In our community group last Tuesday, we were thinking about the roll call of faith. One of the things that always comes up looking at passages like this is whether we would be able to summon the same sort of faith as these believers. They were all approved because of their faith, I wonder if I would be able to do what they did? Our suspicion is often that we couldn’t possibly do what they did. Four things seems worth saying in response to these sorts of questions.
First, we are not the ones who work up such faith in ourselves. Our faith is not a matter of our own will and fortitude, it is a matter of God’s Spirit working it in us. The faith that moved these believers to act on the promises of God was worked in them by God’s Spirit. That same Spirit will work such faith in us should we need it.
Second, the roll call of faith is simply a list of examples of what faith in action looks like. Here are a bunch of people who, though they did not see what was promised, nevertheless acted in faith because of God’s promise. We are not specifically called to emulate their particular acts of faith, but rather to consider their acting in faith as examples of acting in line with God’s promises. The only sense in which we are to emulate them is, just as they acted in line with their ‘longing for a better country—a heavenly one’, so we are to act in line with our belief in the promise of a heavenly home with Christ. The specific ways we may be called to do that – just as the roll call of faith demonstrates within itself – may well vary considerably.
Third, we have more light than these old covenant believers. This side of the cross, though we – like them – haven’t fully received what has been promised, we have seen Christ and do understand something more clearly of his work on the cross for us. The faith that we are called to exercise in the promises that have been made are somewhat clearer and require less faith on our part than these old covenant believers.
Fourth, let’s just think about a situation where we might be asked to do effectively what these old covenant believers did. 2 Corinthians 12:9 applies to us just as it did to Paul. God’s grace is sufficient for us in whatever circumstances he places us in. God will grant us the faith to persevere wherever we find ourselves. Of course, we may sit here now and wonder whether I could possibly do these things. But God nowhere promises to give us a sense, ahead of time, that we would definitely stand for him in the worst possible trials. What he promises us is sufficient grace for our present circumstances. We may not be able to imagine how we would stand for Christ with a gun to our head asking us to renounce him whilst we sit in the relative comfort of our lounge with no such threat hanging over us. But if God’s grace is sufficient for us in every trial, we may not be able to imagine it ahead of time, but should the Lord demand it of us, his grace will be sufficient for us if and when it rolls around.