A skeptic once asked, “Why would you want to worship a God whom you cannot see?” The Christian replied, “True, I cannot see Him; but He can see me, and that is more important than I seeing Him!” Having faith in God means believing God’s testimony. God is the object of our faith. Though we cannot see God, we believe that He exists (Hebrews 11:6).
God graciously offers to reveal Himself to those who earnestly approach Him with reverence. By diligently searching His Word, we become aware that we can know God and that God is able to make real the things He has promised (Hebrews 11:1). We respond with faith.
True faith has the power to change our lives. Neither faith nor hope is passive. Faith causes action. Hope, the expectant anticipation that God will do what He has promised, motivates us in our faith. Unless faith affects the way we live, it is doubtful that we have true faith. If our faith is genuine, we must learn to love what God loves and to abhor what He hates. Does faith have power to produce this change in us?
Often this change is brought about through times of testing. All the most illustrious men in the Bible needed to wrestle in areas of faith. They had stressful trials, times of unbelief, and embarrassing missteps. Sometimes in faith we too look at Christ and say, “I believe!” But often we look at the circumstances around us and pray, “Help thou my unbelief!” In Hebrews 11 we see examples from the lives of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob that help us understand the power of true faith to change our lives.
1. Power Through Faith to Obey – Noah
Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” This indicates that Noah made God his first love and accepted God’s plan for how he should conduct his life. But in Noah’s generation wickedness was great and the imagination of the thoughts of the people’s hearts was only evil continually. The people had adopted a “No Fear” policy, carrying out corrupt and violent deeds. Therefore, God told Noah that He would destroy this evil generation.
In Hebrews 11:7 we learn, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” God is telling us something here that we don’t want to miss. When one walks with God with fear and awe, he will obey God. Noah, because he feared the Lord, prepared an ark as God had instructed him. Building the ark was a testimony that he believed that God would judge the people of the world with a flood.
There were many obstacles to Noah’s faith. He and his family probably lived a long way from any major body of water. Being asked to build an ark wasn’t a job of a year or two, or even ten or twenty years. It was a one-hundred-twenty-year job! The supplies weren’t available at the local hardware store. Trees needed to be cut and boards prepared to construct the ark. Yet we don’t read that Noah argued with God. He simply began building. And though this sailing vessel had no mast, sail, or steering powers, we’ll soon see that the occupants would be kept safe inside!
Noah acted because he had faith and godly fear. God was uppermost in Noah’s vision, not his own personal wishes. Even though it had never rained before, Noah preached to the people about righteous living and warned them of the coming Flood. There would be only one way of salvation.
For the people to hear the warning for one hundred twenty years shows the longsuffering of God. In Matthew 24:36-44 Jesus warns us that just as surely as the Flood came in Noah’s day and took them all away, so also He will come again. But until then God withholds His judgment.
One of the most difficult challenges to our faith is to look like a fool. I vividly remember seeing how a dramatization of the building of the ark portrayed the people jeering and mocking Noah. Imagine what your neighbors would say if you began building an unusual vessel nearly one-and-a-half times the length of a football field and three stories high! Following God may bring us ridicule.
Noah had to decide whom he would believe—the world around him or God. He chose to believe God and the salvation He promised. How did his building the ark “condemn the world”? His example convicted them, leaving them without an excuse. Some people look upon godly living as did the young man in Athens who said to Socrates, “I hate you because every time I meet you, you show me what I am.”
One day the last nail was hammered and Noah and his family and the animals were brought into the ark. God closed the door and the rain began (Genesis 7:16-23). The former bravado of the scorners now turned to fear. There was no power in their human efforts to save themselves. But Noah had believed God, and now we see the reward of his obedience. As the floodwaters prevailed upon the earth for one hundred fifty days, Noah and his family were kept safe inside the ark. The almighty power of God brought them salvation!
In Hebrews 11:7, God commends Noah for his obedience, saying that he is “heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Noah was accounted righteous, justified by God’s pure grace. So it is with our eternal salvation. We cannot design it according to our own blueprint. We cannot build our own road to God or believe there are many roads to Heaven as some people say.
Casualness about God must never replace the fear of God and obedience to Him. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Believers may not overlook the duty of obedience while at the same time claiming to have faith in Jesus Christ.
God does not intend to limit our happiness by asking us to follow His commands, but rather He desires us to enjoy richer blessings than this earth offers. God offers us eternal salvation and fellowship with Himself. God takes our faith in the finished work of Christ and counts it as righteousness. However, as in the example of Noah, we may not pick and choose what to believe and what to obey. We purpose to believe everything and obey everything God instructs us to do. And God will be faithful to reward in the manner and time that He sees fit.
2. Power Through Faith to See Beyond This Life – Abraham and Sarah
Abraham and Sarah are another striking example of the power of true faith. When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God instructed Abraham to leave the country where he grew up. He was to journey to a yet unknown destination which God would show him. God said that Abraham would receive an inheritance in the land to which he would travel. He would become the father of numerous descendants, though he and Sarah were yet childless. God would make of him a great nation. And these blessings of faithfulness would become a channel of blessing to many others. God told him in Genesis 12:3, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Why was it so important for Abraham to leave his hometown? It appears the city of Ur was not what God had in mind if Abraham were to become the servant God wanted him to be. Abraham was to separate from his idolatrous neighbors. In that environment it may have been hard for Abraham to train the son that God said would be born to him. Though we don’t know all the reasons why God told Abraham to leave, Abraham understood what God was asking of him and started packing. Why? Because he believed God. God calls him “My friend” in Isaiah 41:8. Faith is willing to turn away from all that is opposed to God. Faith is not the pride of “positive thinking.” It is the conviction to submit to God’s Word.
Through reading the account of Abraham in Genesis we observe that Abraham took some wrong steps along the way. Sometimes he didn’t trust God and tried to help God out with his own plans. It took some time for God to make him into the spiritual leader God wanted him to be.
Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Romans 4 makes it clear it was not because of sinless perfection in the keeping of the law that God calls him righteous, but because in faith he believed what God promised. And Abraham showed his faith by moving forward upon that faith. We give evidence of our faith by our actions.
The promised blessings spoken to Abraham so many years ago now give us an inheritance! Jesus, the promised Redeemer, would come from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
Faith should determine our decisions and rule our actions. Abraham and Sarah may not have been thrilled with their accommodations after they left Ur. They left behind many comforts and instead lived in tents in a strange country. But their lives indicate that their eyes saw beyond their living conditions. They valued their relationship with God as supreme, surpassing their past life. Are we also persuaded, willing to embrace God’s will for our lives?
Abraham did not see some of the promises fulfilled in his lifetime. He waited twenty-five years for the promised son to be born. The promised land was not acquired in Abraham’s lifetime. Still, Abraham believed. Hebrews 11:10 tells us the reason he could do this: “For he looked for a city…whose builder and maker is God.” Abraham was looking for an inheritance in Heaven.
We too are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Our generation is also called to move forward “seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27), not putting our roots down too deeply here. As pilgrims we follow Christ. Let us examine our speech, interests, and lifestyle, and see whether they declare plainly that we desire a better country (Hebrews 11:13-16). Believing is not a one-time act; it is a way of life. Let us pray daily, asking God’s help to turn from our old way of thinking and living. See Luke 9:23-26. The song writer aptly reminds us:
Anoint, O Lord, anoint our sight,And fit us for that world of light.
3. Power Through Faith to Submit to God – Isaac
After many years the promised son was born to Abraham and Sarah. Oh, the mighty power of God! Sarah received miraculous strength at the age of ninety years old to conceive and deliver a son, named Isaac, “because she judged him faithful that promised.” Faith must be built upon the foundation of God’s faithfulness to His Word! Just as Sarah received strength to bear a son when she was weak, so God promises strength to us when we are weak.
The ultimate test of Abraham came when God asked him to sacrifice this beloved son. God had told him that many nations would come through Isaac. How could he sacrifice him? But in faith Abraham was willing to submit rather than disobey God. He believed that God could work a miracle and that God would not fail to keep His promise. When Abraham said, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and [we will] come again to you,” he was expressing his belief that somehow his son would return with him (Genesis 22:5).
Faith should be passed on in the home. Parents are to teach by godly example so that protective walls are raised against Satan, who wants to kill and steal and destroy our potential to be servants of God. Abraham recognized dangers and was careful. God had commended him in Genesis 18:19, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD.”
An example of how Abraham was careful to lead his children in the ways of the Lord is when the time came to choose a wife for Isaac. Abraham was careful not to compromise the heritage that God had given him. Abraham told his servant not to take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites, but to travel to Abraham’s kindred to find a wife. If the servant was not successful, he was instructed not to take Isaac back to Ur. Abraham’s resolute commitment to godliness is a worthy example for fathers and young men today. There are places we should not go and people we should not consider when choosing a wife. Isaac submitted to his father’s instructions.
After Isaac married Rebekah, the covenant promises that God gave to Abraham were given to Isaac and they became his own (Genesis 26:1-5). Each generation must personally choose to believe and make faith their own.
Isaac now faced a time when his natural desires conflicted with God’s desires. Twin sons were born to Isaac and Rebekah. God had decreed that Jacob, the younger, would inherit the covenant blessing. Because of Isaac’s appetite for the venison which Esau brought him, Isaac favored Esau, the cunning hunter. Isaac, contrary to God’s will, wished to pass on the covenant blessing to Esau. Rebekah, fearing her favorite son would be passed over, connived to secure the promised blessing for Jacob, using measures which showed a lack of faith on her part. She succeeded in deceiving Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that Isaac had received from Abraham.
Isaac’s faith was revived after he realized that Jacob had posed as Esau. He realized that God was sovereign and acknowledged that the Lord’s will was that Jacob would inherit the blessing. Despite his earlier fleshly desires and Rebekah’s untrustworthy acts, he firmly accepted the fact that Jacob would indeed inherit the blessing. Esau received a lesser blessing. Isaac knew the importance of the blessing. It had been confirmed at the time of Abraham’s testing many years before (Genesis 22:16-18). Isaac would not turn back from the conviction in his final days of life that he had indeed spoken God’s will when he blessed Jacob. The will of God had become his desire. Isaac is commended by God in Hebrews 11:20 for his faith “concerning things to come.” Faith does not go by feelings or desires, but is a conviction to believe God and respond accordingly.
4. Power Through Faith to Accept Correction – Jacob
Sometimes we read of men and women who had great trials in their early life. Jacob, the next one listed in the heroes of faith, is an example of this. God can use these hard experiences to transform us and to bring victory into our lives and to cause us to bring glory to Him. God’s grace can take a person at his lowest point and raise him up! God responds to our needs according to His unfailing love and mercy. Jacob wanted the things of God, but he wanted to obtain them in his own way. We read of his scheming to obtain the first-born rights from his older brother, and later we see his willingness to deceive in order to receive the blessing from Isaac.
Because of his scheming, Jacob needed to flee many miles to escape his brother’s anger. This began a time of correction for Jacob. God knows the heart of each of us. He knew Jacob’s inner longing for God and his longing to return to the land of the promised blessing. God spoke to him in the dream recorded in Genesis 28:11-15. He promised to be with him, to protect him, and in faithfulness to bring him back to that land. This renewal of the blessing was an important step in Jacob’s life.
Jacob also struggled to increase his worldly possessions, with his eyes focused on the materialism of this world. But God was more concerned with his spiritual “bank account.” Many of us would choose pleasant living conditions and congenial people to work with. However, because of his need of spiritual growth, God providentially placed Jacob in an environment where he was able to see the pain that results from greed and cunning (Genesis 29).
God provided marvelous protection to Jacob during those twenty years of chastening and discipline. This is a confirmation of the faithfulness of God. And spiritual growth came in the life of Jacob. He moved from restlessness to resting. He learned to accept correction so that he would not violate the principles of God’s word. He waited until God clearly directed him to return to the land of promise. Throughout his wanderings God continued to encourage him until Jacob put his whole trust in God.
Are God’s promises real to us, so that they sustain us when we face trials in life? Will we follow His will, or make the mistake of expecting fulfillment by our own efforts? The men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 did not see all of God’s promises fulfilled in their lifetime. The writer points out that they might have wavered and chosen to go back to their former life of ease or prosperity. But when pleasures allured, they kept their eyes on the goal. They heeded the warning against trying to use wrong means to receive God’s blessing. This is the power of faith.
All the pleasures of this world do not compare with a relationship with Jesus Christ. The character of God is revealed through His teachings to us. Through faith, like David of old, we have five pebbles available to us to slay the giant of unbelief: God is. God has. God does. God can. God will. Let us read His Word and grow in faith and live by the power of His might. Desiring to follow His plan and confessing our sinful nature, let us reach out in faith to Jesus for salvation. Let us allow the Holy Spirit’s power to bring the changes that God desires into our lives.