Tony Evans - Concepts of Faith
Hello, everyone, this is Dr. Tony Evans with the Urban Alternative, and I'm excited to welcome you to join us on a journey, a journey through Hebrews 11. It's known as the Hall of Faith, where men and women discovered what God can do when God's people learn to live, walk, and act by faith. The beautiful thing is it's not just about them. It's about us, as the author of Hebrews writes to New Testament believers (that's who we are) about how the lives of Old Testament saints, who learned to live by faith, should challenge and affect our lives as we live by faith. So we're excited to welcome you on this journey. It's gonna be an exciting trip. We're gonna learn a lot. Most importantly, we're gonna be transformed by the truth of what it means to be a kingdom hero who lives by faith.
There are many people today who are living with a sense of hopelessness, a sense that "It's not working, it's not worth it, it's not fair. I quit, I give in, I throw in the towel. I can't take it anymore". Sense of profound despair. That was true of the folks that the author of Hebrews was writing. They were on the verge of quitting, quitting the faith, going back to the world. They didn't think this Christian thing was worth it. It just wasn't workin' out for 'em. A lot of reasons for that, but it wasn't working out. There are people who are seated here today, who may look the part, but if the truth be told, it's not workin'. "I've got unanswered prayers. I've got unfulfilled dreams, things in my life that I thought God was going to take care of and has not yet been addressed, so I'm ready to throw in the towel".
That leads him to discuss a awesome concept in a profound chapter. What leads him to discuss this concept is summarized in chapter 10, beginning with verse 35. In chapter 10 of Hebrews, verse 35, he says, "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need for endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised. For yet in a little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul". He says, "I am writing you so that you don't throw in the towel for endurance". Then he throws the zinger, "For the righteous shall live by faith".
Okay, watch this: Whatever "faith" is, we're gonna talk about it in a moment, it's supposed to be a lifestyle, not an event. "The righteous shall live by faith". In other words, whatever "faith" is, is how you should roll. It should be how you flow. It should be your normal modus operandi of life. Faith is not a concept you visit. It's a lifestyle you possess because "The righteous shall live by faith". So if you're not living by faith, it's 'cause you're not yet righteous 'cause that's how the righteous live. And the righteous who learn to live by whatever "faith" is, get to experience God in action. That's what he says. You get to experience God fulfilling his Word. So you've gotta ask the question, "Am I living by faith? Because if I'm not rolling by faith, then I'm not experiencing God in my circumstances," 'cause that's how the righteous roll.
They live by faith. But that raises a question: What is faith, and how does it work? Which leads us to our series, a tour of the Hall of Faith, where we're gonna look at the "Heroes of the Faith". Verse 1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". Faith deals with things that are real that have not yet penetrated your five senses 'cause you haven't seen it yet. Hope is an expectation about the future. Hope is an expectation of which you are convinced of or convicted about. In other words, you are confident of this thing even though the thing hasn't occurred yet. Faith then must have substance. It must have some stuff that you can rely on.
Now, what this means is faith is only as meaningful as the substance to which it is attached. If you've got faith in bad substance, then your faith will be insufficient no matter how much of it you possess 'cause the substance you're placing it in isn't much or maybe not real at all. Faith has to do with an expectation in a hope that must involve a substance, so the amount of your faith is not tied to how much faith you have. It's tied to how much substance you possess. A little faith in significant substance produces great results. A lot of faith in insufficient substance will produce no results because what makes "faith" faith is the substance to which it is attached. Faith is the assurance of the things, the substance hoped for, and it is the evidence of something that your eyes have not yet laid eyes on but that you know is real. If you want to grow your faith, don't go "faith growth" hunting. Get a better substance. The surer the substance, the more solid the faith. So to understand faith, you have to look at the substance of things hoped for, that is, what the object is and the evidence of things not seen.
So let me clarify something then about what faith is not. Faith is not how you feel. Faith is not (let me put in a word) necessarily how you feel. You can feel faithless but be full of faith. You can feel full of faith and have no faith because faith is not first and foremost an emotion. Emotions do not have intellect. Emotions don't think. That's what emotions are. It's how you feel. And feelings shift based on the information received. Faith is tied to substance that is not yet seen or experienced with the five senses but that you are convinced is real based on the integrity of the subject who is calling for the faith. Who is the subject calling for the faith? It's God. He says, "After you've done the will of God".
Now let me tell you why this sermon and this series for many may be the most important one you've ever heard because Hebrews 11, verse 6, says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God". Faith is not one of the things you need. It is the key thing you need if you wanna experience God because without it, it says you are displeasing to God. So all of us here today who don't roll by faith, we're talking about visiting faith on occasion, where faith is not your modus operandi and lifestyle, that's not how you normally flow, are living a life displeasing to God. So if you're not living by faith, you're not pleasing God. If you're not pleasing him, you're displeasing him. Why is God getting all upset about whether I have faith or not? Because, when you don't exercise faith, you are challenging God's integrity.
So let me give you or remind you again of the formal definition of "faith". Boiling it all down, "faith" is simply acting like God is telling the truth. Faith is acting like... it's not feeling that God is telling the truth. It's not saying that God is telling the truth. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. That's why the Bible calls it "walking by faith," and not "talking by faith" or "feeling by faith," or even "thinking by faith". Unless it has hit your feet, it's not faith. It's intellectual except to a concept that hasn't gotten mixed with action, therefore, nothing concrete has shown up in the life. If you want a concrete manifestation of God, then what you believe about God must be married to what you do in light of that belief.
Now you're exercising faith so that God can now become concrete in your life and not a theory in your head. Verse 2, "For by it," by faith, "the men of old gained approval". "For by it," by this definition of faith, "the men of old gained approval". He says, "I'm gon' take you on a tour of the men of old". "Men", and if you're gon' have, that means men and women 'cause he has men and women in chapter 11, "of old," meaning, in the Old Testament. He makes a statement in verse 1 about what faith is, and then he asks, "Are there any witnesses"? He reaches back into the Old Testament, and he pulls out witnesses from the Old Testament for us New Testament Christians to know that what worked for them is what you need to work for you. He's got some witnesses.
So when we go through this Hall of Faith, we're gon' look at some witnesses 'cause Abel's gon' come forth, but he gon' be the first witness. Enoch is gon' come forth, and he gon' testify. Noah's gon' come forth, and he gon' say a little somethin'-somethin'. Abraham's gon' come forth, and gon' tell ya somethin'. Sarah is gon' come forth, and girlfriend has somethin' she wants to share with you. Rahab wanna tell you a little somethin'-somethin' 'cause she's gon' testify as well. David's gon' give a testimony. Joseph's gon' give a testimony. The patriarchs gon' give a testimony. There's gon' be testifyin' week by week by week to let you know that verse 1 is the truth, the whole truth, and nothin' but the truth, so help you God, when you understand faith. He says, "I got some testifyin' to do". He said, "By it, the saints of old were approved". That means validated and vindicated, mm.
There's nothin' like when God validates you. The end of chapter 10, said and he will come. He's gonna validate you. You don't get your graduation certificate when you enroll in college. You don't get it upon enrollment. You get it upon fulfilling the requirements. That's why the end of chapter 10, says, and when you have completed the will of God. See, 'cause some of us are in college for 20 years because we've not completed the course we've been called on, so we've not received the approval of graduation, the validation and vindication of a life of faith. We pick and choose when we wanna believe God. We believe God on the things we like. We disregarded on the things we don't like, and so we're not living by faith. We are cherry picking by faith. He says, the righteous, this is how they roll.
In other words, non-faith is the exception. Faith is the rule in spite of how they feel. It's like the three Hebrew boys that said, "We believe God can deliver us, but even if he don't, we're not gon' bow because we trust God". It's like Habakkuk says in Habakkuk chapter 3, in the last few verses, "Though there is no fig on the tree, though there is no cattle in the stall, though I can't see anything God is doing, I'm gon' still rejoice because I still know God even though I can't see a change in my situation 'cause God has integrity in spite of my circumstances".
There are some strange people in this list in Hebrews 11. There are some folk in this list that, if we were makin' the list, wouldn't have made the list. You got a prostitute in this list. You got a liar in this list. You got a murderer in this list. You got a passive man in this list. You got a lady who laughed in the face of God in this list. You got some messed-up people who made the list. Oh, that ought to be some good news to somebody. Even though you walk through this door, toe up from the flo up, even though you walk through this door a spiritual failure, if you right now will begin to live by faith, God still will let you make a list. Some folk shouldn't belong here. That means there's hope. There's hope if you and I begin to live by faith and stop fakin' it to make it, playin' church, playing religion, playing Christianity and not taking God seriously and stopping our challenge of his integrity because why would you answer the prayer of somebody who calls you a liar every day?
When God's integrity is challenged, his promises lie dormant and unfulfilled. He comes to his final point. It's a zinger too. Verse 3, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen was made out of things which are invisible". I need to read that again 'cause this is a zinger: "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God so that what is seen, what is visible, was not made out of things which are visible". He said, "To make my point about faith, let me take you all the way back to the beginning". He says we understand that the worlds that we do see was created by someone using something we don't see.
Genesis 1:1, says, "In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth". That's the Hebrew name for the Creator God, found in Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. Stay with me here. It says, "The worlds", and notice the word "worlds" in verse 3, is plural. That means the whole universe, not just the earth. So the whole universe, all the galaxies that exist, was created by someone you can't see, using stuff you can't see, to create a universe you can see that we're still tryin' to look at through telescopes, but there are too many galaxies that even our strongest telescopes can't even locate 'em. God used this strategy to create the universe, and how did he do it?
Verse 3, says, by a rhema word. The word "word" there is "rhema". A "rhema word" means a "divine utterance," a spoken word. He spoke it. You remember Genesis 1, "In the beginning, God saith, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saith, 'Let the water be separated from the land,' and it was so. God", he uttered. He uttered a word, and what wasn't became because of what was uttered. Normally, sitting right there is my grandson, the littlest grandson, J-2. We call him J-2, Jonathan II. After the second service, on most Sundays, Jonathan II runs out at the end of the service, runs up the step, comes over to the edge, and says, "Poppy," which is what he calls me, "catch me". And he stands up here, and I hold my hands out, and he jumps. I did this with the other grandkids too when they were that small. They'd come up here and jump.
So he comes up here almost every Sunday. He runs up here, and he says: "Poppy, catch me". And so I hold out my hands, and he jumps. But it always wasn't like that. Let me rewind. Initially, I picked him up and put him up here, and I stood down there, and I said, "J-2, jump". He said, "No, no. I'm scared". I said, "J-2, I got you". He said, "No, no, no, no". I said, "J-2, but I'm right here. I got you". He couldn't say it like that, but he's basically sayin', "I'm scared. No, no, no". But I kept uttering the word, uttering the word, uttering the word. The problem is he wasn't believin' the word because he was not confident in my integrity. He was not convinced I either had the will or the ability to catch him and that I would let him fall. But after pounding him with the word over and over, "J-2 jump, J-2 jump, J-2 jump, J-2 jump, J-2 jump," pounding him with the word, He came over to the edge. I said, "Jump, J-2". He said, "Come closer. You too far. You too far". But when he asked me to draw near, when he called on me to draw near, I came a little bit closer, and I drew a little bit nearer because I knew the closer I got, the more confident he would have, and so I got, I said, "J-2, jump".
He lifted up one leg but kept the other leg down. He wasn't fully comfortable. And so he didn't jump. He just kind of timidly, timidly leaned forward so that I could grab him. I put him back up there. I said, "J-2, jump". This time he went up a little higher. "J-2, jump". He went even higher. Now at the end of the church, he runs out here and says, "Catch me, I'm jumpin'". Sometime he jumped before I even put out my hand because he's learned to believe in my integrity. He believes that Poppy is not gon' drop him, is not gon' let him down. He's not gon' fall on his face, and once he becomes convinced that he can trust me, he now invites the opportunity to have faith. God wants you to trust his integrity so you could say to him, "Catch me in this situation," "Catch me in this circumstance," 'cause I have learned to trust you. I have learned that my God has integrity.