BIG IDEA: Walk by faith, not by sight
1. what faith is,
2. what faith looks like,
3. what faith looks for


Sermon Transcript

The story is told of an evangelist who wanted to have a big outreach in the heart of a certain city. He needed a permit to do that, and he was relying on a particular pastor of a large, dynamic church to get it. So one day, a few days before the event, he checks in with the pastor. “Just checking in, do you have the permit?” The pastor answers, just a bit too enthusiastically, “YES. I HAVE it.” Now, knowing this guy, and something about the way he answered the question causes the evangelist to wonder. So he asks again, “No, brother, I mean, do you actually have the permit?” And the pastor answers, again a bit too energetically, “YES. In the name of Jesus, I have the permit.” Now he was really worried. “No no, brother, I mean, actually, physically, do you have the permit right now?” Again, “Hallelujah, YES In Jesus’s name I have the permit.” Exasperated, the evangelist finally pins him down: “Brother: you have to tell me. Do you, right as of this moment, actually have the physical permit for this event in your personal possession? Now?” Undaunted, the pastor makes one final reply: “IT IS AS IF I HAVE THE PERMIT!!” He didn’t have the permit. But he had faith.

Faith. So far in our journey through the Book of Hebrews, we’ve been learning all the ways that Jesus is better. The letter to the Hebrews was written to followers of Jesus who were tempted to turn back. But this author tells them—and tells us—all the ways that Jesus is better. Better than the Old Covenant law, better than following empty regulations and sacrifices that can never cleanse the conscience, better than falling back into sin. Better than an easy life apart from Christ. Jesus is better. And last week, at the very end of the passage we looked at, the author says this:

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:39

And then comes Hebrews chapter 11, our text today. It’s a really famous chapter in the Bible. It’s known as the “faith” chapter, and you can see why. It’s all about what it means to have faith! And it’s so good and so important that we’re going to take two weeks to preach it. Today I’ll walk us through verses 1–16, and then Pastor Matt will be back next week for the rest. And the big idea, the main thing God the Holy Spirit wants us to take away from this passage is, walk by faith, not by sight. Walk by faith. That is, live, every day, by our faith, and not by the things we see. Walk by faith, not by sight. And we’ll learn three things about faith, three things that God the Holy Spirit wants us to learn: what faith is, what faith looks like, what faith looks for. We’ll learn what faith is, what faith looks like, and what faith looks for. Let’s begin.

WHAT FAITH IS (vv. 1–2)
The word “faith” is all over the Bible, but this is the one place in the Bible where it actually gets defined. And it’s right there in verse 1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 ESV) Before I explain what that means, here’s the thing you have to understand about this, this is not actually a definition in the technical sense. That is, it’s not like a dictionary definition of faith. Instead, it’s what I’d call a functional definition of faith.

Here’s what I mean by that. Suppose you desire to be a parent someday, and so you ask a friend of yours who’s a parent what it means to be a parent, what parenthood is. There’s two ways they could answer it. Suppose they say, “Well, parenthood is when you have one or more children in your family who you’re responsible for to raise and take care of.” They just gave you a dictionary definition. Maybe that’s helpful to you, but it’s probably not what you meant, right? What you meant was, what you probably wanted to know is, what does it really mean to be a parent? What does it look like in action? And so, suppose they answer something like this: “parenthood is sacrifice.” That’s a functional definition. They’re both definitions; they both use the word “is.” But the functional definition tells you what the thing looks like. It’s actually not as comprehensive as the dictionary definition, but it’s more useful, isn’t it, because it gives you a real idea of what it might mean to live as a parent.

That’s the kind of definition we have here in Hebrews 11:1. A functional definition: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It’s not a dictionary definition, but it’s what faith looks like in action; what it “feels like” to have faith, day after day.

Now if you’re looking for a dictionary definition, it’s actually pretty simple, and you don’t need to overthink it. In a word, trust. Faith (dictionary definition): Trust. Trusting that something is true, or trusting in someone (God or Jesus). That’s it. Simple. Most of the times when the word faith shows up in the NT, it means believing, or trusting that a thing is true, or trusting in someone (usually God or Jesus) as a person you can rely fully on and base your life on.

But here in Hebrews 11:1 we have the functional definition, what faith looks like in action. And again, here it is: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 ESV) It’s being SURE about the things you hope for, and being CONVICTED or (here’s a better word) CONVINCED about things you don’t see. That’s what faith looks like in action. I love how Pastor Tony Evans unpacks this just a little bit more for us: Faith is to have confidence about an expectation without visible proof that it will happen. It comes from the trustworthiness of the object of faith.” – Tony Evans

What I like about Tony Evans’s definition is the second part: “It comes from the trustworthiness of the object of faith.” That means that when we’re talking about faith, we don’t just have faith in faith. There’s an old slogan for the early 70s New York Mets, a struggling team that went from last place to being in the world series in a matter of weeks: “You gotta believe.” (Tug McGraw) You’ve heard that, right? “You gotta believe.” But believe in what? Most people, when they say “you gotta believe,” mean something like Have faith in faith, or maybe have faith in one-another, or even just have faith that things will work out somehow. But do you see how thin that is? How it’s just a slogan? It means nothing because there’s nothing backing it – nothing! But biblical faith means being confident without visible proof—but it’s backed 100% by the trustworthiness of God. Our expectation, our hope, is backed 100% by the faithful God of the Bible. That’s what we’re talking about.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us that faith like this – faith that counts on things coming to pass without any visible proof–actually pleases God: For by it the people of old received their commendation. (Hebrews 11:2). They were commended for it, testified about, that they please God. And from there, from v. 3 to the end of the chapter, we will see example after example of what faith looks like, so that we can get the gist of it and become people just like them who trusted in God despite what their eyes told them. So next, let’s see what faith looks like.

The more you know the Bible the better you’ll understand these examples that start in verse 3, but it’s OK if you don’t. What we’ll do now is walk through them and I’ll make some notes along the way. What they all have in common is that these people were sure about the things they hoped for and convinced about things they couldn’t see. But I’ll point out some specific things we learn about faith through each one and how we can apply it to our lives. Let’s start right with v. 3:

3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Heb. 11:3 ESV)

This is talking about the opening pages of Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” No one saw this, right? But we believe it, we have confidence in it, because God said it. What can we learn from this? At least 3 things:

Faith believes that God created everything out of nothing
Faith believes everything God says in his word is true
Faith believes God is working when we can’t see him

This is immensely practical. When God’s word says something you disagree with, or you’re not really sure how it could be true, what do you do? Do you say “Well I’ll just put that part of the Bible aside?” Here’s what faith does: It says “God says it in his word; I believe God; that settles it.” And what about when you don’t see how God is working, or you don’t see how he could possibly come through for you? Faith says, “I may not see it, but I believe it, because God is completely trustworthy..” And you know what happens when you have faith like that? You please God. Let’s look at the next few verses:

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. (Hebrews 11:4–5)

By faith, Abel (this is in Genesis 4) offered to God a sacrifice out of a heart of worship and gratitude. Enoch—we don’t know a lot about him, but we know he “walked with God”—that is, he pleased God with his life. What can we learn from this? Well, it tells us in verse 6: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

In other words,

Faith believes that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him
Faith believes God’s approval is more important than man’s

Do you believe God is a rewarder of those who seek him? It’s not bad to look for a reward in God; it’s faithless not to. Is it your goal to please God? In all that you do, at home, work, play, waking, sleeping, do you make it your goal, as the Apostle Paul wrote, to please God? Are you OK with the smile of God even when it means the frown of man? When you’re pressured to compromise, to go along with a lie or the current of the culture, can you say “by faith I’m going to please God here”?

OK, what about Noah?

7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

You ever think about Noah? You know that God never told him how it was going to turn out, right? He just told Noah he was going to destroy the earth by a flood, and he should build an ark and get inside it with all the animals. He never actually said “But don’t worry, the waters will recede and you and your family will be fine, and they’ll get to start earth 2.0, it’ll be amazing.” He never said that. All he knew was what God told him. For all he knew, he’d be in that ark the rest of his life. But he did it anyway. You know what this means?

Faith obeys God, even when we don’t know the plan

We see the same thing with Abraham:

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.
(Heb. 11:8-9 ESV)

Same thing with Abraham. God didn’t give him the whole program; he just told him to Go! And Abraham went, not even knowing where he was going! Faith obeys God, even when we don’t know the plan. I think of those of you in medical school not sure where you’re going to match. But you’re going forward by faith, trusting that God knows the whole plan. Faith knows, as an old song says, that God is too wise to be mistaken, and he’s too good to be unkind. So when we can’t trace God’s hand, we trust God’s heart. And we obey. No matter the cost. What about you? Is there some step of costly obedience you know the Lord is calling you to, but you shrink back? I think of people in our church who have obeyed the Lord in getting baptized even though you were worried about how your family would receive it. (That was me, 32 years ago). Don’t shrink back. Believe, obey, and be saved.

We’ll circle back to verse 10 below, but let’s finish up with Sarah in v. 11:

11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. (Heb. 11:11-12 ESV)

Sarah didn’t have to do anything epic like Noah or Abraham, she just showed up, lived as a wife, and believed she could have a child even at old age, just because God says so. You know what that means?

Faith believes it’s never too late if God says it isn’t
Faith believes that God can bring life where there is no life

How about you, do you believe that God can bring life? Do you believe that God can save you, or your unsaved loved one you’ve been praying for for years? He can! Do you believe he can make dead things come alive in your life, and call the things that are not as if they are? Can he revive old dreams, old callings, old desires? You bet he can. Will you believe it?

Now, before we go on, this raises a very important question. Most of these people believed God for specific things he promised, but not all did. Abel and Enoch didn’t have a specific promise to go on; they just wanted to please God and knew that he would reward them somehow. Here’s the question, can we only have faith for things God specifically promised, or can faith be larger than that? Here’s my answer. Hebrews 11 tells us we are definitely on the safest ground where there’s a specific promise of God. We can take those promises to the bank. But I wouldn’t be so quick to leave it there, either. You might be pretty sure God is calling you to do something not specifically commanded in Scripture, maybe start a new ministry or, I don’t know, maybe buy a dilapidated, multi-million dollar building on Main St. in Manayunk. Can we do things like that in faith? You bet we can. The difference is, you hold it more lightly. You ask boldly (in faith)–but you surrender completely. It’s been said, there’s a fine line between faith and presumption. What’s the difference? Presumption says, “God, I believe you are calling me to do this. You will never let me down, so you just have to do this thing I am telling you to do.” That’s presumption. But faith says “God, you will never let me down. I believe you are calling me to do this. You will never let me down, so no matter what happens, whether this is an unbelievable success or a dismal failure, You will be faithful and I will trust you.” That’s faith. Do you hear the difference?

So to bring it back to the pastor with the permit I was telling you about, was he wrong to have faith that God would provide the permit? No, I don’t think so. I think that faith actually pleased God. But where he might have gone wrong was to presume that God would just have to do it, just because he wanted him to, and just because the guy said it. You can’t just name it and claim it. It doesn’t work that way. Oh, and if somebody asks if you have something in your possession, let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. But there was nothing wrong with having faith for that.

So we’ve talked about what faith is, and what faith looks like. There’s just one more thing we have to see: what faith looks for.


Let’s circle back to Abraham. It says that Abraham went out to the land of promise, not knowing where he was going. Why? Verse 10 tells us: For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:10 ESV). What does faith look for? Ultimately, no matter what it is you are trusting God for, faith looks forward to our eternal inheritance in Christ. It looks for the city. Let’s read from v. 13:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
(Heb. 11:13-16 ESV)

We’re all longing for home. For the city. That’s what faith looks for You know, right now there are a lot of wars and conflicts going on in our world, right? And what most of these conflicts have in common, if you really drill down, is the idea of home. Everybody’s either fighting for their home, or being displaced from their home, or claiming something’s their home that somebody else says is their home. But what this shows us is, we all desire a home. A better country. Listen to how C. S. Lewis describes this, in the last book of the Narnia series:

The new Narnia was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more…. It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

Friends, God has prepared for you a city. And faith looks for that city. And you know what that means? It means you can not just look for the city, but by faith, you can live for the city. Now. You can give it all away.

I wanted to take a moment to just commend you, Citylight Church, for your faith during the Reach campaign. Collectively, over 500 of us gave just shy of 5 million dollars over the past two years. That’s incredible! If you were here the other night at our Reach celebration, you know that this involved sacrifice. We heard stories about that. Everyone gave above and beyond what they normally would have. Right now, everyone who gave to Reach has less money available for other things. You gave other things up. Maybe you gave up more retirement savings for later on. Maybe it was going out to eat. Or money for clothes, vacations, or luxuries. Or a smaller home renovation, or no renovation at all. You don’t have that money anymore, it’s gone. But you know where it went? Not down the street to 4050, not ultimately, anyway. It went to the city. Hear what A. W. Tozer said about money:

As [ordinary] a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality. A. W. Tozer

Think about that! Here’s a dollar, a thing made from paper and thread, a thing that can be burned. And one day, every possession we own will be burned or otherwise destroyed. But take this dollar, invest it in the kingdom, and you know what you just did? You just changed this puny, perishable thing into something eternal. Wow!

Maybe for you it’s not money and possessions, but laying your life down for Christ in some other way. One of our prayers this year among our missions team and our elders is for five new couples or singles to seriously take up the call to international missions among the unreached. Bringing the good news of the gospel to the 3 billion people who are still completely untouched by the gospel with no viable churches among them. If you’d like to start a conversation about that, would you check missions on your connect card? Or maybe it’s not overseas missions, but going to NYC with our church plant. Either way, it’ll require sacrifice. It’ll require living for the city.

Or maybe it’s not money or missions, but just the so-called ordinary life of faith, showing up every day, trusting God’s word, pleasing God rather than man, trusting God when things look bleak, being willing to obey even when it’s costly, and believing that God can bring life to dead places. Whatever it is for you, we can embrace it because faith looks for the city that God has prepared for us.


And how has he done this? Through Jesus. All of these people looked forward to what was to come, but we look back on Christ and His perfect sacrifice. In His Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect God-man, God has reconciled faithless, sinful humans to himself. Abraham had to leave his country; Jesus had to leave heaven. Noah obeyed God about an ark of gopher wood; Jesus obeyed God about being nailed to a wooden cross. Sarah believed God for a son; Jesus God’s Son, believed the Father for many sons and daughters through his shed blood. Enoch walked with God; how much more the perfect sinless son of God. And Abel offered a sacrifice of sheep by faith, but Jesus Christ offered the far more perfect and costly sacrifice of his own body on the cross.

If you are here without Christ and you are wondering how you get in on this wonderful, exciting, exhilarating life of faith, it’s simple: Believe. Have faith. Trust in the son of God. Turn from trusting in yourself and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You’ll be given His spotless record by faith, and you’ll receive an eternal inheritance in the city that is to come. You don’t have to work for it, just believe. Do you know what the Apostle Peter says about Jesus?

Add: Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice gives us assurance of the coming city

According to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith– more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:3-9 ESV)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:8-9 ESV)

I close with the words of the great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.
The body they may kill; God’s truth is living still.
His kingdom is forever.

Let’s pray.