I think faith is an onion, with many layers to be pealed but all from the same vegetable. Reading Hebrews 11 this morning the following observations seemed to surface:
(1) Faith is backward looking and forward looking. Verse 3 seems to look back: 3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God's command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
So looking back at Creation in faith we believe that God spoke it all into being. But faith is very much forward looking too. Consider verse 10: Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. Faith has confidence that the God who started it all is the God to be trusted for the "unseeable" future.
(2) Faith and righteousness...right living...right attitudes toward God and others... are closely linked. Remember how Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. We don't learn much about Abel from that story but Hebrews 11 makes Abel the first example of faith. Verse 4 tells us: It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel's offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts.
(3) Obedience and Faith are also closely related. Consider Noah from verse 7: It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before.
and Abraham in verse 8: It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.
(4) As we mentioned yesterday, faith believes that God will keep His promises, even when those promises seem to promise the impossible! Sarah illustrates this in verse 11: It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed] that God would keep his promise.
(5) Faith believes that the best things will come after this earthly life is done and the best promises will be fulfilled when we cannot receive them in this natural earthly body: Verse 13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. and Verse 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
(6) God may test our faith as a sword may be tempered by flame to develop, establish and confirm it: Verse 17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him.
(7) Faith can be a means for others to be blessed. Verse 20 It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau. and Verse 21 It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.
(8) Faith may lead to a more difficult choice in the near term for a better outcome in the long term: Moses illustrated this and notice the focus even Moses had on Christ! (Verses 24-26) It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God's people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.
(9) Walking in faith can result in amazing examples of God intersecting our experience, even here, in this life: Verses 33-35 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
(10) The walk of faith can also result in great difficulty in this life as well (also Verse 35): But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.
(11) Faith will eventually lead to a wonderful experience with God that we will, ourselves, share with all the people like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Moses: (Verses 39 and 40) All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
Let us walk in faith!