“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
At the end of the day, faith and sight are not the same thing. If we have sight, we don’t have to exercise any faith. Once I am sitting in a chair, I don’t have to have faith it will hold me like I do before I sit down. I know it will because I am experiencing it. I can “see” it with my own eyes. Here at the tail end of Hebrews 11, the author gives us one last reminder of this truth before setting things up for where we are going next. Let’s talk one last time about living by faith and two reasons we should do it.
The first thing that fairly well jumps off the page at me here is the second phrase. Allow me to repeat it with emphasis. “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised.” Just let the weight of that rest on your for a second. All of these stories the author has set before us over the past 38 verses featured individuals who at some point lived their lives with faith in God, denying themselves and setting themselves in the terrible path of the world because they were convinced of the rightness and goodness of God’s promises of a better future than the present they were experiencing. While some of them experienced incredible successes as far as the world was concerned because of their faith, many of them experienced horrendous suffering and losses. And in the end, not a single one of them experienced the fulfillment of the promises to which they had given their lives.
Occasionally conscientious parents or grandparents will make an investment on behalf of their children whose returns they are fully aware they will never experience themselves. But that kind of thing is rarer and rarer. That kind of forward, selfless thinking is increasing an artifact from a previous generation. Our culture today doesn’t do much in terms of encouraging us to live with any kind of eye pointed toward tomorrow. The very idea that we might give our lives to something and never benefit materially from it in any way is almost unthinkable to us. Yet that is exactly what all of these faithful souls did. And they were approved for it.
Don’t miss that. They were so convinced in the truth of God’s promises that they were willing to live their lives in light of them even if they never experienced their fulfillment. It is no wonder their stories are told here and are worth telling again and again and again. And before you react to how unfair that seems to have been for them, don’t miss the next thing the author says. They didn’t experience the final fulfillment of God’s promises because He had something better to provide for us, namely Jesus. We are now participants in the fulness of their hope. Yet even now we still must live by faith because although that faith has been supercharged by Christ’s appearance, death, and resurrection, the fulfillment of our hope still remains in the future. Thus we live by faith. That is, we remain committed as they were to the truthfulness of God’s promises for a future restoration of all things, a commitment we demonstrate by our willingness to live now as if that restoration was already underway by putting obedience to His commands ahead of any other loyalties we might hold.
But why? Why does this living by thing faith matter? Let me offer a couple of reasons. Living by faith matters because our faith is what demonstrates our trust in God’s character. Why does this matter? Because it’s hard to claim a relationship with someone you don’t trust and whose character you don’t know. If we live our lives in such a way that does not reflect God’s sovereign authority and holiness, it is not at all clear that we actually know who He really is. Because if we know who He really is, our lives will reflect that. And who He really is is the all-powerful, sovereign creator of the universe. He is Lord of all there is. If there is a thing, He is the Lord of that thing. All creation is rightly subject to Him. Any violation of His sovereignty and holiness is not only sin, but a gross violation of the very nature of reality.
If we truly know Him for who He is, we will eagerly obey His every command (although before you go thinking that means that is a heavy load to bear, there is only one command we have to worry about keeping: love one another after the pattern of Jesus’ love for us). This obedience is the fruit of our faith. It is what faith looks like in action.
Here’s another reason this matters so much. When we live by faith, we are setting our sights on something bigger than ourselves and the concerns of the day. So many of the problems our culture faces today are the results of people who are focused on nothing more than themselves, the things they want, at the expense of everything else happening around them. When we make ourselves the focus of our attention, we are setting ourselves up for all kinds of troubles.
A fixation on self focuses our attention all the things wrong with us. This leads to depression and despair. It leads to insecurity and fear. A fixation on self can also result in our giving our attention to all the things we think we are doing well. This can lead to pride and arrogance. When we focus on only ourselves, we naturally begin comparing ourselves with the people around us. As I once heard And Stanley say, “There’s no win in comparison.” We either judge ourselves as not measuring up and feel badly, or else we see ourselves as superior and fall to pride.
Living by faith, though, neutralizes all of this. When we live by faith, we are focusing our attention on God and seeing the world through His eyes. We see ourselves through His eyes which leads to nothing but humility. We see the people around us through His eyes which leads to compassion and kindness. Our lives become better as they more fully reflect His kingdom. We become better at life as we live by kingdom standards. We make the lives of the people around us better as we live toward them with kingdom values. Faith makes everything better.
And yet…faith isn’t easy. It is often hard, and it often leads us into hard situations. How we handle that is where we are going next, Lord willing. Tomorrow look out for a review of the Hocus Pocus sequel, then next week we’ll start tackling Hebrews 12. I can’t wait to dig into with you.