Walk by Faith
Topic: Topical Passage: Hebrews 11:1-16
How many of you like walking? I do. That probably makes me sound like kind of a boring person, but I would say that I like walking. I like hiking; I like moving around. Do any of you keep track of your steps? What’s the most steps you’ve taken in one day? My brother and sister and I hiked the Grand Canyon back in July. That’s actually a picture from our hike there on the screen. That’s my brother. But anyways, at the end of the day, my sister checked the pedometer on her phone, and this is what it said. [48,000 steps!]
This morning, I want to focus on a very important “walk” command in Scripture. Scripture is full of “walk” commands… walk in the Spirit, walk in love, walk worthy…. But one of the most significant uses of the walk metaphor is found in 2 Corinthians 5:7, when Paul says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” We’re not going to be in 2 Corinthians 5 today, but we are going to be in one of the most important chapters of the Bible where it tells us to walk by faith. Turn with me to Hebrews 11. And I’d like for us to read together vv. 1-16 (Heb 11:1-16). Let’s pray.
There are lots of people who have misconceptions about what it means to walk by faith. So I’d like to talk first of all about what it does NOT mean to walk by faith.
What Walking by Faith Is Not
- Walking by faith is NOT being an entrepreneurial businessman. Elon Musk is an entrepreneur; he does not walk by faith. Does that make sense? I think it’s very important that we maintain that distinction because we can be tempted to baptize our own visions of grandeur and success in this life with biblical terminology. “Steve Jobs had a lot of faith,” you know, because he started Apple in Steve Wozniak’s garage. But Steve Jobs didn’t have a lot of faith! He had a lot of guts, he had an incredible mind, but he didn’t have faith–not in the biblical sense. Because biblical faith attaches itself to God’s promises that have their primary fulfillment beyond this life, and obeys God’s commands. We’ll talk more about that later.
- Walking by faith is NOT being lazy and not planning. Sometimes we get the notion that Proverbs is about wisdom, and then Hebrews 11 says to walk by faith, and we sort of have to balance those two ideas. Obey Solomon–but not too much! –because you also have to walk by faith–but not too much! – because you also want to be wise…. That is not the way to think about these two commands! God does not give contradicting instructions! The Bible does not contradict itself! So walking by faith is not the absence of planning; rather, it’s planning with a longer-term picture in mind!
- Walking by faith is NOT following your emotions. A lot of people seek God’s will in really strange ways. Kind of like Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride (if you’ve ever seen that movie) where he prays to his father to guide his sword and then closes his eyes and just sort of stumbles around until he finds what he was looking for. Don’t look for God’s will that way. You discern God’s will primarily with your thinking, not your feelings. So walking by faith is NOT following your emotions.
So that’s what walking by faith is NOT; but now, what IS walking by faith? Let’s do a quick survey of Hebrews 11 and see if we can figure out what walking by faith is.
What Walking by Faith Is
- Walking by faith is taking God at His Word (v. 1).
I like how the NASB translates this verse. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In other words, even though you can’t see it, you’re confident that it’s true. God said it; that settles it.
There are lots of people today who at least say that they don’t believe in anything that can’t be “proven” scientifically. And of course, that statement raises all kinds of issues, because there are undeniable proofs for the existence of God and evolution cannot be proven scientifically! However, it is true that no one alive here on earth has seen heaven. No one alive here on earth has seen hell. No one alive here on earth has seen God. Which means that it’s impossible to get around the necessity of faith in the Christian life!
Now, I trust that all of us here at least say we believe those things. But do you really act as if they are true? Do you live like a person who in a few short years, will be in heaven? Does your urgency in evangelism reflect your belief in a real and literal hell? “When are you going to witness to your neighbors, Kristopher?” “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll get around to it. The timing is not quite right. Tonight, I’m just going to read a book.” Do we really believe there’s a hell? The former president of the college I attended used to say all the time, “The most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.” People who walk by faith not only say they believe those things, but they live as if they do.
- Walking by faith is obeying God no matter what and trusting Him with the results.
Did you know that sometimes God asks people to do things that don’t make sense (vv. 7-8, 17-19)? I know we talk about this a lot, but can you imagine being Noah? God tells him to build a conspicuously-large boat because He is going to flood the whole earth. Try explaining that one to the neighbors! “Wait, God’s going to send you the animals? Like, lions and bears and wolves are just going to sort of meander over here and allow YOU to load them into cages? You’ve got to be crazy!”
Sometimes we Christians try to just sort of “blend in” with everyone around us so that people don’t think we’re weird. That option wasn’t open for Noah. It was either obey God and look like an idiot or disobey Him and drown. And Noah obeyed, right down to the smallest detail. The book of Genesis says of Noah: “According to all that God commanded him, so he did.”
And it wasn’t like this was a one-time decision, either! Noah had to roll out of bed day after day, month after month, year after year, and decide to work on the ark that day.
But next, let’s fast-forward and consider Abraham. “Leave your country, leave your people and go to a land I will show you. You’ve never been there before, you don’t know what it’s like, in fact, you don’t even know where you’re going, but go there.” Do you think any of Abram’s friends scratched their heads when he told them he was moving? Just pretend you’re Abram and Sarai and see if you can come up with some reasons NOT to live in Canaan. Let’s see… famines, your family’s not there (except for Lot, who you probably wish WASN’T there! –some of you have family members like that), it’s not very pretty, the commercial opportunities are slim, you have to give up your house and live in a tent…. That’s a lot of reasons not to move! So why did he go? Because God said to; it’s as simple as that.
You see, walking with God isn’t about doing stupid things just for the sake of doing stupid things. It’s about obeying clear commands of God, even when they don’t make much sense.
I’ve got a friend who I’ll talk to on the phone every once in a while and he’ll ask me about my plans for the future. So I’ll tell him some things I’m praying about, and he’ll say, “Why would you want to do that?” This one time, Elise and I were thinking about getting involved in missions work in a predominantly Muslim country, and he said, “No, trust me, you don’t want to do that!” Sometimes he gives me a hard time: “Why are you living in California, man? Taxes are so high, the gun laws are strict, there’s practically no hunting….” It doesn’t make sense to him. But if you think about life in light of eternity and the Great Commission, it makes perfect sense!
Think about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. We have a little kids’ story book that we read during family devotions, and I tear up every time we get to that story. Because now that I have daughters, I cannot IMAGINE going through with that command! And then that innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering!” Oh! It didn’t make any sense! “God, why are you telling me to do this?” But Abraham obeyed.
If everything you do in life makes sense to unsaved people, then you’re not walking by faith. If you never do anything that’s really uncomfortable, but you do it anyway, because it’s right, then you’re not walking by faith.
- Walking by faith is fearing the right thing (v. 7).
Do you know what the opposite of faith is? Misplaced fear. Notice I didn’t say fear in general, because fear of God actually fuels faith. But fear of man, fear of circumstances, fear of the unknown… all of that will squelch faith.
Perhaps you’re a fearful person. You lay awake in bed at night and like Martha, you are anxious about many things. Who will I marry? Where will I live? What about this health issue? What about this problem I’m having here at camp? And the list goes on and on! If you allow those fears to drive you, then you will not walk by faith. What would have become of Noah if fear of man had ruled him? He would have died in the flood!
You see, Noah got it right. He knew that the One he needed to fear was the One powerful enough to wipe out the whole earth! Who cares what your neighbors thinks! Your neighbors don’t send floods! Fear God; nothing else.
- Walking by faith is laying up treasure in heaven (vv. 6, 10. 16).
This point is extremely important. Why did these men and women of old walk by faith? Was it simply out of duty? That may have been part of it, but there’s so much more! They obeyed and sacrificed in this life because from the bottom of their hearts, they believed that it was worth it. They believed that God rewards those who diligently seek Him. They did not recklessly throw away their lives. They very deliberately invested their lives, fully expecting to reap dividends in heaven.
Verse 10 is so unexpected (vv. 10-11)! You would expect it to say, “for he knew that God had promised him the land.” But it doesn’t say that, does it? Instead, it says, “By faith, he sojourned in the land, because he was waiting for a city.” What city was that? It was the heavenly Jerusalem! You say, “Wait a second! How could Abraham possibly know that?” Well, I’m not sure. It could be that he extrapolated it from the promise of Genesis 3:15 that the seed who would bruise the serpent’s head. Or maybe God told him. But the Bible says he knew. It was clear to Abraham that human history was progressing toward a time when God would restore His creation and His people would live together in a beautiful city. And Abraham fully expected to be a part of that.
Listen, if you’re constantly feeling sorry for yourself or patting yourself on the back for the sacrifices you make for Christ and the gospel, then you’re not walking by faith. “Look at me, working in Awana, serving in nursery, cutting the grass, cleaning the church, putting up with my spouse, serving my children…. I’m so persecuted… I sacrifice so much….” No! No! People who walk by faith are not masochists. They truly believe that their sacrifices will be rewarded, and so they make those sacrifices joyfully.
But at the same time, people who walk by faith do not expect to be fully rewarded in this life (v. 13). [trust fall illustration]
Is that what happened to these men and women? They put their faith in God… and face-planted. They died and never received the promises. Is that what v. 12 is saying? No! It’s just that the promises that they were waiting for were future. They were “not yet.” In fact, they still haven’t been realized!
You see, there are lots of people who are willing to put up with a little bit of pain now in order to experience lots of pleasure later in this life. But there are very few people who are willing to experience pain all throughout this life in order to experience pleasure in heaven.
That’s not to say that God doesn’t bless in this life. Sometimes, He does. Abraham was rich. But his life wasn’t easy or comfortable, and he faced opposition. The same is true for everyone who truly walks by faith.
- Walking by faith is not giving up when the going gets tough.
Verse 13 says, “These all died in faith.” They had their faith, right up until the very end. And it wasn’t because they didn’t have opportunities to pursue a different life course (v. 15). Abraham could have gone back to Ur, if he had wanted to! And you could go back to the world. You could say, “This is too hard, God. What you’re asking of me is too much. I’m going back to the easy life, where I do what I want.”
I’ve seen people who did that, and you’ve probably seen it, too. You could do that. You could give up and go back to the world, but the results would be tragic, because you would be turning your back on all that God had in store for you.
We talked about reasons for Abram and Sarai NOT to live in Canaan. What would be some reasons for you NOT to walk by faith? What might some of your family or friends say?
- Why subject yourself to so many unknowns?
- Why give up control?
- Why surrender comforts that could have been yours?
- Why leave family or familiar surroundings?
- Why live in a less fancy house or a less beautiful area?
- Why live around people you have a harder time identifying with?
- Why give away so much money?
- Why say no to so much “fun” or obey so many “rules”?
- Why spend your entire life waiting for something that never happens?
The answer to all of these questions can be summed up with one word from v. 16. See if you can find it. “Better.” Are granite countertops nice? Yes. But streets of gold are better. Is it nice to live close family? Yes. But knowing Christ is better. Is it nice to make lots of money? Yes. But it’s even better to make disciples. Does this world have a lot to offer? In some ways, yes, but Jesus is better. One of the most profound songs I know is a simple spiritual. “You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.” That’s it! That’s Hebrews 11! In fact, that’s the whole book of Hebrews. (If you’re in the ladies’ Bible study, you’re learning that.)
I don’t know exactly where you’re at this morning. It could be that you’re seeking to walk by faith. You say, “Pastor Kris, I’m really trying! After all, I’m here, aren’t I! I mean, why else would I be, at church, on Sunday morning?” But at the same time, you’re struggling.
It could be that you’re struggling with misplaced fear. You’re more concerned about what your family thinks or your friends think than about what God thinks.
Perhaps you’re struggling in the sense that you’re just getting tired. You haven’t been sleeping well lately. You’re sick. And the trials just keep on coming. You’re physically and mentally exhausted. And it’s gotten you so discouraged that you’re considering throwing in the towel. Please be encouraged that something better awaits you if you will only persevere!
Maybe you’re not even trying to walk by faith. You’re harboring sin in your life, and you’re putting on a good show, but in all reality, you’re not walking by faith! You’re doing what you want to do in the moment. God’s commands and promises are not your guiding stars. Your life is all about getting ahead here on earth. Repent! Don’t throw your life in the garbage can! Live for something that counts!
You know, you can walk by sight and be very successful, according to this world’s standards. It doesn’t take faith to get rich or famous. But I hope I’ve convinced you this morning that there’s something more to life than being rich and famous. There’s something better. And you cannot have what is better unless you walk by faith.
Maybe you’re not walking by faith because you don’t have faith. Maybe this is all new to you and you don’t know what you think yet. Maybe you don’t know what to believe in. There are so many religions out there and you’re just confused. Or maybe you know that you’re stiff-arming God. You understand the gospel. You know you’re a sinner and that you’re going to hell. You know Jesus died for you. You know that He wants your life–in fact, He’s tugging on your heart right now, but you say, “No God!” because you know what faith will cost you. Stop fighting. As the old preacher used to say, “Young man, your arm is too short to box with God.” Give up and give Him your life. Come to Jesus and join us on the long walk of faith. Do I know what’s going to happen tomorrow? No. But I know what’s going to happen in the end. We win in the end. And Jesus gives a crown of righteousness to all those who love His appearing. And we get Jesus–we see Him, we know Him, and we spend an eternity with Him, joined by the redeemed from all ages–from every tribe and tongue and nation, some of whom were saved as a result of our witness. What could be better?
I’d like to close this morning with the story of a young man who walked by faith. The story of William Borden has inspired thousands of people since his death 106 years ago, but perhaps what Borden is best known for is six words that he wrote in His Bible.
Borden was born in 1887 in Chicago to very wealthy family. Just to give you an idea, his high school graduation present was a trip around the world! That trip turned out to be life-changing for William Borden, because he didn’t just see the sights, he saw people–people who were sinners and knew nothing about Jesus. William decided to become a missionary. He wrote in his Bible “no reserves.”
When Borden returned to the states, he enrolled in Yale, where he excelled in every way. He was brilliant academically. Not only that, but he was an exceptional athlete! Plus, he had the money, and the family connections! Borden could literally have done anything! But no one could dissuade him from becoming a missionary. He wrote in his Bible, “No retreats.”
Later, Borden went to Princeton for seminary. And in December of 1912, he set sail for China to work with a group of Muslims there. However, on March 21, Borden became sick with spinal meningitis. He died on April 9, 1912 at twenty-five years of age, having never done any of the exciting things people hoped he would do and having never even made it to China.
However, sometime after he had taken sick and before his death, William added one final phrase to his Bible. Knowing he would die, Borden wrote the words, “No regrets.” Surely he had to have known that had he chosen a different course, he would never have been on that boat and may never have gotten sick. But for William, it was all worth it. He didn’t want money. He didn’t want fame. He knew there was something better. More than anything else in this world, Borden wanted to know and serve Jesus, and he never lost sight of that.
When word of Borden’s death reached the states, many were touched and challenged by his sacrifice. Later, a relative of Hudson Taylor wrote a book about Borden that reached many. But perhaps Borden’s greatest legacy were those six simple words in the flyleaf of his Bible. “No reserves,” “no retreats,” “no regrets.” What a beautiful summary of what it means to walk by faith!