Read: Hebrews 11:13-16
Do you think God is proud of you? Today David Bast concentrates on who we are and who we’d like to be. Often the worst advertisement for Christianity is the behavior of people who claim to be Christians. But the Bible also says there are people of whom God is not ashamed to be called their God. Wouldn’t you like to be one of them?
Have you ever been embarrassed by the behavior of somebody close to you? It happens all the time with parents and children. If you’re a parent, then you either already know or you’re soon going to discover that it just isn’t possible to raise a child from the age of 3 to 13 without being terribly embarrassed by something he or she does or says. On the other hand, it’s not possible for your child to go from 13 to 20 without you terribly embarrassing her or him by what you say or do. So in a way it all evens out. But I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the fact that something similar holds true for God. He’s often embarrassed. He must be!—by the actions of those who are supposedly part of his family.
I wonder how often God is ashamed of us! The great Christian writer Dorothy Sayers once said that God has three great humiliations: the first is the incarnation when God had to give up his divine glory and assume the form of a servant. The second was the cross, when God incarnate had to lower himself to suffering and die this shameful death. And the third of God’s great humiliations? It’s the church, said Sayers.
God is humiliated every day by the behavior of men and women who bear his name but don’t live in his way. Whenever people who are called Christians do things that are not Christlike, that shame is reflected on God himself. How often haven’t you heard people reject God because of what they see in the lives of his supposed people!
I’ve often said that the worst advertisement for the Christian faith is the behavior of Christians. On the other hand, the best advertisement for the Christian faith is also the behavior of Christians—when they’re living in a Christlike way. Listen to this wonderful passage from Hebrews 11. It talks about people of whom God is not ashamed to be called their God.
These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (vv. 13-16)
What a wonderful thing to say of someone, and what a splendid thing to be—a person of whom God can be proud! Wouldn’t you want to be that kind of person? I would. And so I want to ask what the characteristics are of people like that. How do you become the kind of person of whom God can be proud?
Well, listen again to what Hebrews says. It says, “Therefore God is not ashamed” to be called the God of these people. And that word indicates that it’s drawing a conclusion based on what’s just been said. And here’s what the writer said earlier,
These all died in faith, not having received what was promised but having seen it and greeted it from afar . . . therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. (Heb. 11:13, 16).
So there’s the first characteristic of a person God can be proud of. It’s someone who dies in faith. The point isn’t exactly how you die; rather, it’s how you’re living when you die. These heroes from Hebrews 11 “were still living by faith when they died.” They lived by faith in the Lord; in other words, right up to the very end. They continued faithful even unto death, whenever and however and wherever death came. Nothing kept them from walking with God; nothing convinced them to give up their faith or stop believing in God. They stayed the course.
You’ll hear some people claim that faith in God is the secret to getting whatever you want in life. If you have enough faith, if you know just how to pray in the right way, then you get whatever you ask for. In a sense, this view sees faith as a kind of magic key that unlocks God’s treasure chest.
But I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think faith means getting all you want. I think faith means trusting God even when you don’t get what you want. Every faithful saint in the Old Testament was looking forward to one thing, the coming of the promised Messiah. It was the one thing each of them wanted more than anything, and yet every one of them died without having received the promise. And yet they went on looking, they went on hoping, they went on believing, they went on working, obeying, and suffering. They didn’t waver in faith or turn back from following the Lord, even when the blessing didn’t come.
The Bible says that these men and women of faith saw the things God promised “and welcomed them from a distance” (v. 13). I love that phrase. They “greeted them from afar”; it’s sometimes translated.
Just as dying in faith means continuing to the very end to look forward to the things God has promised (even if you don’t receive them), so it means continuing to the very end to trust and obey God even when he seems far away. The kind of people God can be proud of are people who keep on believing and following him when it isn’t easy or rewarding to do so.
I came across a striking quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” That strikes me as being true, not just of individuals, but of a whole country. In fact, right now in these recent years we’re in the process in America of finding out if we still have what it takes to overcome adversity, to make sacrifices, to pay the price of freedom. But more than that, this is true of a church; adversity introduces believers to themselves. It reveals the quality of our faith.
It’s not so hard to believe in God when he seems very real and very close to you, and your prayers are being wonderfully answered, and you see evidence of his blessing in your life. But it takes great faith to believe in God and go on obeying God and trusting God when it seems like he’s absent and your prayers are going unheard and it looks for all the world as though the skeptics are right after all and the idea that there is a loving heavenly Father watching over us and caring for us is just a fantasy. God is proud to be the God of people with that kind of faith.
Here’s another quality that describes those of whom God is not ashamed. They live their lives here on earth as pilgrims. These saints of God, says Hebrews, “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth”; or in the words of the King James Bible that I like better, they “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
What does the word pilgrim conjure up in your mind? If you’re a typical American, it’ll conjure up a picture of old New England and Thanksgiving Day and women in long dresses and white caps, and men with tall hats that have buckles on them, carrying blunderbusses, walking through the woods, with a turkey on their back. But pilgrim is a great Bible word, and it is an even greater thing to be.
A pilgrim is a traveler, somebody on a spiritual journey, a person whose faith has made him or her turn their back on the world and set out on their way to a new homeland in heaven (Heb.11:14-16). Pilgrims are people who see this world as not being their permanent home. Rather, like the believers in Hebrews 11, they “make it clear that they seek a homeland . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
Actually, that’s how our American pilgrims lived too. They understood themselves to be living by faith just like the men and women of Hebrews 11. William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims, the governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote this about the English settlers who left their homes and families and moved to the wilderness of New England:
They knew they were but pilgrims, and looked not much on those things: but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country.A History of Plymouth Plantation, 1630
That’s how a pilgrim lives. Heaven is their dearest country. And God loves people who see themselves as pilgrims passing through the world. Pilgrims sort of maintain an attitude of detachment about the world’s goods and values. It’s not that they turn their backs on the needs and problems of people. There’s a big difference between being a pilgrim and being a hermit. No. We don’t opt out of the world. On the contrary, we do everything in our power to engage the world, to help the suffering, the lonely, the oppressed, the poor, the needy.
But without turning away from involvement in the world, pilgrims also confess that we don’t belong to the world. This world is not our home. We’re just a passin’ through, as the old song says. And because of this, we won’t define our lives according to the world’s wisdom, or measure our achievements by the world’s standards, or set our hearts on the world’s products, or seek our success according to the world’s goals, or define our worth by the world’s admiration. We’re not permanent residents here. We’re resident aliens, and we live our lives as sojourners; like refugees dwelling in temporary camps. We try not to get bogged down by all the stuff that can collect and fill up a life.
This is what it means to have a pilgrim’s faith. It means never being completely at home even in the place you were born and raised, never being fully satisfied even with the best things earth can offer, never completely settling down or being entirely comfortable but always on the move, headed for the city of God.
So the big question: are we people with this kind of faith? Are we pilgrims, traveling light along the road to heaven? Are our lives something of a spiritual embarrassment, or could God look at us and decide he wouldn’t be ashamed to be called our God?