NOTES on Hebrews 11:5-7 (click here for study)

The author of Hebrews continues with his review of Old Testament people who lived by faith. This apparent departure from the rest of the book achieves a deliberate result. From the first of the book until the last part of chapter 10, this epistle has been showing how Jesus is superior to everything else people might try to trust: the law, the old covenant, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the patriarchs, their traditions. These last two-and-a-half chapters detail how faith is superior to any other way a person might try to live: by trying to be sinless, by keeping the law, by returning to old ceremonial traditions, by doing good works. These heroes of faith in chapter 11 are examples of people who demonstrated faith in God's promises even before Jesus came and died.


Walking with God

The story of Enoch is found in Genesis 5:21-24: "When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God, then he was no more, because God took him away."

In the rest of Enoch's genealogy, each person was said to have "lived" a certain number of years and then died. Only Enoch's reference says he "walked with God", and then was no more. Walking with God is, apparently, different from mere living.

"Living" implies the state of not being dead. "Walking" implies the active choices and duties of one's life. If one walks with God, he is going through every detail of his day trusting the Lord to give him direction, wisdom, and strength. If one merely lives, life is shallow, self-centered, and unproductive. Walking with God suggests that our wills belong to God; we give him our activities and thoughts and choices. Mere living means retaining self-will.

In his book Bringing Sons into Glory, Oswald Chambers describes "will" this way: "Will is not a faculty, but the whole man active. Our Lord sacrificed His own natural desire to the will of His Father'For even Christ did not please Himself' (Romans 15:3). To do what we like always ends in immorality; to do what God would have us do always ends in growth in grace."

Enoch walked with God; he actively gave his will to God, and "God took him away."


Dying with God

We know of two people in the Bible who were taken to be with God without seeing death: Enoch and Elijah. Their translations offered Israel the suggestion of eternal life.

Eternal life is a New Covenant concept. The Old Testament does not discuss eternal life. Various Old Testament men of God-particularly David-expressed hope that the righteous would see God after they died.

Balaam asked to "die the death of the righteous" and to grant that his end be like theirs. (Numbers 23:10) David said, in a Messianic prophecy, that God would not abandon him to the grave, nor let his Holy One see destruction. (Psalm 16:9-11) He also said, "God will redeem my life from the grave and "take me to himself." (Psalm 49:14-15) The prophet Hosea spoke these words for God, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?" (Hosea 13:14)

Although Israel had these prophetic comments about hope after death, they did not know exactly how this hope would become reality. The Israelites did not experience or understand the indwelling Holy Spirit or the new birth. They could experience God's power and redemptive presence in their lives, but they did not experience becoming new creations. The new birth could not happen until after Jesus paid the price of sin.

Because they could not experience the indwelling Holy Spirit bringing their souls into eternal contact with God, because the debt of sin still had not been paid, Israel did not understand how eternal life could be a reality. The wages of sin, death, still reigned in the universe. The gift of God, eternal life, was a promise, but it was not a present reality yet.

Eternal life was a certain hope before Jesus; now it is a reality.


Pleasing (and not pleasing) God

"Without faith it is impossible to please God," says Hebrews 11:6, "because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Having faith is the only way for us to please God. People, however, often don't like to let go of control over their lives enough to live by faith. Many people insist on performing and requiring religious rituals as a confirmation of godliness. The apostles and elders of the early church met to decide what they should require of the Gentile converts. Many Jewish Christians wanted to require circumcision and other Jewish rituals.

Peter, however, defended the freedom of faith: "Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10)

Many people try to be holy by keeping the law, but this effort does not work. When people try to keep the law, the reality of their sin and sinfulness is always before them. Instead of Jesus' victory over sin being their focus, they are overwhelmed by their sin and by the impossible standard of the law. Trying to live by the law keeps people under the curse of the law.

Some people hear the gospel and begin to experience its freedom, but they become deceived or seduced into adding certain legal requirements back into their lives. Paul is adamant about such backsliding. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery," he says. "Christ will be of no value to you at all." (Galatians 5:1, 2b)

Other Christians become enamored with peripheral issues and man-made doctrines. These things add to the gospel and take the focus off Christ. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." (Colossians 2:18-19)

These "human commands and teachings" appear wise, Paul states further, "but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." (Col. 2:23)

Still others become deceived by "counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." (2 Thessalonians 2:10) Fake, look-alike spiritual gifts seduce many people by their promise of supernatural power and ecstatic experience. Believing they are seeking and receiving the Holy Spirit, people who become deceived by spiritual phenomenon are looking for an experience and for power rather than for Jesus alone.

Pleasing God requires that we sincerely desire him. It means we open our hearts to knowing truth and wholeheartedly seek him. When we turn our hearts to God, we become receptive to his love and to his Spirit which have already been wooing us.

Verse six makes it clear that the core of faith is believing God-believing he exists and that he responds to those who want to know him. Those who please God have God at the center of their lives. Those who don't please God, no matter what words they might say, have themselves at the center.

Verse six also makes it clear that without faith we cannot please God. Having faith is more than a mental assent to the reality of God. Faith is a complete consent of our minds, hearts, and wills. Having faith means we give up our tight-fisted control over our lives and unfold our self-protected, bruised, and angry hearts to Jesus. It means we accept his payment for our sin and place him in the center of our lives. He becomes our focus, our reason for existing, our strength and our wisdom. He becomes the One we love.


Faithful Noah

Noah's story begins in Genesis 6. The earth had become wicked. People did not live by faith.

Verses 5-6 say, "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."

Humanity had lost faith.

One man, however, "found favor in the eyes of the Lord." (v. 8) He also "walked with God" as opposed to merely living.

"Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." (v. 9)

Only Noah knew God and would respond to His love, so God involved Noah in his plan to cleanse the earth from evil and to start over with a handful of people who would trust him. Noah did not turn from God even though surrounded by great wickedness and evil. He made God his focus and his reason for living.

By faith, by trusting the God who was the center of his heart and his life, Noah believed what he had no physical evidence to support: God's prediction that a giant flood would destroy life on earth. Noah would build the escape vessel that would preserve a handful of life.

Noah's "holy fear" of God was the same as that of Job, of Solomon, and of the writer of Hebrews. (see Job 23:13-15; Proverbs 1:7; 15:33; Hebrews 10:30-31; 12:29) These people knew that God would keep his promises. They knew that God would not ignore or excuse evil. They knew God would destroy evil and those who insisted on continuing to perpetrate it.

Noah condemned the world by his faith. He alone believed God's promise of destruction, and he built an ark to save animal life and any humans who chose to believe and come aboard. Only Noah's family escaped destruction during the flood. The rest of the world, however, did not believe Noah's warnings from God, and all life perished in the flood. Noah acted on his faith in God's promises and judgment, and his belief foiled the rest of the world's unbelief. Others, too, could have been saved, but they did not have faith. Noah's faith condemned the faithlessness of the world.

Because he believed God and obeyed Him in spite of having no physical evidence to confirm what God told him, Noah "became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."

Because of his faith and obedience, Noah became the beneficiary of God's covenant. "But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark-you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you." (Genesis 6:16-17) After the flood, God promised that he would never destroy the earth by flood again, and he established the rainbow as the sign of this promise.

Because of his faith, Noah received salvation from the destruction of the flood; he received the promise that the world would never again suffer similar destruction, and he became the father of those who would populate a "new" planet. Everything about the earth was different. Terrain, climate, knowledge, tools-everything was changed or would change. Because he walked with God, Noah was saved alive, and his descendants re-established life on earth, a new life that was different from anything that had occurred before.



God is calling us to walk with Him. He doesn't want us merely to live; he wants every activity and involvement of our lives to belong to him. He wants us to submit our wills to him and to let him be our teacher, our wisdom, our strength, our provider, our lover.

Enoch's physical disappearance into God's presence is a promise for us. We will ultimately be physically with God. But Enoch's story also promises us intimacy with God now. If we choose to walk with God, if we accept Jesus' sacrifice for our sins and give him our wills, his Spirit gives us eternal life now. Our spirits become one with him, and we begin our unbroken eternity with him when we are born again. Just as Enoch did not die, by faith we too can be assured that we "will never die." (John 11:26) Jesus has promised that nothing, including death, can separate us from his love.

By faith we, too, will condemn the world. As the body of Christ, we carry his Spirit into the evil, unbelieving earth. We proclaim Christ and the cross. Through the love and power of Jesus, we call the world to truth. Because of our faith, because we love Jesus, Christ declares the gospel through us. Through us Christ calls the world to repentance, just as God did through Noah. Those who perish by God's judgment will be condemned for refusing the salvation offered to them.



God is calling you to walk with him by faith. He is asking you to accept the overwhelming reality of his love and let it change you. He's asking you to surrender your pockets of emotional, physical, and spiritual power which you exercise over other people or circumstances. He's asking you to stop manipulating your life and instead rest in his presence. He wants to be more real to you than your worst fear or your greatest anger.

God wants you to let go of your good deeds, your quest for spiritual power, your cherished doctrines. He wants you to stand before him completely open to discovering truth. He wants you to be willing to walk away from your good works, your personal generosity, your dearest dream, your longing for love from people who won't give it. He asks you to stop trying to fulfill those needs and drives and instead to bring your emptiness to him.

God's love is a surprise. It's not like anything you experience in your natural, self-centered relationships. His love is overwhelming, secure, healing, tender, strong, and powerful. It makes you see your life through new eyes. It actually fills your emptiness instead of tantalizing your desire. It's the only thing that can fill your heart with peace while your life is in chaos. It's the only thing that can give you clarity when you're surrounded by anger and misunderstanding. It's the only thing that can shine truth into your mind and spirit when you're faced with deception.

God's love is certain and consistent. To experience it, you must let go of yourself. You must decide that you cannot realize your dreams by manipulating your life and the lives of other. You must be willing to follow truth and go wherever it leads. You must trust his love to carry you safely through the chaos that comes when you repent of your past and choose life. You have to give up yourself to Jesus.

The miracle of giving oneself to Jesus is that when he has us firmly in his love, he gives us back ourselves! But it's a new us. It's a self with confidence and security. It's a self with a heart at peace.

Praise God for his faithfulness to us. Praise Jesus for giving us forgiveness and for restoring us to oneness with himself. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling our hearts and minds with faith.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

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