The List of Faith

Abraham-Sacrifice

The Lists of Hebrews
A Study of the book of Hebrews
Lesson 5
Lesson Text: Hebrews 11

Here is an exhaustive listing of the places in the Bible that mention “faith only”: (Or “faith alone” depending on your version)

  1. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. – James 2:24 KJV

Yes that’s it. The complete and unabridged list.

Faith is a Milestone

Those who teach salvation by faith only use Ephesians 2:8-9 as the corner stone for their doctrine. Based on my research, the idea of salvation through faith only was first seriously taught by Martin Luther, who was born in 1483. It is therefore a relatively new idea that was not taught by the early church.

But you see, Luther had a problem with his theory. The problem was the book of James. Luther called James an epistle of straw and tried to cast doubt as to whether it was even a book of the Bible in the preface of the 1533 printing of his New Testament translation.

In order to teach the faith only doctrine, he selected John, Romans, and Ephesians as everything a Christian should know. A serious Christian knows that, like Paul, we are not to shrink from the full counsel of God. (Acts 20:27) Which is another way of saying we should not ignore Scripture that doesn’t agree with what we are teaching.

James 2:24 says that man is not justified by faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says grace is a gift of God and not a result of works. How does one reconcile this apparent contradiction?

Here are some of the basic facts to help us show logically that salvation by faith only is a lie:

  • The context of the Ephesians scripture is about works of the law. He is speaking to the Jews about how they place emphasis on getting everything exactly right and offering no more. Works in that context are certainly dead and offer no value to salvation.
  • The context of the James passage is about performing works of faith. The passage from James 2:14-26 compares and contrasts how worthless faith without works is and how necessary works of faith are.

… Even the demons believe – and shudder! James 2:19b

  • I also point to Paul’s opening of Romans. It says we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5 emphasis mine) Isn’t it convenient how the modern publications of the Bible hide that little bit of text in a section called Greeting? We can see Paul’s idea of faith has a condition that includes a component of obedience. Obedience requires action on our part. Just to make sure he was clear on that, Paul closes Romans by saying the letter was meant to bring about the obedience of faith. (Romans 16:26)

  • John 6:29 describes faith as a work. Jesus is answering a question about doing the work that endures rather than the work that perishes. Believing in God means that we are doing the things he told us to do.

  • Romans 2:6 says the judgment will include an account of our works. Romans 2:6-7 gives us both the good and bad rewards of the kind of works we perform.

  • Hebrews 11 is a list of people that took action based on their faith. Each and every one of them can be used to demonstrate that faith is not merely a frame of mind.

While faith is a very important milestone on the path to salvation, the path doesn’t end there. As I have outlined on my Gospel Plan of Salvation page, faith comes very early on that journey, but at this point, the seeker is only beginning to see the goal in the distance. God has never accepted a person’s faith by merely taking his word for it.

The Heroes of Faith didn’t get away with Faith Only

Everything we have covered to this point of our Hebrews study brings us to this point.

Without faith, it is impossible to please him. Hebrews 11:6a

Without believing in Christ as our ultimate authority…

Without understanding how Christ came with a better promise…

Without heeding the warnings to protect and grow our faith…

…we don’t have a lot of hope.

…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6b

We need action to collect the promised reward!

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Heroes of Faith chapter. I want to review a few of them with you to reinforce the length these people had to go through to get the outcome God promised.

A faithful attitude

Faith led Abel to offer the correct sacrifice. (Hebrews 11:4) All we know from the Genesis 4:1-5 account is that Abel’s offering was what God wanted and Cain’s was not. Sometime prior to this account, God would have told them exactly how to make an offering. We can measure each one’s faith through how how much they actually heard of God’s word:

  • Abel offered what God told him to offer
  • Cain offered only what Cain wanted to offer

This still applies to us right now:

Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God Romans 10:17 KJV

We need the attitude of Abel to do God’s will without apology. We need to have enough faith in God to take the actions he told us to take (Obedience) or risk losing out on his promises.

Did Cain believe and fear God? Did his actions prove it? He obviously thought so. Many people claim they are walking in the faith but are worshiping him in unapproved ways.

How faithful is our attitude if we are willing to risk doing things our way rather than God’s?

A faithful practice

Faith led Enoch to actively please God (Hebrews 11:5) As a result, Enoch avoided death.

We cannot hope to avoid the death of our bodies unless Jesus returns first. (Hebrews 9:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:15ff) By walking like Enoch, we are working to avoid spiritual death. Our walk with God is one that endures for our lifetime and requires daily maintenance. The writer emphasized that through repetition (Genesis 5:22,24)

We discussed in depth the warning of failing to continue on in growth (Hebrews 6:1ff) and this lifestyle of Enoch is an excellent example of just how to make that growth happen.

Would your life make the same testimony that Enoch’s did?

…for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Hebrews 11:5b

A faithful acknowledgment of God’s power and ability

Faith led Noah to build the ark. (Hebrews 11:7) Noah had to make an incredible choice based on a serious lack of evidence:

  • Noah had never seen rain
  • He had certainly never heard of a flood
  • He had to build a strange vessel like God described to him
  • He was 100 years away from seeing the results

But he was moved by the fear of God. That kind of fear is the healthy kind. It is what we are supposed to have to protect our faith. (Hebrews 4:1)

That fear helped him get it done and took great pains to do it to God’s specification.

Like Noah, we need to honestly acknowledge that God will act exactly as he specified, no matter how long it takes. Those who fail to believe God’s word, or doubt the extremes that it describes do not respect God’s power and capabilities. There are many examples, but consider these:

  • Adam and Eve thought they could hide when they disobeyed God. (Genesis 3:8-11)
  • The Syrians thought Israel could only win from the hills. (1 Kings 20:22-29)
  • Annanias and Saphira tried to lie to God (Acts 5:1-11)

A faithful acceptance of God’s will as the last word

Faith led Abraham (Abram) to pack up and move his family. (Hebrews 11:8-10) God told him to go to the place to be revealed later. (Genesis 12:1-9)

Imagine that you are living a fine life that you suddenly must disrupt, leave behind, and cut all the ties. It must have been hard for Abram’s family. They were acting in response to someone else’s faith. Imagine how strong Abram must have been in his convictions for them to even consider it, much less go through with it.

God’s word should be taken at face value and be considered the final say in any matter. Every time we undercut that in front of others, we diminish our ability to represent God through our example.

A faithful lack of doubt

Abraham and Sarah had innumerable descendants through their faith. (Hebrews 11:11-12) But it didn’t start out that way. She had her doubts that a couple of old folks could bear children. She even tried to help God and got Abraham to go along with it.

Doubt takes many forms but it is those who overcome the doubt who become powerful like Sarah. Worry is a form of doubt that is our biggest enemy. We need to make sure our belief is the kind that takes God at his word.

What God promises, he delivers in his time.

A faithful willingness to sacrifice

Abraham knew that God could raise Isaac after he sacrificed him. (Hebrews 11:17-19) When God told him to take Isaac to the place and build an alter, he got right up. (Genesis 22:5)

God meant for his people to be givers. Yes, he could take care of everyone for us if he wanted to, but he provided for us in a way that allows us to do it. When we learn to be faithful givers, we demonstrate that we trust God to make things right.

He would never ask us to sacrifice more than he provided to us!

Abraham knew Isaac was from God. He knew God could give Isaac back. There was no reason to hesitate.

And he didn’t.

How quick are we to help when we see the need? What does the way we respond say about our faith?

What happens when we take away the action?

If any of the “heroes” had done nothing in response to God’s call, they would have met different fates. There would be no way to describe their faith because there would be nothing to describe.

Nothing.

Faith without works is dead and Hebrews 11 proves it.

About Butch Adams

In addition to writing this blog and contributing elsewhere, I have served as elder and deacon in the various places I have worshiped. In these duties, I have concentrated my attention to the area of education - both in outreach to seekers through the Internet and inside the congregations for ongoing Bible scholarship. Comments and thoughts about referenced material in the article above are Copyright 2015 by Butch Adams . Any referenced material belongs to its owners and every attempt has been made to use it according their wishes.

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