READ : Genesis 5:21-24
What would you like your epitaph to say? How about this: “He/she was someone who pleased God”?
Nothing in Christianity is more important than having the right understanding of the relationship between faith and works, and a good place to find that is in the Bible’s great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11. Two opposite mistakes are commonly made. One is called “works righteousness,” which means trying to base your acceptance and standing with God on your own good works or religious service. Abel shows us the futility of that. It was faith alone, not good works, that made both him and his worship acceptable to God (Heb. 11:4). No one can ever be justified by performing the works of the law because our “good” works are never good enough (see Rom 3:20).
The other error is to ignore good works altogether. Some people think that if all you must do to be saved is to believe in Christ, then it does not matter how you live. You can simply claim to have faith, and then do whatever you like. This false teaching is known as “antinomianism,” meaning “opposed to the law,” because it rejects the idea that believers must strive to obey God’s law. It could also be called “cheap grace,” because it trivializes God’s grace and empties faith of its biblical meaning. The corrective to this error is seen in the life of another hero of faith, Enoch.
His story is told very early in the Bible, in the fifth chapter of the book of Genesis.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
(vv. 21-24, niv)
The New Testament book of Hebrews adds this comment about Enoch:
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God.
Everything we know about Enoch is compressed into these few brief phrases, and yet, I think it would be better to have been Enoch than any great person of history you could name. I wouldn’t trade Enoch’s life for that of any president or king, for any athlete or celebrity in the world. When all is said and done, I would rather have what was said of Enoch be true of me than anything else. “By faith . . . he was commended as one who pleased God“ (Heb. 11:5).
THE LIFE OF FAITH
Enoch was one of the antediluvians. That’s a big word for somebody who lived “before the flood.” These early chapters of Genesis prompt all sorts of questions that we would love to have answered. What was life like in the world before the flood? Who were these strange ancients? How could they live so long? Were they real people? Were they individuals like us? The Bible certainly presents them that way. But when it comes to the details of their life and their world, we are left in ignorance. One thing that is clear, however, is that Enoch’s life was in marked contrast to the lives of his contemporaries. Genesis 4 and 5, which describe the time between Adam and Noah, tell the story of each generation with great economy. “So and so was the father of so and so,” we read. “He lived so many years (usually a very large number), and had other sons and daughters, and then he died.” That is the pattern of the biblical narrative describing the era before the great flood.
But the Bible’s account of Enoch’s life breaks the pattern at two significant points. First, instead of saying simply that Enoch “lived for 300 years” after he became the father of Methuselah, the Bible says that he “walked with God“ for this period of time. This suggests that the quality of Enoch’s life was distinctly different from that of his contemporaries. The early chapters of Genesis tell a story of people who are moving farther and farther away from God; physically, as they leave Eden and inhabit other lands, and morally and spiritually, as human behavior becomes increasingly brutal and degenerate (see the example of Lamech, who was many times crueler than his ancestor Cain, Genesis 4:19-24). It is a story of the moral corruption of human nature growing at an exponential rate. Against this ever darkening background, Enoch’s godly life of faith stands out in sharp contrast.
In this respect, things haven’t changed at all from Enoch’s day to ours. To live by faith today still means to be intentionally counter-cultural. Believers have to live lives that are distinctive, that shine like stars “in a crooked and depraved generation” (Phil. 2:15). We all have a certain amount of freedom with our lives. Within reasonable limits we can choose what sort of work we want to do, what sort of family we will have, what sort of interests to pursue. But we do not have the freedom to live both for God and for the sinful values of a fallen world. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” You cannot love God and sin at the same time. It is impossible to simultaneously walk with God and follow the way of life of our unbelieving neighbors. You have to choose, and to live for God means to go against the dominant beliefs and behaviors of your society, perhaps even of your own family.
When the Bible says that Enoch walked with God, it suggests two things in particular about his life of faith. First, a life of faith is a life of growing intimacy with God. Walking with God is a metaphor of friendship for God and fellowship with God. Enoch gave himself to the pursuit of knowledge with all the zeal of a Nobel scientist, but the knowledge he sought was not knowledge about the universe or human nature or how to make money or how to be happy. It was knowledge of the living God, personal knowledge of him. Faith lives in communion with God through prayer and through listening to God’s word. Faith desires nothing in all the world as much as to know more of God.
Secondly, the life of faith is a life of obedience to God. The image of walking in the Bible suggests not only living with God in fellowship but also following after God in obedience. In biblical terms, one’s walk is one’s whole way of living. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked . . . but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,” says the psalmist (cf. Ps. 1:1,2). Walking with God means negatively to reject the bad advice and worse example of evil people, and positively, to take delight in living according to God’s will as expressed in his written word, the Bible. The New Testament urges Christians to “walk worthily of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1, rsv), which means in practical terms to flee every kind of sin and to pursue all righteousness. Biblical faith never makes us careless about how we live or indifferent to the presence of sin in our lives. On the contrary, it always produces genuinely holy lives. People who are not walking with God don’t really believe in God.
THE AIM OF FAITH
“Enoch walked with God,” says Genesis. “He was commended as one who pleased God,” comments Hebrews. In a world that was increasingly uninterested in God, Enoch devoted his life to knowing God. In a society marked by growing moral anarchy and social chaos (a society much like ours), where people were living without restraint and obeying only their own impulses, Enoch devoted his life to obeying God’s will. He did all this, we are told, “by faith”; indeed, his very doing it is what constituted his faith. Faith does not mean sitting around thinking certain thoughts about God, or holding a particular set of religious opinions. Faith means actively living with and for God, and making it the main business of our lives to please him in everything.
Think of some of the people you are trying to please. Workers have to please their bosses, hoping to make an impression because advancement and promotion depend upon it. Sales people try to please their customers, no matter how difficult they may be, because their income depends upon it. Children (at least when they are small) try to please their parents. Young people want desperately to please members of the opposite sex, and they will go to great lengths and spend lots of money to do it. Many are seeking mainly to please themselves – all in an attempt to find happiness. But for a Christian, there is only one who really matters. Jesus said this of God the Father, “I always do what is pleasing to him” (John 8:29). The apostle Paul said about Christ, “We make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
But how can you please God? The Bible’s clear answer is: only by faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6.) We have to begin by believing that God exists, and then we have to make it our business to seek him with all our hearts. We have to approach him on the basis of faith only. It’s faith that makes us acceptable to God. “By faith [Abel] was commended as being righteous” (Heb. 11:4). Faith makes us turn away from our own unrighteousness to lay hold on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the one and only sacrifice for sin. But faith does more than that. True faith also motivates us to live for God, as Enoch’s example shows, “By faith he was commended as one who pleased God.” Faith moves us to seek God, to know God, to love God, to obey God, and, in the end, it makes us genuinely pleasing to God. Think of that. You can actually please God – but only if you rely on and live by faith in Jesus Christ.
THE REWARD OF FAITH
I said that the record of Enoch’s life in Genesis differed from that of all his contemporaries in two ways. The first was that Enoch didn’t just live; he walked by faith. And the second is that Enoch didn’t just die. The Bible says “he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). In some mysterious fashion, the Lord lifted Enoch out of the world, bypassing death. The end of life offers us a preview of what will happen to everyone who believes in the Lord.
If you walk with God like Enoch did, you might not taste death either. You could be one of those who are left until the coming of the Lord. That will happen to some generation of Christians; it could happen to this one. Or if death does come to you, you will discover that behind this terrible event, it is the Lord himself who is taking you to be with him. Here’s how it will happen if you are a follower of Jesus: when death comes, whether suddenly and unexpectedly, or gently at long last, you will open your eyes and say, “Is that it?” and then you will look and see Him, and for the first time you will be really and truly alive.