Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 7. Pleasing God
Heb 11:5,6 For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The fact that the Lord took Enoch directly to heaven appears to be the evidence or reason that the writer said he was “commended as one who pleased God.” This leads him on to make this simple statement about faith that without it, it is impossible to please God. What a devastating blow to the self-righteous and the person who would do good and be religious in order to please God! For at its simplest, faith is simply responding to God, but all these other things are attempts to get to God and manipulate God to approve us, but that never works. He is not impressed by all our self-centred efforts, they are not faith, simply further expressions of our sin.
How terrible to suggest that the nice ladies who ‘go to church’ because it is the socially respectable thing to do, are sinning in their behaviour. How terrible to suggest that the MP (or Senator) who goes to church to win the approval of his constituents is sinning. But both are true. Religion that stems from our thinking, our ideas of what is right and proper is meaningless in God’s eyes. The Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9) The inner workings of our mind and will (the heart) are a constant expression of self-centred godlessness. They are self-centred because they start with what we think. They are godless because they do not pay attention what God thinks.
So he makes this ‘outrageous’ statement that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” But that is not the end of it for he gives us the reason why that is so, starting with that word, ‘because’. Note the sentence that follows and then we’ll look at it in parts: “because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” There are four elements to that that tell us a lot about faith.
First, it starts, “anyone who comes to him,” not anyone who gets all philosophical and not someone with a great social conscience and not someone taken up with the wonder of religious sacraments or ritual, but someone who comes to Him. Faith is found in those who come seeking God – and only them. Turning up in church every week can easily not be faith if it is pure habit motivated by social niceties. Faith is found in seekers of God. Are you and I seekers after God?
Second, there is a belief element to it: “must believe that he exists”. That sounds so obvious but it is fundamental. Faith starts with belief in God. I would like to add, “must believe that he exists here and now in this room” I say that because I think many Christians, if only they were able to be honest, would have to say that they believe in God, but most of the time He’s in the next room. In their thinking they focus on themselves. In their reasoning they focus on their own intellect, in their planning they think for themselves about themselves, if considering pleasure they think what they can do to make themselves feel good. God is not in the same room. If you say ‘He exists’ it doesn’t mean He exists in the Andromeda star system. It means He exists, here on this planet, in this country, in this town, in this home, in this room, with me. Nothing less than that fits this statement by the writer to the Hebrews.
Third, there is a ‘living God’ element to it: “and that he rewards.” i.e. He does things This is not a passive God model, this is a God who interacts with human beings and says things to them and responds to them. But it’s massively bigger than just that – see that word ‘reward’. A reward is something good, something of value given in response to something (yes, we can talk about rewards of evil as well) and so yes, we usually look forward to a reward. This speaks about a giving God, a God who wants to do good by us, who wants to bless us, decree good for us. I am convinced that many of us have the “hard man” mentality of Jesus’ parable (Lk 19:21). One of the greatest changes that can come about in a church is when we realise that God actually IS a good God, a giving God.
Fourth, there is our response to that Good News, “those who earnestly seek him.” You will seek after God for one of two reasons and both are good. First, you sense your need that you feel only God can meet, a yearning that only God can satisfy. Second, you start to really believe He is a good, loving God who has good plans and purposes for you and you want to enter into those plans and purposes but you can only do that by coming close to Him and hearing from Him.
But note also the word ‘earnestly’. This means not half-heartedly. Do you remember in the first study in this particular series we examined James’ teaching where he said, “when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.” (Jas 1:6) It’s the same sort of thing. If you don’t seek God earnestly, it means you are not sure about why you are doing it, you are not sure He is a good and loving God who rewards His children, and so God waits, holding back His blessing until you come close to Him, which will be when you seek Him earnestly.
So what have we learned about faith in this verse? It is a whole-hearted seeking after God and responding to God which pleases Him. Anything less than that…..