What is faith? Verse one defines it: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. For many this looks like wearing a blindfold and walking off a cliff. It’s true that some people treat faith like that, but not if you’re a Christian. From the Christian perspective that’s not faith, that’s stupidity. Verse one says that Christian faith is to have rock solid certainty about the future and rock solid certainty about how to live now. This kind of faith leads to God calling you “good”- This is what the ancients were commended for. (verse 2).
We need to take some time to understand this so that we can stop the foolish idea that faith is blind. To understand faith we need to also understand hope and our need for vindication.
What do we really hope for? To be vindicated, to be approved (that I am worthwhile, that I am a good person, that I have done what is right). You don’t really hope for more money or a better job or the perfect holiday or nice children. Once you get those kinds of things, if you do, you soon realise that they aren’t what you are really hoping for, because you start hoping for something else. We hope for things like money and jobs, holidays and nice children because we think that they will prove that we are good people, worthy people, worthwhile people. What you really want is to be considered good.
Now faith is what makes this hope of vindication more than “pie in the sky”. Faith is not the same thing as hope, that would mean that we have hope in hope. All I can say is, good luck! Faith is what gives certainty to our hope. Our hope is as good as the thing in which we put faith. Faith requires an object, it’s relational. Faith in faith is as stupid as hoping in hope. So, surely for faith it is better a living object than a dead one; better one that you can actually know!
The key matter when it comes to the worth of where you put your faith, its aliveness and its relational ability, is the power that it has. Many people only put faith in themselves. Sure, they’re alive and knowable, but do I really have enough power to vindicate myself? The problem with that is that your own approval is never enough. Some people have a vague idea of a Star Wars Force in the universe. Sure, it seems to be living and present, but how much so? The real problem with a force is whether that force is really on your side.
Surely the source of everything is the place to put faith, especially if it is alive and relational. That’s the point of verse 3: 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. Ask yourself the fundamental question: where does everything come from?
God is the source of everything. You recognise that by faith, that is, taking the step to accept that he is actually there. That everything does have a knowable source. That’s not blind. It’s taking a considered response to what you actually experience in the world. A world both of beauty and terror, and where we cannot help but live as though what we do matters.
The Christian argument is that this kind of faith can satisfy our need for approval, what we fundamentally hope for (v1a).
But it does more than that, it is a faith that makes us active, because it stops us from being at the mercy of the world around us. That’s the point of verse 1b. Faith is not a leap in the dark, rather it is a conviction based on what you know is true. You won’t let circumstances determine who you are. More money, a better job, the perfect holiday and nice children will not become the way of gaining our hope. God has already fulfilled our hope of acceptance and that means was won’t let the lack of money, bad jobs, hopeless holidays and bad children determine who we are or how we act (verse 1b). Faith will allow you to be the kind of good person you really what to be.
Still not convinced that this kind of faith is actually rational, not blind?
Well, here’s another important question related to faith. Will this kind of faith save you from death? Surely the best faith would save us from our greatest threat? The answer is, yes! It’s the very first thing that faith will do. Look at the examples of Abel and Enoch. 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. And 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: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (vv 4-5)
Their lives were not just a good testimony, eulogy. If we only had the example of Abel, we might think that. At the very beginning of the Bible, we also have the account of Enoch to say that this testimony is not a dead one at all. You will have the kind of character that will save you from death. Nothing will harm you. Death will just become a passing through. What’s the point of good character if you die? Nothing really, you’re still dead. But if you’re not made to die, then good character is the most important thing, who I am. Eternal life as a bad person, what could be worse?
Verse 6 restates what we have been talking about, because it is so important: 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. We cannot do this alone; we must do it in relationship to God. Only he can truly approve of us.
Another important question: Will this kind of faith save you from judgement? Yes! Judgment is why we die because our lives have not been vindicated. Noah realised this and listened to God: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family (v 7).
He sort the refuge and mercy of God, so that he wouldn’t be judged. So instead of letting the world around him decide how he would act, the world of money and jobs and holidays and children, Noah let his relationship with God decide where he would seek salvation. Noah’s ark was actually a wooden box, according to its dimensions. A shelter from judgment. This wooden box would later reappear as the seat of God. It was called the seat of mercy, mercy from judgment. Finally the wood took the form of a cross, on which the Son of God would hang for the world. Jesus hung there in my place, to take my judgment and offer me mercy.
Our experience of death becomes a passing through, or as the New Testament writers came to express it, a falling asleep. It only affects the body. The resurrection of Jesus made that clear.
It has always been God’s desire that we should experience his mercy. By faith, it is yours. It will mean that others will laugh at you, like they always have done since Noah. Maybe you’ll have less money, an inferior job, so-so holidays and ordinary children. But none of them are worth dying for, right?
When you do this, take seriously faith in God for your hope of approval, your manner of behaving now, you are joining the long line of testimony, as long as human history. You might feel alone, but you are not. You are joining people like Abel and Enoch and Noah. Next week we’ll think about more people who belong to this line of true faith.
Christian faith is not about a hope that is “pie in the sky”. There are plenty of other places to practise that kind of faith. Being truly sure and convinced of what is real is the fruit of the faith that is truly Christian. It will change the way you live, right now.