by Al Maxey

Issue #674 ------- September 10, 2015
The visible marks of extraordinary wisdom and
power appear so plainly in all the works of the creation
that a rational creature, who will but seriously reflect
upon them, cannot miss the discovery of a Deity.

John Locke (1632-1704)

Rewarding Those Who Seek Him
A Reflective Examination of Hebrews 11:6

Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950) wrote, "God is in me. I am in God. I want Him, I seek Him; I hope to improve myself. I do not know how to, but I feel that God will help all those who seek Him. I am a seeker, for I can feel God. God seeks me and therefore we will find each other." Moses also spoke of the need for mankind to seek God, and that such genuine seeking will result in divine reward: "You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). This concept of seeking the Father through faith, knowing that by seeking Him we will find Him, and that His eternal nature is such that sincere seekers will not only find Him, but they will also receive from Him divine blessings, is summed up quite well by the writer of the NT book of Hebrews: "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 seek Him" (Heb. 11:6; NASB). Jesus, in His memorable Sermon on the Mount, declared to those who were listening, "Seek, and you shall find" (Matt. 7:7). Those who would receive the blessings of God, must not only seek Him, but when they find Him they must embrace Him by faith. What follows is a relationship with God in which He pours out His blessings (rewards) upon us as we daily seek to "walk worthy" through our attitudes and actions. United with Him by faith, we then reflect His glory thereafter in our deeds and demeanor.

In Hebrews 11 there is a basic theme running through the entire discussion, and it can be summed up by the most common phrase in that chapter: "by faith." This is made clear from the very beginning of that chapter: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval" (Heb. 11:1-2, NASB). Faith is so important in the eyes of God that the writer of Hebrews was moved by the Spirit to declare boldly, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (vs. 6a). The writer then spends the remainder of the chapter showing how in each case he mentions, and he lists a great many, it was by faith that these great biblical figures were approved. "By faith Abel..." (vs. 4), "By faith Enoch..." (vs. 5), "By faith Noah..." (vs. 7), "By faith Abraham..." (vss. 8, 17), "By faith even Sarah..." (vs. 11), "By faith Isaac..." (vs. 20), "By faith Jacob..." (vs. 21), "By faith Joseph..." (vs. 22), "By faith Moses..." (vs. 24f), "By faith Rahab..." (vs. 31), etc. Heb. 11:39 sums up by saying, "And all these ... gained approval through their faith." Did their faith motivate them to action? Absolutely! Did the various acts they performed save them, or justify them, or sanctify them? Were they made God's children because they did certain things? NO. However, they did what they did because they were His children. Thus, being saved by His grace, a gift accepted by faith, they spent their remaining life-spans showing that faith in their every action (acts motivated by the love and faith within their hearts). It is the state of one's heart that receives the blessings of God, but it is the overflow of that heart that makes visible to those around us the truth of our profession of faith in and love for our Creator. The people mentioned in Hebrews 11 gained God's approval "by faith," but they demonstrated that faith through their actions. The latter is not what justified them; rather, it simply evidenced that they were justified. The apostle Paul emphasizes and analyzes this truth in Romans 4, using Abraham as his example. "And Abraham believed, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3). "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness" (Rom. 4:9). Paul then spends considerable space in that chapter showing that it was not any of Abraham's deeds (not even circumcision, which was commanded) that gained him the favor and blessings of God. It was solely by his faith and God's grace (Rom. 4:16).

There are those, however, who strongly believe that our justification, righteousness and salvation are based upon obedience to divine commands. Such persons enlist the aid of certain passages which they then twist and turn to their own purpose. One such passage is Hebrews 11:6, which just recently I was told makes it abundantly clear to the reader that God "rewards" all those who "obey" Him. I actually had someone recently tell me in no uncertain terms that Hebrews 11:6 "proved the point" that our reward from God is conditioned upon obeying commands. I was even told that I was a false teacher promoting false teaching by not agreeing with his analysis of the text. Indeed, this individual informed me, and some of his readers, that I regarded Hebrews 11:6 as "false doctrine." Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. I love that verse, and in fact, in Reflections #200a, I listed Hebrews 11:6 as the #1 "essential" for the disciples of Christ to embrace. Here is what I wrote in that article:

Now, does that sound like I teach Hebrews 11:6 is "false doctrine"? Hardly. What I actually teach is that it is "essential doctrine." Indeed, I place it at the head of the list of essential doctrines. What I don't do, however, is impose upon the passage a concept the original author of the text was not making. The verse says absolutely nothing about God rewarding those who OBEY. Rather, it declares God is a rewarder of those who SEEK HIM. And how does one seek God? That's right -- BY FAITH. To try and turn this text into a proof-text for one's "salvation by obedience" theology is a perversion of the text. The fact that I called this person to account for imposing that concept on this text is what motivated him to begin telling others that I had no respect for Hebrews 11:6 and that I regarded it as "false teaching." Let me be perfectly clear here: I reject the notion that we are justified, saved, counted as righteous, etc. on the basis of deeds done in obedience to commands. It is this that I regard as false teaching, not the passage itself which these legalists have perverted to their own purpose.

Text Within Context

Let's take a closer look at the text of Hebrews 11:6, as well as the context within which it appears. First, with respect to the chapter in which our text appears, it is worth noting: "This is one of the grand chapters of the Bible, a gallery of notable portraits of ancient great believers, each drawn with a master hand. They all believed the unseen, they all trusted a promise, things for which they had to wait and hope. One grand characteristic makes them all kin: faith" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 372]. The focus of the entire chapter is on the faith of these renowned individuals who lived long before these words were penned. In some cases, like Enoch, we know little to nothing about his actual deeds (the text of Genesis 5:21-22 merely remarks twice that Enoch "walked with God"), and the writer of Hebrews reveals nothing additional with respect to actual accomplishments; he simply states that "he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5), to which the author then adds this comment, "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6a). Since the Genesis account of Enoch's walk with God doesn't actually mention the word "faith," the author of Hebrews, in this passage pertaining to Enoch, essentially answers the question that must have been uppermost in men's minds: What specifically makes one "pleasing" to God? The answer given is: faith. Indeed, it is "impossible" to please God without faith, for faith is the key to receiving God's favor.

Throughout this chapter, the author of Hebrews (who I personally believe may well have been Apollos: Reflections #128: "The Authorship of Hebrews") repeatedly calls his readers to consider the faith of these men and women. "By faith Abel..." (vs.4), even further saying, "although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith" (vs. 4). "By faith Noah..." (vs. 7). "By faith Abraham..." (vss. 8, 17). "By faith even Sarah..." (vs. 11). "By faith Isaac..." (vs. 20). "By faith Jacob..." (vs. 21). "By faith Joseph..." (vs. 22). "By faith Moses..." (vss. 23-24). "By faith Rahab..." (vs. 31). I think you begin to get the idea of what the focus is in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Indeed, the theme is pronounced at the very beginning of the chapter: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval" (vss. 1-2). The writer encourages his readers to also consider the lives of more contemporary saints, telling these Jewish Christians who were contemplating returning to Judaism, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7). Little wonder that the author of Hebrews should make the point that Enoch, who was pleasing in the sight of God, was thusly favored by virtue of his faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:5-6). Thus, even though we know nothing about the works of this man, we DO know about his faith, which is the whole point of the passage (both textually and contextually).

Some, in an effort to validate their dogma that it is really one's works that prompt God's grace, and that one is justified and approved by these deeds, and even counted righteous by them, will point to the case of Abel in Hebrews 11:4. They believe these words show that the nature of his gift, rather than the faith of the giver, was God's focus. Yes, God was indeed pleased with the offering Abel brought before Him, but is our God more pleased with outward acts or inward realities (faith, love, etc.) that motivate them? Even a cursory reading of both OT and NT writings clearly reveal the latter. Abel's gift was accepted, and his brother Cain's gift was not accepted, but the reason was not the gift itself (there was nothing wrong with either); the difference that day was one brother had faith, the other did not. I have dealt extensively with this event, and its implications for us theologically, in Reflections #275: "Offering A Better Sacrifice: Why Did God Accept Abel's Offering, But Reject the Offering of Cain?" As the legalistic patternists do time and again, they seek to take a passage and twist it to "prove" that it is our deeds/works that bring God's blessings upon us and cause Him to declare us "righteous." And yet, the author of Hebrews closes this magnificent chapter saying, "And all these, having gained approval through their faith..." (Heb. 11:39). "All these" would include Abel, right?!

Notice the remarks of the apostle Paul to Titus, "When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7). Paul then urges these justified, saved believers to "devote themselves to engaging in good deeds" (vs. 8). By means of God's mercy and grace, and the gift of His Son, and the divine cleansing performed by the Holy Spirit, we who have believed in Him are saved (see my analysis of this washing by the Spirit in Reflections #609: "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling: The Washing of Renovation and Renewal by the Holy Spirit - A Study of Titus 3:5"). We then spend our lives living in grateful submission to His will for us, seeking to become more like Him every day (doing the deeds He has called us to do as His children). Ephesians 2:8-10 says essentially the same thing, pointing to the proper place and purpose of these good works. Our good works, our deeds of righteousness, can never deliver us from the domain of darkness, but once we have been incorporated into the realm of Light by grace through faith, our deeds then help define us by demonstrating to those around us the genuineness of our faith!

We are told in Hebrews 11:6 that "he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (NASB). In this statement we find the basic focus of faith: that God IS and that His nature is such that if He makes a promise to believers, then these believers can count on it coming to pass. There is nothing in the verse that says anything about "good deeds." Do we believe that God exists? Do we believe that He is as good as His word? If He promises to bestow blessings upon those who genuinely seek Him, can we trust Him to do so? Our faith must declare the truth of both! This passage is not about what Al Maxey can DO for the Lord, but rather what God has already DONE for Al Maxey. Our faith and trust is in Him and His promises: His being and His nature. It is HE we seek, and it is in HIM that we believe and trust. The apostle Paul summed up this conviction this way: "I know whom I have believed (i.e., God exists) and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him until that Day (i.e., God rewards)" (2 Tim. 1:12). Faith that HE IS, and also faith and confidence in WHO HE IS. He blesses those who come to Him in simple trusting FAITH. "Such a person will not only believe in the existence of God, but will know also that God will in mercy reward those that seek Him, that His gift to them is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Savior. For such a one Christianity is not a matter of mere form and outward ceremonies, but a true matter of the heart" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 481]. I like the way The Message has worded the latter part of our text in Heb. 11:6, "Anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that He exists and that He cares enough to respond to those who seek Him." Genuine faith not only believes He IS, but also that He CARES, even during those storms of life when our faith is challenged. This is a deep "conviction about God's moral character" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 115].

Our text is really not about us, and what we may do; it is about God, and who He is and what He has done (and will do). We have sought Him, and upon finding Him (or He finding us), we believe! "God and His heavenly reward of grace to believers are 'not seen,' yet faith is confident and convinced that God exists, that He is what He says He is, and that the heavenly reward promised by Him and hoped for by the believer is a certainty although it is now unseen" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 387]. "Those who approach Him can do so in full confidence that He exists, that His word is true, and that He will never put off or disappoint the soul that sincerely seeks Him. For all that He has revealed of Himself, whether through the prophets or in His Son, assures us that He is altogether worthy of His people's trust" [Dr. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 290]. Seeking God is a noble pursuit, and such sincere, careful, diligent searching will always be rewarded by God. "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13; cf. Deuteronomy 4:29).

Seeking God must be sincere and earnest on our part, which the writer of our text in Hebrews notes by using the Greek word "ekzeteo," which is used only 7 times in the NT writings and means "to seek diligently or earnestly after" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 124]; "to seek out, search for, investigate, scrutinize" [Dr. Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 195]; "seek out, search for carefully" [Drs. Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 240]; "to seek carefully, enquire after, search diligently" [Dr. James Strong, The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1067]. The apostle Peter uses this word in the following statement: "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry" (1 Peter 1:8-10). Dr. Gerhard Kittel, agreeing with Peter, wrote that this word, as it is used in Heb. 11:6, "denotes the attitude" of these persons throughout the ages "as they ask after God and are concerned about His grace" [Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. 2, p. 894]. Kittel, as well as others, observe that this is not a casual search based on curiosity, but an intense, careful, earnest, diligent search for God and His grace. So, what exactly is our text saying? It declares this: those who earnestly desire to know God, and who seek diligently to find this God-man relationship, will not be disappointed. The earnest seeker will be rewarded by God. The renowned Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth Wuest comments on this, saying, "The idea is not merely that God exists as a rewarder, but that He will prove Himself to be a rewarder of that person who diligently seeks Him. The words 'diligently seek' are literally 'seek Him out'" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2: Hebrews, p. 198], which one must often do even in the face of doubts and opposition. Thus, our seeking of Him never ceases (the word is in the form of a present active participle); with each passing day, as His child by faith, we earnestly seek to know Him better and to conform our lives more perfectly, with the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to His divine will for us.

Yes, Hebrews 11:6 is a beautiful passage, and I fully embrace it as Truth (although one person recently accused me of declaring Heb. 11:6 to be "false teaching." Really?!!). It is powerful teaching about who our God is, and what He has done, and will do, for those who sincerely seek Him. To take such a beautiful passage about our faith and God's nature, and to twist it into a "proof text" for the theology of "justification and salvation by command-keeping" is appalling. It is this legalistic interpretation and application of this passage I characterize as "false teaching," NOT the truths actually expressed in the text by the author. Differing with another's view of the text does not mean I have rejected the text, it simply means I have rejected their view of the text. Hebrews 11 is a tribute to FAITH, and to the fact that our Father rewards those who seek Him in FAITH. Good deeds flow from our faith as daily demonstrations of our love for God and our desire to live a life pleasing in His sight. These deeds are not salvific; these deeds, rather, are reflective of the fact of our salvation by grace through faith, and are performed to the glory of our Great Redeemer.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, You have helped so many of us get out of our ruts! I pray that you are able to continue with the Truth of what God wants each of us to be until all the religious ruts are smoothly paved in. Blessings to you today and always.

From a Minister in India:

Thank you very much for your Reflections. You are a great biblical thinker!

From a Reader in Florida:

I would like to purchase a signed copy of your book "Down, But Not Out," for which my check is enclosed. I have a very good friend whom I believe would benefit greatly from this book. Many thanks.

From a Minister in Florida:

I have been following your Reflections for maybe 5 years now. I have emailed you previously, maybe 2 or 3 times, and I thank you for your quick responses. Years ago, when I served in the Navy, I classified myself as an atheist, but about five years into my time in the Navy I was converted and baptized. Since I was not "raised in" the Churches of Christ, I was not thereby burdened by a lot of the traditional baggage others carry about with them. I would believe something only if it could be substantiated by the Scriptures. Due to this, I did not conform to some of the Church of Christ teachings. For decades I felt like a "liberal" outcast, and was even disfellowshipped for about a year simply for preaching at a nearby Church of Christ that my home congregation didn't approve. Al, I have appreciated your teachings because I have found someone who has many of the same understandings from the Scriptures that I hold, and this has helped me confirm some of my beliefs. I attended Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock, Texas, and have been preaching for about 15 years. There are times when I find myself on your web site looking for sermon ideas. I confess that I borrowed some of your ideas recently from your article on Nadab and Abihu (Reflections #63). I was so enlightened by your observations, and it "preached" very well. Last night I was searching for what I could preach on next Sunday and have decided to use some of your material on Proverbs 6:16-20 (Reflections #178). While on your web site I also stumbled across Reflections #311 which then directed me back to Reflections #310 titled "Paradise Regained." WOW!! The only reason I even considered reading that study in its entirety was simply because you had written it. After reading it, I was astonished, for I realized that you just might be correct! You caused me to look anew at my understanding of what Scripture means when speaking of the new heavens and new earth. I thought I understood it until I read your piece, now I'm having to revisit my position.

From a Reader in Alaska:

I read the Canada Free Press daily. It is a good conservative opinion web site with very good essays. In June, the Editor, who is Judi McLeod, a Catholic, suggested to the readers that they bypass the Pope and go straight to Jesus!! 'Nough said! I sent her the links to your last two Reflections, which are very topical and timely. She may want to publish them.

From a Reader in Canada:

Many years ago, at my first Gospel meeting, an older couple came forward and wanted to be baptized. I was so excited to see this, but the preacher at this location where I was holding the meeting came along and asked them if they had ever been married before. It turns out that both had been married almost 50 years earlier, but those marriages had failed, and they were now married to each other. The located preacher said they could not be baptized unless they divorced, or at the very least lived apart from one another for the rest of their lives. I was shocked. I asked this preacher where in the Bible it was written that anyone was ever asked if they had been previously married, divorced and remarried before they were baptized. He said there was no place that said this directly, but it was implied! That encounter started a 20 year study of this topic for me.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Regarding your latest article ("A Religiously Rationalizing Species" -- Reflections #673), it reminded me of how many of us have come from a background of seeing God as sitting in heaven watching us to see if we are all doing it correctly. Part of this problem is we have been NT Christians suffering from an OT hangover (i.e., a new set of laws replacing an old set of laws). We have been duped, if this is the case. Regarding logic and rationale, it dawned on me in the last year, in reference to the subject of giving in 1 Cor. 16:1-2, that three things cannot be proved from this passage: 1) It cannot be proved that money went into a common treasury, since they put it aside, saved it up, or stored it at home. 2) It cannot be proved that they gave every first day of the week prior to and/or especially after this special contribution. 3) It thus cannot be proved that it was part of a "worship service." Logic and proper rationale demand that this was a special contribution to meet a specific need at a specific time and place. It is highly probable that the first day of the week was chosen for no other reason than it was a time they commonly met, and was not designed to become law for the church. Thank God we are under grace, not under law!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

It amazes me to think that most in the Churches of Christ have rationalized that "WE" are the only ones saved, and that therefore all others are lost! Just how arrogant is it that of approximately 7 billion people living on this earth "WE" are the only "true Christians"? Frankly, the "narrow way" is not nearly as narrow as "WE" have rationalized it to be! Not a single dogma that "WE" have can save us; only the blood of Christ can do that. Thank you, Al, for the great work you are doing to lead people out of the bondage of LAW and into FREEDOM. Love Rules!!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I am always impressed at the length and attention you give to my (and others') questions. You're a true servant for Him. A cousin of mine has also come out of the legalistic way of believing and worshipping, and he had this to say about the subject. His words ring true to what I believe. My cousin wrote: "For some reason God didn't write down what we call a 'step-by-step plan of salvation,' nor did He instruct us to 'figure it out on your own.' Since we know God is perfect, we know this ommission wasn't an oversight. In the OT we have ten commandments and over 600 statutes in the Law of Moses outlining specific rules and laws. The NT is different in that we don't see any evidence of these types of lists. Again, the question is: Why? Should we be making such a list knowing that God purposefully chose not to?! My opinion is NO. I think the teachings of Jesus are sending us a different message than that sent by the Law of Moses. In other words, we didn't replace one set of rules and regulations with another; rather, we fulfilled the Old Law and are now free under the Law of Liberty through Jesus. To me, we have no authority to make such a list of rules/laws for the church."

From a Reader in Florida:

It's been ages since I've written to you, but that doesn't mean I haven't been faithfully reading (and LOVING) every one of the Reflections you send (I've been receiving them weekly for many years). Your research and knowledge of Scripture never ceases to amaze me! I can only imagine the hours and hours of time you spend on doing what is needed in order to educaate and inspire your many, many, MANY readers!! My admiration for you continues to grow, and after all the years "we've been together," you can only guess at just how HUGE that admiration is now!

From a Reader in Texas:

I think your article "A Religiously Rationalizing Species" describes "us" very well. I'm not sure, but I think my current frustration with our fellowship follows this same rationalization in a slightly different manner. Intellectually, there are so many people who recognize the effect tradition has had on our gatherings, and while we understand that we have gone down a road we didn't need to travel, our rationalization now is that we can simply acknowledge the path as "tradition" while continuing to behave and act in the same old manner as before. There seems to be very little, if any, willingness to step out and actually educate and change. Our fellowship will never be ready for change if we continue to fail to adequately educate the members, and if we continue year after year to teach and preach the same old milk we have been fed since we were babies. The obvious problem here is that the religious hierarchy is keeping the masses in diapers and a baby bed because they fear we might grow up and become "agents of change." Brother Al, please keep up the good work you are doing. I still feel encouraged after being in your area this summer and hearing you teach and preach on two consecutive Sundays. At your congregation I have personally witnessed this education taking place as you emphasize His Truth over our traditions.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Just read "A Religiously Rationalizing Species" and am not sure how you were able to sum up this intensely complex concept so succinctly! Rationalization just may be the womb of CENI. I was startled recently when I was made aware that there isn't a direct command that unleavened bread be used in the Lord's Supper. In fact, as I scoured the relevant passages, I found that unleavened bread is never mentioned in connection with the Lord's Supper, and it certainly isn't required by expressed command or instruction. When I pointed that out to a few folks on a particular Facebook group you would have thought I'd called Jesus a bad name! Many began to do just as you said they would (they began to rationalize). It soon became obvious from their statements that they valued their tradition over biblical specificity to the point that many would not dare partake of any Communion that was not done in accordance with their tradition, nor would they associate with any who dared to disagree with their tradition. Al, I'm so thankful that you continue to help folks kick it into spiritual 4-wheel drive so they can get out of these terrible religious ruts (and that includes me). You're the best!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, I have a question. When a person dies, does he/she go straight to Judgment: i.e., straight to Heaven or Hell or someplace else? I have studied the Bible all my adult life. I always thought we went right to Heaven or Hell at the moment of death, but after talking to an elder in one of our churches, I am not sure about this anymore. Please let me know your thoughts, as I would like to know what you think.

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