Hebrews 11:1-6 (NKJV)
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
In the previous chapter, chapter 10, the author explained to his readers the foundation for the believing elect’s boldness in Christ. This foundation, as he explained it, is the redemption and propitiation which Christ accomplished for all His elect by offering His body to God at the cross as an atoning sacrifice for His peoples’ sins. With that death imputed to the believer’s account, the believing elect are made bold to enter into God’s presence, because Jesus Christ has once and for all perfected His elect by the single offering of His body at the cross.
They have boldness to enter into God’s presence and they have confidence in God’s promise of resurrection immortality for all those for whom Christ died.
Having explained the foundation of the elects’ boldness in Christ, the author then warns all those folks who have heard this good news about Christ’s sacrifice, but have nevertheless drawn back in doubt. He warns these people there no longer remains an offering for sin, but only a fearful expectation of judgment instead.
However, having warned those folks who have drawn back in doubt, he then quickly turns his attention back to the believing elect in order to give to them again another word of encouragement and comfort. And this word which he gives them is this: (quote) “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” That’s verse 39.
The word “believe” in this last verse is referring to the object of our belief. In other words, it’s not saying the act of believing preserves our souls. No, it’s saying the death of Christ preserves our souls. In other words, we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who have the cross of Christ imputed to us to the saving of the soul.
A question remains though. How do we know this about ourselves? How do we know we have had the cross imputed to us? The author is going to answer this.
Beginning with the first verse of the next chapter, chapter 11, the author proceeds to provide his readers with a brief list of men and women from the Old Testament who also did not shrink back and were destroyed, but who instead were preserved by the same cross the New Testament elect are preserved by. Immediately before he does this though, he provides us with an answer to our question, how do we know the cross has been imputed to us?
Faith he says, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This word “substance” in the King James is maybe not the best translation. The word in Greek actually come from two other Greek words which mean support and essence. Just about every other modern translation renders the Greek word here as either assurance or confidence. In other words, faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But keeping in mind the fact that Christ’s death is the object of our believing, we can read the verse like this:
The death of Christ imputed to His elect is the confidence of things hoped for, the death of Christ imputed to His elect is the conviction of things not seen.
In other words, I look around, what do I see? I see the world in sin, I see a creation groaning in travail. I look at myself, I don’t see righteousness. I see instead a body that has been racked by sin and is even now in the process of aging dying. I look at you guys, I don’t see righteousness either. I see instead sinners like me who are aging and dying.
And yet by looking to the death of Christ alone as my righteousness, I find that I am confident that I have been made righteous. The cross convinces me that death is not the end, that death will in fact be swallowed up in Christ’s victory on that day when Christ returns to raise His saints.
The cross makes me bold to enter into God’s presence. It convinces me that the Father hears my prayers.
And even though I was not at Golgotha and I did not witness Christ’s crucifixion, I was not one of the five-hundred who saw Him after His resurrection; nevertheless, the cross makes me confident that all this did happen. The cross of Christ then “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
One way that a false, phony Christianity louses this up is by saying our faith, our believing changes God’s mind about us.
Verse 6 of our text tells us that without faith it impossible to please God. Phony Christianity understands this to mean if I obey the command to believe, then God will have to accept me as righteous based upon my obedience of that command. Although God might not be pleased with me to start with, I can nevertheless change His mind about me by proving to Him that I am righteous by obeying this command to believe.
This is exactly how phony Christianity sees the sacrifice of Cain and Abel.
Phony Christianity believes Abel managed to find just the right sacrifice that would change God’s mind about him, and that if Cain had just offered this same sacrifice too, then God would also have accepted Cain as righteous.
This is nonsense though. Look at verse 2.
For by it . . . that is, by the cross, the object of our faith . . . the elders obtained a good testimony.
A testimony is what they obtained from the good news of the cross of Christ. In other words, they obtained from this good news a witness to the righteousness they had received from that cross.
Think of a courtroom. What does a witness do? A witness provides for the judge and jury a firsthand testimonial account of what they saw or heard.
In a similar manner, the cross provided for Abel a firsthand testimonial account of the righteousness that Abel had in Christ. This witness which the cross provided to Abel is why Abel could boldly express thanksgiving and gratitude to God for what God Himself had done for Abel. Abel expressed this gratitude by offering a sacrifice of the first of his flocks to God.
This sacrifice did not make Abel righteous, nor did his believing make him righteous. No, God had imputed the death of Christ to Abel, and this is what made him righteous. As a result of Christ’s death imputed to Abel, the Holy Spirit opened Abel’s eyes to understand what the cross was witnessing to Abel. And as a result of this, Abel believed the witness and entered boldly.
By their faith, the author says, the people of old received their witness. This follows from verse 1 where the author has just told us that faith is the evidence of things unseen.
How did the Old Testament saints know they were righteous? The same way we do. By the good news of what Christ did at the cross. That good news witnesses to us that Christ has accomplished the redemption of God’s elect.
The author reiterates this in verse 4.
4 By faith . . . that is, by the cross . . . Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained WITNESS that he was righteous . . .
Abel did not offer lambs to God in an attempt to prove to God that he was righteous. No, Abel offered lambs to God, because God had already made Abel righteous.
Cain’s reasoning for sacrificing was different. Cain reasoned that if he could just produce a sacrifice that was righteous, then this would prove to God that he, Cain was therefore righteous.
Cain assumed that he could produce a sacrifice that was righteous. He assumed he could do a good work, because he believed the work itself is what made it good. This is what the self righteous world believes even today. It believes that doing things like being charitable to your neighbor and nice to every stranger and going to church every week are righteous works that will make a person righteous and open the gates of heaven for it.
This is why the Scriptures say Cain’s countenance fell. Cain believed that God was unjust to not accept his “righteous” sacrifice of lettuce and turnips. Cain believed the produce of the ground which he had managed to cultivate by the sweat of his brow was a righteous sacrifice, because he, being sincere, had produced it for God with the intent that God would honor him for his sacrifice by declaring him righteous. Therefore, according to Cain’s reasoning, God should have accepted the sacrifice if God were really just. But God did not accept it, and so in Cain’s mind God was unjust.
And when Abel would not agree with Cain’s opinion about God, Cain became angry with his brother and murdered him.
It’s the same for phony Christianity today. The very definition of self righteous is a self who believes it is capable of producing work that will make it righteous, and that all it needs is for God to agree with this fact. God demands that we agree with Him about our need of His righteousness, but the self righteous demand that God agree with them they are already righteous.
And what happens when the believing elect refuse to agree with the self righteous? The self righteous become angry with us. They mock us. They call us names like hypers and heretics, and yes, they have even imprisoned, tortured and murdered us at certain times in history.
Look at verse 7.
7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Notice that last sentence. He became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. The text does not say he simply became righteous. No, it says he became AN HEIR of the righteousness.
That’s a strange turn of phrase, isn’t it? An heir of the righteousness that comes by faith? Are any of us here heirs of the righteousness that comes by faith? What does this mean, heir of the righteousness?
Luke 3 traces Christ’s genealogy for us all the way back to Adam. Included in that genealogy, of course, is Noah. And if you think about it, Noah would have to be included in that genealogy, because he was at one point in time one of only eight human beings on the planet, and the other seven being in some way related to him either by blood or by marriage.
In this respect then he was an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. What is the righteousness here in verse 7? It is the cross of Christ. Christ’s death for His elect is the righteousness. Christ’s death for His elect is the faith.
Noah, by building an ark, became an heir of the promised seed; that is, an heir of Christ who would one day crush the head of the serpent and in the process be bruised.
But it wasn’t that Noah turned himself into an heir by building an ark. What I mean is, it wasn’t as if God had been casting about searching for someone to build an ark so that the entire human race would not be killed in the flood, and then after He finally found Noah He said, “You know Noah, I was actually thinking about making someone else an heir of the promised Seed, but since you were so faithful to me by building that ark I think I will make you the heir instead.” No, some people do think like that, but no, it was not that.
God had always intended for Noah to be one of the heirs of Christ, and the way God brought this about was by the ark. Noah survived the flood to become what God had always intended Noah to be, an heir of Christ.
So even here we see phony Christianity stumbling over itself again, because phony Christianity insists Noah earned a spot on the roster, so to speak, by building an ark.
Now look at verse 6.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Phony Christianity falls into two main camps here. In the first camp are those people who love to quote the first half of the verse. They seem to think the verse consists only of its first half. So you will hear them saying, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” And then that’s it. That’s all they will say.
Television faith hustlers belong in this camp. These are the guys and the girls who talk about God as if he were a genie who wants to grant us all sorts of material pleasures, but to get these pleasures we have to pay him off with some of that hard earned faith He seems to enjoy so much. They talk about faith as if it were the currency of heaven.
But a lot of free will and reformed people fall into this camp too, except that they don’t talk about faith as if it were the currency of heaven. No, they talk about faith as if it were the act of believing, and that this act of believing were the gospel. So they will say things like if you repeat this prayer after me, then you will be saved.
Or, and listen to me here, they will substitute the act of believing with some act of working and they will say things like, it is impossible to please God without submitting to Christ’s Lordship. And those who have not substituted the act of believing with the act of working will get angry with this second group and they will accuse the second group of adding to the gospel by changing the act of believing to an act of working.
What I’m saying is both groups have a false gospel, because both are substituting the cross with something else.
But now, there is a second camp in which people fall into over this verse, and these are the people who live more for the second part of the verse. They are the social gospel people. They think of righteousness in terms of human sincerity, and so they reduce the gospel down to feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. These are the folks who quote Romans 10:9 any time someone asks them about salvation. Just confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and you will be saved. Boom, that’s it. Just repeat those words and you’re saved.
I call these guys the stadium crusaders, because they tend to hold huge evangelistic crusades that fill stadiums. Billy Graham is one of these guys. But tolerant Calvinists are also in this group, because they will accept as a brother anyone who claims they were saved at a Billy Graham crusade.
I personally know of one of these guys. I have spoken to him by phone and on Facebook. This guy pastors a church and also runs one of these so called “outreach ministries” that go around the city looking to help people get off drugs and find homes and so forth.
This pastor claims to know and believe the doctrines of grace, yet he refuses to teach them accurately to his church. Like I said, I’ve spoken to him by phone. The reason he refuses to teach the truth is because some of the wealthiest donors of his outreach program and his church have gone on record opposing the doctrines of grace. And because they have bought this pastor and his wife a home and they’ve bought his children cars, and they help pay the bills to keep the social program going and the lights in the church turned on, this pastor remains silent about the truth, because he knows that if he were to start preaching the gospel accurately to his people then he would find himself hitched up quickly by the seat of his pants and then tossed out into the street.
I recently heard him “explain” (quote-unquote) Romans 9 to his church. He never once used the word election much less define it accurately. The word he used instead of election was church.
Rather than explaining to the people in his church that election refers to that sovereign act whereby God chose unconditionally from before the foundation of the world a specific people whom He would save by sending His Son to die for their sins, he instead told them that God chose from eternity to save His church. By saying it this way, you see, he knows he can keep everyone in his church assuming that he is talking about them. He’s in the second half of this verse, see. He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Doesn’t matter whether you believe anything He has said about His Christ or not. Just believe that He is, and you’ll be saved.
Both camps are wrong. Both camps are unbiblical. This verse is not divided. When the author says “he who comes to God must believe that He is,” he is talking about more than just mere existence. Of course God exists, but this is not what the author means by the phrase, “God is.”
Keep in mind what the author has just finished telling us in the previous chapter. The God who is, is the God who is justly angry with sin. The God who is, is the God who is utterly holy. The God who is, is the God whose wrath against the sinner must be satisfied. The God who is, is the God who is the only righteous one.
And so if I believe this is the God who is, then I recognize that I am at the mercy of this God. I stand before this God unjust, unrighteous, a guilty sinner and unable to do anything to justify myself before Him. But if I recognize that this God who is, is also a rewarder of those who seek Him, then I will also recognize that He has made a way for me to stand before Him justified, because a God who is angry with unrighteous sinners would not reward those unrighteous sinners for seeking Him. No, He would destroy them instead.
And so a holy God who rewards the sinner who diligently seek Him is the God who has made righteous the sinner who diligently seeks Him so that the sinner will be rewarded rather than destroyed.
Here again though, the sinner is not rewarded because he seeks God. No, he is seeking God because he has been rewarded.
Let’s back up now to the verse we skipped over. Verse 3.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Framed. Think of it like the framing of a house. The construction of a home begins with the frame. The frame is like the skeleton of a house. The walls, the windows and the doors are all built upon the frame. Later, the drywall is hung upon the frame and the aluminum siding. Think of these being like skin. The frame is the skeletal structure upon which the skin is hung. It’s similar for the worlds in this verse.
God framed the stars, the sky, the sun, the earth and so on. He brought them into existence from nothing. We call this divine fiat. That is, He created something from nothing, and He did it instantly, effortlessly.
Interesting thing about this is that at the time at which this epistle was written Greek philosophy had long held that matter is eternal, because for matter to have a beginning, then it would have to have come from something exactly like itself.
In other words, according to Greek philosophy, only God could come from God, only man could come from man, only water could come from water, and only air could come from air. Right at the start we know this makes no sense. Nevertheless, the philosophers had absolutely proved it true by a mathematical formula. I’m being facetious. They proved nothing, but they sure thought they did.
In fact, so certain they were of this that scientists held to this stupid claim all the way up until the 1960’s. And I am not exaggerating. If you are old enough to remember, or if you have read any books on the subject, then you will recall how astronomers were claiming all the way up until the 1960’s that the universe is eternal. It supposedly went on forever and it just always was. It had no beginning, it will have no end, it just always was.
And just like these ancient philosophers were doing, they were also mocking Christians for claiming otherwise; for claiming the universe had a beginning and will have an ending, and that it was God who created it. This mocking has not stopped today. They are still mocking us for saying God created it, but they are no longer saying it is eternal and never had a beginning.
The reason why Christians have resolutely stood by their claim that it had a beginning and that God created it is because this is what the word of God tells them. The reason why the scientists and philosophers are always shifting back and forth between any number of different claims about the universe is because they trust what their eyes and unaided human reasoning tells them about the universe.
This brings me finally to the subject of faith, and when I say faith in this sense I mean faith as an act of believing. You see, phony Christianity and especially phony reformed Christianity has a lot to say about belief, and what it has to say is unbiblical. It says belief is non-intellectual, that it’s more a matter of behavior and emotion than it is intellect. In fact, you probably have heard a reformed teacher or theologian say something like, “faith is more than mere intellectual assent.”
Now, if what is meant by this claim is that belief is more than just reciting some doctrine that you don’t really believe is true, then yes, faith is more than mere intellectual assent. But very rarely is this what is meant.
What is almost always meant instead is faith is not something you do with your mind. Faith is instead something you do with your feet. You do works. This is nonsense though. It is unbiblical and it is irrational.
When Jesus asked the man who was born blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He was not asking him to go do some jail ministry or start a charity organization in order to prove that he had committed himself to the Son of Man’s Lordship. Instead, He was asking the man, do you agree that I am who I say I am? Do you agree with the truth claims that I have made about Myself? Do you agree with God’s claim that I am the Christ, the Son of the living God?
You see, I mentioned a moment ago about those ancient philosophers and how they mocked the early Christians. The reason they mocked them was not only because the Christians were making claims about things the philosophers could not see. No, the bigger reason was because the Christians refused to trust anything they could see, but rather trusted implicitly instead only the claims that God made in His word.
What the Christians were resting upon for their truth was the word of God alone. They were not waiting for a dead person to rise from the dead before saying, see there, Christ could have risen from the dead because we just saw Joe Smith rise from the dead, so we know it’s true that people can rise from the dead.
No, that is not what they said. Instead, they said Christ rose from the dead, because that’s what the Bible says He did, and we don’t care if we don’t see anyone else rising from the dead, we know it’s true that Christ rose from the dead.
This kind of dogmatism infuriated the philosophers.
Take Celsus, for example. He was one of these ancient philosophers who hated the Christians. In one of his writings he complained that Christians sought out gullible and uneducated people, “because they were unable to give reasons for their beliefs . . . they asked people to accept what they said solely on faith.”
Celsus went on to write that the gospels were based only on hearsay. He said, “Why should we give greater credibility to what is written in them than to other stories about Jesus? The accounts in the gospels were written solely by Christians and were passed on in Christian circles. Should the legends there be taken with greater seriousness than the many legends in Greek literature? The Christian Gospels offer no reliable basis on which to establish the truth of the accounts about Jesus . . . there is no proof except for your word.”
Lucian, another critic of the Christians wrote in his book that, “The poor wretches have convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live for all time. They despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.”
You read the Atheists today and you discover these ancient criticisms have never changed. The same criticisms are still being leveled against us. And just like in the ancient world, their criticisms are being taken by the world as absolute fact. There is nothing new under the sun.
We Christians do not trust our senses. No, we trust the word of God alone. We trust only the Holy Spirit inspired, written word of God. And we don’t need to see or hear or feel or touch or smell anything in order to prove to ourselves that what the Word of God says is true really is indeed true. Instead, we agree with God that His word is true, and that’s that, we don’t look for evidence that His word is true.
Now here’s the question, how do Christians do this believing of the word of God? Do they do it intellectually or by some other way? We do it intellectually, of course, because intellectually is the only way a person can do it.
The Bible is a book with words arranged into sentences which convey to us particular thoughts, arguments and propositions. We must use our brain, our intellect to receive these thoughts, arguments and propositions. And then having received them with our intellect, we must then agree that what we have received from the book by way of our intellect is true.
All of this is done intellectually, not apart from the Holy Spirit, but rather our intellect is what the Holy Spirit works with to make us believe. For someone to say that this believing is not mere intellectual believing, then what in the world does that even mean? It means nothing is what it means. It’s babble. It’s irrational, crazy talking nonsense. How in the world else are we supposed to believe?
But you see, what these guys really mean when they say faith is not mere intellectual assent is this: they mean we cannot only just agree with God the gospel is true. No, we have to also do something else to assure ourselves that we are what God has said in His word we are. We have to BALANCE all that grace out, you see, with some law and works. And we have to do this in order to obtain a witness that we are righteous.
Same thing Cain was seeking from his sacrifice. A witness from God that he was righteous for having offered the fruit of his labor to God. If the cross of Christ alone is not your witness, then there remains only for you a fearful expectation of judgment.
Finally, I want to reiterate one last thing. Christ’s death is what the righteousness is. There can be no confusion about this. His death is what God imputes to His elect.
Romans 6:16-23 (NKJV)
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The text says that Paul’s readers WERE slaves to sin, but that they have now been set free from sin and have been made slaves of righteousness. When did this happen? The first half of chapter 6 tells us.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Romans 6:7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Romans 6:17-18 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
It was the legal, forensic charging of Christ’s death to Paul’s readers that set them free from sin and in turn made them slaves to righteousness leading to immortality and eternal life. Christ’s death is what God credits to each elect’s account.
To look at it another way, God had to be justified. Romans 3 tells us this.
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, TO DEMONSTRATE HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, BECAUSE IN HIS FORBEARANCE God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, TO DEMONSTRATE AT THE PRESENT TIME HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
God had to be justified. He had to be proved He was righteous for not immediately killing Adam for having disobeyed Him. The death of Christ proved this. The death of Christ proved God was right to not destroy everyone immediately for disobeying Him, because the death of Christ really did and really would save all His elect. This is why God was right and just to pass over His people’s sins prior to the cross.
The cross witnesses to us that God was righteous to not destroy His elect for their disobedience. The cross demonstrates God’s righteousness to us at the present time.