Hello friends and happy Wednesday to you! Today we are covering a Bible passage that many might be familiar with, as this is a favorite for preachers to preach through - and with good reason! Hebrews 11 is rich with meaning and lots depth and encouragement. This passage gives us not only a definition of faith, but a plethora of illustrations that demonstrate to us what faith is, and how it might look in our lives. In addition to Hebrews 11, we will also be reading Numbers 14, Psalms 50 and Isaiah 3 and 4.
Let's go read Hebrews 11 and then return and discuss our major question: What is faith?
Did you catch the Hebrews definition?
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 2 For by this our ancestors were approved. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
That is a very interesting definition of faith, isn't it? Hebrews 11:1 in the ESV says this, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." and in the NIV, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." and the NLT, "Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see." In the KJV: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" In the Lexham, "Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen,"and the Young's Literal, "And faith is of things hoped for a confidence, of matters not seen a conviction"
All of these translations are expressing the same Greek words in a slightly different way of explanation, but the meaning is clear: faith is not mere hopeful belief that something might happen - "I hope this quarantine will be over soon," "I hope Alabama wins the 2020 national championship," "I hope my doctor visit goes well." It is good to hope, but faith is something different - it is not hopefulness in an uncertain outcome in a wishful sense, but it is assurance, confidence, reality, realization and substance. Faith is a concrete belief in a reality - that is the point of what Hebrews is telling us, and that reality/substance/confidence/assurance/conviction produces actions....and not actions like merely going to church, or going through religious motions. Actions like Noah building an Ark for years in the middle of dry land. Actions like Abraham heading out on a life-changing move of himself and his whole family to a land he didn't know and had never seen. Actions like Rahab welcoming the Israelite spies and risking her life to protect them. Actions like Joshua leading a musical/prayer march around the walls of a well-fortified city that led to its capture. And actions like Moses refusing to live as fake royalty in the house of Pharoah. Hebrews is telling us that faith is a bedrock reality that causes people to make life-changing, life-altering decisions that are risky and stupid if our faith is somehow misplaced. Faith is concrete substance/reality/confidence/assured says Hebrews 11 and faith leads to action and life-change. Here are a few other definitions:
Great definitions there - let me close with a bit of exposition from John Piper to give us a fuller idea of what exactly faith is:
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the conviction—or better, the evidence—of things not seen.” And then the writer illustrates this in verse 3 when he says that “we understand by faith” that God created the world. In other words, faith is not just a responding act of the soul; it is also a grasping or perceiving or understanding act. It is a spiritual act that sees the fingerprints of God. This does not mean that you believe them into being. That would be wishful thinking—the power of positive thinking. That is not authentic faith. Real faith is based on real Truth. It looks deeply at the world God has made—looks through it, so to speak—and by the grace of God, it sees the glory of God (as Psalm 19:1 says) standing forth off the creation like a 3-D image.
The Substance of Things Hoped For
Now that leaves us just a few minutes to focus on the other part of the definition of faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance—or the substance—of things hoped for.” It may be that all this means is that faith is a deep confidence that the promises of God will come true so that we bank on them. That would be enough to free us from the fears and greed and worldliness that block the flow of radical, risk-taking, sacrificial love. If we have a strong conviction that God will care for us and bring us to glory and fulfill all his promises to us forever, then we will be free from self-indulgence and free for serving others.
But I think it means more—or maybe this is just a way of filling up this meaning with all that’s really here. The word “assurance” here can mean “nature” or “substance” or “reality” or “essence” in other places, for example, Hebrews 1:3 (“exact representation of God’s nature”). If that is what is meant here, then we should think like this.
What could the “substance” or “nature” of things hoped for mean? I think it could mean that faith apprehends the goodness and the sweetness of what God promises so clearly that this goodness and sweetness are substantially present in faith. In other words, faith grasps—lays hold of—God’s preciousness so firmly that in the faith itself there is the substance of the goodness and the sweetness promised. Faith doesn’t create what we hope for—that would be a mere mind game. Faith is a spiritual apprehending or perceiving or tasting or sensing of the beauty and sweetness and preciousness and goodness of what God promises—especially his own fellowship, and the enjoyment of his own presence.
Faith does not just feel confident that this is coming some day. Faith has spiritually laid hold of and perceived and tasted that it is real. And this means that faith has the substance or the nature of what is hoped for in it. Faith’s enjoyment of the promise is a kind of substantial downpayment of the reality coming.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
As a bonus, here are two other great quotes on faith:
"Let us see to it that we keep God before our eyes; that we walk in His ways, and seek to please and glorify Him in everything, great and small. Depend upon it, God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies." Hudson Taylor
“Furnish thyself with arguments from the promises to enforce thy pravers, and make them prevalent with God. The promises are the ground of faith, and faith, when strengthened, will make thee fervent, and such fervency ever speeds and returns with victory out of the field of prayer…. The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.” - William Gurnall
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