Formations lesson: Examples of Faith
February 9 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , Hebrews 11:1-7

Formations lesson for Feb. 25: Examples of Faith | Friday, Feb. 9, 2001

Friday, Feb. 9, 2001

Formations lesson for Feb. 25: Examples of Faith

By Ken Vandergriff Hebrews 11:1-7 Everything we are and do as Christians revolves around faith. We begin a life with Christ in faith, we continue that life in faith and we anticipate a future beyond death with Christ in faith. Sometimes faith distresses us. We recognize that at times our faith is stronger, while at other times it is weak. We may wonder if we have enough; although Jesus said a little bit is enough - just the size of a mustard seed - we wonder sometimes if we have even that much. Hebrews 11 is the so-called "roll call of faith." By examining others' lives of faith we find encouragement for our own lives of faith.

What faith is (and isn't) (Hebrews 11:1-2)

This chapter begins with two crucial statements: a definition of faith and an affirmation that God approves those who have faith. These statements are the essential foundation and theme of the rest of the chapter.

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for" (NRSV). The Greek word translated "assurance" (hypostasis) carries two nuances: it means substance or essence, the essential reality of something, as in Heb. 1:3 and the King James translation of 11:1. It also means confidence, conviction or assurance, as in most modern translations of 11:1. In business documents from the Greek world, hypostasis can refer to a lease or deed of ownership, the document which guarantees the actual possession of land.

Faith is also "the conviction of things not seen" (NRSV). The Greek word translated "conviction" (elegchos) means "proof" or "demonstration," that which leads to the refutation of what is false.

Faith, then, is not simply a "will to believe" that which has a low degree of evidence. It is not, as critic H.L. Mencken declared, "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." Rather, faith is the conviction of truth based on evidence. We would not enter into a business transaction without sufficient assurance that the other party was genuine and would live up to its obligation; we find assurance in the demonstrated evidence of that party's integrity. Likewise, in the life of faith, we find assurance in the demonstrated evidence of God's integrity. God provides evidence of His truthfulness and integrity in the world of nature (Psalm 19:1-4), in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:3), in the fulfillment of promises (Heb. 6:13-15), and in our experience of forgiveness, acceptance and access to God (Heb. 4:14-16; 6:19-20). Our faith in God is not, then, only a matter of "believing it makes it so;" there is evidence for what we believe.

It is important to add, however, that neither is faith absolute certitude. Paul declared that "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). Absolute certitude does away with the necessity for faith by replacing faith with sight. As Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall explains in Professing the Faith, "Unlike the state of knowledge, faith admits the real and continuing presence of its opposite - if not plain ignorance, at least of never-quite-knowing. Stated more directly, faith is a continuous and unfinished dialogue with doubt."

Christian faith lives in the tension between the evidences for God and the never-quite-knowing, a tension it will be profitable to explore in our teaching of this lesson. Those who choose faith within this tension receive God's approval (v. 2).

Examples of faith (Hebrews 11:3-7)

After remarking on believers' faith in God's invisible word of creation, the writer of Hebrews begins to highlight the faithful ancestors. Abel, Enoch and Noah are mentioned first. It is noteworthy how little the book of Genesis actually says about each of them; consequently, our interpretation should be cautious. Interpretation easily turns into speculation, and speculation tends to run wild (as the history of interpretation of these three amply shows). What is important is that each acted "by faith" - a phrase repeated 18 times in this chapter.

Martin Luther said in Preface to Romans that "faith is a living and unshakeable confidence, a belief in the grace of God so assured that a man would die a thousand deaths for its sake." Abel, Enoch and Noah would respond simply, "Yes."

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2/9/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , Hebrews 11:1-7 | with 0 comments
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