Monday, February 16, 2015

Things Not Seen

Week one in our six week series on "True Faith" at 

What is life all about? Some people seem to “get it,” while others stumble through life aimlessly, searching for significance. This first lesson provides several examples of people who “got it.” The writer of Hebrews states that faith is the key to a meaningful life. On the contrary, a life without faith is a life that cannot please God and therefore cannot be a meaningful or fulfilling experience. This understanding and these examples will set the stage for the following lessons, which move from things unseen to the final revelation in which the faithful will finally see the one in whom they have placed their hope in this life. Faith is the defining characteristic of a life that is pleasing to God.

Hebrews 11:1-16 (NIV)
Faith in Action
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
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, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Supporting Passages:
Genesis 4:4–7, 5:21–24, 6:9–9:29, 12:1–4, 15:18–21, 21:1–7, 22:17

Science tells us that in order to maintain our health and life, humans need breathable oxygen, nutritious food, drinkable water, and sufficient shelter. Considering these essentials, if we were stranded in the middle of the Saharan desert, the newest iPhone and 570 TV channels in HD would seem much less important—not important at all, really. Like the essentials of physical life, faith is an essential of spiritual life. We can try to do “the right things,” but without true faith we cannot have a relationship with God. - True faith is required to live a life pleasing to God. Faith is essential to the life of every believer. The writer of Hebrews asserted that without true faith a person cannot really believe in God and, therefore, cannot please Him.

1. True faith is confident in God (Heb. 11:1–2).

These verses provide a description of how true faith looks in the heart of a believer. Faith is “being sure” and “certain” even when the object of our faith (God’s plan) has not yet come to completion or is still unseen. This kind of faith was evident in the lives of “people of old” such as Noah who had never seen rain but nonetheless trusted in God’s Word that the Flood was coming. Many times in our lives, situations might seem hopeless and our effort might seem futile. When we are confident in our God, however, we know that we can trust Him to keep His promises even when circumstances seem bleak. For example, when He says that He won’t leave or forsake us, we can believe Him—even if we feel alone. True faith doesn’t give up because of the appearance of things.

2. True faith is evident through our actions (Heb. 11:3–12).

The writer of Hebrews used several Old Testament people as examples of true faith in action. These examples added validity to his argument, not only because his Jewish audience could identify culturally with these “people of old” but also because their actions demonstrated God-pleasing faith in action. The writer concluded that each of these heroes of the faith was pleasing to God, not simply for his or her actions but for the faith that caused these actions. The example of the patriarchs helps us to understand that faith cannot be proven to be authentic until it is lived out in obedient action. From the faithful worship of Abel to Abraham’s faith to take all that he had to a place he did not know, each of these men demonstrated their confidence in God and His promises by living in obedience to His commands. If we have real faith, then we must prove it daily by living in obedience to Him—no matter what He calls us to do.

3. True faith looks to our eternal future with God (Heb. 11:13–16).

The author of Hebrews pointed out that the great examples of the faith that he had just mentioned did not live long enough to see the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. And yet they continued in faith even when their circumstances were difficult. Though they lived like strangers and refugees among the people of their time, they had sure hope in the promises of God. Because of this hope, these faithful individuals knew that they were living in a world that was not their home, but they looked forward to their eternal life with God. As a result of this forward-looking faith, the author stated, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
When learning to drive, most people have problems with over-steering. They want to keep an eye on every gauge in the instrument panel and adjust the wheel for every bump in the road at the same time. The resulting ride is less than comfortable. Instead, new drivers have to learn to keep their eyes far down the road to keep their focus on where they want to go. In the same way, believers are called to keep their focus on our eternal home and the task that Christ has left us to complete. When we focus on the troubles and bumps in the road, we tend to drift off course. - If our focus in life is on present circumstances and the material things with which we surround ourselves, we will never have lives of true faith. Believers are called to focus, like the examples presented in this passage, on a “better country.” Because we have the hope of heaven and eternal life with Christ, we must live our lives with an eternal focus. What a waste it would be for a child of the eternal God to live for the temporary pleasures of this world!

So what's the big idea of the passage?

Believers can only please God as they demonstrate true faith in action. The writer of Hebrews understood that faith was the essential piece of a believer’s life. To explain this to his Jewish audience, he used the examples of the patriarchs. He concluded that their faith was the factor that motivated their actions and kept them going through times of doubt, hardship, and opposition. In the end, God was glorified by their faith. If we desire to be people who are pleasing to God, our lives must demonstrate that we truly trust God with our actions and our focus. When we set our hearts on Him, He can use us for His kingdom purpose.

Unlike any other book in the New Testament, Hebrews created the picture for Jewish believers of Jesus the Messiah as the Great High Priest. The author of Hebrews is unknown, although some have attributed the epistle to the apostle Paul or Barnabas. Nevertheless, the author’s message was clear in writing to His Jewish brethren: Christ is better. He is better than Moses, better than the Law, and better than the Levitical system of sacrifice. He is better at every turn and completely worthy of our faith and devotion. This is the concept that the writer sought to communicate to Jewish believers and their unbelieving kinsmen.
In chapter 11, the writer examined the subject of faith and its place in a person’s relationship with God. He presented historical evidence to prove that faith is essential in order to please God now (v. 6) and to hope for a better home to come in heaven (v. 16).
In Hebrews 11:1-16, we learn what faith is really all about. It is not simply a wish or a best guess. It is “being sure” and “certain” (v. 1). If we profess to have a saving faith in Christ, it cannot be simply a hunch or a warm feeling. Our faith must be a certainty in the relationship that we have with the risen Savior. The author described those who have faith as people who are looking forward to a heavenly country prepared for them by God Himself. Without real faith, salvation and that heavenly home are not accessible. God offers salvation only in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith is required to trust Him for that salvation.

Living for temporary pleasures and fleeting security does not lead to a life that pleases God. Faith is the only way to please God. Real joy and security can only be achieved by entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ and pleasing Him with our faithful obedience. Abraham and his descendents understood that the promises of God were far better than the things that they could see with their human eyes. We must learn to trust God in faith. Can you remember a time when you had to have faith for God to bring you through a difficult situation? How can you explain the life-changing effect of real faith to you students? How can you challenge them to forsake temporary things in favor of eternal rewards based upon your own experience with faith?
Students are in essence “growing up” in their faith. They’re learning with each passing day that God is faithful, but their faith has probably not yet been tested to the extent of the faith of their parents, their youth pastor, or their teacher (you). They need to know the testimony of biblical examples and people who surround them that God never fails. They need to know above anything that they could perceive on their own or realize with their eyes that God will always provide a way and that His ways are marked in stone, which gives us hope in Him.

Small Group Questions:

  • How can doubt be present in faith?
  • What happens when faith is not acted upon?
  • If we are walking in faith, then what is our focus on?
  • How can our focus be pulled away from our faith by the world?

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