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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight
Text:Hebrews 11:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 105:1,2                             

Ps 79:3,5

Reading – Hebrews 10:39 - 12:3

Ps 78:1,2,3

Sermon – Hebrews 11:1-2

Hy 43:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 64:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

God’s Gift to His People: A Living Faith

  1. in things hoped for
  2. in things not seen


Beloved in Christ, a few minutes ago we read Hebrews 11 in full. It’s a familiar chapter to us, and well-loved. We like to hear about all those “heroes of faith.” But have you ever wondered what this chapter’s really about? Is it just a handy survey of Bible history? Is it a kind of Scripture “Hall of Fame?”

We know that to get insight into any Bible passage we need to think about its wider setting. Hebrews 11 is part of a long book, and it’s one of the book’s final chapters. This letter to the Hebrews takes its name from the very Jewish flavour of what’s written. It’s full of references to Old Testament sacrifices, Old Testament laws, Old Testament people and events. Clearly, it’s a letter that was first meant for Jewish Christians to read.

When you look for clues in this letter, you learn that these Hebrews had been believers in Christ for a while. Yet something was going wrong. After accepting the message of Jesus, they were losing their enthusiasm, and starting to waver. A big part of the problem was the hardships they were going through, the persecution they were suffering. After a good start in the faith, these Christians were tiring out. Some were even thinking of turning back to the old ways, the familiar ways, where it was safer. So they need an encouragement to keep strong their faith in Christ, because otherwise they’ll fall away.

Yes, God’s people must live by faith. Faith in what? Not in those Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices—Christ made all of that old-fashioned and obsolete. Dead sinners need to believe in the living Jesus. So again and again, the writer points to Him as the center, the goal, the heart of what God has given us: “[Look] unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (12:2). Right from chapter 1, verse 1, the author has argued that Christ is better than the angels, He’s superior to Moses, He’s the focus of all the prophets, and He’s more glorious as a high priest than Aaron. Christ is everything! So if you don’t live by faith in Him, you’re depending on something else, something that’s going to fail you. Not to live by faith in Jesus is to die.

So what is faith? What does it really mean to believe in Christ? That can be tough to articulate. It can be hard to say what our faith really is. We talk about faith and the need for faith a lot, but just what do we mean by that?

For example, say we’re facing trouble with our health, or a season of uncertainty in our life. Then we might cheerfully tell one another, “Trust in the Lord.” Or we say to someone who’s worried, “Have some more faith in God, wouldn’t you?”—for an observer, anyway, it’s as simple as that. But right away the hard questions arise: “What does it mean, to trust? Just what does God want me to believe in this situation? How do I know that my faith really is in God?”

The Holy Spirit puts it plainly. “You want to know what faith is? You want to know what it means to ‘fix your eyes on Jesus,’ or to profess faith in Him?” Well, this is faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1).

Does that help us? At first, that verse can sound like the technical words you’d read in the dictionary: “Faith: reliance on, or trust in; a belief founded on authority.” And dictionaries are fine, useful tools, but we don’t turn to a dictionary when we’re up to our neck in real life, with all its uncertainties and troubles. Someone might ask: What good is this Hebrews 11 definition of faith, when our hearts are crying out for something real? What good is it, when we need stability, and hope, something to believe in?

But before we discard it, let’s keep reading. For something is added in verse 2. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” and then… “For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.” That line opens up into the rest of the chapter. You could say that it links the definition with the illustration, like you see in some dictionaries for children: there’s the meaning, and then an image. This is what a dirigible is, and this is what a dirigible looks like!

After that description of faith in verses 1-2, the Spirit then gives dozens of examples of what faith is like. He turns to the stories of the “elders,” or the ancestors. The Jewish readers of this letter would’ve known these stories well—they had grown up hearing them. But they need to look past the surface, and see what really was going on in the lives of these old saints. What was it that made these “heroes” tick? These saints were all shaped and emboldened by that one God-given thing: faith. That’s the refrain throughout: they did this “by faith,” they did that “by faith,” they went places “by faith.”

Already we can see from the whole shape of Hebrews 11 that faith is never just something theoretical and abstract for us. Faith isn’t just the collection of facts that young people have learned and memorized through long and painful years of Catechism class. Your faith isn’t something that you can put in the closet along with your Sunday clothes until next week Sunday comes around. No, faith tells a story—it’s the story of every day, every year. Our faith is always for engaging in real life.

God-given faith, by definition, needs to be lived, put into practice! What do I mean? Faith is put into practice when you’re unsure and anxious about something, yet your heart is confident in the LORD and in who He is, when you say, “I trust in you God, I really do.” Faith is when you open Scripture, and you just know that it’s all true: all those promises, all those stories, all that wisdom—it’s true. Faith means that no matter the confusion and calamity on the outside of your life, inside there’s a sense of calm. Inside, we have peace—peace that’s founded on our faithful God and his Son. We don’t just worship by faith, or pray by faith, but we live by faith.

The Spirit wants us to know that this is how the Old Testament people did it, how they made it through whatever test and trial. That’s how the troubled Christians addressed by this letter could do it, too—by faith. That’s how any Christian will make it through. We endure by resting ourselves in the LORD—on who He is, and what He’s done.

Let’s say more about this. In the previous chapter, the Spirit showed how the one sacrifice of Christ is all that we need for life and eternity. Then He drives home the critical need to put faith in this Saviour: “For we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (10:39). Don’t draw back and return to the old and empty ways, but be someone who believes in the Christ!

And truly believing in Christ is something that has substance, it has a real content. On the bones of our faith there must be some meat. For the engine of our faith there must be a source of fuel. That’s why a living and breathing faith, says our text, is being sure of two things: Things hoped for, and things not seen.


1) First, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” So what’s hope? It’s a very human sentiment. There’s a saying, “Hope springs eternal,” because humans will so stubbornly look for a better day. People cherish even the slightest possibility of improvement, of relief, success—any hope for health and wealth and long life. Almost all people in this world want to look beyond today, to the good things that tomorrow or next year might possibly bring.

But what is hope, for many people? It’s a hollow wish. An empty desire for improvement. No one ever really knows if they’ll get what they’re hoping for. The future is unknown, and outside human control.

We can wonder too, what God has in store. We think about what’s ahead, and we’ve got certain hopes. Finish your education, find a good job, buy a nice car. Maybe you hope that one day you’ll be married and can start a family. You hope to retire before too long. There’s a few hopes we have, but the fact is, none of these things are guaranteed. For this or that reason, they may not ever happen.

But one who believes in Christ has hope of a different kind, a richer kind. You have a hope that weighs something, a robust hope! We hope for the things God has promised us, but that we haven’t yet received. We hope for the Kingdom that is still to come. Our hope is rooted in what God has said, and our hope is confirmed by what God is already doing.

For example, every day we’re being renewed by God’s Spirit. It’s a miraculous work! We see the evidence of God’s renewal in our hearts. But in our renewal, there’s also hope, an expectation of what’s yet to be. Because we hope for that day when renewal is done. We hope for when we won’t be troubled anymore by the power of sin, and all the temptations of this world, and our own weakness—when God’s work will be finished. By faith, we’re sure that day will come. Because God has told us so!

Another example: We hope for the end of this world as it is presently. When we hear every week about disasters and wars and persecutions and an increase of wickedness, we hope more urgently for the day of Christ’s return. We long for the day when all things will be remade, when at last we can begin eternal fellowship with God. That’s our future, our blessed hope—and by faith, we’re sure that day’s quickly coming! Because Jesus told us so.

In short, you could say that our hope is this: that God will fulfill every one of his promises. Everything in this world that is yet undone, everything that is yet incomplete, will be brought to a perfect conclusion. We trust God that it’ll be so.

This is the kind of hope that the saints had. Consider one of this chapter’s many illustrations. It’s about how Abraham lived by faith: “By faith [he] obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive… [He] went out, not knowing where he was going… for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (vv 8,10).

Have you ever wondered how Abraham could do this? How could he be so audacious and leave everything for a place he’d never visited, a land that some mysterious heavenly voice had said would be his? How could he? Because Abraham and Sarah “judged him faithful who had promised” (v 11). They lived by faith, with hope in God’s Word! Their future was bright, because they knew their future was with God!

Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Isaac, and so many more—all these “died in faith… not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them and embraced them” (v 13). They all had hope, because they didn’t take their eyes off the “substance” of what God had promised.

In the original Greek, the Holy Spirit uses a word for “substance” that shows just how certain our faith can be. It’s the same word for a document of ownership. Like when you buy a car or a house: you hand over heaps of money, and then you get the documents that prove you’re the real owner. It is legal, official proof that what you claim to own is actually yours—proof that you can hold in your hand.

True faith is having the ownership papers of what you hope for. You and I possess already the things that God has promised. In principle, it’s all yours, by faith: it’s already in your hand, all the treasures of salvation, all the gifts of Christ, all the glories of eternity. What God holds out to you in Jesus is so sure, so trustworthy, it belongs to you already!

That’s something to embrace, isn’t it? It’s something to value highly. So keep your ownership papers in a safe spot. Keep them, and check on them often. Open the Scriptures often, and see what is yours in Christ. Read the Scriptures, more than superficially, more than momentarily, because we all tend to forget. Be reminded of what you have, and see how hopeful your hope really is, through the promises of the Lord.

There’s a future ahead of each one of us, a future that is filled with unknowns. What’s going to happen? Where will we go? Where will the path of our life end up? What is the church going to do in a country that rejects the LORD? Will we be able to stand fast? Lots of unknowns. But we can enter that future, relying on the God who’s given his Word—trusting Him, hoping in Him. You cannot resolve every issue, foresee every snag, and plan for every outcome. But you can act in faith. You can hold onto hope no matter what, because you know that your God will never disappoint.


2) The Spirit says that faith is something else, as well: “[It’s] the evidence of things not seen.” Once again, the Holy Spirit uses a special word in order to tell us how secure the Christian’s faith really is. He says that true faith is like we have “evidence” or “proof,” like the kind given in the court of law, like an exhibit for all to examine. For example, if we were in court, we would tend to believe in something as irrefutable as a clear fingerprint, a signed confession, a complete sample of DNA. That’s what our faith can be like: what we can’t physically see is shown clearly and undeniably to the eyes of our heart.

We are confident of invisible things, trusting of what is hidden from our eyes! Compare it to oxygen, for example—we can’t see it, but we know it’s there. It’s invisible, yet it’s life-sustaining. We trust that when we walk into a room, there will be enough oxygen in there for us to breathe. Sure of things unseen.

So what’s unseen to us, as believers in Christ? Lots, actually. Begin with God himself. God is spirit. No one can see him and live. No one has sketched what He looks like, or gotten a sense of his dimensions. He is invisible and infinite. Yet verse 6 says, “He who comes to God must believe that He is.” Faith accepts that the invisible God is there. Spirit-given faith says again and again, “God is near—He’s your Father, and you’re his precious child.”

Consider again all the illustrations of this in our chapter. The old saints believed in the invisible God! Moses left Egypt, it says, “not fearing the wrath of the king; for [Moses] endured as seeing him who is invisible” (v 27). Did you catch that? Even as he was called to do very difficult things, Moses endured, for it was as if he saw the invisible God. Moses knew, as sure as the nose on his face, that God was with him. Despite all that mighty Pharaoh or his hosts would do, Moses persevered. Like he had evidence of him who’s not seen.

For us too, we haven’t seen God the LORD. Not even once. But we believe in Him. We don’t ask to see Him, to feel Him, taste or touch Him. But by God’s grace, by the Spirit’s work, we accept what God says as true. We know that this invisible God forgives us, guides us, is preserving us. Even if we don’t see God’s fatherly hand, we’re sure that it is there, always!

You don’t see Him, but you can come into God’s presence and talk to Him through prayer. You don’t see Him, but you can worship Him. You don’t see Him, but you can love and serve and embrace Him every day. You don’t see Him, but He wants you to acknowledge Him and walk with Him.

We said there’s many invisible things of the Christian faith that we simply accept. For example, we don’t see the angels that God sends every day to protect us, but by faith we know they’re guarding us when we drive, keeping us when we’re sick, defending us when Satan attacks. We also don’t see Christ our King on his throne. But by faith we know that He’s there, and that there’s nothing that falls outside his perfect power. We don’t see the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but by faith we know He’s transforming us. We don’t see heaven, but by faith we now it’s real, the dwelling-place of God and the home of all those He’s called to himself. Heaven is invisible, yet it’s more real than anything we see here below!

This was again something that was true for the saints of chapter 11. There was often a huge divide between those unseen things they believed in, and what their lives looked like outwardly. For them, the outlook was often dismal—these saints were old and shriveled, they were oppressed and troubled and burdened. Yet one was told to build a boat for a coming flood. Others were promised children, though they were a hundred years old. Others stepped into the raging waters of the sea, trusting they wouldn’t drown. Based on everything they could see, believing in God seemed like the most foolish thing to do.

From a human point of view, there’s lots of reasons not to believe what God tells us. Because don’t Christians get sick, suffer, and die? Don’t believers sometimes get their heads chopped off? So where is God’s helping hand? And aren’t Christians so weak and sinful? Isn’t the church too divided to do anything useful? We look at what we can see, we focus on the external, and we hesitate, we doubt, we hold back. But we live by faith, and not by sight.

Consider again that great cloud of witnesses. They were holy men and women—not perfect, yet accepted by God, commended by the LORD, and rewarded! This isn’t a “Hall of Fame” or a “Wall of Heroes,” but people whom God was pleased to use. It was through faith that these saints “subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword” (vv 33-34). In all their weakness, they lived by faith, and were made strong.

You can hear in those verses that it’s not going to be easy. Actually, in Hebrews 11 the most outstanding witnesses are the martyrs. The most notable are those who endured great suffering and who died for the faith: “[They] were tortured, not accepting deliverance… Still others had trial of mocking and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned; they were sawn in two…” (vv 35-36). The Spirit wants us to know that this is where faith in Christ can bring us. It can bring us to a place where we face persecution for what we believe, even face death.

It’s hard to think about torture and prison and being sawn in two on a nice day like today. We don’t even like the idea of being shouted down, or mocked, or asked to leave. Yet that day may come, and it’s worth a moment of reflection. If this is where faith brings us, could we do it? Would you confess Christ, even if the cost was much higher than it feels right now? When it came down to it, would you be willing to give up everything for Him? Could you give up what is visible, what can be seen and touched and embraced—the people and the things we love—because you’re sure of what’s unseen? Like the countless believers who have gone before us, could you endure persecution and oppression, because you see God with the eyes of faith?

When we have faith, we can say, “I will. I’ll do it. Because I know whom I have believed! I rest in God Almighty, my Father in Jesus Christ.” Look to Jesus, the Spirit says, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Look to Him, for Christ is the center, the goal, the heart of everything that God has given us. Jesus was faithful to the end, even to death on a cross. He rose from the grave, and He ascended into heaven, where He rules all things.

Now that you know this faithful Saviour, trust in Him. Believe, with a faith that lives and breathes, with a faith that moves and serves and worships and prays! Don’t draw back and be afraid, but hold onto the hope that Christ has given, the truth that He has spoken. For He won’t fail you, not now, and not ever. In this life may you press on, and keep pressing on, by faith!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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