Faith Working (Hebrews 11:7)

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So far in our studies of Hebrews, we have learned that biblical faith worships God and walks with God. Today we will see that it also works for God. Faith works. John Calvin famously said that we are saved by faith alone, but that the faith that saves is never alone. Never. Saving faith always manifests itself in works. Or as Alexander Maclaren has put it, “If faith has any reality in us at all, it works. If it has no effect it has no existence.”1

The Bible reveals that the root of faith produces the fruit of faith; that is, works prescribed by God. Paul said as much in many places, most notably perhaps in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Jesus Himself said that we will know the difference between a true and false profession of faith in the same way that we can tell the difference between trees: by their fruits (Matthew 7:20).

The account of Noah and his building of the Ark is Exhibit A of this principle. In Noah, we see faith walking.

Noah believed God, and the proof was that he obeyed God. As he faced a situation without any precedent, he believed that God would send rain in such volume that the entire world would be flooded and thereby destroyed. Noah believed in two things that had not yet been seen: “the great flood that God had promised and the salvation that would come by means of the ark.”2

And because he believed “things not yet seen”—solely because God said so—Noah worked. He built the ark, he warned the world and ultimately, and most significantly, he saved his household. Let that sink in: Noah’s faith was the means of the salvation of his family. If you need motivation to work by faith, then look to Noah.

For the Record

Let me go on record—for myself and for all of those who believe in Christ.

We believe that there was a time when the entire earth was covered by water; water sent by God to flood the entire globe. In other words, the Grand Canyon is not evidence of a little water and wind over a very long period of time, but rather evidence of what God can do with a whole lot of water in less than a year!

Further, we believe that we can trace our lineage all the way back to Noah and Mrs Noah, and then back further to Adam and Eve. Jesus said so.

Yes, we believe the Bible. We take God at His Word.

Let me also go on record that the Bible tells us that Noah’s faith was the means of delivering his family from destruction. By faith, the household of Noah was saved. God says so. Do you believe this? Helping you to believe this is a major burden of this message. God is faithful and that is why we believe. Let the salvation of your family motivate you to worship, to walk and to work by faith.

My faith has been greatly strengthened this week as I have dug into the account recorded in Hebrews 11:7. The author’s pastoral intention to encourage believers in the early church has transcended time and it has encouraged me to persevere. May we be encouraged as well.

The Progression of Faith

As we have seen, there seems to be thematic intentionality about these three examples. We see faith worshipping (Abel), faith walking (Enoch) and then faith working (Noah). We in fact see all three in Noah’s case. Noah worshipped when he “moved with fear.” According to Genesis 6:9, “Noah walked with God.” Hr did so, our text tells us, as he was “divinely warned.” And Noah worked as he “prepared an ark.”

The Christian life is like this. This is why the idea of The Pilgrim’s Progress registers so well with us. We begin by worshipping the Lord and then, having tasted that the Lord is good, we begin walking with Him. That is, we are motivated to seek an increasingly close communion with the Lord.

But there also comes a time when we are called upon, sometimes sooner than later, to begin working for the Lord, to witness for Him. And this involves warring. It can be challenging to walk in these works of witnessing.

Our allegiance to the Lord will require great spiritual effort as opposition mounts. These are the kind of “works” that I have in mind as we approach this study. Like Noah, there will be times when we quite obviously will be swimming upstream against the cultural currents that inform us how we should be living.

Noah is an outstanding testimony. I agree with Kendall, who wrote, “Here is a man that bore the stigma of his own generation with such a dignity that one cannot but stand in awe of him.”3

Let’s look at the faith of Noah, that is, at faith working.

It was Unprecedented

Noah figures very significantly in Scripture. We think of the theological ideas of “grace” and “righteousness,” which occur for the first time in association with Noah. The declaration of worldwide judgement is associated with Noah, is is the rainbow.

We of course realise that what Noah experienced was something without precedent.

The forty days of torrential rain, producing a worldwide flood, was unprecedented, as was the building of the ark—a hundred miles from the sea!

The significant factor here is that Noah believed God’s Word about “things not yet seen”—by anyone. But he had God’s Word (“divinely warned”), and that was all he needed. As F. F. Bruce observes, “what is emphasized here is that when God announced that He would do something unprecedented in the experience of Noah and his contemporaries, Noah took Him at His word.”4

Noah as Our Precedent

Now, having noted this, we need to realise that our call to faith has the advantage of the precedent of Noah. We have far more evidence than he had.

Our days are actually also much like the days in which he faithfully worked and witnessed—and raised a family: days of violence, unrestrained sexual activity and hedonism. And since he believed God for salvation we too can believe God for salvation—as well as for judgement. We have every reason to also believe God.

But think also about more contemporary precedents. After all, you have seen some friends and probably family members who have been transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. You have every evidence that you could ever need to believe. So believe!

Yet there is also a sense in which saving faith in your life is unprecedented. That is, you have never been saved before. And therefore you may be asking, will God save me? Be encouraged by the example of Noah. He had never seen a flood. He had never before been in a position where he needed to be saved from such judgement. But he believed and was delivered.

Your deliverance from the wrath of God, your deliverance from the kingdom of darkness and destruction to the kingdom of God’s dear Son and eternal life, will no doubt create some unprecedented challenges for you. But, like Noah, by God’s grace you will be able to handle them obediently and hence victoriously.

It was Uncompromising

Noah was uncompromising in his faith.

The Precision of Faith

Noah believed the Word of God and therefore he paid attention to the details of the divine instruction. This is a legitimate implication of the phrases, “moved with godly fear” and “being divinely warned.”

The point is that God was specific both about the judgement to come and about the exact plans for the ark, the means of deliverance (Genesis 6:14-16).

God was precise about judgement and about salvation. And Noah paid attention and followed accordingly. Richard Phillips concurs when he notes that “there were two things Noah believed that were unseen: the great flood that God had promised and the salvation that would come by means of the ark. Noah had reverence for God, which led to his attentive care to the details of what God commanded.”2

Persistence of Faith

Noah persevered over decades in the building of the ark—in spite of very dry and cloudless weather, and in spite of the scorn of the world.

Noah laboured for 120 years on the project and, by it, he “condemned the world.” It has been said that Noah “condemned the world by his contrast.”6 No doubt this is true. Yet since he is called a “preacher [herald] of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), it is clear that he also condemned the world by what he communicated. Noah really believed in the coming judgement.

Noah was uncompromising in what he proclaimed (see above) and he was uncompromising in what he produced: an ark exactly as he was commanded. Genesis 6:22 commends Noah with these words, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” What wonderful words!

We might say in our colloquial way that Noah practised what he preached. He was uncompromising in both the message of his lips and the manner of his life. His words matched his works and his works gave credibility to his words. What a need there is for this in our day!

Christian, do you really believe the Word of God about judgement?

As a church, we were recently privileged to host John Blanchard. He was asked at one point to promote some of his books, and one he mentioned was Whatever Happened to Hell? It is a brilliant book, which I read years ago, but as he mentioned it I though about the question. Whatever happened to hell? For one thing, Christians stopped believing in it.

Though God’s judgement via the flood has come and gone, the final judgement will one day occur. And even if that is yet a thousand years or more in the future, nevertheless people still die, and “after this, the judgement” (9:27). As someone has said, “This skin and bones is just a rental and no one gets out of here alive.” And yet people scoff. People mock us, even vociferously so. We should learn from Noah the necessity to continue to live and to herald by faith. The unseen final judgement is real. Proclaim it. But do so while proclaiming the equal reality that Jesus saves.

R. Kent Hughes poses a penetrating question: “We must ask ourselves if we truly believe God’s word—that he is coming in judgment—if we do nothing to bring salvation to those around us.”7 Are you uncompromising in your conviction about the unseen reality of final judgement? If we are, then we will be uncompromising in our declaration of the gospel. Don’t be swayed by the scoffing of the scorners. As Alexander Maclaren, describing the unbelief of Noah’s contemporaries, so graphically puts it: “How their gibes and jests would die in their throats when [the flood waters] reached their lips.”8

He was Unashamed

We could make much more of the previous point, but suffice it to emphasise that Noah was uncompromising, and therefore unapologetic, because fundamentally he was unashamed of the gospel. Think about that for a moment. Noah, like the apostle Paul was unashamed of the gospel of Christ because he knew that it was the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

We must be constantly reminded in our studies of Hebrews that this is a Christ-centred chapter. The writer is seeking to exhort his readers to believe and to continue to believe on Christ. And one way he does so is by referencing these Old Testament believers, those who believed on Christ long before He was seen. Noah believed on Christ and we know this because Genesis 6 tells us that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). Hebrews 11:7 gives us a fuller understanding of this grace and we see that it was salvific favour for we are told that he “became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” That is new covenant language (often used by Paul) that informs us that Noah was saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this in fact is the reason for his subsequent works of faith.

Noah Trusted Christ

Noah believed God’s promise concerning Christ. This saving faith gave Noah every reason to believe everything else that God said, including the reality of a worldwide flood and the only way of deliverance through God’s appointed means of the ark. Noah was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ and he proved this by not being ashamed to believe anything else that God revealed.

Making the Connection

The writer is exhorting his first century readers to take seriously the gospel of Christ. And as they do, they will also take seriously the words of Christ as proclaimed in the Olivet Discourse. They are to believe Christ concerning “things not yet seen” with regard to the impending destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Like Noah, they are to be uncompromising and unashamed before their contemporaries. For, in fact, they are much like those as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-44). In other words the writer is concerned to exhort these believers to not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And neither should we.

If we truly believe the gospel of Christ then we will be committed to doing whatever else He says, regardless of how unprecedented it is. We will raise our children with a full-orbed God-centred worldview. We will sacrifice our career, our treasures and our time for His kingdom. We will honour the Lord every day, and in a special way on the Lord’s Day. We will live a life of unimpeachable character and integrity in the workplace. We will be actively committed to doing whatever he says and believing whatever He tells us unashamedly and uncompromisingly.

It was Unambiguous

There is no indication that Noah ever hesitated when it came to his trust in God’s Word, either concerning judgement or concerning salvation—especially the salvation of his household. There are a couple of very important matters here that we need to address.

First, the emphasis of the texts, whether in Genesis or in Hebrews are, with reference to Noah’s faith and the salvation; (deliverance) of his family. I believe that Leon Morris is correct when he writes, “The purpose of building the ark was ‘to save his family’ … from disaster…. Noah’s faith led to the preservation of his entire household during the Flood.”9 Or as Marcus Dods translates Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, on being divinely warned of things as not yet seen, with reverential heed prepared an ark to save his household.10 It is a fair conclusion to say that, by faith, Noah saved his family.

His faith had credibility. His wife and sons believed his preaching; they believed his warning of judgement to come. There must have been something of the unseen about him. And this is to be assumed since, like Enoch, “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).

Clearly Noah was neither unambiguous about what he believed nor ambivalent toward God. He believed with all of this heart, with all of his life and, therefore, thank God, with all of his family.

Second, with the above in mind, the timeline is very significant with reference to Noah and his family.

When you consider the Genesis account of Noah, it is evident that he began to be a father at the age of five hundred (Genesis 5:32). According to Genesis 6:1­–3, the Lord announced (doubtless through Noah) His judgement would fall in 120 years, and (according to Genesis 6:18) that He would save Noah’s entire family. Finally, note that the judgement of the flood fell when Noah was six hundred years old (Genesis 7:6).

Let’s do the maths here. If the flood came when Noah was six hundred, but was announce 120 years prior to that, Noah was 480 when the flood was announced. But he started having children at five hundred—twenty years after the announcement of divine judgement. Some might question his wisdom—or even his decency—in having children when he knew that the entire world was going to be destroyed. Why would he want to bring children into a world that was so corrupt and destined for certain destruction? Why take that chance? There is only one explanation: You would choose to have children in the midst of a world of woe if you had faith in God. Clearly Noah did.

Noah believed the promise of God about judgement but he also believed God concerning salvation. He did not believe that parenting was a coin toss. He knew the promises of God and he lived like he believed them. And the result was that his household took his leadership seriously and the consequence was that they were saved from destruction.

Noah’s unambiguous faith resulted in at least two positive things for his family.

His Faith was Protective

Noah’s faithful response led to the deliverance of his family from destruction. I appreciate the words of Kendall, who comments, “Noah’s moving with fear did not save millions or even thousands, but it did this: it saved his family. I regard this as a remarkable accomplishment. When faith leads anyone to the ‘saving of his house,’ it is very valuable indeed.”11

Avoiding Cursed Consequences

Fathers, leaving aside the debate about whether there are “guarantees” concerning the salvation of our families, at least be persuaded by this text to do all you can to secure the salvation of your family. Noah no doubt had his faults, but passivity was evidently not one of them. In fact, the only time that we see any hint of passivity was when he got drunk and alcohol-induced passivity led to terrible trouble in his family.

Fathers, behave as though the salvation of your family does depend upon you.

But let’s apply this additionally to the “saving” of our families from the consequences of living in a sin-cursed world. If we walk by faith then, like Noah, there are some devastating destructions that we can save our children from. Let me explain.

I am not prepared to say that every one of Noah’s sons was a believer in Christ. We just do not have enough information to make a definite conclusion. But we do know that they were saved from the destruction that came upon the world. Their lives were spared and they were given the opportunity for a new beginning. And this was primarily—at least humanly—due to the faith of their father. This text, in addition to the account in Genesis, makes this abundantly clear.

Application

Fathers, as you obey God’s Word then this will be revealed in how you raise your children. God’s law will be the law of your home, and will therefore determine your views of sexuality, self-control, materialism, secularism, responsibility, priorities, honesty, holiness, worship and every other worship.

Fathers, be fathers! Man up. Lead, teach, exemplify, command, instruct, raise, nurture. Someone recently asked me to write an article for our church website detailing the difference between being a good man and being good at being a man. The truth is, there is a difference. There are far too many good men—moral, tax-paying men—who are far too passive in their husbanding and fathering. Noah was not so.

His Faith was Productive

It must not be missed that this record of Noah and the salvation/deliverance of his household has a huge historical-redemptive context. That is, the saving of this family was essential for the preservation of the gospel promise of Genesis 3:15. If the promised Seed would come, the line of that Seed needed to be preserved. Simply put, there had to be humans if there would be the God-Man. Therefore, there had to be the preservation of at least one family for the gospel to be preserved. God did this through the salvation of the family of Noah. In Genesis 9:1, 7 we see the significance as we read words, lifted as it were, from Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

We can learn from this that, when God saves us, He has reasons that both include and transcend our salvation. It is all a part of His plan to save all of His people. This is truly a cosmic commission. The church is deeply cosmic.

We can put it this way: The salvation of this family is the reason that there can be the salvation of your family.

We should be encouraged by this example. We are called to be faithful where we are and the results, under God’s control, can spread far and wide or as close and near as He designs.

Children are Still God’s Good Gifts

We need to be encouraged by this account of Noah that we are not being irresponsible to bring children into this world. Those who do not have faith in Christ may be guilty of doing so, but certainly not those who, like Noah, believe God. In fact, our faith should go a long way towards encouraging us to be fruitful.

Think about it: Noah’s obedience put him in the position to become the head of all of those in the new world who would believe and be saved. Noah was the beginning of a new people of faith.

Noah’s faith put him in the position of being at the head of a continuation of a people who believed God (see Genesis 5).

As we saw earlier, Noah, like Abel and Enoch, believed God in Christ. The gospel therefore sailed through the flood to the other side. The gospel was safe and sound at the beginning of the new creation. All of those who have a like faith share as heirs with Noah in Christ. May our children be counted among them!

Summary

Noah was truly in the minority. In the midst of a corrupt age, in the midst of millions of people who were rejecting God and His Word, Noah stood firm. He laboured on a project that seemed to be irrelevant. After all, he had no concept of what a flood was. He may never even have seen rain. These things were unseen. No doubt, Noah’s contemporaries mocked him for wasting his time when he could have been doing something better.

Rather than spending his energies on a big boat as a supposed means to salvation, would Noah not be more productive in doing more acceptable activities? I can almost hear the scoffers: “That Noah fellow is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good!” Or, “What a killjoy! All this judgement of God nonsense! Come on Noah, get with the times.” Perhaps if there were ancient tree-huggers, some were criticising him for wasting such precious resources for this huge project that, in the end, would ultimately prove to be a ruse.

And what do you suppose the ungodly culture said of Noah’s children? “What a strange family, spending all of their time building this odd-shaped boat. What weirdos! These three boys don’t join in with the habits and activities of our sons. I guess they think that they are so much better than us. Well, we’ll see. Our kids will be the successful ones and Noah’s sons will be the losers.”

Perhaps my imagination is running a bit wild—or perhaps not. These are the same kinds of criticisms that are lobbed, day in and day out, towards those who live for another world—a world that is unseen, one beyond the clouds and yet one more real than those clouds.

Many criticise the committed Christian who prioritises the church. “What a waste!” family and neighbours and coworkers and even “friends” are quick to point out. As they mock, they are critical of the waste of money and time spent on the building of the local church.

Families who are wise enough to teach their children the priority of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness are criticised and their children are often also shunned. But in end, Noah’s kids were saved—literally—while the children of the mockers were drowned. Evidently Noah was the winner after all!

Noah experienced a de-creation followed by a new creation. This is precisely what the early new covenant church was about to experience. They would experience a “blood moon,” but not in the nonsensical way that John Hagee is prophesying. No, they would experience a de-creation of their (Jewish) world followed by the commencement, in a dramatic way, of the new heavens and new earth.

We live in this new creation and yet we expect a fuller manifestation of it in space-time history, followed by its full and glorious manifestation when Jesus Christ returns. The point is simply that we must by faith live in the light of this. We must work by faith in the building of the church. We must witness and warn by faith about the judgement to come. We must involve our family in this walk and work of faith.

It is Undeniably not Unrepeatable

For those confused by double-negatives, the account of Noah is undeniably repeatable. It can be experienced again in our world.

First, the record of Noah is undeniable. The account is completely factual. How do we know? Because we are here today! If Noah was merely a fictional character then, humanly speaking, we would not be here. The world would have come to an end because there would never have been a rainbow.

But Noah did live, and he did believe, and his family did believe him. They were fruitful and they did multiply and the result is that we are alive today. Be encouraged, as we saw earlier, that our faith does and can and will make a difference. This is undeniable.

Second, though this account is unrepeatable in its historic uniqueness (because God has promised never to flood the world again), nevertheless the faithfulness of both God and of Noah have been repeated ever since. God has continued to be gracious to people He continues to grant saving faith.

Someone has commented that God saved Noah and his family by a “paltry piece of wood.” At the risk of allegorizing, it must be said that, in a very real sense, this is still how God saves His people: by the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on a “paltry piece of wood” for those He came to save.

As with the ark, it is not the wood per se that saves, but faith in the God who provided the appointed means. By faith, Noah and his family entered God’s appointed means of salvation from the flood. Likewise, we too are saved by God’s appointed means: the cross. Specifically, we are saved by faith in the one who was on the cross.

Incomparable

Noah endured intense scorn and mocking as he laboured faithfully in a corrupt world. But that cannot even be compared to the scorn, mocking and hostility endured by the sinless Son of God. Jesus was not merely a herald of righteousness but was righteousness incarnate. Yet He, who faithfully lived a perfect life, was despised and rejected by men even to the point of death, the death of crucifixion.

Noah was favoured by God while being rejected by men. Yet while Jesus hung on the cross he was rejected by both man and God—for sinners. He was rejected by the ones He came to save and rejected by the one for whom He came to save. But by that death on that piece of wood, Jesus secured eternal salvation for all who will believe God’s Word about Him. This is what this Hebrew audience needed to hear and to believe. And so do you. Will you, like Noah so long ago, believe God’s gospel? If so, then you will be a joint heir, not only with this great man of faith, but more importantly, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Him today and, by faith, begin worshipping Him. Continue walking with Him in your commitment to working with and for Him.

Show 11 footnotes

  1. Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 430.
  2. Phillips, Hebrews, 426.
  3. R. T. Kendall, Believing God: Studies on Faith in Hebrews 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 42.
  4. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 291.
  5. Phillips, Hebrews, 426.
  6. Kendall, Believing God, 48.
  7. R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), 2:89.
  8. Phillips, Hebrews, 431.
  9. Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:116.
  10. Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:354.
  11. Kendall, Believing God, 47.