It has been said that true faith involves trusting God and obeying God in spite of feelings, circumstances and consequences. In fact, it is sometimes hard to live by faith if these three things are conspiring against us.
Feelings, for example, can be deceptive. They come and go. Some days we feel that all is well and others, well, not so much. Some people are tempted to doubt God’s love for them. I have found myself in spiritual conversations with folks who lack assurance of salvation because they do not “feel” that they are in a right relationship with God. Feelings can get in the way of faith when we put more confidence in our emotions than in the promises of scripture.
Difficult circumstances, such as illness, unemployment, broken relationships, financial hardship, grieving the death of someone close, or any of many possible disappointments, can sometimes be barriers to faith. Some people make excuses like, “If only this would work out for me then I would trust God more.”
Outcomes, results, or consequences may lead some people to try to bargain with God. “If I could just see ahead to how this would turn out, then it would be easier to have faith.” We don’t always find it easy to trust God for the outcome, but that is what he asks of us. He alone knows the future.
The men and women who are listed in Hebrews 11 are noted for their faith. They trusted God despite emotions, circumstances, and consequences of their decisions. The people in this biblical hall of fame built their lives on the foundation of faith. Because of this God was able to use them in significant ways, and they are examples to us of what it means to live by faith.
Take Abel as an example (Hebrews 11:4). He represents the right approach to God in worship. He is contrasted with his brother Cain. In this contrast we are introduced to two value systems, two religions, two means of worship. The background to their story is Genesis 4:1-7.
God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. We are not told the reason why, but we may safely assume that God had called them to worship in a specific place and time and according to a prescribed procedure. The story in Genesis tells us that Abel’s offering involved blood sacrifice and this was acceptable to God.
Cain’s offering did not meet with God’s approval. He apparently assumed one way of approach to God is as good as another. The New Testament calls this “the way of Cain” (Jude 11). This self-righteous attitude is still with us today. There are many people who think they can approach God the way Cain did, by offering to God the works of their hands. But the Bible says there is no one who can be good enough or do enough good to be acceptable to a holy God.
If we read this story in the light of subsequent biblical teaching, it seems that Abel’s offering was acceptable because it involved substitution, an innocent sacrifice taking the place of the guilty sinner. “In fact the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This is why “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
The Genesis account of Abel and Cain did not end well for Abel. Cain murdered his brother. This shows that the life of faith can be costly and difficult. But in spite of feelings, circumstances and results, Abel worshipped God in a manner that was acceptable. God gave Abel the highest possible commendation. “By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).
Raymond Brown has written, “Although Abel was murdered by his evil brother, he is still speaking; the story of his faithful achievement speaks to people in every generation, not only about the quality of their offering to God, but also their motivation. Is the outward offering of worship, money and service a genuine expression of our love and commitment? God sees not only the value of the sacrifice, but the heart of the giver.”
Brown adds this additional truth for our learning: “Abel speaks to (us) still more clearly by reminding us of the most important offering of all, ‘the sprinkled blood’ of Christ” (Hebrews 12:24) who, although he was murdered by the angry and jealous successors of Cain, was not like Abel, the helpless victim of sudden hate. His entirely voluntary sacrifice was both determined and approved by God.”
Abel’s faithful witness is a reminder that for us there is only one way of approach to God. It is through the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God.
Pastor Randy Faulkner