Hanningfield Green 


Bury St Edmunds 


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Hebrews 11: 1 - 2

Read Hebrews 12: 1 - 2

There are many excellent reasons to study Hebrews 11. One of course is that it is the word of God, another is because it is all about faith.

·        You cannot become a Christian without saving faith.

·        You cannot live as a Christian without persevering faith.

·        And you cannot grow as a Christian unless you are growing in faith.

Faith is therefore foundational to the Christian life.


And then there is a third reason to study this chapter, because apart from teaching us many practical and important things about faith, it also gives us a good overview of the Old Testament.

The writer of Hebrews goes back into the Old Testament for biblical examples of the various aspects of faith, and we need to remember that the Old Testament was the only scriptures available to them as The New Testament was still being written.

Some of us however are not so familiar with the Old Testament as we are with the New Testament. But if you only read the New Testament and never get around to reading the Old, then you are missing out on a large part of God’s revelation. And there are many parts of the New Testament that we can only fully understand if we know the Old Testament first. Just as Augustine said, “the New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.”

The disciples once said to Jesus in Luke17:5, “Lord, increase our faith.” A call which I’m sure all of us should echo as we are all in need of an increase in our ‘faith’ even though we may be at different points in our Christian walk and maturity. Some of us have been walking with the Lord for a long time. While some may just be getting started. Some may be growing like the weeds in our garden, very fast! Or perhaps you have been a Christian for some time now, but you have never really grown much in your faith or even stopped growing. No matter where you are in your Christian walk, this chapter is for you. We all need to grow in faith.


The first two verses introduce the whole chapter, and they also provide us with a working definition of faith. As we spend some time looking at this definition closely, we will see what it means and just as vital, what it does not mean, because it is so important to understand these verses correctly as they form the basis for all the other verses that follow.

So, let us read these first two verses: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Surely, these verses present quite a challenge as Verse one gives us a two-part definition of faith: (First) Faith is being sure of what you hope for; (and Secondly) Faith is being certain of what you do not see. And then verse 2 tells us why this definition is so important by applying it to the lives of the Old Testament believers and therefore by extension to us.

So, looking at the first half of this two-part definition in verse 1, “Faith is being sure of what you hope for.” What exactly does that mean?

First of all, it is important to understand that this whole topic of faith is not a new topic for the writer of Hebrews as he has previously addressed this topic back in Chapters 4, 6 and 10, and he will go on to say some more things about faith in chapters 12 and 13. However, most of his teaching on faith takes place right here in Ch11. The word “faith” apparently appears thirty-one times in the book of Hebrews and at least twenty-two of those are in Chapter 11.

Now, the most recent mention of faith is found just a few verses before in Hebrews 10:38, and it is a verse that may help to set the context for our present verse and chapter.

But first, we must realise that the book of Hebrews was originally written to encourage Jews who had become Christians and who were now undergoing severe persecution for their faith. So, the writer looks at various aspects of the Old Testament to show how they have all been fulfilled in Christ.

And Chapter 10 speaks particularly of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. The writer tells us that Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin fulfilled the law and by which we have been saved and made holy in God’s sight. It is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we have confidence to approach God by the blood of Jesus. He then urges his readers not to throw away their confidence, in other words, not to let go of Christ and what Christ has done for them. They need to persevere in their faith despite persecution because Christ will return as he promised.

Now, all that brings us to Hebrews 10:38 which quotes an important verse in the Old Testament from the prophet Habakkuk Ch 2:4. “the just or righteous will live by faith.”

This verse from Habakkuk is a central verse to both the Old and the New Testament. Paul quotes it in the book of Romans and Galatians as a key verse supporting the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ alone. This was also the verse that led Martin Luther to rediscover the biblical doctrine of justification by faith and which launched the entire Reformation. “The just will live by faith. The righteous will live by faith.”

Do you want to be justified or righteous in God’s sight? Then you must live by faith. As we said earlier, all that we do as Christians comes from faith.

You cannot become a Christian without faith, and you cannot live as a Christian without faith. Faith not only starts you on your way, but faith is a foundational support for all that you do as a Christian.

As Christians we are heaven-bound, but we still live here on earth. We still struggle with trials and sin and pain. We do not yet see the fullness of our salvation that will be completed in heaven. We are caught somewhere in between; therefore, we must continue in faith, persevering until the end.

So, what then is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us, first of all, that faith is “being sure of what you hope for.” The stronger the foundation, the stronger the structure it supports. So, faith is the foundation in your life that keeps your hope alive when trials come your way. The stronger your faith, the stronger your hope and stronger therefore your Christian life.

Without faith, your confidence and hope will get tossed around as easily as a feather in a strong wind. Faith is the sure and strong foundation that gives you confidence and assurance concerning the things you hope for as a Christian.

The word “hope” in verse one is not a word that just means wishful thinking, or hoping against hope, like when your asked, “Do you think things will get better?” and you answer despairingly, “I hope so.”

No, this word “hope” here is the exact opposite of despair. It is a word that means to wait for something with confidence and assurance. It is the hope that king David writes in Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation,” David is full of hope and confidence in God as he brings his daily requests before the Lord.

But how do you keep a hope like that alive in your life? How do you keep your hope from being shaken? Hebrews 11:1 says that you need a strong foundation. You don’t just pin your hopes up in the air and hope against hope that everything will turn out all right. A Christian faith is the sure and strong foundation that gives you the confidence and assurance you need. So, that’s the first part of our definition.

Faith is being sure of what you hope for as a Christian.


And then, secondly, faith is being certain of what you do not see. The word that is translated “certain” is a word that means “evidence, proof or conviction.” It comes from a word that means to convict or convince someone of the truth. And so, it speaks of a deep conviction or certainty in your heart. But certain of what?  It's - What you cannot see!!

 The word “what” is a word that means “something that has been done or accomplished.” It refers to matters or things that are factual or real. We find the same word in Hebrews 6:18 which speaks of “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie,” God’s promise and His oath, two unchangeable facts, two realities that cannot be changed. We find the same word again in Hebrews 10:1, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves.” That word “reality” is the same word we find here in Hebrews 11:1.

So, what does this second half of our two-part definition of faith teach us? It teaches us that faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning certain facts or realities that you cannot see. True faith is not based on observed evidence but the God-given present assurance of a future reality.

This is so important. True Biblical faith is not faith in fantasies or in things that are not true, but faith in realities which are unseen by human eyes.

Now, there are two things we need to grasp from this part of the definition. First of all, if you can see it, then it’s not faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Faith and sight are opposites in that verse. So, if you can see it, then it’s not faith.

Romans 8:22-24 tells us this, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly await for it with perseverance.”

So, the first thing we need to grasp from this part of the definition is this: if you can see it, then it’s not faith.

But there is a second part to this equation that is also so important for us to grasp and that is this: if it’s not real, then it’s not faith. Or at least it is not true biblical faith. It may be blind faith or some other kind of faith, but it is certainly not what the Bible means by faith. In other words, biblical faith is not being certain about non-realities that you cannot see, but only those things which are true and actual which you cannot see.

Put it this way, If I buy a lottery ticket, and I hold that ticket in my hand and say to myself, “I believe I am going to win, I believe I am going to hit the jackpot, I can’t see it, the odds are all against me, but that’s okay, I live by faith and not by sight, I am certain I am going to win, I have faith!” Well, I’m so sorry to disappoint you because that’s not biblical faith. You are not basing your conviction on reality but on a fantasy.

If it is not real, then it is not true biblical faith. How about the person who believes sincerely in a false religion, or worships an idol with deep conviction of heart? Is that biblical faith? Will that save them? No, because if it is not real, then it is not true biblical faith.

So, taking the two parts of our definition together, what is faith then?

“Faith is the foundation that gives strength to your hopes, and faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning realities that you cannot see.”

Both parts of this definition speak of being sure about things that you cannot see. The first part speaks about hope. Well, what is hope? Hope refers to future realities that you cannot see. And then the second part speaks about present realities that you cannot see. You can’t see them because they are spiritual realities, and we live in a physical world. We cannot see them because they are spiritual in nature, and we are physical beings who discern reality through our physical senses not a spiritual sense. So, faith refers to both present and future realities that you cannot see. Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see.

So, verse one gives us this two-part definition of faith. Now, moving on, verse two, tells us why this definition is so important by applying it to the lives of the Old Testament believers and by extension to us.

Verse two says: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” Here it clearly refers to the forefathers of faith scattered across the pages of history as found throughout the Old Testament.

The stories in the Old Testament are not just historical accounts of things that happened back then in the past. Yes, they are that, but they are also so much more. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that “these things occurred as examples for us.”


And just as the stories of the Old Testament are meant to serve as examples to us, the people of the Old Testament are also meant to serve as examples. And here the book of Hebrews points specifically to their faith. Hebrews 11:2 says: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” What is “this”? It’s their faith! It is this deep conviction in their hearts to believe in unseen realities, both present and future. It is their conviction and assurance in God that produced in them an unshakeable hope in God and his promises.


The word “commended” here is a word that means to give a good report. It’s like a school report and if we were to look at the reports of the people in the Old Testament, you quickly discover that they didn’t do so well in a lot of areas.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all failed miserably in the whole area of honesty.

Moses was a minus in speech, and he didn’t do very well in the temper department either.

And King David failed when it came to sexual innocence.

When you read through the Old Testament, you don’t find too many people who receive straight A’s when it comes to the report of their lives. They all had so many failures and flaws.

So why are they commended here, then? What is this good report that we read about in Hebrews 11:2? This good report is awarded to them in one area and one area only – the subject area of faith. For being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see. They believed God even when they couldn’t see the answer, and their faith was credited to them as righteousness.


And then, the rest of Hebrews 11 is simply a running commentary on these first two verses. In the remaining verses of this chapter the writer of Hebrews will take us through the Old Testament, starting with creation, demonstrating how all these Old Testament believers exercised true biblical faith and how that faith benefited their lives and the kingdom of God.

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab etc, were each commended for their faith. And each one has something to teach us so that we also may grow in our faith as followers of Jesus Christ.

In summary, then, what is faith?

“Faith is the foundation that gives strength to your hopes, and faith is a deep conviction in your heart concerning realities that you cannot see.”

I like this definition of faith because it is immensely practical. It means that as I grow in my understanding of God and his ways, I can therefore trust these realities that I cannot see.

And it’s the same way with the spiritual world. I can’t see God. And I don’t know how he is working all the time. But I do know that he is there. And the longer I know him and the more I grow to understand him, the more I can trust the reality of things that I cannot see.

I can grow in my faith, and so can you. Hebrews 6: 19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Our hope is exemplified in Christ himself who has entered into God’s presence in the heavenly ‘holy of hollies’ on our behalf.

The Apostle John writes in 1John 5: 4 - 5 “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” So, as you and I grow in our faith together, let us press forward in our lives with an unshakeable hope as God accomplishes his amazing works in us.

Verse 3 answers a very important question for us about faith that we have left unanswered today. If true biblical faith deals with realities that we cannot see, how do we know what is real and what is not? How do we know what to believe in? 

But that will be another sermon!!