Faith Beyond Thought – Hebrews 11 and the Christian Life

T.C.’s post got me thinking (See Damian’s sorta of response to T.C.’s post, then check out Jeremy’s post as well, as well as this one), rather rethinking about a subject which I have written about previously, and for some reason, I don’t believe that I have accurately, or completely, stated my position on. (See here and here)

Without getting into all the grammar details, I take πίστις as a commitment, a pledge or a guarantee. In our case, it would a commitment to God, our pledge and our guarantee to Him.

If we look expressly at Hebrews, the eleventh chapter, the hall of fame of the faithful, we find something more than a belief system, a thought, a feeling, or an acknowledgment of God. We find action and commitment.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Hebrews 11.1-3 NLT)

Our Commitment is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their commitment, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By our commitment we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Hebrews 11.1-3)

How does this connect to such things as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. As I have previously statedand defended, I belief that the early Church practiced it daily but by the time of Paul’s preaching, it had been regulated to once a week. What was so important about that small ritual? It signified something – something larger than the community, and bound that community not only to each other, but to Christ and to the other Christian communities throughout the world.

For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people– an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. (1Co 11:23-26 NLT)

(Note that Paul received this instruction not from the Apostles or others, but from Christ Himself.)

The communion service was becoming defiled and was causing problems among the body, so as Paul was apt to do, he corrected it. It was not about eating and drinking, but about remembering the scourging of Christ and the final sacrifice. But, more than that – it was about remembering the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Return of Christ. The Communion was the pledge of the believing community to remember Christ as He had instructed before His crucifixion until He returned.

The same could be said of Baptism in Romans 6.1-7. It is a pledge. So too our life led in holiness.

But, returning to Hebrews 11, we find in verse three that through our Commitment to God, we come to understand such things as the Creation account (Which might play well into John Walton‘s theory of Genesis One being a Temple rite). This portion of Scripture reminds me of a portion of the Letter of Aristeas, in which the King was questioning the Jews:

Having signified his approval, the king said to another ‘What is the true mark of piety?’ And he replied, ‘To perceive that God constantly works in the Universe and knows all things, and no man who acts unjustly and works wickedness can escape His notice. As God is the benefactor of the whole world, so you, too, must imitate Him and be void of offence.’ (1:210 OTP)

There is precious little in the Old Testament about ‘belief’ but the idea of being committed to the things of God abound.

Read the rest of the chapter of Hebrews and examine it as an active pledge and commitment to God. Our Faith is not a mere thought process, or a belief in God. If belief was the only thing that mattered, we are no different than the demons, who believe in One God, and no doubt, because of their belief, they tremble (James 2.19) Our ‘belief’ has to be more, it has to be a commitment to God like the Saints of Old!

I have to return to Hebrews 11.1-3. if Faith is our assurance and our evidence about things that will happen, how can you classify that as a mere belief? In baptism, a sign of our faith, we are committed to Christ as an assurance that just as He did, we too shall rise again. In Communion, it is our assurance of the Cross and that Christ will come again. It is not a mere belief or acknowledgment, but our daily communication of what we as Christians except.

By Abel’s commitment, not because he believed Cain any less, he brought a good sacrifice because he understand that in the blood is repentance. Then Enoch walked with God and because of this commitment, God took him. Look also at Noah, who through his faith, built an ark knowing that the floods were coming.

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

4 thoughts on “Faith Beyond Thought – Hebrews 11 and the Christian Life”

  1. Joel,

    I’ve always liked James, as it’s like a Cliff’s Notes version of “The Guide to Practical Christian Living.” James makes it abundantly clear that faith (πίστις) is not just believing in something, but a way of life (v 2:19). He’s also tough on those that follow most of the Law and on those who show favoritism.

    All in all, James is, perhaps, one of my favorite books.

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