Please open your Bible at Hebrews 11, as we resume our series, Living by Faith. We’ve seen that faith believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised.
God teaches us in Hebrews 11 through a series of examples. Each one highlights an aspect of the faith to which we are called. We saw from the story of Abel that faith listens to God. We saw from the story of Enoch that faith walks with God. We saw from the story of Noah that faith fears God.
Today we come to the story of Abraham, where we see that faith obeys God. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance” (Heb 11:8).
We are told here that God called Abraham. Abraham obeyed when he was called. You would think that a man who was called by God must have been especially holy. Surely this man who obeyed God’s call and received God’s promise must have been seeking God, loving God desiring God.
But precisely the opposite is the case.
Joshua says to God’s people “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Josh 24:2). Abraham worshipped idols! He served gods of his own making. He did not know the God who made Him.
But one day, God appeared to Abraham as he had appeared to Adam and Eve in the Garden: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran” (Acts 7:2).
Can you imagine this! Here’s Abraham, with these little statues perched on a rock. He is saying his prayers to the idols, asking them to help him, and suddenly the God of glory appears to him! God who made the heavens and the earth appeared! God took visible form and stepped into this man’s life uninvited.
God appeared to Abraham, laying claim to his life, his love, and his loyalty. Abraham’s life would never be the same again.
Now notice how Abraham responded when God called him “By faith Abraham obeyed” (vs. 8).
1. The Obedience That Faith Brings
“By faith Abraham obeyed” (vs. 8). These words describe the relationship between faith and obedience. They tell us how obedience grows in the life of a believer, “By faith Abraham obeyed.”
How did Abraham obey? How can we grow in obedience to God today? Abraham believed what God had revealed, and trusted what God had promised. That is how he obeyed. His obedience sprang from his faith.
Grasping how faith relates to obedience is really important: I’m going to give three pictures of this relationship: Two of them are wrong, and should be avoided at all costs. One is right and should be pursued whatever the cost. The three are the mixing bowl, the buffet lunch, and the apple tree.
i. The Mixing Bowl: Confusing faith and obedience
You are in the kitchen, and you are getting ready to bake a cake for someone’s birthday. You get the flour, the butter, the sugar and the eggs. And you mix them till you have a smooth cake batter.
And of course when you have the batter, you no longer have the flour, the butter, the sugar, and the eggs. They have dissolved into each other. They are all mixed up!
Some people get faith and obedience mixed up. They can’t tell them apart.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “When I look at my life, I know that its not what it should be.” And then I wonder… “Am I really a true Christian?”
The person who says this is looking at their obedience. They see that it is far from complete. And they say “well if my obedience is not complete, maybe I am not a Christian at all.”
That is to confuse faith and obedience: It is to mix them up so that you can no longer distinguish the one from the other.
If you have a mixing bowl problem, I want you to notice that there is a the clear distinction between faith and obedience, “By faith Abraham obeyed” (vs. 8). Faith is not obedience, and obedience is not faith.
The distinction is really important: The Bible says that we are justified by faith. And if you get faith mixed up with obedience, you will end up thinking that you are justified by obedience, and since your obedience is never complete, you will never enjoy real and lasting peace.
God saves us by giving us what we do not have in ourselves. Faith looks to Christ and receives all that is in Him.
So beware of the mixing bowl: Don’t confuse faith and obedience.
I read recently a testimony, from the nineteenth century, of a woman by the name of Mrs. Drake. She was a believer, but she endured a prolonged time of great darkness, doubting that she belonged to the Lord.
After some years, God brought her out of this this, and looking back on her experience, this is what she said: “The fountain of all my misery hath been that I sought that in the law which I should have found in the gospel; and for that in myself, which was only to be found in Christ.”
This lady was trying to find peace by obeying the law, when the only way to find peace is by believing the Gospel. She was looking to find righteousness in herself, when true righteousness can only be found in Jesus Christ. And she says, “this was the fountain of all my misery.”
If you confuse faith with obedience, you will never be happy. You will be looking for righteousness and peace in the wrong places.
Faith finds in peace in the gospel, that obedience to the law can never produce. Faith finds a righteousness in Christ, that we can never find in ourselves.
So beware of the mixing bowl: Don’t confuse faith and obedience.
ii. The Buffet Lunch: Separating Faith and Obedience
The buffet lunch is the opposite of the mixing bowl. When you go to a buffet lunch, the food is presented in separate compartments. It’s all laid out for choice, so you load your plate with what you like, and you pass on what is not to your taste.
It would be easy to think of faith and obedience like a buffet lunch. Here’s faith: I’d like some of that. It gives me the taste of forgiveness and heaven. Here’s obedience: That might be harder to swallow. I’ll pass on that for now.
Friends, faith and obedience are not like choices in a buffet lunch. Paul speaks about the “obedience of faith…” (Rom 1:5)
The person who thinks that to be a Christian is to add belief in Jesus to an unchanged life needs to hear this challenge from James: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (Ja 2:14).
James makes it clear that where there is faith, obedience will follow. So, beware of the buffet lunch. Don’t separate faith and obedience.
iii. The Apple Tree: Rightly Relating Faith and Obedience
Faith and obedience are distinct: we mustn’t mix them up and confuse them. Faith is faith and obedience is obedience. But faith and obedience belong together. They must not be separated.
So, forget the mixing bowl and the buffet lunch, and think about an apple tree. There’s a clear distinction between the apple and the tree. You eat the apples. You don’t eat the tree.
The apples spring from the tree. They are formed by the tree. If you want to have apples, you must plant an apple tree. And if you want to grow in obedience, plant the tree of faith.
As faith puts down its roots into the Word of God, so, gradually and increasingly the good fruit of obedience will grow.
Faith is a living tree bursting with fruit. This is what we are learning from Hebrews 11. The opening verse describes the tree. It tells us what faith is: “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
That’s what faith is, and the rest of the chapter is all about what faith does. Faith listens to God. Faith walks with God. Faith fears God. Faith obeys God.
Grow in faith and you will grow in obedience. The more you believe what God has revealed and believe what God has promised, the more you will grow in obedience. Faith produces obedience. Obedience arises from faith. “By faith Abraham obeyed”:
2. The Patience That Faith Demands
“By faith Abraham obeyed…And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). When God called Abraham to a life of faith, He did not tell him where that would lead.
Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was going.” God did not give him a map to show where he was going. God did not give him a brochure to tell him what it would be like when he got there.
a. Faith demands patience because of what we don’t yet know
What will a life of faith and obedience to Jesus mean for you? What will it involve? What will it cost? None of us knows.
Jesus says “Follow Me.” When you step out in faith and obedience, you don’t know where He will lead you .
Luther said, “This is the glory of faith, simply not to know.”
You will sometimes find yourself asking “Why do I have to go through this?” What purpose does God have in leading me here? We ask “why?” And God is under no obligation to tell us. We walk by faith, not by sight: One day we will know fully, but now we know in part.
b. Faith demands patience because of what we don’t yet have
“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 11:9).
Living in the land of promise sounds marvelous, but when Abraham arrived in the Promised Land, he found that it was already occupied.
In Acts 7:5 we read, “Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child” (Acts 7:5).
God’s people had to wait 500 years before God gave them the land. It was after Abraham, after Isaac, after Jacob, after Joseph and his brothers, after 400 years in Egypt, after the death of Moses that God gave the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants.
The Promised Land was not given to Abraham, After years of living there, Abraham had to buy a small plot of ground from the Hittites to bury his wife Sarah when she died (Gen 23:7). A burial plot was all he owned.
Abraham spent his entire life “living in tents.” He lived on a promise, trusting God that one day, the land would be given to his offspring.
One day, God would fulfill His promise. One day God would give Abraham a child. One day God would give His descendants the land. But that day was “not yet.”
It was by faith that God led Abraham to the land. But when he got there, it was by faith that Abraham lived in the land.
Here’s the question: Which is harder?
Philip Hughes says, “The situation into which he moved on his arrival in the land of promise was a more severe trial of his faith than was the call to leave home and kindred, and it was easier for him to live by faith as he journeyed toward a goal as yet unseen than to do so upon reaching this goal and finding that the fullness of all that he had been promised was “not yet.”
I expect that Abraham thought that life in the Promised Land would be a kind of heaven on earth.
But when he got there, he found that Paradise was “not yet.”
This is a marvelous picture of the Christian life. Coming to faith in Christ is like Abraham setting out on his journey to the promised land.
When you hear the call of God and, by faith you obey His command to repent, all the promises of God are yours. Forgiveness is yours, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is yours. Everlasting life is yours. In Christ all the promises of God are yours.
But soon you discover that you are living with the “not yet.” Not yet are we free from sin’s presence or its power. Not yet are we free from sickness or loss. Not yet do we enjoy a life of perfect peace. Not yet is the church without stain or wrinkle. Not yet have the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ. And so not yet do we live in a world of righteousness, justice and peace.
Faith demands patience because of what we do not yet know. Faith demands patience because of what we do not yet have. So, how do you find the patience that faith demands?
How did Abraham have the patience, the endurance, the strength to spend his entire life living in tents as a stranger in a foreign land?
How can you find patience and endurance in the disappointments, frustrations and losses of life?
3. The Future That Faith Anticipates
“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10).
When Abraham got to the Promised Land, he realized, that God had more in store for him that he would ever experience in this world.
God had blessed Abraham with great success while he was still worshipping idols in Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 13:2). Genesis makes it clear that “Abraham was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold” (Gen 13:2). Then God gave him marvelous promises that led to his new journey of faith. From that time on, his whole life was “looking forward.”
Hebrews tells us that the city he was looking forward to was, “The city… whose designer and builder is God” (vs. 10).
Notice that Abraham is not looking for a city, he is looking for the city whose designer and builder is God. Vs. 16 tells us her was looking for a heavenly city.
If Abraham could come and observe our world today, I guess he would be astonished at the endless arguments that keep tearing people apart. Radically different visions of what life in our cities and in our country should be. I guess he might say, something like this: “You are all arguing about how to build your own cities. I was seeking the city whose designer and builder is God.”
The city Abraham was looking forward to is not created by human progress. He’s not thinking that we can shape a brave new world where all human dreams will be fulfilled, and all human desires will be satisfied. Only God can do that.
All of us have goals in life: things that we want to achieve. To reach a certain point in your career. To be married and to have a family. To have a certain amount of money that you think will give you financial security. To see some change in the world or some growth in the church.
Whatever it is, here’s what we learn from Abraham: When you get there, it won’t be what you thought.
Listen to these words of C S Lewis:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.
Someone may be saying, “well this is an old story.” You are talking about something that happened 3000 years ago. You are telling us that God appeared to this man. That God called him, that God gave Him great promises. That he lived in tents, and that he was looking for a city. What does that have to do with us living today in the city and suburbs of Chicago?
i. God has appeared to you
“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). God became a man in Christ Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God has made Himself known to you more clearly than He ever did to Abraham.
ii. God calls you
Jesus Christ the Son of God says, “follow me.” He lays claim to your life, your love and your loyalty. He calls you as clearly as God called Abraham.
iii. God gives you great promises.
If you will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness will be yours, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit will be yours, everlasting life will be yours.
iv. You live your life in a tent
That’s how the Bible speaks about your body. It’s a fragile structure that one day will be taken down.
Every time you get sick it is a reminder that you live in a tent and this world is not your home.
Thank God if you are in Christ you can say with Paul:
“We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1).
v. God has prepared a city for you
Hebrews says of people who believe what God has revealed and trust what God has promised, 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 11:16).
Jesus says, “So do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. I go to prepare a place for you. And I will come again to take you to be with myself so that where I am you may be also.”
© Colin S. Smith
Permissions: You have permission and are encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format you choose, as long as you do not alter or change the wording in any way and do not charge a fee (beyond the cost of reproducing these materials). For posting on the web, a link to this document on our website (www.UnlockingtheBible.org) is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Unlocking the Bible, 1-866-865-6253.
Please include this statement on every copy distributed:
By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org
 Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, p.42
 Cited in P Hughes, Hebrews p. 467.
 Philip Hughes Hebrews, p.468.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.