by J. Ligon Duncan III
Turn with me to Hebrews 11. In Hebrews 11 we begin to have illustrations given of a point that was made back in Hebrews 10:39. Hebrews 10:26-39 begins with another one of the warnings in the book of Hebrews. The warning against defecting from our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, the warning against our turning our backs on Christ and seeking to fellowship with God in some other way. A warning against our taking lightly the person and work of Christ, a warning against our spurning the blood of the covenant.
But the end of that passage ends rather optimistically. Having given a very stern warning to the congregation, the preacher then says, “But look, I am hoping, I am expecting better things of you.” And as he explains that if you will cast your eyes on Hebrews 10:39, he says this. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction.” He is expressing his hope for the congregation. “We are not the ones who are going to fall away from the faith along the way.” He goes on to say, “But of those who have faith to the persevering of the soul.” And it is phrase that he is going to spend a chapter illustrating. He is saying,
Now, look, I’m not just talking about some abstract concept that ever existed in real humanity. I am going to show you person after person from the Old Testament, from the time before the Flood, from the times of the Patriarchs, from the times of Moses, and from the times after Moses, in the Old Testament, of people who lived by faith, persevering to the end of their course, even though they didn’t have some of the advantages that you and I have as Christians.
So Hebrews 11:1 and everything that follows in that chapter is directly connected to Hebrews 10:39. The author is going to give you a gigantic illustration of that phrase, “those who have faith to the persevering of the soul.” And simultaneously, it is an exhortation for us to exercise that faith which perseveres to the end. So let’s see God’s holy and inspired word in Hebrews 11… But first I would direct your attention to verses 1 and 2. And in those passages, the author teaches us that we must know what faith means and realize how important a role it has in our perseverance. Look at those words again: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it men of old gained approval.”
That passage is as close as any passage in the New Testament to a definition of faith. But it is really not a definition. It is more of a description of one aspect of saving faith. If we were going to give a fuller definition of saving faith, we would actually have to go to several different passages in the New Testament and put them together to speak about the different aspects of saving faith. Those aspects include a knowledge of the truth, a sure, a firm embrace of that knowledge; in other words, it is not just knowing the truths of the gospel so that you could list them. It is a real, personal embrace of those truths. You are not just saying, “Oh, I know that the church says that.” You are embracing those truths as something which you do not merely give ascent to, but which you believe with conviction…
The author takes us back to the Old Testament and makes it clear that these saints are precursors of us as believers in Christ. That is important because you remember throughout the Book of Hebrews, the concern is that some of these people are considering, like other friends of theirs, remitting their faith in Christ and going back to some form of Judaism. You see, in their minds they could say, “Okay, we are going to lay down this particular belief that we have had in Jesus as the Messiah and we are going to go back to the faith of our fathers.” The author of Hebrews in this chapter pulls that argument out from under them. He says that if you go back to the faith of your fathers, you will find that that faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you depart from Christ, you are not departing from Christ to the patriarchs, you are departing from Christ and the patriarchs to something else. He is going to argue in all these passages that these believers believed in the promises of God which were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He says, you can’t say I am departing from Christ and going back to the Old Testament. If you do that you are departing from the Old Testament too. Because Old Testament believers believed in the promises of God for the Messiah. It’s a brilliant argument for people who are wavering in this area. (Hebrews 11:1-7)