Today’s passage: Hebrews 11:1-12:4
This weekend, we’re continuing our series looking at some of the most important – and often misunderstood – words describing the life of one following Jesus. Last week, we grappled with the concept of grace, discovering how essential it is. Grace is God’s giving of Himself to us – even though we don’t deserve Him. This weekend, we’re considering what exactly faith means.
It might seem strange for me to include the word faith in a series on important and misunderstood words. But I want to suggest that this is a word that is often misunderstood, both by those outside the church, and also by those inside the church.
One of the issues is that we use the word faith to mean a couple of different things. It can simply be used as a kind of synonym for religion. That is, when we say the Christian faith we really mean Christianity; when we say the Mormon faith we really mean Mormonism. That is not the usage that will concern us this week.
Atheist evangelist Peter Bogosian defines faith as 1) pretending to know things one doesn’t know, 2) belief without evidence, and 3) an irrational leap over probabilities. Essentially, he is saying that faith is something illogical that goes against common sense or evidence. Many in our community, like him, would put faith in the category of fairy tales.
Unfortunately, us Christians can often use the word faith in exactly that way. Phil Vischer argues that we sometimes use “faith” as a fallback for when we don’t understand something, or haven’t taken the time to think through the effort. When challenged by things like the age of creation or contradictions in the Bible, it’s tempting to simply pass it off with, “I take it on faith.”
This weekend, I want to argue that biblical faith is stronger than that. Biblical faith isn’t blind belief. Biblical faith is able to wrestle with challenges to it. Biblical faith is more than mere belief; it is enacted trust in the person and promises of God. (James 2)
Biblical faith is based on evidence. Biblical faith rests on the proven historical revelation of a God who is trustworthy.
The writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 11 of his book, not only gives us a definition of faith, but also describes what faith actually looks like in practice. His aim, I believe, is that we emulate the heroes of the faith – those who put their confidence in God’s promises. Their faith has, over the course of history, proven to have been well placed. They trusted God, and found that he was trustworthy.
It’s famously said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. May it also be said that we Christians can learn from those who have gone before us what a life of faith really looks like. They all trusted God – with their lives. Should we? Will we?