Developing a Vision of Faith

Audio Download

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Introduction:

“Next year is here!” It seems like every spring, as pitchers and catchers are beginning to check in at Spring Training that Cub fans come out in full force exclaiming that this is the year! Next year is here! And yet, we get to this point in the season, and the demeanor is a little different. We start to hear the phrase ‘there’s always next year.’ And then next spring comes along, and the fanbase once again has faith that THIS IS THE YEAR! Year after year, season after season there is this renewed sense of Hope, that more often than not, leads to disappointment. And no, this isn’t just with Cubs fans, but all sports fans in general. – Just had to take one little jab at the Cubs…. But, in other realms of life, how often have we heard the term ‘Leap of Faith?’ The term can be used with both positive and negative connotations, but most commonly  it is described as the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or theoretical.

Does any of this accurately describe the Christian faith? The faith in Christ that you and I share? As Christians is our faith blind? How does Christian faith differ from hope in the world?

These are the questions we are going to explore in our text today.

Context:

Our text for today comes out of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is a text of exhortation, to a community of Jewish Christians in Rome who under the pressure of persecution were being pulled back into the traditions of Judaism. The book of Hebrews is a reminder that Jesus came to establish a New Covenant, encouraging them to remain in the salvation of Christ, because Christ is sufficient. The argument of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ is superior to the old way of religion. Because He is the Son of God, He is superior to the Angels, to Moses, and the entire Priesthood system.

Our text for today occurs in the last major section of Hebrews, where the author is writing about life in the fullness of faith, and of life’s endurance.

Hear now, the Word of the Lord.

Proposition: So the question then becomes, what is faith? In today’s context how do we develop and live with a vision of faith?  Is faith blind belief? No, what our text is teaching, is that faith is an active obedience to God, and through our faith are able to have an understanding of what Christian Hope actually entails.

First we will come to a definition of faith, then to a definition of Christian hope, and then apply how we are called to live in light of that hope.

What is Faith?

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a definition of faith, which is key to understanding this chapter if not as well the whole book of Hebrews.  The author defines faith as, a ….Let us look back to Verse 1: 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  The phrase what we do not see, is actually literally translated ‘things not yet seen.” Faith is believing in what you know is coming your way, even if it is not visible at that given moment. Or to put it simply. Faith is being certain that God ‘is‘ even though God cannot be seen. Faith is the belief in the reality of what is hoped for, the certitude of things not yet seen.

There is a thematic unity of faith and hope- that author indicates here that faith and hope go hand in hand, and provide assurance and endurance. Faith is not a one time, one moment thing. Faith is eschatological, which means it continues to point us forwards to the life that is yet to come.

At times, Faith seems impractical. When we are going through difficult seasons of life we often find it very difficult to trust in the faithfulness of God. Yet, think about how many times we bestow faith upon the world in any given day. For those of you who drove your car to Church this morning, you most certainly trusted the skills of the engineers that designed your car to function properly so that you could arrive here safely. Even now, as we sit under this roof, we do so in great faith that the engineers knew what they were doing. We even put our lives in the hands of pilots while soaring 30,000 feet in the air in a vehicle of metal traveling 500 miles per hour. And yet, it is an amazing thing that in this world of faith that we live in, we find it easier at times to place our trust in our fellow broken man than we do to place our faith in God, the author of life, our Creator, and our Redeemer.  This should not be the case! Even though we cannot see precisely how are lives are going to be carried out, we are to be like the ancients that are described in the rest of our text, to have faith that God’s will shall ultimately be worked out, and that it will be good, just, and perfect.

Nowhere does it say that the Christian walk of faith is easy. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. We are warned on multiple occasions that we need to be prepared for trials.  In the book that follows Hebrews, the book of James tells us how we are to profit from various trails that come into our lives.  So if you turn with me to James for the time being, we will work our way back to Hebrews shortly.

Let’s now take a look at James 1:2-4.

The book of James is an epistle. A letter also written to Jewish Christians that have been dispersed outside of Palestine due to religious persecution. James is writing to people who are well acquainted with pain, and the challenge of trials, forced to flee from their normalcy of life.

There are strong OT tones to James.  Many people call James the proverbs of the NT, and liken the text to wisdom literature.  The purpose of James is to call believers to act in accordance with their faith. He gives practical Instruction on how to live a Christian life. — Making sense of suffering and pain.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

How does this Help Us to Develop a Vision of Faith?

We are given 3 instructions-

  1. 1. We are to find Joy in our Trials.
    1. Verse 2 reads “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kind.”

Most people do not enjoy trials, and in all actuality most of us do anything we possibly can in order to avoid the trials of life.  James is writing to a group of people who know the pain and challenges that come with trials.  Many of the Christians that James is writing to in his letter have had to face trials to the extent of losing their homes, jobs, community. Having to essentially run for their lives. So, if we are to find Joy in our trials, then

  1. i.            What kind of Joy is this? Is this happiness? Pleasure? Is it strictly an emotional joy?  Joy and suffering are undoubtedly compatible but in what way? This notion of pure joy, is the idea of all, every, whole, and thorough.  Our joy needs to be genuine and all-encompassing. I’m going to go into a little bit of my theatre background here, and relate this notion to some terms that we use in the theatre world. In Acting, when an actor is first rehearsing a tough scene filled with some sort of intense emotion, the director will often tell the actor to ‘fake it till you make it.’ This mentality is crucial in the acting world because more often than not, especially when first tapping into this new character, the actor needs to feel emotions that just aren’t there at the time.  James is not telling us to ‘fake it till we make it’ like so many people do in their daily lives, but instead we are told that our joy needs to be the ‘real deal.’  The joy that James is writing about here, is the Joy of the Lord. The Joy of seeing the Big Picture. Being able to see past the present trial and acknowledging the presence of God is one’s life. For this reason we cannot deduce Joy to being simply emotional.

—Consider the book of Job- Even at the end of the book, Job has no understanding of the reasoning for his trials or sufferings.  But still, even without understanding this, Job  acknowledges that who God is, and places His trust in the God who is faithful.

  1. ii.             2  Distinction of the Term ‘Trials’

Trial vs. Temptation

There is a variance between translations where some translate the word trial as temptation. There needs to be a distinction between these two words, what God will allow to test or strengthen our faith, Satan will seek to exploit in order to get us to sin. Satan uses temptation to tear us down, God uses trials to show us His faithfulness and how real He is.

  1. 2. Testing of Faith produces Perseverance
  2. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
    1. i.      It would be easy to deduce from these verses and even a message on Joy in trials, to come away with the result that trials and suffering are in themselves ‘good.’ But, what James is telling us, is that that we need to look at the positive, and view our trials as an opportunity to strengthen our faith, and improve upon our characters.
    2. ii.      Paul Cedar likens this kind of testing to a refiner’s fire, which burns out all the impurities from precious metals, such as silver or gold. God uses times of testing in our lives for our own good. He uses these times of trial refine our lives, removing the impurities of our motives and conduct leaving instead patience and perseverance.

    iii.      The kind of testing that God allows in our lives is at the place of greatest spiritual significance. We follow God by our faith, and it is by our faith that we receive his blessings, and so as we are tried our faith grows. We are able to say less of me, and more of God

  3. 3. Perseverance helps us to become mature, complete, not lacking in anything.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

  • The testing of our faith is indeed profitable! God uses negative experiences for very positive results in our lives.  Furthermore, notice that James says testing of faith. This is not a test to see whether or not a person has faith, but rather a testing to previously existing faith in order to strengthen it.
  • The terms perfect and complete are eschatological
  • The Christian life is not just a means of having faith, but persevering and improving character.
    • Seeing God’s Faithfulness manifested in the situation, allows us to be made complete. We become mature through the testing of our faith.
    • God desires us to not be lacking in anything. When we have the patience to allow God to work in our hearts and in our lives, we become closer to being more like Christ: Perfect, mature, complete, lacking in nothing. Ultimately, the perfect completion comes not in this lifetime, but when we are in the presence of the Father, in the life to come.

In verses 2-4  James is giving believers a practical explanation on how we may be able to profit from the trials we face in our own lives. The prophet is this. Our Faith grows, it becomes mature.

Lets now look back at our text in Hebrews.  Verse one gave us our definition of faith: which again is 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Verse 2 indicates that it is by means of faith that Israel’s people of old were attested; That they were recorded in the scriptures at being pleasing to God. Verse two says: is what the ancients were commended for. Again if we consider the context in which this book was written, with the Jewish Christians wanting to resort back to their original practices, we can see the writer using this statement to connect with his audience, which he does so in Verse 3.

By connecting his audience, to the ‘ancients’ and we know from the text that he is referring mostly to Abraham, in doing so, the author is showing the importance of faith for the whole scope of salvation history. That from the dawn of creation Faith has played a pertinent role in the lives of God’s people.

But, our scripture for today doesn’t stop there. We continue on with verses 8-16.

8By 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. 9By 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. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And 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.

13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

The author here is giving the audience a tangible example of Faith in Action, an example that a primarily Jewish Christian audience would be very familiar with. That being the story of Abraham, the father of their race.

vs. 8 Attention is fixed on Abraham, rather than on God’s calling. Abraham’s faith is seen as an act of obedience to God’s calling.

8By 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. 9By 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. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Moreover this obedience went beyond what would be considered common sense at that given point in time.  It was against common sense for Abraham to leave his place of familiarity, the land and the people he had known all his life, to live as a foreigner in a place that was unknown to him. But why did he do it? Because Abraham was in search for a City, that was greater than any other City. A City whose Architect and builder is God. Verse 8 indicates that Abraham did not initially know where he was going. It wasn’t until he reached Canaan that he was told the place of inheritance. In this land, he lived temporarily in tents. His faith was in reality, hope. As indicated by the reference that his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob shared as foreigners in this ‘land of promise.’

In vs. 10, the author departs from speaking in terms of the Genesis account and gives his interpretation of this account to the Christians he is writing this letter to.  Abraham’s hope is eschatological, meaning it’s not to be fulfilled by the simple possession of real estate.  In contrast to the tent home, the image of life that is simply temporary and utterly vulnerable, Abraham anticipated a city, permanent with a sure foundation, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem as the author indicates later in Hebrews 12.  The author is drawing on the familiar images of the secure and permanent Holy City.  This City of God is the hope and goal of all pilgrims of faith. Including the readers of the book of Hebrews, and ourselves this day.

Trails and suffering are facts of life. The outcome of trials depends on who we end up surrendering to. If we surrender to the world then we will just continually to be filled with disappointment. But if we surrender to God, there is a promise of Joy. Disappointment exists because like Abraham, who lived as a foreigner, we too are foreigners. We are a broken people living in a broken world;  Abraham saw the bigger picture, he saw the promise of the Holy City. l James saw the bigger picture and thus calls us to find Joy in our trails, because trials refine our faith and keep us looking ahead to the bigger picture, realizing what we are looking for cannot be found on this earth.

The difference between faith and hope in the world, and faith and hope in Christ is of eternal proportions. The fact of the matter is, we will never find complete fulfillment in the world. Hope in the world will always lead to some sort of disappoint.  But faith and hope in Christ leads to the Holy City. Christian Faith and Christian Hope is not wishful thinking. It is an expectation of God’s promise to redeem His people. And as God’s people, we are to continually be developing our vision of faith; by finding joy in our trials, refining and strengthening our faith by spending time in the word. Romans 10:17 say that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Let our ears be open, and our eyes focused on the bigger picture: the expectant hope of the Holy City, in the life to come.

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