7:7-8, ““Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
[i] J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Durham, U.K.: Evangelical Press, 1979), 144.