By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.

Editor in Chief

PJSFaithMemorial Day has always been a very meaningful time for me—that meaning being rooted in the celebrations of this patriotic holiday that I learned to enjoy from childhood.

This day has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War, when people recognized the value of pausing to remember the contributions of fallen heroes who had given their lives in the service of their country.

Wherever I have lived, I have enjoyed learning the customs for the celebration of Memorial Day. Since the festivities are organized by local veterans groups, they are as varied as every little town and big city that holds them. What they have in common is a call to remember the heritage that we share as Americans who still value life, liberty and freedom.

It seems that the purpose of Memorial Day has broadened through the decades to include a show of gratitude for all who serve or have served in the Armed Forces (a practice technically reserved for Veterans Day) and to remember all loved ones who have passed from this life.

I do not find a problem with using Memorial Day for either of these purposes. I do, however, see great danger in something that has become a much wider practice, which is neglecting the day altogether—or, at most, valuing it only as a three-day weekend and an opportunity for recreation.

A Day to Remember
What I propose is that Memorial Day should actually be a very meaningful day for every Christian. After all, the Bible confronts us repeatedly with our duty to “remember.” Also, the New Testament gives us very specific instructions regarding our need to learn from the history of the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).

In that light, I invite your attention this Memorial Day weekend to the great faith chapter—Hebrews 11. Though this will not be a comprehensive study through the entire section, I encourage you to use this passage as the basis for considering the importance of looking back and remembering—always with a view to being energized to face the future “by faith.”

Living By Faith
The closest thing that the Bible offers in terms of a definition of faith is found in Romans 4:21. The elements of Biblical faith are explained in the following chart:

The Elements of Biblical Faith

Faith is not believing either because of or in spite of the evidence. Rather, it is placing one’s trust in the all-sufficient, self-authenticating Word of God (cf. Luke 16:29-31; John 20:24-29).

My favorite explanation of the qualities of faith comes from M.R. DeHaan, who said:

Faith is believing the unreasonable, the impossible and the unexplainable, because someone else, in whom we have absolute confidence has said it was so, and upon his word we believe it, without asking any further proof.[1]

The great faith chapter gives us a vivid description of faith and reveals how we must “live by faith” (Heb. 10:38)—drawing on principles displayed through the lives of the Old Testament characters that it explores.

Looking Back with Clarity
This chapter has been called the “Faith Hall of Fame.” It begins with a grand explanation of faith in Heb. 11:1:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Matthew Henry provides a keen insight into this text when he describes faith as follows:

It is a firm persuasion and expectation that God will perform all that he has promised to us in Christ; and this persuasion is so strong that it gives the soul a kind of possession and present fruition of those things, gives them a subsistence in the soul, by the first-fruits and foretastes of them: so that believers in the exercise of faith are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory.[2]

The only “substance” or “evidence” that the future (which no one but God can see) and the invisible things of the present spiritual world may take is our faith (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7) and our hope (cf. Rom. 8:24-25). These terms (“substance” and “evidence”) appear to describes these realities from the heavenly vantage point.

As Dr. John MacArthur succinctly states:

Faith is the present essence of a future reality.[3]

The New American Standard Bible, in contrast to the New King James Version, seems to provide the believer’s perspective toward these unseen realities. I believe it offers the perfect complementary translation of the verse. We might even say that the NASB here describes the believer’s role and responsibility when it renders verse 1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[4]

Harry Ironside stated so appropriately:

Faith in what God has declared gives the soul absolute assurance and firm conviction of the reality of things which the natural eye has never seen. Yet these things are as real to the man of faith as anything that he can see, feel, taste, smell, or handle. In fact, they become even more real, for his senses might deceive him, but the Word of God he knows to be absolutely infallible.[5]

And The MacArthur Study Bible reinforces this concept when it states regarding the word assurance:

This is from the same Greek word translated “exact imprint” in Heb. 1:3 and “confidence” in 3:14. The faith described here involves the most solid possible conviction, the God-given present assurance of a future reality.[6]

Hebrews 11:2 goes on to provide the first use of Old Testament history as a backdrop for studying the life of faith, saying:

For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

Truly we can be instructed in a marvelous way by these saints who “received their commendation” (ESV; cf. vv. 4, 39),

Hebrews 11:3 then deals with the distant past—the creation of the world. As with the events of the future and the unseen realities in the present, no one living was able to witness the origin of all things. The inspired testimony regarding this time must be accepted by faith:

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

Truly, everyone who turns to the Lord at any time will do so by faith. As Hebrews 11:6 states:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Looking Ahead with Certainty
The bulk of chapter 11 gives us an overview of the great heroes of the faith throughout Old Testament history. Their lives are presented as examples to show us how we must be energized to go forward in faith—dependent on God for the resources that we need to face an uncertain future. From our vantage point, their lives may seem to be part of ancient history. However, at the time they lived, they were involved in things previously unforeseen—even unheard or undreamt of.

We can only increase our faith by taking in the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Yet when we look at the examples of such faithful people we can surely learn better how to appropriate that faith in pursuit of a life of spiritual “victory” (1 John 5:4). We may be encouraged that the race of faith can be run—and won!

In fact, God’s Word brings even greater certainty than that because it tells us what will happen in a future that no person can see.

As we look back this Memorial Day and remember what God has done in the past, we can base our survey of history on the principles found in Hebrews 11. We want to learn from the great Bible characters that it lists and be motivated by them to move forward in faith. We are looking toward the future completion of our lives of faith and the claiming of the eternal reward that God offers all who serve Him faithfully.

For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise (Heb. 10:36).

Memorial Day(Read Part 2)

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[1] “Faith Before Human History;” <http://www.glorybooks.org/faith-before-human-history/>; Internet; accessed 26 May 2016.

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p. 755.

[3] “Faith Before Human History;” <http://www.glorybooks.org/faith-before-human-history/>; Internet; accessed 26 May 2016.

[4] Aside from the fact that it does not utilize italics, the ESV translation of Heb. 11:1 is identical to that of the NASB.

[5] H.A. Ironside, Hebrews, James, Peter. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers), p. 131.

[6] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 1,698.