What I want to do in today’s message is to look at “The Life of Faith.” First by taking a look at this key verse in Hebrews regarding what faith is, then later on regarding the impact of faith on a believer’s past, present, and future. We’re going to look at these three tenses of a believer’s life to see how faith shapes each one of them. “What does faith have to do with my past, my present, and my future?” That’s the question. That’s where we’re going today.
First, Hebrews 11:1. This verse will serve as a foundation for our understanding of faith…
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
In this verse we find two distinct phrases, two descriptions that each answer the question, “What is faith?”
First off, we see that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for.”
Your translation here may use the word “confidence” rather than “assurance.” The author of Hebrews is saying: “We, as Christians, as a people of faith, we have confidence in things hoped for!”
It’s not a weak sort of hope, like, “I wish this would happen,” but really you don’t know if it will or not. Rather it’s, “I know this will happen, I have confidence that it will.”
Where do we find our confidence? The basis of our confidence, the basis of our hope, is found in what God has said, in His Word. God has said that certain things are true for His children. He has made us certain promises, promises that our hope is tied to, that we place our hope in. There are a huge number of promises laid out in Scripture – promises that apply more to our present day here on earth, and promises for future things. Right now we’re just going to take one. Here’s one promise that we may often put our hope in.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Let’s get ourselves into this verse. Let’s say you’re being tempted. This is a daily reality for us, right? You’re being tempted. Just imagine, you’re in the trenches of your heart, and there’s all-out war going on between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh wants something so bad – some idol, some pleasure, whatever it is. And the Spirit, according to God’s Word, says, “No. Can’t have that.” What do you do?
If you have a confident hope that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true, then you fight, you fight the temptation. You don’t give up and give in to temptation, because you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when God says He will provide a way of escape for you, it will be provided. Because of God’s promise, which you’ve placed your hope in, you fight against temptation.
On the other hand, let’s say you don’t have a confident hope in God’s promise. What if you don’t have faith in it? Well, if you doubt that God’s Word is true, then when it comes to temptation you’ll probably think, “Resistance is futile.” The temptation’s so strong. Your flesh tells you there’s no use fighting, there’s no use fighting a losing battle. And you listen. Why would you listen? Because if the battle is between God and flesh, and you’ve already discredited God’s Word, what’s going to stop you from gratifying the flesh? What’s going to stop you from giving in?
Faith in God’s Word is what helps us guard against sin – the shield of faith.
I want to look at this verse – 1 Corinthians 10:13 – in another way. Most English Bibles use the word “temptation” here to translate the Greek word πειρασμός, but it’s important to note that this Greek word is also commonly translated in Scripture as “trial,” or “testing.”
One example of this is in James 1:2, where James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” The word “trials” is the exact same Greek word translated “temptation” in 1 Corinthians. Also, in 1 Peter 4:12, Peter writes, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” “Test” is the same word.
So, with that in mind, I want to read 1 Corinthians 10:13 with this alternate translation…
No trial has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the trial he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) [alternate translation used for πειρασμός]
I want to mention this other facet of the Greek text because very often, when we’re facing severe trials, we may think we can’t take it anymore, we may feel like we’re at the end of our rope. In our minds, and according to all that we can see, there is no way of escape, there is no way to endure the trial any longer. We think we’re being tested beyond our ability.
It’s times like these when we need faith the most, right? We need to put our hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise, to believe that God’s Word will be proven true. Our attitude should be, “He said it, so I’m confident in it, I’m sure of it, there’s no doubt in my mind that His promises will not fail me, His Word will never fail me.” That’s faith; it’s a confidence, an assurance, “the assurance of things hoped for.”
The second description of faith in Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is “the conviction of things not seen.”
Now, as we talk about things seen or not seen, I want to make an important statement, a clarification: Our eyes do not determine reality – God does. God determines reality. We may see lots of real things with our eyes, but some of the most incredible realities in existence are completely invisible to us. There’s more to reality than what we can see. And that poses a problem for us. But the solution to that problem is faith.
Faith is the opening of our eyes to reality.
It’s like when you go to the eye doctor for the first time, and you think your vision’s not that bad. Maybe some things seem a little blurry at times, but for the most part you can see just fine, right? Then the doctor sits you down, and he puts those corrective lenses in front of you, and it’s like, “Wow! Look what I’ve been missing out on!”
Faith enhances our vision. It opens our eyes to reality.
As I use the term “reality,” I want to clarify what reality is not. Reality is not fantasy. Fantasy is not reality. They’re opposites. I make that statement because I think really often we have things backwards in the way we live life. We can often live in a fantasy world by only paying attention to what is seen, rather than living in reality by focusing on what is unseen.
Most people would say that reality is what we can see all around us, and the things we can’t see, the things we can’t scientifically prove, that’s fantasy. That’s what people would say. But I think what God is saying here – which is why I’m saying it – what I think God is saying is that there is so, so much more to reality than what we can see with these earthly eyes. Because of that, when we live each day primarily focused on just those things that can be seen, we’re missing out on so much reality that we’re practically living in a fantasy world. Do you see that?
Little side track: since I was a young child, I’ve always enjoyed reading. I would read the Bible, but outside of that I would almost exclusively read fiction. I found the stories and characters of fantasy worlds more interesting, more satisfying even, than those of the real world. As I’ve grown older though, and especially in recent years, my reading preferences have changed. I still like to read a lot, and I do still love fiction and fantasy worlds, but most of my reading these days has to do not with fantasy, but with reality – in fact with the epitome of reality: God.
A bigger, more interesting, more incredible view of reality comes through faith in a bigger God – the big, infinite God found in Scripture, not the tame, finite, “little g” god that many people make up in their imaginations. By faith in the God of Scripture there comes about a wider opening of our eyes. We fix our eyes on the unseen – on God, on His promises, on all that He is doing around us that we can’t see – we fix our eyes on the unseen with a deep conviction that it’s real, and we walk in faith. Because faith is “the conviction of things not seen.”
So far we’ve looked at each separate part of Hebrews 11:1, but just for a second let’s consider the connection between the two halves. We see that the first half of the verse concerns “things hoped for,” while the second half is about “things unseen.”
Paul in Romans 8 says something very interesting about the relationship between hope and seeing. This is really cool. He says in Romans 8:24, “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” So, hope is not hope if it is for things seen, only if it is for things unseen.
Now, I want to apply this truth to what we just saw about trials and testing. When we’re facing a severe trial, the truth is that we often can’t see the reality of 1 Corinthians 10:13. We often can’t see how God is keeping His promises. What I mean is, we can’t see what our way of escape is, we can’t see how to continue enduring the trial, and we can’t see how it’s within our ability to face the trial, even though the verse says it is. We can’t see, and so we must hope!
“Hope that is seen is not hope.” We see nothing but darkness, yet we have a confident hope that God’s light is present. We see unceasing pain and sorrow, yet we have a confident hope that a good, loving God is sovereignly governing everything.
Faith is trusting the promises of God, having a confident hope that God’s Word is true – even, and especially, when everything we can see screams the opposite. It’s taking God at His Word, even when our eyes tell us not to.
Now that we know what faith is, it’s time to look at the impact of faith on a believer’s past, present, and future. I’d like to begin at the end, by looking toward the future. What does the life of faith produce for a person? What does it lead to?
I’m going to read a few passages from Revelation 21 and 22. You’re welcome to turn there if you’d like, or just listen as I read. What I want each of us to focus on this morning is the undeniable reality of what I’m about to read. There are some amazing things in these passages, and I don’t want any of us to write this off as fantasy, nor do I want us to think that it’s so far off in our future that it’s irrelevant for today. Our days on earth are numbered, they’re short. Let’s remember that.
We’re going to look soon at the work of faith in the past and present, and much of what we see is challenging, much of what we experience in our present day is challenging, so I hope it will help us to start with the future, to start with the prize to be won through walking by faith.
Revelation 21 & 22 – brothers and sisters in Christ, listen to where we are heading…
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-7, 22-27; 22:1-5)
If you’re a follower of Christ this morning, you will be here some day. These won’t just be words on a page for you, they’ll be reality!
We’ll enjoy the realities of glory. The race will be won, sin and pain will be done away with. We’ll be reunited with those loved ones we’ve lost. We’ll experience indescribable bliss. There will be new, glorified bodies for each one of us, and with our glorified eyes we will see the unseen. We will see our God’s face, and be in awe. This is the future we have faith in. Our hope must be confidently placed in this promise, this future.
God gives us this glimpse in Scripture so that we can have a conviction about things unseen. A conviction, a hope, a faith that carries us through our current state of affairs, and takes us here.
As Christians, our future should have an enormous impact on our present. We need it to, because our present is filled with suffering. That’s why we’re compelled to turn our eyes upward, away from here.
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient [temporary], but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Our suffering in this world, in the present time, is not meaningless. We see that here. Every ounce of Christian suffering is storing up for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. There’s a purpose behind it.
In 1 Peter 1, starting in verse 6, we read that, “now, for a little while…we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of our faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though we have not seen him, we love him. Though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.” [pronouns changed from second to first person]
We see similar themes here about facing trials, facing suffering, but with a purpose of what is to come! We see that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul says that our suffering stores up for us glory as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. Salvation comes, glory comes, as the outcome of our faith. We must walk by faith, not by sight, otherwise we will never make it to eternal glory.
This present life is full of suffering. If you’ve been alive very long, I’m sure that’s not news to you. We may try to minimize our suffering at every turn, but if we’re following Christ, we will suffer as He suffered. And so as a result of our suffering, there ought to be within us a healthy discontentment with this world. Not discontent in that we fail to appreciate what God has blessed us with. Scripture is clear that we can and should be content with what God has given. But at the same time, we need to constantly remember that there’s more to life than what we see in this world! More to life than sin and sorrow. More to life than what the rest of the world is living for. We should yearn for more than what’s visible and temporary.
C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Faith means living not for the things of this world, but for what’s in the world to come. Not putting our hope in temporary things – as Paul said, “Who hopes for what he sees?” – but instead, putting our hope in the things of eternity.
Matt Chandler said, “To hope in something means that the current state of your life is a state of discontentment. If there is hope in you, it is because you have found the current state of things unsatisfactory.”
So the question I want to ask is: When you woke up this morning, was the current state of things unsatisfactory?
When I ask that question, I want to clarify what I don’t mean. What I don’t mean is, “Were there earthly things this morning that you felt you were lacking?” Or, “Was there some temporary felt need that wasn’t met?” And so you were dissatisfied.
What I’m really asking is, “Did the deficiencies of what is seen lead you to seek your satisfaction in what is unseen?” Let me say that again. “Did the deficiencies of what is seen lead you to seek your satisfaction in what is unseen?”
The walk of faith is living each day, in the midst of suffering, and saying, “My ultimate joy is not found in earthly things. I won’t find freedom from earthly suffering or eternal suffering through earthly things – family, friends, alcohol, drugs, food, a job, whatever it is. These things are insufficient, incapable of giving my soul the joy it craves, the satisfaction it craves, the peace it craves. So I will look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. I’ll walk by faith, not by sight.”
Is that your heart this morning? Is that your prayer?
It takes humility to believe those words, to say them. But the good news is, it’s a humility that shouldn’t be foreign to us. If you’re a believer, it’s a humility you’ve expressed before, in former days, in the faith of the past.
At the moment we first believed, it was because of humility. We had realized, by the grace of God, that there was more to life than what we could see. And we needed a Savior to show us what that is, to take us there. We needed a Savior to atone for our sins, to open our eyes to reality. Because we were incapable of doing those things ourselves.
If you’re a Christian today, then that moment is in your past. It’s the faith of the past. But at the same time, it’s the faith that you can never move on from, never leave behind or get away from.
Scripture provides many examples of men and women who lived lives of faith.
For by it [by faith] the people of old received their commendation. (Hebrews 11:2)
Recently I was reading through the book of Genesis, and I was struck over and over again by how so many of the Old Testament heroes of the faith were such sinful people.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit that led to mankind’s fall, then they had the audacity to blame-shift, to take the responsibility off of themselves.
Abraham laid with his wife’s servant instead of trusting that God would provide offspring through Sarah.
Isaac lied to the Philistines by saying Rebekah was his sister, choosing to put her in danger rather than himself.
Jacob was a deceiver, stealing his brother’s birthright.
Joseph was arrogant, telling his brothers and parents that they would bow down to him.
Rahab was a prostitute.
David was an adulterer and murderer.
I mean, can you have a more motley crew than that?
What about New Testament examples? You’ve got Peter who denied Christ three times, even after he said he would never do that. And you’ve got Paul, who was a Christian killer, a terrorist.
None of these people had works that could save them, but they had faith. In faith they humbled themselves and followed God. Isn’t this the kind of humbling faith we need every single day? To realize we’re no better than them. To follow their examples of humility.
I mean, let’s think about what a Christian is. When we say we’re Christians, it doesn’t mean we’re like, up on our high horses, towering over anybody. Because to be a Christian is to be a Christ follower. And if I’m a Christ follower, it means I’m not a Ryan follower. You can’t serve two masters. You know why I’m not a Ryan follower? Because Ryan is a sick, twisted, self-destructive, sinful human being. That’s the truth. If I follow myself, I’ll be on my way to eternal punishment.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
So if I’m following myself, living according to the flesh, I’m going to die – spiritual death, not just physical. What’s the alternative? Following the Spirit, following Christ. And following Him takes faith.
Every day we have a choice. Are we going to follow what we see? Namely, ourselves, our own flawed ideas about what will satisfy us, what will comfort us amidst suffering. Or, are we going to follow that which is unseen? Looking to Jesus, and to the glorious home He has prepared for us.
Will we walk by faith or by sight, today?
Will we live the life of faith, preaching to ourselves each day, saying, “The things of this world won’t satisfy me. Following myself won’t satisfy me. So I’m going to follow God today. Only He can satisfy my soul.”
Will we run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith?
In closing, I’d like to read some of Jesus’ words from Revelation 2 & 3. Our Lord addressed the various churches of the first century, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. He knew the difficulties they were facing, the suffering they were enduring, and He makes them promises that they can put their hope in.
As fellow members of Christ’s church today, these words are for us too. In the face of daily pain, daily struggles with trials and temptations, we’re given promises about the reward of our faith. Listen to these promises.
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21)