How many times have you had a conversation with a friend and you mention somebody whom you both know to be a bad person for all their life, and this person has recently been in some sort of an accident. “He had it coming” you’ll say. You can’t live a life of dishonesty and expect that nothing bad will ever happen to you. God (Karma, The Universe) will repay sooner or later.
These ideas rest on the concept that God reacts to humanity. And this is not totally unbiased. There are countless examples in various religious books that focus specifically on this reactionary God, who looks at the life of the individual and then reacts with either a punishment or a blessing.
Too many times we find ourselves in such a situation when living the Christian life just stops making sense. In those moments, we first go desperate, and then after a bit of self-pity, we turn for help. Luckily for us, we have the epistle to the Hebrews that speaks to our problems.
In the first 5 chapters of the epistle, we get reminded of who Christ is: He is the perfect visible representation of the invisible God. Christ is God himself, made visible. Therefore Christ is much greater than all the heroes of faith we read in the Bible. Jesus is greater than Abraham, Moses, David, etc.
In chapter 6 we get a bit of a slap in the face as the author of the epistle tries to push us beyond the basic questions of faith and toward a more mature life. Then in chapters 7-10 we see what that Christian maturity really means. And it’s not a long explanation of how we should morally conduct ourselves, or how should we dress, or how to speak etc.
The key focus in these “chapters of maturity” is on the fact that God in fact is NOT a reactionary God. That we don’t come to God thanks to who we are and what we’ve achieved. It was God himself that leaped over Eternity and through Christ established a bridge of reconciliation with humanity… not because we deserve it, but because God has always planned such a rescue mission. None of the rules and regulations in the Old Testament were ever intended to save us. None of the sacrifices were ever able to provide salvation. The blood of lambs and bulls is incapable of cleansing us from a guilty conscious.
What it takes for salvation then, is not religion, or ethical life, or good conduct. None of these things are strong enough to provide us with salvation from sin and the burden it puts on us. Salvation only comes through faith that Christ is the one who has taken care of the problem of sin once and for all.
And this is what brings us now to Chapter 11, which explains what faith really is, and what actual maturity really is.
What is Faith (vv 1-3)
In the previous verses (ch 10:39) we read that we are those who have faith and are therefore saved. So the link between eternal salvation from sin is directly linked to faith. And in these verses here we see what faith is: It is the firm assurance that God really did deal with sin on the Cross and nothing prevents us from coming to God because He loves us unconditionally.
- Faith is not a religion. It isn’t a collection of religious rituals: In this chapter we get to see that the heroes of faith were not commended for their rich ritualistic life, or for adhering to an external, visible religious system
- Faith is not ideology. It isn’t just a philosophical construct, a mere agreement with statements like God exists, Christ saves, etc. While understanding the proper teachings of Christ handed to us by our spiritual ancestors, mere knowledge of facts, mere Christianized vocabulary, and mere Christianized lifestyle is just an outer shell, one that you can easily play out, act out… but these externals aren’t what faith is essentially about.
Faith is being certain in Christ’s victorious resurrection even though we have not seen this event. Faith is a conviction that fundamentally affects your life. Through faith in God’s redemption we are finally free from judgement and ready to live a life with God.
3-7 Creation to Flood: Walking with God in faith is what pleases God. Not religious rites
In these verses we see how faith of several key figures changed their lives.
This section is very interesting as it uses a literary structure called a chiastic structure. This is when a set of verses are thematically connected and together build a sort of a ladder, or a triangle, where the key point of the verses is at the top of the triangle.
- —v.3 World created from things unseen (ex-nixilo creation)
- ——- v. 4 Abel offers a better offering because he really seeks God
- ——- ——- 5 God is pleased with Enoch because he walks with God, i.e lives out his life where God is a true and close friend.
- ——- ——- 6a. It is impossible to please God without faith.
- ——- v. 6b God rewards those who really seek Him
- —v.7 World destroyed by thing unseen (rain)
From this layout we can see that the key factor of the life before the flood was for people to have a faith in God that doesn’t only force them to do religious rites as Cain did, but a faith in God’s existence that makes people live a life in such a way where God is their best friend. This is how Enoch is represented, and in v. 6 we see that without faith it is impossible to please God. Not without good deeds, not without ethical living.. but without FAITH it is impossible to please God.
Imagine how things would look like if you have a child who does everything you ask them to do, but it never turns to you as a parent, it never lives its life as if you truly exist. It would be a life full of mechanical obedience but a life empty of any relationship with that child. It is the same with God. We can be the best person in the world, but unless you live that ethical life with God as your best friend then you don’t really believe God exists. You only hold to a set of rules but these rules don’t really affect your life on a personal level, they don’t affect who you are as a person. Obedience to rules only affect what you do, not who you are.
8-29 Faith in the Torah: Living a life where God is a friend
Regardless of all the failures of Abraham, the stubbornness of Isaac, the deceitfulness of Jacob, it is faith in God’s existence and closeness that we remember them by.
Abraham set out to find the promised land, and God told him that he will be a father of many nations. But Abraham became restless at one time, and thought that God could use some help. So Abraham had a son by his slave. God was not pleased with this. We can feel the effects of this act as Ishmael is the father of the Muslim world. That sin didn’t go without any effects, but it didn’t ruin the relationship between God and Abraham.
Isaac as we read in the Old Testament, wrestled with God. Challenging God, pushing back, doesn’t go without any effects and Isaac had a limp because of this struggle, but it didn’t ruin the relationship between God and Isaac.
Jacob was a deceiver. He stole the role of his brother Esau because Jacob was thinking of the blessing while Esau was thinking of his immediate need to eat. This deception didn’t go without a consequence. Jacob and Esau weren’t in great relations mostly because of Jacob’s fault. But this deceitfulness didn’t affect the relationship between Jacob and God.
Moses was a murdered (Ex. 2:11-12). Moses got in trouble with the law and with the most powerful empire at the time and that crime didn’t go without effects. His renouncing of the royal family made the entire Exodus a very stressful time, but this did not affect the relationship between Moses and God.
In the period of the Torah (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut), a very important history for the Hebrews, we see all sorts of bad behavior, but the key in all this is that these people “walked with God”. They lived their lives knowing that God is real and close to them.
35-40 The rest of the Old Testament: How Faith Equals Maturity
When the going gets tough, we don’t really see the results. Most of what we see as human beings is all the fear, shame, pain, suffering etc. But believers also see the outstretched arm of God saying “Take my hand, follow me, and trust me, I’m here to help you grow, not to ruin your life.”
Looking back at Abraham, Moses and the others throughout history, I’m absolutely convinced they had tons of situations when they thought that moving on is impossible, illogical, suicidal… but they pushed through. Not because they had all the information about how life would turn out. Perhaps if we did know all that we’d just say “Forget it, I don’t want that kind of a life”.
But the beauty is that what we need to make the next right step is already here: We look back at our lives, we look back throughout history and see that God is good. He is trustworthy. He cares for our wellbeing. So because we have firsthand experience that God is trustworthy, we reach out, take God’s hand and follow him.
Does this mean that life will be easy? No. On the contrary, it will probably be more difficult. But at least we know that we’re following God through a life that will probably turn out to be a lot better than what we’d have in mind. And throughout life, no matter what pain and suffering we go through, we’re reminded over and over again that to follow God is to rely on Him and receive his peace that for people without faith, is idiotic, illogical, unreal etc. but ultimately: unattainable.
All of the examples of heroic faith are given for people who in at least one moment of their lives were far from admirable.
- Abraham performed a legal adultery and set in motion the oldest conflict we still feel, that of Ishmael and the rest of us
- Isaac fought God back and bargained with Him as if they’re doing business on flea market items
- Jacob was so devious that he ruined his family and things would remain so unless his hot-tempered brother didn’t forgive him unconditionally
- Moses was a murderer on the run and we don’t really see him repenting or making an apology for the crime
- David was all that and more: an adulterer, arranged for a murder, covered up his deeds and his lifestyle resulted with even more family violence by his sons
None of these people were really ethically and morally admirable. If we are to look for moral supremacy as evidence of maturity, we will have to look elsewhere as pretty much everybody on the list has at least one big stain on their record.
Yet we see God praising them. Not for their conduct, but for their faith despite circumstances. Their relationship with God on the long term seems to be unaffected by their sins. And THIS is the key of maturity: having faith that God forgives those who seek forgiveness and then continue walking with God fully experiencing the forgiveness promised by God and made possible for all time in Christ’s sacrifice.
Mature believers are not immune to failure. They are not immune to broken heart over bad actions. But like a skater who falls, they bounce up. Some sooner, some later, but they fully understand that their state of being is not one of fallen-ness on the ice, even though they do fall quite often. They understand that their identity is secured in Christ despite daily failures.
Mature faith yields a lifestyle of quick repentance and quick bounce-backs. These people do take time to be broken, but they don’t allow that brokenness to stop them from being in fellowship with God. Momentary failures don’t prevent mature believers from walking with God. This is true maturity, and it goes hand in hand with faith in the salvation that God provides, not in their ability to perform admirably. For them, Christian living is not a show. It’s a lifestyle where God is the best of friends.
So what do we learn from this famous chapter on faith? Well, we learn that faith isn’t some inherited religious system we should stick to. Or a mere philosophical system we hold on to. Faith is an active life-changing thing we practice within a community of other believers, one step at a time.
Faith then, is about what you understand about Christ today, that influences your tomorrow, based on your experiences yesterday.
Faith is a cyclic thing that keeps on growing the more you use it and shapes your life into a living testimony that God is truthful, reliable, trustworthy, loving etc.
As we go through life faithfully, we experience the peace that transcends understanding not through passive philosophizing about life but by living it out.
Such faith empowers us to live a mature christian life that is not a matter of acting out dedication through moral conduct, but a lifestyle where walking with God means following God as a friend rather than as a judge that we need to convince we are worthy of freedom.