An excellent way to understand the meaning of faith is to consider the examples of the Bible - men and women who trusted and obeyed God, placing their lives in His hands. Who were they, and what can we learn from them?
"Now these things became our examples . . ." (1 Corinthians:10:6).
We are fascinated by the stories of other people. People like to hear other people's reactions to challenges and tribulations. This is obvious when we notice the enormous appeal of inspirational magazines and newspaper stories. When we learn how other people have succeeded, we are encouraged that we can triumph as well.
Because God inspired the Scriptures so "that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy:3:16-17), we should regularly study His Word, the Bible. No other book has this same divine approval. The Scriptures contain numerous success stories written for our benefit. The Bible is a record of people who faced challenges and difficulties. Even though they lived long ago, their stories are preserved as timeless examples for us.
Writing to the church in Corinth in the first century, the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of important events in Israel's history 1,500 years earlier (1 Corinthians:10:1-10). He wrote, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come" (verse 11).
The examples Paul referred to are not archaic accounts concerning irrelevant issues. They are genuine. The Bible doesn't varnish its heroes or sanitize its sinners. It is a record of real people with real experiences—good, bad and everywhere in between. Though the time and circumstances varied, these people dealt with frailties, fears, hopes and desires like those we face throughout life.
Knowing that the people of the Bible experienced needs and sorrows can comfort and reassure us (Romans:15:4). Seeing the results of their decisions helps us learn from their choices.
Let's examine some of the positive examples in the Bible that should encourage us.
The example of Abraham and Sarah
After Abel, Enoch and Noah had lived their lives of faith (Hebrews:11:4-7), God called a man named Abram, whom He renamed Abraham (Genesis:17:5). Abram's life, with that of his wife Sarai, renamed Sarah (verse 15), deserves our attention because he was "the father of all those who believe" (Romans:4:11). Scripture recognizes Sarah as an outstanding example for wives (1 Peter:3:6). Hebrews 11, noted previously as "the faith chapter," honors both as people of faith.
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews:11:8-10).
In an early account involving Abraham, we note his obedience. When God asked him to move out of his native country to an unfamiliar land, "Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him" (Genesis:12:4).
One of Abraham's outstanding traits was his firm belief in God's promises. Even though Abraham was childless, when God told him he would father an heir and his descendants would become as numerous as the stars in the sky, Abraham "believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis:15:6).
Sarah similarly set an example of faith: "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews:11:11).
What was the result of Abraham's and Sarah's faith? Even though they were old, with Sarah past the age of childbearing (Genesis:18:11), "the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and . . . Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him" (Genesis:21:1-2).
Abraham and Sarah faced many other difficulties. Sometimes their faith wavered. Fearful for his life, Abraham twice made a misleading statement, claiming Sarah was his sister (she was his half sister) instead of his wife (Genesis:12:13; 20:1-3). When Sarah heard that she would bear a child, she laughed at the idea of someone her age giving birth (Genesis:18:9-12).
Abraham and Sarah weren't perfect, but their lives are shining examples of people growing in faith and confidence in God's promises. They tried to do what God asked as they faithfully waited for Him to fulfill His promises. Because they lived and died by their convictions, "God is not ashamed to be called their God" (Hebrews:11:13-16).
King David's example
Hundreds of years later, another man of faith arrived on the scene. Much has been written about David, both as a young man and later as king of Israel. In general, his life exemplified living faith in God.
As a youth facing the giant Goliath, David had faith that God would help him, stating, "The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel:17:37). God called David "a man after My own heart, who will do all My will" (Acts:13:22).
Like David, each of us must face our Goliaths, lions and bears—the challenges and trials that can overwhelm us. Just as God protected and delivered David, so can we enjoy God's protection. God certainly has the power to intervene for us if we trust in Him and do as He says. God does not change (Malachi:3:6; Hebrews:13:8), so we can be confident through faith in His power to help us.
Three Jewish lads and a fiery furnace
You have probably read of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Daniel 3). These three young men—whose actual Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel:1:6-7)—put their lives on the line when they chose not to bow before King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. Doing so would have been a violation of the First and Second Commandments (Exodus:20:1-6). Refusing to bow to the image also meant they would be thrown alive into the king's fiery furnace.
Notice their inspiring response to their last opportunity to bow to the image and save their lives: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter . . . Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (Daniel:3:16-18).
Rather than violate their commitment to obey God, they put their lives in His hands. They did not know whether God would intervene to save their lives or not. They knew God could, but they didn't know that He would. Regardless of the outcome, their living faith convicted them to put God first—a principle Jesus also emphasized during His earthly ministry (Matthew:6:33).
As an example of His power, God intervened to spare their lives. Even though He allowed them to be tied up and thrown into the furnace, the blazing heat didn't affect them at all (Daniel:3:25-27). They walked out unharmed.
Although our tests may not be as severe, they can seem just as difficult while we are facing them. The example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego reminds us that God can and does intervene in the lives of those who trust Him (Psalm:37:4-7; 118:6-8; Proverbs:3:5-6).
Reflecting on these examples
A principle of faith in the preceding examples is obedience. Godly belief inevitably leads to doing. This is why we read in James that faith without works is dead (James:2:14-26). Living faith comes by doing what God says is good and right and being willing to accept whatever results may come from our actions.
The examples and testimonies of the men and women we read about in Hebrews 11 show us we can believe God. He does not lie (Titus:1:2), and, as our loving, faithful Father, He delights in providing for us. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James:1:17).
God the Father and Jesus Christ have made promises to mankind about Their love, protection and faithfulness (Psalm:33:4; 37:28; 97:10; Proverbs:2:8; 2 Thessalonians:3:3). These promises are sure.
Some may conclude that these examples in Hebrews 11 do not apply to the average person. They may assume that these people were so spiritually strong that faith was an easy matter for them. But the reality is that our faith is built over time.
And living, saving faith is not something we work up on our own. Rather, it comes through God's Spirit. Faith is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians:5:22, King James Version), which God gives us when we repent and are baptized (Acts:2:38). (For more information about these subjects, read the free Bible study guidess The Road to Eternal Life and Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion . ) God begins the process of reconciling us to Himself by calling us (John:6:44) and leading us to repentance (Romans:2:4).
The faith God gives us, however, must be nurtured and developed. We are warned against neglecting our salvation (Hebrews:2:3) and quenching God's Spirit (1 Thessalonians:5:19). God expects us to have faith, and our works (efforts in doing God's will) show that we have it (James:2:20). We have a responsibility to make sure our faith grows (2 Peter:3:18).
Of course, this is not by ourselves either. Just as God empowers us to have faith through His Spirit, so He also plays a vital role in the ongoing development of our faith. Again, we cannot create faith or make it grow entirely on our own. In fact, the Bible tells us we must have "the faith of Christ" (Galatians:2:16; Philippians 3:9, both King James Version). (See "Our Faith in Christ or His Faith Within Us?".)
As we noted in the previous chapter, believing in God means more than mere acknowledgment of His existence. Faith involves a relationship with God that deepens and matures over time.
More examples of living faith
Several other, lesser-known biblical figures demonstrated faith in God. Their examples are also inspiring and show that God does not show partiality (Acts:10:34). All of us, no matter what our circumstances, can develop living faith.
Matthew 8 contains two excellent examples of faith. First, a leper was healed after saying to Jesus, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean" (Matthew:8:2-3).
In another case, Christ offered to go to a Roman officer's home and heal his servant. The officer's faith in Christ's healing power was so strong that he knew Jesus didn't have to be physically present for the servant to be healed. "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed," he told Jesus (verse 8). The centurion's faith impressed Jesus so much that He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! . . . Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you" (verses 10-13). The officer's servant immediately recovered.
In another example a woman who had "a flow of blood" for 12 years approached Jesus to ask for healing (Matthew:9:20). She believed all she needed to do was touch Jesus' clothing. Jesus responded by saying, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well" (verse 22). This woman, too, was immediately healed.
Still another example of faith occurred when two blind men came to Christ for healing. He asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They responded, "Yes, Lord." Jesus touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be to you." The men's blindness was healed (Matthew:9:28-30).
As we have seen, many examples of faith during Christ's life dealt with healing. Even in modern secular society in which God is often overlooked, life-and-death matters command our attention. Although we may seek the best medical service possible, our lives are still ultimately in God's hands. As the apostle Paul said, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts:17:28).
Scripture tells Christians, when they fall ill, to call the elders of the Church to receive prayers and anointing with oil as a symbol of God's Holy Spirit (James:5:14-15). While God uses human servants in this work, we must never forget that it is He who actually performs the miracle of healing.
When we seek God this way as He instructs, we should trust in faith that He will intervene for us and heal—yet still recognize that He, knowing what is best for us and others, may choose to not heal immediately. Perhaps there are lessons we or others may yet need to learn. (This does not, however, mean that we should resign ourselves to His not intervening. Rather we should persist in prayer, expecting Him to act speedily unless He has an important reason for not doing so.)
In many circumstances it is also wise to seek medical advice and help. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional care when we are sick. Luke, the traveling companion of Paul and author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, is called "the beloved physician" (Colossians:4:14). And Jesus Himself acknowledged the need for physicians in caring for our health (Matthew:9:12). The use of medicine is also spoken of approvingly (Proverbs:17:22).
But in any medical treatment, we must still look to God as our Healer—placing ultimate trust in Him and not in doctors or physical remedies. The Bible gives us the negative example of Judah's King Asa in this regard, who "became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians" (2 Chronicles:16:12). As always, ultimate faith and trust must be in God alone.
And again, when we do trust in God for healing and deliverance from various trials, while He will often immediately intervene there may be times that He does not for our own or others' good. (For more on this, see "When It Seems God Doesn't Hear or Answer".)
Though the resurrection to come is a sure biblical promise, we must remember that this life is temporary and that trials and even dying are part of it (1 Corinthians:15:22; Acts:14:22, Hebrews:9:27). In comparison, our faith bears eternal significance. This is why Paul affirmed, "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians:5:7) and "The just shall live by faith" (Romans:1:17; Galatians:3:11; Hebrews:10:38).
At the end of the faith chapter, Hebrews 11, we find that we, too, can share in the future promised to these outstanding examples of faith: "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us" (verses 39-40).
We can share being "made perfect" with these remarkable people of faith. The next chapter will help you understand how this can take place.