In calling for perseverance in the Christian life, the writer of Hebrews sets out to encourage his readers by identifying the secret ingredient that enables a believer to persevere. Israel's ancestors persevered by faith, they persevered by trusting the promises of God, which promises were without substance, or visible evidence, yet in trusting God's word they were blessed. In these verses the writer defines faith; "faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see", J.B. Phillips.
v1. The author of Hebrews wants to encourage his fellow believers to persevere in the Christian life. To achieve this end he identifies the secret ingredient that enabled all the great Old Testament saints to persevere in good times and bad. The secret ingredient is faith, and he defines faith as a full confidence, a sure certainty, concerning things hoped for, things not seen. Faith is confidence in the promises of God. It is not an object given and possessed, but rather a subjective human quality, a human confidence which may be weak or strong. God is faithful to his promises and is well able to realize them, so faith finds its power in the faithfulness of God, not in the act of believing.
v2. The writer of Hebrews goes on to point out that through faith the people of Israel gained God's approval and so realized his promises in their lives. The life of Israel's great-ones of faith is recorded in the scriptures and serves as an example to encourage those who follow in their footsteps.
v3. Before listing scriptural examples of the great-ones of faith, the writer illustrates his definition of faith. He has told us that faith is a firm conviction in God's promises, promises which "we hope for" and yet at present "do not see." So for example, faith is holding firm to the conviction that the Universe was made through the command of God, out of nothing, rather than out of a preexistent substance, Psalm.33:6,9. The prevailing secular view was Platonic, namely that the universe was made up of matter which was an eternal, neutral substance. This is not what the Bible says. To accept God's word, against the science of the day, is to live by faith rather than by sight.
Faith as a mustard seed
Faith is not some mysterious religious quality which only a few possess. Faith is not something reserved for the holy, set apart, perfect, religious person, something given to some, but not given to others. Nor is faith a religious quality we can use to make things happen, a tool to bend the will of God. Faith is none of these things.
Faith is a willing, but struggling trust in the revealed intentions of God; it is a confidence in God and his truths, his promises. Such faith may be as small as a mustard seed, hesitant, uneasy, filled with doubts, and yet determined to hold onto God's promises through all the doubts and fears that assail us. Faith is a confident conviction in the revealed will of God. Such faith makes a person acceptable to God. When Jesus makes a promise like: "everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life," then to believe is to have eternal life. Such faith makes a person right with God. Yet, what about keeping in with God? The writer to the Hebrews in 10:35-36, says "do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." So, how do we persevere in the Christian life? We persevere by the same means by with we began our Christian journey, by faith.
The writer to the Hebrews illustrates this conviction we call faith by referring to our reliance on an amazing Biblical truth, the truth that the creation came from nothing other than a word from God. Like the Greek philosophers of old, secular humanity believes that matter has always been. We, on the other hand, believe that everything is energy derived and shaped by a word from God. He says it and it is. Such is faith, "a conviction in things not seen."
For us, the age of promise has dawned, the kingdom is at hand. So, how do we press forward in the Christian life? We proceed in the Christian life by daily holding onto Jesus by the thread of faith. Amidst all our doubts we hold to his eternal care; confident of the things we hope for, certain of the things we cannot see.
Define faith. Is it quantitative (of degrees)? Is it qualitative? Is it a spiritual gift from God or is it a natural human characteristic? Discuss.
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