Every day we make decisions. What we will eat. What we will wear. What we will do. Who we will talk to. There are, of course, many others.
One of the most important daily decisions we make is one that is so common to us that we do not give much thought. That decision is who or what we will trust. Who or what will we say that we can believe and claim that what they present is true, honorable, and trustworthy. Who or what will we place our reputations behind and say, “Yes, I can vouch for that.”
By our actions and how we live our lives we answer questions of trust about who or what we can trust. Questions like: Do we trust our employer to treat us honorably and pay us a decent wage? Do we believe that our bank is a trustworthy institution to place our finances and investments? Do we believe our schools are teaching what our children need to know in order to be successful? Do we trust our neighbor when they say they will return the things that they borrowed? Do we trust that the driver trying to cut us off will not hit us?
Every day we make decisions of trust. Whether we recognize it or not, we are continually wrestling with these questions of who we can believe and who do we believe is telling us the truth. These questions and decisions of trust become more difficult when we take into consideration the fact that we live in a time in which we behave as if it is harder to trust the person next to us. We are not always sure who we can trust.
This issue about trust and our daily struggles with it speaks to us. This is especially the case as we read our passage from Hebrews 11:1-3. That is because faith, as a matter of trust, is central to what it means to have a deep and loving relationship with the Lord.
In our passage, the great Preacher of Hebrews is attempting to define what it means to have faith for those who will hear and read this sermon. Faith is a central theme in Hebrews and in this chapter. It is mentioned 23 times just in chapter, so when the Preacher mentions it here we know what he will say is important. He says, “Faith is the confidence that we hope for will actually happen.” What he wants is for all of us to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation about what it means to have faith in the Living God.
So, what does this definition from Hebrews 11:1 mean? What do we mean when we say this word “faith?” At its core, faith is about trust. It is trusting in the One who we cannot always see. Faith is trusting that God is always at work in our lives and throughout the world. Having faith means to trust that God’s promises are true, that we can have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that we can rely upon the presence of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a statement of trust. Just as important, it is a loving response to what Christ has done in us, through us, and for us.
For many of us, I would suspect much of this is not new or unfamiliar. If we have been in church long enough, or even if we haven’t, we likely have heard some definition of faith that links faith to trust. These faith definitions are often grounded in this idea of faith from Hebrews 11:1. We know faith. We have experienced faith. We believe that our faith in the Lord is important.
However, as much as we may be familiar with faith we equally struggle with it. Just like our daily decisions, we are continually wrestling with what it means to have a deep and trusting faith in the Lord. Today, we have a faith problem in the church, especially in our nation, because we do not fully believe and trust in God.
What do I mean by this? We have a difficult time trusting that God is truly present in our lives. We struggle with believing that God will fulfill all the promises made to us. We may say all the right words of faith, as we did earlier in our worship by reciting the Apostle’s Creed, but sometimes those words are difficult because we are not always sure if we can trust them.
There is a reason for this. Faith is struggle for us, because we cannot hold it with our own hands. It is not tangible. Indeed, faith is hard for us because only seem to trust that which we can see and physically experience.
This is an outflow of the world and culture that we live in. Our time is such that we are taught to believe that we can only trust something if we are able to see and experience it. In order to trust something, we believe it means that we must be able to place our hands around something, be able to rationalize it, and understand what this thing or concept is. Essentially, we can trust the things in front of us, because we can encounter it physically. This modern understanding of trust and faith has led to some of the more popular doubts and frustrations of what it means to have faith in God. They say, “Why believe in something we cannot see or physically experience.” We have all been impacted by this line of thinking. Truth be told, it has also impacted the church and its ministries. How can we have faith in God if we cannot see, hold, or fully understand who our Lord is?
Because of this daily struggle, we live with constant questions of whether or not we can trust that God’s love, promise, and word are true, real, and powerful. I believe the Preacher of Hebrews was addressing a similar struggle. He is seeking those who struggle with their faith. In this sermon, he basically says, “I know you struggle with faith and your relationship with God, but ‘faith is the confidence that we hope for will actually happen.’”
He hit on something important with this definition of faith. Truly, faith is what we are called to each day. Having faith in the Lord is what helps us to believe that God’s words are true. Faith in God inspires within us a hope that allows us to trust that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Faith is the essence of belief in God and trusting that the Lord is real, mighty, and loving.
When we struggle with our faith and whether we can trust God, I admit these words are familiar but they may be missing that essence which connects these words to our heart. Indeed, when we struggle with whether we can belief and trust in God we need the witness of others to support our faith. The Preacher recognizes this in verse 11:2. He says, “Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.” What he means is that we have a great witness of men and women who have maintained their faith in God through struggles, difficulties, and all the worries of life.
The Preacher highlights this throughout chapter 11. We only read the first three verses of the chapter, but the remaining verses provide a powerful witness of Old Testament leaders who gave witness to their faith through difficult moments. He mentions how faith inspired Abel’s offering, how it guided Noah to build the ark, how it shaped Abraham’s life, and how it aided Moses to lead the Israelites. Faith in God was a prominent characteristic of the lives of these leaders.
Just like the leaders the Preacher mentions, we all know of people who have maintained their trust in the Lord through whatever life throws at them. We are all influenced by them. Personally, I think of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King. He is inspirational to me, because he maintained his faith in God through many trials in his mission to open the church and our nation up to all people. I also think of those closer to me, as I am sure you do as well. We are inspired by those who have maintained their faith in the Lord in both good and bad times. These witnesses of faith remind us we are not alone in our relationship with God. They help us to trust in God’s truth.
Faith is truly the confidence of trusting that God’s word is true, loving, and powerful. Faith allows us to believe God created this world. It allows us to experience the truth that we are made in the Lord’s image. It allows us to trust that God sent his only Son to show us the way to the Father, and to offer himself for not just humanity’s sin, but your sin and my sin. Faith inspires. Faith teaches. Faith reaches into our heart and shows us the depths and widths of God’s love.
The greatest thing about faith is that it is not something we created. We would never have built a relationship with God built upon trusting in the things we cannot see and believing in that which we cannot hold. Faith is of God and is a gift from God given to us by the Lord’s grace. God’s grace is always at work in our lives teaching, shaping, and forming us to what it means to be faithful followers of Christ. That grace comes to us as faith and the witness that God is active in our lives and world. Faith is the gift of love that helps us to trust in the Lord’s promises and to cling to our love of God. Faith is not something we claim as our own creation, but is something given to us as we learn to lean more upon God and come to trust that Christ died for us.
Faith is simply a matter of trust. Just like we are faced with daily questions about what things in our lives will we trust, so are we faced with a daily question about whether or not we will trust in the Living God. Walking with faith is not something that is decided upon once and then never wrestled with again. The question of who do we trust is one that we must answer every moment and with every breath. Our lives are defined by how we answer this question and how we seek to live by its answer.
So, what will be our answer? What will be your answer? My prayer is that every day we will answer this question by saying, “Yes, Lord, I will trust you. Yes, Lord, I will claim my faith in you.”