THE MANY FACES OF FAITH:
WHEN FAITH FACES DEATH
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 1, 2019
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
— Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV
In looking at the faces of faith in Hebrews 11, we see men and women who proved to have a saving faith in God by the way they served Him with their lives. Life, and the way you live it, is one proof of saving faith. The other is death, and the way you face it.
“These all died,” the writer of Hebrews said about the inductees into his Hall of Faith. Faith, it seems, does not insulate one from suffering, sickness, and eventual death, no matter what the hucksters on religious television claim. Faith is not having it all, not living in luxury, not the key to any city in this present world.
Faith is living fully and freely for God. Living this kind of faith is the only way one can be ready to face death. Death is coming for us all. How will you face it?
Faith Faces Death with Unfulfilled Promises
Having taken a pilgrimage to Israel, I have experienced first hand the enchantment of “the promised land.” I walked where Jesus walked, cried where Jesus died, and marveled at the spot where He ascended into Heaven. But the land upon which I stood is not God’s promise to me, a white, evangelical, American gentile.
Many believe “the promised land” is strictly for the Jews. God promised it to Abraham, indeed, and he settled there with Isaac and Jacob (all inductees in the Hall of Faith). The next generation was enslaved in Egypt, until Moses (another member of the Hall of Faith) led them back to “the promised land.” There they endured good kings and bad, false prophets and true, weathered captivity at the hands of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, lost their holy temple for good in AD 70 then lived in diaspora for almost 1,900 years until 1948, when “the promised land” was given back and renamed Israel.
Though land was part and parcel (pun intended) of God’s Old Covenant with Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Israel, a geographical tract less than one-sixth the size of Arkansas is not at the heart of the promise God has made to His people. Jewish believers with genuine faith in God lived and died in “the promised land,” only the land was not the promise, for, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised.”
So if “the things promised” do not include the land of Israel, where is “the promised land” that these members of the Hall of Faith died without? A future inductee, the Apostle John, describes it from afar: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (ref. Revelation 21:1).
The saving faith of the men and women of Hebrews 11 was not based on anything attainable on this planet. Such faith does not find fulfillment in money, homes, or even a homeland. Israel today is a pagan place where less than two percent of the population is Christian. The United States of America is no city on a hill, either, but rather a land where anti-Christian bigotry is quickly encompassing government, media, education, and the entertainment industry.
There is nothing in this world worth putting your faith into, except God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are like the inductees of the Hebrews Hall of Faith, you will still die one day, with promises unfulfilled, only to be found in a place you cannot now see, called Heaven, where the riches are untold and the life is everlasting and all of God’s promises come true. Having such a heavenly mindset can make you of much earthly good, too.
Faith Faces Death with Uncompromising Principles
I may have heard this in some Clint Eastwood movie, but I believe the only people who truly live are those who are not afraid to die. You won’t go anywhere or do anything if you are afraid to get off the couch. Faith gives us the ability to let go of this present world while embracing it at the same time, only for much different reasons than unbelievers.
Faith in the unfulfilled promises of Heaven makes one welcome death, although were are not to seek it on selfish or reckless terms. Faith embraces life, promotes good stewardship of the earth, but sees a much bigger picture governed by much better principles. These principles include awareness, engagement, and reward.
Life is short and it does not have to be easy. Remember the original audience of Hebrews were Jewish Christians suffering persecution from both sides, Roman pagans and Jewish nationalists. They thought life would be safer and easier if they just went back to being Jewish alone, and I’m sure they were right. Genuine faith, however, would compel them to do otherwise.
Christians today need to understand that God has promised us two things in life: shortness and tribulation (ref. James 4:14; John 16:33). The older we get, the more we realize that first promise is true. The closer to Christ we get, the more we realize the second promise is true, too. Embracing this principle prepares us to play out the next.
Be engaged in life in what matters most. If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you do? Well, you are, and so am I. That is why I worship every Sunday, read Scripture and pray every day, and do as much as I can every week to follow Christ, bless others, fellowship with Christians, influence the lost to come to Christ, and enjoy the good but temporal gifts God offers in this short and bittersweet life.
Glorify God with your life, experience the glory of God after death. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (ref. 1 Corinthians 10:31). The members of the Hall of Faith lived, and lived well. They got married, had children, built farms and houses, erected a worship center, ate, drank, fished, hunted, and live hearty, God-centered lives. Where are they now?
The Great Reformers of a half-millennium ago recovered not only the gospel, but the gospel life. It is a short, hard but sweet, engaged, joyful life. They have taught us to worship, study, witness, work, eat good food, drink hearty ale, and otherwise live giving glory and thanksgiving to God. If you cannot thank God for it, don’t do it. If you can, glory in it, for it is a foretaste of the greater glory to come. If we have faith in an unfulfilled promise, we will live with uncompromising principles, and one day look into the face of an unashamed Person.
Faith Faces Death with an Unashamed Person
The previous principles give way to another. Don’t do anything that you think will make God ashamed of you. After all, He is always watching, isn’t he. Or, if you are a person of genuine faith, like these Hall of Faith members, can or will God every be ashamed of you, His dear child?
Hebrews 11 gives quite a flattering view of its inductees. But Noah was given to drunkenness, Abraham had sex with his maid, and Moses was a murderer. Sarah laughed in God’s face, Jacob was a coward and a thief, Joseph had the bighead. Samson liked prostitutes, Jephthah killed his daughter, and David broke two of the top ten. As you can see, they were not a perfect lot, yet “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
This does not mean that our sins do not bring temporary shame to the cause of Christ. They do, therefore, they should be avoided at all costs (ref. 1 John 2:28). But it does mean, intrinsically and eternally, that God is never ashamed of any person who has put their faith and trust in Him, His dear children, from now unto eternity.
My father, for whom I am named, was always proud of me. And why not, I was an A student, scholarship athlete, and a successful businessman before I foolishly became a preacher. But my good relationship was not based on the good things that I’d done, but rather one very bad one. I would rather not go into detail, but it was during my teenage years and the place I wound up in the aftermath was the city jail. Dad was called and Dad came down. I though he would really come down, hard. But he got me out of jail, put his arm around me, and asked me what I’d done. I told him, honestly, and honestly said it would never happen again. He loved me, before and during and after my confession, and showed no signs of ever being ashamed of me.
That’s a picture of grace. That’s a picture of God. That’s the result of a genuine, loving, and faithful relationship between almighty God and a true, repentant, believer. God is not ashamed of us in this life, and He is preparing for us a city that is wonderful and exciting beyond our imaginations as a reward, not for being good, but for trusting Him in faith and doing our best to be faithful to Him.
So live your life in faith! It does not have to be famous or extraordinary, just filled with ordinary faith and firm spiritual disciplines. It won’t last that long, believe me. Revel in the love of the God who loves you just the way you are. Rejoice in the love of God, who loves you too much to leave you the way you are, but helps you grow in grace. Remember always the love of God, that is preparing a place for you where you will forever spend joyful time with Him and the other members of the family. If faith is your life, then you will not have to waste one millisecond worrying about death. You can look at death and face it, with faith.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org