By faith men of old gained approval
Hebrews 11:1-16 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
The Triumphs of Faith
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And 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 seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
James 2:14-26 says: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Ephesians 2:8-10 says: By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. How do we balance these two portions of scripture? They really are not opposed to each other. Our faith is in God and in the finished work of the cross, not in our own works. It is believing in what Jesus did that saves us. But, if we have faith, if we believe, then the result of our faith should be good works, in addition to our salvation. Our works are the result of our faith, not the cause of our salvation. Today’s text begins saying: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. Because we believe, because we are convinced of what God has promised to us and for us, even though we don’t see it all, we do what He desires and commands us to do. In Matthew 25:21, in the parable of the talents, Jesus says: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Those who were and who are faithful to do and use what God has given, even though the reward may not be seen in this time, will be blessed with all that God has for them in the heavenly realm. Galatians 6:7-9 says: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Sowing in faith, we gain the approval of God. We reap the full promises of our faith.
The text says: By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. Our faith, believing in God, causes us to know that He is a creative God. He did not just rearrange what was, He created everything from nothing. He spoke and it came into being. Those who do not believe in the God of creation, believe instead that the perfect balance and the perfect structure of the universe, from the vastness of unseen galaxies, to the intricacies of unseen subatomic structures, are the result random reorganization of what already existed, that everything we see and everything that is unseen, is only here by chance. We who believe, we who have faith in God, in what He has done and what He will do, understand that He can both create something from nothing and He can also recreate, restore and redeem. He can reorganize. Genesis 1 begins saying: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. The word or words that are translated as formless and void could also be translated as chaos. God created the heavens and the earth, then He reorganized the chaos and brought order. He spoke and it came into being. God is still both a creative and re-creative God. He can speak and bring forth something from nothing, or He can take the chaos of our lives and bring order, structure and perfect balance.
In today’s text, after giving examples of the works of faith of those who lived and died before Jesus work of faith on the cross, it says: All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. We too have something more prepared for us than we can possibly imagine. But for us, because we have been saved by grace through faith, we also have the ability and the responsibility to live in the fulfillment of God’s promises here and now. Jesus taught us to pray saying: Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In faith, we are to live as those who are the answer and the fulfillment of that prayer. Through the recreative power of the Holy Spirit we are to bring the realities of heaven to earth. We are to be ones who help to bring order where there is chaos. A great unimaginable future awaits us in heaven, but by faith, we need to be faithful in the things God has given us here and now so that one day we will hear Him say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’