The author of Hebrews defines faith at the beginning of chapter 11 of his letter. He then illustrates this definition by describing the specific ways various heroes of the faith lived. Early in the list, the author pauses and says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It’s as though he is replying to a reader who asks, “That’s Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others like them. How does this relate to me? How can I move from where I am to a life of faith like theirs?”
Many Christians honestly ask the same question. Unfortunately, too many proceed casually through life unaware that they can live that kind of faithful life with God, one that pleases him. In this and similar passages, we learn that we can live a life of faith like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The teaching we receive is straight forward and simple, although consistently obeying these words is not as simple because it requires a lifelong commitment. Let’s look at the answer the author of Hebrews gives us.
No one can please God without faith. This comment refers back to the author’s definition of faith in 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is the key to pleasing and drawing near to God. Like the author of Hebrews says, faith is living by following certain assurances. There is a direct connection between faith and action. If someone ran into the building where you are right now and yelled that the building was on fire, would you sit casually if you believed them? You would respond with action. As James said, “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. … As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:21-26
Faith requires a target. For Christians, the target is the person of the Lord himself. The author says we first believe that he exists. This almost sounds ludicrous. However, this is more than just having the opinion there is a god. This is the conviction and commitment that the Lord is the only true God. This has been the heart of the Lord’s revelation of himself since he answered Moses and introduced himself as “I am.” (Exodus 3:14)
This is an important distinction for us to grasp. Faith is not a jump into a vague abyss. Faith is in a person and for a purpose. The person is the Lord, and the purpose is that we would please and draw near to him. Faith results in an obedient step in the direction of God’s command and promise in conviction that this step is according to his good purpose. The next step is the same, and our entire life progress this same way.
In addition to believing he exists, we also believe the truth about his character. That is, we learn that God is our loving father who intends to bless us. His promises are detailed at length in scripture, and he desires us to receive them. Virtually every page of his written word contains some promised blessing. Our greatest reward is a relationship with him (John 17:3). We learn that he has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) In Luke 11:13 we read Jesus saying, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
This also means that if I desire to receive his blessings, I must go through the Lord’s process as described in this verse.
To whom does the Lord give his “very great and precious promises”? (2 Peter 1:4) He gives them to those who seek him. We read a number of similar comments in scripture. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In the verses just before the Luke passage quoted in the previous section Jesus said, “”So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
The seeking that is rewarded is not a half-hearted, casual seeking, but passionate. We do not please him, or receive his rewards unless we passionately and intentionally seek him in faith. In Romans 8:23 we hear the apostle Paul saying, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” After listing all the ways we should grow to have a productive and effective Christian life the apostle Peter says, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Let’s put all the pieces of Hebrews 11:6 together.
Once the author of Hebrews finishes listing some heroes of the faith he challenges us by saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
None of us will reach the end of life and say, “I wish I had trusted God less.” Stop and consider how our lives would be transformed if this kind of faith propelled us forward. Such a conviction would change not only how we viewed the world and what is or is not possible, but how we acted and what we received. Let’s determine that we will pray and act in faith focused on and in agreement with the Lord. We will then experience that kind of life the author of Hebrews describes.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)