“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith. There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith. Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath. Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God. There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible. There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God. The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives. These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.
But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died. The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).
They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.” How does that make sense?
In the modern world, we equate success with outcome. When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel. In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins. Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith. They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39). Why? Because they believed God. They believed He is good and righteous and faithful. And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is. As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.
Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith. The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8). Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5). Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11). Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.
By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah. She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation. She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.
My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period. To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises. Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise. When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing. It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise. He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.