Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
The author will now explain what faith is. This is not a sudden change in direction. Instead, it is based on what he has said in the previous verses –
He explains what that faith which is being referred to in those verses is. The assumption made from the chapter is that those who are mentioned in a positive light for their faith are saved. They have “obtained a good testimony through faith” (verses 11:2 & 11:39). Further, they will be made perfect along with us (verse 11:40).
This is important to understand, because the faith that they displayed was what set them apart with a good testimony. One, for example, is the harlot Rahab. The act of faith that she demonstrated was 1) as a Gentile, 2) not yet brought into the covenant people of Israel, and 3) at the beginning of her interactions with the God of Israel. Outside of the one account, she is mentioned in a genealogy in Matthew, but nothing she did for the rest of her life is recorded. The single act of faith is described, and yet verse 40 implies that this single act of faith (which included her deeds of faith as described in verse 31 and in James 2:25) is what made her acceptable to be perfected along with God’s people, as verse 40 says.
The reason this is important, is because it then clearly shows that the verses of chapter 10 (and elsewhere) which seem to be pointing to a loss of salvation for believers are not speaking of that at all. The act of faith in the Lord God, as He works out His redemptive plans leading to Messiah, or looking back on the work of Messiah, is sufficient to please Him and bring a person to a right standing before Him – once and for all time.
With this understanding, the author now begins Chapter 11 with, “Now faith is.” He will first describe what faith is. In the Greek, the verb begins the sentence, “Is now faith.” There is no article before the word faith, and so he is speaking about faith in an abstract sense. He is not saying, “Now ‘the’ faith is,” as if speaking of what the Christian faith is. Rather, he is explaining the term in a general manner which applies to any and all types of faith.
From there he says that faith “is the substance of things hoped for.” The word “substance” has been seen twice already in Hebrews (verses 1:3 and 3:14). It is a compound word meaning “a setting under.” Thus, it is a support. Therefore, it signifies absolute confidence; assurance. This assurance is in “things hoped for.” It isn’t as if what is hoped for is simply, “O gee, I hope this happens.” It is, “I am absolutely sure that this will come about.” There is the complete assurance that what is expected will come to pass.
The simple example of preparing to sit on a chair reveals this. One sees a chair that they have never sat on before. The person is tired and wants to sit down. Instead of very slowly and carefully easing into the chair to see if it can hold his weight, he simply plops down. In other words, there is a concrete assurance that the hoped-for ease of sitting will be realized exactly as intended. The individual has faith in the structure of the chair based on a directed mental analysis of it, or maybe having watched others sit in it or another chair like it. There is an understanding of the reality of the matter, and then action based on that understanding. As Vincent’s Word Studies says, “It is the firm grasp of faith on unseen fact.”
With this stated, the author then says that faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” The word is used one other time, in 2 Timothy 3:16, where it is translated as “reproof.” It is a proof or conviction. HELPS Word Studies says, “inner conviction focuses on God confirming His inbirthing of faith.” One cannot see the results of sitting in a chair until he sits in the chair. And yet, there is an inner conviction that plopping down into the chair will not result in a broken chair and a resulting painful bulging disk in the spine. Rather, there is every reason to believe that the hope of sitting will be realized in a comfortable sit.
Taking these two concepts as one, it is clear that faith is not a dubious thing at all. It is something which is based on a rational view of a matter which is grounded in reality.
Life application: This verse starts Chapter 11, known as the Hall of Fame of Faith. It sets the tone for the entire chapter and is the most explicit description of faith to be found both in the Bible and outside of it. Every instance of faith recorded elsewhere will find its basis in it –
Faith is being sure 1) of what we hope for, and 2) of what we do not see.
These two points then form the hallmark of the Christian’s walk. Take any situation requiring faith and turn it into a series of questions. If you can affirmatively answer the first question(s), but not the last, then your faith is sound.
The Bible claims to be the word of God. Is your hope grounded in this? Are you confident this is so? Can you absolutely prove it?
The Bible says Jesus will deliver you from condemnation. Is this your hope? Are you completely confident that He will accomplish it? Has it happened yet?
Faith then will validate whether a person’s claim of having seen, touched, or talked to Jesus is true – Do you believe in Jesus? Have you ever seen Jesus?
If someone answers those last two questions as Yes and then No. They have faith in Jesus. If he answers Yes and then Yes, faith is excluded. He has “seen.” As the Bible says we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), then it is certain that this person is wrong – intentionally or unintentionally. Nothing in our current dispensation will contradict the Bible. It is not to be expected that we will see Jesus before He returns for His church, despite the countless claims to the contrary. Why can this claim be made? Because we have “faith” in the truth of Scripture.
There must always be a negative answer involved in each question or faith is not a consideration. A hope that is seen is no hope at all; it has become experience. But an unseen hope on which we place our trust is faith. One final thought – if our faith is misdirected, it is a wasted faith. Every act of faith requires an unknown, but it should be a leap backed by sound reasoning. Faith is not a leap in the dark. Instead, it is a step into revealed light. In the case of proper theology, it is a step into God’s revealed light.
Lord, we can only direct our faith in one direction, but there are a zillion possibilities out there. In the end, our faith is really up to You and Your divine hand of providence upon our lives. And so we ask You to direct it and to give us reasonable assurance that it is properly placed. We thank You for this, knowing You will guide us as we seek You. Amen.