What does Hebrews 11:6 mean?
ESV: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
NIV: 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.
NASB: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him.
CSB: Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
NLT: And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
KJV: But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
This is a popular verse from the book of Hebrews, and also one easily misunderstood out of context. Taken all by itself, the verse presents a truth which is fairly easy to understand. Namely, that God's first and foremost concern is with our faith—our attitude towards Him and trust in Him—rather than in our actions. This does not make our behaviors unimportant. On the contrary: what we do reflects what we truly believe (James 2:14–17). However, as this verse shows, merely "going through the motions" is not what God is looking for. Those who want to please God need to have faith, not simple agreement, and not merely reluctant cooperation.
The problem with quoting or reading this verse out of its context is the specter of "blind faith," or wishful thinking. As shown in prior passages, the writer of Hebrews is not advocating for a gullible, wishful-thinking attitude. On the contrary, this entire letter has been an exercise in evidence and logic. The writer's point is meant to emphasize the primacy of true faith over insincere works: robotic obedience without legitimate trust in God is worthless. This lesson is given as part of a description of Old Testament figures whose actions prove their faith.
Hebrews 11:4–16 gives examples of figures from the Old Testament who demonstrated faith in God and were blessed as a result. Persons such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah are commended for their trust in God's promises. In particular, this segment of the book of Hebrews focuses on those who heard from God, obeyed, and were blessed. While their actions are important, the common theme of these early references is obedience to God when fulfillment of His promises seems distant. The following passage will explore a similar idea, but in the context of those who demonstrated faith in the face of more immediate hardship.
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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