Though we know that all of the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, Hebrews 11 is one of those cherished chapters that seems to rise above so many of the rest. This chapter, often referred to as the Bible’s Hall of Faith, defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It then proceeds to give Old Testament examples of faith.
The list of faithful models includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, all Israel, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, unnamed women, unnamed victims of persecution, and unnamed martyrs.
Indeed, these men and women are pillars in the biblical record, undeniable giants of our Faith. And yet, each of them was a sinner. Some of them were spectacular sinners. Take Jephthah, for example. He made rash vow and compounded his error by keeping it, resulting in the murder of his only daughter (Judges 11:29-40). Even the more modest sinners, such as Abel, Isaac, or Joseph, are presented to us without a full record of their rebellion against God. We get, undoubtedly, a partial view of who they were; a less vulnerable portrait than say a Samson or a David.
This reminds us that none of these names are included in the Bible’s Hall of Faith because of their merit. Rather, it was their faith that commends them. Of course, their faith was manifested in action, as all (true) faith is (James 2:14-26). Nevertheless, mixed in with these acts of faith were works of sin. And this, to our deep grief, we intimately understand (Romans 7:21-25).
It is Jesus Christ alone who earned His place in the kingdom. The rest of us, including Abraham, David, and all the martyrs, are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. To Him be the glory and the power and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
In closing, let us be very careful about putting Old Testament saints on pedastals that they do not deserve. For, when we do that we pit the Old Testament against the New, suggesting that before Christ some people earned their place. Such subtle thinking divides the Gospel and makes the Old Testament impossible to understand. As Jesus said, “Only God is good” (Mark 10:18). And by His goodness He saves us by grace through FAITH. So says Hebrews 11.