Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion — God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written specifically to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.



By Faith the People of Old

The pattern of faithful endurance in difficult times that Jesus gives us as described in Hebrews 12 is not the only help for making it through tough times that we’re given in Hebrews. In the chapter 11, before we get to chapter 12, we’re given a description of the kind of faith that will sustain us through trials and examples of people who’ve had this kind of faith.

Verses 1-3 are an introduction to the rest of the chapter.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 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. (NET)

Sometimes you’ll hear people quote verse 1 as if it’s a complete definition of faith—as if it gives the whole answer to the question, “What is faith?” It gives us some of the answer, but we should probably understand it more as a statement about a particular characteristic (or characteristics) of faith than as a true definition of it.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for.
Literally, faith stands under what we hope for. It undergirds our hopes, so that even though the things we hope for are not currently here with us, they are not pie in the sky, either. We are certain of them because because we have faith. Faith makes us sure of the rock-solidness of the things we hope for.

Being convinced of what we do not see.
This could be taken two ways: that faith is the proof of the things that aren’t visible to us or that it is the test of things that aren’t visible to us. Both are legitimate ways to translate the text, and depending on the word meaning choice, the sense of the phrase would be different. If the word means proof (as the NET takes it), then this phrase is simply saying the same thing as the first one in a slightly different way: Faith makes us certain of the things we hope for even though they are not yet reality.

However, if it means test, then the idea would be that faith tests the things that can’t be tested by our five senses. If something can’t be sensed by ordinary means and thus known to be true through our physical senses, we have yet another way to test it—the test of faith. Faith tests to find out what is real in the unseen world in the same way that our senses test what is real in the physical world.

For by it the people of old received God’s commendation.
These “people of old” are the Old Testament saints, some of whom we find listed in the rest of this chapter. These people received the approval of God by faith. When God revealed things to them, they believed him, and because they believed him, they lived as if what he told them was certain. Because they believed God, they were “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (10:39).” God’s commendation comes to those who have this sort of faith.

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command.
Before moving on the the examples of the expression of faith in the lives of the O.T. saints, the writer of Hebrews gives us an example of the expression of faith within himself—and in us, too. Are you convinced that God created the world out of nothing by his command? If you are, then you understand this by faith. You did not reason your way entirely from the physical evidence to this conclusion. This is not something you came to know through your five senses only, but something you became convinced of through your “eyes of faith.”

So that the visible has its origin in the invisible.
What we see came into being ex nihilo by fiat—somethingness from the nothingness simply because the invisible God  commanded. If you believe that, you believe it because you have faith.


God's Self-Existence


There is inexhaustible meaning wrapped up in that short statement from God to Moses. One of the things it points to is God’s independence or self-existence or asceity. He is in a constant state of being and has no beginning or end. If God has no beginning or end, then He cannot be dependent on anything outside of Himself for His existence. He must be the one uncaused cause.

Our God “has life in Himself” (John 5:26), and this “from-Himself-ness” extends to all that He is. No one can be God’s counselor (Romans 8:34), because He is independent as to His thinking. He is independent, as well, in what He wills, working “all things after the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11). He also has the power within Himself to work his independent will, doing whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115:3).

That God is self-existent also means that nothing can add anything to Him. Creation adds nothing to God. His glory is revealed in creation, but it does not add to His glory. God has need of nothing from anything outside of Himself, for He is not 

served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all life and breath and all things… (Acts 17:25)

This verse from Acts points to the uniqueness of God’s self-existence. He needs nothing from us, but exists wholly of Himself. We, however, depend on Him for everything. Everything we have and our life itself we derive from God. It is in Him that “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)We are completely dependent, completely derivative; we haven’t a smidgeon of self-existence. He is completely independent and the only underived being—the One who exists from Himself, the “I AM THAT I AM.”

How ought we respond to our self-existent God? First of all, we should be awed at His absolutely unique being. He is in a class by himself. How can we feel anything but humility before the self-existent One—the great “I AM”? Furthermore, we must acknowledge our complete dependence on Him and respond with thankfulness to Him for our lives and everything that we have. And we can have complete confidence in the stability of our God and be sure that His promises to us will be kept, for He is not depending on anything outside Himself to fulfill His word.

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