|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. Jack Sequeira
It is accepted by all Christians that Hebrews eleven is the greatest chapter in all of the Bible on the subject of faith. The first six verses define for us what faith is. That is what we will cover in this study, the definition of faith. Our title for today is, “Faith Defined.” In verses seven to the end of the eleventh chapter we are told how faith works and how it was demonstrated in the lives of the men and women of God in the Old Testament. Paul uses these heroes of God as an encouragement to us that we should not give up as they did not give up.
Today we will look at the first six verses. Since there is so much confusion today in the Christian world on this one word, “faith,” I would like to begin by telling you what faith is not.
1. Faith is not positive thinking, which is the teaching of Shuler. The Bible doesn’t teach faith as positive thinking. That’s modern psychology. The Bible doesn’t teach it.
2. Faith is not a hunch that we follow after. Let me give you an illustration. A group of Adventists about four years ago had a hunch. The hunch was that the ark of the covenant was in a certain cave in Jordan. They went out there even under false pretence to try to find the ark under this hunch. Of course, it ended up in catastrophe because the Arab guide whom they employed reported them to the Jordanian government and we as a church got into trouble, real trouble. Maybe you did not know about it because they would not publish it in the Review [and Herald] but we nearly lost our credentials as a church in the country of Jordan. So faith is not a hunch. We must be careful what we do with our impressions or hunches. Let me give you another example.
We had a single worker in Ethiopia. When she first came to Ethiopia, I warned her, as I usually did new workers, that there are certain individuals who are experts at squeezing out of missionaries every dollar that they can get. One of them was an excellent actor. He could produce tears on the spur of the moment. He just had the knack. So he came to her and he said, “I lost my father and my mother (as the tears rolled down his face) and I have no one to look after me. Will you please take me under your wing?” The dear sister fell for it. At the end of two years, he had squeezed US$3,000 out of her. That is a lot of money when you think that the average Ethiopian earns about US$25-US$40 a year. I warned her. I said, “He is bluffing you. I know him. He goes to all missionaries. You are not the only one.”
She said, “I have a hunch. I have an impression that the Holy Spirit has led me to give him all this money.”
The devil has all kinds of ideas and it will feel like the Holy Spirit talking to you. Be careful. You have to ground your faith on something that is much more concrete than ideas that creep into your head. They may be very holy ideas. That is why verse six shows that faith always has an object. The object is the Word of God. I asked her, “Is this young man converted?”
She said “No.”
“What evidence do you have that he is not lying to you?”
She said, “How can he lie to an old woman like me? He seems so sincere.”
So please be careful.
3. Faith is not a feeling. That’s number three. I am not sure of my salvation because I feel. There are many times that I feel like a miserable, wretched sinner. I don’t know about you, but I feel sometimes that I am the worst of all. Thank God that our feelings are not faith. I want to emphasize this because I tell you that the real issue in the time of trouble will be between your feelings and your faith. When things are well with you, your feelings and faith can be in harmony but when you face a crisis your feelings will say one thing and your faith will say another. You have to choose. Many people have left this church because they have let their feelings rule them. We are not saved by feelings.
Let me give you an example of a battle which I fight which I know that all of you have to fight because we are human beings. Human love is based on need, on the beauty of certain personalities. When a pastor comes into a church — and it doesn’t matter which church — or when a teacher comes into a classroom, there are some members or students they will take a liking to. There are others that you immediately dislike. There is something about their personality that rubs you the wrong way.
I have always had to take my feelings and leave them on the cross and say, “That’s where you belong.” Irrespective of what I feel about you, you are a child of God. I love you not because my feelings say so, but because the love of God does not discriminate. He loves the good and the bad. And we must allow the love of God to control us. The love of God controls us by faith. We must have faith which worketh by love. Gal.5:6:
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
The love of God must constrain us. One of the first fruits of faith is love. What happens when you have faith? God pours His love into you. It comes vertically from God. And it goes out horizontally to your neighbours. That is the greatest evidence that you are walking by faith. But anyway, right now we’re dealing with what faith is not. Faith is not feelings. Sometimes your feelings and faith harmonize but sometimes they don’t.
4. The next thing is that faith is not hoping for the best. Faith is not saying, “Well, I think all things will work out.” Faith is sure, and that’s how Paul defines faith. Faith is sure of something. He does use the word hope but not in the English sense in saying, “I hope it will work.” Not in that sense. And, by the way, faith is not make-believe. We don’t pretend. I don’t have to pretend that I am righteous in Christ. I know for a fact that in Christ I am righteous. Faith is based on fact and the fact is based on the Word of God. This is what faith is not. Let’s go now to what faith is. Look at Heb.1:1:
Now faith is the substance [the Greek is “reality”] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
What is the reality of faith? I would like to give you three things:
All these three are realities in Christ. In Christ we have righteousness, we have eternal life, and we have heaven. All these three are clearly taught in the Bible, but none of these three things do we have as a tangible reality in our hands today. What do we have today?
So faith is something, a reality we hope for, but we don’t have it at the moment. The word, “hope,” brings something into our minds. It means that what we hope for is what we want and if we want what we hope for then we are dissatisfied with what we have today. Are you happy with sin? No. Are you happy with death? No. Are you happy with life at this time? In spite of our plastic cards which will buy us most anything in this country, are you happy? You can’t have faith if you are satisfied with this world, folks.
Turn to Romans eight. A person who has faith is dissatisfied with his present situation. Here Paul discusses Christians as a whole, the believers. Do you know what he says about Christians? He says, “They are groaning.” Look at Rom.8:22:
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also.”Who does he mean by the word, “ourselves”? The ones who have been born again who have the first fruits of the Spirit.
Even we ourselves groan within ourselves...
He is not saying that we are complaining to each other. That Christians should not really do. But we are groaning within ourselves.
...waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
Why? Because in chapter six he has told us that we have a body of sin. “Oh wretched man, who will deliver me from this body of sin,” he says in chapter seven. “Oh wretched man that I am.” He calls it “the body of death” in chapter seven and in chapter six he calls it “the body of sin.”
Remember that we are groaning because we do not have the body of righteousness. We have a humanity that is still leaning towards sin. So we are dissatisfied. And that is evidence of faith.
Go back to Heb.11:8-10 but, before we read the text, here is a question. Was Abraham rich by the standards of his culture? Yes. Did he have cows? Cattle? To the Middle Eastern mind, that was just like a stack of gold. Just like the Masai. They value their cows like you value your bank account. I remember travelling one day as a group of Masai cows were crossing the road. We were out in the sticks in Tanzania. I was riding my motorcycle and I couldn’t stop. It was a gravel road and I braked and I skidded and I hit this cow. The cow fell on one side and I fell on the other side and when I looked up I saw a Masai coming with a spear. He was coming at me with full speed. I did not wait to see whether the cow was hurt or not. I got my bike up and I took off. He flung the spear but he missed me. To him I had touched his money.
In fact, we had an English veterinary surgeon who came to Kenya by the request of the Kenyan government because the animals had foot and mouth disease and it was passing on to the wild game. So this expert came there to help with the problem. The problem with him was that he did not understand the Masai. He found this sick Masai cow and he knew that the cow had reached the point of no return. So he put her to death out of kindness and the Masai speared him to death for doing that. When the Masai was brought to the court he said, “He killed my cow; I killed him.” It was as simple as that.
So, to Abraham, cattle was wealth. He was rich. Read Genesis. But now look at verses eight to ten of Hebrews eleven. In spite of his materialism, in spite of his wealth:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
Can you imagine that? Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes. God said, “I want you to leave your country.” Let us say he was living in America. “I want you to leave America, and I want you to take off to Saudi Arabia.” And he looks up his atlas and he sees in his geography book that Saudi Arabia is a desert.
The people say, “What are you packing for?”
“We are going to Saudi Arabia.”
“Have you been there?”
“Do you know anybody there?”
“No. God says so.” He went there by faith. Verse nine:
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles.
The word [tabernacles] is “tents.” A rich man! With Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. Verse ten:
For he looked for a city [Which city? Jerusalem? No. The New Jerusalem.] which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
So where was his heart? Not on his cattle. Not on literal Israel, but on heaven. Paul says the same thing in Phil. 3:20,21; our citizenship is where we look forward to the second coming of Christ. So faith is the reality of heaven, of eternal life, of righteousness which we don’t have but which we hope for. I would like to emphasize this, “Are you hungering and thirsting after righteousness?” Let’s go now to Heb. 11:2:
For by it the elders obtained a good report.
By this the saints of God received a good report. Look at Matt. 6:21:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So faith is putting your heart not in earthly things but in heavenly things — in Christ and the wealth of heaven. In verse three he explains how the elders got a good report.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Faith always has an object. The object of faith here in this passage is the word of God. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God. Now who is the Word of God? John 1:1-3:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. By Him all things were made.
Now the Word of God tells us that God, Jesus Christ, created this world without the use of any pre-existing matter. His word created matter. When you tell that to the scientists they laugh at you. Am I correct? How can words create? They may create ideas, but how can breath create matter? But that’s what the Bible says. Do you believe what the Bible says: that the Word of God has creative power? Please keep this in mind because every promise you read in your Bible is the Word of God. Therefore God is able to do the impossible in your life.
The scientists say that it is impossible to create matter out of non-existing matter. Are they right or are they wrong? They are right when you look at things from the natural point of view. Humanly speaking it is impossible to create something out of nothing. But with God all things are possible. So faith is in the Word of God even when to all appearance it is impossible. The object of faith is the Word of God. The thing that I want to emphasize here in verse three is the Word of God is creative.
Can the Word of God produce righteousness out of sin? Can man produce righteousness out of sin? No. Can God do it? Yes. Do you believe that? That is what faith is. Faith is believing in the reality even though you don’t have the evidence.
There are some Christians within our church who say it is impossible for us to live above sin. The argument is, “Show me one person.” They want evidence. My evidence is the Word of God. So I give them a text. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.” That’s what the word says. You put on Jesus Christ and you make no provision. Do you believe that even though you have no evidence?
Good things are not proof of goodness because, in God’s eyes, goodness includes motives. Their argument is that even our good acts are polluted with self. They are looking at it from the human point of view. Jesus said:
Abide in Me and I in Thee for without Me you can do nothing. But if you abide in Me you will bear much fruit.
So the issue is not evidence. The Bible is not using the scientific method. Science will not accept anything without a demonstration. Science needs a demonstration. Faith doesn’t need a demonstration. It takes the Word of God as if it is reality. And that is why faith always has an object. That is why in the New Testament and in the Bible we are never taught that we are saved because of our faith. We are saved by faith or through faith because faith always is a channel or an instrument. Faith itself doesn’t save you. What saves you is the object of faith. Faith is simply the channel by which you approach the object. The object is the Word of God which is Jesus Christ. Now lets look at verses four and five:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,...
Here are two brothers. Both offered sacrifices. What is it that made Abel’s sacrifice qualify him for righteousness? The rest of the text says:
...by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
In other words, was Abel justified by works by offering up a sacrifice or was he justified by faith? Faith plus works or faith that works? The works were the evidence of what? Faith. Were works the evidence of his faith or were the works the evidence of his righteousness? Which one? Faith, yes. Cain also had works but Cain’s works were depending on whose righteousness? His. He was offering up the fruits of his labour. Abel was offering up what God required of him regarding his confession of his faith in the Word of God — the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Notice that verse four is really discussing justification by faith. This is imputed righteousness. Now look at verse five, it goes to the other camp — imparted righteousness:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
How did he please God? By what? By works of the law or by works of faith? Is there a difference between those two? I will touch on that when we do our series on the Laodicean message. In other words, Abel represents those who will be justified by faith. Enoch represents those who are walking by faith and producing fruits. They are abiding in Christ. They are producing fruits and God is pleased. For Jesus said, “If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit and [who will be pleased?] My Father will be pleased.”
What I want to emphasize is that both justification and sanctification are by faith. That is what this passage is telling me. Faith is not only the means of my standing before God but faith is also the means of Christian living. Imputed righteousness is what God considers you in Christ. You are a sinner in yourself, therefore you will feel a sinner, but in Christ you are righteous. So using the words of Steps to Christ, “God looks on you as if you had never sinned.” Is God lying by the way? Is He make-believing? Is it true that you have never sinned? Yes. In Christ you have never sinned. God looks at you as in Christ. That is imputed righteousness.
Imparted righteousness is producing that righteousness which you already have in Christ, in you, as evidence of what you already have in Christ. He is not imparting it to you so that you may feel good. He is imparting it to you so that the world may see what you are already in Christ. This is the evidence of justification. That’s why it is called fruits.
When we moved to the house there on Brooklane [in Washington State], we had a tree in the backyard and I insisted that it was an apple tree. My wife said, “No, it’s a pear tree.” The reason she gave was that pear trees produce branches straight up while apple trees tend to go sideways. This was before the leaves came out. All we could see were the branches.
I said, “I think it is an apple tree. It smells like one.”
She said, “A tree doesn’t smell like an apple tree.”
So we waited until the fruits came. Then when they came I said, “O.K. that’s the evidence.”
She said, “You are right.”
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” In the Laodicean message, Jesus judges the church by their works. “I know your works.” That is for another study. Now I want to look at verse six:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him...
Without faith there is no justification and there is no sanctification. The only way you can be justified and the only way you can be sanctified is by faith. That is all that God is demanding.
Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is.
And that is a hard statement for you to understand because we are westerners in this world. The words “he is” is what we call the copulative verb in the Greek. It’s the verb “to be.” You remember what God said to Moses when Moses asked: “Who shall I say you are?” “I AM,” which means that He has no beginning and no ending. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
So when you read your Bible and see the wonderful works He did in the Old Testament, the miracles in the New Testament, can He do that today? Yes, He can, because He Is. That’s what it means. When you come to God, you come to One who is everlasting, that is unchangeable and is able to do. Can God make something today out of nothing? Yes, He can.
How did Jesus produce all those fish in that net? Did He stampede them? No. How did He produce the coin in the fish’s mouth? Because fish don’t eat money. Let’s look at God and say “Boy, we have a God that can do anything.”
The question is, “Do you have faith? Do you believe?” Faith is believing the impossible. Faith is believing God. So you must come to Him and believe that He is:
That He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
So when somebody tells me, “I don’t think God loves me.” What do they lack? Is it true that God doesn’t love them? Is the problem with God? No the problem is with them. “Oh you of little faith.”
When things go wrong in your life, when you lose your job and then you get sick and have to go to the hospital and you have no insurance, and the whole world around you collapses; then your friends reject you to make it worse. Does God still love you? Why? Because He is. He has not changed. His love to you never changes. Faith is something concrete. Faith itself has no power.
Faith is in an object. The object is the Word of God. That is what faith is. Faith is taking God seriously. Faith is saying, “God, I believe even though I don’t have the evidence,” in the sense, “I don’t have the tangible evidence, but I believe.” People may laugh at your faith, they may mock you for your faith, but it is the most valuable thing you have. Don’t you ever give it up. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. Without faith it is impossible to be righteous. Without faith you are a sinner condemned. So faith is not simply a make-believe. Faith is based on something that is real. Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.
Member of Congregation: “Einstein said that matter is energy and energy is power.”
I wish Karl Marx had lived after Einstein. Because, you see, Karl Marx did not go to that extreme. What he did is divide matter up into elements, and elements into molecules. And he said, “This is it. Matter existed in forms of gaseous substance, molecules, and then it came together and became matter, and then spontaneously life came because the environment was correct.”
But today we know that the atom can be split. The source of matter is energy. But who is the source of energy? The word of God. The word of God is energy; it can create.
But the thing is this: if we admit that, then man becomes nothing, and that is the hard part. And I am willing to become nothing that God may become the energy in my life.
Do we think by faith, or do we think according as to what is going on around us? We must allow our minds to be controlled by the word of God. Then our feelings will come into subjection. But if we allow our environment, our body, our natural feelings to control us then in a time of crisis it will contradict our faith. I’m talking from experience.
When we were in Uganda, we were facing Idi Amin’s soldiers. The way we felt was that God had forsaken us. We had no protection. But we knew by the word of God that He had not forsaken us. But our feelings did not tell us that. So we dumped our feelings to one side and said, “We are going to trust God.” Otherwise we would have left like some missionaries did. They couldn’t handle it, it was too much for them. So they took the first ticket out. We had a couple, when we were in Beirut, they were sent as missionaries. They arrived on a Sunday. That evening there was some shelling, typical for Beirut. The lady said, “We never knew that there was fighting going on here.” I don’t know what they were reading in America. Monday they came here on the plane. It was too much for them. At night, when most of the fighting took place, you would see the tracer bullets, red hot bullets, shells, and they would hit the ground and cause everything to shake. And you don’t know where the next one will hit. One hit our cafeteria in the college. But you know, you feel scared. We are human beings. But there was something that held us there, Jesus was in control.
And folks, that’s what we need. We need faith in the word of God. And God says to you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And Jesus said to the disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and I am with you until the end.” Do you believe that? Then let us behave like people who believe.
May God bless us. Please read the other verses and look at the examples he gives from verse 7 and onwards. Men and women who were like you and me but who held on to their faith even though the heavens fell.