What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.
God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith.
By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God's command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. God accepted Abel's offering to show that he was a righteous man. And although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us because of his faith.
It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying -- "suddenly he disappeared because God took him." But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God.
So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about something that had never happened before. By his faith he condemned the rest of the world and was made right in God's sight.
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.
And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith -- for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise.
Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise.
And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children -- a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth.
And obviously people who talk like that are looking forward to a country they can call their own.
If they had meant the country they came from, they would have found a way to go back.
But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them.
It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God's promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac,
though God had promised him, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted."
Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.
It was by faith that Isaac blessed his two sons, Jacob and Esau. He had confidence in what God was going to do in the future.
It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.
And it was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, confidently spoke of God's bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt. He was so sure of it that he commanded them to carry his bones with them when they left!
It was by faith that Moses' parents hid him for three months. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid of what the king might do.
It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be treated as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
He chose to share the oppression of God's people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.
He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of the Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the great reward that God would give him.
It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt. He was not afraid of the king. Moses kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.
It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians followed, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.
Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.
Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons.
Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.
They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All of these people we have mentioned received God's approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.
For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can't receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God's throne in heaven.
Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don't become weary and give up.
After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, "My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children."
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined?
If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all.
Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever?
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God's discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness.
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening -- it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.
Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.
Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.
Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau. He traded his birthright as the oldest son for a single meal.
And afterward, when he wanted his father's blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he wept bitter tears.
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai when God gave them his laws.
For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice with a message so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking.
They staggered back under God's command: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death."
Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, "I am terrified and trembling."
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to thousands of angels in joyful assembly.
You have come to the assembly of God's firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge of all people. And you have come to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven who have now been made perfect.
You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did.
See to it that you obey God, the one who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!
When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: "Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also."
This means that the things on earth will be shaken, so that only eternal things will be left.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.
For our God is a consuming fire.
Continue to love each other with true Christian love.
Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
Don't forget about those in prison. Suffer with them as though you were there yourself. Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain in your own bodies.
Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.
Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, "I will never fail you. I will never forsake you."
That is why we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?"
Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes from God's special favor, not from ceremonial rules about food, which don't help those who follow them.
We have an altar from which the priests in the Temple on earth have no right to eat.
Under the system of Jewish laws, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, but the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp.
So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates in order to make his people holy by shedding his own blood.
So let us go out to him outside the camp and bear the disgrace he bore.
For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come.
With Jesus' help, let us continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by proclaiming the glory of his name.
Don't forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God.
Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do.
I especially need your prayers right now so that I can come back to you soon.
And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
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I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I have said in this brief letter.
I want you to know that our brother Timothy is now out of jail. If he comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you.
Give my greetings to all your leaders and to the other believers there. The Christians from Italy send you their greetings.
May God's grace be with you all.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)