It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith. It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. Hebrews 11:4-7
The names listed in Hebrews 11 should remind every person who claimed having a right relationship with God to not take for granted their spiritual life and abandon superficiality. Their commitment should challenge Christians that once we leave our old life in exchange for the new life that comes from God, we dare not remain unchanged. They tell us that effective living has always been “by faith,” a phrase with which each paragraph begins in this astonishing chapter. It is the message of what God requires. The story of Cain and Abel is highlighted here. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted not because it was animal rather than vegetable but because it came from genuine trust, a matter of the heart and not just of ritual. The same theme would dominate later Hebrew prophets trying to challenge God’s followers to let God transform their lives and leave their dead religion. So the martyred Abel keeps on speaking to us. With Enoch, faith is taking hold of what God offers. There is a monotonous refrain in the genealogies of Genesis 5. No matter how long the men listed there lived, it all ends with the chilling words “and then he died.” In verse 24 comes the startling exception: “Enoch walked with God...then he was no more, because God took him away.” The power of death had been broken in a glorious anticipation of the New Testament resurrection hope. Like Enoch, Noah also walked with God (Genesis 6:9). By faith, he manifested an implicit obedience to God’s commands in spite of evidence to the contrary. His ark-building was dramatic proof of taking God at his word. As followers of Christ, we should take God at His word and act accordingly. If there is no response to God’s commands, faith is void. Unbelief and disobedience are practically identical; they spring from the same stem. For God to command is for the man of faith to obey. Failure to do so is practical atheism.