“Fruit of Faith” on Hebrews 11 by Joe Ellis — July 17, 2022
We’re continuing this morning to reflect on the fruit of the Spirit — we have been going through the fruits of the Spirit, which are a list of character traits that Paul teaches which we grow into as we continue walking with God. The list is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith(fulness), gentleness and self-control. Today, we are reflecting on faith. When you look at Paul’s list of the fruits in Galatians 5:22-23, for the 6th fruit many translations say faithfulness. That’s a fair translation, and so is faith — the word is pistis — which has a range of meanings and can both refer to faithfulness towards someone, as well as faith or trust in God. As we will see, these two meanings aren’t so far apart.
Like many of the letters written in the New Testament, Hebrews is written to a people going through hardship and persecution. This treatise on faith is intended to encourage people to persevere in difficulty — faith is being sure of what we hope for, faith is being convinced of what we do not see. Now this definition of faith helps us immediately understand why faith is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We need help to be sure of what we hope for.
We need assistance from the Holy Spirit to be convinced of what we do not see. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, faith is a nonstarter. It’s as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he made us, created in Christ Jesus for Good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Through the gift of faith, we become a new creation, a new type of human. God created us to shine like stars and be a sign of His goodness, mercy and love to the world. All this starts through believing in what we cannot see with our eyes. Believing that through the death and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus, God is redeeming us and this world.
Faith begins as a gift — the Holy Spirit gives faith where before there was absolutely nothing. This seems very similar to why the author of Hebrews begins his discussion of faith talking about the creation of the world. He says in v. 3: “By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible.” Faith always has its origins in the invisible. Faith is always about the invisible breaking into the visible through the power of the Holy Spirit. God is the one who brings the invisible into the visible world. And as Spirit empowers us to believe in the invisible, we confirm that belief by the way that we live. We show faith by the choices we make and the risks that we take. That’s what Hebrews 11 is all about.
These are stories of how people lived out their faith in the invisible. In faith the Holy Spirit empowers us to believe in God’s Invisible Kingdom. Then in faith we live according to the rules and principles of God’s Kingdom. We begin to trust that the reality of God's Kingdom that we can’t see, is more true than the reality of the earthly Kingdom that we can see. Faith is believing, praying and living into a reality that we cannot see. And of course, this is always a fruit from the Spirit — helping us live out of a reality that we cannot see.
So, after God gives us the gift of faith, we begin to strengthen our faith by believing more deeply through study and meditation on Scriptures. We strengthen our faith by praying more earnestly, asking God to bring signs of His Kingdom here and now. We shape the way we live around a reality that we cannot see. Doing these sort of things strengthens our faith. Think about the actions you do that wouldn’t make a lot of sense if it weren’t for a reality that you cannot see — Like giving money to the poor and to missions, taking time out of your day and week for prayer and worship of God, trying to reconcile with your brother or sister instead of seeking revenge, refusing to lie when lying would be to your advantage, living according to the teachings of Jesus, and telling others about them, despite knowing you’ll be thought stupid. Actions of faith are actions that don’t seem to make sense if it weren’t for this reality that we cannot see.
Sometimes our actions that don’t make sense are confirmed by the breaking in of this unseen reality we call God’s Kingdom. Sometimes we pray for healing and a person is healed, or we pray for unity and people are reconciled and communities are restored. God shows us and reminds us that our faith has substance, that our faith is not just an idea. The unseen reality breaks into our lived experience. As a reminder that this sort of thing happens, the author of Hebrews goes through this magnificent list of Old Testament saints who beautifully lived according to a reality that they could not see — and the Kingdom of God broke into their lived experience. They took leaps of faith and they saw miracles. They saw the Kingdom of God breaking into their lives in powerful ways. The author of Hebrews says in 11:33-35a: “Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, and women received back their dead, raised to life again.” These saints lived out of an unseen reality, and this unseen reality became powerfully visible in their lives. That is sometimes the fruit of a life lived in faith. They begin to see the substance of their faith by experiencing miracles. The power of God will sometimes be manifested when we live out of this reality that we cannot see.
But then the author of Hebrews goes on to list people who also live out of the unseen reality, but with a different result — he says in v.35b-39, “Others experienced mocking and flogging, and chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated - the world was not worthy of them. They wondered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised.” These saints lived out of an unseen reality, and this unseen reality remained mostly unseen. They didn’t see their faith manifested in power. They were stoned before they could see it. They were murdered before thy could see it. They were afflicted before they saw it. Yet the author of Hebrews says, of these pillars of faith, the world was not worthy!
Sometimes our actions of faith are rewarded with sight, sometimes we grow in faith by continuing our actions despite not seeing the fruit of our actions. I want to share with you a story how the significance of this insight was brought home to me. When I was going to Regent College (the place Michelle and I attended seminary), I had an inspiring professor named Bob Ekblad. I remember the first time I heard him talk in chapel. He shared with us his testimony. Bob has this huge heart for justice and mercy, and he dedicated his life to it. For several decades he served as a chaplain to Mexican gang members in prison. He had been doing this for probably a decade and was feeling dry and not seeing a lot of fruit in his ministry. He was living a life of faith — Bob was living out of a reality that he couldn’t see, he was living into the values of the Kingdom despite not experiencing a lot of success in ministry. He was feeling burnt out. It was then that someone invited him to the pastor’s conference at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship — that’s the place where the Toronto Blessing originated years ago. He went to the conference not really wanting anything to do with the conference. At the conference he kept experiencing the Spirit urging him to go up for prayer — he went despite being a bit suspicious of charismatics. On the last day, he went up for prayer and someone said, “Receive the full anointing of the Holy Spirit” — that person took a deep breath and blew all over Bob. Bob got knocked down for quite a long time and had this overwhelming encounter with the Holy Spirit. After that, Bob began to experience a unique power in his ministry. He began helping gang members to pray for each other and the Holy Spirit began to work in very visible ways — these gang members came to faith, bitter enemies became friends, chronic injuries were healed. During his chapel talk to us, Bob said, “I believe that Jesus wants to heal seminary students just as much as he wants to heal gang members.” He invited us all up for prayer and for the next hour Bob and his crew just ministered to us in prayer. Bob was living in faith, living into what was unseen — and the unseen began breaking in. He began to see the substance of his faith — he saw what he couldn’t before see but believed was there.
I was hugely inspired by this. I desired to see the substance of my faith. I still desire this. Because of Bob’s story, another friend and I bought plane tickets to Toronto in order to attend the annual pastor’s conference there. My heart’s desire was that I would have a similar experience as Bob. I hoped that someone would pray for me and I would maybe see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father and that the result would be my ministry would be filled with Spirit and power like I saw in Bob. I wanted to see my faith. So, I went to the Pastor’s Conference, and it was an incredibly disorienting experience. I did not experience God there. I was deeply confused by everything I heard and saw. God felt so incredibly far away from me. I saw all around me people visibly having deep experiences with the Holy Spirit, and for me God felt a thousand miles away. I didn’t know what to make of it at all. I felt incredibly desolate. I felt like I would never be able to be used by God because I wasn’t experiencing God like the people around me, and that his power wouldn’t flow through me to impact others for the Kingdom. I worried I was going to be a second or third class Christian because my experience wasn’t like Bob’s. It was the last day of the conference, and I was feeling pretty dejected. But in that last day, I was able to see something a bit differently. I was able to see the substance of my faith in a different way. It happened like this — in some conversations and prayers I was a part of, a few different times Hebrews 11:1 came up in conversation over and over as a word for me — “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” This verse began to make sense of my entire week. God was inviting me to consider that he was at work even if I couldn’t see him or feel him. God invited me to trust that His Holy Spirit was moving in me just as powerfully as the person next to me who was crying on the floor after experiencing God’s incredible closeness. God invited me to trust that He is powerfully present, even when I feel weak, alone and don’t feel his presence. God invited me to practice my faith — trusting in what I could not see.
That’s the whole challenge of this passage in Hebrews. Faith is living out of an unseen reality. Faith is believing that this unseen reality is more certain than what we can see, experience or feel. So, faith is the challenge to live out of this unseen reality no matter what our present experience happens to be. We might experience God as far away or we might find him incredibly close, we might not experience God’s power, or we might experience his power in overwhelming ways. Does that change the way we worship Him? It shouldn’t.
We might not know what God desires of us or we might have certain and clear conviction of his guidance — faith treats all of these the same. When we live by faith, we seek to live all of our lives out of the certainty of what we do not see. Sometimes our faith will be rewarded with sight, sometimes our faith will be strengthened with blindness. But our practices are not contingent on how much we can see at any particular moment.
So let’s practice our faith. Every day, let’s do something that won’t add up, that doesn’t make sense in the world: — Love your enemies. Have coffee with someone you don’t understand. Pray for miracles. Worship God and meditate on His word regardless of how close or far away He seems. Share with others the hope of the Gospel. Show kindness and mercy, even when it hurts, even when it is hard. Fast — go without food for the simple reason that God expects we will do this.
Faith is consistency in action, no matter the results. Faith is faithfulness despite a barren field. Faith is putting trust in the Lord throughout any circumstance. We get a clear picture of the life of faith in Habbakuk 3:17-18
When the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
when the olive trees do not produce,
and the fields yield no crops;
when the sheep disappear from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls,
I will rejoice because of the Lord;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!
Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see.