READ : Hebrews 11
What would be on your list of things you absolutely could not do without? Four times in the Letter to the Hebrews the word without is attached to a noun in a statement about salvation. David Bast explores these salvation pre-requisites in a series of messages entitled: Four Indispensables. Are you interested in pleasing God? Well then, here is something you absolutely got to have.
This is the second in a series of messages on the book of Hebrews, based on four different passages that all contain the word without, and which, taken together, name some Christian “Indispensables.” Here are four things we cannot do without if we wish to have our sins forgiven, to please God, to be his children, to see him one day in heaven; in short, to be saved.
The first indispensable for salvation is one few of us would have guessed on our own. According to Hebrews 9:22 it is atonement for our sins through the death of a sacrificial victim. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” And as we also learn in the book of Hebrews (as well as throughout the New Testament), that atonement has been made. The perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins has been offered, for Jesus Christ himself shed his blood on the cross to pay for our sins.
But this raises a question. If Jesus atoned for the sin of the world, does that mean everybody’s sins are paid for and therefore everybody’s saved?
Scripture plainly says that some will be saved while others will be lost – a hard and sobering truth – and that the difference between those two categories of people is faith. While Jesus’ death is certainly sufficient to merit the forgiveness of sins for every person who ever lived, it actually applies only to those who belong to him and have committed their lives to him in faith. If you and I want the benefits of Jesus’ atoning death to apply to us, we must believe in him, as one of the best-known statements in the Bible declares:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
So the second indispensable thing for salvation is faith, faith in Jesus Christ. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
What Is Faith?
The opening verses of Hebrews chapter 11 answer several important questions about faith. The writer begins by telling us what faith is. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), he says. Faith is the assurance that the things we’re hoping for – things like God and salvation and eternal life – are real and will be ours some day. Faith is being sure that things we can’t see or touch or prove through our senses are nevertheless genuine. Faith functions like the eyes of the soul. Just as our eyesight convinces us of the reality of what can be seen, so faith convinces us of the reality of what cannot be seen.
“Seeing is believing,” we sometimes say. That’s true, for sight is the means by which we make sure of what is really happening, what is real, what is true. But what about all those things that can’t be checked by sight that are beyond the reach of any of our senses? How can you be sure whether or not something invisible is real? Some things are invisible because they’re spiritual and impossible to see – angels, for example, or the soul, or God himself. Other things are invisible because they happened in the past before we were around to see them – like the creation of the world. And still others are invisible because they’re in the future and are not yet here to be seen – like tomorrow’s sunrise, or our room in the Father’s house in heaven, or the Lord’s return at the end of time, and all the other “things hoped for.” The only way anyone can be certain about the reality of all those things is by faith.
Let’s take an example. Science can tell us much about the visible world around us, but it has nothing to say of the invisible realities that lie behind our world. Only faith can tell us about the things we cannot see. You may believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, as the Bible says, or you may be an agnostic or an atheist who thinks that the universe and everything in it is the result of a random, impersonal, meaningless process of evolution. But either way you are operating by faith, not by sight, because there’s no way to absolutely prove beyond the shadow of doubt either one of those two alternatives.
Faith in What?
A second important question which Hebrews answers is: What does faith believe? Out of the vast array of things that must be accepted by faith, biblical faith, says our writer, lays hold on two things in particular:
Anyone who comes to [God] must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith, says Hebrews, we believe that God exists – that he is real – and that God rewards those who seek him – that he is good.
Let’s consider those two beliefs, first the belief that God exists. Now this doesn’t mean that “God” in general exists (a generic God). It means that GOD exists, the true God, the living God. Biblical faith is not faith in a god but faith in the God; the God of the Bible, the God who has revealed himself first to his people Israel through the law and finally and ultimately through his Son Jesus, the God who in Christ was reconciling the world to himself. This is what the writer means when he says that whoever would come to God must believe “that he exists.” “He” refers to the real God, the God who is there, the God who came into the world in person in Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, who died on a cross, who was buried and rose again, and ascended into heaven, and who dwells there now in glory, one day coming again to judge the whole world.
Faith not only believes that this God exists; it also believes he is good. Faith believes that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, faith believes in the trustworthiness of God’s character. I really don’t think it’s enough just to believe that there is a God. We also must know what he is like; we must trust in his goodness and depend upon his grace. We must be confident that if we truly seek him with all our heart and cast ourselves on his mercy in Jesus Christ, he will never turn us away, never fail us, never leave us or forsake us. And then day by day we must rely on the promises of God’s Word, live out our confidence in his faithfulness, and reflect that confidence by the way we face suffering or disappointment as we live each day to God’s glory. That is what real faith is all about.
And finally, Hebrews 11 answers this question: What does such faith do? What affect does it have? Does having faith in the God of the Bible actually accomplish anything? Does it make any difference in life? Most assuredly it does! It may not guarantee that we get everything that we want, but it does do this one rather important thing: Such faith pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (v. 6), but with it, we conclude, we are well-pleasing to him.
Here is an often-asked question which is seldom, I think, clearly answered: What is the point of human existence? What am I here for? What is my life all about? C. H. Spurgeon, that great lion of God, gave a fine answer to this question when he said, “We were meant to please God.” I think Spurgeon learned that answer from Jesus. Jesus’ life is the master pattern for the whole human race, and he once summarized the meaning of his life by saying, “I always do what is pleasing to God” (John 8:29).
Think of that. Remember that the next time you find yourself caught up in a frantic effort to please somebody. All of us are constantly doing that, aren’t we? Trying to please a teacher or a boss, or a family member or a friends (or someone we wish were our friend), and usually we’re trying most of all to please ourselves. But what really matters is pleasing God, for that is what we were meant to do. And the only way to please him is by faith.
“Why is that so?” I find myself thinking. What is it about faith that is so pleasing to God, so much so that just having it makes us pleasing to him? The answer to that question is perhaps the most important thing we can know.
Faith pleases God because it relies on what he does to save us, and not what we do to save ourselves. This, says Hebrews (in chapter 11), is the lesson of every Old Testament’s saint’s life. Do you want to know how to please God? Well, look at the lives of those who did, our writer argues throughout his famous 11th chapter.
All of these people, from the very beginning, Abel and Noah and Abraham and all the rest, pleased God only through faith. This is what the ancients were commended for, he says. There were never two ways of relating to God, one of them by good works (during the Old Testament) and the other by faith (since the coming of Christ.) No. It’s always been through faith alone that anyone has ever been pleasing to God. God justifies those who trust him and rely on him alone, rather than on their own merits or their own good works.
So, what about you? Are you pleasing to God? Are you sure about that right now? Whether or not you are pleasing to God depends entirely upon whether or not you have faith in Jesus Christ, for remember: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”