In his addressing the early Christians, the writer of Hebrews chooses to take a fairly large piece of the letter to talk about something we call faith. Why is that? First of all, to understand why the author used it here, we have to know what faith is.
If you look the word up in the dictionary, or ask someone, the answer is likely to be “believing without seeing.” In Hebrews 11:1 it says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). The idea of salvation through faith is a denominational conflict, because it is commonly said to be just believing. To some degree, it does mean believing, but not completely. How most people misunderstand is in defining the second half of the word. Throughout the bible, the word “faithful” is used mainly like the word “steadfast” or “obedient.” Joshua 7:1 states that “the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban…” (emphasis added) Notice that the text uses the word faith like it would disobedience, rather than unbelieving, like unfaithfulness is normally depicted. Also note that it doesn’t say that they thought unfaithfully, but that they acted unfaithfully. This implies that faith has something to do with our actions. Look at James 2:24-26. “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Contrary to the notion that actions are not necessary to be saved, this passage says that faith without works is dead. If you have a cow that you keep for milk and it dies, you can’t still get milk out of it, can you? It’s no longer worth anything. That’s what James is talking about. If you have belief, but don’t actually do anything, your faith is like that useless, dead cow.
Now that we have an idea of what faith is, we can look at why the Hebrew writer chose to take a whole chapter to talk about it. There are only thirteen chapters, so it must be pretty important for the writer to spend so much time discussing it. If you read through the chapter, the majority of it is talking about people who “by faith” did great things. Notice which figures the writer uses as examples. Do you see anything in common? Abraham, Isaac, Abel, Moses, Jacob, Sarah, these were all people that anyone who knew the Old Testament would recognize. In the background, the book of Hebrews is written to the new Christians who had started to doubt the New Covenant and wanted to go back to the old way they were used to. That would mean that they would know who all these people were, making it easy for the writer to express to them what he needed to say. When it says that by faith these people achieved great things, think of it as because of the faith they had, they were led to do great things. Now, what exactly is the Hebrew writer leading up to? Look at the context around chapter 11. The author is telling the early Christians that Jesus is the better way, and can lead them to salvation. In the midst of this, the writer points out key things that we need for salvation. By now, it’s an easy guess. Faith is an extremely important part of salvation.
Now, what does that mean for us today? Well, if faith is important for salvation, we should show it. Although Hebrews 11 uses examples like Abraham, that doesn’t mean that we have to show our faith by doing these huge deeds. Faith, even though it means action, is obeying God, and guess what? God never said that we have to do big things. We can show our faith in small acts of service, like doing someone else’s laundry, or washing dishes, even though the bible never specifically mentions dishes. Service is one way to live a Godly life, but for our eternal salvation, we need to study, learn, and act on God’s word so that we can one day go to Heaven. This kind of faith can rub off and bring others, not just you, to salvation.