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Hebrews 11:1-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

You’re Not the First

What does the word “faith” mean to you? Do you think of it as a set of beliefs? As the inner assurance of some truth? As a step beyond hope? As belief put into action? Today’s lesson begins a month-long series of studies from the book of Hebrews, and all of them relate to the role of faith in the life of the believer.

Clarence Jordan was a man of faith who grew up in South Georgia and earned a degree in agriculture as well as a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek. Jordan believed that true faith was an active faith, and he put his faith to work by founding the Koinonia farm deep in the southern part of Georgia. He dreamed of blacks and whites living and working and worshiping side by side. Despite threats and acts of violence, despite legal and economic reprisals directed against him, he and his partners in community living had faith and made the dream live.

Unseen realities(vv. 1-3)

Jordan also wanted people to understand the scripture, and translated what he called the “Cotton Patch” version of the New Testament. When translating Heb. 11:1-3, Jordan faced a statement that may seem obscure to contemporary readers: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV), or “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NRSV). When Jordan translated the truism, he gave it wings: “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.”

Faith is the substance, the fleshing out, of things hoped for – the turning of dreams into deeds. Faith is trusting the evidence of things not seen – betting one’s life on the deep unseen realities of God that govern the universe.

True faith, by its nature, exhibits faithfulness. As “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen,” faith is essentially hope in action, a hope so strong that it leads us to bet our lives on it and to behave in such a way that we live into it, rather than giving up on it.

The author’s elaboration on faith is a natural carryover from his strong exhortation toward the end of the previous chapter, where he charged readers not to abandon their faith, but to endure and remain “among those who have been saved” (Heb. 10:35-39).

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, a fox tells the lost prince that “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” The most important things in life may be the things we can’t see. Our faith in an unseen reality compels us to live in such a way that we make it present and discernible.

This is how God worked in creation, the author suggests: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (v. 3). The act of creation was unseen, but the results are apparent. Those who have faith can see the visible evidence of God’s unseen work in making the worlds.

Faith in action(vv. 4-16)

Beginning with v. 4, the writer takes us through a literary “Hall of Faith” that features people who put their hope into action – even when they died before receiving the anticipated reward. The ancestors who received approval did so through their faith, the author said (v. 2). Their actions demonstrated an understanding that “Life is lived by faith, by recognition of what constitutes the really real” (Edgar V. McKnight, Hebrews and James, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary [2004], 263).

Let’s start the tour: Faith is a young man named Abel (v. 4, cf. Gen. 4:3-5a), who “by faith” offered a prime lamb as a sacrifice to God, while his brother offered grain. The Genesis story gives few clues as to why Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable than Cain’s, or even how the brothers knew that Yahweh accepted one and not the other. For the writer of Hebrews, it appears to be a matter of faith alone: “By faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s,” he said, and “Through this he received approval as righteous.” Cain, implicitly, did not exhibit the same kind of faith.

Moved by jealousy, Cain murdered his brother, after which Yahweh confronted him, saying “your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Abel’s witness did not end there. Through his faith, the author said, “he still speaks.”

Faith is an old man named Enoch (vv. 5-6) who lived a life of such faith that it was thought that he “walked with God” straight from this world into the next without having to bother with dying. The Hebrew text of Gen. 5:24 says only that the father of Methuselah “walked with God; and then he was no more, because God took him.”

The writer of Hebrews quoted from the Greek Septuagint, which could be translated “Enoch pleased God, and He was not found, because God transformed him.” The Greek word describing Enoch’s experience means “to change from one state into another.” The writer of Hebrews subscribed to the traditional interpretation that God converted Enoch’s earthly existence into a heavenly one.

Citing the Septuagint’s comment that Enoch pleased God, the writer of Hebrews assumed Enoch knew that “without faith it is impossible to please him.” Such faith begins with believing that God truly is, and that God rewards faithful followers.

Faith can be seen in a man named Noah (v. 7, cf. Gen. 6:8-9:17), building an ark in the middle of the desert because God said so. He also believed God about “events as yet unseen,” and acted in the hope of saving his family. Noah believed God, and turned his faith into the life-saving substance of the ark. His example served to “condemn the world” while making him “an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.”

Abraham and Sarah have prime positions in the “Hall of Faith.” Abraham had come of age in a land that worshiped other gods, but when God called him to leave his family and travel to a land he did not know, he pulled up stakes in Haran and set them down in the land of promise. Abraham remained there, living as an alien in the land “by faith,” as did his descendants, “Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” (vv. 8-9, cf. Genesis 12-20).

For the writer of Hebrews, Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan was a prelude to the greater inheritance of a “city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v. 10). Whether Abraham ever envisioned a heavenly Jerusalem, the author of Hebrews saw that as his reward and ultimate destination.

Abraham was not alone in demonstrating faith. He and his wife Sarah, so old she was “as good as dead,” put their faith in God and were rewarded with a child who would open the door to countless descendants (vv. 9-11, cf. Gen. 15:1-6, 17:15-22, 18:9-15).

These and other illustrious ancestors “died in faith without having received the promises,” the author wrote, “but from a distance they saw and greeted them” (v. 13). Abraham and the other faithful forbears did not look back, but always forward, desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” where God has “prepared a city for them” (vv. 14-16).

The writer, of course, was applying a New Testament hope to Old Testament people who had no concept of heaven similar to that which developed in later periods. They would not have used the same terminology or anticipated the same end, but they lived in the constant hope of God’s good future. The writer of Hebrews apparently believed that God had credited their faith to them as righteousness. As Abraham had followed God, not knowing where the road would lead, so the author of Hebrews insisted that trustful patriarchs had inherited a “better country, that is, a heavenly one,” a future even better than they could have imagined.

Faith in your life

Where is faith in your life? Faith is the person sitting in your chair, thinking your thoughts, dreaming your dreams, making the choice to act on faith, to turn your dreams into deeds, to bet your life on the unseen promises of God.

Faith is a young man standing up to the pressure of peers who would lead him to behave in ways that are dangerous to himself and to others, because he knows that God has called him to a life that is better than that.

Faith is a young woman refusing to surrender her virtue in exchange for popularity or acceptance because she understands that God has a better plan for her life, for her present and for her future.

Faith is a businessperson who insists on dealing with honesty and integrity and fairness because he knows that is the Christian way.

Faith is any person who goes out of his or her way to share another’s pain and selflessly offer comfort because that is what following Jesus is all about.

Faith is a church made up of ministers to each other who are not afraid to cry, not afraid to love, not afraid to sacrifice their time and talent and worldly goods for the sake of others who need them, for the sake of living out a dream that we are truly called to love as Jesus loved and make our world a better place.

Faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. NFJ

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Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for August 7, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Hebrews 11:1-16



Parent Prep

We all want our children to have faith. We know that impact that faith has had on our live and the way that it has shaped us, has helped us in times of trouble, and has given us a reason to be joyful. In many areas of our life, when we want our children to have something, we send them to an expert to help them learn the skills that they will need to have this thing. Often, we think of the same thing when it comes to our faith, we send our children to church to learn from experts about how to live out and grow in their faith. Here’s the catch with that, The National Study on Youth and Religion found that the group of people that had the biggest impact on a child’s faith was their parents; not the church, not a church leader, but their parents. This makes sense when you think about it: our faith is one that is lived out daily, and who do our children see more than anyone else, their parents. So remember to live out your faith in a way that your children can model their own faith.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

“Thank You For Your Letter” from Arthur Christmas via www.youtube.com

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Hebrews 11:1-16