What is faith? Upon first read, I would not have thought Hebrews to be a book that helped me define what faith is. It seemed a highly theological argument that served a specific purpose for Jews questioning the gospel of Jesus; not a guide for our current day's struggle with faith. Yet a more in-depth study of the book revealed to me a framework of faith; a process for daily life that could be so beautifully applied to our modern day questions of what it looks like to have faith - or better yet, to remain in the faith and endure to the end.
The author begins in the first two chapters with the sturdy foundational truth of the character of God - his omnipotence, omnipresence, sovereignty, omniscience, immutability, eternality, incomprehensibility, self existence, and self sufficiency. These foundational truths stirred my affections for God as first priority. I gazed on who he is as a reminder of what matters, before the author laid out anything else. Chapter 2 brought me back to the reality that Jesus carries and shares these characteristics of God AND brought them to us. He brought God’s perfection to us in order that we may have access to it and be saved. We can have faith only because of this Gospel truth. He experienced the fullness of humanity along with the fullness of deity so he could relate with us and meet us in our journey of faith through sin and suffering.
KNOWING - With your head/mind (Orthodoxy)
The whole book of Hebrews is full of the strong orthodoxy I just spoke of. The doctrines that are known and accepted as true for a believer. The worldview and framework that shapes christian theology.
In the third chapter I began to see the author/speaker unfold this sort of natural process of faith; a pattern for following Jesus. It starts with KNOWING. An orthodoxy of knowing with our head what we believe; knowing the things set up in the first two chapters and the theology of Christ that the author continues to unpack in the rest of the chapters. The audience/readers were seemingly believers in a season of doubting the faith that they had come to know and believe and the author is reminding them of these foundational truths. Most likely Jewish Christians, these believers were desiring to return to their old system of belief under the law, so the author reminds them of the truth of what they already know - the superiority of Jesus and his ministry to that of the law and Moses - to drive his passionate exhortation for them to remain in the faith.
One cannot build on faith without this foundation of knowledge (Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
BELIEVING - With your heart/emotion (Orthopathy)
Despite the importance of knowing God and his gospel, a faith made only of knowledge will not stand. Faith is established when we begin to BELIEVE and experience what we know to be true. Belief happens when we connect what we know with our mind, with what we know with our hearts - our orthopathy. What we believe always shapes what we love and desire. What we love and desire influences our thoughts, feelings and actions. When experiences happen in and around us, we interpret those experiences through what we know AND what we feel, therefore, these experiences reveal what we really believe. Often, it is not until we experience circumstances and feelings that we have to actually practice believing what we know. Through the experience of suffering and sin, God connects our hearts with our heads to make our faith real and tangible.
Chapter 3 moves us past the stage of knowing and into this stage of believing by the example of the Israelites. While in the midst of their experience of suffering/sin in the desert, their heart was revealed. A heart of unbelief that didn’t need or desire God as it proclaimed to. They had seen his miracles, heard his voice, knew his promises to rescue them, but hardened their hearts and went astray (Hebrews 3:7-12).
REMAINING - With your action/will (Orthopraxy)
So we have knowledge and belief; we have accepted and affirmed Christ’s gospel as true and have experienced and believed it for ourselves. Yet even still, our faith cannot stand on these things alone. This is where the will comes into play. The place in which we choose to believe and REMAIN in the midst of the experience - this is our orthopraxy. What will we choose? How will we act in the midst of our experience with sin or suffering? What will it cause us to do? Faith is developed here, at the intersection of knowledge and belief. Faith is choosing to believe, even when our heart doesn’t align with our head; choosing to act and obey in faith when it would be easier to walk away. The text in Chapter 6 reveals the importance of this step in the case of those who know and experience God in real and tangible ways and then choose to walk away from him rather than remain in him. In unbelief, they choose something else over him and their hearts are hardened (Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 8:9).
REMAINING - With discipline
This act of choosing is not a simple one. It is action that requires will and endurance. Chapter 12 considers the struggle with sin. It describes what it takes to remain despite the overwhelming nature of the fight. In order to remain amidst the continual battle, we must be disciplined. Firstly, disciplined by the Lord, to prune and purge us of the things that weigh us down and entrap us. If not for the Lord’s discipline, we would not develop the perseverance and endurance it takes to remain in the faith (Hebrews 12:3-11). Secondly, we must seek to be disciplined in ourselves. Hebrews 12:12-13 reminds us of the importance in being prepared and actively engaged in the fight for faith. We must know our strengths and weaknesses in order to train ourselves for whatever we will encounter. The continual practice and habit of spiritual disciplines prepares us to better withstand and endure the suffering and sin we will face.
But how do we remain, when in the weakness of the flesh we must choose Christ over and over? What does that look like?
ENDURING TOGETHER - With connection
The writer of Hebrews gives us those answers all throughout the book. He implores the readers/audience to endure and to hold fast; not just to what they know and believe, but to each other. To endure TOGETHER. “To exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today” (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25). If we are to remain in the faith we must do it with other believers. We must surround ourselves with those who can remind us of what we know when we are struggling to believe amidst suffering and sin. We must be committed to fight, alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, against the lies and deceit of the enemy as he desires us to believe there is something better and that our faith isn’t worth the fight.
And then the author/speaker gives us the two most important pieces of remaining. LOOKING BACK and LOOKING AHEAD. We cannot remain today unless we look back on what the Lord has done and look ahead to what he has promised us. We cannot remain without him.
LOOKING BACK - WIth remembrance
We will not continue in faith amidst our experience of suffering or sin unless we remember. We must remember the consequences of sin as we look back to those who received the promise of destruction (Hebrews 10:27-31) and remember the benefits of faith as we look back to those who received the promise of hope and life (Hebrews 10:32-39 and Hebrews 11). We must remember the first steps - what we know, what we believe and what we have experienced and seen God do in the past. How has he proven himself faithful in history personally and collectively?
LOOKING UP - With hope
We will also not continue in faith amidst our experience of suffering or sin unless we have hope for something better. What are we living for? What can we look to that will sustain us through this struggle with suffering and sin? What is the promise? (Heb. 6:18-20). When we see how much better the heavenly promise of rest, relief, and JOY, we can endure the current experience knowing it will end (Heb. 4:9-11). When we look to the one who met us amidst suffering, we know that we too, can and will, defeat it through Him (Hebrews 4:14-16, 12:3-4). When we see our current situation for what it is, (temporary, partial, insufficient) we can see our future situation more clearly (eternal, complete and sufficient). Look up to that which is better (Hebrews 11:13-16)!
This will look different for each of us depending on the path we are on and our own unique wirings. In the last chapter, the writer gives a very tangible list of actions and disciplines (like we spoke of earlier) to help the listeners engage in the fight to remain. Here are a few from Chapter 13: love one another, serve, unite, be pure, be content, follow in humility, be alert (know, believe, act), choose the eternal over the temporal, praise and worship, obey and submit to leaders, pray and intercede.
What are you going through that is challenging what you thought was true? What is God forcing you to believe with your heart? How do you remain when your faith is being tried in sin and suffering? What truths can you look back on and return to continually? What hope do you have to anchor to? What helps you look up and endure?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” - Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us look back on the lives of those who have run this race before us. Let us, through these words of exhortation, remember what we know is true and what it requires to believe in faith and run on. Let us choose to remain steadfast despite the sin and suffering weighing us down; and as we run, may we be found looking up, toward the prize, to him that went before us and is at the finish line waiting with open arms.