Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Looking Away to Faith’s Completer

By S. Michael Durham

(Fourth installment on faith)

Turning our attention to Hebrews 11, we see faith described and portrayed in men and women. Many of the names are very familiar to us; they make up a list of the heroes of our faith. In addition to the famous names, Hebrews 11 mentions the unnamed heroes who demonstrated remarkable faith in the face of fierce persecution. Only God knows their names. In a future blog I will return to chapter 11 of Hebrews, but today I want us to look beyond the eleventh chapter and set our eyes upon the first two verses of chapter 12.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

The writer of Hebrews turns his attention to you and me. What about you? What should you do in light of these champions of faith? Well, whatever I do I sure don’t want to be compared to these “witnesses.” That’s what the author calls the heroes of chapter 11, a “great a cloud of witnesses.” My immediate reaction is that I don’t belong in this assembly. I do not have enough faith to be associated with such a prestigious listing of men and women of faith. But I am. I am associated with this group by virtue of having faith in Christ. And so are you. We are a part of this club of faith even though we feel unworthy to be granted membership. The writer of Hebrews makes it definitive that we are a part later in chapter 12,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [who are] registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23.

How can I have this kind of faith that is demonstrated in Hebrews 11? The answer follows. But let me remind you, you are not a faith factory. You cannot produce faith. All of your attempts to manufacture faith fail. Understanding this, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us our responsibility. First he says we should gain inspiration from the heroes he has cited, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight.”

Some have thought that the author is suggesting that the saints in heaven are able to see us as they look over “the balconies of heaven.” Not for sure where that concept came from, but I know one place it didn’t—the Bible. This is not the author’s meaning. Rather, he is saying, in light of what these others have done who have gone before us, let us emulate them and do all we can to persevere in faith. Let us, as they did, throw overboard everything that would slow us down, especially that one sin that hinders and ensnares us all: unbelief. The author of Hebrews is clear; whatever this sin is, it affects us all. And what is the one sin that he has singled out throughout the entire book of Hebrews that has kept others from finishing? The sin of unbelief.

The stories of the men and women who demonstrated faith in God should motivate us to do the same. These people are, in the final analysis, no different from us. They are frail and fallible people who needed a Savior like I do. So, their testimonies should say to me, I too can trust God.

But inspiration will only go so far. I’ve been inspired reading a great biography and resolve to be like that person only to lose my motivation in short while. Surely, you have heard a rousing sermon and vowed to do better with honest intentions. What happened? The same as me—your steam ran out. It will always run out. Why? Because faith, the opposite of unbelief, cannot be humanly sustained. Yes, the author commands believers to sustain their faith and increase it, but he knows that is impossible to you and me. Therefore, he bids our gaze to quickly leave the coronated saints and look upon the “Author and Finisher of our faith.”

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

It is Jesus who is the origin of our faith. He is the One who gave you your faith and He is the only One who can complete it, or in other words, increase it to its full measure. The word finisher means “one who perfects.” Jesus is the One who perfects our faith. Therefore, the greatest attention I can give to my faith is to give all of my attention to Christ. I run the race of faith by a simple of act of looking to Christ to sustain my faith in Him. If the Lord should will, I will elaborate on this in my next posting.

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