The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often described as faith’s “hall of fame” because of its emphasis on faith and the long list of examples of those whose trust in God and His promises motivated them to live in hope.
“Faith” is often depicted in the world as a belief in something without any evidence on which to base that belief (or even belief despite evidence that contradicts it). While that definition of “faith” might be appropriate for many religious and denominational doctrines, Hebrews 11 shows that this is NOT the definition of biblical faith! Throughout the scriptures, genuine faith in God is always firmly rooted in evidence – the Creator of all things never appeals to us to “just trust me” without also offering us solid proofs of why we should trust Him.
Verse 1 states that “faith” is the foundation on which a Christian’s hopes rest (the “substance,” that which rests under something). We hope because God has provided “evidence” that things we cannot yet see do actually exist, and examples of that evidence are the focus of the rest of chapter 11. Beginning with verse 3, the inspired writer offers evidences for faith – reasons to believe God exists and will keep His promises to us. The first “evidence” cited is the fact that universe, with its passage of time, exists around us (the Greek word aion includes both the material world and concepts of time and eternity). Note that in the second part of this verse, the “proof” lies in the appeal to our ability to reason – our senses tell us that the world exists and we know that WE didn’t create it, therefore “someone else,” who is unseen by us, had to have created it!
Likewise, in verse 4 Abel’s trust in God’s instructions about sacrifices was vindicated when his offering was accepted, while Cain’s was rejected, and his example stands still today as a model for us to follow. Example upon example follows, always emphasizing the same lesson; that true faith in God is based on evidence that motivates a believer to act according to His instructions – to obey His commandments. This very point is the focus of verse 6,
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
While Hebrews 11 offers example after example of those who believed God because of the evidences He presented, perhaps the single most important lesson we can take from this chapter comes from their responses to those evidences – they acted. These ancient examples embody what James wrote in James 2:24 & 26 –
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only…. 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”