…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Heb 11:36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. Heb 11:37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-- Heb 11:38 of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Heb 11:39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…
Hebrews 11 is about living by faith. Many times in our modernized way of speaking we hear people describe it as Victorious Christian Living or Our Best Life Now or some other catch phrase. But in essence this chapter is teaching us how to live in a way that honors the Lord which is by believing his revelation to us and living in light of that reality rather than just for the here and now. We know this is what pleases God because he tells us in vs. 6 that one cannot please the Lord living in any other way and this is repeated in vs. 38 above where God is said to commend them for their faith.
I quote the latter part of the chapter above because this helps us balance the first part. Most of the chapter speaks of the great deeds and victories in the flesh performed by those who lived by faith and that is all well and good. What many fail to remember though is that these were to a great degree illustrations of living by faith but not the goal of living by faith.
We notice starting in the latter half of vs. 35 that the results of living by faith change dramatically from victorious in the flesh to defeat, humiliation and sufferings in the flesh. And yet these are equally commended by the Lord as faithful saints who will receive their reward every bit as much as the great saints of the OT who conquered kingdoms and stopped the mouths of lions, etc .
The lesson of Hebrews 11 to the saint living in the New Covenant era is that God has revealed to us that it is primarily through our weakness and suffering that we will exhibit God’s glory in our lives and not through victories on the battlefield or in politics or on Wall St. One most readily thinks of when the Apostle Paul had to learn this in 2 Cor. 12 when he assumed that he could do much more for the Lord by being exalted in the flesh, 2Co 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. One other text that comes to mind is Rev 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. These saints conquered for the Lord not by the sword or by having their “best life now” but by giving up their lives in his service.
And so Christians today must fight the message of the TV preachers who tell us that to have victory in Christ is to have plenty of money in the bank or live in a Christian culture or live under a Christian government or to even be respected by this world. Not only have we not been called to those things but they can in large part hinder us from victorious Christian living. We sometimes spend more time trying to look successful in the world’s eyes than in God’s. As those in Revelation 12, their victory is seen in their willingness to die for the Lord, not in their holding onto this life at all costs.
Does not the NT teach us that we win by dying, not by staying alive or happy in the flesh? We most perfectly honor the Lord by remaining faithful and full of joy and contentment and patience during the difficult times so that we proclaim to all that Christ means more to us than anything in the life. This is almost impossible to do as effectively when everything is going well and certainly when we are living at the top financially or politically.
This is also where I believe the Deeper Life Movement shows its weakness. The victorious Christian life is not to be sinless or even close to being sinless. It also is not to be so mysteriously controlled by the Holy Spirit so that we seldom sin or make mistakes. While that ultimate victory awaits us in glory, Christian victory in this life is to love Christ so much that we live or die to his glory before this world. And this can be accomplished and probably only can be accomplished effectively in trial, adversity, humiliation, poverty, persecution and such experiences that the power of God can rest upon us and his glory be seen by the debt of our love for him.