In the book of Hebrews, the Bible defines “faith” as follows (I’ve done a little reordering of the text, but otherwise this is Heb 11:1-16 ESV)…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And 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.
It then goes on to describe a “Faith Hall of Fame” of sorts, commending those who pleased God with their faith…
This is what the ancients were commended for…
- By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
- By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death… Before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
- By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
- By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- By faith Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
How amazing! The people cited here for their faith are commended by God for knowing that this world is not their home. They did not cling to this world – were not ashamed to be “other-worldly” – and as a result, God was “not ashamed to be called their God” and He “prepared a city for them”. Awesome! I want God to prepare a city for me. I want to cling to Him, not the fleeting things of this world. How hard is that!? But it is possible. The folks listed here who lived in ancient Biblical times weren’t the last ones to honor God this way.
But here’s the key… My observation in studying this text is that the faith described in this chapter of Scripture doesn’t come from rules or religion, formulas or church programs. It comes from relationship with God. Anyone who knows God is awed by Him, and their life is changed. Period. If I’m not amazed by the God of the Universe and I’m not becoming more like Him over time, then the reality is that I don’t know Him. Doesn’t matter what I say or how I spin it or what story I tell about a prayer I prayed. God sees through all that to the reality of the heart, and God cannot be mocked.
But another crazy thing happens when I know God… I should begin to look foreign to the world around me. If my city is the one the Lord is preparing for me, then I will think and act accordingly. I’ll do things that don’t make sense to this world – like value time over money, not cheat to win, not receive my identity from my work, serve others rather than use them, tithe generously, not be afraid of things that scare others, etc. But the line between making rash, foolish decisions and faith-filled, other-worldly decisions rises and falls on relationship.
So let’s look at some of the folks listed in Hebrews 1…
- The difference between Cain’s and Abel’s offerings was that Abel’s heart was like God’s – a condition that comes only from spending time together. In the same way that you and your spouse will not be of one heart and mind without time invested in the relationship, neither can you have with God outside relational intimacy what you can from within it. Cain simply didn’t know God like Abel did.
- Noah wasn’t crazy for building an ark. He was obedient. A man of faith. Other-worldly enough not to care that others thought he was crazy. Or if he did care, he moved forward anyway. Why? Because he knew God, and knew he could be trusted. He had the faith of intimacy, which sustains us long after the faith of religion and regulation utterly fails.
- Abraham and Sarah trusted God (rocky path to get there, but they did) because they knew Him. They relied on that relationship to sustain them over a very long time of waiting for God’s promises to come to fruition. They were barren and old, and yet expected a child. But they weren’t crazy; they had faith.
Acting on my own against the flow of earthly wisdom is crazy and dangerous.
Acting out of my relationship with a God who counsels against the wisdom of this world is a faith that leads to a new home in heaven and the joy of really knowing that your Father’s promises can be trusted in this life and in the life to come – that you can put your full weight on them, and they will hold you up.
Joy cannot be found anywhere but in faith. Faith is knowing God is who He says He is, and letting that change who you are. For my part, I want to be like those listed above – a life of “crazy” that comes from knowing God and taking Him at His word, that this world is not my home.