A few weeks ago, I quoted the Bible’s definition of faith: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). I made the point that “faith affects our lives. If we really have faith, it changes how we think. It changes how we live.”
Do we really believe that what we don’t see is as real as what we see? Are we “sure of what we hope for” and “certain of what we do not see”?
There are many times that I feel I need to see God directly if I’m going to be able to have strong faith.
I completely understand why the New Testament rich man, after he had died and was suffering in hell, begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers, to warn them about the terrible torment.
Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” In other words, Abraham said that the five brothers should simply read the Word of God, believing that what they couldn’t see was indeed real.
The rich man wasn’t convinced. “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
Abraham’s reply was, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (from Luke 16:27-31).
But how can that be? I would think that a ghost would be quite convincing, wouldn’t you?
In Hebrews 12:18-29, we read of a similar time in history, when the Israelites, fresh out of bondage in Egypt, were told to prepare to meet God at Mount Sinai in only three days’ time.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
We can read the whole story in Exodus 19, how God asked if the people would really follow Him. The people replied, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” God then gave them three days to consecrate themselves, even washing all their clothes, in preparation for meeting Him in real life. They were warned not to touch the mountain, or even to let their animals come near it, or they would die. Finally, when God appeared to them, He came with “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.”
It was a mountain that could be touched! In fact, all of their senses were involved. They could smell the smoke, hear the thunder and trumpet blasts. They trembled in terror!
So you’d think that they would follow God with complete obedience. After all, they experienced Him with all their senses. They knew He was real. How easy it must have been to have faith.
Yet days later, the people “gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.'” The people took their gold earrings to Aaron, and he “took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt'” (Exodus 32:1-4).
So much for “we will do everything the LORD has said!” Hmmm…
Hebrews 12 tells us that we “have not come to a mountain that can be touched.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).
I don’t know about you, but I can’t see “heavenly Jerusalem.” I cannot even begin to imagine “the city of the living God.” I can’t see “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” I certainly can’t see “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.” (If only all the “righteous” people I knew were perfect! Ha!)
None of these things can be experienced with my senses. What’s less, none of things have yet happened. They’re all in the future. I have to simply have faith. By reading about the future in God’s Word, I have to be sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
Then we read a solemn warning:
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks (Hebrews 12:25).
Think about it. God doesn’t change.
The same God who spoke with thunder, lighting, smoke, and earthquakes is alive today. He hasn’t changed. Hebrews 12:29 says, “God is a consuming fire.” Just a few verses later, we are reminded, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Deuteronomy 4:24 states, “The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
The writer of Hebrews continues,
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain (Hebrews 12:25-27).
Are we really so smug to think that we don’t need to fear God? I’ve heard that the God of the Old Testament was vengeful and cruel, yet the God of the New Testament is loving and merciful. Is this true?
“I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).
God is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
At Mount Sinai, the earth shook. Someday, God says He will “shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” Everything we can see now will be destroyed. Only what we can’t see will remain.
Do we believe this? Do we have faith?
Just as we saw in Hebrews 11, the only way to tell if someone really has faith or not is by watching the way she lives. I’ll repeat what I said earlier:
“Faith affects our lives. If we really have faith, it changes how we think. It changes how we live.“
Hebrews 12 concludes with this exact thought:
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
First, faith changes how we think. It requires thankfulness.
Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:14-15).
Thankfulness shows that we trust God. If I trust in myself, my actions and attitude will show worry, fear, and even anger. If I trust in God, I will rest in Him, responding in thankfulness. It’s as simple as that. (Too bad it’s not simple!)
Secondly, faith changes how we live. We will have reverence and awe of God, evidenced by obedience to His commands.
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, NKJV).
Today’s passage is one of warning. God says, “I do not change; therefore, give thanks and fear me.” Both of these actions require faith.
I urge you to examine your heart. Do you show evidence of faith, or do you turn to false gods after rashly promising to follow God?
Do you really believe that what you don’t see is as real as what you see?
P.S. Would you like to study more about thankfulness or about the fear of God? I’ve prepared some downloads of Scripture verses on these topics: