Any spiritually honest believer will feel like this sometimes; we examine ourselves, we consider the height and the implications of the first principles we profess, and we see a wide difference between them and our real, everyday life. Whether we are hypocrites in God's eyes or not, I can't judge. It may be that we are. But the following consideration of Heb. 11 gives encouragement that Christian hypocrisy was a common feature of past believers, and yet God sees through the hypocrisy to the good side of us, and counts that to us as the personality He sees.
There is abundant Biblical evidence that faith and the faith-motivated way of life are vital to our salvation. Heb. 11:1,2 defines faith in absolute terms; as the real mental vision of the invisible. This doesn't just mean occasionally achieving a vivid imagination of (e.g.) the future Kingdom, or the present bodily existence of the Lord Jesus. It means living, hour by hour, with these things actually existing in our mental vision. Without this faith, the apostle reasons, we cannot please God. He cites a whole string of Old Testament examples, and then goes on to say that we too, like them, are surrounded by this great cloud of faithful examples, and therefore this should inspire us to the life of faith, as it did them (Heb. 12:1).
And yet, to a man, we have a sense of inadequacy; of a separation between their level of faith and our own; a sense of Christian hypocrisy. But a closer examination of those examples reveals a feature which crops up time and again. It's a feature which if it only occurred once, we might shrug it off. But it is there, time and again throughout Heb. 11. It's this: many of the examples quoted are moments in the lives of men when they did not show absolute faith, moments when their motives were mixed, moments when they had faith, but not without needing human qualifications. Examples will best show what I mean:
- Heb. 11:8 (Gk.) implies that as soon as God called Abram, he got up and left Ur. But a closer examination of the record indicates that this wasn't absolutely the case. It is stressed that both Abram and Sarai left Ur because " Terah took Abram his son...and Sarai his daughter in law" (Gen. 11:31). Abram had been called to leave Ur and go into Canaan. But instead he followed his father to Haran, and lived there (for some years, it seems) until his father died, and then he responded to his earlier call to journey towards Canaan. The Genesis record certainly reads as if Abram was dominated by his father and family, and this militated against an immediate response to the call he received to leave Ur and journey to Canaan. At best his father's decision enabled him to obey the command to leave Ur without having to break with his family. And yet, according to Heb. 11:8, Abram immediately responded, as an act of faith.
- Abraham's faith in the promises is repeatedly held up as our example (11:8,12,13 and elsewhere). Abraham " believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6) is quoted three times in the New Testament. But how deep was Abraham's faith? Straight after Abraham's profession of faith, God told him: " I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur...to give thee this land to inherit it" . But Abraham then goes straight on to ask God: " Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (Gen. 15:7,8). And immediately before Abraham's oft quoted profession of faith, he had said: " Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless...behold, to me thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir" (Gen. 15:2,3). His faith in the promise of a seed was surely shaky at this time (1). Did he not have something of our Christian hypocrisy? Yet, sandwiched in between these two expressions of his partial faith, Abraham rises within his heart to a level of faith which so pleased God. " He believed in the Lord" seems to refer to an attitude deep within Abraham's heart, as he gazed up at the stars and reflected in God's promise: " So shall thy seed be" . God saw that, even if it was only a temporary peak, and was pleased with it; even though at the time, Abraham was weak in faith and even in a sense " ungodly" (2).
- " By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come" (11:20). Yet the record of this in Gen. 27 doesn't paint Isaac in a very positive light. " Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gen. 25:28). The AVmg. seems to bring out Isaac's superficiality: " Isaac loved Esau, because venison was in his mouth" . This seems to connect with the way Esau threw away his birthright for the sake of food in his mouth. Esau was evidently of the flesh, whilst Jacob had at least some potential spirituality. Yet Isaac preferred Esau. He chose to live in Gerar (Gen. 26:6), right on the border of Egypt- as close as he could get to the world, without crossing the line. And he thought nothing of denying his marriage to Rebekah, just to save his own skin (Gen. 26:7). So it seems Isaac had some marriage problems; the record speaks of " Esau his son" and " Jacob (Rebekah's) son" (Gen. 27:5,6). The way Jacob gave Isaac wine " and he drank" just before giving the blessings is another hint at some unspirituality (Gen. 27:25). Isaac seems not to have accepted the Divine prophecy concerning his sons: " the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23), seeing that it was his intention to give Esau the blessings of the firstborn, and thinking that he was speaking to Esau, he gave him the blessing of his younger brothers (i.e. Jacob) serving him (Gen. 27:29 cp. 15). Isaac didn't accept the sale of the birthright, and yet God did (Heb. 12:16,17). And yet, and this is my point, Isaac's blessing of the two boys is described as an act of faith; even though it was done with an element of disbelief in God's word of prophecy concerning the elder serving the younger, and perhaps under the influence of alcohol, and even though at the time Isaac thought he was blessing Esau when in fact it was Jacob. Yet according to Heb. 11:20, this blessing of Esau and Jacob (therefore Hebrews doesn't refer to the later blessing) was done with faith; at that very point in time, Isaac had faith. So God's piercing eye saw through Isaac's liking for the good life, through Isaac's unspiritual liking for Esau, through his marriage problem, through his lack of faith that the elder must serve the younger, and discerned that there was some faith in that man Isaac; and then holds this up as a stimulant for our faith, centuries later! Not only should we be exhorted to see the good side in our present brethren; but we can take comfort that this God is our God, and views our Christian hypocrisy in the same way as He viewed theirs.
- " God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived" , to which Leah responded: " God hath given me my hire because I have given my maiden to my husband" (Gen. 30:17,18). This is thinly disguised bitterness against her gracious creator. She was saying, sarcastically, that God had treated her like a whore as a reward for the fact she had encouraged her husband to commit adultery with her maidservant. Yet God saw through this (the bitterness of post natal depression?), through her recourse to using mandrakes to induce fertility... and God discerned the real faith in her. And this God is our God, who likewise bears with our Christian hypocrisy.
- " By faith (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the King" (Heb. 11:27). But Moses did flee Egypt, because he feared the wrath of the King (Ex. 2:14,15). It seems that Moses had at best a mixture of motives, or motives that changed over time; yet God sees through his human fear, and discerns an element of calm faith within Moses as he left Egypt. In similar vein, at the time of the burning bush, Moses seems to have forgotten God's covenant name, he didn't immediately take off his shoes in respect as he should have done, and it seems he feared to come close to God due to a bad conscience, and he resisted God's invitation for him to go forth and do His work (Ex. 3:5-7,10,11,18; 4:1,10-14) (3). And yet at this very time, the New Testament says that Moses showed faith in the way he perceived God (Lk. 20:37).
- Israel's deliverance through the Red Sea seems to be attributed to Moses' faith (Heb. 11:28,29; Acts 7:36,38). Yet in the actual record, Moses seems to have shared Israel's cry of fear, and was rebuked for this by God (Ex. 14:15,13,10). Yet in the midst of that rebuke, we learn from the New Testament, God perceived the faith latent within Moses, beneath that human fear and panic. He likewise sees beneath our Christian hypocrisy to what true spirituality there is in us.
- The Israelites who fled to the dens and caves in Jud. 6:2 are described as heroes of faith because of what they did (Heb. 11:38). And yet their domination by the Philistines was a result of their idolatry. They were idolatrous, and yet some had faith; and it was this faith which was perceived by God.
- Samson killed a lion, escaped fire and killed many Philistines by his faith (Heb. 11:32-34)- so the Spirit tells us. Yet these things were all done by him at times when he had at best a partial faith. He had a worldly Philistine girlfriend, a sure grief of mind to his Godly parents, and on his way to the wedding he met and killed a lion- through faith, Heb. 11 tells us (Jud. 14:1-7). The Philistines threatened to burn him with fire, unless his capricious paramour of a wife extracted from him the meaning of his riddle. He told her, due, it seems, to his hopeless sexual weakness. He then killed 30 Philistines to provide the clothes he owed the Philistines on account of them answering the riddle (Jud. 14:15-19). It is evident that Samson was weak in many ways at this time; the Proverbs make many allusions to him, the strong man ruined by the evil Gentile woman, the one who could take a city but not rule his spirit etc. And yet underneath all these weaknesses, serious as they were, there was a deep faith within Samson which Heb. 11 highlights. May the Lord likewise have mercy upon our Christian hypocrisy.
(1) Abraham's fear that he would be killed by Abimelech and his willingness to give Sarah a child by having a relationship with Hagar also seem to suggest a lack of total faith in the promise that he would have a seed.
(2) It may be that Abraham realized his own spiritual weakness at this time, if we follow Paul's argument in Rom. 4:3,5: " If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory...(but) Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness...to him (alluding to Abraham) that worketh not, but believeth (as did Abraham) on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (like Abraham's) is counted for righteousness" . Surely this suggests that Abraham felt ungodly at the time, unworthy of this great promise, and yet he believed that although he was ungodly, God would justify him and give him the promise, and therefore he was counted as righteous and worthy of the promise. There is certainly the implication of some kind of forgiveness being granted Abraham at the time of his belief in Gen. 15:6; righteousness was imputed to him, which is tantamount to saying that his ungodliness was covered. In this context, Paul goes straight on to say that the same principles operated in the forgiveness of David for his sin with Bathsheba.