We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven. Faith in Christ must endure great trials in this world. But that faith which is wrought in the heart and constantly sustained by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit is always triumphant. That is clearly the message given in these closing verses of Hebrews 11. These same verses, these verses that describe such heavy, heavy trials, declare to us that wherever faith is tried, it triumphs. What great triumphs are here set before us.—True faith never fails. It always triumphs!
Oh, yes, we fail, fail often, fail in everything. But our own failures are so graciously and magnificently overruled by our God that he brings triumph out of failure. Failure brings us into Egypt. Faith brings us out. Failure creates all our adversaries. Faith conquers them. Failure brought death to our families. Faith sees the dead raised to life again. Failure brought us into unrighteousness. Faith brought us into righteousness. Failure put us under the sentence of death. Faith gives us right to and obtains a better resurrection (Rom. 8:33-39).
Faith in Christ brings us into great blessedness. In verse 39, we read that all these who lived and died in faith, like Enoch, “obtained a good report!”— They did not earn a good report. They “obtained a good report.” The same is true of all who trust the Son of God today. They all “obtain a good report.” They never obtain a good report from the world. Neither do they seek it. Believers have reason to be very fearful when the world speaks well of them. Though believers highly esteem one another for Christ’s sake, this good report is not even a good report obtained among God’s saints.
The result of faith for these saints of old, as it is here recounted for us, was not how many things they amassed in life, or what good fortune they found, or how many kingdoms they conquered, or even how much righteousness they performed. The result was that they found approval in the sight of God for their faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
You might be a famous preacher and preach great sermons—You might give fortunes to churches and missionaries— You might serve as a missionary in New Guinea all your life—You might write books and commentaries that others use for years—That’s all well and good; but “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” These men lived by faith. Living by faith, they honored God. Honoring God, they were honored of God.
The good report faith obtains is the report of perfect righteousness in Christ. Faith does not make us righteous. That was a work finished altogether by Christ’s obedience unto death as our Substitute and Representative. Faith in Christ obtains the report of it, by which the Spirit of God speaks peace to the believing heart.
Having a good report before God, having that blessed peace of perfect righteousness and justification, these men lived in hope of promises, promises of things provided by God (vv. 39-40). They did not receive the promise while they lived on this earth, but lived in hope of it. Clearly, the promise they had not received, the promise they hope for, was the coming of Christ, the Messiah.
That better thing our God provided is the incarnate Christ, his obedience, death, and exaltation as the God-man our Savior. Those saints of old had him in promise, type, and shadow. We have him in reality and truth. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the saints of the New Testament have something better than those of the Old. We have a better covenant, a fuller revelation, a better priesthood, and a better sacrifice than they. But we are no better, or better off than they.
When Paul asserts, “that they without us should not be made perfect,” he is simply declaring that both they and we are saved by and in Christ alone. As John Gill explains, “The Old Testament saints are perfectly justified, perfectly sanctified, and perfectly glorified; but their perfection was not by the law, which made nothing perfect, but by Christ, and through his sacrifice, blood, and righteousness; and so were not made perfect without us; since their sins and ours are expiated together by the same sacrifice; their persons and ours justified together by the same righteousness; they and we make up but one church, and general assembly; and they and we shall be glorified together, in soul and body, to all eternity.”
Soon, we shall be “made perfect” (Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Pet. 5:10-11; Jude 24-25). It is impossible to grasp this fully, but when our Lord Jesus comes again he will raise us up in glory. We shall be completely conformed to his image, just as our Father purposed we should be in eternal predestination (Rom. 8:28-30).
Our Savior has made us perfect already, judicially, imputing his righteousness to us, having put away all our sins by the sacrifice of himself. He has given us a perfect, holy nature that cannot sin in the new birth (1 John 3:1-9). Yet, we still live in this body of flesh and sin (Rom. 7:14-23). We are compelled to cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And we rejoice to sing with confident hope, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord," we shall be delivered and made perfect in resurrection glory.