Faith That Pleases God

Posted: August 3, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 11:1-7, “Faith That Pleases God”

[Hebrews 11:1-7] To this point, the author of Hebrews has argued that Jesus is indeed the Son of God Who is superior to every angel, every prophet, every priest, every covenant, and every sacrifice that came before… Now that he’s proven that to any (honest) 1st century Jewish Christian, what does that person do with it? By this point, this person knows to hold on to Christ & not to cast off his faith for anything (because there’s absolutely no substitute for Jesus – no other option). But what would it look like practically to hold onto Christ? Keep in mind that Judaism by this point wasn’t so much the faith of Moses & David as it was a highly technical & legalistic derivative of it. All the 1st century Jewish people knew to do to please God was to bring offerings, sacrifices, and do other good deeds (ritual washings, fastings, etc.). What was a Jewish Christian to do once he/she was convinced that Jesus’ work is the only sufficient work to be done?

Answer: have faith! Believe God through faith – worship God in faith – walk with God through faith. The ONLY way to please God is through faith in Jesus Christ, and that’s what the Scripture teaches in this chapter. What’s one of the best ways to teach? By example! And that’s what the author of Hebrews does throughout Ch 11. 1st he defines faith; then he describes faith by using examples that stretched through the gamut of the history of Israel. We’re not going to get too far into the examples today; just the 1st three. But those 1st 3 demonstrate MUCH about faith! Faith in God makes us righteous to God. Faith in God makes us pleasing to God. Faith in God makes us obedient to God.

Hebrews 11:1-12 (NKJV)
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

A. When it comes to a definition of “faith”, this is the opposite of what many people would expect to find! After all, to many people’s point-of-view, we only make a leap to faith when we don’t have hard evidence to hold on to. The atheist often argues that because science has not found conclusive evidence of the existence of God, that the believer is forced to “retreat” to faith in order to believe that God is real. … (There are many things wrong with that idea – if nothing else to say that Creation is itself one of the most powerful & prevalent evidences of a Creator that can possibly be found. Simply because the atheist chooses to ignore the obvious doesn’t mean that evidence doesn’t exist.)

B. Scripture claims the opposite. Not only is faith NOT a retreat away from evidence; but faith is the evidence itself. Just as our sense of smell verifies the perfume of a rose & our sense of taste verifies the sweetness of sugar, so faith is like a “sense.” But instead of sensing & verifying what can be seen, it’s a verification of what cannot yet be seen. We do not yet see the scars in Jesus’ hands, but faith tells us one day we will see Him face-to-face. We do not yet see heaven, but faith tells us that we have a confident hope that heaven is exactly where we’ll be for eternity. God tells us these things through His Scriptures – we believe His word & promises, and thus our faith informs our mind of what we would not otherwise comprehend.

C. Question: if faith is itself the evidence, then what stops other religions/cults from claiming the same argument? Mormons typically claim a “warming” in their spirit – and they place their faith in the writings of Joseph Smith. On the other side of the spectrum, there seems to be no lack of supply of Islamic terrorists willing to strap on explosives & become suicide bombers. Say what you will about their doctrine, the one thing we cannot accuse them of is to say they don’t have faith… What makes the difference for the Christian? Answer: the difference is the object of our faith! This isn’t a he-said-she-said argument where we can randomly choose which religion is correct. Truth is truth. Either Christianity is correct, or some other religion is correct, or NO religion is correct…but one of those options MUST be true. So can the Christian know that our faith is a well-informed faith? Yes!
__a. We have the testimony of Creation (which we’ll get to in vs. 3)
__b. We have the testimony of the Law, written on our hearts (Rom 2:15)
__c. We have the testimony of the Resurrection, without which our faith would be futile (1 Cor 15:17)
__d. We have the testimony of the Holy Spirit, Who is our seal & guarantee of eternity (2 Cor 1:22)
__e. We have the testimony of the Church gone before us (which is one of the points of the rest of Ch 11). How else would Peter have gone from denying Jesus to bold proclamation? Would murderous Saul have become the apostle Paul? Would the apostle John be dipped in boiling oil & still willing to rejoice & write of Christ in exile? Would Polycarp (the Bishop of Smyrna) be willing to be burned solely because he would not deny his Lord? And the list goes on.
__f. We have a well-informed – a well-attested faith!

D. Faith is described in 2 ways here:
__a. “substance”: Gk word is actually a compound, “under” + “stand/establish”… Could think of it as “undergirding” or the “essence” or “substance” of something. (Same word “hypostasis” comes into play later with the Nicene Creed showing that Jesus is of the same essence/substance as the Father). With that in mind, we think of the things “hoped for” = salvation, heaven, etc. and our faith is THAT substance. It’s the foretaste & assurance of what’s to come.
__b. “evidence”: Other translations may have “convictions.” The Gk has the idea of “proof” – as in the proof in an argument or debate. There are many things about our salvation that remain unseen, and our faith is the convicting proof/evidence that those things exist.
__c. Put these ideas together, and we have faith being the substantive sense – the logical evidence that the unseen things are true. It’s not talking about proof as in “I gotta prove it to someone else,” but rather, “How do I keep walking in Christ, even though I’m dealing with unseen things? What do I have that is solid to hang onto during unsure times?” The answer: FAITH!
____i. What this looks like exactly is the same question most of this Chapter is concerned with! We get example after example of what faith looks like in real life…

E. What is this NOT saying? [Word/faith – positive confession] Just because we might really want to believe something to be true doesn’t mean that it IS true. Our faith/belief doesn’t make it reality. You can ‘declare’ yourself wealthy all day long, but if you’re not working for extra, there won’t be another penny in the bank when you go to bed. The problem people get into here is that (just like the cultists) they put their faith in the wrong object. Instead of trusting Jesus & simply putting their faith in Him, they’re putting their faith into their own faith. It’s what THEY proclaim – it’s the words THEY say – it’s how much THEY believe that matters. None of that has anything to do with Jesus. Our faith must be in HIM; not ourselves.

2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

A. “Elders” = those Hebrew believers that had come before. The rest of Ch 11 outlines the testimony of these elders in the faith…

B. Brings up an interesting point: to the author, the elders of the OT Hebrews are also the elders of the Church. Obviously he’s writing to Jewish Christians, so we’d expect him to pull examples from their cultural heritage. But don’t miss the fact that he’s (via the Holy Spirit) is pointing to them as examples of people who had genuine faith that pleased God (vs. 6). IOW, he’s talking about people in the OT who were saved. … We tend to think that people just were saved after Jesus went to the cross – but keep in mind that Jesus was slain for our sin from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Thus for OT saints, they could look to the sin sacrifice of the Messiah just as we can. They may not have understood everything as well as we do – they were dealing with types & shadows – but just as we look back to the Cross, they looked forward. … (Eph 2:8-9)…

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

A. What’s the 1st thing we understand by faith? Creation… [no excuse] Romans 1:20-21 (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (21) because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [] Believers & non-believers alike should be able to look at the visible world & understand it has an invisible Creator. Christians then know by faith that its Creator is the God of the Bible. “The worlds” = Gk αἰών (“eons”) – sometimes used as a reference of time, but contextually here speaking of everything in the known universe. The planets, stars, cosmos – even time itself. All of it was created by the word & the will of God. And we understand that by faith.
__a. “But I thought you said Creation was ‘evidence’; not faith!” It is evidence, but it takes faith to draw the conclusion from the evidence to understand that God created everything. Despite its protestations, evolutionary science is no different. They start with the presupposition (faith) that there is no God & no supernatural & then proceed to interpret the known evidence in light of that presupposition. That is an act of faith; only their ‘god’ is glorified human knowledge & Darwin is its prophet.

B. What do we understand about the worlds? That they “were framed by the word of God.” Not random chance – not carbon atoms randomly combining in a primordial mess. God had a specific design & that specific design came into being by His word. How specific is our universe? Very! Just looking at planet earth, we find that life could not exist if the planet was 2-5% closer to the sun or 2-5% further away – if the oxygen/nitrogen ratio in the atmosphere was changed at all – if we got any less than a 1% change in the amount of sunlight that reached the earth (changing the global temperature), and more! And that’s only the macro scale – if you take it down to the micro, it becomes even more astounding. Dr. John Marcus (biochemist), “If the DNA of one human cell were unraveled and held in a straight line, it would literally be almost one meter long and yet be so thin that it would be invisible to all but the most powerful microscopes. Consider that this string of DNA must be packaged into a space that is much smaller than the head of a pin and that this tiny string of DNA contains enough information to fill almost 1,000 books, each containing 1,000 pages of text.” (In 6 Days, pg 174, ed. Ashton) We have been framed/designed/created by God!

C. How were the worlds framed? “By the word of God.” Gk ῥῆμα – specifically the “spoken word” of God (per Gen 1). The things that are visible came into existence via invisible means: the sheer will and word of God. Even today, we are dependent upon the will of God: “in him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28) – Jesus is “before all things & in Him all things consist” (Col 1:17)… God spoke, and that’s all it took!

D. Not only is His spoken word invisible, the word of God brought all matter into being using building blocks which are virtually invisible. On the face of it, science backs this up completely. The universe is not made up of visible fire, air, earth, and water (per ancient scientists, including Aristotle), but rather all matter is composed of atomic particles far too small to be seen by the naked eye (and vast amounts of space in-between). Truly the Scripture is amazingly accurate (especially for its day) by proclaiming “the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

– We have two major categories of testimony regarding God, demonstrating Whom in which we should have faith. One is obviously what we see around us: creation. The other is a great cloud of witnesses, which is the subject of vss. 4-40.

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

A. We often speak of Stephen being the 1st martyr of the church, but in one sense, the 1st person ever killed for his faith was Abel. Genesis 4 tells us that both Cain & Abel (the 1st sons of Adam & Eve) brought sacrifices to God, but that God respected Abel’s offering & did not respect Cain’s (Gen 4:4-5).

B. Genesis is silent on the matter, but here we’re told why was Abel’s sacrifice “more excellent” than Cain’s. Many people speculate that it had to do with Abel bringing an animal & Cain bringing what he grew from the ground – or that Abel brought the prime of his flock & Cain gave what was left over. Certainly some of that may be true – but specifically we’re told that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because “he was righteous.” IOW, it wasn’t what Abel brought that made him righteous; his sacrifice was acceptable due to his righteousness. Jesus affirmed that Abel was righteous (Matt 22:35)…that was simply how God saw him.

C. Question: “Don’t the Psalms (and Rom 3) tell us that none is righteous, no not one? How could Abel be righteous?” That’s the point of the passage. Abel wasn’t righteous in & of himself; he was made righteous through faith in God. That was the lead-in to Ch 11 – the just shall live by faith… Because Abel had faith in God (probably the promise of the coming Messiah given to his mother – Gen 3:15), it was exemplified by the offering he brought to God. The fact God received Abel’s sacrifice is a witness that God had already made him righteous by faith.

5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

A. Enoch was a larger figure in Jewish culture than he is today (several apocryphal books written by or about him). NT affirms that Enoch was indeed a prophet, but the church did not recognize his books as inspired Scripture. Our account for him is virtually all in Genesis 5:21-24. He was the father of the oldest man in the Bible (Methuselah) & the grand-father of Noah. Other than that, all we know is that he missed his appointment with death because God took him. (1st rapture in the Scripture!)

B. Again, we get more information here than what’s found in Genesis (best commentary on the Bible is the Bible!). In the Hebrew version of Genesis, we’re not told why God took Enoch; but in the LXX, it says it was because “he pleased God.” “And Enoch was well-pleasing to God. And he was not found, for God transposed him.” (Gen 5:24, LXX) Obviously the NT affirms that thought here in Hebrews. What work could Enoch possibly have done to please God? None. The only thing Enoch had was faith! His faith alone was pleasing to God.

6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

A. Don’t miss out on this; this is a vital part of the gospel! When it comes to ‘religion,’ this is where many people fall short, including many professed ‘Christians’. To some, they think that as long as they walked forward at an evangelistic meeting, and prayed a prayer, that they could be pleasing to God if they walked as moral, upstanding citizens from that day forward. Hear me carefully: that is not the gospel. … When someone is grieved over their sin, and they throw themselves upon the mercy, grace, and love of God because of the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s because they are placing all their faith & trust in HIM – in Jesus alone for forgiveness from sin & new life. It’s not about trying to do enough good deeds to try to please God – that’s works-righteousness. It’s all about pleasing God through faith in His Son. And when we do that, then our lives & actions are changed as a result… Do you understand the difference? We’re not pleasing to God because of our work (ever!); we’re pleasing to God because of faith in Jesus’ work. … This verse makes it perfectly clear: without faith in Jesus Christ as a foundation, pleasing God is not just a difficult task; it’s an impossible one.
__a. Does this mean that works are useless? Absolutely not! Works borne out of faith are a powerful testimony to our faith (as we’ll see with Noah). James affirms that without works, our faith is dead (Jas 2:17). But faith is the starting point! And without faith, it is impossible to please God.

B. So what does faith in God look like? Knowing that we come through Jesus Christ (the door – the way, truth, & life), how do we come to God? Two aspects:
__a. 1st, we “must believe that He is” – seems pretty basic & it is. We must believe that God exists. But this is far more than mental assent that ‘there is a God somewhere – any God’; this is a belief in the One True God – the God of the Bible revealed through Jesus Christ. We must believe that God is the I AM.
__b. 2nd, we must believe “that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” I.e., we must believe that God is a God of His word – that He is faithful to His promises & does what He says He will do. Jesus told us to ask for the Holy Spirit & God would give Him (Luke 11:13) – Jesus told us that all who come to Him for salvation, He will by no means cast out (John 6:37). God is absolutely faithful! We can trust Him to be true to His promises, so we can seek Him diligently.

C. But what about Romans 3? Romans 3:10-11 (10) As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; (11) There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. [] The fact that no one seeks God is an essential part of Paul’s argument that all (100% of mankind) is in need of salvation. Is this a contradiction in the Bible? No – quite the opposite. Romans 3 & Hebrews 11 go hand-in-hand on this point. Left to ourselves, we don’t seek God. We are born with a sinful nature & go on sinning day by day. But through the grace of God, we are convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment through the Spirit (John 16:8) – through the grace of God someone is sent to share the gospel with us (Rom 10:15) – through the grace of God, the Father draws us to Jesus (John 6:44) – and THEN we respond in faith, by seeking the Lord Jesus in repentance…
__a. In addition, notice that faith is not a one-time event for any of the men & women listed in the Hall of Faith. The author isn’t only writing of the act of justification from sin; he’s writing about our ongoing walk with Christ Jesus. And the only way our walk with Him can be pleasing to God is through faith. Through faith, we continue to seek after God day by day: in prayer, worship, & the Scriptures… We continue to seek His face in faith receiving the grace He offers us for daily life.

7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

A. Noah picks up in Gen 5 & lasts through Gen 9. Hebrews just hits the bare highlights.
__a. Should we believe the Genesis account regarding Noah? Jesus did, and referred to it in literal terms & a parallel to how people would act in the end times (Matt 24:37-39). If you consider yourself a Christian, that alone should take away any doubt whatsoever!

B. What was “not yet seen” by Noah that he was warned about? Obviously the destruction of the earth through global flood – but this could even be a reference to rain itself. To this point, there seems to have been no rain on the earth; just a mist that arose every morning to water the ground (Gen 2:5-6). Talk about having faith in the word of God! Before any rain existed, God told Noah to build a boat on dry land. Imagine the ridicule Noah must have endured…it took faith to follow through!

C. Why did Noah build the ark? To save his family, for sure – but most of all because he was “moved with godly fear.” Not talking about terror & shaking in his boots for what was coming, but Noah had a reverent, pious awe of God. He believed that God was, and that God kept His promises. God promised to destroy the earth, so Noah acted upon that promise, per the word & enabling of God.

D. In the end, what is Noah known for? Obedience. Noah’s obedience demonstrated his faith in God. He “became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Because of Noah’s faith, he built the ark – and through the events on the ark, he became a physical heir to the promises in that God delivered him through the flood.

There are many more people to see in Ch 11 – but we get started with three:
A. Abel: His faith made him righteous in the sight of God & his worship was acceptable.
B. Enoch: His faith made him pleasing in the sight of God & God rewarded him.
C. Noah: His faith made him obedient to the word of God & God delivered him.

What do they all demonstrate? Walking with God in faith. There is simply no other way possible to approach Almighty God other than faith – specifically faith in Jesus Christ. So let’s take it back to where we began today: are you like that 1st Century Jewish Christian who’s lost on how to approach God if you can’t do it through good deeds? So many people get the idea that someone’s a “good Christian” if they do XYZ, and as long as you do XYZ, then that’s what makes you a Christian. Wrong. Someone’s not a good Christian because they help old ladies cross the street & bake an apple pie for their neighbors. That’s something a Christian might do; but that doesn’t make them a Christian. Baking a pie will go a long way to please your neighbor, but without Jesus, it won’t do anything to please God.

The ONLY way to please God is through faith. We must believe that He is: that He is truly the God of the Bible who sent His only begotten Son to the world to die for our sins & rise again from the grave… We must believe that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him: that He is true to His promises & those who seek Him by placing their faith & trust in Jesus Christ will be born again of the Holy Spirit & will spend eternity with Him in heaven. THAT is pleasing faith in the sight of God.

Christian: you know you believe that; now what? Keep walking in faith. Keep worshipping God in faith. Keep obeying God in faith. Keep on believing – keep on trusting – keep on knowing that God is faithful to His word.


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