Hebrews 11:1-6 is probably my favorite short passage in the NT.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
One habit that is far too easy is to read this passage in the light of salvation to and be unaware of, ore completely ignore, salvation from and salvation for. We do, though, have our glib little cliches that surface regularly. But as one in Christian education I have a serious hated for cliche remarks. So many sermons are filled with them, and movements (both ours and our opponents) are driven by them.
Perhaps we have forgotten the emphasis in Hebrews that places an emphasis on the holiness of God:
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We are saved for, from, and to God’s holiness. But the more OT I read, the more I wonder why we don’t emphasize holy living and holy behavior — that thing called piety — much at all any more.
During the past weeks our adult SS has been going through Habakkuk. This is one of those rich expressions of holiness that can be found anywhere. (Of course. It’s in the Bible.) Habakkuk 3 begins (3:1-8) like this:
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.
Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
Did the LORD rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
We stand before the God to whom both light and pestilence are ascribed. Destruction and salvation. Wrath and mercy. These are things we know by God’s intervention in the world. Our faith is analogical. This is confirmed in the first quoted passage, Hebrews 11:6.
… he who comes to God must believe that He is …
This helps us define faith much better. Faith is not just the sentiment of trust. And, unlike so many reformed teachers whom I greatly respect, faith is not just the knowledge of God. It is something different still. God is seen and understood through His revelation.
The use of evidence in evangelism does not contradict this understanding. If evidence is viewed analogically then it represents an identification of God intervention into the world. No evidence can provide sufficient justification for knowledge of God. That position must come by believing — by accepting the analogy. (Not at all a full definition of faith, but a useful nuance I suppose.)
But when evidence is viewed in any other fashion then the dependence is moved from revelation to human understanding as sufficient to somehow prove God’s existence. The this use of evidence has been used successfully in evangelism, evangelism is not the only use for apologetics and listeners are still left with uncertainty. Today’s greatest competition for our faith, naturalism and evolution, generally employs the same evidential approach. So it all boils down to “he said, she said” and any necessity that would end the discussion is just not there. Evidence is not sufficient. Period. The analogy of faith transcends evidence.
(Interestingly, naturalism is an analogy for evolution, though few acknowledge it or respond to it in that fashion.)