by Craig Dyer
(Editor’s note: This is the 4th post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.” We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
Deep national divisions are obvious in the U.S. ahead of the presidential elections and in the U.K. preparing to withdraw from the European Union. Yet across the various political spectra, everyone desires a better country.
Gospel believers experience that desire deeply and rightly for a future guaranteed reality: an infinitely better country far beyond the routine rounds of broken political promises. We learn in Hebrews 11 that believing in better was not just a nice thought on bad days for the patriarchs, but the driving force of their entire lives.
The writer tells us that Isaac was one of those who
…died in faith, not having received the things promised, but … having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth….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. (Heb. 11:13, 16)
So, living by faith is being fine with not getting in this life all God promises us because we live and die believing in better, knowing that what He has prepared for us is eternally better. This is not an extraordinary depth of faith, but the application of genuine, basic saving faith—the kind of faith without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).
But it’s easy not to live out this faith and to do the opposite of the Hebrews 11 example, desiring a better country, that is, an earthly one. We soak up the materialist culture of this momentary life as though it were all there is. We speak of a hope and a homeland elsewhere, but our contradictory heart investment is only in the present.
Far from making glad, willing tiny-by-comparison sacrifices temporarily (living in tents in Hebrews speak) for the sake of what we know awaits us, we resist sacrifice, forget the permanent future, focus on the transient present, and content ourselves with what surrounds us.
The rationale that Isaac learned from Abraham and passed on to Jacob meant they embraced what this generation of believers seems most to fear—being “strangers and exiles.” The great example of Hebrews 11 is that we navigate today in the light of tomorrow.
We live in tents now because God is building an eternal, glorious city for those who are looking and living for Him. We put up with cultural exclusion now as we speak for Jesus and anticipate eternal inclusion in His kingdom That’s what drives evangelism. We speak of a life and a city that is to come to those who can’t see it, so that by His grace they will see it and come to be part of it.
Jesus shows us what this believing in better lifestyle looks like in Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
What gives him joy is selling possessions for perhaps less than they were worth and not caring. He lets it go and is ecstatic to do so because he knows the treasure will soon be his. The going with less, or living in tents, or being social outcasts makes no sense unless we are utterly convinced that there’s treasure there—a better country, a city prepared by God. But if we see it, it makes perfect sense.
And as we live wholeheartedly in the present anchored to the future, our lifestyle becomes authentic. People around us are much more likely to ask us to explain the hope we have if they see that life-long joy in us as we show a healthy disinterest in storing up treasure here as we wait for His kingdom to come and as we believe in better, living and speaking accordingly.
Craig Dyer (@CraigDyer1) is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”