Hebrews 11: Justified by Faith – Part I

By W.E. Travis II

“Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin, Institutes, III.II.7

“Faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts, and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active, and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.  Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful, and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love, and praise the God who has shown you such grace.” Luther

We have had this same understanding of faith given to us over the course of the last several months – but this definition was not told to us, nor did we read – we saw it. Our dear brother Clayton lies even at this moment dying in the hospital – the time that grace has allotted to him to live is coming to an end. This is a difficult thing for his bride, his children, his mother and father, and family and us his brethren. However, Clayton has told us multiple times that he believes in God and in God’s ordained outcome over his illness – Clayton knew that if God determined to heal him that he would be healed / Clayton knew that if God determined not to heal him then this cancer was going to be the means used of God to bring him to God. 

  • We see that Clayton’s understanding of faith is consistent with that of Calvin and Luther: Calvin said that faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence,” Luther stated, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace…” Clayton has put a “bold, firm, and certain” hope / faith in God – in spite of any external circumstance because Clayton’s life like our own as Believers have a hope not in what we (necessarily see) but in Him in whom we cannot see. 

John Bunyan when enduring suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Christ noted this: “By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Hebrews 11:1 declares: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 

We see, therefore, that our brothers in Christ – Calvin, Luther, and Clayton are in harmony with the Great God of this majestically eternal faith.

And faith is the point of our focus for this morning – because it’s the point of Hebrews 11.

    • In fact, Hebrews 11 is a treatise on the great doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. 

Over the past three years, we have examined the teaching of Hebrews upon the supremacy of Jesus the Christ. Over this course of time, we have seen Christ is superior to: 

  • All the prophets of old
  • Angels 
  • The Law
  • Moses (the greatest of the OT Prophets)
  • The Levitical Priesthood 
  • Melchizedek
  • And the entire Old Covenant as a whole

The purpose of this sermon we call the Book of Hebrews is to teach and persuade the listeners to press forward in their commitment to Christ and not to return to the old ways of Judaism.

  • This may seem like an unnecessary point to make to a group of individuals that have professed faith in Christ – to not turn their backs upon Him – to not apostatize their professed faith. 
  • However, we need to appreciate the situation as much as we are able: First-century Christian Jews were no longer to offer sacrifices for their sins, and therefore, in many ways, were to turn their backs on many of their ancient rituals. What they have known about their religion and its practices, what they had known – all that had been passed down to them by way of ancestry, what they had been explicitly commanded to do by God in the past – in regards to sin and sacrifice has all changed in light of Christ. 
    • Think of how difficult change is for you for us, for SBC Churches: To begin to understand this difficulty we need look no further than ourselves and see how hard it is for churches to let go of things they have done for only one generation –  how difficult must it be to transition from something that culturally you have been doing for nearly a millennium?! 
    • Jews grew up in a restrictive culture – especially as it was relayed on how they were to relate to God. 

In order to come to God an entire catalog of stipulations and restrictions had to be obeyed:

        • Laws on how to offer Burnt Offerings, Grain Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings, Guilt Offerings, Laws on consecration and cleansing, Laws about clean and unclean animals, Laws about Purification After Childbirth, Leprosy, Cleansing your house, bodily discharges, making atonement, eating blood, sexual relations, laws on keeping feast days and festivals, the Sabbath, and on and on. 
        • In later days the Jewish credo was expounded to include fastidious adherence to an additional 613 laws – many, if not most being of human invention. 
          • Laws such as being allowed to swallow vinegar on the Sabbath but not to gargle it – for gargling constituted work and work was a violation of the Sabbath. 
          • A law that permitted the eating of an egg that had been laid on the Sabbath – but only if the chicken was killed the next day for violating the Sabbath. 
          • If a bird flies under your garment on the Sabbath you are not permitted to lift your garment you must wait for the bird to fly out on its own. 

These sound silly but to the first century Jewish Christian they were very much a part of not only their national identity but also their personal identity. And now in light of Christ that identity has been destroyed – because they are being instructed to now forsake all of these rites, rituals, rules, and regulations and to believe in Christ and Christ alone.

However, the point is this: their national and personal identity had been swallowed up in pharisaical religion rather than divine revelation. For if they had been paying attention they would know that Christ is not a radical deviation from OT truth, but rather He is its fulfillment. 

But how does the author challenge this long-held and deep-seated misunderstanding held by (presumptively) a large part of his audience? How is he going to penetrate their sort of Old Testament thinking? The answer in chapter 11, by giving us a list of Old Testament saints whose lives were marked by faith. The true people of God through all the ages have become the true people of God by faith, chapter 11 is loaded with illustrations. Just looking at verse 4, “By faith, Abel…” In verse 5, “By faith, Enoch..” In verse 7, “By faith, Noah…” Verse 8, “By faith Abraham.” And again in verse 17, “By faith Abraham.” And in verse 20, “By faith, Isaac.” In verse 21, “By faith, Jacob.” Verse 22, “By faith, Joseph…” Twenty-three, “By faith, Moses.” And again in verse 24. Going down further, in verse 31, “By faith, Rahab.” And then in verse 32, “There’s Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, who by faith did all these amazing things.”

  • How were all of these OT Saints made right with God? How were they justified? 
    • How was Able justified? By the offering of his produce? No – by Faith!
    • How was Enoch justified? By his personal holiness? No – by Faith! 
    • How was Noah justified? By obedience through building the Arc? No – by Faith! 
    • How was Abraham justified? By circumcision? No – by Faith!
    • How were Isaac and Jacob justified? By being descendants of Abraham? No – by Faith!  
    • How was Moses justified? By keeping the Law? No – by Faith!
    • How has every single believer in the history of redemption been justified? By Faith!!! 
      • This is the point that must be apprehended by all – faith is what declares you right in eyes of a Holy God – never your works. 

“The believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride, “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” (cf. Eph. 5:26–27) of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way, he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2(:19–20) says. Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon (2:16) says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” This is what Paul means when he says in I Cor. 15(:57), “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, the victory over sin and death, as he also says there, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” [I Cor. 15:56]. From this, you once more see that much is ascribed to faith, namely, that it alone can fulfill the law and justify without works.” (Luther) 

  • I want to leave you this morning with a parable – a parable that I pray is an encouragement to you – no matter if you be on your deathbed, in the midst of a financial struggle, immersed in a family squabble, a nagging sin of doubt, or fear, or sexual infidelity, or whatever it may be. I pray that you leave this morning with the understanding that Christ is enough. 

There once was a King who chose for himself a bride who was a poor, deformed, harlot. She had no loveliness of her own and yet the King wanted her. As their wedding day arrived the King gave to his bride a   “wedding-ring of faith” and the very second he placed that ring on her finger she became his Queen and they were forever united. They became “one” and all that was his became hers. His love, His blessings, His possessions even His kingdom now belonged to her.

Her bridegroom provided her with “all his good things”. He washed her with the water of his word, dressed her with “eternal righteousness” and presented her, despite her character,  as a “glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle”. 

This also meant that all that was hers became his.  In the intimacy of this union, the King took on himself all of his bride’s transgressions and debts. He “takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned”.

Now this fallen woman was Queen, but she had lived all of her life as a prostitute and so she did not know how to act as Queen. Though she was freed from her condemnations and showered with all of her husband’s blessings, though she could be “fearless of death [and] safe from hell” her character was still that of a harlot. But, through her union with the King, her character no longer defined her.  Her status of Queen defined her, and the longer she lived with her King the more her character changed.

“It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (Luther).


This message was preached by Pastor W.E. Travis II on March 3, 2019, to the Saints at Mt. Eden Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, KY.

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