Today, our message is entitled “Eyes on the Prize.” We’re going to be talking about the importance of faith. We need faith in order to be saved, but that’s just the beginning of a life of faith. Missionaries need great faith to follow God’s call into difficult and dangerous mission fields. Faith is not simply believing in correct doctrine. True faith in God produces acts of faith in and through our lives that expand God’s kingdom and impact our world. We need a growing faith to believe God to save our loved ones who do not yet know Him. We need great faith to believe God to raise up our church to reach many more people for Jesus.
Faith has no power in and of itself. Our common misconception of faith is that there is value in just believing strongly in something, no matter what that something is. Thus, many people believe that God will accept people of other religions who have faith in their religions or gods. Yet, that’s simply not true. All religions do not worship the same God nor teach the truth. Common sense teaches us that the object of our faith matters. If you put your faith in being able to fly when you leap from a building, your mis-directed faith will result in disaster. Our faith must be in the one true God who has revealed Himself in Scripture and through Jesus Christ.
Matthew 17:20 (ESV) He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
True faith in the one and only living God results in action. In this Scripture, Jesus explains that true faith is able to speak to mountains and see them move. Not because of the power of your words, but because your faith is in a God who is able to move mountains. Faith empowers missionaries to be bold witnesses in the most dangerous places on earth. Today, let’s watch a video of AG missionaries to the restricted access country of Iran, called “No Little Book.” May their example encourage us to have faith to take risks to spread the Gospel right here in St. Louis. Today, we’re going to look at the best known chapter in the Bible on faith, Hebrews 11.
To understand what faith is, we must look at the Bible to see how God defines faith. Faith is not belief in anything we might dream up. Faith is not belief in yourself, your words, your concept of God or in luck.
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith has to do with believing in things that can’t be seen. The ultimate object of our faith is the unseen God. God is spirit and can’t be normally seen with our natural eyes. Faith, however, is convinced that God is real. Not only is God real, but His promises are always kept by Him. Therefore when we put our faith in God’s promises, we have the assurance that what we hope for will come to pass in the future.
I’d encourage you to read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 this week, as we won’t have time to cover it all. You will see that every hero of faith mentioned did not receive what they hoped for in this life. Yet, they did receive what they hoped for in eternity. Faith impacts future generations down through time.
Hebrews 11:3 (ESV) By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Faith also looks backward to creation. The universe, not just the earth, was created from nothing. There was a time when nothing existed, except God. Genesis tells us that God spoke and the universe that we now see was created. God spoke and plants and animals were created and finally man himself. God continues to speak and exercise control over His universe. Faith believes that nothing is impossible for the God who created the universe.
True faith is not simply belief in a certain doctrine in the Bible. Faith is not simply a belief in earthly blessing. Faith is not a blind leap with no evidence. Faith is not a belief in anything but the one true creator God.
The believers that Hebrews is addressed to had undergone persecution in Rome in the past and were fearful of increased persecution in the future. A strong faith was necessary to keep their commitment to Christ strong. In America today, we face increasing opposition to a Christian witness.
Our personal faith must be in the living God, who promises to never leave us. That kind of true faith is a dynamic part of our witness. Our conviction and assurance of things not seen will be a powerful encouragement to those who struggle with doubts and fears. Your faith can grow stronger as you study God’s Word, pray and serve God together with other believers.
Hebrews 11:4 (ESV) By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews than goes into an extensive list of believers in the Old Testament who demonstrated faith in many different ways. The common factor in each example was that the believer by faith took confident action in difficult circumstances.
In Genesis, two brothers, Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God, but only Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God. Genesis does not tell us what the difference between the two brothers was, but Hebrews 11:4 does. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith, but Cain did not. The story in Genesis continues with Cain murdering his brother Abel. Yet, Abel still speaks, as he is present with God.
Hebrews 11:5 (ESV) By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
Genesis 5 tells us that Enoch walked with God and was not, because God took him. What enabled Enoch to walk so close to God? It was his faith that sought to please God in all of his life. Enoch pleased God so much that God took him straight to heaven without going through death.
Abel underwent death as a consequence of his faith and Enoch avoided death as a result of his faith. Again, Enoch’s faith resulted in visible confident action, walking with God.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The writer of Hebrews concludes that faith is required in order to please God. To please God, one must believe two things. First of all, you must believe that God exists. Atheists cannot please God. Secondly, you must believe that God rewards those who seek Him. The third implicit condition in pleasing God is to actually seek God in all of your life.
What does it mean to seek God? To seek God is to seek to please Him which is to do His will. To seek God is to draw near to God in relationship, to walk with God. Faith results in confident action.
The book of James puts it this way, faith without works is dead. If someone claims to have faith, but you see no evidence of actions in their life, that faith is not genuine. By faith a believer offers up their life to God. By faith a believer walks with and pleases God. By faith a believer draws near to and seeks God. That kind of living faith reproduces itself in other people through the Spirit’s power. That kind of faith in action combined with words is a powerful witness to others.
Hebrews 11:39 (ESV) And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
After verse 6, there are 33 verses of many heroes of faith who were recognized. Some of them had rewards in this life and some were martyred and did not. What is promised to every person of faith is to live in the heavenly city with God forever.
The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming Messiah who would make forgiveness and eternal life possible. We as New Testament believers look back on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who has made forgiveness and eternal life possible. So, faith reaches into eternity. Your and my faith must reach into eternity and lay hold of the reward that God has for us. Even as faith reaches into eternity …
Hebrews 12:1 (ESV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
The cloud of witnesses referred to here are the heroes of faith commended in chapter 11. The faith of all these people should motivate us in the race of life. Notice what these heroes of the faith are called. They are witnesses. Witnesses to the power of God to reward those who seek Him by faith. All the witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 11 have finished the race of life and received their reward. Their faith should motivate us to finish our race of life and receive our reward.
What must we do to follow their example? We must get rid of any sin that would disqualify us in the race. We must run without giving up until we reach the end of the race. We notice from all the examples of faith heroes in chapter 11 that everyone’s race is unique. No two races are identical, except that they all have a start and a finish. Not only should we be motivated by other faith heroes who have gone on before …
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The ultimate example of someone who has finished the race is Jesus Christ. He is the one who imparted faith to us and He is the one who will perfect our faith. The race for Christ involved going through death on the cross for you and me. Yet, He finished the race and has all power and authority in heaven.
So, not only is Jesus the greatest example of finishing the race, Jesus is the prize that we receive for finishing the race. So, we must keep our eyes on Him, looking to Jesus as we run the race of life. Faith reaches into eternity.
Everyone in the list of faith heroes, including Jesus, had to endure suffering in this life in order to finish the race. The readers of the book of Hebrews were facing increased persecution and suffering in Rome. Everyone who desires to live a godly life and be a witness for Jesus will face opposition and suffering of one kind or another.
In this verse in Jesus looked ahead to the joy that would be His as He finished the race. We also look forward to the joy of being with Jesus in eternity. We look forward to the joy of being with those we have led to the Lord in this life.
Whatever you’re going through in life today, have faith in God. Believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. Stand firm in your faith and take confident actions in your life to please God. Even if you don’t see an immediate reward, know that God will keep His word. Your faith reaches into eternity. Faith can continue working even in future generations.
As we look back at the heroes of faith in the Bible, as we look at Jesus, may it motivate us to run life’s race and never give up. Keep your eyes on the prize, keep your eyes on Jesus.