Just in case you miss the point that Paul is making in this letter, salvation is and always has been by faith - not by our own efforts. The whole appeal to the Hebrew believers has been to remain in the grace they had received from God and NOT to return to the religious requirements and rituals that no one could keep. Christ has completed the work of salvation on the cross. It is a gift of God from beginning to end, and NOTHING we do can add to that.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
In this chapter of Hebrews, Paul will show that it has ALWAYS been by faith - even before the Law of Moses was given. The phrase “by faith” appears in this chapter about twenty times for emphasis. And the very first example of faith expressed starts with the basics, believing in the invisible God. Unless you can believe the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God. . .,” you will have a hard time with the rest. The Bible never tries to argue the existence of God - it assumes it. If you can’t buy that, if that isn’t obvious to you just by looking at the creation we have in evidence all around us, none of the rest of the book will make sense.
Therefore, assuming that the first four words of the Bible are TRUE, Paul begins to explain in Hebrews 11 the first “by faith” example:
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)
He’s saying that everything we see around us was spoken into existence by God, Who created it all from NOTHING. He did not gather up some ingredients and put them in a pot and create all of the things we see in the universe. He didn’t start the world in motion and step away as all of it eventually worked itself into what we see. He actually spoke and created everything we see, uniquely with a special purpose and joy. Genesis chapter one specifically tells us that, as God made each aspect of our world, He declared it “good.” He was pleased with it. When he created man, however, we are told that He created man in His own image. Mankind is unique among all the uniqueness!
I’m not going to enter into a long treatise regarding creation - so many have covered it far better than I can - but two example speak volumes: the human eye, and atoms. The eye is arguably the most complex organ in our bodies - and the most unique to each individual (other than DNA itself). The retina of the eye is 2,000 times more unique in individuals than fingerprints. For that reason, retinal scans are being used for security purposes to identify people. In India, more than half the population has already submitted to retinal scans for security purposes because of this uniqueness. The eye has a built-in cleansing system: each time we blink we irrigate, lubricate, cleanse and protect the eye. And we do it more that 4,000,000 times a year!
Have you ever wondered why we can’t do eye transplants? We can transplant so many vital organs, but not the eye. That’s because it is actually an extension of the brain. It’s wiring system to the various pathways of the brain are much too complex to be able to accomplish such a difficult task.
The eye is amazing, and yet it is just a teeny tiny part of what God has done to amaze us! Whether contemplating the vastness of the universe, or wondering over the infinitesimally small atoms and subatomic particles, creation screams that there is a Creator. When I taught the fifth grade chemistry unit, I always marveled that all sub-particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) are identical to their kind. The only difference between one element and another, between oxygen and gold, for example, is the number of the subparticles in the nucleus of the atom! And there are only about 100 elements that make up all of the diversity we see in the universe! That boggles my mind! There is really nothing random about creation - it definitely has design and purpose.
So why doesn’t everyone believe that God exists if we can see His hand so clearly in our world? Well, according to Paul, it’s not that people CAN’T believe, not that they don’t have enough evidence, but rather that they WON’T believe. They choose not to (see Romans 1:18-32 for Paul’s explanation). Because if we believe that there is a God who created us, then we must be accountable to Him. “No thank you!” says most of the world.
In today’s verse, we have been told that it is by faith that we believe in God as the Creator. We have to first believe what His Word tells us about Him before we can see Him. And this has always been true. Up next is our look at the first example from the Old Testament that proves Paul’s point. I’m excited to learn about our first hero of faith: Abel. Join me!