If those of old had not received their commendation based on their faith (Hebrews 11:2), then Hebrews 11 would have read very differently. Rather than being the Hall-of-Fame of Faith, it would be the Hall-of-Shame of the Faithless. Instead of being remembered as the Heroes of Faith, they would be the Zeroes of Faithlessness. Consider with me the possibilities:
By carelessness Noah got drunk and his nakedness was exposed by his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-27).
By fear Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah, calling her his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:10-20).
By fear he did it again (Genesis 20:1-18).
By impatience Sarah took matters into her own hands and offered her servant Hagar to Abraham so that he might have an heir (Genesis 16:1-16).
By favoritism Isaac loved his son Esau more that his son Jacob which resulted in all kinds of problems for his family (Genesis 25:28).
By deceit Jacob tricked his blind father Isaac and stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-46).
By rage Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster, hiding the body in the sand and fleeing into the wilderness (Exodus 2:11-22).
By anger Moses struck the rock to bring forth water instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded. Consequently, Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-13).
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the sins of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, and the prophets – who through faithlessness erected an idol for Israel to worship (Judges 8:22-27), who refused to fight for the Lord (Judges 4:8), who not only made a rash vow but carried it out (Judges 11:29-40), who was a womanizer (Judges 16:1-22), who took another man’s wife and then murdered the man (2 Samuel 11:1-27), and who out of depression and fear ran from his responsibilities (1 Kings 19:1-18).
Some played the whore with idols, even burning their children in sacrifice, and made the streets of Jerusalem flow with the blood of the innocent (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:1-20).
All of these were condemned because of their sins.
Praise God, the story of the salvation is very different. Rather than being condemned for their sins, the men and women of old were commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:2). Praise God, the Spirit said, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him…” not “Without fault” (Hebrews 11:6). Praise God, real Heroes of the Faith are men and women who fall and fail and are flawed, but in the end receive God’s approval, because through it all, they stayed true to Him by faith. That, my friends, should give us hope.
One of the great qualities of God’s word is that the men and women that are highlighted within its pages are unnervingly real. God does not hide their flaws, nor does He sweep their weaknesses under the rug. The good, the bad and the ugly are presented with unflinching honesty for all to see. I firmly believe God did this so that we might learn from their examples (cf. Romans 15:4). When they fell down, they did not abandon their faith, rather, with God’s help they got back up and pressed on.
The race of faith is a difficult course to run. The terrain the Christian must traverse as we make our way to the finish line of heaven can be rough and steep, difficult and treacherous. All along the course we stumble and fall… and fall again. So often is the case, the pain from those falls is intense, almost beyond bearing. We feel spent and depleted, weak kneed and feeble. We think we cannot go another step, or run another mile. We question ourselves and wonder why we are even in this race to begin with. “What’s the use” we say, “I can’t make it.” There are times when we stop running.
But then suddenly, from some unknown place you hear a clap, then two, quickly followed by a shout, “Come on, you can do it!” Then all at once, a sound like thunder rings in your ears. It is the sound of a mighty chorus calling out your name, cheering you own, and encouraging you to keep on running. There before your eyes is a “great cloud of witnesses,” men and women who have run the same course, who have stumbled and fallen the same way you have, who have been hurt the same way you have been hurt, who have doubted the same way you have doubted. But they are also men and women who know how to trust God through it all; they know how the race is won, not by perfection, but by faith. Like them, we too can receive a commendation from God, by faith. Press on my friends. Keep running.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
If I can be of any help to you in your spiritual race, feel free to email me at email@example.com. May God bless you as you serve Him, by faith.
This article was recently featured in Pressing On magazine.