6 Surprising Characteristics of Biblical Faith According to Hebrews 11
Over the past two centuries those of us in the Western world have embraced a very non-biblical view of faith as "a leap in the dark." Largely this view comes from a philosophical orientation known as existentialism. One version of that philosophy goes something like this: in the modern world we know that miracles don't happen, so basic beliefs of Christianity—like a man rising from the dead—can't be true. So to continue to embrace Christianity, we must turn our backs on the facts and take a "leap of faith."
This approach to faith has even been memorialized in movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Remember near the end of the movie, when Indy had come to a vast chasm? He had to have "faith"—shut his eyes and step off into nothing. Of course, he stepped onto an invisible bridge, and everything was OK! That's Hollywood's version of faith. A blind leap. That is not biblical faith. One place we can look for the biblical alternative is Hebrews 11. You might take a moment and read through that wonderful chapter.
The following is an adaptation from my NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews (Zondervan, 1998), 388-89. Here are 6 characteristics of biblical faith according to Hebrews 11. See how your faith measures up.
(1) Faith involves bold action.
Most of the examples delineated in Hebrews 11 involve a person acting boldly in accordance with the word of God. By faith Abel offered God a superior sacrifice, Noah built, Abraham obeyed by leaving familiar territory and later offered Isaac, Isaac blessed his sons and one of those sons blessed Isaac’s great-grandsons. And on the list goes. The author spits out action words in rapid succession in vv. 32-34: they conquered, administered, gained, shut, quenched, escaped, became powerful, and routed. Faith acts out a bold confidence.
(2) True faith is action taken in response to the unseen God and his promises.
Faith, rather than merely static belief or cognitive assent, spurs one to act in accordance with God’s truth. Its boldness, however, seems especially to do with the fact that these great people of faith are backed up by the Unseen. They step forward with eyebrow-raising tenacity and confidence and with no perceptible reason for doing so. Yet, God has spoken. God has manifested himself, and this is reason enough. Therefore, we too are called to an active, bold faith which finds its reason in the unseen God. If we have faith of another stripe we need to re-evaluate our “faith.”
(3) Faith involves God working extraordinary miracles in the lives of ordinary people.
We call the example list of Hebrews 11 the “Hall of Faith” and think of these inductees as specially heroic. Yet, if we stop and reflect for a moment we will realize that there is much about those in the list that is less than admirable. For example, Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent; Abraham lied about Sarai; Isaac lied about Rebekah; Jacob lived the life of a deceiver; Moses committed murder; the people of Israel were a bunch of ungrateful grumblers, Gideon a doubter, and David an adulterer. We might think that the author of Hebrews is stretching things a bit in holding these people up as exemplary if not for one thing—real faith must be expressed by real people, real pilgrims who have yet to reach the heavenly city. They are searching; they haven’t arrived. These are “heroes” not because they are perfect, but because they worked with God in his perfect work. Thus we too are eligible for enlistment in the life of faith.
(4) Faith seems to be applicable to a variety of situations.
It is striking that in the list of Hebrews 11 we do not have one healing, although support for that form of miracle can be found readily elsewhere in the New Testament. We have an offering, a transportation to heaven, the building of a boat, the moving of a family, the ability to have a child, obedience in offering that child back to God, blessing of children, seeing into the future, defying an authority, the choosing of mistreatment above pleasure, the keeping of a religious ordinance, and so on. Faith involves conquering in war, deliverance from animals and fire, and resurrection.
(5) Biblical faith may have a variety of outcomes as well.
Notice that faith sometimes has an immediate, “positive” outcome, as when the children of Israel passed through the sea, the walls of Jericho fell, and widows received their dead back by resurrection. Yet, we also find that faith can be rewarded with a “delayed” outcome or even a “negative” outcome. Abel still got murdered. Abraham had to wait for the son of the promise. Faith also seems to involve being tortured, mocked, beaten, destitute, stoned, put in prison, generally mistreated, and even mutilated. These do not fit easily into a “see all the wonderful things God wants to do in your life” Gospel of modern, Western Christianity. Yet the picture is biblical. Our application of this passage must point out that faithful people sometimes do not see “results” in this life.
(6) However, faith is rewarded by God.
One resounding point of Hebrews 11 is that God’s pilgrims look beyond the immediate to grasp the significance of the ultimate. Faith involves believing “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” One primary reward stands out in the chapter—God’s commendation (11:2,39), the “well done” every true believer longs to hear.