Believe – Hebrews 11

My kids share my love of swimming now, but that wasn’t always the case.  Each one of them began with a huge fear of the water.  So, teaching them to swim was an exercise in patience that involved panic and cries for help, not all of which came from the kids.
The worst part for each of them was when they were required to put their head under water.  The fear for them and the frustration for me came because they couldn’t trust me more than their circumstances.  If they had really thought about it they would have realized that I love them, would not let them drown, and can more than handle keeping them safe in a 4 ft deep pool.  The problem was that they focused on the big scary water so much that they couldn’t see the safety they had in their father’s arms.  In the end they made it harder than it had to be because they wouldn’t just believe.
  Definition of Faith 
Faith is the core of our relationship with God.  It requires faith to believe that He exists, that He made us in His image, and that He gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sin. Without faith we cannot know Him or please Him, but what does it really mean to have faith? 
Most people consider faith to be blind.  They think that faith is believing something without any proof, but what does the author of faith say about faith?  At first, He seems to confirm that no evidence is required.
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see is blindly following something with little or no proof, right?  Wrong, if the passage stopped there it could seem that way, but next comes the evidence on which faith is built.  You see faith isn’t built on thin air, instead it is built on God’s character and the rest of this chapter is dedicated to displaying just that. 
In every instance those who are commended for their faith believed God’s word and followed Him in spite of their circumstances.  They did what I was trying to get my girls to do, they trusted their Father and focused on Him instead of what they could see with their eyes.  As a result their lives have become the illustration of God’s character that acts as the foundation on which our faith is built.  As we see God’s faithfulness to them it strengthens our belief that He will do the same for us.
So, you see faith is not blind.  It gazes wide-eyed into the face of God and trusts that though He is going to let you go under the water He will not let you go and He will bring you back up again.  Faith is believing what you cannot see because of the evidence that you do see leaves you with no other logical conclusion, but to believe.  The same God who formed everything out of nothing (V3) is the same God who walked with the Old Testament Saints (rest of Chp 11) and He will be with you too.  That is something you can believe in. 
  Examples of Faith
Trust is built by experience.  My wife trusts me now because I have built a track record with her.  Fifteen years ago, I was just a guy she met through a friend, but now I am the man who has been with her for most of her adult life.  My investment of time and faithfulness has gained me her trust, and her mine.
God has built a record that is so much more worthy of our trust.  The author of Hebrews begins in verse 3 with creation and spends the rest of the chapter outlining case study after case study displaying God’s faithfulness to His people.  Though many of them experienced uncertainty, pain, and loss God was still faithful to His promises.  There is much more here than we can cover this morning, but we’ll look at a few examples and see what we can learn from them about faith.
A common thread that runs through the lives of each of these saints is that God called them to uncomfortable places in order to build their faith.  He told Noah to build an ark that would save him from a flood, but it had never rained.  He called Abraham to go to a land that he had never seen and didn’t know the way to.  He promised him a son even though he and his wife were well beyond child bearing years.  God also called a teenage boy to lead a powerful nation and used slavery and prison to prepare him for it, and then through Joseph prophesied the exodus hundreds of years before it happened.
 Through faithful men and women God has built his track record.  As we read their accounts we can see God’s character displayed in His actions and His words.  From the beginning God’s desire has been that we take Him at his word.  That is what He wanted from Adam and Eve, that’s what He wants from us, and that’s what He got from Abraham.
     
God called Abraham to leave everything he knew and asked him to believe big things.  He asked him to follow him to a place that he had never seen and only led him there step by step.  As if that was not enough he also promised to make a great nation out of his family line even though he had no children and was, humanly speaking, too old to have children.
Why would someone do what Abraham did?  Our passage reveals two reasons.  Abraham believed God’s promises and He was able to look to the future.  Abraham did what I wanted my little girls to do, he looked to his Father instead of his circumstance. The awesome thing is that he is praised for his belief even though he faltered.
Abraham was not perfect.  He lied about his wife, twice.  He became impatient and tried to fulfill God’s promise on his own by sleeping with a servant.  In spite of his failings he is considered faithful because he obeyed God and endured to the end.  What kept him going through the hard times was his ability to look beyond the here and now.  There is no doubt that there were times he wanted to quit.  We’ve already seen that there were times he strayed from God’s call.  In the end, though, he hung on through the bumps and wrong turns because he trusted God and looked to the future.
We struggle with faith largely because we struggle with impatience.  This generation, probably more than any other, thinks it cannot wait because most things we want are at our reach almost instantly.  Google, microwave ovens, and satellites put our desires in our hands many times within seconds.  So, when God speaks to us, but tells us to wait we struggle and lose faith.  The truth is, though, that God almost never moves quickly.  He took decades to give Abraham a son, Joseph probably waited almost 15 years for his dream to come true, Noah waited nearly 100 years for the rains to start, and according to verse 13 all of the Old Testament saints lived and died without their hope in a Redeemer being fulfilled.
God moves slowly and purposefully and acts only on His schedule.  Faith is holding on and waiting for Him.  It doesn’t mean that you do nothing, but that you continue to act on what you know He expects of you while you wait on more info.  Joseph was faithful as a slave and a prisoner and in God’s time he made a ruler who answered to no one else except Pharaoh.  Like Noah and Abraham Joseph held on because he was looking toward the future and believed that God would fulfill what He had promised.
What has God called you to?  Believe that God will be faithful to His promise.  Understand and accept, though, that fact that God will answer that promise on His time table.  It may be months or years, but He will do it.  Hang on by trusting Him, and looking toward that future promise.  Prepare for it, train for it, and seek after it.  Whatever you do don’t give up on it.  Wait and believe, and above all else obey.       
The key to real faith is obedient action.  It is one thing to say that you believe something.  It is something else when you act on it.  True faith in God’s words leads to obeying God’s words.  When God called Abraham he obeyed and went.  He was willing to face the risk, he was willing to except the cost, and he was willing to keep going when things got hard.  He obeyed because he believed.   
  
Too many of us are offering God dead faith.  It’s just lip service.  We say we believe Him, but there is not action to back it up.  That kind of faith is not really faith, it cannot save, it cannot please God, and it is dead; useless.  For clarity, I am not saying that our work could ever save us.  It can’t, only faith in Jesus’ work on the cross can save us, but that faith should have actions that follow it.  Those actions should always be centered in obedience to Him.
It’s like my girls saying they trusted me, but refusing to let me take them under the water.  Their actions, or lack of, showed a lack of trust.  What about you?  Are you going to fight, plead, and negotiate?  Or, are you ready to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and trust God as He plunges you into His will for you?
Results of Faith
Believing and following God will change everything.  It will take you far beyond your comfort zone.  You will find yourself waking in uncertainty and facing fear.  In spite of your fear and weakness you will have the privilege of seeing God overcome obstacles and take down giants. 
Now as we look back at the lives of the heroes in this chapter they become a witness to us of God’s faithfulness.  The author begins chapter 12 by saying that because of this great group of witnesses we should run the race marked out for us even harder.  Their lives, the things that they accomplished, their perseverance in hard times, their recovery from failure, and repentance from sin serve as an encouragement for us that we can do the same if we too will believe and act on that belief.
In Hebrews 11:4 it says that Abel’s testimony of faith continues to speak even though he is dead.  That’s a legacy.  He is remembered because He believed and honored God.  What will you be remembered for?  So many people are concerned with the physical inheritance they will leave.  They run after accumulating wealth by climbing the corporate latter.  Family gets sacrificed on the altar of success and in the end it all passes away.  Instead, leave a legacy of faith. 
That kind of legacy will far out live you.  It can’t be spent carelessly, tied up by the court, or taxed by the government.  Instead you can know that it will impact lives and change them for eternity.

Without faith it is impossible to please God.  It’s that important to Him.  So much so that He led the author of Hebrews to write an entire chapter on the subject.  He wants us to know what faith is, see the examples of it, and then go and live in it.
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