In Sunday School for the last several weeks I’ve been taking the class through Hebrews 11 and the “great people of faith.”
The point of the chapter is to answer the question, “what is faith” and it does so by listing a bunch of folks from the Old Testament.
What is faith according to Hebrews 11? If all you do is quote the first couple of verses of the chapter and think that is the definition, you’re missing the point. Why do you suppose the author went on to list all those people? If you look only at the first couple of verses and ignore the overall context, you might imagine faith is some sort of a feeling: that somehow one has to scrunch up your face and keep telling yourself, like a self-affirmation, that you do believe, I do have hope, I do see evidence of stuff I cannot see. However, if you look at the Old Testament characters, you come to understand what the author really meant in those first couple of verses.
Guess what? Not one of those “mighty warriors of faith” operated without doubt, without resistance, without questioning and wondering and wishing they didn’t have to do what God told them to do. A lot of them spent time complaining to God about what they were going through and how it wasn’t working out. A lot of them kept going back to God and asking him, “are you sure?” For example, Moses and Gideon, according to Hebrews 11 did what they did “by faith.” But check out what Gideon was really like in Judges 6-8. Or look at Moses’ life and his responses to things in Exodus 3-5.
You see, what the people in Hebrews 11 have in common is not a lack of doubt. We generally don’t find them eagerly jumping at the chance to serve God. Usually they actually try to get out of it.
What the great people of faith have in common is that they kept on doing what God asked them to do, anyhow, even though they had doubts, and even though they didn’t really want to do it.
What is faith based on Hebrews 11? It is simply hearing what God wants you to do and then doing it, despite the doubts and your inner thoughts telling you “I don’t know if this is such a good idea.” It is akin to what Jesus said once:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)
Faith isn’t a feeling. It is just doing what God asks, because it’s what you’ve been told to do and you know you’ve got to do it.
You have faith when it makes you do what you otherwise wouldn’t do. Faith is when you obey even though you’d rather just stay in bed today, thank you very much.
Faith is kind of like bravery. Bravery doesn’t mean you’re not scared. Bravery is doing what needs to be done despite being scared.
Faith is not the opposite of doubt. In fact, faith doesn’t exist without it, any more than bravery can exist without fear. Faith is doing what God asks of you, despite your doubt, your fear, and your reluctance.