D. Scott Meadows
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him
Faith is the theme of Hebrews 11, for there it is described (vv. 1–3), illustrated by many specific examples of believers from redemptive history (vv. 4–38), and vindicated against charges of futility (vv. 39, 40).
Just after starting the list of faith’s exemplars including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Exodus generation, Rahab, and several others, our text verse (v. 6) appears, explaining three important things about the kind of faith in view. These three truths enlighten us about faith and simultaneously challenge popular misconceptions.
The first popular misconception corrected by this text is that faith is a morally indifferent thing, or at least not the main criteria between good and bad people. Some people have faith and some people don’t, and God is ok with some of both kinds. I’ve heard this from an unbeliever: “I just wish I had your faith,” even while his stubborn unbelief stood in the way. Hearing that faith is a gift from God (and it is, Phil 1.29), some conclude that those without it cannot be blamed. If I am not mistaken, many imagine that as long as one lives a moral life, doing more good than bad, they will fare well in the afterlife, if there is an afterlife, even if they were atheists. After all, some unbelievers live much more commendably than many who claim to be Christians.
Those unsound ideas are authoritatively refuted by this thunderbolt of truth from heaven: “Without faith it is impossible to please” God! The negative form emphasizes the fact that there are no possible exceptions to this rule of divine judgment. We can know for sure that unbelievers cannot and do not please God because that is absolutely impossible. And this inspired way of putting it is impressive for understatement. Those who continue in unbelief do greatly displease Him; they remain under His just wrath (John 3.36).
But what if they are moral people? Without faith they cannot please God. What if they are religious people, yet actually unbelievers? Then they cannot please God. What if everyone who knows them thinks they are the finest people on the face of the earth, except that they are not Christian believers? Still, it is absolutely impossible for them, while they remain unbelievers, to please God even a little bit. They are only beautified spiritual corpses on their way to a Christless eternity, piling up guilt for Judgment Day (John 3.7; Eph 2.1; 1 Tim 5.6; Rom 2.5).
Faith, the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11 and throughout the Bible as the possession of those God counts as truly righteous in His sight, is absolutely necessary to pleasing Him.
The second popular misconception is that a faith which is notional is all that is required for salvation. Romans 10.9 has been twisted in support of this: as long as you “believe in your heart,” you shall be saved. But such misguided thinking does not appreciate that the saving faith of Romans 10.9 is not only assent to the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, but also an open and sincere confession before others that He is Lord, with all the implications of that noble confession—namely, a life of humble discipleship (cf. Jas 2.19, 20).
Here in Hebrews 1.6, the one who has faith is characterized as “he that cometh to God,” not merely in a momentary decision but in a lifelong spiritual pilgrimage of “diligently seek[ing] him.” This kind of persevering, life-altering faith is conspicuously evident in the examples of this chapter. Thus, true and saving faith is not a static but a dynamic thing. It is not just between the ears but a head-to-toe stimulant heavenward. It accounts for the spiritual about face of a sinner from habitual idolatry to practical obedience to the living and true God (1 Thess 1.9).
Test your faith (2 Cor 13.5; 2 Pet 1.10), then. If it is the real thing, you are coming to God every day. If it is just mental assent that leaves you spiritually dead and inert, then it’s counterfeit.
The third popular misconception is that faith, by definition, is an irrational leap in the dark. Reasonable people are skeptical and one must commit intellectual suicide to think and live as a Christian.
The third part of this verse lays bare the logic of faith—faith that sets one upon a lifelong spiritual pilgrimage and ends in glory. Two rational propositions are foundational to such a faith: God is and God rewards. Both of these are conclusions that reasonable people draw from the evidence, and the denial of them is fraught with far greater philosophical and metaphysical objections. The Christian faith does not answer all the questions we might ask, but it is a more plausible worldview than any alternative. And it necessarily follows that the only sensible thing to do in a world where God is and rewards those who diligently seek Him is to live for Him, looking forward to the day when our faith will be vindicated and we will hear His commendation. Presenting ourselves wholly to God as a sacrifice for His glory is our “reasonable (rational, intelligent) service” (Rom 12.1 ANT).
Thus we see from this biblical statement that true faith is morally necessary, leads us to God, and is the most rational thing we can do. Ω