We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39)
Faith is what keeps us from falling away. The moment we stop believing that God’s Word contains absolute truth and is the final authority on all the issues of life is the moment we take our first step toward destruction.
What is faith?
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The word “faith” is translated from the Greek pistis. Its primary meaning is a firm persuasion, a conviction based on hearing. The noun form of this word is faith; the verb form (pisteuō) is translated believe. We possess faith (a gift granted to us by God’s grace), and we express it by believing (actively trusting in and surrendering to the object of our faith – Jesus).
The writer of Hebrews knew that we cannot live the Christian life without faith, so he included a long list of faithful believers as an example for us. God wants us to know – faith that perseveres and endures is possible. It’s not easy, but it is attainable, and in fact, expected. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
This “hall of fame” of God’s faithful servants begins in Genesis with Abel’s obedient sacrifice from the flock and covers all the “greats” in Israel’s history up to the current time this letter was written when those who proclaimed faith in Jesus as the Messiah were being wrapped in animal skins and thrown to the lions. In every single case, faith has the same element – a looking forward to what is not yet seen or realized. They knew that even the answers to prayer they did receive were not the full promise of what was to come – what God had planned for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16 – 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.
That’s what real faith is. It’s staying the course, remaining committed, persevering in our belief and our obedience even when we don’t see the results that God promises. It’s understanding that the end result of our faith won’t be realized in this life, but only in the life to come.
God is kind and gracious to answer some of our prayers in practical ways so that our faith grows deeper roots in His character and in the conviction that His Word is true. Abraham and Sarah did receive a son. Isaac saw the beginning of a nation in the faces of his twelve sons. The children of Israel experienced the protective covering provided by the Passover lamb. Moses walked through the dry beds of the Red Sea with more than a million others. Rahab was rescued from the walls of Jericho. Yet they all died in faith, still looking forward to the heavenly country. They could not reach the city of God without traveling through the doorway of death, still believing, still faithful to what they could not yet see.
Only two of God’s servants were allowed to leave this world without dying, Enoch and Elijah. I believe that’s because their “term of service” is not yet finished on this earth, and they will be the two witnesses in the book of Revelation. It’s as if God pressed “pause” on their lives so that he could return them to earth to finish their course and run their race for 3 ½ more years, at which time they will indeed suffer death. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). At the “beginning of the end of the age,” there will be many who will leave this world without dying – those who are alive and remain faithful at the time of the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17); this will signify the age of grace has ended and God’s countdown to the Second Coming has begun. The “timespan” of their lives will intersect with God’s calendar before they die physically – an exciting possibility that could very well happen today!
Faith that perseveres to the end doesn’t just “happen.” We can’t live unfaithfully and expect God to just pour out some supernatural ability on us when our lives are at stake. Enduring faith is built over a lifetime of believing God in the small things and walking obediently in the mundane. It’s surrendering to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who is forming the image of Christ in us. It’s living with our eyes on the eternal city – making decisions about work, time, money, pleasure, and daily life from an eternal perspective. It’s holding fast to biblical truth and standing firm on God’s Word in the face of cultural pressure.
John MacArthur describes faith this way:
Put simply, faith is believing in something you haven’t seen. If you’re a Christian, that means believing that what God has said is true and then acting in accordance with that conviction, regardless of what everyone else believes and how the world expects you to act. It means you’ll probably act in ways that defy reason. It may mean giving up your ambition, and it may cost you your comfort. It may even cost you your life.
The good news is that the writer of Hebrews didn’t just include a list of people who were perfect in their faith. Abraham lied twice when he was afraid. Noah got drunk once and his grandchildren suffered as a result. Rahab was a former prostitute. Sarah laughed at God’s promise. Jacob tricked his own father and brother. Moses’ temper got the best of him. Gideon hid from the enemy. Samson had a weakness for women. Yet all these are listed as faithful servants of God because they didn’t stay in their disobedience or weakness but repented. They grew up and matured in their faith, leaving their old lives behind as they looked forward to the eternal reward they saw by faith alone.
How’s your faith?
Who is the object of your faith?
Are you believing – putting your faith into action?
One day, we will all sit down together in that beautiful, eternal city of God and share our faith stories with these heroes of the faith. I can’t wait to hear your story! Until then, my prayer is that God grants us enduring faith to persevere through difficult times. We are the living, breathing examples of God’s faithfulness to a world that needs Jesus. May we run our course faithfully to the end.