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Hebrews, Chapter 11 is considered the great chapter on faith. There are 15 named people, and scores of others whose contributions transformed the world they lived in. These people are all described as living by faith; not simply under the weight of a body of doctrine, but experientially where the only explanation for their lives was God Himself. These men and women lived by faith and died in their faith. However, we cannot read the first half of Hebrews 11 without reading the second half. The writer mentions people who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames and escaped the edge of the sword, but the writer does not finish there. "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison" (11:35-36). The writer lists other horrendous persecutions and suffering, and follows up with, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised" (Hebrews 11:39).

We may think living by faith will lead to recognized success, but that is not true of Scripture. Jesus Himself was called “a man of suffering and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). Throughout history, many have died in the name of the Lord battered and bruised, but their faith looked beyond what is seen to the divine presence and working of God. Paul writes, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Living by faith looks beyond the physical and temporal world to God with a certainty that holds far more credibility and assurance than the material world we live in.

In Scripture, faith is used both as a noun and a verb and the distinction is important. As a noun, it is used when “the faith” is spoken of, which are the crucial doctrines that embody what we believe as Christians. As a verb, faith is speaking of active dependence on God, which leads to our lives becoming inexplicable apart from the work of God. The all-important aspect about faith is where we place it. If we put a lot of faith on thin ice and try to walk on it, we will sink by faith, but if we place a little faith in 8 inch thick ice, and very nervously step onto it, we will walk on ice. When our faith is placed in God, He works because the object of our faith is totally sufficient and trustworthy.

If our faith consists of being a noun without being a verb, our Christian lives may be intellectually stimulating, but they will be stagnant and experientially barren. On the other hand, if our faith is only a verb, it may leave us full of expectation, but be void of real substance, because God will not have lived up to the expectations we have imposed upon Him. The truths we receive in Scripture must be the basis upon which we trust Christ to become active in our lives. What we need is an intelligent understanding of “the faith” as a noun, which then leads to a living, active experience of faith as a verb.

Many Christians are under the impression that if we are responsible, caring people, our faith will count for something. In effect, they are saying that character is more important than faith, but it is the reverse that is true. Faith is more important than character. In the list of people in Hebrews 11 who lived by faith, there are some who did not start off well. Jacob, whose name means “twister”, lived up to his name, and was a liar and cheat, but he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Rahab was a prostitute who ran a brothel in Jericho, but because she believed the God of Israel was the God of both heaven and earth, her life was spared when Jericho fell, and she stepped into the line of the Messiah. Samson was a violent man, a bully and womanizer, but because he believed in God, and called upon Him in the last moments of his life, he is elevated to this catalogue of people who lived by faith.

If character is more important than faith, our Christian lives will simply become a course in behaviour modification. How well we are doing? Have we made any progress? To make good character the all-important factor, we will tend towards legalism, trying our best to keep the rules. Faith is far more important than character, because it involves putting our trust in God and allowing Him to work in our lives. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). There are many who know God in heaven, but fail to experience Him being God in their lives, because their greater emphasis is placed on character. We will not experience God on the basis of character, but on the basis of faith. We come with our sin, brokenness and failure and accept the gift of grace through faith. It is not by doing our utmost to develop good character, but by faith in Jesus Christ and the work of His Spirit that His character unfolds in us and through us.

Faith in God does not mean we have an easy road through life. Hebrews 11 describes incredible pain, discomfort, brokenness and death, but of those who suffered in their faith, verse 13 says, “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance...” In other words, there was a much bigger picture going on than the one that started and finished with their personal lives and experiences. Since Adam and Eve, there is a much grander picture being painted on a much larger canvas than the here and now. All these people who suffered for their faith were able to look beyond their own life span to see the much greater plan of God. Isaiah 53:11 says of Jesus, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” Jesus could look through the corridors of time and see countless lives saved and given new life in Him because of the suffering He endured.

We live in an age of the instantaneous and expect the instantaneous, which makes it hard to look beyond our circumstances in such a way that gives value to what we do not yet see and may never experience. As Christians, we only have a cameo role on a huge stage, but if we are going to work with God we have to rid ourselves of this instant mentality. Isaiah 5:19 says, “Woe to those who say let God hurry; let him hasten his work so that we may see it.” Whether we are privy to an end result or not, we will see encouragement along the way, but what is the big picture? We trust God for this and persevere in our faith, because we have a God who knows exactly what He is doing and is trustworthy!

What is the antidote to fears, doubts and insecurities? How do we battle temptation when it lurks around almost every corner? The writer of Hebrews tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus,” and in Hebrews 3:1, to “fix our thoughts on Jesus.” The relationship of faith to confidence is determined by the object of our faith. It is not how much faith we have to muster, but how well do we know the object of our faith? How well do we know Jesus Christ? The more confidence we have in Jesus, the less conscience of the exercise of faith we are. This is not an overnight transformation. It takes time to become confident in our faith and it also takes risk. We come to know the most about God when we step out in faith, and it is through personal experience of Him we learn to trust Him. It is not until we appropriate faith, trusting wholly in God, that the fact of faith itself then becomes the evidence of His reality and working in our lives.