Faith is as faith does – Hebrews 11
We haven’t been here for the past couple of weeks but Mark tells me we’ve commenced a sermon series looking at prayer. A couple of week’s ago he spoke on Derek Prince’s 7 conditions for answered prayer. And last week he spoke on perseverance.
One of the underlying Scriptural bases for those ideas is found in Hebrews 11:6 (reading from the NJKV):
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.
According to that verse faith is a combination of belief and diligent seeking. So today we’re taking a bit of a look in Hebrews 11. I’ve been given free reign so the four areas I’m intending to consider are: What faith is; what faith does; growing or increasing our faith, and some ways we can exercise or use our faith.
Please bear in mind that the subject of faith is huge and so we can only dip into various aspects of it today.
1. What Faith Is
So what is faith? The word most commonly translated as faith in the New Testament is the Greek word pistis. It includes the ideas of persuasion and conviction. It reflects belief and trust in a person, object or ideal. It is confidence that something is true.
But the pivotal issue is what we have faith in. Many Christians have faith in faith – faith in their capacity to believe. Have you come across that?
But that’s not what the Bible calls faith. It’s not faith in our ability to gee ourselves up. It’s not faith when we try to convince ourselves into believing something we’re not really sure about.
Our faith is to be in God and in Jesus and in what God makes available to us. God is the basis of our faith, not us. If we turn to Hebrews 11, verse 1 reads:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls faith a substance and evidence. It is a sign or a seal of things not yet seen. So Christian faith is something, a substance that grows in us as we consider and believe and live out the word, nature and promises of God. And these words, these promises and God’s very nature tell us about His kingdom for this world and the next.
In 2 Corinthians 4:18 we read:
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen [are] temporary, but the things which are not seen [are] eternal.
So faith provides us with an eternal perspective. Looking through our physical eyes only gives us a view of the physical. Looking with the eyes of faith we can apprehend the spiritual and the eternal.
And 2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight. We need to be seeing and living in spiritual reality more than physical reality. We are not physical beings that have a soul and spirit. We are spiritual beings that have a body and soul. In verse 1 of 2 Corinthians 5 Paul writes:
For we know that if our earthly house, [this] tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
So faith is the character, the substance, the belief, the hope, the confidence that is built into our spirits that our reality is in the spiritual and the eternal and the unseen. It’s not to deny our daily physical reality, but to live today in the light and truth of eternity.
2. What Faith Does
Lessons from Forest Gump
So what do we do with this faith substance? This evidence about future hope and the unseen spiritual reality?
As I was preparing this sermon the phrase “faith is as faith does” came to mind. It sounded vaguely familiar and I eventually realised it was similar to a line from the movie Forrest Gump.
Has everyone seen Forrest Gump? No? Coincidentally it was on TV just the other night. It’s a fictional comedy-drama made in 1994 featuring Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump – a simple soul with a low IQ who wore leg braces as a child to correct for a curved spine. He rises above both physical and mental slowness to play significant roles in American history from showing Elvis Presley how to dance to exposing the Watergate scandal.
Anyway, Forrest on a few occasions throughout the movie is asked if he is stupid or something. His reply each time is to say, “stupid is as stupid does.”
What does that mean? What is “stupid is as stupid does?” I think he’s asking that his capabilities be measured by his actions and outcomes, not by words or appearance.
And I think faith is the same - “faith is as faith does”. The measure, the value, the truth of our faith is seen in its outcomes. The measure of what our faith is is what our faith does. But there are qualifiers on that which I’ll come back to later on!
The epistle from James puts this quite starkly in James 2:26:
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
I’d like to come back to James chapter 2 shortly, but before we do I want us to refer to the list of Old Testament characters in Hebrews 11 and examine a couple of their lives and their understanding of and operating from faith.
This particular chapter of Hebrews contains the short phrase “by faith” 18 times in the NKJV. Clearly the author of Hebrews thought it important!
When he writes “by faith” he is saying faith is the driver, it is the key, it is providing the impetus for what these people did. When these heroes of the Old Testament did what they did, it was because of their belief, their conviction in the goodness, promises and word of God.
Noah (Hebrews 11:7)
Consider Noah. Hebrews 11:7 has this to say about him:
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.
The Bible doesn’t indicate how long it took to build the ark. From the time God first declared His judgement on humanity in Genesis until the time of the flood was 120 years.
If we work on the basis that the ark took somewhere between 50 and 100 years to build, can you imagine the ridicule Noah had to put up with for 50+ years? I can imagine the same people walking past the ark each day calling out to Noah “Hey, where’s the flood?” or “Been inhaling too many pitch fumes?”
I reckon there might have been a few tough days amongst those decades, and Noah only had seven day’s notice of when the rain would begin (Genesis 7:4). Yet “by faith” Noah built an ark on the basis that God told him to. And interestingly it was because he was aware of spiritual things “not yet seen” and he held a godly fear. That is to operate “by faith” based on what is unseen in the physical yet known in the spiritual.
Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19)
Secondly I want to look at Abraham. He gets quite a write-up in Hebrews 11:
 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as [in] a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God.
 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son,]  of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,”  concluding that God [was] able to raise [him] up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
So what, according to Hebrews 11, did Abraham do “by faith”? He left Ur and settled in Haran. He left Haran and made for Canaan. He offered up Isaac on Mt Moriah.
Again, like Noah he was operating in the realm of the unseen. He left Ur “not knowing where he was going”, and offered up Isaac on the basis that he concluded God could raise him from the dead. He was operating on a promise, and he was trusting in the Lord’s goodness.
3. Growing Your Faith
We’ve spent some time considering that faith is a belief and apprehension of the unseen and the spiritual. We’ve looked briefly at the outworking of faith – faith is as faith does. But we need to spend some time considering how to increase our faith.
Thankfully there is one Scripture that tells us (well, probably more than one). Please turn with me to Romans 10:17 where we read:
So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Derek Prince, who is a bit of a favourite amongst many in this church had this to say about Romans 10:17:
Faith comes. If you don’t have it, you can get it. You don’t need to stay without it, it comes. How does it come? It comes by hearing. By hearing what? The word of Christ. It’s important to know that the word is hearing, not reading. Faith does not necessarily come just by reading your Bible.
The word used for the word of God in this verse is rhema which I spoke about a few weeks ago- the spoken word.
So it is the spoken word from our Lord Jesus that we hear that generates faith.
It was the same type of word Noah heard when the Lord told him to build an ark. It was the same word Abram heard in Ur when told to leave his homeland. It was the same word spoken to him again when the Lord told him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering.
For believers who have Bibles, it can be when we’re reading Scripture and the Holy Spirit illuminates something such that it jumps off the page at us. For some believers I think that is an infrequent occurrence, but for others I think it is daily. It’s a matter of us being willing to welcome and embrace the Spirit in our lives that determines how frequently we receive such revelation.
But that verse, Romans 10:17 is strangely worded:
So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Why doesn’t it say faith comes by hearing the word of God? Why is it faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God? I think it is to emphasise both the method of transmission (hearing the spoken word) and the source of the transmission (God).
It is by hearing that faith comes. And what is to be heard is the word of God – that rhema for a spoken, personal word.
One commentator suggests this reflects that the gospel message when preached is open and available to all, but the Spirit takes that message and makes is personal and relevant to the hearer.
You will each hear different things this morning – different from each other, and different to what I’m saying. It’s being filtered by your own traditions and understanding, but also by the Holy Spirit who knows what you need to hear.
Preach the gospel to yourself
Another idea I’d like to comment on briefly, and it is connected with what I’ve just said is of preaching the gospel to yourself.
The first I heard of this was through the writings of Jerry Bridges – an American evangelical author who had been involved with the Navigators ministry. He wrote about this idea in his 1994 book The Discipline of Grace. His exhortation is to “preach the gospel to yourself every day” because the flesh, the world and the devil seek to take us down. We need to replace the lies we hear from those places with the truth of the gospel.
Another American, pastor Milton Vincent has written a book called A Gospel Primer for Christians where he details reasons why believers should preach the gospel to themselves each day. In it he describes how he was released from continual self-condemnation through a revelation from Romans 5 that he was forever justified by faith through Jesus. Until that time he always had to perform for God, and he invariably failed.
Now you may think the gospel is only for non-believers; but it is not so. We all need to be reminded of the gospel – of the salvation that has been brought to us by the Lord Jesus. That we were once lost in sin but have been redeemed and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.
It’s similar to how you don’t just sing Amazing Grace once in your life when you’re saved and never come back to it. As you sing it subsequently you can have a deepening appreciation of both your lostness and the amazing grace that God has extended to you.
But as we read, ponder, meditate on and rehearse the gospel, the Holy Spirit can take these things and bring it alive in our experience and understanding so that it becomes a rhema word.
Our faith grows as we hear the Lord speaking into our lives in specific, personal and relevant ways.
4. Obedience Perfects Faith
And the last area I want to cover is how we exercise and use our faith.
Turn with me to James 2:17-22 where he sheds some interesting light on Abraham’s actions:
 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?
That last piece is critical – faith was working together with his works – so Abraham’s works were making perfect or completing his faith. But these are not just any works. They are the works God prescribed. Obedience perfects and completes our faith. The proof of our faith is seen in our obedience to the word of God.
As we considered Noah and Abraham, they operated “by faith” but what they did was quite different from each other because they were obedient to the word of God that they heard.
Would there be any value or benefit in us taking our eldest children up to the lookout on north hill, preparing an altar, collecting firewood and intending to sacrifice our children? No – unless God tells you to.
Is there any inherent spiritual value in us building an ark. You’d probably want to do it down in Civic Park near the creek in full view of the town. Granted if it took you 100+ years to build it the people pouring scorn and ridicule on you would change. So, any value in an ark? No – unless God tells you to.
In the case of Noah and Abraham and everyone else in Hebrews 11 commended for their faith, the commendation was because they exercised and perfected that faith by obedience not by activity.
They didn’t just do something. They did what the Lord commanded. By faith, these people obeyed what they understood to be the Lord’s command to them. They were commended for their faith in being obedient to the revealed word of the Lord.
Our Lord Jesus Christ in John 5:19 says:
Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
So Jesus’ activity on earth were entirely consistent with and obedient to the Father’s will. Jesus didn’t operate out of good intentions or bright ideas. We need to do likewise. How do we exercise our faith? To put it bluntly not by pursuing good ideas but only being obedient in undertaking God ideas.
Does that make sense?
As we wrap up this morning a genuine, saving faith (one that is based on a proper understanding of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection and ascension and includes submission to His lordship in your life) must result in different choices. There must be changed outcomes, new outlooks and better relationships because we see a different world than those around us see.
We can see and apprehend spiritual realities and eternal outcomes. We can hear and understand the promises of God. We can seek fulfilment of those promises in our own lives, our families, our communities, our nation and our world. They are promises of wholeness, of restoration, of salvation, of forgiveness, of trouble, of persecution, but finally, of rest and vindication.
And if we don’t have that kind of faith, it can come. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of God.
Faith is not passive. It is belief that results in action. Each person listed and described in Hebrews 11 heard from the Lord, believed Him and responded in obedience. There wasn’t passivity, but response and obedience.
According to 1 John 5:4-5
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Our faith, acted out, can overcome the world. Amen.
[Preached at our church Sunday 20th October]