Biblical Faith – Hebrews 11

Read the Passage: Hebrews 11

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 11

Faith Defined (11:1–2)

Hebrews 11, the so-called biblical “Hall of Faith,” is one of the better-known chapters in this book. The author’s purpose in this chapter is not simply to review biblical history, but rather to illustrate and to apply the doctrinal truths that he has been exploring in Hebrews 1–10. In this passage the author shows his original readers that in the history of God’s people—many of whom, like the original readers, were ethnic Jews—there have always been those with a true and living faith. These Old Testament saints, then, serve as an example, a challenge, and an encouragement to us in regard to sanctification. This chapter is in line with the author’s exhortation to his readers at the end of Hebrews 10, “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). As the gift of faith did in Old Testament saints, so it will always manifest itself in good works.

In Heb. 11:1 the author defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, [and] the evidence of things not seen.” Note the contrast between this definition of biblical faith and the contemporary idea that faith is merely sincere irrationality. Indeed, faith is not an untethered claim, but is educated belief. Said differently, biblical faith is trusting in God’s revealed grace. Historically speaking, theologians have identified three essential, related elements of faith: (1) an intellectual element, which involves the mind and consists of a rational, mental, and reasonable evaluation of empirical evidence; (2) a convictional element, which involves the heart and consists of a conviction of the truth and reality of a claim or object; and (3) a volitional element, which involves the will and consists of an active response and trust in light of and in accord with one’s knowledge and conviction.

Faith Depicted (11:3–22)

In Heb. 11:3–7 the author begins a list of illustrations as he discusses the faith of those who lived before the flood. These people are known as the antediluvians. The author begins this passage with the observation that it is by faith that believers understand that God created the world and that He providentially maintains the world. The writer then cites three men of faith who lived before the flood—Abel, Enoch, and Noah—and writes that without faith it would be impossible for these antediluvians, or anyone else for that matter, to please God. While the faith of these three men is common between them, note the practical differences faith produced in their lives: Abel had faith in God and it resulted in his violent death at the hands of his brother; Enoch had faith in God and it resulted in his being taken into God’s presence without dying; and Noah had faith in God and it resulted in his being saved in the Ark while everyone else died.

As was the case with the antediluvians, so the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had great faith. Note that in Heb. 11:15–16 the author reveals an important aspect of faith—that is, true faith always perseveres. Those who claim to have faith, yet do not persevere with the Lord, do not lose their faith; rather, they never had faith to begin with (cf. 1 John 2:19). In Heb. 11:10 the author observes that Abraham “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Indeed, the patriarchs all “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). This is a great illustration of faith—that is, trusting in and embracing God’s promises, even though the promises are yet to be received (cf. John 8:56). At the end of this book the author exhorts all, as he writes, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Heb. 13:14).

Faith Defended (11:23–40)

As he had done back in Hebrews 3, so in Heb. 11:23–29 the author again turns to one of the preeminent Old Testament characters in the Jewish mind—that is, Moses. In this passage the author refers to the faith of Moses’ parents (cf. Heb. 11:23), the faith of Moses himself (cf. Heb. 11:24–28), and the faith of the people whom Moses led out of Egypt (cf. Heb. 11:29). In the process of describing this great faith, the author notes that in this world faith will sometimes produce suffering; yet, in eternity faith will result in great reward. The author concludes this chapter in Heb. 11:30–40 by listing or alluding to several Old Testament saints who had faith, including Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and various unnamed prophets. In this passage, as well as in the following chapter, the author discloses another teaching about faith—that is, the fact that Jesus is both the author and the sustainer of faith.

Application Questions:

  1. How have you seen faith lived out in the lives of other believers? In what ways have you demonstrated your own faith to others?
  2. What is biblical faith? Is the idea of taking a so-called “leap of faith” a biblical notion? How can a believer obtain more faith?
  3. What does faith produce in the lives of believers? Why do believers with the same genuine faith experience different blessings and challenges?
  4. In what areas of your life do you find it most difficult to have faith and to trust in God (e.g., finances, children, salvation, etc.)?
  5. How does faith relate to repentance? Can someone have faith in God and not have salvation?