I teach an adult Sunday School class in the small Baptist church that I attend.  For the last year I’ve been taking the students through chapter 11 of the anonymous New Testament book of Hebrews with its list of the “great people of faith.” The point of the chapter is to answer the question, “what is faith” and it does so by listing a bunch of folks from the Hebrew Bible.

What is faith according to Hebrews 11? In the first couple of sentences it gives this definition: “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.” If you look only at that and ignore the overall context, you might imagine faith is some sort of a feeling that you have to work up, that maybe you scrunch up your face and keep telling yourself—like a self-affirmation—that you do believe, you do have hope, you do see evidence of stuff is invisible and that you have no evidence for at all.  “I do believe in fairies, I do.”

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  However, if you look at the list of characters in Hebrews 11 that range from Abel to Abraham, from Moses and the Judges to King David and the prophets, you come to understand what the author really meant in those first couple of sentences and you discover what faith really is, which is not quite what most people probably think. 

Guess what?  Not one of those “mighty warriors of faith” operated without doubt, without resistance, without questioning and wondering and wishing they didn’t have to do what God told them to do.  A lot of them spent time complaining to God about what they were going through and how it wasn’t working out.  A lot of them kept going back to God and asking him, “are you sure?” For example, Moses and Gideon, according to Hebrews 11 did what they did “by faith.”  But check out what Gideon was really like in Judges 6-8.  Or look at Moses’ life and his responses to things in Exodus 3-5.

You see, what the people in Hebrews 11 have in common is not a lack of doubt.  We generally don’t find them eagerly jumping at the chance to serve God.   Usually they actually try to get out of it.

What the great people of faith have in common is that they kept on doing  what God asked them to do, anyhow, even though they had doubts, and even though they didn’t really want to do it.

What is faith based on Hebrews 11?  It is simply hearing what God wants you to do and then doing it, despite the doubts and your inner thoughts telling you “I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”  It is akin to what Jesus said once:


“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.  (Matthew 21:28-32)



Faith isn’t a feeling.  It isn’t hoping for the best.  It isn’t believing the irrational.  It is just doing what God asks, because it’s what you’ve been told to do and you know you’ve got to do it.

You have faith when you do the right thing, the necessary thing, when it would be easier to just walk away.  Faith is when you obey God and do the hard thing even though you’d rather just stay in bed today, thank you very much.

Faith is kind of like bravery.  Bravery doesn’t mean you’re not scared.  Bravery is doing what needs to be done despite being scared.

Faith is not the opposite of doubt.  In fact, faith doesn’t exist without doubt, any more than bravery can exist without fear.  Faith is doing what God asks of you, despite your doubts. 

And the point of faith is who you have faith in, not in how strong your faith is. 

One day his disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith.  His answer was not a step by step guide to faith growing. He didn’t give them a twelve step program.  He didn’t hand them an instruction manual. 

He told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, that was enough to tell a mulberry tree to go drown itsetlf, or a mountain to go splash in the ocean.  His answer to his disciples was very simple: you already have enough faith.  Just act on it.

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