The Hall of Faith: How Faith Testifies to God's Faithfulness

Sermon Passage: Hebrews 11:1–12:2 | Preached to SGF | 1-10-2021 

By Peder Kling 

Keeping Our Eyes on Faith, Not Men

Today, we are going to talk about faith. Big surprise, right? We read a passage that is often called the "hall of faith", and so we're going to hear a sermon about faith. But quite frankly, I think we often call it the "hall of faith" passage when we really interpret it as a "hall of heroes". Often time, the take-away from this passage is "be like these men and women"—brave, bold, and faithful even in particularly trying situations.

 

And, that takeaway is not a bad takeaway, or application, of this passage. It's a Biblical command—imitate godly men and women. Paul says in Philippians 3:17, "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us". So, imitate godly, faithful men. We are to see in them an encouragement to us, that we would be faithful as they are. Hebrews itself closes with the same exhortation: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7). It is very commendable to study the men and women who have gone before us, so that we might imitate them. 

Now, while this may be one application from this passage, it's not necessarily the application that this passage seems to be driving us to. "Right doctrine, wrong passage"—as we often say. The verse I read from Hebrews 13 (verse 7) does not say "be like them", as if they are moral examples for us. Look attain at how that verse described the way we are to imitate godly men. "Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate [them?]." No. It says "imitate their faith". Don't look principally at what they did with their lives. Look principally at what motivated them—look at the faith that compelled them to do those amazing things for God. Ask the question "what made them live like that?". And of course, for these folks we are to imitate, the answer is their faith. 

So, we need to keep our eyes on the subject matter of faith in this passage, not the people. And we are going to do that by asking three questions through the course of this message—

1. What is the purpose, or goal of faith in this passage? 

2. What is the definition of faith in this passage which supports that goal? (Think 11:1–3)

3. What can we learn about faith from the examples listed in the hall of faith? (Think 11:4–40)

1. What is the purpose, or goal, of faith in this passage? 

What is the goal of faith in this passage? We can see the answer to that question both in the context of the passage, and the conclusion of this passage in chapter 12 verses 1 and 2. 

Think about the context of this passage first. As we have been going through Hebrews together over the last several weeks, we have seen that this letter is one long call to endurance. We saw that very clearly last week when we looked at the second half of chapter 10. Verse 36 literally says "you have need of endurance". The author of Hebrews, in order to muster up endurance within the early church, says to them—

32   But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34(a) For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property... 

Do you remember, oh Christians, how you got through this? What motivated you to endure like this? The author of Hebrews does, and he reminds them (i.e., the verse continues): 

... since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Do you see the call to endurance there? "You have need of endurance", verse 36. But this is not just a call too endurance. It's a call to endure with an unshakable confidence in Christ, and in his heavenly reward. "Do not throw away your confidence", this verse says. Why? "For you have need of endurance". Confidence feeds endurance.

 

Think about this​. What is it that keeps a runner enduring through the pain of a marathon? Confidence. The runner has confidence—perhaps, "faith" (as we are beginning to see the goal of faith in Hebrews)—that he will experience the pleasure and pride of finishing the race. "If I finish, I am confident there will be some reward. If I quit, I am confident I wil be disappointed and embarrassed for days, weeks, even years to come". So, the confidence in future blessings and rewards is what fed the endurance. It's a really simple concept, and it applies so sweetly to the Christian life. 

Another way our passage talks about this confidence which fuels endurance is "assurance of faith". A confident faith is an assured faith. Last week's passage opened up with that concept in 10:19–22. "Since we have confidence to enter [God's holy presence, through Jesus's completed work on the cross]... let us therefore draw near with a full assurance of faith." That is, a confident faith.

And everything Hebrews has just described in chapters 1 through 10 all serve to strengthen your confidence and assurance in Christ, so that you can have absolute certainty that Christ's work of salvation is sufficient, rewarding, and at work in your soul. In Christ you can have confidence, or assurance in things like this—

 

  • He has atoned for your sin, so that your guilt before an all-consuming God is removed (9:14).

  • He remembers your sins no more (8:12). 

  • He is perfecting us for all time by a single offering (10:14). 

  • We have a clean conscience that no longer condemns us, but tells us we are accepted by God (9:14, 10:22).

  • He is interceding for us in God's throne room with prayers that call for your endurance and faithfulness (7:25). 

I love that last one. Jesus is  praying for your endurance. Isn't that amazing? By faith, pursue confidence in that completed work of salvation that you would endure in repenting and serving and suffering faithfully because God is for you, forgiving you freely and helping you.

I say all this to illustrate that the context of Hebrews presents the goal of faith in almost a sequence of many goals, working towards a big goal. The goal of faith is first confidence, or assurance in Christ's accomplished work of salvation. And, that assurance helps you endure trials and temptations. And when you have endured faithfully to the end, you get the big goal of faith—glory. So faith seeks assurance, which fuels endurance, which results in glory. That's the goal of faith in the context of Hebrews 11. 

But I mentioned that the goal of faith is not only described in the context of Hebrews 11, but also in the conclusion of this passage.  After describing men and women who endured trials with that confident, heaven-bound faith (the hall of faith), we are told in chapter 12 verses 1 and 2—

 

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clinics so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...

 

Do you see the call to an endurance-seeking, glory-driven faith in this passage? It's not just a call to "run with endurance". It's a call to "lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely". Or in the KJV, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us". 

Here's the intimacy of sin that we all know so well—right there, in your heart. It clings to you. It besets you right there in the flesh, and all around us in this fallen world. Let us lay aside these weights, these killjoys, these indwelling desires of the flesh that might rob us of endurance and glory.

But of course, we set sin and temptation aside for the purpose of endurance. "Let us lay aside sin... and let us run with endurance the race set before us." Can you endure temptation and trials if you are coddling your sin close to you? A person who flirts with sin will fall. Proverbs 6:27 reminds us, "Can a man carry fire next to his chest, and his clothes not be burned?". The answer is no.

 

So here, in the conclusion of our passage, the goal of faith is to lay aside sin so that you can endure. The goal of faith, you might say, is to convince you that holding a match close to your clothes is foolish, especially when you have something much more glorious awaiting you than the fleeting glory and warmth of a lit match.

And, to be clear, what is being offered to you? 

 

Verse 2, "[let us run with endurance...] looking to Jesus". 

 

Jesus is offered to you. And to get him with all his blessings, you have to "look". It's so simple, isn't it? It's a simple look. And yet its so hard. Especially in turbulent, political times like these, for whatever reason we think that we will endure and find comfort and peace by looking to our phones or the TV for the next news update. "If I can just know more about what's going on withTrump and he election, maybe I'll find comfort in just knowing what's happening". What a lie. You find anxiety and fear, not comfort. For many, the news is the lit match that burns us. We are too easily distracted, aren't we?

Discipline yourself to look to Jesus—and perhaps, are an added effort to do so right now as this world is demanding your attention with things that only fill you with anxiety and uncertainties. 

Charles Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers of the 19th century. And, the sermon which God used to save Charles Spurgeon was preached by a common man—a shoemaker of all people. But it was a sermon on just this matter—salvation through a simple look to Jesus. I've always loved the way Spurgeon recounts the words of this man's sermon. Spurgeon recounts the man's words this way—

'My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, "Look."

Now that does not take a deal of effort. It ain't lifting your foot or your finger; it is just "look." Well, a man need not got to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man need not be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; a child can look. But this is what the text says.

Then it says, 'Look unto me.'

'Ay' said he, in broad Essex, 'many of ye are looking to yourselves .No use looking there. You'll never find comfort in yourselves."

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: 

'Look unto Me: I am sweating great drops of blood.

Look unto Me; I am hanging on the Cross.

Look: I am dead and buried. 

Look unto Me; I rise again.

Look unto Me; I ascend; I am sitting at the Father's right hand.

O, look to Me! Look to Me!

Isn't that Hebrews? "Look to me, I am sweating blood and hangingon the cross to atone for your sin". "Look to me, I rise again, and am at the father's right hand interceding for you, praying for your perseverance". We don't merely get saved by looking to Jesus by faith. No, when we look to Jesus, we find confidence and assurance and comfort to endure trials; to persevere; to say no to sin and temptation because you know that Christ is better. That's the goal of faith—"looking to Jesus" (our passage, 12:2) for these things. He is indeed, "the author and finisher of your faith, who for the joy that was before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God"—might I add, for your salvation. He's seated at God's right hand, right now, because he conquered sin and made the final sacrifice. He's seated right now, interceding for you, that God would help you and strengthen you and persuade you to keep renouncing sin and pursuing him. Looking to Jesus is teh best thing you can do for your confidence and endurance which leads to your glory, for he is your confidence and your glory. Not yourself. 

So, from the context of our passage, and from this conclusion of our passage, we see that the goal of faith is something like a string of events. It's goal is a confidence and an assurance in Christ, which might then move you to endure trials, so that you will endure to the end and enjoy eternal glory. And again—all by looking to Jesus, who is your confidence and your glory.

2. What is the definition of Faith in this passage which supports that goal of faith?

Now, let's get a bit more specific. How can we define faith in a way that actually gives us endurance and glory in Christ, and not in ourselves? If we define faith as something which we muster up on our own without God's help, then we are in the end putting our confidence in ourselves rather than God, aren't we? But we're supposed to find confidence for our salvation in Christ—and in his ministry to us. How can we understand faith in a way that gives us this confidence—from the beginning our salvation to its end?

This is that old free will question—does fallen man, on his own without God's grace or spiritual awakening from God, have the ability to choose God and his grace for salvation? If we define faith like that, then your salvation is totally up to you. It's as shakable as your self-wrought faithfulness to God is shakable. In the end, if faith is something you muster up on your own, then you have to put confidence in yourself (rather than Christ) to continue in the faith.

 

But did you notice the way Hebrews 12 describes Jesus, in verse 2? We are to look to Jesus—get this—the author and finisher of our faith. That's the way the KJV translates it. There's a number of ways to translate those two words, but either way you can't really get around the fact that this description ofJesus credits him sovereignty over the human heart. He authorizes, creates faith in you. And he finishes it. In other words, faith is a gift that God works your heart. You don't muster it up on your own, natural volition (we'll talk more about verse 2 next week).

 

You could also go to Ephesians 2:8 which says,

 

"by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God".

 

The whole thing is a gift from God—his grace to you in Jesus, and you receiving that grace by (the grace of) faith.

Just think of the way we pray. When we ask God to save someone, we pray to God as if faith were a gift. "God, show my friend your glory, and your salvation in Christ. Open his eyes to see you, and how precious and powerful you are, so that they might believe upon you and be saved". That's how we pray for people. Even for their endurance. "Father, my daughter is in a hard time. Show her your faithfulness, and be good to her so that she would have reason to continue following you". If God does that, the daughter's faith would be kindled as she sees God's grace in the Scriptures, and in fellowship, and in things that are happening around her—and she will persevere in God's grace with a divinely-kindled faith.

Faith is a gift—and that's really good news. It means my salvation is not up to me. It's entirely in Jesus's hands who has freed me from my rebellious nature. He works to keep my lazy and unbelieving heart faithful to him—to believe upon him, trust him, and pursue him through a lifetime of endurance.

So, the first defining mark of faith is that it's a gift. And, that's important because it means my faith and endurance to glory is in God's hands. If it were up to me, I don't imagine my race to glory would end well.

 

Now, this helps us to see the strange way faith is defined in the first verse of our passage—chapter 11 verse 1. Look at this verse. I'm going to read it in the ESV first—which is the translation I usually use—but, I'm going to explain to you why I think the KJV actually got the translation more accurate (this time). 

The ESV translates verse 1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen". 

 

So the ESV says that faith is assurance, and it's conviction—and specifically, assurance and conviction of things not seen.  You can't see God, ou can't see heaven, Jesus, the Holy SPirit. We "walk by faith, not by sight". So you might say, "Peder that sounds like everything you've been talking about". Faith is a matter of assurance, and conviction in our unseen hope. That language has been all over Hebrews!

But I think the old and trusty KJV is more faithful and to the point here—again, this time. And the reason why is because the Greek work behind the word "assurance" is not the same word the author has used to speak of assurance earlier in Hebrews—like in chapter 6 verse 11, or chapter 10 verse 22. Here in chapter 11, the author of Hebrews actually uses a philosophical word that means "substance", or "essence". It's the word used in chapter 1 verse 3 when Christ is described as "the exact imprint of [God's] nature"—that is, the very fabric of who God is in his essence. God's nature is eternal, Jesus is eternal, and so forth. So seeing this word, the KJV says that "faith is the substance of things hoped for". Interesting. It's almost to say that in faith, what we hope for is so real and so present within our hearts and minds that we can almost taste it. There's a real, substantial sweetness and joy and goodness that comes to the soul through faith which is really and actually enjoyed. 

John Piper says on this matter,

 

Faith does not just feel confident that [Christ and his blessings are] coming some day. Faith has spiritually laid hold of and perceived and tasted that it is real.

You might even say taht through faith our hope is so real and so present and near that it is "self-evident", much like if you had your eyes closed and someone put a piece of cake in your mouth. You don't need someone to tell you what just happened to you. "No! I know it's there, I can taste it and enjoy it even though I can't see it"—that's faith! It's self-evident, experiential hope as heaven has come down in the form of the Holy Spirit and touched your soul with the sweet fellowship and love of God. And, this is just a fore-taste of what glory will be like when our hope is fully realized. "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" Receive him by faith—that kind of faith. Anyone who has experienced it, knows it. And again, it's self-evident. 

 

 And of course, this brings us to the next description of faith.  Faith is not simply the "substance" of things hoped for. There's something more. The ESV translates the next description, the "conviction" of things not seen. The NIV uses the word "assurance" there. Again, that's a  very weak translation of a very awesome, nuanced definition of faith.

 

The KJV gets it right. Instead of using a philosophical word like "substance", the KJV translates the second word in Hebrews 11:1 with the word "evidence". Faith is the "evidence" of things not seen. And the reason why the KJV uses this word is because the Greek word behind it is a legal term. You bring evidence to the court in order to prove your innocence, or a perpetrator's guilt. And when there is enough evidence for the right kind of crime, we might even see reason to put someone to death, or behind bars for a lifetime. Evidence is powerful, isn't it?

What if, let's say for a chance, you experienced God touch your soul, or reveal to you a glory and a sweetness and a fellowship and a freedom, and a hope, that is undeniably worth dying for? As if God touching that way were evidence enough to make you do crazy things like, say, die to this world, and take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus whom you have never seen? What if?

 

You see, what's at work here in these two words is a definition of faith that involves God so substantially revealing himself to you, that his grace to you is self-evident (like a blind man eating a piece of cake). There seems to be a logical relationship here. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for", and therefore "the evidence of things not seen". 

That's what's being presented here, in this definition of faith. You see, faith is the result of God giving you a new heart that loves him, eyes that behold his glory, spiritual senses that enjoy him and that hate sin. Faith is the result of God giving you an imagination that can peer into eternity and see yourself in glory with Christ. Faith is the result of God persuading you that your sin really is an offense to him, and that Jesus's death really did happen for you, and that it really is sufficient to cover all your sins. God substantially makes those things a reality in your heart, and in that experience you have evidence to rationally, reasonably lay hold of God and receive him by faith. Faith isn't irrational, it isn't lofty hope or some mustered up assurance. It's simply receiving the undeniable and irresistible revelation of God's glory when he is pleased to reveal it to you. 

Can you see, now, how we might understand faith as a gift? That it is something that god works into your soul? And can you see now that the assurance, the confidence, the persuasion that acccompanies faith and keeps you going is itself also part of that gift of God, as God himself gives you undeniable evidence, an irresistible sweetness indoor soul, that would even persuade you to endure trials and temptations of this world? 

To bring this definition of faith together: faith is a God-given substance—or experience—in your soul of things hoped for. And therefore, faith is an undeniable evidence of things not seen. It's a man tasting cake with his eyes closed and knowing exactly what happened to him. And thus, it is also a gift of God. Faith—it's confidence and assurance, and therefore it's endurance and it's end result in glory—is entirely a gift. And, because faith is a gift from God, and not up to your own rebellious and sinful wit, you can therefore have confidence in God, that you will endure to the end. To this end, pray that God would relentlessly reveal himself to you, and satisfy you with his goodness. Pray that he would grant you pleasures in him that are far better than any of the pleasures in this world. Pray he would grant you an unresting yearning for his promises, and his fellowship. If he does, faithful endurance will be the only option for you!

Now, of course, this leads us to understand why the author of Hebrews would then go into a long list of men and women from the OT who endured to the end by faith. If faith is a gift from God which God bestows upon his people, then you will see encouragement in these men and women’s faith—a faith which he also gives to you!

 

Hebrews 12:1 concludes the hall of faith, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us run…” They are witnessing, or testifying to, God’s faithfulness. Their sacrifices and radical lifestyles are living evidences that God truly does persuade and satisfy the hearts of his people so that they would endure. 

 

3. What can we learn about our faith from those listed in the hall of faith? (11:4–40)

So, let’s look at a number of these examples listed in this hall of faith. But before we do, look at verses 13 and 39. These two verses give us the pressing theme that characterized every one of these people.

 

Verse 13,

These all died in faith, not having received the thigs promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar [i.e., by faith!], and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one…

 

And, verse 39 (after listing more people),

And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 

 

The thing all these example have in common is that all of them were totally convinced that they were mere pilgrims in this world. They received no reward, no fulfillment of God’s promises, in this life before they died—and, they were ok with that! They weren’t living for this world.

 

Abel offered up the best of his possessions to God—the best meat, with all its fat. Cain just gave some fruit from the ground; not even the first fruit. Why the juxtaposition between Cain and Abel? Abel had faith—that is, he had some internal evidence that this world was neither his home nor his prize. So, he could give the best meat. He had a substantial experience in his soul that God was better than this world. I wonder where he got that from?

 

Noah was warned by God of the coming flood, and he trusted God “in reverent fear”. God’s warning to him was so compelling that he acted in faith, and he built the ark. When you do that, you are saying “this world is fleeting”, and “God’s word is serious, both his promises of blessings and his promises of coming judgment”. I wonder where Noah became so convinced of this? 

Abraham really is a striking example of this. He was a heathen in a land that worshipped fans gods. He had a family and a culture. But, God revealed himself to Abraham with a promise to pursue. And, when God gives you a revelation—a promise—he doesn't do it without persuasion. God tells Abram in Genesis 12, "Go from your country and your kindred... to the land I will show you"—in effect, "leave your land, your home, your family, your livelihood, and become a nomad. Become a pilgrim". God didn't say which land, just "the land I will show y ou". How persuasive do you think you'd have to be in order to convince someone to do this? You see, God doesn't simply give you persuasive words. He moves your heart—he gives you a taste of his glory so that you say, "yes! I'll go wherever you lead!". 

In fact, Abraham would even offer up Isaac, his only son, because (v 19—this is amazing!) "he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead". This is amazing. No one to that point in history had ever been raised from the dead (God hadn't shown that power to the world yet)! So, why would Abraham even consider this? Because God had spoken, and revealed glory to Abraham. 

 

Then there's Moses—a man who was raised with the greatest worldly wealth of his time. A son of Pharaoh's daughter. Raised with royal riches in Egypt. Oh, can you imagine the persuasive power that such wealth had on a man? But Moses, somehow, said "nah, I'd rather be associated with these Hebrew slaves". Something—or someone—persuaded him that the Israelites were better off. It certainly wasn't a natural inclination.

And then, of course, since there are so many examples of God working this radical, world-renouncing faith into his people, the author almost goes on a rant (vv 32–38)—

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 

Are these people testifying to their faithfulness to God? Should we look to them for some magical trick (or a 5-step process) in how to endure? No. These people were sinners like you and me. David committed adultery, and he's in there. Abraham, Noah, and Moses all sinned grievous sins and yet they are in there despite their sin. Gideon and Barak were plagued with fear. Samson and Jephthah had moments of great foolishnesss. David and Samuel were both awful fathers.

 

But God was faithful to them, despite their sin and weaknesses. They testify that God justifies, saves, and helps the ungodly. Jesus's ministry to us is sufficient, if we would just look to him.

 

Oh, did they fight for faith.  And so should we. We shouldn't downplay their faithfulness. But what we need to see is that they were faithful because God persuaded them (especially in the moments that mattered most) that he is more valuable than the fleeting riches or pleasures of this world. So they, like logical humans, pursued God.

 

May God's persuasive power—his faithful ministry in Christ—be upon us, as it was them.

 

Conclusion

Today we have seen that... 

  1. the goal of faith is to pursue a confidence and assurance in Christ which will keep you enduring through trials, unto glory. 

  2. faith is a gift—it is the substance, and therefore the evidence of things hoped for. It is a matter of God protruding heaven's substantive sweetness into your soul, such that your unseen hope is self-evident. It is like knowing cake is in your mouth, even though you never saw it. 

  3. we should be encouraged by a "great cloud of witnesses" who witness not to their own faithfulness, but to the faithfulness which God extends to his people in Christ.

So, "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God"—even so that he might continue ministering to you, for your endurance and joy in the faith.